Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Book Review: Brother

BrotherBrother by David Chariandy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a literary take on being a minority teen and living in a large city (in this case Toronto) in a minority community. The first half took me a little while to get into. Once I hit the halfway mark it suddenly seemed like I had been with these characters all along. I'm not sure what triggered this change. All I know is that once it happened it was like magic.

Difficult Reminder
I think sometimes Canadians (especially Caucasians) like to believe that conditions aren't as bad here as they are in the United States for minority groups. David Chariandy certainly reminds Canadians that that isn't true. It's difficult for me to accept and realize that some conditions and situations are so awful in my country for minorities. It's also frustrating and infuriating to think that anyone might be singled out or spoken to like some of the characters in Brother in my own Canadian city (Calgary).
I was especially upset by the scenes that depict the minority Mothers being accosted or pushed out of a grocery store. How is it that we can't allow people to buy groceries in peace?! Nourishment is a fundamental need to exist! At points I wanted to go online or to the top of a rooftop and tell all these minority women that I'm sorry on behalf of all the white people that treat them poorly. As a woman I think the moments in which the women were pushed around and chose to be silent or quietly accept the awful things being said or done were the hardest. I know why those women chose to react the way they do and it's out of fear and a desire to not 'cause a scene' or diffuse the situation with silence. This is a frustrating reality that many women live on a daily basis and I wish it didn't need to be that way.

Reminder to Myself
There is a second part to my frustration, Brother reminded me to be cautious of how I appear to react to people when I take public transit, walk on the sidewalk or otherwise am out in public. Am I intentionally scorning some people without realizing it? Do I have an unconscious reaction to cross the street or change my route because of who is on the street in front of me? While I may be admiring someone's unique (and gorgeous) scarf or clothing, could they be misinterpreting my interest in their traditional clothing?
I want to stop this in myself. Especially as I've recently been taking public transit to and from work (into Calgary downtown core) everyday. I cannot hide, and would not want to, that I am a white girl with a decent job. This is obvious based on my outward appearance. Just the same as a black woman cannot hide herself. Thinking about this obvious appearance and what it may mean to others has made me more conscious of my actions or facial expressions. It has made me smile, nod or otherwise try to appear pleasant to more people (even if I've had a bad day). White I may not be able to change anything at least I know (or hope) I didn't make it any worse for anyone.

The main focus of this book, besides prejudice and racism, is definitely the dynamic family relationships that exist. The title is well chosen. Brother is all about our lead characters older brother at the end of the day.
Chariandy has made me hope that those in positions of power or that are looked up to (which is essentially everyone in some instance) realize how much their actions and choice can affect the younger people around them. Brother is all about how the older brother appears to the younger.
I think it's too easy to forget that we are always being watched by younger generations. Whether that person is a child, teen or adult. Our decisions ultimately mean something to everyone around us. I for one hope that I am setting a good precedent for those that may look up to me. Especially when I think about my teenage nieces and nephew. I am usually conscious that I am influencing my toddler nieces because they are so young; but I wonder if over the years I ever made the same connection when it came to my older nieces and nephew. I'm now reminding myself that it's never too late to think harder about my decisions and the message they my send. If I want others to be morale and good people then I must ensure I am doing everything I can to be one myself.

This is certainly a story that any English teacher could read a lot into. It's relevant to the violence and constant prejudice that exists in today's society; and a good reminder that Canada is not necessarily any better than any other country (especially the USA). Maybe we have fewer guns (and subsequently less violent deaths than the USA) but that doesn't mean we aren't just as awful to minority groups in other ways or aren't creating situations that lead to similar violence or discriminatory acts.
Making people feel safe needs to become more of a focus. We need to convince both children, teens and adults that they don't need to be the biggest bully to be safe. And everyone needs to truly think about the reality of society and living in Canada; instead of making ourselves believe it's better "just because".
I thank Chariandy for writing and sharing this story. I presume some of it is based on things he saw in his own childhood or has heard about in Toronto. There is an obvious truth to the words in Brother and we could all benefit from reading them and reflecting on them as they relate to our everyday lives.
Remember we are all just people trying to get by in any way we can. Ours and others bad decisions are usually because of circumstance, lack of education or understanding. Everyone could benefit from a little more compassion towards one another. We are all just trying to exist and survive in the climate and circumstances we have been put into. Brother is an excellent reminder of this. The realistic setting, dialogue and situations from Brother happen everyday and we should all try to be more aware of our role in each interaction in our own communities.

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Book Review: The Night Dragon

The Night DragonThe Night Dragon by Naomi Howarth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love a simple, few words children's story. Not only because it means they are quick to read before bed to children (no one really wants to read all the words in Dr. Seuss every night, let's just admit that to ourselves now) but because they are stories that children can learn and remember. I love when a child sits next to me and knows the next words on the page. Not because they can 'read' them but because they are simply, yet memorable enough to be worthy of a rapid child's mind remembering. This is the beginning of a relationship with words and reading that I always wish every child and adult could have. The Night Dragon is exactly this kind of simple; yet wonderful story.

