Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Book Review: Secondborn

Rebel Born (Secondborn, #3)Rebel Born by Amy A. Bartol

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This conclusion to the three book series Secondborn lacks the intrigue, politics, and mystery of it's two predecessors. As the series progressed into book 2 it held most of these elements with a slight increase in the science fiction aspects of the story. But our lead gal remained the same and her narrative was very compelling. Unfortunately book 3, Rebel Born, by Bartol is a bit of a mess. It takes our fantasy world and adds too much technology, too quickly.

Pet Peeve
Nothing bothers me more in literature than convenience. If your character needs all the stars to align every chapter for events to move forward, and you always make that automatically happen, then it's boring. Compelling stories have tension, excitement, uncertainty, etc. A good author keeps the line between what needs to happen, versus what does, very thin and always ensures that the events and outcomes are plausible (inside their worlds rules), logical and intricate enough to surprise the reader at times. Events that are curated too tightly, because the plot heavily relies on them, and don't easily fit cohesively in the story are frustrating and make me twitch. Reading is difficult when your twitching so much your eyes can't keep their place on the page.

There is one strong aspect to Bartol's trilogy however: the characters. She has a strong heroine, and sultry compassionate men whom all feel genuine.
From sentimental quotes like:

"life is lost without love”
To downright evil thoughts like:
"I merely strive to annihilate weakness. Isn’t that the very purest form of evolution?”
Bartol keeps the reader entranced by having authentic and honest people in her story. If only a book could stand entirely on the shoulders of it's characters, and didn't need believable plot, then Bartol might have a hit on her hands. Unfortunately, as much as character studies are one of my favourite types of reads, a character can't save a book entirely. We are not saved by our characters from Rebel Born being stupendously unbelievable and leaping technological barriers too quickly.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy Combos
As a reader of both the science fiction and fantasy genres I often love when they merge together. But it's tricky to balance the need for magic to be well 'magical' and science to be technical. Unfortunately these types of books are rarely done well. It seems to be quite the literary challenge to set up parameters for both science and magic that don't contradict each other or feel out of place in the same world. Bartol falls to the same trap I've seen in countless other books that merge sci-fi and fantasy together. In Rebel Born magic does X and technology does well... everything else. In fact magic becomes insignificant at one point and science the 'supreme ruler' of her world. This would be fine if the science used didn't resolve every single plot issue by just being. Where's the ingenuity of the characters in the resolution? Giving all the glory to magic or science is never satisfying for the reader. I want books to be clever and represent events in a compelling way where our characters are critical to the outcome; not just have science (or magic) make everything resolve by default.

Bartol has the writing style and character development skill needed to write good books; but she needs to work on her plot resolutions. I want to see our characters analyze and sort out situations on their own more; without the power of magic or science creating a perfect fix. The resolution can involve magic or science, don't get me wrong, but it shouldn't just be a 'wave and everything is better' scenario at the end of three books. Overall I wanted more from Bartol's series. I'll look for her publications in the future but will be a little wary of investing into any large series by her until I've seen a trilogy that doesn't rely on the flip of a magic wand (or press of a button) to make everything all better.

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Book Review: The Lost Sister

The Lost SisterThe Lost Sister by Andrea Gunraj

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Don't pick-up The Lost Sister if you are looking for a light fluffy read. This is an intense, honest and emotional reflection on losing a family member, racism, child abuse, and residential schools. For those not familiar, residential schools were situations in the past where the Canadian government forced parents (often of colour, native descent, or Russian ancestry) to give up their children to government run facilities (called schools but they were more like jails). Where children were taught to forget their culture, language and traditions; and encouraged to adhere to more 'Western' conventions.

The overall plot of The Lost Sister isn't anything new in the mystery genre. A little girl goes missing and we follow the story via the eyes of her sister. Lucky for our lead girl she has an influence in her life that is helpful. A woman who, attended a residential school as a child, and is estranged from her own sister. Thus we are provided with a connection between two histories and taken on a journey of healing.
I foolishly didn't make the connection between our two stories until about 35% into the book. Knowing there is an eventual connection won't spoil anything for you as the book is more focused on the trauma and emotions of the characters than the actual plot events themselves.

At its core The Lost Sister is really about women. Be it young girls, teens, adults or elderly women. There is a constant cultural attitude (at least in North America) that pits women against one another. As though we are supposed to be constantly competing with our own gender to be bigger and better. I'm not sure why this exists exactly (maybe men thought it would be a good way to distract women if they fought amoungst themselves?) but it's clear to me in my life in Canada that this socialized behaviour for competition between girls is inherent. Andrea Gunraj does an excellent job of bringing this competitive culture forward and discussing it in an open and honest way. She gives us genuine emotions, comments and events that women encounter and tries to offer alternatives to fighting one another. If nothing else this book does try to breakdown the silos of racism, culture, religion, ethnicity and gender; in an attempt to remind us all that we are essentially the same inside. We all have physiology and biology that are comparable and so it makes no sense to pick on one another's subtle differences. Especially in a world already so full of hate.

Sisterhood vs Motherhood
Gunraj spends a lot of time during the residential school timeline looking at the difference between a sister and a mother. So often older siblings become parental like figures (especially in the absence of parents). I myself am the oldest of three and can confess that there were many days as a child/teen where I felt like I needed to step up and be more of a parent than a sibling to my own sister and brother. This complex relationship often turns sour as the siblings get older. The Lost Sister demonstrates this very effectively and Gunraj focuses on the decisions made by the sibling and how they affected the younger sister. Consider how different things had been if your sibling had only done XYZ instead of ABC... this is the core question The Lost Sister asks the reader and it brings up many challenging emotions and ideas/questions of blame. Of course ultimately blame doesn't change the past and while not a 'satisfying' ending, The Lost Sister does wrap things up in a way that allow the reader to have grown in their consideration towards why others may make the decisions they do.

