Saturday, June 30, 2018

Book Review: Protogenesis

Title: Protogenesis
Author: Alysia Helming
Genre: YA, Teen, Urban Fantasy, Greek mythology
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

DNF at 21% 
Well, I broke my read 30-35% of a book before deciding to DNF. I’m sorry but this is just YA trash (and not the good kind). Now that I've had time to calm down some and sort out my thoughts I think I can write this review without too much ranting. But to sum up Alysia Helming's Protogenesis in short I would say it is painful. The writing, characters, plot, and everything else feel like a YA trope. I almost wondered at one point if she was making fun of the genre it was so cliche. 

The List of Ridiculous Things
I'm not sure how else to easily talk about all the issue I had with Protogenesis except to list them out for you: 
- Ever is not a name. It is a word. It is incredibly awkward to read things like "Ever carried her bag". In fact when our gal first meets him I had to read the paragraph twice to make sure I read correctly that his name is Ever. It's a ridiculous name and (so far as I could tell) added no actual value, except to confuse readers. 
- All teenage boys are gorgeous. Apparently this is quite the world (even though it appears to be Earth in our time period...) that our gal lives in. Every teenage boy she encounters (and even some male adults) seem to be drop dead gorgeous! This chick is either in hormone overload (which I suppose is possible as she's a teen) or else Helming can't find a way to describe people that isn't with positive adjectives.
- Coincidences galore. Our gal spends less than 12 hours in Greece (after flying from the USA), where she knows absolutely no one. She meets two people at the airport or during her travels in the first 12 hours. And somehow those EXACT two people just *happen* to attend the same school she attends? Really? 
But then the coincidences get worse... she happens to see a cats eye gem during her first 12 hours in Greece that seems to be important; and the next day at school in her geology class the teacher just so *happens* to talk about this gem? Where do I start with my complaints: geology is the study of rocks and earth not usually gems, what high school has geology class (isn't that just science class?), and what are the chances that she learns about this rare gem on her first day at the new school? I hate coincidences that are painfully obvious. At least try to work the plot points into a cohesive and believable story please. 
- I've read this before. Based on the prologue and the quick dispatch of our gal to a new country, plus the details of the blurb on the back; this is just Percy Jackson for girls. I've already read that book thanks, no need to read a female version of it. 

On top of all that the writing is very cliche. It must include every YA trope ever (hey check it out, ever is a word not a name!) in the opening chapters, Helming has written a forced plot and nothing is shown to us, it's all told in a stilted, amateur way. I hate to be so harsh but honestly I could not find a single thing to take away from this book that I liked, or felt like I hadn't read a thousand times before.

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

Book Review: Dangerous Crossing

Title: Dangerous Crossing
Author: Rachel Rhys
Genre: WWII, Historical Fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I have been thinking about what to write about Rachel Rhys' Dangerous Crossing for almost a week. This is a difficult book to really rate and write about as it's a bit confused about what it is; and yet I enjoyed the majority of what I read. So it's not that the book is bad but it's not a 4 or 5 star read either. 

Confused Plot
My largest complaint is that the plot isn't really a plot. Our lead gal gets on a cruise ship headed from England to Australia in 1939. Of course the world is just entering into WWII and things are starting to fall apart in Europe. It's interesting to think about a boat with all different nationalities, including some Jews already fleeing the Nazis, just before England declares all out war. This is explored in a very intriguing way as we being to realize that there are 'enemies' on board if war is declared and that some on the boat are definitely in line with Hitler and his regime policy of pushing the Jews. 
While there are mysterious and odd things happening on the cruise ship, some first class folks who 'slum' with tourist class, and every character is beautifully written and developed (back stories and all), I still never really felt like there was a plot. Unless plot can be a cruise ship going from one location to the next while the world is in turmoil? 

The Ending
My plot issues only compound once I get to the last few chapters and realize that what I thought was going on is not at all what was happening. It's not that the ending is coincidental or unrealistic; it's more that it came a little out of nowhere for me. Interestingly the events on the cruise are derived from true stories on that same cruise ship over a few years during WWII. So while Rhys has moved a few timelines for minor events on the ship and changed many of our main characters; everything she writes is based on fact (as explained at the end of the book). 

This is a decent piece of historical fiction that gives insight into what it would have been like to be just on the outskirts of WWII. To be waiting for any country to declare war; hopeful that it might be avoided. I think Rhys creates the kind of awkward suspense that is appropriate for all our characters. And she certainly creates a few well written villains to help tell the story to remind us all that while most were against the Nazi's policies; not everyone was. 
There are some really disturbing (at least to me) moments in Dangerous Crossing where I realized that the tension in our world today, that US President Donald Trump has created, could easily be the opening steps to a larger conflict; just like what is inevitable in 1939. Between controversial conversations that divide people who would otherwise have a potential to be friends and average people showing their 'true colors' as villians; any one of the people on the ship could be someone today. Additionally, some people saying that the stories of persecution against the Jews in German couldn't possibly be true. Yet we all have the knowledge that nothing was exaggerated by anyone. It really was that horrific and dangerous to be a Jew in 1939. So, if you replace Jew with Muslim, Hitler with Trump and German with United States you could almost be reading a story of today.
Whether Rhys did this on purpose, or it's just a case of history repeating itself, I'm not sure. What I do know is that Dangerous Crossing is a good reminder to us that you can get caught up in politics and choose sides that will eventually turn into murder and war. 

