Thursday, March 29, 2018

Book Review: Fania's Heart

Title: Fania's Heart
Author: Anne Renaud 
Illustrator Richard Rudnicki
Genre: Children's Illustrated Book
Rating: 5 out of 5 

This is such a small book. One with only a few pages and no one page is filled with words. And yet it is filled with so much emotion; from sadness and despair to hope and freedom. 

I read the main story and wondered to myself two things: 

  1. How could I ever read this bittersweet story to a child? And at what age would I be okay reading it to them? 
  2. Is it truly possible that a tiny heart was created in a concentration camp? 

While I still perhaps unsure of the answer to the first item, the answer to the second one truly astonished me. This is a TRUE STORY. While I was a bit choked up reading the story itself (as it's very moving) when I moved on to read the last pages that outline that Fania's Heart is a true story. Fania's Heart is a relic of Auschwitz that is in a museum in Montreal and was owned by a Jewish woman of 20 years old imprisoned there during WWII. She eventually came to Canada following the war which is how it came to be at a museum in Montreal. 

I'm not a crier most days but this is an unbelievably moving story. The simplicity of it as a children's illustrated book is part of what makes it so moving, in my opinion. You don't need a lot of words or pictures to tell a story like this.  You only need some symbolism, context and genuine truth. 

Upon writing this and reflecting upon Fania's Heart I have decided that I would read this story to any child, of any age if they asked. Because at it's core this is a story of hope, courage and love. All wonderful things to teach our children of from any age. I encourage everyone to look for this story, even if only to leaf through it at your library and experience the story of Fania's Heart. 

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Book Review: The Outcasts of Time

Title: The Outcasts of Time
Author: Ian Mortimer
Genre: Historical Fiction, Religious, Time Travel
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars (DNF)

Did Not Finish (DNF) @ 40% 

Let me start by saying I love historical books. Especially ones that teach me about things I may not have known or help to bring to light nuances that I had perhaps not thought of before. However, writers absolutely must bring me into the time period in a way that is interesting and intriguing. Telling me about tin mining, church/state representation, clothing and the food is just dull.  

The Outcasts of Time starts during the time of the Black Plague with two travelling brothers. The conditions are deplorable and humanity is on high alert as the plague is understood to be contagious (even if they didn't know what that word was at the time). A number of factors puts the brothers in a situation where they accept a 'deal' from a higher (or lower) power of some sort and end up agreeing to live their last 6 days out one day every 99 years. 
Sounds cool right?!
It really should be. Except that when you start in the 1300's it means you're next 6 years will take you only up to 1900's. I made it far enough in the book to get to 1500's and yet it barely felt like a change over the 200 years. Ian Mortimer restricts the changes into the viewpoint of types of clothing, religious buildings and other built up infrastructure. It's just not enough. 

Church and State
Without a doubt you cannot discuss the 1300's or any time period up to the 1900's without talking about the drastic changes in religion, and the eventual division of church and state. From areas changing religions entirely, merging areas of Christianity and witch hunts of 1500-1600's there is a lot of change. Normally I would be all over learning about these changes but Mortimer takes the religious tone of this book (as our brothers are looking to 'redeem' themselves in their remaining 6 days) and makes it so dull I kept feeling like I was going to fall asleep. I really tried to understand and get into the heads of the brothers experiencing this religious shock; unfortunately I never felt connected or much emotion for either of them. 

Perhaps had I felt some connection with the brothers I might have been able to better appreciate some of their shock from one time period to the next. The reality was that I couldn't seem to even feel badly for the one brother when he realizes he will never see his wife and kids again. The other brother just seems to be along for the ride with no purpose and the personality of a cardboard box. 
Even a boring plot can still be interesting if the reader can connect with the characters and finds them interesting. These two brothers just didn't engage me at all on a mental or emotional level. 

It's really unfortunate because the end of The Outcasts of Time might be very impactful; but at the 40% mark I just didn't care anymore. I was bored reading about tin mining, changes in length and colours of clothing, or the general shock of each day they wake up in a new time period. Maybe the length of one day per time is too short to really make an impression (although I did not want this book to be longer let me assure you); but somewhere along the way Mortimer just lost me and had me falling asleep. 
If I'm missing out on an amazing resolution to this story I've come to terms with it. At least by DNFing at 40% I won't spend days trying to get through the pages of the story desperately trying to stay awake and engaged. 

