Monday, October 29, 2018

Book Review: Refuge

RefugeRefuge by Merilyn Simonds

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF @ 40%

I really wanted to like this book. It has the common (these days) novel structure where there is a storyline in the present and a storyline in the past. And of course these storylines connect. In this case the old woman we see at the cottage whom receives an unexpected visitor is the young woman in the past story. However the majority of what I read kept us firmly put in the past which was fine by me.

The thing is however, Refuge is really boring. At some points it's brilliantly written and very exciting; but there are too many pages of describing parks, streets or the average day is described over and over again. I just don't care to know what it was like to have lunch in Central Park everyday.
Additionally, Merilyn Simonds does far too much telling and not enough showing. I didn't need to be told about New York City; I'd rather have had it shown for me. Describing the walks our lead gal takes is just dull. However had it been showing me what our lead gal saw as she walked the city that may/would have been different.

Just didn't care
The other major factor for my not finishing Refuge was that our lead gal as an old woman is kind of awful. And I get that there are probably reasons that would come out as the story progressed; but I just couldn't stand her. I also had a hard time with the future scenario that some girl just shows up on her secluded residence doorstep. It just didn't make a lot of sense to me. These factors contributing to me not caring about our lead gal or the mystery visitor. And honestly past that there are no more characters really worth investing effort in.

A book like Refuge needs to be based off solid, relatable characters. With so few points of interaction that last longer than a few chapters with our leading lady we really need to connect with her. That's not to say she has to be nice but she does need to make sense to the reader. For me this connection was missing and it ruins the whole experience of Refuge because I just didn't care what happened to our leading lady in her life. I also believe Refuge needed a strict editor to cut down on all the telling of scenery that happens. I barely tolerate that type of description in my favourite book (LOTR) of all time; therefore, it's highly unlikely I'll tolerate it in anything else.

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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Friday, October 26, 2018

Book Review: Vox

VoxVox by Christina Dalcher

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Due to the controversial nature of this book, and that I have a lot of things to say I have broken my review down into five segments. Please note: Item 5 has spoilers, you can easily scroll past it to the conclusion of the review as I have left space so you don't skim it by accident. Please keep in mind that reviews are about how the reviewer felt and perceived a book. They are no right or wrong reviews as you cannot tell someone their feelings are invalid.

There are so many aspects of Vox to talk about which makes it's difficult to figure out what to focus on. However, I've gotten my list down to 5 key areas: 1) Christina Dalcher's writing & expertise, 2) Use of Christianity, 3) Fear mongering, 4) Comparison to Handmaiden's Tale, 5) The Ending (and Patrick)

1 - Christina Dalcher's Writing & Expertise
Without even reading Dalcher's bio or Q/A at the end of the book I could have told anyone that she was very intelligent and probably has linguistic or neurological credentials. The linguistics, chemistry and general medical knowledge that Dalcher displays in Vox is superb; without being over the top. She gives just enough science to feel like it's legitimate; without overwhelming the reader.
Dalcher has a beautiful writing technique and knack for keeping the reader engaged. Vox is a quick read and one I didn't want to put down for even a minute. While the end was a little disjointed (more on that later) and some of the characters a bit too archetypal for my taste; I can't discount that I was entranced by the writing. Vox is written at a level similar to that of Dan Brown and Michael Crichton, where you don't need to be educated to read it and understand it; but where the experienced reader is still likely to enjoy portions of the book. I cannot speak to the accuracy to other scientists in these areas but I feel like Dalcher has likely captured the essence of what is important. In fact, the sole reason for my 2-stars for Vox is because of the writing and readability of Vox. My rating has nothing to do with the content, plot, characters or message of the story. Vox is proof that good writing cannot save a novel.