This is not a pleasant read. But it's an important one. If you want to understand a little more about residential schools in Maritime Canada, or the challenges women have faced (from a very young age) in certain historical circumstances The Lost Sister is a good place to start. By no means will any of us ever be able to comprehend the extent of the injury done by residential schools; but at least by knowing it's history we have a chance of not repeating the same mistake. Instead, let us recognize that one another are both the same and different in our own unique and special way. If nothing else Gunraj has set a stage for further discussion amoungst readers about this embarrassing but important piece of Canada's history.

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Friday, December 20, 2019

Book Review: Here There Are Monsters

Here There Are Monsters by Amelinda Bérubé

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are well executed and poorly under taken concepts in Here There Are Monsters. Overall it was a let down for me (and many others if you peruse the other reviews). While the plot is okay and the thoughts of our lead gal are very genuine; all along there is something missing. It's lacking that spark or attraction that makes a book great (or even just 4-star good).

Internal Thoughts
The best part of Amelinda Berube's novel is the first person writing of her lead character. As the oldest of three kids, and 4 years separately me and my next sibling in age, I really connected with what our lead teen felt and expressed inside her head. From comments about how annoying her siblings are to how she is tired of feeling responsible for them given she's not the parent. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Berube is the oldest child in her family with a gap between siblings as all the thoughts our lead gal thinks are also ones I've thought over the years.

The actual plot itself is very interesting. A sister that is missing, weird happenings in the forest, and odd sculptures showing up all contribute to an overall creepy ambience in Here There Are Monsters. However the entire time the story is missing that something. I never really felt fear for our lead or her missing sister. I also never really felt like the strings of the story were linked together. It was as though one thing happened, and then another; but actually feeling like they were related and building towards something was missing. It's too bad because there is a great story to be told here if only I felt more invested. The ending is the bad icing on a crumbling cupcake as it falls apart very quickly and feels like it was written in about ten minutes on a bus just to get it done. It's unfortunate as a good ending, in some ways, might have saved this novel from it's mediocre status.

The Missing Sister
Take note newer writers, if you want your reader to feel something for a character they barely meet in the present day narrative then you MUST make them relatable and create an environment where the reader can have sympathy for them. We read flashbacks of the missing sister throughout the current day story and yet I still felt like I never knew her, and never cared. Now this may be because the story is told from the point of view of the older sister? Our lead gal has become a bit ambivalent towards her sister and her odd behaviour. I wonder if the flashbacks had been from the missing younger sisters perspective would that have created the bond needed for me to care?

There's opportunity here unfortunately Berube doesn't quite create a polished book that stands out. Here There Are Monsters feels like it should be better than it ultimately is. That's not to say it's a bad read. It's fine. Maybe a half step above your average free book. But it's certainly not going to stand out amoungst all the YA books of today; and doesn't live up to it's hyped pre-release. All-in-all you won't be missing much if you pass on it.
That said it is a stand-alone which is attractive to many. Although I can't help but feel thankful that it's one and done; and this world won't be revisited because there is barely enough to care about in this one book; let along if another was to be written in to make a series.

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Book Review: Shatter the Sky

Shatter the SkyShatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The introduction to Shatter the Sky is absolutely adorable. We meet two girls, clearly in love, who are kissing in the woods. How cute right?! Sadly these two girls are almost immediately separated. Although that is the plot of Rebecca Kim Wells story; so I suppose it's hard to critic (lol). Unfortunately the remainder of the story isn't written as smoothly as the opening chapter. Many times Wells goes from stilted plot points to convenient happenings to confusing the heroine's goals throughout the 300 pages. And while there are dragons present they are perhaps not as prominently featured as many would like. Although I expect that will change into book 2 of the series.

Yes, there are dragons. Yes, people ride them. No, I do not know anything more about dragon riding than you can assume in advance of reading this novel. At best we learn about dragon eggs and bonding humans to dragons. That is essentially it. I craved a lot more context and content about how they rode dragons, our lead gals plan to steal one (she has no plan ever which was annoying), and/or if dragons were inherently friendly or not. We get tidbits of the personality of some dragons (and some possible reasons why) throughout; but I never felt like I really understood the culture of dragon riding or the historical reasons for dragons being used the way they are (other than the usual boring reason of war).

The overall plot is cliche but works. Girl looses girlfriend to an enemy group, girl leaves home to venture to save girlfriend, girl determines she needs a dragon to win, girl meets boy on the way and girl does a bunch of things because conveniently events fall into place for her. Oh wait, that last one is perhaps not in well written books.
One of my top 3 pet peeves in any plot is convenience. If a lead character just 'happens' to find a trap door, secret entrance, stumble upon a conversation, or is in the perfect spot every time they turn around; then probably your story is too convenient. I'm okay with these things happening once in awhile; but not every time the lead leaves her room. I got excited at one point during the novel that maybe our lead gal had some bad luck... except that bad luck 'drops' her into the hands of the boy who leads her on her journey. *sigh* Convenience is very boring and takes away from the excitement and drama that unexpected happenings bring to a story.

One nice thing about setting up our gal as a lesbian from the get-go is that the attractive boy she meets along her quest isn't a romantic factor. Instead he's just a friend. It mildly annoys me that he's still clearly gorgeous, special and affluent as though he was going to be a romantic interest; but then again I suppose that is just the formula of YA novels so I'll allow it.
I do like that Wells keeps the devotion and love of the lead gal for her girlfriend throughout. We often see our lead gal drawing strength from remembering why she is doing things and persevering because of the loving bond she has with her girlfriend. The devotion towards a lover is a wonderful change from many others YA books. It also (so far) ensures there is no love triangle! Always a plus in my books.