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

Book Review: Mandelbrot the Magnificent

Title: Mandelbrot the Magnificent
Author: Liz Ziemska
Genre: Historical Fiction, Magic, Short Story
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This is a short story There are some definite pros and cons in Liz Ziemska's short story about Mandelbrot, a real-life mathematician. 

I really love how short and succulent this story is. It's primary focus is not necessarily on Mandelbrot learning difficult math concepts; as it is on his family's journey to avoid persecution as Jews during WWII. 
The journey from Poland to France, while condensed into a few sentences, is intriguing if only because Mandelbrot's family was just ahead of the Nazi's the majority of the time. I enjoyed seeing the different, if difficult, options in front of them as the family was split up in order to try and keep everyone safe.
I was not familiar with the Sefirot and found the explanation in Mandelbrot the Magnificient sent me to Google to learn more. In historical pieces there are few things I love more than a drive to find out the 'truer than true' version of something. And yet I have to wonder where the Serifot fits into true mathematics (if at all) today. 

Mathematics is a truly beautiful language all it's own. For those of us, like myself, that are intrigued by complex physics, chemistry and mathematics but unable to truly comprehend them it's always great to read a book that breaks concepts down or tries to teach you basic theories at a non-academic level. 
In Mandelbrot the Magnificent there are two downfalls with this approach: 
1) The imagery and concepts of complex mathematics are made into too much magic. As though you just be a  magician to understand. While perhaps this isn't a bad comparison it made me wonder what was true in the story and what wasn't. How did Mandelbrot protect people? Obviously wasn't true magic as this is a true story and so something about his understanding of mathematics benefited his family when the Nazi's came knocking. But because the descriptions and explanation are so founded in some sort of magic I am at a loss to explain any part of the theories or ideas that were used. 
2) There are lots of pretty mathematics graphics in this book but few actual descriptions of the complex problems. Now this might be because author Ziemska didn't want to focus too much on the math aspect and instead wanted us to feel math as a part of our organic existence. While I understand and get that it would have been nice to have maybe learned something new and a bit more complex instead of just naming theories I know of but still can't even begin to explain. 

Given the small amount of time invested into reading Mandelbrot the Magnificent it's clear to me it's worth a read if you have any interest. 
I could have skipped it and been content with my life knowing what I know now about this story. What I really want is someone to read an interesting, compelling and factually accurate story of Mandelbrot and his true contributions to the scientific community. 
However, if Ziemska has given us the only insight currently available at a non-math reading level into Mandelbrot's tumultuous childhood and fractal theories than, without a doubt, Mandlebrot the Magnificent will at least whet any appetites that may lead you into the truly monstrous world of science. 

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

Monday, March 26, 2018

Book Review: The Dark Interpect

Title: The Dark Intercept
Author: Julia Keller
Genre: Teen, Young Adult, Dystopiam, Sci-Fi
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Two worlds, within one world. One for those of privilege, both intellectual and financial; the other the remnants of our broken planet left behind. The Dark Intercept starts out with an interesting concept that there is a world within the atmosphere of the Earth that is entirely enclosed and perfectly balanced out with human existence. The problem? Not everyone can fit... and so some are left behind on 'old Earth' who despise those whom got upgraded, those whom destroyed it all and wouldn't even try to fix it. 

Our lead teenage gal is an interesting character, even if much of her personality seemed a bit soft to me at first. As the privileged daughter of the inventor of New Earth she has more power and influence than even she realizes at time. 

Yes I know if you've read a lot of my reviews I say similar things. But here's the thing; cheap, convenient or just too easy situations drive me insane. They are a sigh of a poor ability to create elaborate (but easy to follow) plots that truly have the reader believing every moment of the story and each characters decisions. 
There is a large turning point in the story (about 75% through) that had me so enraged I had to switch books I was reading at the time to cool off before returning to The Dark Intercept. 

Not All Bad
That said, Julia Keller's writing is not all bad. Her development of characters and even plot is not so bad at all. I could definitely see some moments of brilliance shine through. But as we near the end these great moments taper off and become the landscape upon which weaker ideas, plot and reactions from characters were built upon. 