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

Friday, June 29, 2018

Book Review: The Transfigured Hart

Title: The Transfigured Hart
Author: Jane Yolen
Genre: Fairy Tale, Short Story
Rating: 5 out of 5

While Jane Yolen first had The Transfigured Hart published in 1975; this short story is one that can easily transcend decades and generations. Known for her fairy tale narratives, Yolen takes the story of a 'white deer' (aka. unicorn) and tells of two unlikely friends brought together my the search for the unicorn. 

Beautifully written and in the style of Grimm or Anderson; if you are looking for a 'new' fairy tale to read that has that older style of lyric writing I believe you will really enjoy The Transfigured Hart. For me this was a refreshing read as I have been reading a lot of intense historical fiction or bad YA tropes. It was the perfect little read. 

There's really not much else to say except that this is well worth the read. And you may find that you become addicted to Yolen's style of fairy tale writing. Luckily if you are she has a whole collection of published works, including some that have won the Nebula World Fantasy awards and many other accolades. 

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

Monday, June 25, 2018

Book Review: Ignited

Title: Ignited
Series: Dance of the Elements #1
Author: A. M. Deese
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Rating: 3-3.5 out of 5 stars

This is a solid read. While I only gave it 3 stars (maybe 3.5) the reasons are not to do with plot, characters or world building. Instead it's the ending. Once you get to the end of the book you feel like you only read a prelude; not a full book. It's not that the page count is particularly short (however for fantasy it is) but more that the major plot points are not resolved AT ALL by the end. This really bothered me. Yes it will get me to read the second book but it annoys me as a reader and certainly is a huge part of why this is not a four star book.  

Characters, Plot & World Building
A. M. Deese gives us characters that are all quite interesting. There is perhaps a bit of cliche and YA trope in many of them but overall I liked our lead gal. I felt compassion for her at times, and was overall cheering for her which is not always the case for me with female heroine YA books. 
The sort-of romantic interest is an interesting set-up. In general the use of flirtations and feminine wile's (if you will) is exactly what one would expect the women to use in male-power society and Deese does a good job of keeping these in line with what a teenage girl (our lead gal) might know or do. 
One of the major highlights for are chapters from Kay's POV. She is a younger child and her narrative is written perfectly. It feels just like the young girl is speaking to me the reader and telling me her reasons and side of the story. I adored this and couldn't help but feel like there was some true magic to Deese's ability to capture a child's thoughts and voice so well. Certainly all the characters felt like their own people but Kay's chapters really stood out to me. 
The actual plot and world building of this fantasy novel are very intricate and well done. I love that water is the currency. It's going to be our future Earth currency one day (as prophesied by many sci-fi writers and scientists) and so it felt like the perfect type of trade currency. The intricate council politics and in-fighting of families is wonderfully done and feels like solid, political high fantasy to me. 

Why is this YA? 
This was an unusual read for me in that I wanted it to be adult fantasy and not YA. Not because I don't like YA; but because the plot, politics, hierarchy, fighting and other elements all felt like they would be amazing if written at a 'higher' level. That's not to say that YA books can't have these things (and should have them of course) but it just seemed like Deese had dumbed down some elements (like possible romances and narrative of our lead gal) in order to make it a YA book. When instead it could have easily been written at the adult level with the characters voices still representing their age. I'd be curious to know if Deese intended this to be a YA book initially or not. It seems to me that her writing style would be best served if it was elevated to a Sanderson, Martin, Goodkind level of fantasy storytelling. That said it is good reading for older teens or adults (like me!) that love YA. 

A Bit Choppy
There were points in which the chapter swaps (including POV change) were a bit stilted. Now this may be because it appears my Kobo ARC was missing some pages that my Kindle app ARC was not... so forgive me in advance if this is not true in the final publication. There were times where I wanted more of a transition to remind me of who the next POV voice was. Especially near the beginning when a name wasn't necessarily enough to remind me of which character was which (there are a fair number of POVs in the book). 

The biggest reason for my three stars is the sudden ending that really frustrated me.. I just wanted so much more! Now that may not seem like a bad thing; but this is such a cliffhanger with no major plot resolution and so it's not at all satisfying. It's not the kind of 'ahhh I learned things but now I want more' cliffhanger; and instead feels like it just ends in the middle of the climax. Maybe it's more that the ending is a bit rushed? I'm not sure but something about the end and it's drop off really took the enjoyment out of the whole book for me. 
I am definitely going to watch for this series to continue and hope to read more from Deese. I think there is a great future in store for Deese and hope she continues to improve into the type of fantasy writing she seems to be headed towards.

