Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Book Review: Invisible Garden

The Invisible GardenThe Invisible Garden by Valérie Picard

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is less of a book with a story and more just a collection of illustrations that, when put together, could tell a story. There are probably less than 30 words in the whole book. While I'm not opposed to books that tell a story via the illustrations I feel you should do all or none. Create a story that can be read like a bedtime story, or have no words at all. The few words on the pages would frustrate many of the toddlers I know as they would want to know what it says but be unable to remember each time they look through the book.

Additionally the story is one with little excitement. A girl is sent to the garden and imagines herself as a small part of said garden. From dancing with bugs, falling into water and dirt, and eventually getting to fossils and running with dinosaurs. For me it lacked a real cohesiveness. And I know those who love creativity for the sake of creativity will disagree with me; but I still believe that a continuity and story that can be followed and worked out is important. It can be magic that is the answer, or just imagination; but I should still be able to understand how we got to dinosaurs. You know?

Overall the illustrations are lovely; but there is no real substance to the Invisible Garden. Therefore I would leave this one behind and move to a book that has more of a story and creates a meaningful connection to the character(s).

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, April 22, 2019

Book Review: The Island

My IslandMy Island by Stéphanie Demasse-Pottier

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There is no real story here. This children's illustrated book is really just a description of a child's imaginary world. The little girl describing her special place calls it an island; yet the second page drawing shows her inside a snow globe on her 'island'.

The illustrations are vibrant and fun with lots of yellows, fluorescent green and bright reds. Each page has text describing what the illustrations are showing. One about music, another about sharing; but all of it lacks a cohesive reason. And while we are invited to her island to play it is never clear the why or how. Maybe this wouldn't matter to a child. Maybe they only need to have a stepping stone to imagining their own island. For me I need more than that. A little bit of context or actual story is needed.

I personally wouldn't purchase this book as it lacks any real message or meaning to me. The best I can infer from it is that it's about promoting imagination; but that's just not enough. I can't see too many children wanting this one read to them over and over again as there just isn't enough content here to be excited about.

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: In A Vanishers' Palace

In the Vanishers’ PalaceIn the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The issue with speculative fiction (a genre that is essentially science fiction and fantasy together) is that it can be very confusing. I love the idea of really unique stories being told; but when you take out a base premise that is easily understood by your reader then you need to provide some tethers. Aliette de Bodard is missing the points of context that allow a reader to stay engaged in a story and able to process the information. In the Vanishers' Palace is so convoluted at times that it made my head spin.

Most Won't Finish
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that most people likely won't finish this story. While only 145 pages long, it feels like it takes forever to read. For example, this excerpt is a sample of the over-the-top descriptions that de Bodard uses:
"The same kind of odd letters she'd seen glowing in the water ran down the side of the bed she was lying in. As they went farther, they altered and shifted orientation, and the walls of the room turned with them and expanded, the unknown words multiplying, turning and growing until they blurred somewhere in an infinite distance, a vertiginous effect that made Yen clutch the sides of the bed for reassurance-look away, she had to look away lest she be drawn into a chasm that had no end"
Where do you even start? Never mind the run-on sentence; but how about the use of 'vertiginous' (as if anyone knows what that really means) or the disorientation that trying to imagine this room causes. I realize that de Bodard is trying to make us feel like our lead gal Yen, and I suppose my confusion and inability to imagine this room is perhaps what she was going for. However it made me feel uncomfortable and unsettled in the story; never mind that these descriptions are throughout the narrative.

Brilliant Romantic Ending
It's funny that amoungst all of the messy and disorienting prose there is a really beautiful story. One where our characters come to know one another in an intimate and caring way. It leads to a lovely, romantic ending that I just loved. Unfortunately you have to get through 90% of the story first to realize this lovely ending.
I didn't realize or think of this as a beauty and the beast story, but others have pointed out it is. In a way it is; but in other ways it is not. Right from the beginning there is a misunderstanding of what is needed from our lead gal and I never felt the dragon was malicious towards her. So to call the dragon a beast is perhaps too literal as her heart never seems to be beastly to me.

