Friday, May 31, 2019

Book Review: Once Upon A River

Once Upon a RiverOnce Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, just wow! This is an incredible and beautiful story about a river, people, a time period and real life. I absolutely adored it and am sorry it’s over in many ways. Diane Setterfield immerses us in
a time in which we often say things were 'simpler'. After reading Once Upon a River you will surely agree that the plot, time period and it's people were anything but simple.

At the core of Once Upon a River are stories about many different characters who all engage each other at different points because their connection to one tavern and one little girl. Some may want to say there is a lead character or select the primary character. I would disagree with them and say there is such a diverse set of POV's provided and that they are all equally as important. Without any one of them the plot would not come together so elegantly; nor would we have the same feel for all different classes, races, genders and positions in this elaborate society.
A few people have indicated that they feel the characters or comments made by characters are racist and/or prejudice. The thing is that this is, of course, true because it is inherently a prejudice time. BUT the real heroes at the end of the story are those who have prejudices held against them and still thrive. Our black (but highly educated and wealthy) man, a female business owner, a crippled mother, and a mentally abused and unstable woman; all play large parts in helping the reader and other characters of Once Upon a River understand how wrong they are to prejudge. It's done in an elegant and appropriate way, in my opinion.

There is a good elaborate plot here. A little girl is found, deemed dead; and then suddenly awakens alive. Yes it's scientifically possible, and yes it has been documented to happen before. Our little girl is mute and doesn't speak a word; so she is unable to tell her story. Therefore everyone around her attempts to. Interestingly there are multiple stakeholders she could belong to in the area. And of course if you've lost a child for whatever reason you want to gain that child back; no matter the cost. There are some very tough moments in this book that deal with grief, loss, PTSD (although not called that it is obvious), and family dynamics. The little girl sets up an ingenious plot that takes us through the lives of those who live by the river or on it (such as our famous photographer does).
In actual fact the famous photographer character is based on a real person. It was clear to me while reading Once Upon a River that Setterfield had done a lot of research into the river area, time period and daily life of the folks that lived there. This is affirmed when you read the author's notes at the end and gives you an appreciation for how much effort Setterfield has put into this story.

Lyrical Writing
The narrative that Setterfield gives us is so wonderful. As each POV changes we get the a change in tone and educational background. Yet Setterfield somehow manages to weave a lyrical, common voice throughout the story. It's a real feat to do in a novel that changes POVs as often as this one does. It also think it helps keep the reader in the historical time period.

This was such a wonderful book! I cannot wait to purchase a print copy and put it in my personal library (the highest honour I can give to any book). It has depth, diversity, emotion and above all else tells a story that is compelling and real. That does bring me to advise that there are some tough scenes and moments in Once Upon a River. None of them were too graphic or gory for me; and I felt all were handled within the context and feel of the story appropriately. In a realistic story hard things will happen and I'm glad that Setterfield didn't try to tone down reality. The story is exactly as it should be; whether the moment is difficult for our characters or not.
If you only read one historical (non-war) book in 2019 it should be this one! I'm now off to find every book Setterfield has ever written so I can add them all to my TBR list.

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Thursday, May 30, 2019

Book Review: Little Bears Wants to Grow

Little Bear Wants to Grow by Judith Koppens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ice Cream!!!
What little kid doesn't want to read about ice cream and bears. :)

This is a very cute book about a bear who wants to grow faster than he currently is. He receives all kinds of (not helpful) advice from others and ultimately realizes that he can't grow any faster than he already is. It has lovely, colourful illustrations that are very pleasant to look at.
I loved the bits with lemonade and ice cream. Every kid wants to believe that eating things will help them grow. How many of us had parents that told us to eat green vegetables and carrots to grow big and strong? Now I wonder how many people still tell their kids that... (lol)

My only complaint here is that it is very short. Like so short you might have to read it five times to your child as it won't feel like it took any time at all. And while short is often better than too long for children's book, and a child could easily learn to read from this book; I still prefer children's books with a little bit more content.

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, May 29, 2019

Book Review: Baby Bird

Baby Bird
by Andrew Gibbs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is super cute. The illustrations are lovely and the writing isn't too complex or too simple. There is a special mix of elements that need to come together for a children's book to be engaging and have staying power. Andrew Gibbs has achieved that in this simple; yet complex story.

