Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Book Review: Exit Strategy

Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries, #4)Exit Strategy by Martha Wells

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It appears this is the last (for now, written Feb 2019) of the Murderbot Diaries novellas from Martha Wells. The good news out of this is that we are getting a full length novel!! That's right a lot more Murderbot coming our way soon.

What can I tell you about this book... if you already liked the first three novellas you'll enjoy this one too. It brings our favourite bot full circle. Back to the company of the original crew in All Systems Red. Except this time they have the data to cause a stir.

Murderbot evolves up to this point in the series. We see them (in my mind Murderbot is a girl... however I give you gender neutral pronouns as a way to not impose my opinion on anyone) progress to a point where they can control way more droids, scanners, systems, etc. than we would have ever thought possible. That comes at a price however and Exit Strategy is all really about what the price is and how far Murderbot will go to bring down the Company.

There is all the same snark, sarcasm, humour and clever wit in Exit Strategy as in the first three books. I still think book 2 was my favourite because of the ship ART. There isn't quite the same relationship in Exit Strategy between them and another bot as we had in books 2 and 3. But because we have our human leads back I barely noticed. Exit Strategy ramps up fast, and you MUST have read book 3 prior to getting into this one (they are seamlessly connected from one page to the next). Overall I still love Murderbot and am in agony waiting for Wells to give us more!

(Related but Unrelated Note: I'm super annoyed Wells fantasy trilogy is out of print because now I want to read everything she has ever read!)

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Monday, February 25, 2019

Book Review: My Friend Sleep

My Friend SleepMy Friend Sleep by Laura Baker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The best kind of children's stories are the ones that have a lyrical pace to them. Writing a children's book may seem easy, and maybe many are. Canadian born Laura Baker steps her writing in My Friend Sleep up to a level so many other children's books by turning the words into a poetry with a lullaby tempo. Paired up with the gorgeous illustrations of Hannah Peck from the UK, My Friend Sleep is sure to become a parent and children's favourite. This is the kind of story that could have the staying power of I'll Love You Forever and could be gifted to parents from their adult children in the future.
I honestly cannot say anything but good things about this gorgeous story about falling asleep and not being afraid of the dark. I wish I had this book as a child and cannot wait to gift it to all the little ones in my life.

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: How to Fracture a Fairy Tale

How to Fracture a Fairy TaleHow to Fracture a Fairy Tale by Jane Yolen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So I’m a little frustrated. I read an eARC of this that had no linked table of contents and so I didn’t know there were authors notes to go with every story at the back!! I would have liked these at the beginning or end of each story within the book context. Especially because some of the notes Jane Yolen made at the end of the book are key to understanding her decision to include the story or why she changed what she did.

The Tales
There are a lot of fairy tales in this book. Some are multi-sectioned and upwards of 75 pages. Others are not even 1000 words long. The variety is well spread-out and you could easily choose to read these in any order you wanted. None of them rely on you having read the story before.
I really enjoyed the ones based on traditional fairy tales. There are many that are not based in stories you may know. Some are from foreign folklore many may not be familiar with (but what a great time to learn about it!) and others have biblical context to them. As someone who is familiar with the commonly known Bible stories this was fine for me but someone less versed in religious text may find this frustrating.

What's a Fairy Tale?
Yolen's collection has really made me think about what is a fairy tale? Does Disney need to have made an animated movie for it to count? (I hope not!) Does it need to be 'well known' and who defines what is common enough? Does it need to have a strong moral? A princess? An evil villian? You get where I'm going with this. It's hard to define a fairy tale. And so my thought on what is a fairy tale is different from Yolen. Once I accepted that to be the case things were better for me. The first Bible story threw me for a loop; even though I really enjoyed the one where the man is taken to Hell and then Heaven to see 'what they are like'.

The Best?
The obvious question with anthologies is, which story is best? I don't know if I can answer this. There are so many great merits to most of the stories in this anthology. There are a couple duds (including one early on, so what out!) but overall a clear 80% or more of these stories are excellent. I did really enjoy the unique take on Rumpelstiltskin (a personal fave), the dragons whom no one remembers and the Snow White reversal.

There are a lot of hidden gems in How to Fracture a Fairy Tale and I'm confident any reader could find at least one or two stories they liked. That is perhaps the true genius of Yolen's writing and interpretations is that she sees them from all different perspectives. There is no one 'fracture' point of view that all the stories are told from. Instead it's as though a different person wrote the stories in some cases.
The introduction by Marissa Meyer is repetitive, dull and easily skipped. It feels included to capitalize on her name recognition. But don't skip over Yolen's short introduction to the stories. She has a couple important things to say about what she deems a fracture and how fairy tales have evolved over the years.

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: Slayer

Slayer (Slayer, #1)Slayer by Kiersten White

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nostalgia can be a powerful emotion that makes it difficult to rationally and subjectively review a topic or book. So I forewarn you that as a teenager I was heavily influenced by Buffy the Vampire Slayer. By the time Buffy and Angel were done on television I was 21 and had heard the messages of Joss Whedon weekly through my formative years.