It's really too bad that The Dark Intercept doesn't have more of what I really wanted; better foreshadowing and more twists and turns that weren't written in just because a character can say something like 'I'm so-and-so and therefore I can do this banned activity or gain access to this secure area'. There's no creativity or overall brilliance in this type of storytelling. 

I'd like to see the characters grow alongside the story and with the reader as we progress. While the concept of the Intercept and it's ability to 'control' people on New Earth is cool and all it just wasn't enough to keep my interest. 

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

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Book Review: Peach

Title: Peach 
Author: Emma Glass
Genre: Contemporary Teen
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars 

I’ve been thinking for a couple of days about how to describe why I felt like this was a whole lot of nope book. I finished Peach because it is very short and I really didn’t want to hate it. I kept waiting for it to have a moment of true emotional connection or a brilliant moment but it never gave. 

The Topic
Peach is about a teen girl who is raped. An obvious difficult and important topic to accurately portray. Unlike books, like Long Way Down, there is zero literary finesse to Peach. Instead of taking a tough topic and breaking it down to hit all the right emotional cues, Emma Glass takes rape and throws it in your face... 

Shock Rock
Those of you who remember the original shock rock stars like Alice Cooper, Ozzy Ozbourne or the later 90s versions like Marilyn Manson and Gwar will maybe know what I mean by this. It’s like Peach is a shock book. (Not near as catchy as shock rock, I know). 

So, what’s a shock book (and yes I just made this up)?
Glass takes a disturbing, shocking, uncomfortable topic and throws it in your face. She shoves it down your throat, or otherwise tries to make you stumble back hoping you will be disturbed, disgusted or terrified. The thing about this tactic these days is it generally has less effect on the reader than a carefully crafted, emotionally charged and passionate literary story. Gruesome, descriptive and downright gross just doesn’t make me want to do anything other than put the a book down. 
In our desensitized world brutal descriptions just don’t evict emotions other than disgust or perhaps even a lack of connection due to constant barrage of media like this. 

Past the Introduction
Had the opening chapters been graphic and the rest of our story well written I likely would have  understood the intent of the shocking opening. But this is not how Peach goes. 
Instead it continues into a realm of bizarre, and frankly annoying, rhetoric by our lead gal. I almost never felt bad for her and instead just wanted to yell at her to be smarter or less of a narcissist. I never really connected to our lead gal and found myself, (obviously incorrectly) judging her a lot; which is definitely not how we should feel about an abused teen girl. 

An Example of Poor Emotional Content
I know what you’re thinking... ‘Mel how dare you blame the sexually assaulted girl, do you lack sympathy’? But this is honestly how poorly the situation, and our lead gals emotions and feelings were portrayed. I felt like I wanted to scream at her to be less dumb and annoying. Not because what was written wasn’t perhaps totally true to a sexual assault victims thoughts, motivations or experience; but because it was written so poorly I just didn’t have any connection with this gal. And don’t even start me on her weird bloated stomach and whatever symbolism it was supposed to have. I can’t even express how dumb I found it by the end of the story. 

A truly good book about a tough topic will make you feel like the character does. It will evict an understanding and emotion in you that you’ve maybe never felt before. Sadly Peach misses on all cues. 

Reading a book like Long Way Down (also a short story), where a character I have nothing in common with (black male teen in a low end neighbourhood), can evoke an emotional and mental response from me, means I know it can be done.
I did have some emotions by the end of Peach; but they were disappointment in the quality of story and major annoyance at the continuing use of shock writing. 

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

Monday, March 19, 2018

Book Review: As You Wish

Title: As You Wish
Author: Chelsea Sedoti
Genre: Young Adult, Magical
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars

This was a surprisingly compelling and morally interesting book. Chelsea Sedoti has taken the idea of having one wish and applied it to so many different outcomes. Both good and bad.This young adult book is a version of a coming of age novel but it doesn't read like any I've read before. 

The Wish Stories
Without a doubt the best part of As You Wish are the stories that are told by town members about what they wished for and why. Each of them is like a fable. There is a reason, a justification, an outcome and ultimately emotion that lingers long after. These are the cornerstone of the moral issues that Sedoti is focusing on throughout the book. 

