Monday, April 30, 2018

Book Review: Echo After Echo

Title: Echo After Echo
Author: Amy Rose Capetta
Genre: Literature, Contemporary, Mystery, Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

It's so rare to find a book where the main characters are LGBTQ and their love story isn't engulfed in stigma or cultural acceptance. For me what makes Echo After Echo so wonderful is that at its core it's a love story that is not contrived, forced or surrounded in stigma. 

The Love Story
Perhaps this will not make sense to some, but I just have to say that for me (a bi-sexual woman), it is so refreshing to read a story where a woman falls in love with another woman and the basis of that love has nothing to do with discovering their sexuality, determining their 'preference' or even circumstance. Instead it's just an easy, natural love story. Whether it was between two women, two men, or a man and a woman it wouldn't matter. It's clear that Amy Rose Capetta has experienced true love and understands that it's not about what type of person you fall in love with but who. The actual person and personality of that person, not their sexuality. It has so much less to do with gender than most people are likely to understand. Capetta takes this knowledge she has and translates it to the reader in a natural and perfect way. 

The Theatre
Having never had the desire to be an actor (of any kind) I was concerned that Echo After Echo would be too 'theater-y' for me. In the past I've read stories where knowing or caring about theatre culture or the culture of whatever niche group is involved have been all encompassing and made the book dull. That is definitely not the case here. While you may learn a number of things about the theatre including: auditioning, lighting, rehearsals, memorization, costuming, etc., the only really important thing to know is that this group of theatre folks is very close to one another, like family. I would compare the theatre portion of the book like the ballet in Black Swan, while important it could easily be replaced by any niche, professional group and the core story would not change. 

The Mystery
I'm not big into reading murder mysteries and certainly that is not why I was interested in Capetta's story. However here the murder mystery side of the story, while very relevant to the overall plot arc and our lead gal's character development, is not the focus of the story. Whether you determine any part of the mystery out in advance is mostly irrelevant (until the last couple chapters). As at its core, Echo After Echo is a story of a teen acting on her dream and falling in love where love wasn't looked for and may not be safe to engage in. 

I'd easily have give Echo After Echo 5 stars just for it's brilliant love story. However I can also say that at no time did I want to put it down, or avoid picking it back up. It's a solid read that I think almost anyone can enjoy. Because it hits on many different novel genres I believe there is something here for anyone that may want to find it. 
I truly hope that many people pick this up without knowing it's a LGBTQ love story and find themselves suddenly enamoured with Capetta's brilliant story only to realize much later that the love story was between two women (and that maybe there was relevance to their lack of 'noticing'). Capetta has truly done her community justice by creating a love story that is irrefutable and genuine. 

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

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Book Review: Daughters in the Air

Title: Daughter in the Air 

Author: Anca L. Szilagyi

Genre: Teen, YA, Contemporary

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars 

Did Not Finish (DNF) @ 35% 

Through the opening 35% of Daughters in the Air that I read, I kept hoping that I would be drawn in by something, anything really. So many reviewers have praised this novel, and yet I just couldn’t feel any real connection or compassion for any of the characters. That includes our lead teen who runs away. 

Each chapter swaps between her in the current time, as she is running away, and her past time, when her father left and her relationship with her mother deteriorates. I can honestly say I don’t care the reason why the father was suddenly no longer able to return, why her mother was such a bitch or even why our lead gal was so naive to think she could just runaway with little to no resources and hope that people would help her out. It’s baffling to me in some ways that I didn’t care about our lead gal and her plight as it seems like all the right elements are there but the story and characters slogged along for me at a snail pace. Enough so that I fell asleep while trying to reading Daughters in the Air on more than one occasion. 

Perhaps there is an amazing ending or story to be found here but I couldn’t get into it and can honestly say I’m okay never finding out. 

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

Friday, April 20, 2018

Stitching: New Patterns!

While Nashville Needlemarket was almost two months ago; I only got the last of my purchases from it this week. The lovely ladies at my LNS (Traditional Stitches) always do a great job of allowing me to add items to my order (via email no less) and then packing and shipping items to me. 