We start by learning that baby bird has a little wing. Which means he can't fly, no matter how much he tries. His friend tries to help him out and feel better about things; as well as saves baby bird as his lowest moment. This low moment is a quick panel and the perfect subtle way of saying that it's okay to be sad and angry and low. So long as you have someone to help you back up again! For a children's book to even touch on a low moment is rare and so I love the way it's done in Baby Bird.

This is the perfect book for any child that is different or feels like they don't fit in. Be it because of a medical, physical, emotional or mental reason. The end allows us to realize that there are other ways to participate in activities than doing everything the same way all the other birds do.A great book for afternoon reads or before bed. The illustrations are colourful but not too bright and the length is perfect. This solid kids story could be purchased for any child and be appreciated.

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 Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories

A Stage Full of Shakespeare StoriesA Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories by Angela McAllister

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm really struggling to imagine an age group that could be defined as 'child' that would be appropriate for Shakespeare stories. Let's face it, Shakespeare isn't just difficult to read in it's original format; but also the death, romance, betrayal, etc. is fairly adult. Maybe an advanced child of 10 or older would like this? Maybe.

Illustrations & Format
There is one lovely part of this book which is the cute illustrations and the over sized format of the pages. However I do wish the layout was broken into a couple columns to make the text less daunting. And the over sized format while fun (and in hardcover this book is heavy!) would be very awkward for most bookshelves. This feels like one of those books meant for a coffee table to spark a conversation. As a cocktail party piece it's perfect. Too bad that's not really what we want books for (lol).

I felt like each of the stories in the simplistic (and summarized) English wasn't well explained. Reading Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and MacBeth (to take a few of the really famous plays) I felt like if you didn't have context for some of the things happening (ie: know the play plot) then you might miss some key items. Maybe I was skimming as I knew all but three plays in the book; but it just felt like the content was really stripped out. As though the stories are more synopsis of what happens and less of a narrated story. I think kids will struggle with this format as well. It just doesn't draw the reader in.

While in theory this is a brilliant idea for a republishing of Shakespeare in a simpler format; I don't think A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories really achieves what it should. I expected the format and stories to draw me in and intrigue me (as they hopefully would for children). Instead I found the text daunting with it's full page width (on over sized pages this is just bad design, where are the columns!?) and while the illustrations are adorable they are just not enough. Watching many of the modern movies or takes on these same Shakespeare plays is probably a better use of time to learn the stories outside the original text.
I give this three stars because I love the concept and idea behind it. Plus the book itself has beautiful illustrations; but overall it was quite disappointing and not what I had hoped for.

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, May 24, 2019

Book Review: Hydranos

Hydranos (The Age of Stones, #1)Hydranos by Constantina Maud

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

DNF @ 16%
This independently published book was just not for me. While it's high fantasy, which is normally my go to genre, Constantina Maud's style is one that I found a bit too difficult to stay in touch with.
As with any review I want to ensure everyone that by no means is my opinion a reflection of how awesome Maud is or her capability to write. It is merely my thoughts. I can tell you that I have had the pleasure of communicating with Maud on a few occasion's and she's an absolute doll. Super nice, patient and totally accepting of criticism. I also want to acknowledge Maud for all the work she does to market Hydranos and her writing. It's not an easy thing to ask people to review your work and then take what they say later at face value in a public forum.

Writing Style
Maud's writing style in Hydranos is of the 'high' literature type; in that there were many words in the opening pages I did not know the meaning of (all of which were cleverly used however!) and time when I found myself re-reading sentences. Not because they were grammatically incorrect; just because they were a bit wordy for me.
For example:
"He had got up and fed a few logs to the hearth."
"With Agathon's narration, time passed like ungrounded soil under the vigorous flow of rainwater and thus came the moment when the storm was raging only in the perpetual realm of the past."
Call me a wuss but that's a bit too much effort for me to digest complex writing like this. It's a completely valid way to write; but just not for me when it comes to fictional stories. I barely manage most classics, in honesty, for the same reason. For me reading should not be work or unduly taxing to my brain.