The Ending
Shatter the Sky is oddly written in that the beginning (minus chapter 1) is weaker than the end. Usually debut authors end up putting too much time into the beginning of a book and their endings suffer because of it. However Wells has a great ending. The writing style, pace and action all make the closure to this book really positive. However be aware, it is a series and there is a major cliffhanger.

I wouldn't be opposed to reading book 2 in Shatter the Sky series; but I doubt I'll go out of my way to get it. I'm interested to see what happens; but not dying to know. I'm also concerned that the convenient plot points will continue and the lack of dragon lore both items which are sure to annoy me if carried forward. But if Wells can capture the success of the ending of book 1 and build from it then book 2 would definitely be worth adding to the 'to be read' shelf.
All that said, for a debut YA novel, this is a decent read. I wouldn't discourage anyone whose interested in the premise from reading it; but it doesn't make my recommendations list either. Wells may be an author to watch in the future however as she is signed to Simon Schuster. There could be some great potential for her if she matures her plots and can replicate the narration pace of the end of the story throughout her future stories.

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Book Review: Ninth House

Ninth House (Alex Stern, #1)Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Let's start with a few things that are relevant about me in the context of this review:
1) I've never read a Leigh Bardugo book before. I still plan to read her YA series (on my print shelf);
2) I like dark fantasy or grimdark as it's commonly called. I also enjoy explicit authors like Laurell K. Hamilton and (more recently) Marlon James;
3) I'm a recovered drug addict who hasn't used in 16 years.

So here's the thing, I went into this book wanting adult urban fantasy. Reading the blurb it sounds like the perfect 'Mel' book. Rituals, murder, ghosts, and a whole lot of darkness. What I got instead was disjointed characters, tolerable plot, and weak attempts at darkness. All that said the last 25% is much better than the first 75%. Unfortunately the last paragraph is so corny and lame (setting up book 2) that I nearly gave myself a stroke rolling my eyes into the back of head. Let's break it down into pieces:

One of the decent things about Bardugo's first adult novel is that the plot is not bad. It's not perfect, and could use some work in places; but overall I'd say it was strong enough to carry the book forward. The biggest issue I had was that our list of murder suspects was weak at best; and with limited character development it was tough to think it could be any one of them given how little we knew about them. Which brings me to...

This is the crux of what is wrong with Ninth House in my opinion. Bardugo has given us a leading gal that we are supposed to feel sympathy for. Instead I just felt annoyed. She's a whining wuss at first; and later she feels fake and unrealistic. I mean, Bardugo wants us to believe that a girl who has seen ghosts her whole life, is a major drug user and recently ran with very rough crowds is afraid of... well frankly... anything? I like that she has a healthy fear of the ghosts; but her fear of the people and power surrounding her just doesn't fit. She shouldn't care; there is no threat of jail over her head so what exactly does Lethe have on her to make her co-operate? I never did figure that out. And what was Bardugo thinking making our gal's mentor missing from page one?!
Then there is our sidekick man who is an interesting, albeit missing (literally) character. As we only see him in flashbacks he doesn't feel like he's an integral part of the story at first. As his importance is amped up in the end I'd have liked more time to understand him as a person. Instead we spend a lot of time with a clean-cut cop who, ironically, is probably my favourite chracter.
Our cop is not a magic user of any kind. Instead he's just your average guy that got offered a lot of money to work for a secret society. Not only is he the most realistic character but he's also the only one whose actions always feel perfect for his personality.
Wrapping all that up with some weak women, except maybe one lady near the end, we get a bunch of typical, preppy Yale girls and scuzzy Yale boys. No thanks to any of them.

Let's get to one of my biggest pet peeves about Ninth House. Bardugo gives us a lead gal whose life is worth nothing; and then she suddenly gets an opportunity to attend Yale and be a part of a network of secret societies. Neat, I guess. But wheres the authenticity of her recent drug use? There's no cravings of any kind, no mention of withdrawl time, and no actual addiction symptoms (like shaking hands, excessive sweating, twitching, etc). The one thing Bardugo did get right is giving our lead gal an obvious motive for her drug use and descent into a personal hell as a teenager.
Sticking with possible trigger events; there's a rape scene that is well written. But, like the drug use, there is a lack of follow-through with the types of emotional scars an event like that leaves on someone. Where's the specific fear and follow-up? We feel it in the flashbacks at times but I never felt like our gal was as afraid as she should be. Or maybe she just relies on magical wards too much...
The core issue for me is that the thoughts of our characters don't match up with the trauma they've experienced.

Snakes, Secret Socities & Sorcery
Yep we've got lots of secret socities (nine surprisingly, lol) on campus at Yale and we have exactly ZERO actual snakes. I cannot even begin to tell you how frustrating this was for me (put a snake on a cover and then don't even feature one live snake!). What's perhaps worse is our lead gal has snake tattoos that are referenced but never explained. I wanna know why she chose snakes! I feel like this is a piece of her emotional self that is key (see character issues above). Perhaps Bardugo has no tattoos; but for myself (and most I know) tattoos have symbolism, meaning and value. Understanding the tattoos of our gal might have helped with the weak emotional connection I felt to her. It's a clear lost opportunity to give our leading gal some emotional substance that she carries with her everyday.

As for the magic there were some really well put together rituals and overall ambience of each attempt to use said magic. I was enjoying the use of Latin (and other) language use; right up until Bardugo translates some Latin to "fuck". Am I actually expected to believe there is a direct translation to fuck in Latin? Come on. Have some respect for your readers Bardugo and give us a proper translation. We can infer from there the meaning or impact of the words. This moment is one of many that stood out to me as ridiculous for an adult book (maybe you'd do it in a YA one...).