There were a lot of amazing (as always) patterns and items this year and yes I bought far too many of them! LOL. 
But I have a few favourites I want to share in particular; including one which I plan to start in the next couple of months! 
As many of you know I have an obsession with Ink Circles, Jeannette Douglass Designs and Mill Hill Kits. So it won't surprise you that almost half of what I bought is from those three designers/companies. I'm nothing if not predictable. 

First up in this photo is this amazingly beautiful Journey pattern from Jeannette Douglass and a lovely new Mill Hill kit (there are six in the series and I want them all!). 
My parents travel a lot and so I'm excited to stitch this little beauty up for me Mom. With the lovely pastel colours, gorgeous silk threads (in thread pack) and Jeannette's ability to integrate specialty/embroidery stitches I cannot wait to start it. This will be the first start from this set of purchases for sure! (also because it has a destination). 

In this second photo is the stunning 'companion' piece to last year's Sumatra Dragon from Ink Circles. It's trees!! Somewhere between fantasy themes, autumn, halloween and mandalas is a love of patterns that are forest or tree related. The effort that Tracey from Ink Circles put into investigating and putting together this pattern is amazing. I love that the pattern comes with the story about how Tracey landed on the design and what her influences were. A piece that while large will make a stunning heirloom for those that stitch it. 
Also in this photo is an adorable new pattern from Brenda Garvis (another designer I adore) and the cutest little Wizard of Oz pattern! I really need to stitch up at least one of the multitude of Oz patterns I have collected over the years. 

In Other News: 
Thanks again for thoughts and well wishes on my infected finger. It's doing quite good. No more meds or bandaging needed; although there is a lot of yucky blood and colours under the nail that will take the next couple months to grow out (or so I'm told). I guess it's a good reminder not to chew, pick or cut at my cuticles for the next couple months. Maybe that will help me have some self-control? (but let's face it probably not). 
I have to catch up on my Etsy shop, file taxes, and it's my local Comic Con/Expo next weekend! So much to do that stitching time is a bit scarce. BUT I will maybe share some highlights from Comic Expo after next weekend and in May I plan to get some good progress going on a bunch of items. Including a new start on a children's sampler for a friend and finishing up that last pesky dragon! I also really need to get back to Alice. Thankfully I can at least get to it all again with my finger no longer trying to kill me. :) 

Happy Stitching! 

Book Review:The Prince and the Dressmaker

Title: The Prince and the Dressmaker
Author: Jen Wang
Genre: Graphic Novel, Children's book, LGBTQ 
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This has to be the single cutest graphic novel ever! 
The Prince and the Dressmaker is about three things in my mind: 

1) Jen Wang's has written a story of a young prince and a dressmaker (a gal) who happen upon each other and wait for it.... DON'T fall into romantic love. Yes that's right don't have insta-love, triangles or any other ridiculousness that so many books seem to have these days. Instead they have gorgeous, and comfortable friendship love. Because of this set-up the morale at the end of the story allows this graphic novel to be read by anyone of any age. I can totally see a five-year-old loving this story and thinking it's so fun! I can also imagine some children (male or female) that start asking about wearing clothes like the opposite sex; which is truly why this book is so brilliant. 
Anytime a child can look at you and not understand why you have prejudice it means that your prejudice is loosely founded in lies or that your logic makes no actual sense without societal context. It's my absolute favourite thing about kids between 3-6; their inability to understand why we always seem to say one thing and do another. I love those little ones who call out the adults around them for not doing what they say. 

2) So, obviously now, one of the best parts of the story is that the prince enjoys wearing women's clothing. Now I don't think most people need to be told that if you are a part of 'formal' royalty (not the kind that are in the gay pride parade, ;) ) that a royal's existence is all about image, formality and traditional. So cross-dressing is/would be generally frowned upon (although I an dying to see Prince Charles in a ball gown). Wang chooses to demonstrate and refute why it shouldn't matter what your wearing. She does this by never asking the question about what makes certain clothing on certain people so incorrect or objectionable. This is a brilliant approach as it leaves the 'learned by society' crap out of the entire discussion. 

3) And finally the art is sooo adorable. On every page I just want to pinch or squish the cute cheeks of our dressmaker. I really enjoyed the many moments in which he made such a convincing girl! Half of the girls who read this will possibly wish they had the princes dresses to wear themselves. This may seem insignificant but think on it for a minute; those girls won't be thinking about why the prince is wearing 'girl' clothes; but instead why they want to wearing those pretty dresses. 