The Illustrations
So much colour! If dragons don't already lend themselves to gorgeous children's book illustrations; Howarth takes it to another level by adding such vibrant colour and detail to each page. Whether it's in the dragons themselves (especially our rainbow gal) or in the landscapes and sky that is the setting.
While the story of a children's book is very important, we might as well face it, both adults and children need to have interesting and engaging artwork as well. If the art of the book isn't as good or better than the story then children won't be leaning over to see the pages and point out little details in each illustration. Words are engaging for so many of us; but for children, storytelling and understanding starts with the pictures. Pictures are after all something kids can understand without needing to learn any letters, words, grammar or context.

The Story
Let's not pretend here, this is really the age old story of the Ugly Duckling or Rudolph. It's the story of a misfit who doesn't fit in. And yet this take on the story is so sweet and lovely that I can't find any reason to criticize the choice of core story.
As all stories of misfits go, one day/night things don't go the way they usually do and so the lead character (Maud the rainbow dragon) must find her courage and lift herself into the sky to help the sun go down. The use of the beautiful colours of a sunset sky is clever here by Howarth and I commend her for finding a bit of magic in daily life on earth. The next time I see a beautiful sunset I am sure to think of Maud the Dragon and her friend Mouse who courageously bring those colours to the sky before the night descends.

The only downfall of this story in my mind is that there is a bit of a gender barrier put up by the night dragons all being boys (as far as I can tell) and our lead rainbow dragon being a girl. This may have been intentional by Howarth to speak of women's role in the world being as important as men's. However I would have preferred if our dragons had remained gender neutral. As then the idea of all dragons being boys or all rainbow creatures relating to girls wouldn't be reinforced here. It may be subtle but I do believe these types of small things are large influences (besides the obvious ones) for children to divide our world into boy and girl things.

I plan to purchase this book for at least two families of toddlers I am close with. It's simple story is always worth telling. One family has two boys and the other two girls. I see no reason why this story can't be relevant and important to both of them. It may be that the girls will take to it quicker than the boys; but I hope that is not the case. No matter how you feel about the gender divide in The Night Dragon I am confident everyone will agree that the story of a misfit finding their place in the world amongst daily beauty is one that is worthy of being told and read. I would happily read this story each night for months on end to a child who requests it; and I do believe they will fall in love with it and ask for it again and again.

For this and more of my reviews please visit my blog at: Epic Reading

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

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Sunday, August 19, 2018

Book Review: Spinning Silver

Spinning SilverSpinning Silver by Naomi Novik

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's been almost two weeks since I read this and I'm still struggling to write a review for it. Let me see if I can get my feelings down today.

High Expectations
Spinning Silver is one of my most anticipated books of 2018. The problem with hyped books or ones I'm dying to read is that my expectations are so much higher than they would be for most other books or authors. Naomi Novik has set a precedent for herself that is probably unfair for me to use as a benchmark. Let's face it if we all reviewed books based on our ultimate favourites most great books wouldn't get five stars because they weren't amazing. You know? So my rating of Spinning Silver for 5 stars is based off how I would rate it if it wasn't Novik or someone equally as amazing.

The First Half
I adored the first half of Spinning Silver. The use of the premise from Rumplestiltskin is so clever that if you didn't know that story fairly well you'd likely think Novik came up with the idea all on her. Certainly she makes it her own inside of the world she has built.
I know many want to know if this is the same 'world' as Uprooted and I would confidently say that it could be. It's never alluded to (at least that I caught) that it is but the style, setting, magic, etc. all fits into the Uprooted setting. These could certainly be places on opposite sides of a continent that are in the same general world of each other.

The Characters
As always the characters that Novik brings to life are superb. All three of our main girls are interesting and relatable (if not always likeable). I was less drawn to the 'duchess' character than to our other two gals, who are peasant girls. I think because the other two girls had to work sooo hard for everything they had; and I gotta say I respect that strength in them. There are male characters as well including an ice king and a little boy. I liked Novik's use of the little boy to tell the more gruesome parts of the story. This is always smart (I think) by authors as showing a difficult scene without it being totally gory and horrifying (even if in reality it would be) through the eyes of a child tones down the moment. Or at least allows the descriptions to be simpler.