I like the choice of time period in Slayer. We are told it happens 3 years after Season 8 ends. Therefore 2 years after L.A. is sent to Hell and shortly after magic has disappeared. Just long enough after for people to have started to adjust (6 months) and set-up what there life is like now without magic. We meet our watcher teenagers that lead the story during a time when they are in hiding and no longer really needed; as there are now a large number of Slayers and no more to be made if magic stays away. If you are familiar with the Season 9-10 comics then you will know exactly when this is likely to be taking place.

Lead Gal
Like Buffy and her friends our lead gal is a teenager who is frustrated with her life. She hates Buffy (much to my amusement as Buffy was never my favourite character) and blames Buffy for her life being ruined now that there are too many Slayers and no magic left. Unfortunately as Slayer moves through it's narrative our lead gal becomes difficult to sympathize with. She's a bit whiny and certainly needs to get some perspective on what it was like to be Buffy and crew faced with the decisions they were. Luckily perspective is (*cue eye roll*) exactly what our lead gal receives. I can't help but feel it's extremely cliche and boring.

I found it incredibly difficult to feel like the Watchers were as important as they make themselves out to be. Maybe because Scoobies are easily found to do research and a Watcher 'education' is not required? Maybe because I cannot forget how the Watchers showed up that one time on Buffy's birthday and tried to tell her how it was going to be from the helm of the old boys club? Or maybe it's because I dislike the idea that a powerful and strong girl isn't capable of also being smart enough to remember details about demons or do her own research? Perhaps ironically I'm about as far away from being a Slayer as anyone could be. I'm more of a Xander or Willow type that has their nose in a book researching (as many of you reading this review likely are too!). This led to a difficulty to really care about this set of lost Watchers in the woods. In fact they might be as creepy as the watcher in the woods from the movie and book of the same name (and from 90's pop culture). Not only are they undesired by the general public but they are in hiding and trying to influence without being seen.

The Cameos
I really loved the cameos! We get to encounter all kinds of people we know from the Buffyverse. But here's the thing; what if you read this and didn't know anything about the 'verse, you would be lost. Many characters who 'show up' in some way shape or form (in person, in dreams, in flashbacks, etc.) are never actually named. Now a fan of the show knows that a dark haired Slayer who says "five by five" is Faith. And we know the significance and intent that Faith may give an opinion or advice from. But for the average reader with limited Buffy knowledge this context would be completely lost. I'm not sure if that is okay or not. I suppose it depends on the purpose you believe this book was written for. Overall if the idea was to bring in a new, younger generation of Buffy fans then this is definitely a huge problem with the set-up Kiersten White went with.

Whether White intended to write this for existing fans or to draw in a new audience, it misses the mark. Slayer really only scratches the surface of what could be and misses out on a lot of the inherent darkness that always existed in Buffy. There is no real character that embodies what a vampire with a soul is like. As the anti-hero is always my favourite this perhaps felt like a bigger miss to me than others might feel. I craved more darkness and moral ambiguity than there was.
Additionally there are almost no vampires in this book. Weird right? Totally weird. I'm not sure why this decision was made but it felt like the wrong decision. Of course there are a million other demons in the Buffyverse; but I really craved and hoped for a vampire story and instead I got a demon enemy with a sprinkling of vampire on the side; almost as an afterthought. The disappointment at no classic one-on-one vampire vs slayer fights really struck me by the end of the book.

Comedic Relief
As is often the case in a Whedon built universe 'the' comic relief is one of the most important and interesting characters. In this case our comic relief was very obvious; and I loved the introductory description of our demon in a Coldplay shirt. It greatly amused me and sets up some context for our demon right away. I couldn't help but think of Doyle (from Angel) at times while this demon spoke. There were comments or thoughts that really resonated with me as being something Doyle might have said at some point had they been able to keep his character alive longer in Angel (look up Doyle and the actor if you don't know why he was written out of the show). This was easily my favourite part of the story. In fact without this cute demon I might not have hung in for the whole book.

Slayer has all the required elements of a Buffyverse story: gay couple, mysterious outsider, geeky girl, comedic demon, watcher(s), some fighting and a 'baddie' to investigate. Yet somehow it misses something for me. It was fine. Nothing special. In fact if you stripped the Buffy lore out and changed some names it could easily be an average teen novel of today. Maybe this is what bugs me about White's take on the Buffyverse... it's too average. Buffy was a leap ahead of it's time in the 90's and I really wanted this to feel like the next step forward. Instead it felt like we were reminiscing about the past and capitalizing off the reboot fever of the 21st century.
This won't be joining my Buffyverse, the same as the last couple seasons of the comics don't exist in my brain. You see, I have an idea of Buffy in my brain that may no longer be achievable; and maybe it's the nostalgia of my age and the time when Buffy was new and the best thing ever. Or maybe it's that I've grown past the ability to relate to the Buffyverse and Buffy-style characters anymore. I am 36 years old after all. Whatever the reason this was a miss for me and one I'm disappointed to put to the side and (mostly) forget; but also one where I accept that I may not be the target market and my heart may be too close to this universe to be totally objective.