There is one interesting thing that In the Vanishers' Palace handles and that is gender. Our characters that are not human do not necessarily have a gender. They are instead gender fluid. The dragon seems to be a female; which is why many are calling this a f/f beauty and the beast story; but to me it didn't feel like there was really a relevance to anyone's gender except our lead gal and her mother. It wasn't like the dragon, in dragon form, has breasts or female attributes. In human form the dragon may be obviously female but that didn't really solidify it as a f/f story for me. Especially when the dragon is often showing flashes of both forms.

There are some interesting ideas here but I would have liked the language to be simplified and more touch points provided that made me feel like I could be a part of the story. It was too alien feeling to me. Maybe I just wasn't prepared for that at the start and it threw me off; but I'd like to think I can adapt easily to any sci-fi/fantasy or speculative fiction thrown at me. Instead this felt very aloof and out of my grasp until the very end.
I also guessed the 'big reveal' long before it happened. It was far too obvious to me and I think will be to almost any reader. That is assuming you even get that far.
I give this three stars, instead of two, only because the ending is beautiful and it's clear that de Bodard is trying to do something different here, it just misses the mark for me.

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, April 17, 2019

Book Review: The Model Thinker

The Model Thinker: What You Need to Know to Make Data Work for YouThe Model Thinker: What You Need to Know to Make Data Work for You by Scott E. Page

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a professional Business Intelligence Analyst (BIA) this is the perfect non-fiction book for my desk. I do data aggregation, reporting, and analysis at my day job. And we are constantly trying to determine what the best correlation, representation or model is for analysis the data available to us.
Scott E. Page starts us off talking about WHY. This is an often overlooked piece of any business work. The why. Why do we do something? Why do we care? Why use X over Y? And so on...
In this case Page is able to eloquently argue that in today's world of "big data" we need to be more aware of what options are available to us for analysis. It's no longer appropriate to use one model to analysis a problem. Instead we need to leverage the multi-model approach and look at complex issues, problems or phenomena (as he calls them) from many angles. As the world has gotten more complex, our data has gotten larger and more granular; which means we need to look at it from many different perspectives.

Seriously Detailed
I'm on a team of BIA's, many more senior than I, and so I chatted with them about the core concepts in Page's book and we all agreed on one thing. It's comprehensive! If there is a major model not represented in The Model Thinker I'd be shocked. Page does a great job of touching on 30+ models and giving three very specific things for each: 

  • The definition and general usage
  • The actual mathematical breakdown
  • A real-life, relevant example of using the model.

The best part of reading any portion of Page's epic selection of models is easily the examples. From health care to criminal form to food quality to the stock market to population growth; we are given applicable scenarios to understand the nuances of each model and why it's the best choice. Plus there are tons of little tidbits and facts that are fun to share at cocktail parties (or if you're me, in random elevator conversations) in here!

There is one thing that really surprised me in The Model Thinker and that is Page's emphasis on creativity. As someone who has a BA in Communications, Marketing & Design, and used to work in the magazine industry, I was surprised to find that my current Analytical career had such a basis in creativity. Reflecting upon Page's statements and my job I realized that he is right. When we program/code, develop visualizations or infer outcomes from data; we are looking at something and creatively manipulating it. Perhaps this explains how I went from an Art Director to a Analyst in one lifetime.

This is a book that I will be purchasing for my office shelf. I have already gone back to my eARC copy multiple times to look things up and to continue learning the models. It's not a book you will likely read cover to cover at any given time. But the first 50 pages of introduction and concepts are superb and well worth reading in order. After that you can jump around to the models you are most interested in, or if you're looking for the right solution for data crunching, read the intros to each chapter to determine if there might be applicable use to your situation. I know that The Model Thinker has already been picked up by some mainstream Universities and Colleges as a required textbook and certainly I can see why. In one book you gain the knowledge of hundreds of years worth of calculations and analyzation. Whether you currently work as a Data or Business Analyst, have a desire to learn to use big data, are a programmer or just a geek that loves graphs; The Model Thinker is likely to fill a void, you didn't even know existed, by giving you more models, examples and calculations than you will ever need.