2 - Use of Christianity
Two major points here:
A) Christianity is a patriarch. If you are Christian and this is new to you then I recommend you read the Bible and pay attention to the words used. The scriptures quoted in Vox are word for word. Dalcher didn't change them or take then out of context. If you are offended that the Bible is written this way then I recommend you question that via your choice of faith support and not blame Dalcher for it. I was raised Christian and it was never a secret that women were 'different' and not as 'valued' as men. I'm sorry if this upsets some, but it's the truth. Women in Christianity are really only good for one thing: having babies. Otherwise women are born with sin and the root of all problems/evil. If you feel it's out of context please read point B below.
B) If you are Christian and feel offended by this book's use of your religion to 'justify' the actions taken by the government then probably you are being too sensitive. It wouldn't have mattered what religion or set of beliefs was used to justify the actions. I don't think this book engages in Christian bashing at all. It merely takes an existing belief system and applies it in an extreme way. This has been done thousands of times to all different groups of people in literature whether by religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, etc. Welcome to the club of feeling like you were misrepresented in literature. To date you have been lucky that the majority of readily available novels have been in your favour, but that doesn't mean that your safe from criticism. Every other religion has had its values and ideals be subject to interpretation and fictionalization that isn't positive. I realize you feel the way you do, and I cannot (nor would I) presume to tell you you don't feel that way. Instead I encourage you to take a critical look at why you're upset and remind you that the rest of the world has felt this way forever and we all got told to suck it up. So my 'suck it up' message is just consistent with what I've been told over the years regarding my own beliefs since I left Christianity behind. Grab a chair and join everyone on this side of the line; just maybe don't drink the Kool-Aid.

3 - Fear mongering
Books that hit close to home or resemble our existing society are sometimes dangerous. Authors need to be careful that they are not planting the seed of an idea in their readers. It's very easy for inception to happen because of something that we read. Every self help book ever written is based on the premise that by presenting an idea to you is enough that you can turn it into a value or change your life. Given this is true and happens, there is danger in Vox. That danger is that some people may think the restriction of women's words is a good thing. As I read Vox on my lunch hour at my office, upon returning to my desk, I noticed how many men were around me. Instantly I wondered how many wish I didn't speak (a lot I'm willing to bet, lol), and if I needed to be looking for the root causes, that Jackie speaks of, that could result in a society like that of Vox. Now, you may be thinking, come on Mel really? You're smarter than that. But a well written, well argued story that invokes emotion and a reaction in people could be the beginning of women becoming paranoid and acting out in a way that results in restriction of their voices. Vox gave me a real panic attack when I returned to my cubicle surrounded by men. This is a testament to good writing; but it's also a testament to how dangerous some ideas are.
When Dalcher used existing political jargon to demonstrate her point it made me very nervous. The slogan "Make American Morale Again" really put me off. Is Dalcher is trying to make every woman that reads this book afraid of men? How does that relate it to today's society. One word change is easy enough right? She's trying to in still in us a paranoia that is not healthy.
The more we distinguish ourselves (in any way), from one another, the more likely we are to see problems where there might not be any. That's not to say that our world isn't male-dominated. It certainly is; but it's getting bette. Books like Vox do NOT help the equality cause. Instead they create a fear that can result in poor judgements being made and in people seeing monsters where there are none. I hate fear mongering, not just because it spikes my anxiety disorder, but because it's a horrible device used to control people. Stalin used it, Hitler perfected it, and Trump is borrowing from it. Creating a society of fear does not allow people to feel free; instead it's just a way of convincing someone that their 'freedoms' are being infringed upon for in order to 'keep them safe'. It's rarely about safety, instead it's about control. I don't like that Vox puts ideas in people's heads and perpetuates irrational, but easily relatable fear. This makes Vox a very dangerous book in the hands of someone who may be easily influenced... like a teenager.
We don't need to create more fear in our society. There is already way too much fear. Just think, Vox could lead us to a world where women call 911 because a man stopped them and asked for the time. That woman might claim they felt dominated and 'required' to answer. You laugh and assume I'm kidding; but examples in the USA of white folks calling in ridiculous accusations to black people are happening right now. And why? Because society has perpetuated a culture of fear.
I wish Dalcher had written a story about linguistics that wasn't based on government control; but instead was based on how important it is to educate children before the age of 5 in order for them to really grasp the idea of language. This is certainly stated in Vox, but I believe it's too difficult for it to be heard over all the noise created by the controversial situation of restricting women to 100 words a day.