In case it's not obvious from my three favourite things above let me spell this out; The Prince and the Dressmaker is brilliant because it never asks the question about why the Prince wishes to wear dresses. Wang doesn't allow the prejudices, society influences or dark history to bleed into the story. Instead she simply presents a situation and leaves the reader unable to refute why the Prince shouldn't wear dresses. Not only does this allow the children reading it to just accept it; but it doesn't carry the prejudices forward. Additionally it leaves parents unable to refute that there isn't any really 'good' reason why the Prince can't wear dresses. Because as soon as you get into that thought all you're left with are reasons the story ignores. 

Taking a topic that is controversial or difficult and turning it into a story that children can love and connect with is so important. It leaves them to decide what they think. I for one think can't wait for Jen Wang's next book on a seemingly difficult topic so that I can also see a way to take the noise out of a topic the way she so brilliantly does here. 

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

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Book Review: Spelled

Title: Spelled  

Series: The Storytellers #1

Author: Betsy Schow

Genre: Fairy Tales, Teen, YA 

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars 

I finished reading this book about 3 days ago and I already feel like I've forgotten and don't care about more than half of what happened in it... so I’ve dropped from 3 to 2 stars. 

It wasn't a total disaster... so let's start with the good and work up to the not so good. 

The ok things

1) The absolute best part was not part of the story at all! They are these little snippets of cheeky quotes from well-known fairy tale characters (like Jack or Jill, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, etc.) in biography style or self-help fairy tale books. They are really witty and clever in many cases.

For example: “‘The Rule of Apology: Being royal means never having to say you're sorry.’ - Thomason's Tips to Ruthless Ruling”


“‘If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.’ - Gretel from Candy Kills: A True Story”

2) There are a couple clever takes on fairy tale characters and stories in Spelled. Betsy Schow has clearly read ALL the stories we all love. She even references a few obscure stories that I really appreciated! 


3) It’s witty. If you want to hear crazy witty comebacks or the driest of all sarcasm then you've come to the right place!

The meh things

1) The overall storyline was just okay. It wasn't that it was bad; but it just wasn't compelling enough (more on this in bad things below). 

2) Our lead gal is a bit naive. And while I can accept that this is meant to be a 'coming of age' novel for her (and that she's never left the castle) it feels a bit too forced for me. 

The ugh things

Here's the long list... 

1) This story should be interesting... but instead it's just so boring. I mean sooo boring. From approximately page 75 or so forward I just didn't care anymore. By the end they could have all blown up and I wouldn't have minded. Just nothing to connect me to the characters or their plight. 

2) Speaking of personalities... when everyone is the same type of witty, snarky, sarcastic character it gets old, fast. I realize that the prince was perhaps not as bad as the others but he still didn't charm me like I think he should have. 

3) The annoying fairy, pet, thing that hangs out with our lead gal is just that, annoying. Give me Toto back please (he certainly talked a lot less and was a lot cuter). 

4) Swearing. I know it seems cute to replace god with Grimm and hell with spell; but when your characters use the terms a lot it just gets tiresome. Maybe if Dorthea didn't say "What in the spell" every two chapters I would have been okay; but it's appeal got old fast.

5) An overdose of cuteness. When the writing tone wasn’t sassy it was overly cute and cliche. I’d compare it to the type of eye-roll drama and lame lines you expect when you read paranormal romance. Just because your genre is connected to a cliche does not mean you should write just like that cliche. 

6) The writing was sub-par. I had to force myself to pick this book up and pretend to care. I honestly should have DNF'd it; but I kept waiting for the amazingness that so many have raved about. I just didn't find it (except in the chapter quotes).

My ultimate pet-peeve

7) It seems that 95% of the fairy tales referenced (before it all gets cursed) are the versions we all know. Belle and the Beast, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, etc. So how come the story of Oz is all messed up! I never understood how our lead gal, Dorthea, could in anyway be Dorothy or was connected to Dorothy except for her shoe obsession (roll eyes) and the fact that she’s sheltered. And it’s not just her, every Oz character was seemingly turned into someone else and named. Like Schow didn't have to actually develop a new character or come up with unique names if she ripped them all off. As a big Wizard of Oz fan this really bugged me. Although... at least a house did fall on someone.