The Second Half
I'll admit I lost a lot of interest in the last half of this book. Now this could be because there was a lot going on in my personal life; but I think it was more that I was getting tired of trying to figure out whose perspective we were hearing from and keeping our girls all separate. The three gals are different but at the same time their 'tone' or 'expression' of narrating the story were almost identical. This meant that, because there are no names to chapter or perspective breaks, that it sometimes took me a couple sentences to figure out what character I was seeing the story from.
This felt like a lot of work. In a few cases (especially once there were multiple sets of similar settings at one time) I got so confused I had to re-read a section. I'd like to think I'm a more attentive reader (and smart enough) than to have issues with a well written change of perspective. I think that some of the transitions were lazy and that is what caused the problem. It wasn't enough to deter me from loving the story or the lyrical way in which Novik tells it. But it was enough that I noticed it and was mildly annoyed.

The Ending
The second major flaw of Spinning Silver (after the perspective swapping issue above) is that there were too many endings. I call this the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) ending syndrome. Novik is far from the first to fall subject to this issue. It's very common amongst writers who have lots of complex and important characters in their book. The syndrome is that the reader feels like the story is over long before the actual book is. The climax of this book is easily 100 pages before the actual last page of writing. Which meant that there were multiple scenes of 'ending' but not 'ending' and just too much that happened after. Like LOTR the secondary conflict and 'climax' wasn't as good as the first (think Scouring of the Shore following the Battle at Minas Tirith) which caused me to be fatigued by the story and characters near the end.
Additionally the last moment in the book made no sense to me whatsoever. I didn't feel like there hadn't been enough leading up to that point to compel a character to make the decision she makes. But maybe I missed some subtle cues during the last 100 pages as I was tuned out of the story to some degree.

Naomi Novik is an amazing author and my criticisms above I would mention and glance over in most other authors works. That is why I kept my rating at 5 stars. I will still purchase this book in trade paperback and proudly display it on my print bookshelf. I am very picky about what goes in the physical book collection these days due to space and cost so the highest compliment to a book I can give is to add it to my library.
I think my critiques of where Spinning Silver could have been better have more to do with expecting something beyond amazing out of it and less to do with them really being all that bad. And let's face it I love LOTR, so the syndrome I associate with it is clearly not a deal breaker.
I can't wait for the next 'fairy tale' story Novik gives to us. I'm hoping she will keep the fairy tales unique and entirely her own as she has done to date with Uprooted and Spinning Silver.

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Stitching - Ducky Finish

As always the world and time are moving so fast I can barely keep up. Between travelling to my Grandmother's farm to say goodbye to it (being sold, sad), to seeing concerts, to visiting Houston, to keeping my Etsy shop up, it's been quite the summer!

The bad news of that is always that the first thing to drop is stitching and reading. So sadly I only have a teeny tiny finish to share. But at least it's something right? 
I am making some good progress on Here There Be Dragons and so I'd like to share that with you all in the next couple of weeks too. 

So if you're still following my stitching let me say thank you so much!! Because I know it's been so slow. And secondly that Alice is going to come back into high rotation in September. Because I need to put some stitches into that girl or it will take the next two decades to finish her! 

In the meantime here is a little Duck made from an old Mill Hill Perforated Paper kit. These are the kits where they were all beads and no 'thread' cross-stitching shown. 

Finally I'll leave you with the cutest damn purse I have ever owned! It is from a limited edition, Houston only, NASA themed collection by Coach. And before you think, omg how did you afford a leather purse from Coach, let me assure it's not because I can afford it. LOL! But instead because it was a whopping 80% off at an outlet store in Houston. It's like this cutey was meant to come home with me. 

Again thanks for continuing to pop-by and visit my blog that collects dust! I should have a couple good giveaways coming in the fall so maybe you'll stop by again soon. :) 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Book Review: A Taxonomy of Love

A Taxonomy of LoveA Taxonomy of Love by Rachael Allen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is adorable! I don't usually like contemporary teen books but am so glad that every now and again I am reminded of why I read them.
I don't know how close to being a teenager Rachael Allen is at the time of writing this; but it feels genuine. The narrative, dialogue, taxonomy and journal entries all really worked well together giving this diverse book unique diverse ways to tell it's story!

Neuro Issues
This book focuses on two teens: our main narrative, a boy with Tourette's syndrome; and a girl who (early on) loses an important person to her. Both are well done but certainly our lead guy is the primary character for this story. As with many neuro disorders it is hard to hide the external signs. I have overactive nerves and constantly have people ask me if I'm okay because my legs are twitching or vibrating. There is nothing I can do about it, and like our lead guy, thinking about not doing it only makes the sensation and compulsion worse.
Allen clearly did her homework when it comes to the embarrassment and awkwardness that comes with Tourette's and I commend her for making her lead boy someone completely average that happens to have a neuro disease. Additionally she deserves HUGE props for talking about medication, it's side effects and the continuing struggle to balance medication, side effects and life. I struggle with this on an almost daily basis myself for both my nerve disorder pain and my anxiety. It's refreshing to see an author include medication conversations and considerations as part of the normal everyday life of someone with a neuro disorder or disease.