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, April 16, 2019

Book Review: Orphaned Voices

Orphaned VoicesOrphaned Voices by Adam Thielen

DNF @ 30%
I’m not star rating as I feel the writing itself is good. It’s just the cohesiveness that is lacking.
Essentially I just don’t get it. The writing of one of the many storylines followed in Orphaned Voices is really good and I wish I could have just read about our pirate crew and their rogue human (it has a Firefly feel). But all the other stories feel random and disjointed. I literally can’t figure out the timeline or even how the stories are in the same universe. Maybe because they are separated by hundreds or thousands of years? I’m not sure.
What I do know is there is potential here in the style and format of Adam Thielen’s writing. It’s just been lost in a story too complex or poorly put together. The whole Side A, Side B piece of telling two stories is clever; but I still want to know their relationship to one another. It actually feels like reading two totally different novels at the same time. This just doesn’t work for me.
I hope that Thielen can find a way to put his stories together in a better context than Orphaned Voices for the future as I see some great science fiction ideas and tones coming from him. But for me this one is just a flop.

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Book Review: A Curse so Dark and Lonely

A Curse So Dark and Lonely (A Curse So Dark and Lonely, #1)A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is YA fantasy EXACTLY as it should be. Amazingly, the hype is true.
There is no insta-love, and A Curse So Dark and Lonely is full of complex emotions, features a heroine whose disability never defines her, a prince who is (slowly) learning his place, a stoic commander/bodyguard (whom I find very yummy, lol) and a supporting cast whom seem as real as the pages you read them off. This is an amazing book. I rarely give into hype but this time this book truly deserves all the amazing reviews it has received.

Beauty and the Beast Re-telling
I did not believe it was possible to do Beauty and the Beast in a realistic, socially acceptable way. It always felt to me, even as a child, like the most unlikely of fairytales. Why would anyone want to love a cruel, killing beast? And yet Brigid Kemmerer gives us a 'beast' that is not only endearing but in fact worthy of some sort of affection.
But it's not really our beast/prince that is the reason our lead gal gets tangled up. In fact it's the whole land he rules, it's people, it's sorrows and triumphs that bring her around. Before she can really appreciate or understand him; she needs to understand his circumstances. I feel like this is very true of real life. You can't truly love anyone until you understand where they are coming from.

And yet it's not love...
Now before you are thinking that the ending is obvious, she must fall in love with him, let me caution you. It's not that simple. This fact alone makes Kemmerer's story so much more complex than the average fairy tale. At no time is it a given that any one thing will happen. This is not your Disney "Happily Ever After" fairy tale. So be prepared as not everyone can survive, not everyone can be happy, and not everyone can fall in love.

There are many themes throughout A Curse So Dark and Lonely; not the least of which is loyalty. From loyalty to your family (aka: blood kin), to friends, to country, to monarchy, to your own values. Loyalty is a core piece of this story. I love the conflicting loyalty that is shown in Commander Grey (our prince's bodyguard). He is in fact my favourite character throughout the whole book (and not just because his descriptions make him sound sooo gorgeous). Grey has to find a way to live not only with his own guilt and grief but also with his constant turmoil over what his loyalty to the prince means he has to do. And this is played out time and time again. I want to say more but I will give too much away! Let's just say that Grey is a key character to pay attention to. I really like how Kemmerer didn't just make the prince and his (hopefully) curse breaking girly the only main characters. Without each of the people that they encounter, and definitely without stoic Grey, we couldn't have the story we do.