I definitely wouldn't re-read Spelled and I think there's just so much better 'updated' or 'pseudo' fairy tale writing out there for teens. 

Book 2 sounds like a lot more of the same boring characters and crap so I'm definitely skipping it. However... Book 3 has a different premise (our lead gal) Dorthea ends up in our world... maybe there is some merit there and maybe Schow got better at writing by her third book? I’m not going to hold my breath... 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Stitching: Mill Hill Sugar Skull

Thanks to all for the good wishes on my stupid finger. 
It’s much, much better now. On Sunday night we went back to the clinic, got a new doctor who essentially chastised me for waiting to follow-up too long. He had to drain the giant pocket of grossness and put me on antibiotics. It was fairly painful but doctor told me even within a couple hours I’d feel better. He wasn’t wrong. 
And now less than a week later I’ve got a finger that is a bit messy looking (peeling skin, blood under nail in spots) but doesn’t hurt!! 
Still cleaning it often, covering when I leave the house and whatnot but it’s so much better! Which means... I got to stitch again! 

Now because my finger is still a bit weird I stuck to easy stitching tonight (first time in over a week to stitch!) and just worked on my current Mill Hill kit. 
This is the border, not all beading done of Mill Hill Sugar Skull: 

It’s super fun to work on because of the fun curves on the paisleys and it’s nice and colourful! I’m glad I had a reason to pick it up. It had been awhile since I’d worked on this one. 

I have no other interesting news really. Although even us Canadians are getting awfully tired of winter; so I can only imagine how some of you US friends feel! 

The rest of the month is very busy. My sister and Dad are in town next weekend and the following weekend in my local Comic Con!! Things just keep on moving so fast! But stitching will happen in there. I especially need to pick up the last dragon and get some stitches in Alice! 

Thanks again for your well wishes last week. 
Happy stitching!! 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Book Review: The Shoe on the Roof

Title: The Shoe on 
the Roof
Author: Will Ferguson
Genre: Contemporary fiction, literature, Canadian
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars 

As always Will Ferguson has immaculate writing. I always really enjoy his writing style, pacing and flow. Without a doubt this Canadian (and from my local city, Calgary!) has a writing ability that is far above many others who write fiction novels (of any kind). 

As with any book with a scientific focus there are a lot of technical aspects that Ferguson has to explain to us. These were probably my favourite parts of the book. Ferguson adapts a style reminiscent of Michael Crichton or similar to Mira Grant, in which he is 'teaching' the reader at a high level what it may mean to do certain tests or control environments, etc. I found this very palatable and interesting.

The Shoe on the Roof has a very obvious and linear plot. There is our lead guy who is researching the idea of how god exists in the brain. He falls in love, loses the girl and then finds out her brother believes he is Jesus Christ. So lead find wants to help girl's brother and so he pursues three people who believe they are Jesus Christ and begins therapy/testing on them.
Simple right? Sure, until you get into the psychosis of our leading man... or and the random mystery thrown in. 

The 'real' story
I would argue that the short plot summary above is in fact not the plot at all. The actual plot is three-fold: 
1) Is there a scientific way to definatively prove that god does not exist? 
2) Is our leading man too mentally broken, himself, to have an objective opinion. 
3) There is an emerging mystery that pops up mid-way through

It's clear that Ferguson feels the idea of god and mental health to be a very complex (and he's correct) topic, and one that depending on your viewpoint can be discussed for eternity. That is really the story here in my opinion. One about mental health, god and the idea of what people believe and why. 

So why only 3 stars?
There are a few reasons why The Shoe On the Roof didn't resonate with me as much as the stellar bestseller 419 from Ferguson. 
- I didn't get excited about reading it; or sad about putting it down. Overall I was very blah about reading the book
- I never really got a sense for the main character. I wanted more from our leading man. I wanted to really understand his childhood that involved being studied. There is some of it there, but that is the story I think I really craved. I'd have rather read about his childhood than his endeavor to enter the medical profession.
- The mystery kind of popped up and was clearly side-story until the end when it suddenly felt like main story. I didn't like this transition and it took away from our main characters overall pursuit of science in the end. 
- I had some fundamental concerns about how certain topics (especially mental health) were portrayed here... 