All the feelings
Like many contemporary teen books, The Taxonomy of Love, takes it's reader on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. There are no moments where I felt the emotion or events were cheap, unrealistic or overplayed. It was like Allen had been in the minds of each teen she wrote about and understood how they would have reacted and felt. It's impressive to write teenagers so well and without it coming across as drama for the sake of drama.
Be prepared as there are tear jerker events, heartbreak, disappointment, etc. As well as bullying, first time having sex, suicidal thoughts, and other moments that may be difficult to handle. But amongst all those events and feelings are ones of trust, love and survival. If nothing else I would say Allen is telling a story of teenagers who survived being a teenager. While I am 20 years away from having been a teenager, I still remain glad that I survived that stage of life. And survival seems the right word for what most of us experience as a teen. I think this book will help teenagers feel a little more normal and (maybe) gain some perspective into their own confused and overpowering feelings.

I really enjoyed this quick read. The taxonomy is cute; however I would have liked a bit of a lesson on taxonomy. While I personally know what it is, I believe there are many teens and adults that wouldn't. So I take one star away because the one thing Allen fails at is educating the reader on what taxonomy is and why it is used. A little ironic given the extensive use of taxonomy and it's use on the cover of the book. While I want books to be fun and enjoyable; I do like learning things as well. This seems like an easy teaching opportunity that was missed.

I would highly recommend this for boys or girls that are over 13. There is one scene in which it's a little nerve wracking as a character has a suicidal moment. It's brief and not focused on (I can't spoil why, but I promise it makes sense); however, it could be traumatizing for a pre-teen to read.
That said it's a quick read so if you want to read it in advance before giving it to a teen I don't think even adults would be disappointed.

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

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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Book Review: Scion of the Fox

Scion of the Fox (The Realms of Ancient, #1)Scion of the Fox by S.M. Beiko

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This Canadian gem is a great first novel in a new compelling and unique fantasy series. I'm usually not one to love urban fantasy but this is like urban meets earth magic. S.M. Beiko takes us on a journey set in frigid cold Winnipeg. She sets up the novel as if it's present day Winnipeg and her characters are all average teens or adults. That is until they aren't.

One of my favourite things about this novel is that the setting of Winnipeg (affectionately called Winter-peg by many Canadians as it is bitterly cold there in the winter) is so ingrained into the story line. You couldn't just move this story to another city or location without losing a lot of the mythological lore that Beiko has woven into it. From statues and designs in the Parliamentary building to the city's history of flooding; Beiko has used important aspects of Winnipeg to be key moments or places in her lore.

I don't adore the main character. In fact very few of the characters were standouts for me (except maybe for our lead gal's poor Aunt who is so out of the loop), but all of the were solidly written. I especially liked the inclusion of the main boy as being in a wheelchair. The challenges that come from navigating any world in a wheelchair are often lost to those who don't deal with them; but Beiko makes sure that almost nothing is convenient or easy (just like the real world) for our main boy. My cousin is bound to a chair and I thought of him a lot during this read. I made me really think about how difficult it must be to do simple things like even get up the stairs to a shop that is in a historic building (and therefore not wheelchair friendly).

There are a number of adults in this book that play side roles. Most of them were fairly typical. I'll forgive Beiko for this as it was clear she wanted to focus on our teens more than anything. However I would have liked to know more about the Uncle and the Grandmother. I'm hoping perhaps more comes to light in the second book.

The Ending
Now, don't get me wrong, this book is really, really good as a whole. But the last 100 pages were stellar. Jam-packed action, conspiracies unraveled and lots of rogue magic. The best part, you'll never guess how it ends!
Obviously this is only the first book in a series and so there is a cliffhanger of an ending. That said the ending is not cheap, too quick nor does it detract from the main plot of the novel. There is a good solid foundation being set in Scion of the Fox that is likely to make the rest of this series stand-up well.

I can't tell you how much fun it is to read a book about a place you've been! Or even one that has a climate similar to your own. I am always looking for Canadian fiction set in Canada as the setting seems to change my entire perspective of some books. If this feeling is even 1% of how poorly represented minorities feel when they read books that really represent them well, then I may understand a tiny bit about why they are so desperate to read more books with characters like themselves!
I cannot wait for book 2 and I know Beiko is more or less done it as I had a passing-by conversation at my local Comic Expo (a couple months back) where she told me that for sure there is more of our lead gal in it! I was so excited I had her book (and I won't lie I was a bit giddy) that I totally flaked on bringing back my copy for her to sign the following day. Lol.
Irregardless I really recommend this unique, earth based but set in a city, fantasy story. I think you'll be surprised by it's depth and intricacies (even if you don't know much about cold weather or Winnipeg).

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

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