Disability Representation
Our lead gal, Harper, has cerebral palsy (CP). It's established early on. What's also discussed very quickly is that her CP is not near as bad as some have. She has a left foot/leg that does not cooperate much and has had many surgeries and physical therapy over the years. It was important to me that there be a reference to her being 'lucky', as Kemmerer calls it, that she can walk at all. My cousin has CP and he is bound to a wheelchair; yet that doesn't mean he isn't smart and capable. Because he is very competent, has a full time job and lived on his own for years. Impressive all from a wheelchair. I love how our lead gal is challenged by her disability but at no point does she allow it to define her. In fact she gets very fired up when people talk about it in any way other than what it is, a birth defect that she needs to overcome. It's a refreshing and wonderful portrayal of a physical disability. For once I have zero objections or issues with how disability is portrayed. It's really great to see an author get it 'right'.

I feel like I keep saying how surprised I was by A Curse so Dark and Lonely but I really have no better word for my emotions and reaction. The most surprising part of Kemmerer's story wasn't that it was a good fairy tale portrayal or that her characters were solid; it was actually how much emotion was in the pages. I'm not an emotional person most days and yet I was moved by so many small moments throughout the book. It wasn't one big sob fest; but it held these nuggets of progressing emotions that were as poignant as any climax. This increase towards possible love, friendship and appreciation felt just like real life often does. It's not an instant "I love you" moment for most of us. Be it with a possible spouse, friend or family member. It's something that evolves over time. And Kemmerer nailed it with her characters feelings.
The other interesting part was how often our characters question themselves and each other. They find themselves saying it is "real" or just "the curse". I think in real life we do this a lot too. Is this just lust or love? Am I sure this is "it"? These are difficult questions to answer because there is no definition for what love really is and how you know you've arrived at it.

I could probably write hundreds more words about this book and all themes, moments and successes in it. But no one wants to read that! Instead I recommend you just read A Curse so Dark and Lonely.
I went into it very skeptical, thinking I was going to read the typical hype YA book of the year and have a lot to say about it. Well I have a lot to say but it's all positive; which I did not expect.
This is a story that I will be adding to my print bookcases (the highest praise I can give to a book). Additionally this is a series (even though you may not think it will be for most of the book) and the ending certainly makes us want, no NEED, book 2 like right now. Yet there is sooo much in book 1 that I think I'll be book hungover for some time as I try to separate this gem of YA fantasy literature from the average book I will read for the rest of the month. In fact, even though it's only April, I'm willing to say there is a very good chance this is one of the best books of 2019. Who would have guessed it would be a YA Fantasy Romance that would be this good?! Certainly not me.
So get out there and read A Curse so Dark and Lonely if you've been looking for a romantic YA fairytale. I am confident you will find it engrossing, endearing and ultimately wonderful.

I'll leave you with this lovely quote that really struck me as I read:
"I am always surprised to discover that when the world seems darkest, there exists the greatest opportunity for light.”

Follow me on Goodreads!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Book Review: No Fixed Address

No Fixed AddressNo Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are difficult topics and there are ones where socially we like to pretend they don't exist. Susin Nielsen has brought a hard topic, children who are homeless, to the forefront. Set in Vancouver, the homeless capital of Canada due to it's temperate weather, No Fixed Address is a moving and tear jerking story. I'm not a crier, and I tend to dislike books that are written to intentionally make readers cry (John Green and I are not friends). The difference here is that I wasn't crying by the end because of the story per say. I had tears thinking about any child being homeless at any given moment. Especially in my own home country of Canada.

Canada is not perfect
I try to read at least 15% Canadian authors in any given year. And I was pleased to see that Nielsen is Canadian. However, Nielsen has reminded me in No Fixed Address that Canada has many flaws that need to be worked on. Just being a first world, relatively nice and supportive member of the world does not make us better or without our struggles. We still have homelessness here; and it's no more acute than in Vancouver (where both my siblings happen to live). Between it's warm weather, it's close proximity to the USA border, and housing prices that are out of reach for households that make $100,000 a year; Vancouver is a very difficult place to have a warm, safe place to sleep in. It's the perfect setting for this story and Nielsen uses areas of Vancouver that are familiar and accurately depicts the city and it's residents. In 2017 it was reported that 35% of the homeless population in Vancouver never used drugs or abused alcohol. A stark difference from the stereotypes often given to this population.