Here's where Sedoti falls down a bit. The characters are fairly cliche. Mostly only defined by what they wished for, or plan to wish for (in the case of the students). At the High School we have the jock, the pretty girl, the nerd, the social justice warrior, etc. Then there's also townsfolk that are even more cliche (if possible): the arrogant mayor, the compassionate doctor, the drunk, the town recluse, the odd older lady, etc. While I understand that there are a fair number of characters that Sedoti wants our main guy to encounter (so he can collect their wish stories) the reality was that they felt just a bit too boxed in. Definitely room for improvement here. 

The Setting
It will be clear to you from the opening 10% of As You Wish that our small town setting is intentional and critical to the logic (if we can call it that) and rules of the wishing/magic to work. This couldn't be a story told in any other setting due to it's focus on keeping secrets. Interestingly the setting asks it's own moral question to the reader. At what point are you hiding and hoarding something in order to protect it versus not share it?
I don't know if Madison is a real town in Nevada or not; but having been at and spent a lot of time in the small town my grandparents live I've long learned that small towns have a personality and mind of their own and Sedoti has set-up Madison to be no different, and yet extraordinarily different, from any other town. 

The Ending
While there was perhaps too many pages after the ultimate climax; I still loved the ending of this book. From about the 40% read mark I knew what I thought would be the best (and most interesting) outcome for the story. However as we experience life alongside our main guy there is cause for concern that we were going to have a very different ending. I'm thankful that it was the ending I was hoping for. This doesn't happen often so it's nice to read a story from someone who thinks of the world the way I do. Any number of endings could have been impactful here; but I think Sedoti chose perfectly. 
It even brought almost tears to my eyes (which is quite the feat)! 

I would definitely recommend this book for anyone that wants to read about moral issues (young or old).  Ultimately I'd say this is more of a 3.5 stars read but I'm willing to round up just because  I loved the ending. 
You'll find yourself asking some of the big questions in life: what is selfish, what is righteous, what is right or wrong to wish for and ultimately ask yourself what would you wish for?

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

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Book Review: Zenith

Title: Zenith
Author: Sasha Alsberg & Lindsay Cummings
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi, Romance
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Did Not Finish (DNF) @ 23%

For starters let's get this out of the way: I am not a follower of Sasha Alsberg or her 'crew' (I dislike video blogs). I do not know anything about the situation of publication or promotion first-hand and am choosing to just stay out of it. 

The One Good Thing
I have struggled and spent time trying to determine more than one good thing about Zenith. In doing this I have only come up with one thing. Zenith proposes a very interesting space story (could be an opera) with the possibility for a large universe that has it's own culture, ethics, politics, etc. 
Focus on that word 'proposes' as it's important below. 

All of the Ugh
When I was a pre-teen the concept of 'Fan Fiction' did not exist and yet we still wrote stories that involved our favourite celebrities, fictional characters, or even people (like cute guy in class, etc.). They were written with code names in them and passed around amongst a group of 4-5 of us girls in Grade 7-9. I still have a few of them. 
Unfortunately Zenith reminded me of that teenage, guilty pleasure writing. With no real substance, poorly scripted dialogue (stilted and boring), weak descriptions and over-the-top plot that had to have a romantic element (because it's not fan fiction without a romance of some sort). 
Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings have written a story that is longer, has a much fancier cover, an idea of a larger universe and isn't written on foolscap (lined paper). Otherwise this story (or what I read of it) could have been pulled right from my keepsake box. It's just immature. 

While I was reading it I was reminded of another book I felt was immature and just not quite to my standards; Eragon. Same kind of thing a good idea but the writer obviously didn't have the writing maturity (and I don't mean age), depth or style of those writers who are above them in their respective genre. 

If you're looking for a struggling (love to hate) romance, an easy to read, not complex story then maybe you will enjoy Zenith. For me with all the books out there to be read I just couldn't be bothered to read Fan Fiction. If I really wanted (which I don't) I could do that for free online. 
It, ironically, brings me to my disclaimer above where I say I don't want to talk about the publishing situation. I just couldn't help but think to myself, as I was reading the first 23%, that I was surprised anyone published Zenith as is. Maybe there is some truth to those rumours and stories people are circulating. 