Mental Health Portrayal
As someone who never really understood mental health; and used to think people could just 'get over' things, I was disturbed by one of the messages that you could derive from Ferguson's characters. Especially because it comes from our 'expert' doctor. As someone with a medicated anxiety disorder it is disturbing for me to read that mental health may not a physical problem, but instead more an emotional or social one. While this is true at the core of it's essence; the doctor then goes on to talk about how you just have to change the patients 'cognitive' function.  It really  disturbed me that this was too easy a way to easily dismiss mental health as something the person just needs to 'fix' or get therapy to 'fix. 
That said, I am 90% sure that Ferguson is actually trying to get readers to think outside the box of medications and therapies for mental health. That is in fact (I believe) the whole point of our lead man's perspective and scientific pursuit. He has the idea that maybe we are approaching problems from the wrong angle or perspective. And I certainly understand this is the purpose of the book. But it doesn't diminish how uncomfortable I was thinking someone might walk away with the wrong idea and just assume that mental health folks are just weak and need more willpower. Maybe I'm being paranoid but I just can't get over how compelling of an argument it felt, especially from our 'expert doctor' character. 

I will always read Will Ferguson's work. If only to be reminded of what solid writing is. Ferguson likes to tackle somewhat controversial issues and ask the reader to see the other side. He does this so well in his bestselling book 419 (as we develop sympathy for our Nigerian scammer). In The Shoe on the Roof I think he has done a good job of presenting all arguments and leaving things open to interpretation of the reader. As the reader you get to decide or think on the different perspectives and make a decision for yourself; or determine that it's too complex to really know about. Really good books make you think and certainly this book made me think. 
At the end of the day I was disturbed by some of the counter ideas in Ferguson's novel and even a couple days after finishing the book can't seem to shake them. So for that, and that I never felt drawn into the story in a really solid way, I will stand behind my 3 star review. Even though Ferguson is, without a doubt, a 5 star writer to me and I cannot wait to read his next book; whatever the topic might be. 

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

Friday, April 6, 2018

Stitching: Two more down, One to go

I'm going to start with a quick PSA for everyone. If you get an infection on your finger (especially a cuticle one) DO NOT allow it to fester and get so bad that you can't bend your finger... because then when you finally go to the Doctor about it they will tell you how silly you are and put you on strong creams and antibiotics. Who knew a tiny finger injury could explode! So this is my service announcement. Just because it looks like a silly little injury doesn't mean it will stay that way! Also finger injuries on your dominant hand are bad for stitching time. ;) 
And yes it's getting better now.

Birthstone Dragons
As usual my 'yearly' SAL has bled into the next year. The birthstone dragon SAL of 2017 is however almost done! 
I've got two more dragons to share with you; which means I'm down to only one more to go! 
Sadly for me being only four months behind is pretty good (lol). 

Other News
I've been putting a bunch of stitches into Here There Be Monsters and want to get back around to Gargoyles. However my husband has been nagging me about Alice... which I haven't worked in over a month. And let's face it no HAED is getting done with those kind of breaks! So needless to say I have lots to work on. 
And then I placed an order for some items that were released at the Nashville Needlework Market. Just in case I didn't already have WAY TOO MUCH to do. LOL! I honestly bought so much stuff I'm too embarrassed to even show you all. Cause there's just so much of it. So I better get to stitching fast again soon (stupid finger) if I am going to have even half a chance at doing 1/4 of my stash in my lifetime... 

Happy Stitching! 

Book Review: The Hazel Wood

Title: The Hazel Wood
Author: Melissa Albert
Genre: Teen, Young Adult Fantasy (contemporary setting)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The Hazel Wood is a story about fairy tales. Yet these are not the fairy tales we know. There are no happily ever afters here. Sounds awesome right?! And it is...mostly. Well maybe it's more accurate to say the fairy tales themselves are fantastic. Too bad this is not a book of Hinterland fairy tales and is instead a story of a girl encountering the Hinterlands and some of it's stories are plopped into the middle of her story. 