Still Playful at Times
There are super cute illustrations at the front of the chapters that give a sense that while this is a heavy topic that these are still kids who just want to play outdoors and have fun. All of our child characters are well developed and significantly different. I liked how Nielsen showed that doctors might live in a condo in Vancouver (because housing prices are crazy!) and that other families might be in a small townhouse and all live in different areas of Vancouver. Because the school that our lead boy ends up at is 'coveted' there is a wonderful diversity to it. Just like most of Canada.

Anxiety, Smells, and Coping
No Fixed Address does a beautiful (yet tragic) job of focusing on the homelessness. There's no 'extra' trauma or issues to be resolved here; because there doesn't need to be. This is something that bugs me in a lot of teen books lately; they always have a focus issue and then some trauma to go with it. Nielsen does a great job of ensuring the homelessness is the focus and is never lost in any of the other teenage issues that come up. She ensures you know that smelling badly because you have no shower (or washroom of any sort!), nowhere to take your friends to after school, and starving many days is more than enough for one kid to deal with. it
Our lead boy shows extreme anxiety alongside some typical coping mechanisms throughout the book. He hiccups when too stressed or anxious, he counts or recites lists when he needs stability in his mind (this is exactly like many children that count steps or stairs; they do this because the counts never change and it makes them feel stable), and he is ashamed to tell anyone. In some ways the shame of being homeless is the hardest for our lead boy to accept. Top that off with a Mother that steals, cheats and lies; all the while somehow pretending her son is not aware? Our lead boy starts to gain some confidence throughout the story and call his Mother out for her bad behaviour. Those were some of the best (and saddest) moments of the story as you saw a 13-year-old tell an adult how childish and awful they were being.

Support Systems
Given the Canadian setting, in a large city, and that our lead boy attends school; I felt the outcome(s) of No Fixed Address fit would what likely happen in real life. Eventually people start to ask questions, including the other children, and then adults start noticing. This is the slow progression that happens in schools and communities when the bubble the parent thinks they have put their child in starts to deflate. Our lead boy also starts to realize that maybe he doesn't have to live this way. This is, of course, a turning point in the story.
I love how Nielsen portrays the system for support as being both good; but with it's flaws. This could not be a truer representation of how it goes. Some kids get into the system and do well; others don't. And some only ever see the edges of it. I won't tell you how it plays out here; except to say that I was content with the ending and that the refugee couple who are 'involved' a few times during our lead boys struggles were my absolute favourite people in the story. Just like in real life, those with the littlest to give are always the most generous.

I hope a copy of this book makes it to every single library (school or public) in Canada. It's truly a great story. Easy to read, fast paced and so genuine. Nielsen has shed light into how trapped children can be by their parents poor decisions and how easy it is to justify those bad decisions for the kids affected. I can't help but feel despair in how to help those who find themselves out on the streets. Especially when I know my brother was paying $1400+ for a one-bedroom, 450 sq. ft. apartment in downtown Vancouver just last year. That is at least one pay cheque (or more) for the average income earner. When more than 50% of your income goes to housing (and nothing else) where do you find the money for clothes, toiletries, food and other necessities? This is certainly not a question I can answer or an issue I can solve. However, I can only hope that others will read No Fixed Address and understand that many of these people are NOT drug users and have just been unlucky or have a mental health issue that brings them down. The one of the most poignant moments in the book is when the lead boy asks his mom where her "pills" are (used for depression as far as we can tell) and she tells him it was prescriptions or food this month. What a horrible decision to have to make.
The light and hope that peeks through in Nielsen's novel is just as important as the tough subject matter. A reminder that people should ask for help. That the despair, shame and fear they feel are all valid; but regardless the best thing to do is to ask for assistance. Especially when the quality of life and even survival of a child is on the line.