Truth Peppered Throughout
The absolute best thing in Ninth House is Bardugo's use of real events. From a skeleton found following Hurricane Sandy to the layout of Yale campus to the stories of hauntings or other happenings on said campus. Her incorporation of true historical tidbits shows a commitment to story telling that I admire. If only the rest of the story, especially our lead gal's drug use, was as genuine as the tiny side moments we are given.

The Morale?
This line, from the book, perhaps sums up best what I think Bardugo is trying to say in Ninth House:
"magic wasn't something gilded and benign, just another commodity that only some people could afford."
Let's face it, huamns will market and monopolize everything and anything in the end. We've done it with animals, nature, commodities and even our fellow human beings. Of course we are going to do it with something as powerful as ritual magic.
In this same vein Bardugo sets up a good showing of the dispartity between the poor and the rich, the educated and the non, and the Yale elite to the rest of the world. She uses this to help the reader understand the classes of ghosts out lead gal encounters. It's clear that Bardugo wants to make a statement about privilege and I believe that is something she succeeded with in Ninth House.

This is a 3-star book at best for me. I didn't hate it; but I didn't really like it. I might have DNF'd it if not for it being so hyped and my desire to be able to speak to the entire book. It feels a little too 'YA' if you will. While the dark events are there, the characters emotions and reactions don't feel genuine to go along with those plot points. Perhaps Bardugo is a great YA writer (I'll get to her other books, promise) but her skill as an adult urban fantasy writer is mediocre at best. I wanted more from the characters, from the magic, from the circumstances and above all from the promised darkness of a world filled with ghosts, demons and ritual sacrifice.
In the end I feel like this line (ironically) from Ninth House sums up my experience:
"you were all excited, and by page two you realize it's a lot of words and not much drama."

The final question left to be asked: will I read book two?
I don't think I will bother. Particarly given the ridiculous premise of what the next book will focus on. I actually laughed out loud at how chessy and silly the final lines are. I mean, if Bardugo can't portray a tiny piece of what hell on Earth is like even for a recent drug user, I don't expect her to do any better in any other dark setting that she brings forward in the series.

Pre-read comment
Am I being tricked into reading this because there might be snakes and then there aren’t? This happens a lot. Us snake lovers want good fiction too where our hissing babies are on top and not always evil.
Whom I kidding everyone, including me, will read this no matter the content. 😂

Follow me on Goodreads

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Book Review: Fairy Science

Fairy ScienceFairy Science by Ashley Spires

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an interesting children’s book. It takes the concept of science and applies it to fairies whom have magic. I like the science concepts taught about photosynthesis, fog, gravity, etc. However it could be very confusing to a child to understand that the overall idea is nothing is magic; it just has an explanation we may not know yet. I’m not sure the book conveyed this very well.
I do really like the illustrations and that the glitter on the cover (and fairies in general) are likely to attract the attention of little girls. We certainly need more women in science! Ashley Spires (Canadian author and illustrator) does a good job of keeping the pictures light but contextual.

One caution here for those purchasing this: be sure you know the concepts in the book in advance! For example: they call fog ‘condensate’ which is correct but I could see a child not getting it based on the picture. You’re likely to get asked why gravity works, what is dispersion, and other things referenced in the book. So I’d recommend being prepared to answer some basic questions. For myself prior to reading this cute book to a child I’d brush up on dispersion and maybe condensate to be sure I could easily explain it. Remembering that knowing what something is and answering a child’s specific questions can be very different things!
Another thing to be prepared for is the termination of seeds exercise at the back of the book. You just know many children will want to immediately do it.

Overall this is cute enough. I like the scientific method presented, the use of science words (like hypothesis, method, photosynthesis, etc.). It’s a picture book appropriate for a bit of an older age due to its complexity of words. I’d even buy Fairy Science for as old as a 7-8 year old.

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

Follow me on Goodreads!

Friday, December 6, 2019

Book Review: The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her MindThe Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind by Jackson Ford

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked the concept and plot but felt overall disconnected with the characters. There is a lot of humour and wit (just like the title implies) in Jackson Ford's first book of a new series called Frost Files. However it often felt like the humour was just covering up for poor character development. Jackson Ford does, however, start off very fast in the plot department. Let's get into some details:

Leading Gal
The female main character, whom the story is told through, is a bitter sarcastic, and relatively funny 22 year old. The reader is immediately given the impression that this chick is not happy about her plight in life, her 'superpower' or the current situation she finds herself in. But she's clearly quick thinking on her feet and with her wit.
To give you an idea however of why this gal feels so shallow this is one of the opening lines of her thoughts:
"...a face that still gets her ID’d at the liquor store. Even though I’ve been able to buy my own drinks like a big girl for a whole year now.”
Sure being ID'd is annoying. But if you're only one year over the age limit I don't think you get to complain. I'm 37 and in all seriousness am constantly ID'd. Both my husband and I look about 10 years younger (or more) than we are. I'd kill to have only been ID'd for one year after I turned 18 (legal age in my province). So from the get-go I knew that this was going to be a typical Millennial girl that would annoy me. And I was right.
I should mention here that there is another POV in this story but it was so lackluster that I didn't really key in on any of its moments. This book is really all about our leading gal with the power to move stuff.

Thankfully our girl who can move sh*t with her mind is capable of being fairly amusing. This line in particular had me imaging all kinds of things:
"The only thing worse than splatting onto the sidewalk would be doing it naked."
Seems fair and true! (lol) The other characters around our lead gal are equally amusing and sarcastic. Without this wit I don't think I'd have lasted. The plot is good, a bit weak in places but overall acceptable, and the concept and 'power' given to our gal is fine; but without the amusement these characters would appear as cardboard as they are unfortunately.

