Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Stitching: Dragon Finish!

I've completed last years SAL! Only six months behind which is, sadly, pretty good for me. 

This piece was fun as the colour schemes were known in advance (so you could collect DMC colours) but the type of dragon and pose were not. I think my two favourites are the sleeping dragon and the snake-like dragon (middle bottom row). In fact the snake-like dragon kind of looks like one of our pet snakes! 

Birthstone Dragons
SAL from Ingleside Imaginarium
For sale on Etsy: https://tinyurl.com/y94sy7zw
On 40 count R&R Reproductions Linen
Dragons done with DMC Floss
Border done with 'Sable' by Gentle Art Sampler

All birthstones omitted by design. I may add some stones or jewels to this at a later date but for now I like my dragons just as they are. That does; however, leave the green (tiny dragon in middle) appear to be an acrobat as he 'stands' on his tail. 

This finish should have opened the door for a new start but I'm holding back and going to catch up on my other two SALs and my husband is bugging me about poor neglected Alice. So I guess its time she went back into the rotation! 

Happy Stitching!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Book Review: The Butterfly Garden

Title: The Butterfly Garden
Author: Dot Hutchison
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Series: Book 1 of The Collector
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I'm not sure there is a descriptive word in English that adequately classifies The Butterfly Garden. It is both horrifying (content and plot) and yet brilliant (writing and characters) at the same time. 

The Plot
It should be noted, in case the blurb doesn't make it obvious enough, that this is a book about awful things done to teenage women. It has kidnapping, torture, rape, permanent marking and almost any other awful thing you can think of that someone would do to a captive. It is not to be taken lightly. And yet the horrifying nature of it all is actually what allows this to be such brilliant novel. Author Dot Hutchison leverages those awful things and uses them to write about friendship, family, and love. By taking the extremes of the bad, Hutchison is able to tell a strong and passionate story of the extremes we can be pushed to in order to find good in our lives. 

Lead Gal
She has so many names that I'm not even going to bother trying to name her. The focus of the story is two detectives interrogating one of the kidnapped women that seems to be 'the leader' of it all. She tells the story with a starkness that I loved. Her dryness, sarcasm and ice cold demeanor are exactly how I can imagine myself reacting to a situation like this. With little to no compassion for anyone except the girls whom she is trying to 'protect'. I like that Hutchison gives us some background and context for why she is so distant and how she is able to easily accept many things around her. By the end of the story any 'twists' that appear feel natural and obvious because the bond with our lead gal is so strong. 

The Love Story
I know what you're thinking... there's a love story?! Sort of. There are off branches of love between the kidnapped girls. There is a twisted type of love that the kidnapper has for the girls. It's beyond deplorable, and yet Hutchison describes it in such a way that I can totally understand someone convincing themselves that their reasons are justifiable. There is also another story of love (of sorts). One that I cannot say much about except that I hope we get a slice of what the future is for those directly impacted in the second or third book of this series. It's well positioned, among all the horror, that love exists in this garden because otherwise how could anyone survive. 

Unless you are drastically concerned about some of the content of this book I would recommend reading it. I don't read a lot of thriller/mystery type books in a year so I'm delighted that I chose this one as one of the few.  
Call me twisted, broken, awful, etc. but I couldn't put this book down and cannot wait to read the next two in the series that have new stories investigated by the same detectives. Hutchison spoke to a dark place in my soul that didn't even know it craved this story until it consumed me. Maybe those I recommend it to will think less of me; but I don't care because the brilliance of writing, story flow and characterization is too good to be hidden away because of the horror mechanisms used to tell the story.

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Book Review: Glass Town

Title: Glass Town
Author: Steven Savile
Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Science Fiction (mysticism)
Rating: 3.25 out of 5 stars

This is a hard book to rate. It's a book that requires thought, attention and dedicated reading time. If you're thinking "well that's how I always read" then I commend you.