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

Friday, June 22, 2018

Stitching: Part 2 Notre Dame

It’s full blown thunderstorm season here! A wonderfully fun time of year so long as you don’t need to go outside and don’t mind if your power or cable goes out! Lol. 

I recently completed the second of 10 parts in the Notre Dame series. These are gargoyles, chimeras, whatever you want to call them that are modeled off the exact statues on the exterior of Notre Dame Cathedral! 
I love seeing the stitching concept next to the original gargoyle picture that the designer, Ingleside Stitchery (Etsy only) had been sharing. There’s a fun Facebook group for this SAL as well which has greatly increased my desire to work on it. Now I just need Alice to get the same momentum. 
So far:

I’ve got sooo many new projects I want to start including some small ornaments using Coloris thread, a Jeannette Douglass gift for my mom, and a new baby Sampler (still to be chosen). 
And yet I still have 6+ projects on the go! 

Hope your spring (or autumn) stitching is blooming! 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Stitching Book Review: Improper Cross Stitch

Title: Improper Cross-Stitch
Author: Haley Pierson-Cox
Genre: Cross Stitch Patterns
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

With only 32 pages in my ARC (of the over 100 pages) I really can't tell you a lot about this book except that what I saw for patterns were not all that inspired. There are much funnier and more engaging books out there with inappropriate cross stitch patterns. 
I also felt that the introduction to cross stitch instructions were not as comprehensive or useful as I would have liked. There is talk of even weave vs open weave which I found odd. No one calls it open weave anymore. Usually we are talking about linen, evenweave and Aida. So I'm not sure why the author chose to use the more technical definitions here instead of just talking about the supplies that are commonly available these days.

Yes the charts are all full colour and charted for DMC. But what cross stitch books aren't these days? For a hardcover book, based on what I saw I would not purchase this one. Just nothing inspired or interesting enough for me. 

I can say that, as an experienced stitcher, this book has charts that are all appropriate for the beginner level. Nothing too difficult. Everything I saw had regular cross stitches or some backstitch in it. So if you want to start someone off whose never ever stitched this is not a terrible choice. Just give them better instructions than are at the front of this book and they should be fine. 
It's too bad this one wasn't better as I love crazy, fun and inappropriate cross stitch. I've stitched more than my fair share of hearts, flowers, etc.; as have most long time stitchers so I'm always up for something different, appropriate or not. But I suppose not every book can be a winner. 

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

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Book Review: Glow

Title: Glow
Author: Megan E. Bryant
Genre: Historical, YA 
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Books based on true stories are always a bit intense. When you're no longer creating every detail and the events or type of events that happen are based on real people then the suffering, pains and emotions felt by the characters in the story are more difficult to take. 
I found Glow to be a very well written story about the 'Radium Girls', as they have been dubbed. These are girls that worked during WWII in a factory setting painting numbers onto watches with radium paint. They were encouraged to 'tip' their tiny brushes with their lips or teeth in order to waste as little paint as possible. This resulted in them being exposed to, and ingesting, high concentrations of radium. Radium is of course radioactive and deadly to humans. 

The History
Even before reading the bibliography and historical notes provided by Megan E. Bryant at the end of the book, it was clear to me that a lot of research had been done into the events, details and lives of the Radium Girls. A quick perusal on Wikipedia will confirm many of the events that happen in Glow are based on true stories. While our characters are fictional and the exact progression of who and when certain key events happen; the actual events themselves (ie: teeth falling out, broken bones, doctors visits, protective equipment to workers in the factory except the women, etc.) our lead girls experience are all based on true fact. 

Two Timelines
A common layout for historical books these days is to have two timelines. The one in which we experience the past (often in letters like used in Glow, or journal entries) and the 'current day' situation; in which we follow a character that is discovering the past for one reason or another. This format for storing telling works very well and Bryant uses it to her advantage to connect us, as the reader, to her current day character and subsequently back to our Radium Girls. While the focus is on the ultimate sacrifice and injustice done to the Radium Girls there is also a progression of discovering the truth, or allowing yourself to 'see' the truth in our current day story. The entire book as a whole is about ensuring you see the real truth and are not blinded by what you hope or wish to be reality. It's especially poignant to note that turning a blind eye to obvious truths, in the case of the Radium Girls, can kill you.  