There is a fair bit of plot and happenings, as one would expect, when you get into a science fiction novel like Ford has provided us. The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind has the typical super power troupes you expect like having: conspiracies, destroyed childhoods, dependencies on the bad guy and the like. Take TV Shows like: The Gifted, Supergirl, Smallville, every spy show ever, and even a splash of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; and you've basically got the premise of this novel. That's okay with me I expect troupes when I read very genre geared novels and so it didn't bother me too much. The one thing I would argue is there isn't an X-Files feel here for me. This book lacks the depth X-Files had.

The saving grace of Ford's first installment, in the series Frost Files, is that the ending is strong. It's engaging and didn't feel cheap. It wasn't an 'ah-ha' or 'oh wow' moment like I prefer; but it's plausible, believable and moved me to want to read the next book.
For me a three star book isn't bad but isn't good. It's just meh. I wouldn't convince anyone to read it, or recommend it necessarily, but if someone asked me about it and was interested I wouldn't convince them to find a different novel to pick-up. My hope here is that book 2 improves and our characters are less cardboard and more flesh and bone.

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Book Review: Go to the Grave

Go to My Grave by Catriona McPherson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set-up like murder mystery play, almost all the scenes are at one house (or just outside it) and we have a very limited number of characters (8 or so I think). And yet I still had trouble keeping track of the all the names. Go to My Grave jumps between present day and flashbacks to when the same same group of visitors to the house were teens. Unfortunately many nicknames are used between the flashbacks and present day. Thus I had a hard time keeping track of who was who until about the halfway point when things started to click.

There is a clever little twist at the end of this slow burning story. I’m tickled that I guessed the twist at 85% and felt very smart because of it (yep I'm a loser, lol). Unlike some books, when I guess the ending, I didn’t feel at all ripped off. It’s a very clever ending reveal and fits perfectly into the narrative. Catriona McPherson has done a wonderful job here of ensuring there are no cheap, unexplained or odd moments that don't fit into a logical framework of the story and align with what the reader knows of the events that transpired in the far and recent past.

With a set cast of characters, like in Go To the Grave, you usually expect to have the typical archetypes. McPherson has done a decent job of breaking the mold of the typical archetypes (ie: ditz, jock, weirdo, smart, etc.) and instead creates people who are more complex and reflect what real people are like. While I couldn't tell you a single name of a character (I'm awful with names, lol); it didn't matter because while I was immersed in the last half of the book I was following what was happening. I enjoyed the details included for each character regarding their issues, quirks and personal challenges.

The one thing I would have liked more of in Go To My Grave was creepiness. There is some and a few moments where things click together that is a bit too coincidental and has a creep factor; but at no time do I really remember finding it quite as creepy as I was hoping. Given the title, cover look and overall blurb of the story I expected something more. Although items randomly showing up or disappearing from rooms no one has been in does border on creepy...

The best part about Go to My Grave is that it features a dysfunctional group of family and friends. Not unlike Netflix take on The Haunting of Hill House; there is something both disturbing and comforting about a messed up family. It reminds me that everyone has a screwed up family (thank goodness!) and that we are all compensating or struggling with people and situations we've been forced into. The moral of the novel is that lying or covering up events is a poor choice as things don't just undo themselves and are never forgotten. A good reminder to all of us, regardless of age, that we've all made poor choices and hiding them is likely not a good choice; as what happens when they come back to haunt us?

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Book Review: Through the Water Curtain and other Tales from Around the World

Through the Water Curtain and other Tales from Around the World by Cornelia Funke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This anthology seems to go from more male dominated fairy tales (as most are) to ones where women are shown to be more than just helpless princesses.
I really appreciated that Cornelia Funke went out of her way to find unique stories with different takes on ones we may know or are new all together. Funke's comment's at the end of each story are insightful and ask good questions that prompt both children and adults to think about the origin, purpose and themes in each of the 13 stories.
Each of these stories is just long enough to have substance but short enough that they one could be a great bedtime story. It's a gorgeous little hardback book, with gold inlay, that would make a lovely gift to any child.
Here are my notes from each story:

Story #1 - The Boy Who Drew Cats
I love that Funke points out in a note at end of the story that this version reads a bit too Western because it’s not the original Japanese translation.
A clever little story about the power of art. I quite liked it.

Story #2 - Kotura, Lord of the Winds
A typical three daughters, none do as they are told except the youngest, story. I’m not a fan of this one as it’s about women taking orders and doing exactly as asked. The shining light here is youngest’s compassion for the old woman and regard for bird.
As Funke mentions, in the post story comment; wouldn’t it be cool if one day these stories were less gender bias?

Story #3 - Through the Water Curtain
I wish walking through a waterfall would take me to another world. Just like balloon, tornado or looking glass might.

Story #4 - The Areca Tree
I could handle being a tree. A rock maybe not so much; but a tree seems doable.
A beautiful story about how love isn’t convenient but can endure.

Story #5 - The Maid of the Copper Mountain
This is a Russian folktale that focuses on not being greedy and keeping your word. I like the way it’s set-up and think it’s so important to give kids good role models these days.

Story #6 - Tale of the Firebird
This story has many of the laws we see in our own fairy tales. Always in threes, rules not to touch things, and promises kept it’s different in that when the hero does something wrong he is forgiven each time. This bothered me at first and then I realized the world would be a better place if we all had more forgiveness in our hearts.

Story #7 - Bluebeard
I struggle with this story. Not because it’s gruesome but because it seems to be giving a warning to women about making poor choices. And while the men that save our lady are her brothers it definitely still indicates that no woman can save herself.
I realize this is typical of a fairy tale but this one seems an odd choice for Funke either way.

Story #8 - The Six Swans
Omg yes! While not quite the version of this story I have heard many times, it’s very close. But this is a personal favourite because of the amazing re-telling that Juliet Marieller wrote called Daughter of the ForestDaughter of the Forest. It has some of my favourite fiction quotes and easily my favourite romantic moment ever. And that all exists because of this little fairy tale about the bravest girl.