The Hinterlands
The concept of an alternate 'dimension' that is a fairy tale land is very close to that of the TV show "Once Upon a Time". That didn't bother me in the least as Melissa Albert takes the idea and runs in a different direction. Instead of using fairy tales we all know and love, she created a world called the Hinterlands and made up new stories with no happy endings. I'm sure Disney could reign them in like they did The Little Mermaid but they would loose something. My absolute favourite part of The Hazel Wood is that the fairy tales are so dark and foreboding. The book containing all the Hinterland fairy tales described in The Hazel Wood is one I am desperate to own. Too bad The Hazel Wood isn't this book that is sought after in our main story. 

Long, for no reason
The Hazel Wood is not a long book. At ~368 pages, I'd say it's on par with the average fantasy teen book. I was surprised at one point that I was only halfway through the story as it felt like I had to be near the end; and yet I knew lots more probably happened. For some reason this is the slowest read ever. It just drags on and on. I have a few theories on why this is; I don't think it's any one thing. But what I do know is that I kept waiting for it to suck me in and have me flipping pages quickly. Not once did that ever happen which was a huge disappointment.  

The Lead Gal
We are clearly supposed to feel sympathy at every turn for our leading gal and her sad life story. Except instead of inspiring sympathy in me she was just annoying. Yes, she's had a hard life. Yes, she's up against bad odds. Yes, she's been screwed over at every turn; but none of that makes her automatically endearing. A lot more thought and actual characterization is needed here in order for me to be on board with this girls thoughts and feelings. I felt the entire time like she was the vessel that was taking me on this story but not the reason why I was reading the story. She should have been the reason I cared (especially by the end) and so this changed how I felt about a lot of things that happen. With little empathy to give over to our cardboard cut-out of a lead gal I didn't really care what happened in the end and so it's impact was lost. 

The Love Interest
Carrying on with poor characters, let's talk about the male love interest. 
Here's what NOT to do in teenage fantasy story; don't introduce the lead guy as simply being unattractive. What does that even mean?! We all have different standards of attractive. So give me some details about him and maybe say something about our lead gal finding him average or boring; but to say unattractive is just insulting (to the fictional character and to the reader frankly). 
To add insult to injury here the only other describer we get about this boy is that he is black. Um... okay; but that doesn't mean I have a picture in my head of what this guy looks like! It's like Albert thinks saying he's black means I will automatically have an image of what his guy must look like. It concerns me greatly that some minor characters got more description than our main guy. A skin colour is, of course, a descriptive element to a character, but it's far from being enough. And it concerns me that Albert thought skin colour might be enough of a description... 

It's especially frustrating as this boy is the saving grace of The Hazel Wood! Without him near the beginning I may have given up. He gives the story some optimism and hope. And his way of loving the Hinterlands and being a 'fan boy' is just adorable. I loved every minute he was on the page. Too bad he's in maybe 30% of the book total. More of him might have actually saved us from the dreary main gal killing the pace. It couldn't have saved the book entirely but it would have maybe gotten it to the four star mark. 

I must rant about this every second book I read. Or so it seems. Let me be blunt; if your character didn't have to work for it at all then it's probably too easy. Few things in life are easy, one random happenstance I'll accept (as one day my husband found a $100 bill in a parking lot, so it does happen) but having things just show up when needed is obnoxious and lazy writing. I would much prefer our lead gal having to work for the 'items' needed. Also then I might have been able to remember: a) what the items were, b) what their significant might be, c) cared about how they fit into the story. Instead Alberta has some guy leaving them behind for our lead gal. This lacks creativity and left me with no impression of what these items are or could become. It makes their use later in the story feel convenient. In this case convenience begets convenience. 

Here is one place where Albert does a great job. The actual plot of The Hazel Wood is brilliant. I love everything about what happens in the story overall and if provided with a broad plot summary would have been crazy excited about this book. Even after reading the story, I still think the plot is amazing and really creative.  The plot is the primary reason why this is a 3 star review and not a 2. It's hard to have a unique or creative idea in fantasy books these days and here is Albert with a (mostly) original idea. Too bad she butchers the characters, flow and feel of the story. It's a damn tragedy. 