4 - Comparison to Handmaiden's Tale
Certainly there are obvious comparisons to be made to Margaret Atwood's literary triumph The Handmaiden's Tale. Yet, there are distinct differences that make Atwood's book one of the best dystopian books of all time. In Handmaiden's Tale we really connect with the characters; whereas in Vox I hated the main character whom we experience the story from. Not only is she immoral herself (I will never be okay with lying and cheating on a spouse), but she's also really annoying. While she may be a mother of four I felt like she was really a mother of two. Her daughter of 5 and her oldest son. The twins were virtually ignored and her relationship with her husband is a mess because she's incredible selfish. There's a misconception here that just because someone is able to be do something that will result in good that they are inherently good. This is not true. Just because our leading lady is a scientist and intelligent doesn't mean she knows what is best or is the 'key' to everything. It bothered me a lot that Dalcher seemed to think we should just like her main character when in fact I really hated her.
The other major variation from Handmaiden's Tale is that the abuse (of any kind) the women go through in Vox is really disjointed. Unlike in Atwood's masterpiece where we see and feel escalation of events, Vox feels like it goes from nothing to something almost overnight. And the 'hints' of what was happening, presented by Jackie, don't feel significant enough to have developed into bracelets that count words. This is a major plot issue that I couldn't get over. Never mind that those points Dalcher gets right (women being banned from working, banned from certain areas or tasks, etc.) are identical to Atwood's. Given that the whole book is focused on how they got into this mess, it's important that we understand the nuances that got the society to this point.

NOTE: Spoilers in segment 5
Scroll to bottom quickly to read conclusion only

5 - The Ending (and Patrick) Spoilers ahead
First, let me say that Patrick is pretty much the only character worth giving your time to in this book. I don't include Sonia here as she is only five years old and clearly just a victim of everything. I also liked Del but he is not developed enough as a character to really say much about him.
Patrick is the only stoic, respectable main character in the whole book. He is a perfect example of the average man who is caught between keeping his family safe and doing the right thing. The hate which his wife (our leading lady) spews towards him is just wrong. Were the world to go the way of Vox tomorrow I would NOT want my husband to sacrifice himself for me. Perhaps this is Dalcher's way of showing how little our leading lady cared about her marriage that she believes he should have done more. But for me it ultimately just felt cheap. Maybe had Dalcher elaborated on Patrick's power and influence at the White House I'd feel differently but that is not how this is played out... until the end.
The ending of Vox is about as convenient as they come. And anyone who has read a couple of my reviews knows that convenience is one of my top annoyances in all literature. Sacrificing Patrick, not only takes him out of the family equation so that our leading lady gets what she wants (even if she doesn't deserve it...), allows him to 'save society' and be the hero. This is pure lazy writing to me. Dalcher ties it all up in a bow (of her choosing); but not in a bow that feels realistic. In fact, the last 1/4 of this book looses something. It almost feels as if someone else wrote it. Vox goes from being a dystopian social commentary to a cheap suspense/thriller that requires a resolution. To think that 'suddenly' the government corrects itself is just naive. There's easily an entire novel that could be written about what Patrick does and how things fall out afterwards. At the very least it deserves more than a couple pages tacked onto the end of this book.
Even if I didn't think that there was fear mongering and character issues in Vox, I'd still dislike this book because of how the ending is handled. It's cheap, convenient and frankly, ridiculous.