While we're talking about words and language I think it is interesting to note that Maud tells me the original manuscript was in Greek. It was then translated and proofed by someone in the UK and South Africa. This intrigues me in that one of the barriers to understanding some of the words or language might actually be that a North American didn't also read and provide input to Hydranos translation. It might seem weird but let's face it, yes even us Canadians, are lazy when it comes to language. We'd (generally) much rather simplify language. Even most Canadians drop 'u' from words (the American way) because it's just too much effort to bother; or because spell check tells them it's wrong (lol).

While I didn't get very far into the story, it was still apparent to me that there is a lot of great character development happening. From the dialogue having a certain tone and style to the internal thoughts we see the story from.
Another note here on language. This is not a book written with traditional dialogue. In some cases the dialogue is embedded into the thoughts or narrative of a person. This is common in older European fiction. I found this a bit stifling and realized I prefer to read dialogue broken out as a scene rather than as a narrative or flashback embedded in the story.

Some of you whom have read a few of my reviews likely noticed that I like my 'lol's' and my ellipses (...) in my reviews. This is a style choice I make and probably drives some people crazy. Interestingly Maud uses a lot of ellipses in her story. In fact I am willing to bet that every single page has 1 if not more ellipses on it. Because of the flow of the narrative from a characters thoughts it works in most instances. But, as an ellipsis (singular still has an 's'!) is rarely used punctuation in most fiction. As such I found it really distracting to see so many on the page. At one point I was glazing over the words as I read and instead just counting ellipses. Darn my wandering mind!

While Hydranos was not for me, I do believe it is for some readers. You can see many others here on Goodreads like it (including one of my 'buddies' Mary whom I trust and respect!) and so obviously there is a market for this style of literature. For those fantasy readers who like their stories to read like classics or in a 'Tolkien-esque' style I think this is the perfect book to give a chance.
Finally, I am doing something I don't normally do here... I am giving a 3-star rating to a book I did not finish (usually they get one star). The reason is that I think it's important to note that my dislike of the book was solely due to style and not based on the plot, characters, setting, etc. So as not to unfairly bring Maud's rating down I am ranking this one in the middle. Agree or disagree with my choice here as you like; but I hate to one star independent writers who are also working with significantly less resources than 'the Big 5' publishers.

A copy of Hydranos was provided to this reviewer by the author for free. This is an honest review; with no bias given to having received the book for free.

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Book Review: Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for AlgernonFlowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While a clever little book with many great, quotable lines; however, it has a huge slow point that had me putting Flowers for Algernon down and hoping it would finish itself. The first 50% is a fast paced, can't put down read. But by the time our lead man has gained a crazy high IQ this becomes less interesting. Maybe it's his self-centered egoism or just that he's boring and almost too intelligent at some point. I'm not totally sure what causes the slow down; except to say that it's a huge lull in the narrative.

A Classic
I understand why this is an educational standard and deemed a classic by many. For having been written in 1959, Daniel Keyes is clearly a brilliant philosopher and writer. The idea is clever, the execution is amazing (I love the way the spelling, grammar, etc. changes throughout the story) and even the delivery of the story via 'progress reports' is inspired. There are moments of pure genius in this story and many quotable lines.
Of course on the educational side of things there is the ethical question of if what they did to Charlie was morale. As well as if it was worth it, not just for Charlie, but for anyone involved in the project. Without a doubt thousands of different papers and analysis could be done on Flowers for Algernon. I suppose that's why teachers love to keep it on the educational reading list. Although I do feel bad for any kids dealing with the lull in the story.

Relevant Even Today
Many quotes and thoughts in Flowers for Algernon are relevant even today in 2019. My two favourite are:
1. " soon as [any word] begins to mean anything to anyone they’ll change it. The idea seems to be: use an expression as long as it doesn’t mean anything to anybody. "
2."Although we know the end of the maze holds death (and it is something I have not always known--not long ago the adolescent in me thought death could happen only to other people), I see now that the path I choose through that maze makes me what I am. "

For number 1; we should be over the implied meaning of words by now. It's crazy to think we keep renaming something with the hope that we can remove the hurt, fear or anger that the word invokes. Renaming something doesn't change what it is.
For number 2; it constantly amazes me how few people understand that there is no 'end goal' in this world or life. It's just existence. If you aren't living in the here and now then you are probably missing the whole point of why you exist. I still have to remind myself of this, as our society is very good as pretending this isn't the truth, on a daily basis.