I wanted to love this book so much. I was so enamoured by the tales of the Hinterlands and their twisted, unexpected outcomes. So here's what would make this book amazing. Let Melissa Albert write the fairy tales (as those that were told in full were quite good) and then give the main story and have someone else write it. In the hands of Bardugo, Sanderson, Meyer, etc. this could be a top-notch world and story. 
It really is sad that Albert isn't at the level of many other writers in the teen fantasy genre. I'm hopeful however, as this is a debut novel, that she can improve. I'll happily revisit the Hinterlands again in the future with the hope that it's less convenient, characters are fleshed out more and that the writing moves along at a better pace. I don't want to give up on the Hinterlands yet, as I feel there are more dark, creepy stories to enjoy. So I'll hold out hope that Melissa Albert is just too new on the scene to have found the right voice for her brilliant ideas. 

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

Book Review: The Protected

Title: Protected
Author: Claire Zorn
Genre: Young Adult, Teen, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

As many of the rating systems don't allow half stars I want to note that I've rounded up to 4 stars as I think Protected is a good young adult/teen book about grief and loss of a family member. This is a very quick read that doesn't disappoint.

When I was a child the book I first read about grief and lost was Tiger Eyes from Judy Blume. Protected reminded me a lot of that book as it takes a difficult topic and breaks it down to just what our lead gal thinking and feeling. That's it. No fancy philosophy or over-the-top statements (no John Green here!). Our lead gal has complex thoughts of course that are scattered; but by having the story from her internal monologue Claire Zorn allows the reader to immediately connect.

Zorn has done a terrific job of immediately getting across to the readers that we are leading with a typical high school setting. Whether it be the typical popular 'clone' girl or the cute new boy in  class, Zorn has laid out personalities that are slightly cliche but have their own nuances and feel like real people. Things like even the crappiest bully of all having moments of sympathy (just like in real life) or the best of intentions boy making a huge emotional mistake. These types of moments are very genuine and help remind us all that no one person is all good or all bad. We just are who we are as we try to exist in society. 

One thing I think is critical in contemporary teen novels is atmosphere. It's important to have the reader feel the anxiety, distress, grief, longing, excitement, etc. of a teen. Those of us (like myself) who were teens sometime ago can easily forget what it's like to feel like a teenager (I'm 35 now) and I think Zorn does a good job of connecting the reader to what our lead gal is feeling. This is also obviously critical in a story about the loss of a family member.

Accurate Bullying
During one scene, in which a backpack is 'stolen', I felt like a teen once again. The passive way that Zorn describes the bullying that happens to our lead gal is superb. I can honestly say that something very similar to the 'backpack incident' happened to me in high school and I felt like I was back while I read Zorn's words. It's difficult to really portray bullying in a way that makes you understand that the person being bullied knows what should or shouldn't happen and what they should or shouldn't do but that they are terrified to do anything for fear of further retribution. Zorn really captured this in a realistic and genuine way. This scene is easily the  best bullying scene I've read in a contemporary book in a long time. That may be because it's so close to my own experience; but I believe it's because it's so well written.

I would happily purchase this book for anyone experiencing grief of a family member or someone close to them; be they an adult or child. The way that our lead gal is affected by those around her is important for everyone to remember when dealing with others grief and even for dealing with our own. Certainly any parent can gather some tips on what not to do from Mom and Dad at points; and also maybe what might connect with a teen. Not everyone experiences grief the same way (and I think that is portrayed well in Protected) The different kinds of grief portrayed in Protected are honest, well crafted, thought-out and impactful. I'm glad to have read Protected and look forward to suggesting it alongside Tiger Eyes (which is dated by technology). They are both solid contemporary teen resources on grief that are easy to read but still moving and impactful.

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

Monday, April 2, 2018

Book Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Title: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Author: Becky Albertalli

Genre: Teen, Contemporary Fiction, LGBTQ 

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars  

I know, you are dumbfounded by my 3 star rating when the whole world seems to love this book. Don't worry I will explain and if you still don't see where I'm coming from that's okay! :) 

There are three major things I want to discuss:

1) How I may be too old for this teen book  

2) That it's the happiest contemporary book ever

3) Why everyone loves it so much (and it probably is 5-stars for them); just not for me

1) Am I too old?

I knew it would happen eventually... there would be a time when I was just too old to really appreciate a teen book. This will happen to everyone at some point and I told myself years ago that when it did happen I would admit it. So here I am admitting that I think it finally happened.