To read this and more of my reviews 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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Book Review: Penguin Days

Penguin DaysPenguin Days by Sara Leach

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A early reader chapter book about a little girl, Lauren, with Autism Spectrum Disorder. There are descriptions of the types of feelings and reactions that Lauren has which I felt were easy to associate with. Things like 'fireworks' in her brain and her insides being 'squirmy'. I think the younger children this book is geared at (kids just learning to read) will be able to appreciate what Lauren feels like in these moments. The lovely illustrations also help demonstrate the idea of a brain that is overwhelmed, or a moment when Lauren is unhappy.

There is a lovely transition from the beginning of the book where Lauren is with some cousins, aunts and uncles who do not know her or understand her; to the end of the book where they are helping her. The ease at which Sara Leach has written Lauren also helps to sympathize with her. Whether or not we as kids, or the children reading the book, would have been scared is irrelevant because we understand how Lauren feels and as the storyteller that is all we really care about.

This is a great introduction for a 5+ year old to start understanding that everyone reacts and feels differently in situations. The one thing we all have in common however is that we like to be special, be loved, have friends and feel included.

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, February 20, 2019

Book Review: Strange Grace

Strange GraceStrange Grace by Tessa Gratton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of the most conflicting reviews/ratings I've given lately. Strange Grace is dark, creepy and just the right amount of gory for me. So you'd think it would hit the mark for a teen fantasy read. And it mostly does. However there are moments and times where I feel like something was missing or a connective tissue wasn't quite there. Also refreshing is that it's a stand-alone!!

When you write a book that focuses on tidbits of information dropped like easter eggs throughout the narrative you need to be very confident that you've given enough context for the reader to have an 'ah-ha' moment when that tidbit becomes relevant. This was the biggest missing piece for me with Tessa Gratton's dark novel. It felt like the 'ah-ha' moments were dulled or just not even there. The one key moment, where you go 'OMG', I did have a reaction to; but even that felt a little muffled by the attempt to stay up on what I'd been told to date. I'm not quite sure how else to describe what was missing except to say that a good mystery or thriller author could likely solve this issue quickly as I believe it would be obvious where the links are not meeting.

Ever since I read LOTR at age 12 I have been vehemently against flashbacks. I abhor being told what happened for key moments if the flashback isn't in a journal entry, orally being told story, or really, really interesting. Luckily for Gratton she fits into the really interesting category. It's a very risky thing to tell 90% of your compelling story in flashbacks; and yet that is exactly how Strange Grace is set-up. This format allows for bits and pieces of the story, from different characters POV, to be told in a jumbled up way which could work but in this case I'm not sure it was as effective as it could be (see foreshadowing above).

Endings & Romance
The absolute best endings to me have a few things in common. They don't please everyone, not everyone survives (if applicable) and everyone leaves changed. Without a doubt Gratton meets my ending criteria.
It also helps that the romance in Strange Grace is fairly well done. It's a typical confused and conflicted teen romance (between three people); but I really loved the way Gratton incorporated the pan sexuality into the complex trio's lives. I genuinely believed that a three-person relationship would be possible in certain scenarios here. And not because the characters were trying to all be happy but because it just made sense for these characters. It's difficult to handle a unique teen romance, in a vicious, fairly bloodthirsty book without having the trauma become 99% of the focus. But somehow Gratton manages to give us three independent and unique characters who all need each other and not just because of the horrors they may (or may not) have witnessed; but instead because their souls feel entwined. I realize this may sound lame... (or maybe it's because I have a hard time with romance) but I felt like this was a teen romance that I could understand and support.

The darkness and romance of Strange Grace certainly pushed me into 3-4 star territory (there is also a really good moral dilemma); but the missing 'ah-ha' moments and lack of lines to tug on brought it down. I feel if Gratton paired up with a couple great mystery editors or writers for comments, reviews and edits that this could be a stellar book. I will certainly read Gratton's books in the future as I believe her and I have something in common. A dark place in our souls that we don't quite know what to do with sometimes. Strange Grace touched that deep place (that all of us have to some degree) and gave it a life (that is less horrific and more gothic) for a short period of time.

To read this and more of my reviews 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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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Book Review: The Wren Hunt

The Wren HuntThe Wren Hunt by Mary Watson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really wanted The Wren Hunt to be more than it is. Mary Watson has given us a simple, yet complex enough society set-up that stems from types of magic. Except that there isn't much magic left in the world, but the social structure remains the same. The opening chapter was perhaps the type of dark, creepiness I was hoping for but unfortunately it did not remain throughout.