Overall the outrage about this book relating to Christianity should be a non-issue as at no time does Dalcher blame Christianity; she merely uses it's words to create a justification. It is certainly not her fault that it's so easy to take a patriarchal text like the Bible and apply it to the situation. This part of the 'controversy' is a non-starter for me.
However, the outrage about how women and men are portrayed in Vox is justified in my mind. This idea that there are enough men in the world that hate women so much they'd want to make them all mutes is ridiculous. What is even more crazy is to think that in any first world country the political structure is so fragile as to be easily taken down. I am Canadian and confident that this would not be possible in Canada due to our legislation, Supreme Court oversight, etc. I don't even think it could happen in the USA. Look at Trump, in ~2 years he's managed to do almost none of the things he's wanted. Yes he's terrifying and his policies are abhorrent (to me); but almost every step he's taken to push immigrants out of the USA, put on travel bans, build walls, etc. has been met with a stop action at some government level. This is proof that the system works. No one person, be it a: President, Prime Minister, Governor, etc; that governs a country or state with a good democratic foundation could inflict this on it's people unless the marginalized group supported it. This is where Handmaiden's Tale got the system fall out correct. There were women who supported the transition in Atwood's story; whereas in Vox we are presented with the idea that women were just 'pushed out'. How weak does Dalcher think her own gender is?!
I realize Dalcher likely didn't intend this fear mongering story to prey on the readers mind and make them think of women as vulnerable, weak and powerless. Instead it was meant to warn us; but its 'warning' is wrapped up in so much nonsense that message is invalidated. This invalidation happens not only by of what happens in the book but because of how it's written. I am very frustrated that Dalcher (and her publisher) felt there was merit to publishing a story that creates more division between the two genders. There's nothing to 'learn' here about an evolution of society; all there is to 'learn' here is that fear continues to fuel our society.
Fear is (clearly) hype worthy and therefore the seller of the fear (in any format) profits by gaining power and money. At least I can say I read a copy from my library and didn't put money into the pockets of those who think that these types of stories help our society; when in fact all they do is bring society down and make everyone more fearful and paranoid.
This lover of dystopian fiction does not endorse Vox or it's brand of fear.
(word count = 2,747 or ~28 days worth of women's words in Vox)

Oct 25, 2018 - 'Pre-review'
I have a lot to say and am working on a full review. But here are the three key things:
1) This is a well written and well researched book. Author is clearly intelligent.
2) It is a fear mongering story that can make the reader paranoid and perpetuate the issues themselves in real life.
3) Those unhappy about the use of Christianity need to think carefully about their outrage. Christianity is a patriarchal religion.
In essence: this is a dangerous book but probably not for the reasons you might think...

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Book Review: Magic Words

Magic Words: From the Ancient Oral Tradition of the InuitMagic Words: From the Ancient Oral Tradition of the Inuit by Edward Field

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a gorgeous book full of lovely Inuit artwork. I l adore how simple the story is. It's written in the way that the story would have been told when passed down orally. This is perfect for a children's book that is (generally) read out loud to children. The simplicity of Magic Words allows for very young children to have a way to learn about Inuit tradition. Not only are the pages brilliantly drawn and coloured, but each page design helps illustrate the limited words on that page. I could easily see a child loving this book so much that they learn the words on every page by heart.

The absolute best part of this book is the magical feeling it invokes. It stretches our imaginations to think of a time when people could be animals. I love the line "nobody could explain this: that's the way it was." As it is the last line in the story it leaves the door open for a conversation with the child about what animal they would want to become and why. I can absolutely imagine a child saying a bird and flapping their wings, or maybe a pig and oinking. The possibilities this story leaves in the mind of a child are endless. I also like that magic is mentioned here in a different context than usual. It's in a more spiritual and less tangible way. It's not a spell or a wand or even a prayer that allowed the Inuit to become animals; it just was. As though the Earth bid it to be and so it was. I like the ambiguity of this statement (and will confess it's in-line with some of my own personal spiritual beliefs).

I would love to see this book in the hands of all Canadian children so they could start having appreciation and understanding towards the Inuit of our country. As a child I knew there was a difference between the Native Americans and Inuit but I'm not sure I really understood what that was. These types of stories are critical to children realizing that everyone has their own culture and beliefs. It's always good for children to have exposure to other cultures than their own; but also who doesn't want to believe in magic?