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 Windy Day

The Windy DayThe Windy Day by Tony Sandoval

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is far too scary for young children. The goblins and monsters are very unique and I love the art personally; but would not feel comfortable buying this for a small child. Even at age 5 or 6 this might be a bit much. It also relies upon the child understanding that the entire story is a metaphor. None of the goblins, monsters or big black (save the day) dog actually exist. And so the child (and adult) needs to be able to understand that the use of the name of 'courage' is the moment in which the story goes from being fantastical to being a metaphor. This feels wayyy too complex for the average child. I can't imagine any of the children in my life being able to understand that they are meant to imagine a big black dog with them as opposed to actually having that dog by their side to instill courage in them.

I also feel that the beginning diminishes the courage our lead gal has on her own when she chooses to venture into the forest to get to the kite flying open space. It's as though she does that and it means nothing. I'd have preferred for the story to be a bit more focused on what our lead gal manages to do herself. Or perhaps it just needs to be more obvious that her 'courage' comes from within and is projected as a big black dog? Either way I think The Windy Day misses the boat by being too advanced for little children; and yet too simplistic for older ones. Tony Sandoval should take his creepy (and awesome!) artwork style and create a book for the middle grade age with illustrations. That would likely fit his style better and he'd be able to make it 'scary' without causing a number of small kids to not sleep.

Overall I'd pass on this one for anyone under 5 or 6 year of age; and I don't tend to buy picture books for older kids, and so I can't find a market for The Windy Day.

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, April 4, 2019

Book Review: Changeling

Changeling (Sorcery and Society, #1)Changeling by Molly Harper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. I’m rounding up as I will read book two.
It's a commonly said these days that there are no original ideas left to write about. While this may be true to a certain extent there is usually a new way to spin a similar story or make it your own. Molly Harper has 'borrowed' from so many of the most popular YA/Teen fantasy story lines that it's almost funny. Yet, the way she puts these ideas together, and her compulsive writing style, had me flipping pages quickly and deciding that I was okay with her borrowed ideas.

Borrowed Elements
Let's start with Harry Potter. The following are direct correlations in Changeling:
- orphan who didn’t know she could do magic = Harry Potter (but female this time)
- little blue bird (familiar) = Hedwing the owl
- Miss Castwell’s Institute for the Magical Instruction of Young Ladies = Hogwarts
- Houses = Houses... there's five instead of four, but whose counting...
- Snipes = Muggles
From Buffy the Vampire Slayer and/or Charmed:
- magical tomes that can only be read by certain people
- magical spells that may give you 'too much' power
- demons and vampires; and not all are evil
- ‘Auntie’ = stepmother
- slave who cleans = Cinderella herself

Now, you might be thinking: 'oh boy Mel, how can this be good?' Honestly I didn't think it could be at first. But our leading girl, her friends and even the possible love interest(s?) are all solid characters unto themselves.

These are not just characters dropped into a cliche setting. Instead I felt connected and had empathy for each of the students we meet. I even began to like the Auntie/stepmother at points. Creating anti-hero characters is not easy and yet Harper has made it seem effortless in Changeling.
Additionally both our main boys are strong, unique and realistic. And neither sparkles! It helps that there is no insta-love and (so far) no love triangle, square or other shape. By creating genuine relationships between characters Harper has done what so many other teen authors continue to fail to do. This alone puts her a step above the average teen genre writer.

Political Intrigue
We all know noble families must be entrenched in corruption (lol). Harper takes the conspiracy, greed and backstabbing to a whole new level in Changeling. Not only does everyone keep their friends close, and their enemies even closer; but they all have dirt on one another that could ruin them. Add a stepmother with a steely glare and a bunch of ridiculous laws in place to keep Snipes ‘in-line’ and you've got a complex society to try and navigate. And our gal goes from scrubbing the floors to walking across them in glass slippers. So to say she has trouble navigating this new political landscape would be an understatement. There are so many opportunities that Harper has clearly opened up for future books in the nobles and rich families narrative that I would want to read more of this series even if it didn't have good characters. And did I mention amongst all of this is magic?