It's Not Pretty...
This is not a YA book to be handed to a young girl lightly. It is quite horrifying what these women were subject to. The way they were treated, dismissed and intentionally (by all accounts) poisoned. I would say if you wouldn't be comfortable giving a potential reader Night by Elie Wiesel, then I would also withhold Glow. While Night is far more horrific based how humans are treated (and certainly that there are so many humans affected), I could see Glow being just as upsetting to a young teen. 
I think everything is different when you know it's based on true fact. There are descriptions of oozing, festering wounds, teeth and jaw lose or removal, and overall ailing sickness from radiation poisoning that could be disturbing to some. For me, even more horrifying than the illness, is that the men involved in the factory, the doctors that advise the women, and anyone 'in the know' (including the scientists that worked with the radium on the second level of the factory) all allowed these women to be subject to radium's radioactive properties knowing it would make them sick and eventually prematurely kill them. The management and scientists would wear protective gear, and when the women asked about it they were told it wasn't of concern for what they were doing. This revelation of the despicable actions of those involved in killing these women is easily the most disturbing part for me. At points I felt ill to my stomach thinking of these girls being subject to such toxic conditions; especially when they are berated for not 'tipping' their brushes which resulted in them ingesting the deadly paint. 

This Book Deserves More Attention!
Given the historical story told here and it's eventual impact on today's labour laws, working condition requirements and perhaps even women's right or respect in the workplace; I am disappointed that Glow has such a small readership base to date. 
I think everyone over 18 (at minimum) should read this book. It's a quick, concise read and is a good reminder that we need to continue to be vigilant with regulations, safety procedures and working condition restrictions every day. It's too easy to be told 'don't worry about it' or 'you'll be fine' or be shamed into silence. Glow is a sad but important reminder to us that, not that long ago in civilized society, people were willing to sacrifice others for the almighty dollar. War times or not there is never a good reason to put someone at risk in order to save a few dollars. 

I encourage everyone to read Glow and reflect on the sacrifice the Radium Girls ultimately made in order for us to have a safer society today. There is much to be learned from the story of these girls. Certainly the most important is that we must always ensure we are looking out for ourselves when it comes to workplace conditions and safety. Your life or well being is not worth the money offered. The Radium Girls learned that much too late and it would be (and is) a tragedy for history to repeat itself anywhere in today's world in such a way as it did for these women. Let us advocate, learn and remain vigilant about safety as a way to commemorate and honour the Radium Girls for their sacrifice. 
Your first step towards appreciating and honouring these women can be to read Bryant's Glow. 

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

Monday, June 18, 2018

Book Review: The Continent

Title: The Continent
Author: Kiera Drake
Genre: Teen, YA, Fantasy
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I have re-read my review below a couple times and believe I have expressed myself appropriately. Yet here I am terrified to hit 'save' and post it for fear of hate mail, awful comments, etc. This fear in me in is ridiculous... and so I hit save knowing that if anyone chooses to skew my words on me or throw them in my face that they truly didn't understand, or want to understand what I'm saying below... I encourage respectful and genuine discussion about this book or the themes in it. I will not tolerate flat out hate comments or derogatory words. Let's be respectful and engage in meaningful and hopefully, educational conversation on both sides so we can help see each others POV. 

The Review
The Continent is a really well written and enjoyable book. I'm really disappointed that it has been boycotted by so many people who know so little about it; or who haven't even given it a chance. It seems that even if you resolve issues sensitivity readers may have in your book and spend countless hours editing it; it's impossible to get any respect. Shame on all those who are 'boycotting' or otherwise slamming The Continent without reading it. It's unfair to expect an author to resolve issues that may exist in a story and then refuse to even read their final product. That is not supportive or any way to get others to see your way of thinking.  This does not create an equal society or even help us progress towards one. What it does do is make those who complained more at fault than the original publishing team involved. Shame on all of you who will not read this book because you heard something or read the original ARC. You are part of the problem. If you don't help people to see and understand your POV in an encouraging and tolerant way then you are just begging for the fighting to continue. Ironically war and fighting is a central theme in The Continent and Kiera Drake shows us a unique way of approaching a problem like this by the end. 

On that note; let me start by being very, very clear. There are NO 'major problems' or 'issues' in this book that I see. Any issues or problems that may have existed in the original ARC manuscript last year have been resolved. Now maybe my opinion as 'just a white girl' isn't important but here it is regardless: 

Tribes & Skin Colour
The most ferocious of tribes that has killed the most people is described as white, translucent skin. The Spire is made up of all colours of skin (from it's original 4 regions) and folks there are more of a melange of colours than any specific one due to offspring of parents from different groups combining. 
There is NOT ONCE any mention of the following: 
- skin as dark as the night or midnight
- almond shaped eyes
- Or any other 'food' related comparisons. 

There is a great irony here, that is lost on many, that the change of the main killing tribe on the Continent to white skinned from whatever they were before changes NOTHING about the story whatsoever. It doesn't affect how anyone (in my opinion) would read this story or relate to it. Because it's just a detail that is insignificant. What is important to note is that there are two tribes with different cultures that are at war with one another for reasons most folks on both sides can barely recall or relate to. I honestly could care less what colour anyone's skin is in any book. Culture is much more important. A Canadian, like myself, can be of any hundreds of colours of skin. The type of culture someone is raised in is far more influential than anything. A past boyfriend was Canadian born to Chinese immigrant parents who had a huge influence on his view of the country compared to my 8-generations back Canadian parents. Whether we had the same colour of skin or not was not what defined either of us; it was the cultural influences around us that did. 