Either way, this is a poorly put together novel that has me wondering if I should submit some of my crappy pre-teen writing to a publisher...  *wink*

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Stitching: New SALs Part 1

I have two pieces that are in their infancy to share with you. 

The first is a new SAL that I'm so excited to share. It's by the same gal that did the Dragons SAL last year (that I really should finish, instead of starting new things, lol). These are gargoyles, chimeras, whatever you want to call them, modelled off the actually Stone work at the Notre Dame Cathedral. I'm working it on a 28ct fabric that was hand-dyed by a fellow Canadian. Really loving it even if it's weird to stitch on a larger count than usual. 

The second is a start shared earlier this year, the Lakeside SAL Bands of a Sampler. Done up with DMC variegated threads. I'm really impressed with how nice the DMC variegated is and definitely excited to move to the next part. 

We've been quite busy lately so stitching time has been a little scarce. But it's supposed to snow big time tonight so I'm crossing my fingers for a snow day. Lol! 
Too bad my city doesn't seem to ever have snow days. Us darn hardy Canadians and our perserverance. :) 

Happy stitching! 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Book Review: The Address

Title: The Address
Author: Fiona Davis
Genre: Historical Fiction 
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars 

Between an intriguing plot, engaging characters, gorgeous setting and two timelines that 'overlap' one another The Address has a little bit of everything a good historical fiction novel needs. 

The Setting
The apartment building that The Address is set at can still be seen in New York City (it's a historical building now) and I can't wait (after reading this) to visit it. The Dakota has a long history for sure; but many will know it as the building in which John Lennon was shot in front of. Sad but true. The Dakota has housed many celebrities over the years and so it naturally has many secrets in it's walls. 
What makes The Address so wonderful however; is that it isn't a story about a celebrity or famous incident. Instead it's the story of a woman brought over from England looking for a better life. Her story from the late 1800's is blended with the story of a 1980's recovering alcoholic who is struggling to also find her place (as a woman) amongst all the (now past) riches of The Dakota. 

The Plot
Recently I have noticed a lot of historical novels using the two timeline and story approach. I personally love this when it is done well. In the Address, Fiona Davis takes us along the journey of our two leading ladies trying to find a place for themselves in the world. This is a place that doesn't include children, a husband or a lot of readily available income. There's some mysterious events and situations that unfold during their story but in the end (for me) the real plot that I loved was seeing these two women struggling, in their own ways, to survive. 

The Characters
I adored all the characters. Whether they were harsh and mean, gentle and rich, poor and tough or snobby and spoiled. Each one of them stood out as their own individual persona and each had a backstory and characteristics that were easily identifiable. 
One way I know the characters were solid in any given book is that I can remember their names (or at least their traits) even a week after reading the book. I'm not good with names, in real life or fictional life, and so when the names or specific roles/characteristics of characters stick out to me it's very striking. Often I finish books knowing the lead, maybe a romantic interest and (of course) the villain and that's it. Fiona gave so much richness to each character (without ever being bored) that even after reading this days ago I can imagine the characters in my head. 

Have you figured out that I loved this book yet? 
It's truly a masterpiece of both writing, setting and characterization. Some might criticize it's loose plot; but for me it was clear that this story was about our characters and their journey to find themselves (as opposed to being about finding out a mystery; although there is some of that too). 

I can't wait to purchase a print copy for my library of The Address so that one day I can pick it up off the shelf and visit my old friends. 
I'm hopeful that one day I will get to experience the grandeur of The Dakota in New York City. And while others are imaging Lennon and others that lived in the building, I'll be wondering about the (not entirely fictional) characters that Davis brought to life and wondering if there are trunks of items that hold mysteries of those now lost to us. 

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

Monday, March 12, 2018

Book Review: The Belles

Title: The Belles
Author: Dionelle Clayton
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian Fantasy
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I have a lot to say about this book; but let me start by saying that nothing I am going to say here is an endorsement of the behaviour seen here in Tweets ( by this author. 
Let's break this down and talk about good vs not so good things in The Belles. 