It's an odd thing to realize that a book is really a bunch of other stories you know well dropped into one and yet feel like you are reading a new story. I really didn't expect, from the opening 50 pages, to like Changeling so much. I expected to get frustrated and bored quickly. Instead Harper has set-up a world that is both familiar and original in it's own way. If you want to revisit your youth, get some Harry Potter magical school vibes or just visit a cute little fantasy world where the teens are not immediately in love with each other (how refreshing!), then Changeling may be for you. But watch out as you may be hooked and find yourself frustrated that book two hasn't even been announced (never mind have a name or a cover)! Someone needs to let Molly Harper know that she now needs to keep feeding the readers she has entrapped in her cute story web.

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, April 3, 2019

Book Review: The Cave

The CaveThe Cave by Rob Hodgson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a really cute little story that features a wolf and another animal hiding in a cave. At first we assume the animal in the cave is teeny tiny; only to be surprised to find it's a bear! This has a climactic moment that is loud and fun. Toddlers are likely to really love it and get very excited (every time, as they do) about our surprise moment.
Likely by the time a child is 5 years old (or so) they will have outgrown this one; unless of course it becomes their favourite book ever. With cute illustrations and a wolf whose very good at killing boredom in all kinds of weather I think Rob Hodgson's The Cave is a fun, cute book that any adult could enjoy reading to a child. The vocabulary and sentence structure are simple which also makes this a good book for ESL children (or adults!).
Overall I like how short and sweet this book is; and it's always fun to get animated and loud when reading to children. Although because of it's big climax this may not make a good bedtime story.

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, April 2, 2019

Book Review: Scarborough Fair

Scarborough Fair (Scarborough Fair, #1)Scarborough Fair by Margarita Morris

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF @ 30%
If you want to read some random ideas strung together in the Victorian age then you might be able to get into the past story of Scarborough Fair. Unfortunately even when Margarita Morris brings us into her present day story line it's just flat. It lacks flow, consistency and polish.

Creativity is Key
There wasn't really any original thoughts in the introduction of this book. Our characters and the present day teen insta-love story were all tropes and set-ups that have been done again and again.The worst part however was the constant use of this thought by our leading present day gal: 
"it was like something out of the movies”

If this is supposed to endear me into believing what is happening or the ridiculous character description it really doesn't. Using it once I may have forgiven but three times in the first 30% of the book?! Sorry but that is just lazy.

Insta Love
Ugh. Need I say more? If you think it's 'cute' to have your potential love interests father nearly run you over in his Ferrari; then maybe you will find something in the present day love story Morris tells of interest. For me it was just too cliche. Not only do our characters, more or less, immediately have a connection; but they both pull each other out of the 'funk' that is their summer to date. All it was missing was our leading characters to break out into song and we would have had a re-boot of Grease.

Victoria Age
As someone who loves to read historical novels all I could feel about the Victorian age presented in Scarborough Fair was that it felt like Downtown Abbey (but not in a good way). Not only are our leading two ladies lavishly trotted around by a mysterious man but they go to a circus and are enthralled with the light show that appears to have spirits overtake the big top. Now done well, see The Night Circus by Erin Morgensten, this can be enchanting. Instead Morris barely scratches the surface of the atmosphere that is needed to really bring her story to a level in which you buy into it (never mind are amazed by it).

Scarborough Fair is just missing all the keys to a good book. There are a few dozen books out there with similar premises and I likely any one of them is likely to be more readable than what Morris' has given us here. With the typical historical set-up of a past/present story line that connects across a century, a cliche teen summer romance, and Victorian times that seem too easy to navigate for our women; I struggled to find any reason to continue reading past the 30% point. This is a book that I believe will be quickly forgotten or confused with others; and that's assuming people even make it to the end.