Pimped out
The best way I can think of to describe what happens to our main gal is that she is 'pimped out' and her family places a large chunk of responsibility on her. All the while not giving her all the details. This leads to a conflicting attitude our character (and myself as the reader) has towards a lot of characters. So if you are looking for a book with likable characters I recommend you look elsewhere. There are not too many of them in The Wren Hunt. This made it difficult to keep myself invested; as at times I didn't even like our lead gal either.

This is a classic Romeo and Juliet set-up. It is handled fairly well by Watson. At times it reminded me of the relationship between Four and Tris in Divergent. It has that same type of 'we shouldn't do this, but we are' feel. And the hierarchy of one having more power than the other exists as well. Overall I was quite pleased with how I felt about the ups and downs in the relationship and would say that it didn't have any major problems that bothered me. That is high praise from me for a teen novel romance.

I think there could have been a bit more foreshadowing to give away some tidbits of information to lead us to the ending. However the foreshadowing that did exist was a little too obvious. It sometimes felt like a minor character was screaming at me (as the reader) to make sure I picked up on a tidbit. I like my foreshadowing a little more subtle. Even if I miss one piece then maybe I pick up another and so it keeps the suspense on-going. There is really a talent to doing this and if Watson worked with a mystery writer/editor I think she could really enhance her mystery writing capabilities.
Overall I would try another Mary Watson book. I would definitely be aware that there are moments of extreme teen-ness (if you will). However I believe you can't knock a book for feeling teen when it's in the teen genre. If you hate fantasy teen tropes then I would stay away from this one as they are all there. But if you're okay with getting what you expected then The Wren Hunt is likely for you.

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: A Long Way from Home

A Long Way From HomeA Long Way From Home by Peter Carey

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF @ 15%
If you’re thinking that 15% isn’t enough to know if a story is good or not, then I agree. It is however long enough to know that the style and delivery of the story is not for you.
Peter Carey has used a style here that is reminiscent of painful required readings in school. With first person viewpoints that mix dialogue, thoughts and descriptions all together you have to really pay attention to get the juicy details out. For me, these days, unless I’m instantly drawn into the story I am not interested in putting in the work. I barely wanted to it to read The Picture of Dorian Gray recently; so you can probably imagine that for a recently written publication I have no tolerance for this snobbery.

I believe it is no longer forgivable to write books (of any kind) that are so far outside the realm of 50% of readers. And this comes from someone who loves The Lord of the Rings and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell which are both very intense and reading feats in their own right, but at least they grabbed my attention quickly. If you are a mainstream author and want to sell books you really have to write for your audience; and unless you want the small marginal audience of PhD's and the occasional snobby reader, then I recommend you not write books like this.
Regardless of if you believe me to be a wuss (lol) for not pushing through more pages or uneducated or whatever other derogatory term you can think of; I’m content to pass this one by and move onto the thousands of other books out there that are infinitely more readable than this one.

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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You can read this...                                           or enjoy this! :) 
(images link to Amazon.ca listings)

Monday, February 18, 2019

Stitching: ABC WIP

So an accident actually led to tonight’s WIP being picked up. I stupidly spilled some ginger ale down the side of my chair, table and into my basket underneath the table. It was not good. Luckily I have 90% of my work in plastic ziplock bags do very little was damaged. A Mirabilla pattern (mermaid) got the worst of it and even then it’s not so bad. However, I still had to take everything out of the basket and wipe all the bags down, air out the basket overnight and whatnot. This led me to see all the great WIP I have in my basket and then to me picking up this little cutie that was a part of my class with Jeanette Douglass in November.

This is ABC in the ‘orange colourway’ (exclusive to Jeanette’s classes for now). I’m on the last motif with some border to then finish. My herringbone stitch is incorrect. Should have been two strands and I did it one. So I would love to hear if people think it needs some bulk added. Herringbone is below the double x’es and above the flower cross stitch.

I’m preparing to start a couple little motifs from Whimsical Stitching before the giveaway (likely in March). It’s also almost Nashville Needlemarket! Although after looking at just my WIP, never mind my stash in the basement, I may actually hold back on purchasing too many things because gosh I have a million times more than enough. But well you know... lol.
Thanks for dropping by. Happy Stitching!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Craft Book Review: Hand Sewing Magic

Hand Sewing Magic: Essential Know-How for Hand Stitching--Master Tension and Other Techniques * With Pro Tips, Tricks, and Troubleshooting * 10 Easy, Creative ProjectsHand Sewing Magic: Essential Know-How for Hand Stitching--Master Tension and Other Techniques * With Pro Tips, Tricks, and Troubleshooting * 10 Easy, Creative Projects by Lynn Krawczyk

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A gorgeous instructional book. Let's break it down to the different areas:

The first 30 ages of this gorgeous book are all about what you can use, should use and will be using in order to do hand sewing (otherwise know as stitching or embroidery). In Hand Sewing Magic most of the designs and stitches are known to me as embroidery, pulled thread or specialty stitches. There is a lot of benefit that could come from this book to cross stitchers looking to get into more elaborate stitching pieces (ie: Just Nan, Jeanette Douglas Designs, Victoria Sampler etc.) and of course to those getting into embroidery or canvas work. I really liked that the sample threads were well known brands and materials that most crafters would be familiar with.