The Good
- This is a very readable book. It has a quick pace and for the most part keeps you turning the pages (even if it's only because you can't believe some things are happening!)
- The concept of 'grey' people who are obsessed with making themselves colourful and beautiful is an interesting take on self image. 
- There is a lot here if you are someone who struggles with body image. It's clear that desiring to be or look like someone you are not is desired in this society to the point of disaster. 
- From light to dark, white to black and all the colours of the spectrum people in this world choose their skin tone. And it's clear that no one skin tone is better or worse than any other. They are all beautiful in their own way. 
- Without a doubt the Belles (which our main gal is one of) are captive slaves. While they may get lots of food, lush accommodations and other perks, they do not get to do what they want, select anything they desire or even visit or talk to people they wish to. If nothing else The Belles makes a wonderful point of ensuring you understand that the Belles while coveted by everyone are slaves to the court, society and even to themselves in some ways. This is probably the best message and fullest portrayal of any concept in this book. 
- Cute teacup animals! I seriously want a mini dragon that I carry around with me everywhere. I also want a snake, beluga whale ((I'll make a portable water tank) and white tiger in minature form as my best buddies that go everywhere with me. 

The Not So Good
- The people of this world have been cursed to be devoid of colour. They are all grey (literally every part of them including hair, eyes, etc.). While I am not going to say I agree or disagree; I will say that I can see how someone who is albino might being a bit offended by this. 
- I have been told a hundred times over by those of colour that comparing skin tones to food is offensive. And yet for pages upon pages of the introduction to The Belles Dhonielle Clayton uses food to describe skin colour. This made me very uncomfortable and was odd given that Clayton is a person of colour. 
- Love at first sight is used in this book. At first I was totally okay with the possible romantic interests and even how their engagements with our lead gal were going. Right up until one of them says that he knew from the moment he saw her that he loved her. Was the perfect way to ruin all the good romance and tension up to that point and destroyed any good opinion I may have had of the character. 
- Everyone seems to be evil in some way shape or form. Now, I adore morally gray anti-heroes (as I believe there is a capacity for a little evil in everyone) but Belles took this to a level that just felt awful. Everytime you thought someone was good or bad they flipped sides and vice versa. It made it almost impossible to like any character a lot and that includes our lead gal.
- I will elaborate on each of these items below but they are still part of the not so good list to me: the plot, diversity representation and character motivation. 

The Plot
This belongs as a bullet under the bad but deserves it's own little rant alone. There is at times too little, and then too much plot in The Belles. It's like Clayton couldn't decide if this was a coming of age, political or emotional story. Now a really good book is all three. Unfortunately The Belles is not a really good book in this manner. The political intrigue confused me at times and I never felt invested in it. I just didn't care. I think this is because it came so much later than the individual character plots. Additionally I felt like the individual character plots that were started off at the beginning were of almost no relevance by the end. The story needed a single driving plot with side stories attached; and for that the single driving plot (in this case political/royal) it needed to be apparent in the first few chapters not 25-30% into the book. 

Diversity Representation
Seeing as how this author is one of the leading authors involved in the push to have more diverse books I was really disappointed to see that our only LGTBQ character was very insignificant. She was clearly dropped into the story in order to check a box off. Ironically she may seem important by the end but really she's just a pawn in the overall game being played at court and her sexuality is of no relevance. I had hoped for a bit more. I'd really liked to have seen one or two of the Belle girls to be attracted to women in some way (be that bi or lesbian). I believe it could have easily been done without changing much of the plot and it would make so much sense given these girls are raised together and don't even encounter boys until much later in life. 
There can't really be much else for diversity representation here as everyone can change their skin colour. Which I think is an awesome way to take the race card out of the book. This is very well done. There are obvious divisions of people still (of course) with other issues (ie: slavery, class distinction, etc.) but it was nice to not have this book centered around the colour of anyone's skin (except to comment on how beautiful all the colours are or what colour skin someone was getting in a beauty treatment; but none were good or bad which I enjoyed). 

Character Motivation
I'm sorry but 'because Maman (mother) told me so' is just not a good enough motivation for me. Neither is 'because everyone covets the favourite'. I really wish there had been more motivation for our lead gal. Maybe more drive and push to be the best Belle possible because she wants people to be as beautiful as possible? The introductory chapters seem to have this but it's quickly replaced by the drive to make her Maman happy. It was just not enough for me. That said, our characters do finally get some motivation near the end of the book but for me by then it's too little too late. 