Intensive Reading
For me I find myself (especially with ebooks) reading in line-ups, before meetings, at lunch, etc. So my reading time is not always sitting in my chair at home with no distractions. I wish it was; but if I want to read 100+ books in a year I cannot limit it to just those dedicated moments. After the first 50 pages or so I came to realize that Glass Town was one of those books (like Lord of the Rings) that requires your full attention if you want to catch all the nuances, foreshadowing and smart little quips. I call this 'intensive reading' as it requires all of your attention and is a different kind of reading than a romance, teen or even light thriller (ie: Dan Brown) is. 

The Author
Steven Savile is a well known writer in the TV world having worked on Torchwood, Doctor Who and other sci-fi/fantasy shows. As I was already familiar with Savile's television work I was very excited to read his debut novel. 
I think what Savile did with Glass Town is a bit extreme; in that he maybe got too excited about being able to provide every detail, thought and aspect of every moment of his story. Whereas in television he has dialogue and set notes at most (unless he's directing) so the tendency is to over explain, provide too much detail and potentially bore your reader. 

Lagging at times
Glass Town really needed a sharp, hack and slash editor. It is an amazing story and would make a gorgeous movie or mini series (I'd love to see it over say 6 episodes). That's where this is a hard book to review or give a rating to. What do you do with a book that is so well thought-out including: good characterization, involved plot, clever twists and mind-bending timelines; but just not that engaging? 
The answer for me was that I had to be wide awake and ready to read. I read before bed every night and this book was great for putting me to sleep, which was unfortunate as I'd have to re-read the next day. I read at lunch and found it was a bit intense to focus on in the middle of my work day (when I'm needing a break from thinking so hard). I also read after work and during commuting times. These times were the best to read Glass Town during as they are more focused reading. Unfortunately this limitation made it so that it took me a really long time to finish this book (by my standards). This resulted in me being tired of it before the end and almost skimming the last 50 pages (which is unfortunate as a lot of things happen). 

If you are okay with an intense read and like thrillers with a mystical twist then I believe you will really enjoy this book. If you are more of a casual reader or someone who prefers 'easy' reads then this is probably not for you. 
My hope is that in the future Savile can tighten up his writing. If he is able to do that then I believe I will adore his books as all the right things are there for Glass Town it was just a bit too overdone at times. I will definitely try another Savile book as the man is a genius when it comes to time bending, science fiction, mystical stories (which are some of my personal favourites)! 

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

Friday, May 18, 2018

Book Review: The Girl Without Magic

Title: The Girl Without Magic
Author: Megan O'Russell
Genre: YA/Teen Fantasy
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I feel like I just read the beginnings of three different novels and the end of one; and yet somehow they were all in the same book. Without a doubt The Girl Without Magic suffers from a lack of focus, plot, characterization and direction.

No Logical Tie-ins
Our story starts out with our leading gal waking up from the midst of a battle in a 'dark place' that eventually becomes what's known as 'Siren's Realm'. We go from there to her existing in 'Siren's Realm' before she ends up in another place (I'm not saying anything more here as it might be considered a spioler).
But here's the thing, right from the beginning, she doesn't seem concerned about if she actually 'died' in battle or wonder about getting back to Earth. She does't seem bothered by hew new existence in Siren's Realm and then when she leaves there to our third location she doesn't seem too caught up in how to return to Siren's Realm. It's baffling that a teenage girl would care so little about where she lives, resources, etc. To the point where for me this ruined the entire book.
Irregardless of the other issues (listed below) this was the crux of the problem for me.
I just don't believe that a teenage girl would care so little what happened to her friends, family, etc. on Earth, would accept her 'death' so easily, and not be concerned about getting back to stability. Sure it's implied in a couple spots that she's thought about it but zero emphasize or energy goes into these issues that I believe should be the dominant thing on her mind.