Story #9 - Golden Foot
Hmmm... while Funke points out that this is clearly a pagan story with Christian overtones layered on top and she indicates that is one of the reasons she chose it; I’m still bothered by it. This story makes it seem as though a pagan is indeed evil and his offspring as well. Not a big fan of this one.

Story #10 - The Story of One Who Set Out to Study Fear
Best story yet!! I loved this one. If only we were all so fearless in moments like the ones posed to our hero! Although I can’t help but think anyone with such little fear much be a psychopath. Hmmm...

Story #11 - The Frog Prince
This is not the Grimm version most are familiar with and that Disney popularized. But instead we have a princess that is strong, beautiful (of course, roll eyes) and useful. Her usefulness is my favourite part.

Story #12 - The One-Handed Murderer
I have read this story, almost exactly the same before. It’s one of my personal favourites as the women saves herself... eventually. But it at least says that women are strong enough when pushed far enough. Today’s women just don’t take as much abuse beforehand thankfully.

Story #13 - The Girl who gave a Knight a Kiss out of Necessity
As the last story in this adorable anthology; I like the Funke has ended strong with a strong female story from Sweden.

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Book Review: Daughter of the Storm

Daughter of the StormDaughter of the Storm by Tina Callaghan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't think I need to tell anyone that the gorgeous cover attracted me to this Irish published book. Daughter of the Storm starts out as a YA/Teen book and converts into a Horror novel at about 60% of the way through. Making it a very different read. Overall I enjoyed the story but it had some odd nuances to it at times. Some things happening out of nowhere and at other times there will be a sudden moment of gory description that feels out of place compared to the rest of the narrative.

Identity Crisis
Normally I am all over books that cross genres. However Tina Callaghan takes the reader on a primarily YA journey for 60% of the story and then gave me whiplash by swapping to horror storytelling seemingly within one page. The style actually changes, even the structure of the sentences feel different. I I almost wonder if this wasn't written in two parts originally and there was some disconnect on putting them together. So be forewarned that Daughter of the Storm ramps up quickly to some very creepy and a couple horrific moments past the halfway point.

Pretentious MC
While most of Daughter of the Storm has decent dialogue and character development I found some of the things our main gal says or thinks to be very bizarre. In the opening sequence of the book she meets a boy who is taking pictures. No other real details except what he looks like and yet our MC thinks:
"After their few minutes of acquaintance the night before, she already knew he was weird."
For the life of me I cannot figure out why she thinks this. Now I realize this statement is partially because Callaghan wants the reader to sense his quirkiness; but there must be a better way to portray that in descriptions or actions than having our main character come off as judgy and pretentious almost from the opening page. This attitude carries through parts of the story but is not consistent which makes this original thought stand-out even more. A little more intention in our main gal's thoughts would have been nice.

Sentence Structure and Grammar
I hate to pick on authors, editors or publishers, but given this book is published by a fairly well-known publishing house in Ireland, I was very disappointed in the writing quality. All the things that felt awkward or were incorrect should have been easily caught and fixed by a good editor.
This line tripped me up twice due to it's odd structure:
"All he could do was sit there and hold her hand. He thought maybe that sometimes that’s all anyone could do for anyone."
This should be a brilliant quotable line. Instead it made me think too hard and literally paused my reading to sort out what was wrong with the last sentence. This type of flaw is always such a tragic disappointment in an otherwise fairly well-written story. On more than one occassion a typo or odd grammatical choice caused me to be brought out of the well-written ambience that Callaghan creates.

The plot, characters and concept are overall well done in Daughter of the Storm and the creepy ambience worked well for me. While this is not a five-star story; it's certainly good enough for 3.5 stars. However because of the odd transitions, weird suddenness of some events and the poor editing I'm dropping this rating to 3 stars. I'd recommend it if you are really intrigued by the blurb; otherwise this one can be skipped over.
That said I will watch for Callaghan's future work as I believe there is good potential here if she is paired up with a stronger editor.

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Monday, November 18, 2019

Book Review: The Bird King

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A few lulls but for the most part an excellent read. It felt like I was reading a Guy Gavriel Kay book; which is a huge compliment! There is a lot of Muslim culture here that most Westerners are not likely to be familiar with. I loved learning about the culture and seeing the world from the Muslim viewpoint. And while this is Earth during the 13th century; it has all the magical aspects of the stories we know from that time. Use of 'magic', secret islands, famous swords, etc. You can decide for yourself if you think it's "fantasy" enough; but this quote by a character really struck me as all the proof I need:
- "You’ve transported us into open water without a damned idea where we're pointed, all by cutting through a fucking rope. That’s magic.”

Jinn & Lore
Certainly the best characters in The Bird King are the jinn. I loved how the jinn told little stories and gave out puzzles and clues that would confuse me until I'd have an ah-ha moment later on. The most interesting part with the lore used here was learning new stories that sound like some I know but have a spin or different take than I have heard before. I don't want to spoil them all as they are so fun to discover throughout the story! I will say there is a reference to a mysterious misty island (steeped in religion) that I immediately identified as a version of Avalon.

The Ladies
I really appreciate how strong and smart the women are in The Bird King. Anyone who thinks this story will be oppressive to women because it's viewpoint is from Muslims will potentially be surprised to learn that the women encountered, and those whom are a part of the lead story, are all fierce. Our leading lady and her friend are all at once adorable and admirable. How can you not love a character who is sarcastically told this early on (she's technically a slave) because she's acting out and embarrassing her owner(s):
- "What will the foreigners think if we can’t even manage our slave girls? Pretend to be meek and obedient for once in your life. It will be good for practice."