The initial projects are cute and super easy to do. I really like that many have a practical application and aren't just stitching for aesthetic or art intention. Additionally there are no 'patterns' to follow. Instead you can see the stitch and colours chosen in the model but certainly you don't have to follow them or even consider them in your final piece. The projects are more about creating something and you filling in your own designs based on the type of stitches you just learned or whatever you may prefer. There are some templates for the larger or more complex pieces but these are really just the outline to draw on your piece before you fill it in with stitches.

Stitching Diagrams
The photographs are beautiful in this book; they are bright, detailed and clear. I had a little trouble with some where you grab or loop the thread around the needle but the others were easy enough to understand. I think my new favourite stitch is the Burden stitching. I had not seen this one before and not only did I enjoy trying it out but also I love the way it looks! Needleweaving and the cast-on stitches were others I enjoyed learning for the first time. Most of the ones I didn't know were 'dimensional' stitches that create more of a 3-D look. This makes sense as I am a cross stitcher which is very traditional and so these were more modern stitches I've not seen before.

Pro Tips & Variations
Throughout the book are little pro tips that talk about taking the work, project or stitch to the next level. These are generally to try and expand your thoughts on what are possible. I really liked the one on up-cycling items (i.e.: adding stitches to change the look of an old pillow).
There are also variation pictures for each stitch learned at the end of the instructions. These given you an idea of how you can convert and change the stitch to your own taste. And really show the creativity that can be incorporated in unique pieces.

I'm still not ready to give up my linen and even weaves and their square format with clear holes to move to the embroidery freedom shown in Hand Sewing Magic. But there are definitely stitches I learned here and could see using in the future in variations or modifications I make to existing patterns; or in creation of my own pieces. Certainly if I ever do canvas work again these stitches will have been very valuable to learn. And who knows maybe one day I'll be willing to move away from my linen and even weave into a more free flowing environment for stitching.

This is a great reference for new stitchers or new to embroidery projects. Otherwise, as with many crafting instruction books, it's a perfect library pick-up for a couple of weeks to get inspired and perhaps even do a project or two from.

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: Days of the Dead

Days of the DeadDays of the Dead by Kersten Hamilton

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF @ 39%

This was a little too focused on religion for my tastes. I realize that Day of the Dead is a very religious holiday and ceremonial but the lead up to the actual event was centred entirely around the sins, confessions and actions of our lead girl.

Flipping forward some and skimming some pages it didn’t seem like much plot was going to creep in and instead mostly focused around out lead girls attempt to come to terms with her mothers suicide being deemed a sin.

I’m sure there is a lot to learn and process in this story. Unfortunately the writing was very simple and boring to me and I saw no value in continuing forward with this one.

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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Friday, February 15, 2019

Book Review: Anne Arrives

Anne Arrives: Inspired by Anne of Green GablesAnne Arrives: Inspired by Anne of Green Gables by Kallie George

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Anne of Green Gables has been around for over 110 years now. Considering L. M. Montgomery's death year of 1942, with the original copyright date of the text, that puts this classic Canadian story in the public domain. It's lovely that everyone can enjoy it for free or inexpensively. Except that it also means everyone and anyone can appropriate any parts of the story or characters for their own use. Anne Arrives is an example of taking Montgomery's beautiful writing and simplifying it down so far that it looses all meaning.

The strongest part of Anne Arrives is easily the illustrations by Abigail Halpin. I love the prominent freckles, orange-red hair and petite look of Anne. If nothing else there are some lovely spreads to enjoy if you need a quick dose of Anne's adorable look.

It's really unfortunate to me that Kallie George has taken Montgomery's gorgeous, classic prose and dumbed it down to five or six sentences per chapter. All the dialogue is in a simple basic, 'See Spot Run' style. I realize that is because this is a book for early readers. However, perhaps it's worth noting that Anne is not really a story that early readers can fully benefit from.
If I pretend I have no knowledge of the Anne story, when I read the opening pages it feels like a very sexist story. It heavily implies that girls can't do chores, can't help on a farm and aren't able bodied enough to be of help to Matthew. Now, obviously time frame is relevant for context and the nuance of the story. As well as it being a small town and an older time period. All of this is lost in this simplified version of the story. I'm not convinced that this is the Anne we want children to first experience and it certainly doesn't feel like the Anne I know and love. My family is from PEI. My Nana (Grandmother) grew up in a farmhouse just a few kilometers away from Montgomery's family home and so Anne was a huge part of my childhood, even though I didn't live there.

As much as I love Anne I just don't feel that there is any justice or substance to this format and it has no appeal to me. I believe it is worth the delay for any little girl (or boy) so that they can experience an authentic and true Anne Shirley. This beloved classic story is too lovely to put into less sentences than are likely on the first page of the original book.