And the Hits Keep Coming
I could probably write an essay, as long as this book is, about all of the plot holes (or lack of plot at all!), dull characterizations, insta-love (oh yeah it's bad), and general flaws in this book. Megan O'Russell seems to address things that are burning questions (for me at least) to readers with offhand comments or not until 50 pages after.
A good example; our gal and her travelling companion fall (literally) into this new 'third' place and are captured by the locals whom they seem to be able to speak with no problem. No thought or concern about language barriers at all. About 6 chapters later our main gal mentions it to her (insta-love interest) and it's decided that it must be the 'magic' allowing it. This is easily the lamest and laziest reason that could possibly be given. O'Russell might as well written 'because the author decided she didn't want to deal with it'. Disservice to the reader and turns me right off.

Overall or The Irony
It's ironic that the dialogue and descriptiveness of the story was not terrible. This is the only reason I didn't DNF this (and that I wanted to finish a book!). It wasn't the quality of writing but the content of it that was frustrating (if that makes sense). I would compare it to Twilight in that it's an interesting enough idea and the writing is 'good enough' to read; but that the execution of the story, characters, plot, etc. was so awful that it ruins anything redeeming about the writing style.
And to think this is a series (and one that I could go on for eternity the way it's set-up as 'adventures' in new lands). Ugh.
I would suggest avoiding this book/series, and maybe even this author entirely. (Unless of course you think that Stephanie Meyer is the best writer of all time, then you might like this...)
I'm probably being far too generous to give it even 2 stars to be honest.

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

Monday, May 14, 2018

Stitching: Almost there Dragons

I’m soooo close to being done the Birthstone Dragons. Or at least done with the stitching part. I haven’t yet decided on actual gems or stones for this piece. I didn’t stitch in stones (and reworked all but one square) so that they don’t need them. But I’m still contemplating what to do. 
So here’s the last photo before finishing ones of the 12 Dragons (and I’m only 5 months after the SAL ended, which is sadly a good showing for me. Lol!!) 
My wicked witch helps keep these mythical beauties in line. :) 

This beauty should be done by end of next weekend I hope! Although it is nice here (finally) and gardening (ugh) must be done too. 

In other news: I’ve just started playing around with Instagram for my Etsy shop and it’s got me thinking about stitching photos. I seem to find myself often gravitating to angled close-ups as it shows some of the intricacies and details that a normal shot might not. 
I am interested in your thoughts on photos! 

Specific to stitching photos: do you prefer angled/artisty pictures, fun filters added or just straight up photos of stitching? 

Please share in comments or you can email me direct at epicstitching[at]gmail[dot]com. 
Looking forward to opinions and thoughts! 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Book Review: Wonderblood

Title: Wonderblood
Author: Julia Whicker
Genre: Science Fiction, Literary
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

While the setting and dystopian features of Wonderblood may not sound different from the average dystopian book; it is certainly in the literary realm of Station Eleven and Cloud Atlas. 
The story takes place in the continental USA when a disease has ravished the country and not only killed many but contaminated the actual soil of the earth. The style and tone of Julia Whicker's writing is very literary. One of the religions uses historical space shuttle names as a part of their lore. Ironically there are no space excursions or futuristic elements to Wonderblood even though it is set in the future. It has a little magic, a little science, a little horror; but a lot of beautiful and thought bending prose. 

Writing Style
A huge portion of the experience reading Wonderblood is being immersed in the literary style that Whicker employs. You could just as easily have been reading a historical account. The setting is the future but it's a nomadic (no technology) world and so it feels different from the average sci-fi novel. The 'magic' in the book is rooted in scientific concepts but they are not explained or analyzed in the context of modern science. Finally, there is lots of blood but it's not described in a horrific way that feels like a horror story. 
Wonderblood is, at its core, a literary book. The mood of the writing is as much the story as the actual plot and characters themselves. The use of descriptors (woman, girl, man) instead of names, when we are experiencing the world from certain points of view, reinforces that there is a theme to the way the story is told. This tone and style affects how the story feels as you read it. It's more than just a story about people in tough times.  