Special Snowflake?
The other major complaint I've heard (from people who haven't read this book) is that they don't want to read about a 'special snowflake' of a white girl 'saving' anyone. So let's make this really, really clear. The end of this book does NOT result in our lead gal 'saving' one group or another. It does not result in her single-handedly saving any one specific tribe. 
Ironically if you were to read this book, which I encourage anyone with an interest to do, you will find that the ending is far more complex than you might have expected. You'll also experience the immense change in our lead gal that results in you barely recognizing her and her values after her journey and time on the continent. 

Is there elitism?
Yes. Of course many of our characters start out as racist, prejudice or otherwise snobby towards certain ideas, groups or cultural attributes. This is how you show progress in characters. And it is exactly how you help readers come around to the values you are instilling. Something a really good YA/Teen book (in particular) does. 
When I first read The Giver as a child, my first real dystopian book that I 'got', I had a revelation that sometimes the laws or rules of a society or group are not the best or only way to exist. This is CRITICAL to our children learning when it is time to rebel and when it is time to concede. Without examples of poor and good behavior we cannot allow them to understand the differences or come to their own conclusions about what is morally right or wrong. Or what they want to be most important to them. I hope we teach our children and have a culture of morality that allows most to come to the conclusion that we should all be equal at some level. And we should all be celebrated for our differences not made more important because of them. 

I am very sad for Kiera Drake to be dragged through the mud after clearly trying very hard to please her sensitivity and preliminary ARC readers. Again, I don't know what that original ARC was like first hand; but IF it was even half as bad as some say, then I think the final published version of Drake's debut novel must be vastly improved. Instead of misrepresenting any one colour or tribe of people she clearly represents them as just different, in their own way. No one tribe or group of people is right or wrong in the Continent and that is exactly as it should be. It also makes for an excellent, contemplative read. I adored the love interest and other characters. And while I didn't think it was a five star book it wasn't far off of one. Certainly I kept wanting to pick it up and continue reading each time I had an opportunity. 

Make it an Essay/Book Club discussion
I would gladly give this to any YA or teen reader (young or old) and encourage them to think about some of the prejudice comments from the adults at the beginning; and then write about or consider the change in the lead gal through her journey. There are many excellent literary essay questions that could be written about based on the events and characters in The Continent. Things like: what would her parents think of our lead gal if they saw her at the end of the book versus the beginning? What would one of the Continent groups have thought had they seen the destruction of their war from the heli-plane above first? You can also get into the illusion of peace and if we ever really exist in a 'time of peace'? Given the current US government I think a dissertation could be written on the topic of comparing the ideals of peace and government rule in the Continent versus those of Trump and his cronies. 

My final word on this book is, if you have any interest at all in the blurb, or want to read about the idea of war/peace, prejudice/tolerance, etc. then JUST READ IT. And even if you are disappointed or don't agree with me, at least you can have an educated opinion on Drake's novel, instead of just regurgitating others comments without actually evaluating the source material. I believe in always basing our opinions on actual facts or first-hand accounts whenever possible. No book should be reviewed without someone at least attempting to read 25% or more. And for those that gave up three chapters in, shame on you for deciding you knew what would happen. For the record, you're wrong it does not play out the way you all assumed it does. So give it a shot and see. At least then you have a basis on which to have an opinion and are your own person and not some other reviewers parrot.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Book Review: Only Human

Title: Only Human
Series: Themis Files #3
Author: Sylvain Nuevel
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars 

Sylvain Neuvel answers the question (we all must have), what would happen if giant robots came to Earth? The inevitable science fiction answer is: it wouldn't go well for us. 
This last book in the Themis Files trilogy is as solid as the first two in the series; if a bit different. 
In fact each book of this series felt like it was about something different: 
- Book 1: Sleeping Giant: The intrigue and wonder of finding robot parts hidden around the world. It appeals to our curiosity and obsession that maybe we did not organically evolve on Earth. 

- Book 2: Waking Gods: The best way to describe this one is to say: the visit. The inevitable occurrence of the aliens coming back to Earth to see what we've done with their shiny robot and how our society has functioned. This is all out war with robots. So while it's sad it's also really fun. 

- Book 3: Only Human: Focuses on politics and fallout of having the robots be discovered. Most of this book is obsessed with the idea of where humans belong in the grand scheme of things and if 'interference' by other societies into existing ones is appropriate. And while this takes place on the larger planetary scale you can easily attribute it to Afghanistan, Syria and other places where 'interference' happens on Earth today which is meant to help the citizens of the area but perhaps doesn't always have the desired outcome we all wish for. 

Of the three books in the trilogy I enjoyed the second one (which is odd as it doesn't suffer at all from middle book syndrome) the most. 
Only Human is still well worthy of a 5-star rating; however, for those hoping for more epic robot battles or alien stand-offs they may be a little disappointed. That's not to say that nothing happens; just that it's not nearly as aggressive as book 2's conflicts. 