To read this and more of my reviews 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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Buy Anne Arrives at Amazon OR get the original story!  ;) 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Book Review: An Easy Death

An Easy Death (Gunnie Rose, #1)An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Just as the cover implies, An Easy Death is a cowboy shoot 'em up style book. In the classic comedic style of Charlaine Harris we are introduced to our bad-ass heroine who doesn't like anyone meddling in her affairs and has kept her hand on her gun mos of her life just to survive.

Something Harris is a master at creating are characters. Her original series 'True Blood' characters are unforgettable and as such so are the ones in An Easy Death. Not only is our lead gal likable, she has many traits readers may wish they had; including a fearless personality. Additionally Harris introduces us to a whole host of characters you come to care about. Although fair warning there are a lot of people that don't make it in this wild west dystopian environment; so try not to get too attached.

Alternate Dystopian History
The setting of Harris' new series is really interesting. It's back in the 1930-40's or so (I think) and yet the USA has been split into factions/areas that are no longer one country due to a rise in magic and magical abilities. This has led to outlaw areas, new regimes and intense politics. My fave part (because I'm very biased) was that Canada held onto their land and got a chunk of the northern United States. So I just have to say thanks to Harris for not assuming my country would fall. ;)
The other side of the split of the USA is that the Russians have taken over portion of the former country including what was California. They are the ones with the most magic and a royal bloodline that includes the original royal line whom all suffer from hemophilia. There's no lack of politics in this world and yet it's not complex or heavily set. A perfect balance to the wild west feel of the show.

An Easy Death is primarily a bunch of action scenes strung together with some mysterious plot. But don't be fooled into thinking there is a complexity to this story. At the end of the day it's just like your average John Wayne style story. Except our lead gal doesn't end up with near as many people in bed with her as Wayne might have had back in the day. (lol)

This is a fun, take a break and laugh book. Just like the Sookie Stackhouse series (True Blood on HBO), Harris has taken a relatively simple approach to let us know that the books are really all about having some laughs, shooting up a lot of places and our heroine surviving. As our lead gal is only 19 (or so) she displays a strong desire to survive that is admirable and reminded me that I can totally handle -35C (on one of the days I was reading this) so long as no one is shooting at me.
While no one is likely to give out a literary award for this new series, I know I will look forward to the next book. And I hope that this series can go on for 3-6 books and be decent additions to my TBR as 'break' reads from some of the heavy literature out there.

To read this and more of my reviews 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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Book Review: Rogue Protocol

Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries, #3)Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is something about an androgynous (even though I think of Murderbot as a she and will refer to her this way in this review) snarky robot that can kill in an instant but has an obsession with serial shows that are essentially soap operas (as far as I can tell). Snarky Murderbot returns in this third installment of Martha Wells novellas as Murderbot works to gather more information about the illicit mining activities she was involved in before a mind-wipe made her forget.

I can't tell you how awesome the sarcastic, frustrated and impatient comments Murderbot says amuse me. Many of them point out obvious human flaws that we are all aware we do. Or just make fun of humans as being bad at security and making poor decisions. We humans make decisions based on feelings; whereas Murderbot decides based on rational and probability.

I Miss ART
If you've read book 2 you know what I'm talking about. There is a cute little 'pet bot' encountered in Rogue Protocol. Her name is Miki and she shows the ability for humans and robots to bond like a human to a pet/animal. But she's a little child with not a lot of knowledge. This makes her significantly different from ART in book 2 who was just as quick and knowledgeable as Murderbot.

I just love these cute little books. I don't know if it's partially the knowledge that they are an relatively easy read (especially for science fiction) or that they are only ~150 pages or that they are just that amusing. Either way I'm thrilled to have gotten to visit this universe that Wells has carefully crafted.

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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Book Review: The Hierophant's Daughter

The Hierophant's Daughter (The Disgraced Martyr Trilogy, #1)The Hierophant's Daughter by M.F. Sullivan

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF at 30%

The Hierophant's Daughter is like jumping into the middle of a historical documentary without any knowledge of the context, types of people (or even species/breed) involved and political climate. It genuinely took me a few pages just to realize that martyr's were vampires (or a version thereof).
M. F. Sullivan has set-up a very complex alternate history for humans and woven in the (eventual) dominance of the martyr's by 2035(ish). This is the point at which we come into the story.

Even figuring out who the major players are and how they relate or connect to one another is difficult. Not only can one martyr have multiple names (they live hundreds of years I suppose it's fair) but they can also have many titles (i.e.: General, Lamb, etc.), plus then their relationships (i.e.: daughter, lover, spouse, etc.). All of which are used to refer to the same person at any given time. I had to read many paragraphs or phrases multiple times to figure out if the character referenced was the same as the one I thought had been talked about in the paragraph before.