Yes it's awful...but not like you think
It's very difficult to write a dystopian story without having a lot of blood and death. It's just the nature we expect from dystopian books. Whicker certainly doesn't shy away from the horrors of her futuristic societies (we follow two different religious/social groups); but she also doesn't emphasize them either. From certain points of view the blood is horrific, and from others it's just part of a ritual. In some instances carrying a rotting head around is terrifying and disgusting; but for others it's comforting and a way of life. Whicker has normalized some of the horror to a point where we start to understand why some of our characters don't comprehend that what they are doing is perhaps morally objectionable.

I think using the names of space shuttles to form the basis for a religion is a cute nod towards the science fiction genre. It’s easy to get caught up in the intricacies of each group’s religious practices that define their morals, laws, personal interactions, rituals, etc. As with most religions there are important books or texts and being able to read and interpret them is of value. The core elements of most religions exists here and yet these two religions are far from our own. Whicker is, I believe, making a point about religion throughout the book. She uses elements from our true past and skews them into these new religious groups. The insinuation, of course, is that perhaps we don't interpret or understand the culture or context of the ideals we worship. A bit of a jab at religion in general; which is ironic given the importance of the two competing religions to the book. 

Characters & Plot
If you're looking for an in-depth character analysis or active intricate plot you've probably got the wrong book. The core of Wonderblood is the analysis of what drives and motives humans to be a certain way. There is no real plot except that a comet appears in the sky and our two religious groups react to this appearance. For me that was enough plot to set-up the reasons why things start to happen; but I could see how many may find this book to be too unsubstantial or lacking focus because there is no real purpose to the story other than to explore morals, faith and human nature. 

I really enjoyed this book. Upon finishing it I instantly wanted to read it again. Wonderblood is a book that could easily be analyzed and studied in any classroom at any level. It’s the kind of book people will love to hate as its literary style may be a bit more challenging than your average read. Therefore you have to put some effort into reading Wonderblood as it is riddled subtle and symbolic events and thoughts. For me, the effort was worth it. I loved contemplating the intricacies. Had I read this book as a teen I could see it having a profound impact on me (assuming I read it all the way through). As it was, even as an adult, I loved how much it made me think. I will definitely be purchasing this book for my print library. I cannot wait to read it again and revisit the morals, concepts and ideals set-up in this dystopian future. 

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

Monday, May 7, 2018

Book Review: Exit West

Title: Exit West
Author: Mohsin Hamid
Genre: Literary Fiction, Magical Realism
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

So you can understand where my (unpopular) opinion is coming from with Exit West...
My favourite genre is Fantasy/Sci-Fi. My next favourites are Historical and Literary (not romance versions of these genres). 

So going into Exit West I was really hoping to experience a literary story about refugees with an interesting spin to it. The doors to random places in the world is a great idea when it comes to refugees just being plopped down somewhere random. It's likely what most countries refugee admittance systems feels like right now to many. 
Certainly small amounts of fantasy/sci-fi can be added into a story that is very realistic and come out as superb. Station Eleven is always one of my favourite examples of this. I also think of The Alchemist and Life of Pi. Unfortunately Mohsin Hamid missed the mark for me on this. 

Pick a Genre..? 
When Hamid starts off the story it's clear that this is a refugee story that is all too true (and sad) for so many. The first 1/3 or so of the book has no magical elements in it and only rumours of these 'doors' that allow folks to escape. It's what I would expect from a book classified like this one. Raw, scary and intense bombing which results in many emotions for our lead characters. 
Then our 2 lead characters go through a door and it's as though the story of 'escaping' Syria wasn't worth telling or Hamid doesn't want to bother with it. Instead he wants to focus on what it's like trying to fit into the 'new' country they have been put down in. This seemed a bit odd to me...

Feels too passive
I work with a lady who was 7 years old when her family fled Vietnam during the war to a refugee camp. They were put on a list, waiting to hear what country they would go to. She said it was agonizing to wait in the worsts conditions she's seen in her life. Luckily they were only there about 10 months before being cleared to come to Canada. I don't do her story justice at all, as the real meat of it and the grief she went through is so poignant I wouldn't want to tell it on her behalf. The biggest challenge wasn't learning English or immersing themselves in Canadian culture. Instead it was the actual night they fled on a small boat in pitch dark to arrive at a camp that was no better than a hole in the mud with a canvas roof.  
Her story has always made me appreciate that it's not the shock of a new life that lingers with many but instead the scarring experience of leaving everything behind. By taking away most of the fleeing feeling in Exit West I think Hamid is taking away a critical part of any refugee story. It just doesn't feel right. It's too passive and (for me) doesn't do any one refugee's fleeing story justice. 