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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Monday, October 22, 2018

Book Review: Child of Nod

Child of Nod (The Balance #1)Child of Nod by C.W. Snyder

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Did not Finish - 15%

Just in case there weren't enough Alice in Wonderland spin-off or inspired by teen books out there; C.W. Snyder brings us her take on the beloved tale. The Child of Nod brings Alice into Nod (essentially Wonderland) which appears to be some sort of land of the dead. We start out with Alice dropping down some sort of hole and being carried off by water. Sound familiar?

I broke my usual rule of reading at least 30% of a book before giving up because I honestly could not keep my eyes open. Snyder's writing is too matter of fact for me; she lacks a real deep essence to her writing that I want in fairy tales. There needs to be a spark of magic early on to really drawn us into the world construct; unfortunately Land of Nod made me nod off.

Errors Galore
I know writing is touch. And finding a good editor is even harder. And yes Land of Nod is published by a small house that likely doesn't have a lot of resources (or money) for writers to drawn from in order to get a good editor. And that's okay. Amazing stories don't have to be perfect. But they do need to have basic grammar and spelling check ran on them. Almost everyone other page I was finding an error or needing to re-read a sentence that was awkwardly phrased. Never underestimate the need for a good content editor AND a good technical editor.

This just felt like a yawn fest and with so many great books in my queue I decided not to stick it out. Additionally, if you are going to write a novel based on the premise of a famous story, you had better be sure it's solid. Everyone knows the story of Alice and would be far more impressed if you took that construct and really made it your own. It's certainly possible that as the Child of Nod carries forward it gets better. I'm okay not ever knowing and moving onto the next Alice in Wonderland inspired novel. It's not like there is any lack of them.

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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Book Review: Zero Limit

Zero LimitZero Limit by Jeremy K. Brown

My rating: 3 1/2 of 5 stars

There are a lot of comparisons that can be made here. From an asteroid that needs to be 're-directed' in order to save Earth (Armageddon anyone?), to a war over planetary control and mining (Firefly's brown-coats), to sarcastic quips about trying to stay alive (The Martian). And yet Jeremy K. Brown has still managed to write an enjoyable novel.

Fast paced!
Without a doubt the best part of Brown's Zero Limit is that it's quick. A lot of things happen in a short amount of time. There's not a lot of wasted time setting up our characters, their personalities or even our unique asteroid setting. Instead Brown has taken advantage of the assumption that the average person knows and understands some basic space science. For example; how and when gravity plays a factor, orbits, blowing stuff up can move it, and so forth. As a seasoned science fiction reader I was okay with these assumptions. Now that may not work for everyone but for the average reader I think it's a pretty safe bet.

I'm not an astrophysicist. Nor am I even a science major or all that well versed in science that isn't taught on the Big Bang Theory (I'll never forget Schroeder's cat). So for me as long as the science seems to make some sense I'm happy. It may be that there are lots of scientific inaccuracies in Zero Limit. Given that I wouldn't know even if there were, my naive self enjoys just plugging along with the story

The emotional attachment between characters that Brown sets-up is between our lead gal (a mom) and her daughter. There are some bittersweet moments between the two of them and the daughter ultimately provides the 'why' that is required to buy into the story. However overall I could have done without this portion of the story. It wasn't really anything new and the relationship felt a bit forced.

This is a fun, fast paced science fiction read. If you're not looking for too much depth or emotional connections and would rather just experience some crazy ideas on how to stop an asteroid from hitting earth then you are likely to enjoy this story. While I wouldn't necessarily read it again; I'm not unhappy I read it in the first place.

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, October 10, 2018

Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone

Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of OrĂ¯sha, #1)Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are moments of Tomi Adeyemi's new series that are brilliant. However, there are others that are rather dull, convenient or eye-roll worthy. Overall Children of Blood and Bone is an okay book. I could see it setting up a great series as the politics and magic are certainly complex enough to warrant further reading. Maybe this will be one of those scenarios where the first book is just 'okay' but it's worth it to read the rest of the series? Or at least that is what I'm hoping.
Note: I am intentionally vague in places below so as not to give away spoilers.