I'm glad to have read Keyes classic novel. And I'll leave my print copy on my shelf (with a couple quotes flagged in it) because I think it's worthy of a place on the shelf. But I'd be kidding myself if I think I'll ever read it again. That said I might lend it out to people in the future; which is always a good use of a book.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Book Review: Crown of Feathers

Crown of Feathers (Crown of Feathers, #1)Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF @ 36%
Crown of Feathers has a cool concept on the surface, the cover is beautiful and (eek!) cute phoenixes. Unfortunately that’s where the excitement ends in this one. I found the plot to be typical, the character undeveloped and overall the tone of the writing to lack excitement.

There is really nothing more important than characters having strong personalities when they are the POV. We have the POV of three major characters (lead female and two male). Each of these POVs are unique and eventually intersect with one another in some way. However in all three instances I felt like the characters were archetypes and not really 'real' people. They lacked authenticity and were very two dimensional. Whether it was their anger, grief or frustration that drove their actions I felt too much like I had to be told what a character felt and not enough like I really 'felt' what they were feeling.

So sub in phoenix for dragon or magic and you pretty much have the standard teen plot for a fantasy novel. Crown of Feathers is a girl who wishes to learn to fly (and obtain) a phoenix and become one of the historic (but banned from the current empire) Phoenix Riders. So of course there is training, love interests along the way, struggle with lost or dead family members, etc. All very standard themes for the average fantasy lead. Especially the dead parents. What is the obsession with orphans in teen literature? Do we just not want to have the complication of adults telling our characters what to do?

I really wanted there to be some magic to this book. The use of a phoenix (over a dragon) hasn't been overdone and I felt like there was a cool opportunity here to talk about reincarnation/resurrection, properties of fire, and personalities of a phoenix. And while Nicki Pau Preto does touch on these three items it's just wasn't enough to keep me reading. There is a lack of narrative that made me excited. I honestly felt like I was falling into a slump every time I picked this one up. Twice I even found myself avoiding reading because I didn't really want to pick this one up, which is terrifying! Looking at other reviewers comments on Crown of Feathers I decided there was unlikely to be anything worth continuing on for. So I am content to let this one go and not even find out which of our two men (as I assume it becomes a love triangle, ugh) the heroine ends up with.
Although the opening couple chapters still have me wanting a baby phoenix; because baby phoenix!

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

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Sunday, May 19, 2019

Book Review: Anne of Green Gables (2018 publication)

Anne of Green Gables (#1 Anne of Green Gables: The Complete Collection)Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a child I must have read Anne of Green Gables dozens of times. My Nana (grandmother) on my Dad's side (who I never really knew) was from Prince Edward Island (where Green Gables is) and so she sent me the full series when I was quite young. As an avid reader by the time I was in Grade 4 I had already read through most of them once. There was also a show on TV (here in Canada) that was very popular about Anne called "Road to Avonlea". As Anne was in my life so much as a child she was, of course, very important to me.

When I re-read my favourite passages, skimmed through, and tried to get back into Anne's world I realized how naive I was as a child. I was also was reminded that, even in the late 1980's, the world was a simpler place than it is now. And while Anne will always have a special place in my heart from my childhood; I'm not sure it's the gem today that it was then. While the local gossip is much like social media; and boys remain intimidating and best friends are hard to find today, just as they were then; I still think it's too innocent in so many ways. There are no murders, stolen children, terrorists, major natural disasters, etc. that happen on the island. Having been to PEI a few years ago I can tell you that it is one of the sole places in Canada that might still be relatively untouched by the 21st century. PEI is just so quaint and lovely. Yet the internet has made it so that you can't hide anywhere and so once my cell phone vibrated or I checked my email I was reminded that vacation does not stop the world from turning or being awful outside of tiny island gems.

It's because I believe that L.M. Montgomery's classic is a bit too dated that I struggle to give it five stars today. This new publication of Anne of Green Gables is still as well written as it once was and there doesn't appear to be any major changes to the text (which is nice). but I just can't imagine it changing a child's life today as it once might have. While Anne didn't change my life as a kid; Avonlea was always a nice place to escape to. So perhaps it can be that place for some of today's children.