Relationships & Characters
The focus of the story is actually our lead couple and their emotional experience towards each other during this time of strife. Unfortunately our lead folks were very flat and boring to me. I never felt like I truly knew or understood either of them. I had no emotional connection and at times felt I'd rather read the larger stories from the random 'one-off' people that Hamid writes about than actually read about our leading characters. 
That is one thing I really enjoyed was the 1-2 page snippets of others living in this same world alongside our lead couple. Unfortunately I felt more connected to many of these people than to our leading ones. 

Exit West misses the mark for me. It's too random and not real enough; and frankly boring. The magical doors are used as an excuse (in my opinion) to downplay the fleeing that refugees do and this just feels wrong to me. It takes away some of the fear and 'excitement', as well as downplays what is a critical part of any refugee story. I get that maybe Hamid is trying not to sensationalize the fear but I think it was taken too far and just made the story dull as our characters move from door to door. 
I'd have rather read a truer account of a refugee's experience or read a more fantastical story. The attempt to bring a small amount of magic into this story is a flop.
I would recommend you pick-up a real refugee story or read a book more realistic in some of these war-torn and abused countries instead of reading Exit West. Having read a lot of WWII fiction I'm now looking towards books like Kite Runner (which I have not read yet) where they (seem to) have a more genuine look at more recent refugee situations. I recommend you also do the same and pass over Exit West.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Book Review: The Silver Music Box

Title: The Silver Music Box
Author: Mina Baites
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

When I read the blurb on the back of The Silver Music Box I expected a story that jumped between the past and the 'present'. Initially I was disappointed that this is not how the story is written. 

Usually organization of material is only relevant in non-fiction; however, Mina Baites has made it relevant in this book. The blurb will lead you to believe that you will be reading the story of a woman discovering her heritage for half the book. While technically you do read Lillian's heritage story; however, it's very misleading as that portion of the story is only the last 70 or so pages. I would have much preferred to read up to a point when many of our characters are separated in WWII, or Lillian is dropped at the orphanage (not a spoiler it's in the blurb). Then a second book could have been Lillian's story that discusses her origination and eventually ties her to our previous characters. 

Main Story
I adored the main story and the way it was set-up to focus on chunks of time that are relevant. There are points where it may skip many years but it never felt like I missed out on anything important. 
Additionally the main story is where the true value and morale behind the story of The Silver Music Box is pointed to. That morale is that: while events that may seem innocuous in the past they can become the reason something happens in the future. Baites shows us that karma is indeed true and that if you give something positive to someone you will receive positive back (albeit might take 30 years, lol). 

The End Story
I'm calling the end story the portion where we move forward rapidly in time and find out the fate of our characters from the eyes of Lillian (the orphan). Instead of telling us the full story in the main story line we are instead told the ultimate outcome of our main characters as it it is told to Lillian, who is searching for answers about the music box. 
I found this to be very unsatisfying. I had no vested interest in Lillian and just wanted to go back to the POV's that I loved. That of Paul, Lotte, etc. And while some of our characters do tell their own story to our future gal it's not near as satisfying as if I had read it in order and from their viewpoint like the rest of the book is written. 

I loved the first approx. 350 pages. The transition over to the orphan in the future seemed unnecessary and annoying. Almost like Baites was told to quickly wrap things up and so to do that she rushes the last of the story in to a flashback. 
I will certainly pick up Baites again. I really did love 75% or more of the book. I also adored the way a series of events created causality in the future. Karma can be a powerful thing and so Baites clearly illustrates that if you give to others they will (eventually) give back unto you or yours.

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