This is by far the most quotable book I've read in 2019. G. Willow Wilson has taken so many social issues and brought them done to perfect one-line descriptions. Additional it's done with intelligent wit and sarcasm. A few of my favourites (besides the ones shared above):
- "If justice is what you want, then you may often be right, but you will rarely be happy."
- "Happiness she decided, comes only in pauses brother regularly, nor predictably."

Wilson has given us a true gem. I know many will argue this doesn't belong on fantasy shelves and is more 'magical realism'. For me it's like The Night Circus, The Bird King is so well written and put together from a literary standpoint that it belongs in every genre it might qualify for in order to get more people seeing and reading it. The social connections and empathy that are made in The Bird King between today's reality and that of the 13th century are astonishing. Wilson does an incredible job of making this a very relatable story regardless of your cultural or religious background. It breaks my heart that we (humanity) are not further along than we were back then.

Now after reading this rave review you may wonder why I only gave this 4-stars. The reason, there was a large-ish section that dragged for me. I'm not sure if it was just me on that day (I was grumpy) or that the section was actually a bit dull. For now I'm leaving this at 4-stars but I could easily see me re-reading it in the future and bumped it up to five.

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Friday, November 15, 2019

Book Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January

The Ten Thousand Doors of JanuaryThe Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a beautiful, well thought out book with stories inside of stories inside of stories. Or books inside of books if you will. Anytime you start layering reading with reading you're pretty much guaranteed to get my attention. The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a beautifully written read. From a heart breaking love story, to new worlds to be discovered to the mystery of doors and even a puppy (named Bad); I can imagine revisiting this story again and again in the future and loving it just as well.

Lead Gal
Our lead girl, January, is an intriguing child. She's a bookworm who is the ward of a rich and powerful man obsessed with collecting unique things. Her father goes on 'errands' for him and brings back amazing wonders from around the worlds (yes plural) that many doors scattered across Earth take him to. I think January is a very well put together character and she felt very real as the story progressed. In fact around 75% I found my mind wandering and getting a bit bored; then I realized it's because that is how January was feeling! It's an impressive feat when I literally feel like the character in the story without realizing it immediately. That is a sign of a heroine that I connected with in a profound way.

Doors to Doors to Doors
If there was one thing I wanted more of it was doors! We certainly don't encounter ten thousand of them; although there are quite a few. For me any time there is an opportunity to set-up a new world or version of an existing one I'm intrigued and want the ideas to be endless. This endless number of worlds/doors reminded me of Seanan McGuire's Every Heart a Doorway in that it could continue into infinity. And while many people will see similarities in McGuire's story to that of Alix E. Harrow I think they are both very different books. Ten Thousand Doors is more of a character study while McGuire is far more about the setting and worlds. Harrow does a good job of setting up 'rules' for the doors and keeping strictly to them. Magic without rules is just lazy writing and so I appreciated that it was obvious from the beginning what the constraints are that allow these portals to open.

Action and Adventure
If you're hoping for some flashy sword work, great escapes or vast adventures then Ten Thousand Doors is not for you. Harrow has given us the perfect book for an introvert if you will. As January is an introvert herself she doesn't really push the limits like many other heroines. There are lots of things that happen and some very tense moments but no real fighting or 'action' the way a lot of fantasy is. I personally feel this made Harrow's story stand-out from the crowd for me in a way most fantasy doesn't. It may also be that the stunning prose gives a certain pace and feel to the book that exude a quieter experience than a lot of fantasy books these days.

There are some very unique and heart breaking relationships that January either finds herself in or is privy to throughout the story. There is quite a bit of romance without it ever feeling over the top or sappy. I liked the slow methodical set-up of all the relationships whether between parents, January and her father, January and her friend, etc.
The most intricate of these pairings is by far between January and her master Locke. It's a love/hate, hate/love relationship and we are strung along with January as she desperately wishes the man loved her or had some sort of affection to show for her. It's apparent from the get go that this is a man who collects 'things'and January is merely one of them due to her unique look. I found myself often asking if it would be better for her to be a kitchen worker than to be a 'doll' shown off. Although it seems cruel at times the freedom January gets because of her unique position with Locke plays a large part in how she finds her first door. So all's well that ends well.

The Ending
I have a hateful relationship with most endings. Easily the most likely thing to annoy me in any book is the ending. Often they are cheap, contrived, convenient or cliche. (ohhh, that's some good alliteration there, totally by accident, lol) The exact opposite is true with Harrow's ending to Ten Thousand Doors. It just felt perfect. All the ends are elegantly tied up, it's not happy but not really sad. It just is. Very much like life's endings which is probably why I liked it so much. It felt real.
The icing on the cake? This is a stand-alone fantasy book. While you may mourn that there isn't a series here by the end merely because you wish for more; I am very pleased to have read a wonderful fantasy story that won't take half my life or more to get to a satisfying ending. As Harrow tells us early on; "Doors, once closed, do not reopen."

I can't really imagine another hating this book. Disliking it, perhaps; not really getting into it, sure. But actually thinking it's awful? I'm sure there will be people but it seems unlikely to be often. This is easily a book in my top recommendations for 2019. Lovers of YA/Teen, fantasy, fiction and even probably sci-fi are all likely to find something to love in The Ten Thousand Doors of January. I'll leave you with just one of many beautiful lines from this masterpiece:
"May she wander but always return home, may all her words be written true, may every door lie open before her."

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Monday, November 4, 2019

Book Review: If, Then

If, ThenIf, Then by Kate Hope Day

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A quick, well-paced read. While this is technically science fiction it doesn’t read like typical sci-fi at all. Easily read by anyone due to its contemporary setting and strong characters.