Although the one thing I am always reminded of by Anne is how mad I was at my Mom when I was about five and learned that my middle name (Ann) was spelled with an 'e'. I was so offended that I had this family tree that extended to PEI and yet didn't get the 'real' Anne spelling. At the time it seemed like a big deal (of course) and I wish I could go back to the days of having my name missing an 'e' being the end of the world. Although, some days I think I still might not be over this oversight by my parents (lol).

I will still encourage the children in my life (boy or girl) to read Anne at least once; but I'd be remiss to say that it's the first thing I would give them at the right age. I think Little Women is more relevant and easier to connect with as it has realistic, harsh situations. I also believe that more modern books like Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, The Giver, and others, set children up for the major flaws in life sooner than Anne every could. It's sad to say that telling our children about the harshness of life is important; but I do believe it is. There is point in pretending that bosom buddies are perfect or that gentlemen who bring flowers and kiss hands exist anymore. We are only fooling ourselves if we think Anne has a place in today's world as anything other than nostalgia and a way to show children how much simpler the world was at one time. And perhaps so the kids that come to my house will recognize my porcelain Anne doll on the shelf and know that I too was once a child.

While I own half a dozen copies of Anne of Green Gables in a variety of forms; this version was provided to me via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased opinion.

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Friday, May 17, 2019

Book Review: Echo North

Echo NorthEcho North by Joanna Ruth Meyer

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The farther away I get from reading Echo North the more I dislike it. That's always a bad sign. Joanna Ruth Meyer uses old fairy tales/stories with themes from Beauty and the Beast, Tam Lynn and East of the Sun, West of the Moon. These three tales all have something in common; they marginalize women and there is some sort of 'beast' in the men. Obviously the original stories are not really suitable for today's society; so you would expect updates of them in a re-telling. That is not what Joanna Ruth Meyer gives us in Echo North.

Characters, Plot & Boring
There is perhaps one thing about Echo North I liked; the setting. An old forest that hides and changes where stands an odd house that has rooms 'stitched together' which begin to un-stitch themselves and fall away into oblivion. Cool right? Yep I agree. Except that's all that's really good for story set-up. Our characters are two dimensional at best, I almost liked our wolf but he was just deep freeze cold and gave me no reasons to care about him; and the plot of what is happening to our leading girl is just boring. Honestly I get it, she's trapped, he probably needs her to love him (as we know this is a beauty and the beast retelling) and he's a shapeshifter. Okay, all good but why do I care? Oh right, I'm never given a reason to care.

Really, Disney references?
The number one thing to NOT do when you write a retelling is to take aspects of the Disney version and pop it into your book. It's cheap, annoying and honestly just lazy. Meyer couldn't come up with a better dress than Belle's gold? She just had to include a chipped tea set? These moments feel forced and used as a crutch to avoid coming up with details by using the ones Disney has spoon-fed us our whole lives.

Almost every moment of Echo North is predictable. From the wolf's mystery to our leading girls decisions to the really long and drawn out ending. I actually really enjoy retelling's. But I want re-told stories that use the themes and maybe some of the aspects of characters and place them into a new setting, story and situation. I know these stories; I don't want them regurgitated to me. Instead I want them to be uniquely interpreted. Amazing examples of this are; Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik and Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier. In both these stories there is a connection with the characters so deep that you care about their romantic triumphs and falls. The curses or repercussions from the original stories exist but happen in unique and different ways. I also just read A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer and was  pleasantly surprised by her interpretation of Beauty and the Beast. These are the kinds of re-tellings readers want. Not cardboard cut-out characters with stolen Disney flare. 