The Good
The action sequences are incredible. There is a fight, about two-thirds of the way through (on a ship in an arena), that is my absolute favourite part of the book. Usually fight sequences are not my favourite moments in Fantasy or Science Fiction novels but these few chapters are so good I missed my bus stop one day! I was engrossed and completely forgot where I was in real life and what I was supposed to be 'sort-of' paying attention to. It takes real talent to really take over someone's mind like that; and Adeyemi did it superbly. I won't say anything more about this fight I adored than I've mentioned above for fear of spoilers; but it's a turning point in the story and was certainly a turning point for me in my enjoyment of the story and connection with our characters.
The other thing I really enjoyed about Children of Blood and Bone is the format. I'm a huge fan of each chapter being from different points of view. My thanks to Adeyemi for naming her chapters the character names (just like G.R.R. Martin)! It keeps me from having to think too much about who is talking and makes my reading experience smoother. I feel like my preference in many cases is the multi-POV format for fantasy novels, so it's nice to see it used well in a YA book.

The Bad
I hate to say this but there's a lot of mediocre or just poor choices in character development and dialogue. I will confess that I do adore one character (yes the same one everyone else does), Amari. She is not the main character of the story, that is really Zelie; but Amari is sooo much like a real person and has the most genuine thoughts that it's hard not to love her. I think many of us connect with Amari because she's like we are in real life, unsure of what to do and self-doubting. It's really too bad our other characters, especially Zelie, are not as well developed. In fact had Zelie been even half as compelling a character as Amari I think this book would be vastly improved. Zelie's choices often infuriated me and her selfishness rubbed me the wrong way. Perhaps that is realistic of what many people might do, be selfish, in the given scenarios but in a heroine I want more.
The two 'leading' men of Children of Blood and Bone are okay. One is adorable in his own way, and the other is Kylo Ren. Seriously all I could think every time I encountered one of his chapters was yes, yes, we get it you hate everything and everyone because you hate yourself. I'd like to have seen a little bit more character and personality from him so that I could distinguish him from the love to hate villain Ren.

And the Ugly
The love... oh the awful romance. As is common, the romance was the largest downfall of Children of Blood and Bone. I was okay with the first 'hook-up' couple; but Adeyemi's choice for a second set of romantic partners is not only boring, but it's very, very cliche and convenient. There is nothing I hate more than convenience. It's like she felt her main four characters all HAD to experience some sort of attraction to someone and so she just wrote it in where convenient for the plot. It was too much for me. I'd have liked to see more emphasis on the first romance (which is quite cute) and no secondary romance at all. The characters involved in the secondary romance had more than enough going on without needing to be confused or distracted by romantic urges. I really wish more writers would be willing to explore characters without them needing to fall in love. Self-reflection can come from many places; it's just laziness that we always use romance to show it. One suggestion I would have for Adeyemi is instead of her second 'couple' having romantic feelings immediately; maybe instead in book 1 have them develop some respect for one another. Then hold off on that possible romance for later books if you still feel it's important for the characters (and/or plot). The benefit of knowing you're writing a series is you can plan ahead and build systematically without needing to drop everything all at once. Authors like Brandon Sanderson and Chris Wooding are superb at this.

This wasn't a bad story, or poor writing per say. It was more that I could see all the potential Adeyemi has to be amazing while reading and so I can't help but rate Children of Blood and Bone 3 out of 5. I found it especially frustrating to feel immersed at one moment and bored or rolling my eyes at the next. I could even forgive the secondary romance that I hated if the rest of the story was as compelling as those main fight scenes. It's really quite odd as usually I find fight sequences to be necessary to move the plot forward and so I put up with them waiting until we can get back to focusing on the characters. Obviously if Adeyemi can make all her characters as complex and well developed as Amari; and make dull events like travelling landscape a little bit more exciting (or just shorter narrative, we don't need another Tolkien and his rocks) then I think this could be an incredible novel.
I will read the second book because I do think there is room for Adeyemi to grow and she has likely done that just by publishing this book and receiving feedback. I am hopeful that in the future Adeyemi can be on the list of must-read YA fantasy authors. Until then I hope she continues to work hard and write lots more.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Book Review: Once Upon a Rainbow, Volume Two