I'm not sure how else to describe the descriptions and general 'ick' factor of Hierophant's Daughter. Except perhaps to say that it's icky, visceral and a bit too graphic for me. I tend to stay away from gory movies but usually a gory book doesn't bother me. Descriptions of decapitation, torture, infections, etc. have rarely phased me before. However the details that Sullivan gives regarding an eye impact (and the nerve connections) or the description of a child being (more or less) eaten struck me as a bit much. Maybe that's hypocritical of me to say given it's a vampire book but I just didn't need all the detail given.

Boring Narrative
The biggest issue I had was not the confusion or detail in which this novel is written; but instead how utterly boring it was. Do I really need/want to read 6 pages about a new eye implant being given to someone? Or do I need two pages of description of a house? Instead of showing, I found Sullivan was telling me things; and given they weren't that interesting to start with (or a bit too graphic) I just couldn't keep my attention on the story.
That's the other issue is I'm not sure what the plot is. After 30% read I think the plot is that the 'daughter' is trying to escape but I'm unclear on why or who or what her ultimate goal was. Without at least some semblance of direction or motivation it made the convoluted history and characters feel even more disjointed.

Hierophant's Daughter is a complex alternate history of Earth where vampires (martyrs) have taken over. There is a lot of science fiction elements to future Earth that are also focused on. Perhaps underneath all of the narration, descriptions and confusion is a solid political intrigue story; I just couldn't find it and didn't have the patience to keep slogging through.
It may be that this is a brilliant piece of work if you're willing to put in the time and effort to really focus 200% of your brain and time to it. For me that is too much effort for fiction. I'd rather read elaborate non-fiction physics (where at least what I'm reading has basis in truth) than navigate a fictional narrative that feels very indulgent.
Overall I feel like Sullivan wrote this from a place of self-indulgence. They wrote for themselves, to get the ideas on the page and not for the enjoyment of the reader. The Simarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien is similar in that it's not really for the reader; it's more to get the history and facts down so they can be referenced. Perhaps a character driven story or plot inside this elaborate world is possible by another writer but I think Sullivan's investment in this alternate history is so deep they can't claw their way back to a story that most readers want to sit down and enjoy.

To read this and more of my reviews visit my blog at Epic Reading

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

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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Reign of the Departed: The High and Faraway, Book OneThe Reign of the Departed: The High and Faraway, Book One by Greg Keyes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I will confess I'm a bit of a loss to review this book. It was awkward in places and stranger than strange in others; but not necessarily bad. I'm going to try and break it down to see if that helps with my 'meh' 3 star rating.

We have a wide cast of characters but certainly one of the most important is our 'Pinocchio' wooden boy, Errol. He is a really odd character as most of the time it's easy to forget that he is wooden. That said his evolution from boy to (more or less) dead to wooden to his final end state is actually one of the better parts of the story. No none of those things are spoilers. I would have liked a bit more focus or time spent on his choices as a living boy but at the same time there is a lot of plot and characters so maybe it doesn't really matter.
The lead gal, Aster, is a whole other confusing mess. What's most important about her is she is the catalyst for the whole book. While Errol is the main character; without Aster there is no story to tell.
My personal favourite character however is the 'nov', a virgin ghost. Yes that's right 'virgin' is very important for some reason. And it amused me greatly that there was even a word for a virgin ghost that Greg Keyes didn't make-up!
Other characters come and go in the story as our fierce some three travel together. One is amazing, but I can't tell you anything about them as it would ruin the surprise.

The Reign of the Departed is a quest story. With three clear goals that Aster needs to accomplish in order to succeed with her quest. It starts to feel a little like The NeverEnding Story in places as each piece of area of the quest has it's own little interaction and story line. This would be a great book to turn into a role-playing game (RPG) like Zelda as it's broken-up in such a distinct and obvious way. Clearly this allows children to follow the story easier and feel like there are 'parts' to it.

Strange, strange settings
I'll confess I'm a goth girl. Was a full-goth in the 90's as a teen and still definitely lean towards darker elements. I like my fantasy dark and broody. Add in some violence, a tough of romance and a lot of character building and you've likely got me hooked. So when authors go off on odd tangents where the world has just become ridiculous I have a hard time. Points in Keyes series starter felt like Otherland by Tad Williams. I did not like Otherland (although I did read it 20 years ago... I suppose it may be time to give it another try) as it had moments that just seemed outrageous. Those types of moments Keyes presents here are equally ridiculous but given this is a middle age/teen book I accepted the ridiculousness and carried on. It also wasn't the entire setting that was in these weird places and so I was able to quickly 'read my way out' into other better settings.

Age Appropriateness
My library has this book filed as Young Adult/Teen and I think that is the right place for it. However, there are a lot of juvenile things that happen in this book, and the set-up feels like it's more for the middle aged group range. That is until you get to some parts. There are deaths of characters, a implied (but not described) rape or two and some intense (but non-sexual) romance scenes. And so because of these elements I suppose it's a teen novel. I feel like the deaths could remain and the rape toned down to a kiss that wasn't invited and you could easily adapt this novel for the middle grade audience where it would likely be better suited. Or it's a good transition novel for a kid just moving into the teen world. The aspects and writing will be familiar but the teen themes will maybe help transition them into more intense teen books. No matter how you look at this the weird age mixture of elements threw me off a lot. I just felt confused at times about who the target market was.