There was so much disappointment in this book. I'm not even glad I read it to the end to be honest. It's not often that I actually rate a book lower a week or two after reading it than before. Usually I increase my (possibly harsh) ratings but for Echo North I just can't come up with any reason why anyone should read it. And if I can't imagine a possibility in which I would recommend a book it's gotta go to two stars. It's rare I actually regret reading a book to completion; but this is an instance where I feel I wasted my time. Meyer probably has great ideas but she needs to spend more time connecting with her reader and less time worrying about including nods to any/all source material she may be borrowing 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: Never-Contented Things

Never-Contented ThingsNever-Contented Things by Sarah Porter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a dark, creepy book. It's not horror but it's skirting the line. While this is clearly written in the tone of YA/Teen it is maybe only appropriate for about 15+ due to the sex scenes and gore. Sarah Porter takes us into the realm of the Fae (without actually ever referencing fairies) that is far from all happy and delightful. Some things are easy: obtaining food, having clothing, no money needed, etc. While other things are harder: no real people, creepy fairies, mini versions of yourself, crumbling infrastructure, etc. The overall morale is quite simple, even if the story itself is complex, in order to get something you must give something. Be careful that what you're getting is worth that is being sacrificed.
Yes it's true some believe there is incest in this book. Read #10 below for more

Tips to Reading Never-Contented Things
I'm gonna give a list of tips. These are things that I found I had to accept or make my brain ignore in order to get a bit of enjoyment out of Porter's novel.

  1. Fairies exist. They will not be called fairies (and they are clearly evil).
  2. Remember the standard fairy rule: never eat or drink while in the Fae realm.
  3. Stop thinking you know what will happen and just go with it. This story is teens making decisions and (of course) those decisions may not always be logical or make sense to you as the reader. Remember being a teen is confusing.
  4. Yes teens have sex. If you'd like to live in a world of ignorance leave this book behind.
  5. Children are creepy and vulnerable.
  6. You might want to keep the lights on while you read this.
  7. Little mini gremlins (as I called them in my head) are clever. Not weird or stupid; but clever.
  8. Just because it's obvious what is happening to us doesn't mean our characters see the whole picture.
  9. This is a fictional story with magic. Therefore anything can happen.
  10. Finally, and the most important; FOSTER SIBLINGS BEING ATTRACTED TO ONE ANOTHER IS NOT INCEST!!! They met at 11 and 14. This is NOT incest at all. They are not blood related. They merely live in the same house. You may find it awkward or weird (and you're supposed to) but it doesn't make it wrong, illegal and is technically not inappropriate. They are just two teens, like any other, that met each other as teens. Sorry to yell but it infuriates me that people are condemning this book because a core plot point is incest. It's not incest as there is zero blood relation!

Choosing Who To Love
Even were the attraction between our two leading teens incestual it would be okay to be in this book. Why? Because it's fiction. You may not want to read it and that's fine. Then put it down. One of my favourite books as a teen was Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews. Partially because it's so horrifying but also because it made the point that you don't choose who to love. You just fall in love. It helped 14 year old me understand that the world is messed up, and as we humans live in this weird world, so too can our desires be explainable. It doesn't make us bad people; it's merely a complication that we have to deal with as we (ourselves) deem appropriate. We may need to follow a few laws in place for our own protection (and that of future offspring) but that doesn't mean that we are fundamentally bad people.

Writing Style
This likely would have been a higher rating had the writing style been a little smoother. At times Never-Contented Things felt disjointed. Like there were chunks of the story missing. I also felt that too much was revealed too soon. It was very obvious to me from the get-go what was happening. I'd have liked a little more mystery to the events transpiring and subtle foreshadows. Readers are smart (yes even teenagers) and can sort certain things out in their mind. In fact many readers love to have ah-ha moments that have pieces falling into place perfectly. But you can't have an ah-ha moment if you've known what's happening all along.

The idea here is not necessarily new. Fae realms and trapping humans has long been a fundamental piece of most fairy stories. What's unique here is the driver that leads our characters to decide to act the way they do. One of those pieces is the unique relationship between our two lead foster kids. It would have helped understand their co-dependent relationship had there been more back story on where they came from and how they got to the foster home where they met. I also felt like no time was given to the foster parents who (obviously) have an influence on the teens and setting rules. More early development of all our characters (before any fairies show up) would have been great.
My favourite part of all is the little nod to traditional fairy stories by making one of the most evil of them named 'Unseelie'. This is the name commonly used to describe the lower or underground or evil Fae court. It was perfect and an early tip off to just how far these crazy fairies might be willing to go.