Once Upon a Rainbow, Volume TwoOnce Upon a Rainbow, Volume Two by Jennifer Cosgrove

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With 8 short stories in Once Upon a Rainbow, Volume 2, all by different authors, there was a huge opportunity to see some diversity. Ironically this didn't happen. All of the stories are a take on a fairy tale (of sorts) with LGBTQ+ romances. One would think that in a collection of stories meant to help bring down barriers the writers could at least all agree not to use the same stories over and over again. Honestly I'd had enough of Cinderella by story 3 never mind by story 8. Almost all of the stories relied heavily on Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty fairy tales in some way, shape or form.

The Stories
The first three stories are meh at best. The second story, Snow Fox, was cute but so short there was no time to really get into this Snow White re-telling.
Thankfully by story four, Shattered Glass, there was marked improvement. This tale must be based on a fairy tale I am not familiar with, or it was so loosely based on one that I missed it. However Lina Langley has a lovely writing style, and with a slightly longer story than most in this anthology; I found this story by Langley to be a much better experience than the three before.
The last 3 stories were quite strong. Were I compiling this edition I would have moved one of them to the opening story spot. A strong start to an anthology tends to keep readers carrying on through the weaker stories.

Story 6 - Finding Aurora by Rebecca Langdan
This story has lots of little twists and turns during it's retelling of Sleeping Beauty. I found it to be clever, amusing and overall an adorable little story. Even if the ending is 'conveniently' resolved. I especially liked the twist on a dragon guarding the princess. This story is definitely worth a read.

Story 7 - Master Thief by Sita Bethel
This is, easily, the steamiest of the stories by far. It has a lot of erotica in it between two boys. Our thief character is quite clever and manages to resolve all the 'challenges' set forth for him in a very unique way. I didn't love that this was a very one sided romance, until the very end. While our characters are divided by class (typical of a fairy tale), this one seemed to feel one step too far to me. I didn't like that one boy was putting in all the effort while the other one sat back and (more or less) laughed. A happy ending (of course) but I feel like 5-10 years down the road that division would play out in a less than happy way. Although I could just be too practical for this story. (lol)

Story 8 - True Love Curse by Tray Ellis
I may be biased, but I like this one best if only for it's representation of older women who are looking for companionship. Yes there are two boys who find 'true love' (of a sort) but I have to say that I was far more interested in the parallel story of our two widowed women. It would be very cool to see this story expanded on, or the concept taken to a full length novel. I think, in literature, we don't explore the 'older lady' relationship dynamics the way we should. Maybe because most authors aren't old enough to have experienced them? All I know is that I think it's truly gorgeous for people to find love, comfort or companionship later in life once their prior loves or partners have passed (regardless of what sex that new person may be).

This anthology is worth it as a light read if you want something easy. I would dub it a 'beach' read. Easy to read in a lazy way and with 8 stories of different lengths you can plan out when to read what (if you don't want to read in order).
That said, I won't be rushing out to get novels from any of these authors just yet. Each of them has room to grow (some more than others). Our last three writers should definitely be on the 'future radar' list as with a solid editor I believe they could improve enough to be worthwhile authors.
I would however read a future anthology that takes fairy tales and twists them into LGBTQ+ scenarios. I really did enjoy the cleverness of many of the stories and will be watching for volume 3 to come out in this clever little series.

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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Friday, October 5, 2018

Book Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

The Tattooist of AuschwitzThe Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have read a lot of WWII fiction. Both based on true story and purely fictional. In all the books I've read, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is, by far, the most harrowing, beautiful, desperate and lovely true story of them all. Unlike most WWII historical books, this one starts at Auschwitz, instead of ending there. The build-up to the war is a paragraph and instead the core story here is surviving and enduring a concentration camp. Over four years time we learn the story of Lale and those he encounters. Lale is a Slovakian Jew who finds his 'place' in the camp as the tattooist. This is a story that is so unbelievable; that were it not right from one man's truth it might be deemed impossible.