Moving forward as a Series
This is obviously a first book in a series as it has a cliffhanger ending and the last few chapters set-up a lot of future possibilities for plot. Unfortunately I'm not sure our lead gal and her buddies are strong enough to carry a whole series (however long) as, to date, they are just not that interesting or complex. 

So the reality is this: the writing is good, the idea is interesting, the teacup animals are adorable but the language choices, characters, representation and overall plot are very disappointing. I can see how many people would really like The Belles as it is readable and while I didn't necessarily want to DNF it, I'm not really sure I was motivated to keep reading it the way I would be a 4 or 5 star book. 

I won't lie knowing the opinions of the author certainly tainted my reading of the novel. And I definitely thought twice about making good on my commitment to review this book given that I'm just a 'white girl' whose opinion (apparently) isn't important to Clayton.
At the end of the day I can think of dozens of other young adult books, with similar themes that I'm far more likely to recommend to someone.

Will I read the second book?
I honestly don't know but right now it's doubtful I would bother. I definitely know I would not be comfortable (at this time) putting money into the pocket of this author given her many opinions on 'white girls'. 

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

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Book Review: Daughter of the Burning City

Title: Daughter of the Burning City
Author: Amanda Foody
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Circus
Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

I cannot think of the last time I read a book that was so unique, and yet so in line with today's young adult themes. Amanda Foody has taken the currently popular setting of a circus, a main character with unique powers and put a spin on it that is so imaginative I'm jealous I can't think like her. 

Uniquely Imaginative
Our main gal is able to make illusions that become permanent. So her friends and family are all 'living' embodiments of people she has created in her head. This clever element of Daughter of the Burning City puts into question what is alive, what is dead and above all else what is 'real'. These illusions speak and interact as their own personalities on their own. They are tied to our lead gal but not in an physical essence, just on a plain only she can see. I cannot over emphasize how unique this is and how much it affects the entire story from there. Our leading gal is also able to create illusions that trick people into believing they see (or don't see) something that isn't there which goes hand-in-hand with her living characters. While the beginning of Daughter of the Burning City is difficult to follow at first, once you settle in and get past about 50-100 pages the drop you in beginning is long forgotten because the story and characters start to feel like long lost friends.

I am usually not impressed with romantic entanglements in young adult. Graceling being one of my few exceptions to the rule for example. I can now add Daughter of the Burning City next to those rare young adult books that take a story with teenage romance and make it believable in that scary and uncertain, with no confidence or logic. The relationships in this book between everyone are very real and genuine but our main gal alongside the love interest felt like I was reliving one of my first relationships as a teenager. An attraction where you feel lost and everything is scary yet exhilarating at the same time. Additionally the pacing of the relationship is very well done. Kudos to Foody for not creating an insta-love situation (and no love triangle!!) and instead creating that lust and draw that comes with first teenage attraction to the moment where you realize you may never breathe again without that person next to you.  

I was very worried around the 75% mark that I was not going to be pleased with the ending of this story. I couldn't figure out the mystery and all the theories I came up with just didn't make sense or were 'cheap' (broke the confines of what was known to be true). 
So I was blown away by the ending and absolutely loved it!! It makes total sense and is like the icing on the cake to this gorgeous, engaging and captivating novel. I can't say anything more for fear of spoilers; so if you want to know more you'll just have to read the book! 

Immediately after finishing the Daughter of the Burning City I felt like maybe Foody missed something. I couldn't quite place my finger on why I didn't want to give it 5 stars. So I mulled on it for a couple of days, and I've come to the conclusion (without re-reading it) that it's because it is just so imaginative and the ending had so much impact that I felt like there should be a hole somewhere. Besides finding the beginning a little bit confusing I cannot deny the fact that I've never really experienced a story quite like this one. It stands alone in my mind as a truly unique story, with interesting characters and bizarre concepts of magic
On a reread I believe I would love this book even more. (If only I had time to do so!) 

Officially my grade would be 4.25 stars but as I think this is a story to be revisited and re-read many times I am upgrading it to 5 stars.  
I would easily recommend this to any young adult fantasy reader and look forward to putting the trade paperback version on my permanent print bookshelf. 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Book Review: The Vineyard

Title: The Vineyard
Author: Marie Duenas
Genre: Historical Fiction 
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars 

DNF 10% 

Normally I have a rule to read at least 20-30% of a book before giving up. 