When most people think of science fiction they imagine space, aliens and/or monstrous species (think Predator). But the reality is there is a whole area of sci-fi that is often left in the fiction section. Often set in modern day life, where everything can be explained by Earth science and is rooted in current known scientific principles. Michael Crichton is easily the most famous writer of this genre. If, Then is perfectly suited to be classified next to Crichton or Blake Crouch.
The scientific topics in Kate Hope Day’s novel range from medicine to frog migration to bunker load capacity. I think the topics are presented in a very accessible way for any reading or education level.

As everyone in our novel is connected in some way (by family, friendship, co-worker or neighbour) it could be argued that it is a bit tough to create diversity in the pages. However Day does a good job of giving us different families, ethnicities, religions and a lesbian relationship. There was something missing for me however. All our families are built off the premise that a family constitutes at minimum one child and one parent. I would have liked more focus on Ginny (our single lesbian who lives on her own and is a supporting character) or one additional couple whom are perhaps older and have no children (for whatever reason) that are featured like our other characters. The point of view changes in If, Then between all the characters so you get to know them very well. I know my desire for a couple without children is because I wanted a character or two I could relate to easier.

I think anyone who can relate to one of the main characters will be enamoured with the dynamic relationships that Day has given us. Even before things start to really ‘happen’, just past halfway, I felt like I could anticipate how our characters would react. That’s generally a good sign as it means the characters make sense and are well established. Each has their own inner struggle and unique reaction to the odd things happening around them.

I keep telling my husband if we had random extra money laying around (lol) I might set up a bit of a doomsday prepping area of our home. We laugh and blow it off; even though both of us have genuinely indicated that being prepared is important. The question of course becomes how important. Day brings to light what all dystopian (pre or post) fiction does; preppers last longer and are often the only ones to survive. Let’s face it most people don’t even have enough drinking water in their home for 3 days without power and water (never mind a week). If this story doesn’t make you go buy or organize some extra supplies at your house then you probably missed part of the point.

You may wonder why I don’t say much about the plot in If, Then. The thing is anything I say regarding the plot is likely to give things away. There are many nuances in the plot and it’s easy to guess how things likely go. Yet that didn’t distract me from wanting to know how each person coped with what was or would happen.

This would have been a five star book if I had found one character to feel more connected to. It was really the only thing missing for me. As Day’s book is very focused on the characters and so it’s hard for me to ignore the feeling that one more character set would have been the icing on the cake for this story.
That said, this is a well executed character study set in a reality that could be right now and certainly makes you think about our realities and existence.

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Book Review: We Sold Our Souls

We Sold Our SoulsWe Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the book that Queen of the Damned should have been. We Sold Our Souls is engaging, exciting, bloody, romantic and musical all at once. I absolutely loved it and cannot wait for my husband (a big music fan and horror buff) to read it as I think he will also adore this story. For sure I will be purchasing a paperback copy to add to our library and strategically leave on his side table to read.
The only 'problem' I could really find with Grady Hendrix's story is that I want the fictional band(s) to exist so bad! 

It's rare that someone can write a story in which you can hear the music they are describing. I don't know if it's because the lyrics are prevalent throughout the story, or that our characters describe the feeling of being lost in the heavy metal music so well; either way it's like We Sold Our Souls is belting out a metal lyric from its static pages. I could see musical geniuses like Corey Taylor (Slipknot, Stone Sour), Jonathan Davis (Korn) or Tobias Forge (Ghost) being perfect to write the music to go with the lyrics. It would also be ironic as both Taylor and Davis are in bands that are mocked in the book as not being 'metal enough'.

Music Snobbery
Which brings me to the one thing that might bug some readers, music snobbery. If you are not a big music fan you might not really understand the elitist attitude that our (primary) lead gal has (a member of the main fictional band). In the music industry, especially in metal and punk, there are things you just don't do or compromise on (generally with a record label). These are what will get you labelled a 'sell-out'. That said, as someone who knows a fair bit about the music industry, the reality is that generally well known and successful bands in these genres are mocked because everyone is jealous of their massive success. Like it or not when we are being snobby it's usually because we desire something someone else has that we wish we did or are trying to justify why we haven't made it big. I believe that is exactly what is happening to our lead gal here. So take the snobbery with a grain of salt and you'll coast past this issue.

Genre all it's own
If there was a genre that encompassed music, horror and fantasy all together then We Sold Our Souls would be at the forefront of it. It's so hard to say where this book should sit in a library or bookstore. It has magic, bloody killings, musical influence (including as many fictional bands as real ones mentioned) and an overall atmosphere that bleeds dread. It could be called a thriller. I could even see some calling it an inspirational story about doing what you know is right. Seriously it just has so much rolled into it.

Premise Seems Silly?
When you read the blurb to Hendrix's novel you might think to yourself that it sounds cheesy. It's true that at times it comes off that way. But I dare anyone not to get sucked into the reality presented in We Sold Our Souls. Once you accept things for what they are; I guarantee you will be unable to put this book down. It's one of the fastest reads I have had this year to date; and yet I wanted it to never end.

Characters, Plot, Symbolism, etc.
I could probably write a whole term paper or thesis about all the meanings and symbolism in We Sold Our Souls. It's got a depth you just wouldn't expect from a horror story about musicians. I love how the lyrics of the songs are intertwined with the events of the book and feelings of our characters. At times, especially in the lyrics of the songs, Hendrix really spoke to my Pagan soul. (side note: it amuses me that the author's last name is Hendrix and they wrote a book with a musician lead. I wish one of the characters was named Jimi, even if only a minor one, lol).

If you love metal music, read this. If you love horror, read this. If you love reading the personal journey of a character to 'find themselves', read this. Like a lot of music is, this is a look into the soul of selfish, snobby musicians and the ultimate price they (seemingly inevitably pay) to be successful.
But seriously, can someone please make this into a movie and create the fictional band's music?

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

Follow me on Goodreads