At the end of the day Only Human is really about two things:
1) People. How different people cope, adapt, and approach struggles of both emotional, physical and spiritual nature. It also spends a lot of talking about belief systems or the ideas of beliefs and their importance in the grand scheme of politics and planetary (or national) decisions. 
2) Human Fear. There is probably nothing more powerful than fear in a human being's mind. Fear will convince people: to do horrific things, to make unconventional or illogical decisions, and (mostly importantly) it convinces humans to treat one another like diseases, pests or monsters that need to be restricted, held captive or even killed. 

There is no doubt in my mind that Sylvain Neuvel has skyrocketed to be among an elite list of Canadian authors that are amazing at science fiction or dystopian stories. That elite list includes: Margaret Atwood, Robert J. Sawyer, William Gibson and Timothy J Anderson to name a few. 

I truly hope Neuvel has a long and successful career ahead of him. I will be waiting on the edge of my seat for his next brilliant read and happily revisit my giant robot buddies in the meantime. 

Book Review: Smoke City

Title: Smoke City
Author: Keith Rosson
Genre: Fiction, Religious
Rating: no rating given

DNF @ 65% 
If I'm going to give up on a book I like to do it at around the 30%-40% mark. As that feels like a point at which I've given the book a fair shot, but also it's still worthwhile to give up and not complete the book for reading challenge. Smoke City really challenged my usual 'rules' for DNF's. 
Oddly, I didn't DNF because this is a bad book, but because it just lost appeal for me. I didn't care what happened to any of our characters nor was I intrigued enough by the plot to continue. It just didn't make sense to carry forward. 

Plot & Characters
From the blurb for Keith Rosson's book you will know right away there is reincarnation, Joan of Arc and an (mostly) all male cast in Smoke City. Yet it's really a contemporary story with oral journal-esque entries from the executioner of Joan of Arc. If you're thinking what I did; which is no one person really killed Joan, then I suppose you will also be surprised to know (as I was) that only one person lit the fire at her feet on the day of her death. These journal-esque entries are very interesting, a bit gruesome, but well worth the read. Easily my favourite parts of the book. 
Instead the contemporary men just didn't do it for me. All of three of them are interesting enough as individuals; I just didn't connect with any of them. Neither did I have any sympathy for them. This may be because I had a hard time relating to these men. Each of them (there are 3 eventually) end up in the car (by fate) on a trip to Los Angeles. So they have little in common with one another. Thus it was hard to figure out why they were even putting up with one another; never mind why I was putting up with listening to each of them whine about their life. 
Between one guy that ruined his own life, the young idealist (and naive) teen, and the god obsessed man I just didn't have much in common with them and honestly felt like they were all very self-centered and inconsiderate of those around them. 

Similar to
I read a book a number of years ago that I hadn't thought about in a very long time; but certainly Smoke City reminded me of it on several occasions. It's called The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. While a totally different story it has many similarities including: leading male character(s), obsession with religion, and grotesque or gory moments that are very descriptive. I think if you liked The Gargoyle you are likely to enjoy Rosson's story. 

Normally I would give one-star to a book that I do not finish but as I don't think this book is poorly written or has massive flaws I am choosing not to rate it at all. Instead I think it just isn't for me. There are lots of reasons for this (as noted above). While I do not attend Christian church anymore I was raised in the Christian faith and have a fascination with religion and people's experiences with it. So I don't think it was the use of religion here that put me off, as it was that I just didn't connect with the overall story. I would try another book by Rosson in the future as the writing and plot was not the core of my issues. It was more about the character choices Rosson made. I'm confident they make sense for the end of the book but I just couldn't convince myself to keep picking it up to read. 

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

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Book Review: Dread Nation

Title: Dread Nation
Author: Justine Ireland
Series: Dread Nation #1
Genre: Young Adult, Historical, Horror
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

There are a few very disappointing things about Dread Nation; and that's on top of the author's poor attitude and comments on twitter. Let me say this: I do not agree with this author's attitude and comments but this review is about the book and not the author. I will add that I read a library copy of this book and did not give Justina Ireland endorsement or financial support in any way. 

Similar to The Belles
How could zombies during the American civil war and a beauty obsessed society possibly be similar? Let's start with the overall tone of each book. Each one is about being imprisoned and a slave. Whether it's an actual prison, a beautiful locked room or a grubby floor; if you are unable to come and go as you please then you are a prisoner. Both books are really about girls who are coping with their reality and trying to change their fate and effect those around them to think the same way and both books are at about the same rating level for me. They are mostly well written but have some major issues that immediately drop them out of the 4 and 5 star realm for me. 