I'm making an exception to this book for two reasons: 

1) all it is doing is telling me boring things (instead of showing) 

2) the third person narrative is rigid and feels more like a screenplay than a story. Where's the descriptions of setting, characters, etc. 

I was really hoping for a rich look at Mexico and mining during the US civil war (1800's) instead it was a lecture on so-so did this and so-so did that. And all I want to know is why? And how does that affect our lead guy? But I don't want to learn this via a stuffy conversation of basic figures and investments. Again there needs to be more. More richness, more feelings and less content. 

I read a lot of historical fiction and when done right you feel like your there and not just a spectator. The Vineyard made me feel like I was reading a historical document describing the facts with no feelings, setting or context applied. 

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

Friday, March 2, 2018

Book Review: The Rending and the Nest

Title: The Rending and the Nest
Author: Kaethe Schwehn
Genre: Dystopian, New adultish (some sexual context and descriptions) 
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars 

DNF 38% 

Well the description of The Rending and the Nest makes it obvious it's a weird dystopian world. And yet it isn't the inanimate objects being 'born' instead of live babies that's the weirdest. 

Weird, weird, weird
Instead the most bizarre and frustrating thing is that the world has changed in a way that makes absolutely no sense. I don't need a scientific approach, just a moderately believable one. It can have future technology in it to account for capabilities we don't have; but, it still needs to be something that feels like it makes sense in some sort of context. The set-up to this dystopian place feels like author Kaethe Schwehn just wanted a certain setting and so magically just had it happen in a 'Rending' moment. This really bugged me as it's core to the story and the mystery to be solved. 

While the writing is acceptable the descriptions and characterizations of the lead gal and others in the book are a bit flat. I didn't really connect with our main gal or her fellow group members. They all seemed a bit boring. More details of the 'before' lives might have helped or maybe more around the basic services and jobs each had in the group. It's touched upon for a few of our characters but I never really felt like I had a working understanding of their setting and therefore didn't know the characters. 

Necessities of Life
I went back and skimmed the first 20% of this book, before stopping entirely, to try and find a solid description for the main food source called ghost fruit. I never found one. When readers don't understand how energy is gained and consumed, in any story of any kind, then they fundamentally cannot connect or concentrate on a story. Instead we tend to get caught up in trying to decide how something is happening rather than what is happening. You can have a mysterious food or resource but make sure every detail the characters know is what your reader knows too. 

Why do we need certain base elements?
The fundamentals of life must be present or at least touched upon and explained in order to allow us to relate to the characters. Be they characters that are AI, biological, corporeal or otherwise. The main fundamentals of life are: sustenance (how to get energy and maintain existence), waste (where does 'garbage' of any kind go) and shelter (it can move with you or constantly change but you generally have some shelter from elements at points during a period of time). Had Schwehn helped us understand the living situation better I think the mysteries would have intrigued me. Instead they really annoyed me as they just added to the nothing makes sense aura of this book.  

There might be something here if a rewrite was to happen as the style of writing is okay but it's the content that bugs me. Overall the first 38% of this book (that I read) reminded me of one of my first DNF's a couple decades ago. Tad Williams series Otherworld had many of the same relational problems. Going too far into the strange and weird (which I normally love) without being smart about it. The thing I always remember that had me give up on Otherworld was when salad veggies were fighting utensils in a kitchen for dominance (I'm not even kidding) and the baby tomato drowns in the river after a utensil skewers him. Generally one would be devastated by a baby of any kind dying. Instead all I could do was laugh and say nope, putting the book down to never ever pick it up again. It's not that a conscious tomato was the problem it's the context in which it was portrayed. As though it was there to confuse you and nothing more. I am not a fan of these blatant, lazy illustrations of oddities. Read Alice in Wonderland if you want to see how odd, bizarre and crazy can be done really well. The key in Alice is Lewis Carrol sets up a relatable construct for each character be it a card guard, door mouse or Mad Hatter. 

Finally, when I gave-up reading The Rending and the Nest I honestly didn't care about anything at all. There was no sense of a purpose or that I was reading anything more than a disjointed made up story with no message, purpose, morale or otherwise. While many authors believe they write for themselves the reality is the best books are written for the readers. 

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