I turned 35 this year and up until now I could always see where a book was coming from, why a person of a certain age might like it, etc. Having read teen books since I was about 10 (my parents gave up and let me read them young-ish because I had run out of other stuff to read and be challenged by), I've read a lot of teen books over the last 25 years. Recently I have loved Scythe, Cinder, Timekeeper, The Last Namsara and greatly enjoyed On the Spectrum, Queens of Geek, Gathering Frost, etc. So I'm totally lost to teen fiction yet (and hope I never am)! 


Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens is a different kind of contemporary teen fiction than most (even from Queens of Geek or Geekerella). It is truly the day to day thoughts and life of a teen boy coming out to his realm of the world. Now I get that this is hugely significant to anyone at this age (I am bi myself and did sort of come out at one time in high school) and that social media, smartphones, etc. has changed the world since I was a kid. However there is a place in time in which a book just feels dumbed down. As though Becky Albertalli felt if she didn't explicitly express every single emotion Simon felt that we might miss something. That each and every email was hugely significant between Blue and Simon; and I found myself rolling my eyes and scoffing a lot while reading this story. It just felt so immature for teens. 

And yes maybe that is the truth of the world for teens these days, and yes I also really hate John Green and his overly philosophical 'grown-up' characters; but there is a middle ground and I think Albertalli missed it here and went too simple at the end of the day.

2) The Happiest Contemporary Book Ever

It's a nice change to read a book where things (mostly) work out well for everyone. Where the family is supportive, caring and the friends are still all (mostly) friends at the end of the story. Truly I enjoyed how happy the story was in general. 


Is it really true that Simon would only have anxiety about certain items, like coming out, for a couple of days? Would Blue and Simon have really clicked by email alone? 

I feel like there is a lack of realism here. Not only that at least one person is likely to be a giant jerk about things and not be apologetic; but also that Simon and Blue bonded so completely without actually knowing who each other are. 

Now, maybe we go back to point number one here; which is that I am too old to understand current communication options. I will concede that may be the case; but I'll also say that my siblings live in a different city from me and we still make sure to Skype with videos so that we feel like we aren't just 'texting' or having a side conversation all the time. There is something just different about a vocal conversation than a written one to me and I felt that the significance of this difference was really down-played in order to make everything seem perfect for the whole book. 

3) Why everyone loves it so much

I'm truly happy that this book has had such an effect on so many people, especially gay teens. That is far more important than my personal opinion on it. I felt similar about Twilight years ago; while I hated Twilight I can't deny that it brought a new generation to reading (including my own niece) and so I totally respect it was important to a generation and I can easily respect Simon and his story are important to the existing generation. 

BUT... (see a theme here)

Does everyone love it because it's a positive book in a sea of despair these days? Most contemporary books are heavily focused on some pretty depressing and huge, hard to tackle issues (The Hate U Give for example). And so by addressing a smaller issue, the idea of one or two boys coming out in high school, does it feel that much more manageable and easier? 

Don't get me wrong, I'm ecstatic that this is the case. 25 years ago you just didn't come out, period. Or if you did you were a very tough and brave person (and I don't mean just because you were socially connected; I mean you were prepared to get beat-up and pushed around). 

So if everyone loves it just because it's happy then maybe a hard look needs to be had at reading being about not only issues for teens but enjoyment of stories as well. Perhaps a lot of writers are missing what Becky Albertalli found; an inspiring and joyful story for people to be immersed in. Definitely worth a thought in our fearful, seemingly non-stop hateful environment these days. 


It's clear this is was not a book for my generation. And I'm okay with that. But it doesn't mean I will give it 5 stars because everyone else did. I didn't think this was the best coming out, teen turning point book I've ever read. While contemporaries are not my fave books in general I have read better ones. And contemporary stories where things feel a little more real and a little less 'glossy'. Ironically the gloss and happiness of this story will translate well to the silver screen and so the movie is likely to be very popular. 

BUT... I again appreciate the love for this book by others. It just won't be on my personal permanent shelf. However it will be on my recommendations list to teens or parents struggling with sexual identity in any way; and I certainly wouldn't ever dissuade anyone from reading Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens. 

I'm currently content to say I read it but felt too cynical and old for it at the end of the day.