Beaten within Inches of Death
And I'm not just talking about scenes in the book that happen to people. Yes it can be graphic at times but nothing extreme in my opinion. Ireland takes the topic of the civil war and slavery; and beats it into the readers that it's bad. No kidding?! I had no idea! (drips sarcasm)
Is there nothing deeper to discuss about the issue of slavery than that it's bad? I would have thought so. I would have thought that the better message would have been that all people are people (or at least alive people are, aka not the zombies). Instead Ireland comes at the topic by assuming her readers are dumb and need to have the truth of 'slavery is bad' pounded into their brains. Frankly it was not only irritating to read but kind of insulting to think Ireland felt no one knew that slavery is bad. 
As a white girl I'm not going to ever be able to say anything about this topic without offending someone or having my words twisted. But what I will say is this: I am NOT an idiot and I know slavery is bad. It would be nice if writers would write realizing most of their audience consists of (at least) moderately educated people who are not morons and whom deserve respect. So give me the 'slavery is bad' message in a different way. I don't need it spelled out so obviously or as often. Or better yet, don't mention it much at all and let the story make it clear that there is unfair treatment and inequality. If you need an example of how to do this well then go read Hunger Games. We hear about the luxuries of the Capital and the dilapidation of the Districts of course; but we don't need Katniss to remind us every page of her plight. Ireland needs to take notes from Collins. 

Most Arrogant Heroine Ever
Were it not for the uniqueness of the setting, Ireland's good writing and the zombies I'd have given up on reading this long before I was done. The main reason is our lead gal is arguably the most annoying and arrogant heroine in literature. She believes she is better than everyone else and seems to think she is above the law, rules or safeguards. Even when she is injuring and hurting other people with her actions she doesn't seem to care. Yes I know the law, rules, etc. are skewed and wrong (see slavery is bad note above); but for me that doesn't excuse our lead gal for doing things that put others in danger. When you know the group will be punished for your actions maybe you should be a little less selfish about your choices. This is completely lost on our heroine who seems to think that she is the smartest, bestest and most qualified to do anything. 
It is only for a moment near the end of the book when it even occurs to our lead gal that maybe, just maybe, the other blacks are not all useless and are playing a part, waiting for their moment to rebel. Or that not all the whites are okay with the status quo. But a good hunter lies in wait, patiently, for the right moment to reaction. Instead of showing us her character is smart, Ireland has the lead gal make rash, impulsive and selfish decisions constantly. This just made me really hate the lead and her 'no one is as good as me' attitude felt more obnoxious each page I flipped; especially when paired with the constant slavery is bad message.  

Survival Plot and more
Ireland could have made a common mistake with Dread Nation and because she doesn't I think it's worth noting. Surviving is not plot; yet many books seem to rely on it to be plot. Ireland gives us more plot than some readers may know what to do with. For me, I loved this aspect of Dread Nation. From the politics of Survivalists to missing people to why Summerland seems illogical; Ireland gives us a lot to think about. It would have been great if our lead girl had cared more about the plots afoot around her than complaining about how she's a slave and better than anyone else. 

OMG, every boy is so cute!
For a heroine that is as self-serving as our lead gal you'd expect her not to notice the men around her. And yet somehow she manages to have feelings (lust/love) towards every interesting man in every locale except for the (obviously evil) sheriff. There's an attempt at the very beginning of the book to set up instant chemistry between her and a boy that she gets into trouble with that fails miserably. Not only does Ireland tell us about the tension and prior relationship (instead of showing it), she also assumes that her readers are going to eat-up the love story and make it important even when she has downplayed it. In fact when our lead gal is thinking about said man later on I remember being surprised that she was suddenly concerned; given that she didn't seem to give him a second thought for quite some time. Maybe I'm too hopeful but there has got to be a happy medium between: characters that are obsessed in insta-love and characters who only remember about love interests when it serves the purpose of the plot. Oh wait, yet another thing that Hunger Games does well. How about that. ;) 

This is not a bad book, obviously, as three stars means I am still more or less glad to have read it. But it's not best book of the year quality either. I think a lot of people are drawn into it because Ireland can certainly write compelling and intricate stories; and if that is enough for you then I get why it has so many 5 stars. For me I need more. I would prefer the author didn't explain every nuance and instead let the moments and scenarios speak for themselves. It's just not necessary to spend two pages lecturing about how the blacks are being starved and the rest of the town still has full rations. It could easily have been told in a sentence or two. And it definitely doesn't require a paragraph explanation AND a discussion between characters to tell me. I think a smart editor who can cut out a lot of the 'over-explaining' moments, tone down the 'slavery is bad' message to make it still obvious but more respectful, and focus our heroine on the plot more, than this could be a 5-star book. 
Yet I'll give credit where credit is due; the woman can write very well. However, whether or not I'd buy or recommend one of her books largely depends on her ability to be respectful to everyone, regardless of skin colour, both on and off the written page. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Book Review : Select

Title: Select 
Author: Marit 
Series: Select #1
Genre: Young Adult, Teen, Urban Fantasy
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars 