This is just an okay book. I liked most of the characters well enough and there are some thoughts and progressions of characters that are very well done. However some of the settings and situations were just silly to me and I found myself wondering when it would end. I would definitely consider reading the next book if it was put in front of me but am not sure I would search it out. Shortly after I finished reading this book I felt like I had already forgotten most of it as it didn't really make an impression or mark on me. So not a bad book but not a great book either. I'm really stuck in the 'meh' space on this one.

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, February 4, 2019

Book Review: Witchmark

Witchmark (The Kingston Cycle, #1)Witchmark by C.L. Polk

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a beautiful love story, with an engaging magic system and led by a political intrigue story. Just wonderful. I'm especially enamoured by it now that I know it's written by a Canadian who lives near me! I'm hoping that when I get my physical copy (as I read an eARC) that I can find a local event where it can be signed at! As always the highest compliment I can give any book is to purchase it for my physical library. Especially when I buy an ARC! This one is more than worthy of my shelf.

There is a perfect political story in Witchmark. It has just the right amount of complexity and depth to allow for this story to feel light enough while still having depth. I'd call this a good 'fantasy beach read' if you like a mystery to be your relaxing genre. The parallels between the discrimination and fear our lead man feels and the plight of many escaping WWII cannot be ignored. It is done with a grace and balance that felt like it was still a fantasy story but giving homage to a very dark time in human history.
I can't say much more about the plot without giving anything away. So you'll just have to read it to find out!

Our leading man is so well written. He has enough emotion to feel real, but still maintains a closed off feel that many men in modern society seem to have. As such I felt like he could easily have been many of the older men I know who have been through tough times. Unwilling to really share any of their trauma and trying to hide in the middle of their own success. His romantic entanglement with another man just emphasizes his discomfort and uncertainty of his own emotions; and is just adorable in so many ways! 
I especially love the attempt our leading man makes to stay low-key while still being successful enough to save lives at his hospital and advocate for the veterans program he supports.
Additionally our other characters all feel like real people. A couple of them are clearly built off typical fantasy archetypes but that is okay with me as they have their purpose and aren't all that important to the overall story.

One of the best parts of C.L. Polk's story is that the magical system is so interesting. It's easy to understand; while complex enough that it's difficult to know who has magic and who does not. I especially like moments in the book when our leading man starts to really 'see' the world in a certain way and the bond he starts to have with a fellow magic user. These moments are very special in their own and couldn't have been as great without a smart magical system to support them.

If you don't read the last chapter, Witchmark could easily be a wonderful little stand-alone. And honestly I might have preferred that. As someone who is getting burnt out by long series I felt like Witchmark had a perfect premise to be a one-off. That said, I'll happily revisit our leading man and his tortured emotions in the future. Maybe that actually makes this an even better fantasy story in that it feels like a standalone (doesn't get too messy too fast) so that it reads easily and yet can still easily be built on for a series.
Whatever the reason for it, I adored Polk's story and characters. It's just the icing on the cake that she lives near me and I may one day get to meet her!

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: In Blossum

In Blossom by Cheon Yooju

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This feels like a children's book written and illustrated by a minimalist. And so (as the exact opposite, a collector) I read it three times and still don't really 'get it'.
The pictures are subdued and lack colour (even though the setting is spring). So it lacks stimulus for younger children to be engaged. The words are nice and simple so it could possibly be used as an introductory reader story but it's very short so a child could easily memorize the book before they knew how to actually 'read' it. My five year old niece is doing this right now. She will 'read' me a book but only one of the five she has memorized. While a great showing of her talent in memorization, we keep having to remind her that it's not the same as reading.

I am assuming the use of a cat and dog is as our primary characters is to show that people/animals can be friends with the most unlikely partner. In this case, a cat and a dog that are usually at odds with one another become 'unlikely' friends by the end. And that the use of sushi is an attempt to add a multicultural aspect to the story. Unfortunately for me even after reading it three times, I can honestly say that I was bored, never mind how the average child is likely to feel.
Now, that said, maybe a child that feels overwhelmed a lot would love the simplicity of this story. There may be an audience for it; I just don't think it's for the broad audience of most children.

The other thing that struck me is how odd it is to offer food that has had fluff (pollen) land on it to someone. Perhaps I have a bit of a germ phobia but it just felt weird to offer someone food that has had things landed on it flying around in the air. I get that the fluff is being used as the 'connection' between the dog and cat to actual chat with one another; but I just can't get over how odd it is to me.

Overall, this isn't a bad story. The morale is good and the overall sense of the story is fine. I just can't imagine reading or gifting it to any of the small children in my life.

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