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

Don't think I got it right? Check out Scarborough Fair for yourself:

Follow me on Goodreads

Monday, April 1, 2019

Book Reveiw: Leviathan

Leviathan (Leviathan, #1)Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Scott Westerfeld's trilogy Leviathan has been on my print shelf to read for 6+ years. Perhaps it's because it was there so long collecting dust, or because I had too high of expectations. Or may it truly isn't all that great of a book. Whatever the reason I just could not get into it at all. I kept picking up every other book I was reading and avoiding it like the plague.

Middle Grade or Teen
This trilogy is usually categorized in teen but I think it really belongs in Middle Grade fiction. There is something just a bit too juvenile about the whole thing. While our characters are younger teens that wasn't even the overall issue. It was more the way Westerfeld wrote the story. I'm not sure if it's categorized differently elsewhere but that is where my library and local bookstores put it. Maybe later in the trilogy it gains more of a teen feel (like how Harry Potter evolves) but based on this one book it's far too tame for the YA/teen genre and lacks a substance and emotion I expect from teen novels.

The best part about Leviathan is the beautiful pencil drawings throughout the book. I highly recommend a library print or purchased print copy so you can enjoy them. However you can certainly read the story without the illustrations on an e-reader and nothing in the story will be lost. The illustrations do help to imagine how large the whale that is the core of the Leviathan flying ship it. It also helps to imagine the large robots that are used by our lead boy. However if you've seen Star Wars then you'll likely have a good idea of what the steam machines look like.

We have two major players in Leviathan, one is a girl (pretending to be a boy) who is training to fly. The other is a boy who is a child of important political pawns and whom is on the run. Eventually, about 75% in, our two main characters meet. This was thankfully a turning point for me. Without this meeting I may have given up and not bothered to finish. Acknowledging that Leviathan got better once the two characters were together, I appreciate that this may mean that the next two books are greatly improved as our characters stick together. But for me I just don't care enough to know what even happens to these two.
There are a multitude of characters that surround our major two players. Yet each of them is, at best, an archetype and at worse a cardboard cutout that plays a role to move the plot forward and nothing else. The one interesting person is a woman 'bowler' (scientist essentially) whom is looked down upon for being a woman and yet revered for being rich and smart. Maybe this was a piece of my distaste for this book was it's clear and obvious gender bias against women.

The Animals
Before you get all hung up on what I'm about to say... yes this is clearly fiction, I am aware of that. However the idea of humans manipulating genes and breeding animals to be used to fly ships, repair other animals, use up hydrogen and other oddities that are mixed up in this half steam, half natural environment bothered me. I know it shouldn't but it did. Perhaps Westerfeld describes his animals too well. Or the illustrations of the animals made them too real for me. All I know is the first time we see the Leviathan flying ship I wasn't impressed by the description (or picture); instead all I thought was that poor, poor whale all tethered up and forced to fly! As our animals are not sentient there is just no way to know if they like what they are engaged in. It just felt wrong to me more than once. This may be that Westerfeld wants the reader to 'choose a side' and select the technological solution over the Darwin one (as it is called in the book). Regardless it made me uncomfortable and I couldn't get over it.

As a lover of steampunk I was very excited for this to be a solid trilogy that I could gift out to teens or children. I had hoped it would inspire using scientific principles in a creative way. And while it demonstrates that new technology is a blend of creativity and science, overall it just feel short of any real impact for me. Between flat characters and a slow moving plot I just didn't see the appeal. And while I liked that there was both a lead girl and boy in Leviathan, Westerfeld seemed to miss capturing either character in a compelling and enchanting way. Add in the animals that seemed like slaves and poor conceived steam technology; and you'll find that I just can't find anything really good to say here.
But the illustrations are truly amazing. So at least you can look at the pretty pictures and then move on without spending too much time here.

Follow me on Goodreads

In case you want to see if I'm wrong and read it for yourself...