This is not a bad book so much as to say that's not great. The premise is interesting (albeit a bit overdone perhaps), the characters are okay and while plot was missing for the first half of the book it turned up later on. I didn't hate every minute of reading Select but I can easily pick it apart to some degree. There are three major things I didn't like about Select that heavily influenced my three star rating: 
1) The Info Dump
2) Where's the Plot
3) Specialist of all Special Snowflakes

Let's chat about these three things: 

1) The Info Dump
I often wonder how some authors manage to bring readers into complex, magical fantasy realms without the 'info dump'. Sometimes it seems that dialogue about situations going on helps, other times it's a first person musing in a characters mind, and other times I'm baffled that I learned so much for a non-info dump start. It's clearly a talent and one that, unfortunately, Marit Wiesenberg has not yet mastered. 
I wish I could provide solid advice on what to change here or how to get away from the info dump; all I know is really great books don't do this. 

2) Where's the Plot
I feel like a broken record on this point. If you believe Twilight has plot before the 300 page mark then you have failed to understand what plot is. As this is a continuing issue in stories lately let's talk about what is not plot. 
Plot IS NOT: 
- two people liking each other
- someone moving somewhere
- an existence of a world
What Plot IS: 
- a mystery to be solved
- a situation to be resolved
- a catalyst of some sort (and the catalyst cannot be lust/love!)
The difference is that plot is a tangible thing. Unfortunately, Select has no plot until we get to at least halfway and realize that there is something afoot with our lead gal's father's "relocation plan". Prior to that we just have our lead gal lusting after a boy (insta-love warning!), her struggling to attend school everyday, her whining, etc. All things but not things that equal plot.

3) Specialist of all Special Snowflakes
So once we get some plot going (halfway point at best) we realize that perhaps part of the plot is that there is a search happening for a certain 'type' of person. Our lead gal and her family are members of a 'Select' group of people already. Okay cool. However to then infer that your lead character may be even more special is like adding too much icing on a cake. There is such a thing! Maybe I'm just tired of the specialist of all snowflake stories but this grated my nerves and felt like a cheap ploy to keep me reading (yes it worked but that doesn't mean I liked it).

Once you reach the point at which there is a mystery or issue to be resolved in Select it gets much better. Unfortunately it's too little too late for me. I finished the book if only because the writing was pretty good and I liked the characters (despite their annoying insta-love connection and 'selectness'). I will probably read the second book because the ending of Select sets up a very interesting circumstance I'm intrigued by. There's a lot going for Select it's just that Wiesenberg happened to hit on some of my major irritations with YA fiction lately. 
Be forewarned (like all YA books lately...) this is not a stand-alone book and you may be frustrated by the ending as it's a resolution of sorts; but certainly not an ending. I've already put book 2 on hold at my library (as I was declined for an ARC, sad face).  
My final note is that Wiesenberg probably has a successful career ahead of her if she can work on a few aspects of her stories. Writing is solid and characters are well developed. Just some tweaks here and there plus some plot and she is likely to be someone you will be hearing about in the future. 

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

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Book Review: The New Voices of Fantasy

Title: The New Voices of Fantasy
Editor: Peter S. Beagle & Jacob Weisman
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

One or two brilliant stories doesn’t make up for the half dozen not so great ones in this anthology. Overall this is a disappointing set of stories. However, the ones that are worth reading, if you were to say take this out at the library are by: Alyssa Wong, Brooke Bolander, E. Lily Yu, Kelly Sandoval. These four authors I will definitely watch for the future.

The rest of the stories either, weren't all that stunning. Some seemed just outrageous or impractical, some were poorly written. In the context of most anthologies I except to have a strong start, an okay middle set of stories and a strong ending. That was not the case here which is too bad.

Given that all of these authors are quite new to their genre, style, etc. I wouldn't exclude any of the authors I wasn't a fan of from being read in the future as these are what they say they are; new to the field authors. We have to accept and hope that all of them will improve over time.

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

Stitching: Bands Sampler Part 3

Getting Birthstone Dragons done and out of the way last week opened the door for me to work on another WIP. This weekend I worked on Lakeside Bands SAL. I really love this piece. I’m doing it on 40ct which is perhaps a hit overkill (36 or 32 would have been just as good). It uses DMC variegated floss that I continue to be very impressed with. 

Part 3 complete: 

Above: Part 2 & 3 together on my scroll rods. 

I love the autumn/fall tones of this set of variegated threads. I went with one of Lakesides thread packages as it was cheaper and I thought they did a great job of selecting our different colour palettes for folks. I think they had 5 or 6 variations on this one. And of course many decided to do their own picks of colour. 

I have no doubt that when you want a more affordable option than hand-dyed variegated threads that these DMC ones are a suitable substitute. Don’t get me wrong I’ll continue to love my hand-dyed looks but this is a fun piece to stitch and it’s been so interesting to use different materials than usual. 

Up Next: I gotta stop the hubby’s whining and work on some Alice. Lol. She’s been so poorly neglected since February. I’m not even sure why given that she’s close to a page finish!