The Numbers
The significance of being demoted to a number cannot be understated here. A person is only really a person with a name, identity and story. Reducing a human to a number is just incorrigible, in so many ways. The real-life Lale, who told his story to author Heather Morris over three years time, was terrified that he would be seen as a Nazi sympathizer. Someone who abet the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Let me assure you, after reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz I don't think anyone could possibly think, for even a moment, that Lale was a part of the problem. His work, to scar humans with a number, was merely a means to an end, a way to stay alive. Bearing his own number all his life, he knew what it was like to be a number at many different moments and so I do not believe that it's possible for him to be considered in any way allied or aligned with the activities at either camp he was involved with. .

The Horror Amongst the Hope
I personally cannot possibly imagine keeping hope in conditions such as those in Nazi concentration camps. Be they in Poland, Germany or elsewhere. These were places of utter and complete desolation. Where people were made to move rocks all day long, only to move them back to the same spot the following day. No 'work' was 'fruitful' in these camps; except that doing some work kept you alive for another day of starvation and torture.
What is truly special about Lale and Gita's story is that somehow, someway they found slivers of hope. A desire, love and drive to stay alive. It takes truly resilient people to keep even a thread of hope when faced with starvation, torture, rape and death every moment of everyday. However, it is clear in Lale's story that there was some luck involved too. This is perhaps one of the most interesting things about this true story. How do you survive four years in Auschwitz and live to tell the story years later? A lot of strength of body and mind; and some four-leaf clover luck.

All Range of Emotions
I think I went through all of the possible emotions that exist in the mere hours it took me to devour Morris' novel. From utter hatred to all-encompassing love, despair to hope, fierce anger to desperate grief; there is not a single moment in this book that you won't feel something. Even if it's a moment of utter and complete nothing. Something Morris' captures in a way most other writers cannot is the way it may feel to feel nothing. You might think, why on earth would you want this or experience this? In extreme situations humans often shut-down to feel nothing. It's a difficult thing to understand if you have never experienced it; but something that is absolutely truthful in horrifying conditions like those lived by the captives in camps and Morris' captures all of these feelings good, bad and otherwise.

No words I could ever write will do justice to the importance or incredibility of this novel. It's such an insane story that you couldn't make it up. Honest. Lale's decision, in the last years of his life, to tell this story is probably his biggest contribution to the world; and this is a man who certainly saved dozens (if not hundreds) of people's lives at any given time through his compassion, generosity and willingness to do what he could when he could. This is the key reason, in my mind, why you could never say those like Lale are at fault for working inside the unreasonable and terrifying parameters given to them by the SS soldiers at these camps.
Most important is that Lale's story can now be told to others and provide hope in bleak times. While not everyone is as lucky as Gita and Lale were; it's nice to know that out of the most horrifying time in recent history a love and devotion could blossom.

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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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Stitching: Monsters Finish

I have a finish that is actually of a real size and importance! :) 
It's been a very long time since I've had a finish that wasn't tiny. 
So without much ado at all this is: Here There Be Monsters! 

 Elizabeth's Designs 'Antique Celtic Sampler'
32ct Legacy Linen
Weeks Dye Works Threads

My favourite part of this project is the linen. I adore the over-dyed fabric and it's yellowed look. I'd definitely use this fabric again! I did change a couple of things including: subbed in a darker pink, removed the date in bottom right-hand corner and just put in a little design and removed the pink stitch trios from the bottom fish bar (they didn't make sense to me). 
But overall this is very close to the exact same pattern that Elizabeth put together. 

Now,  of course a finish means I want to start something new! But I have to do up a couple (smaller) items for my BIL and his wife first. And it's not like I don't have a thousand other projects on the go to work on. LOL! 

In other news we got hammered with snow here in Calgary. Over 30 cm's (6+ inches) in a 24-hour time period. Somehow we had two days of autumn and then snow. *sigh* I wish I lived in a place with real autumn as it's my favourite season! So those of you with leaves falling and colourful trees changing colour appreciate the for me. :) 

Thanks so much for stopping by and checking out my work! 
Happy Stitching!