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, May 15, 2019

Stitching: FINISH & overall update

Well it has been some time! 
There are a few reasons for that: 
1) I'm soooo busy, 
2) I got a raise at the office and so am trying to make sure I work hard enough to have deserved it, 
3) I haven't stitched much.
It's sad to admit that last one but it is true. I've been reading like crazy (and because I can do that easily on the bus) and making bracelets for sales on my Etsy shop; but stitching has just been a tough one to fit in. 

However, I did get a finish. I'm super happy with this one; and while it does need more ironing I think it's pretty good. I learned some new stitches here and loved that I got to attend an in-person Jeannette Douglass course to do it!
Using Jeannette's kitted silks & fabric here is ABC: 

I have also been stitching a bit on my Notre Dame SAL that features chimeras/gargoyles from the church. Watching it burn down a few weeks ago was so very sad and has really made me appreciate even more this piece. I've just crossed the halfway point. Don't ask when it was supposed to be finished by (lol):  

 Finally I wasn't supposed to start any new SALs this year... but of course I'm breaking that rule. Lol! Tracy Horner over at Ink Circles (one of my fave designers!) is hosting a SAL so unique and combining so many things I love that there was no way I couldn't be involved. It's called M.A.P. and is an adventure/fantasy map (essentially). But what is unique is you use D&D (gaming) dice to roll and determine what goes where in your map! So each person's SAL is similar, yet totally different. It's sooo cool looking. The set of maps her demo group did are just awesome and really are quite unique. Proving that the concept works! So yes I have bought into this fun one. I still have to select my colours, fabric and the like. Plus I need to dig out my fave D&D dice... although who doesn't want an excuse to buy new dice! heehee.  

It doesn't start until June so lots of opportunity to join in still. And there's a Facebook group for the SAL. I haven't loved that in the past but lately Facebook groups for SALs seem to work for me. So I've joined up and will have everything ready for June. 
You can check out all the details from Ink Circles here: 
(note: this was not endorsed by Tracy in any way, I'm just telling you about what I'm up to and loving.) 

Sorry to those hoping for Alice. My husband keeps asking about her too. I really need to rework my current schedule and block some time for stitching. 
Hope you're all stitching a lot more than I have been! 

Book Review: Bone Parish

Bone Parish Vol. 1Bone Parish Vol. 1 by Cullen Bunn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one intense and gory graphic novel. And yet it's also brilliant at the same time. The concept is that a family has created a new drug, one made from the ashes of the dead. Snorting it allows you to see the dead the ash is made from. So you could talk to, play with, party with, have sex with a dead person. Maybe it's a stranger, your friend or even a lover. Think of the possibilities! But of course with any drug there are extreme adverse reactions that can happen. And once it's successful everyone wants a slice of this new drug.

I really enjoyed the story here. There are a lot of things happening all at once; but as they are all related to the drug and mostly happening to the family members of the makers/creators of said Ash. This first volume gives just enough to get to know some of the characters, set-up the plot, and add some real moments of intrigue. Each of our people uses the drug in a slightly different way and each comes with it's own interesting side effects.

I would definitely keep reading this one if I saw it for cheap or at my library. It's not really to my personal style for graphic novels; but the art is decent, the gore isn't too much and the story is brilliant. I could see teenagers really loving this story; and it has the side effect of showing how dangerous drugs are in general.

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, May 14, 2019

Book Review: A Cage Without Bars

A Cage Without BarsA Cage Without Bars by Anne Dublin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Initially I was really excited about A Cage Without Bars. It's a middle age/grade book about a tough topic. Set in the late 1500's in Spain we see a twelve-year-old boy taken away from his Jewish parents, only with many other children, and taken to an island where he is enslaved on a sugar plantation. Tough topics in middle age books usually make for great reads. Unfortunately A Cage Without Bars doesn't quite deliver.

Starts out Strong
This is a simple language book about some harsh conditions. It started off by reminding me some of a book I loved at age twelve called The Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. Like that book they both have portions that take place at sea under less than ideal conditions; and both feature a whipping scene. At this point I was really stoked for this to carry forward and continue to give us intense, realistic scenes that middle age children could understand.

Drops off
Unfortunately Anne Dublin didn't keep the momentum moving. Once we are off the ship and arrive at the island where our children are enslaved to work on a sugar plantation; A Cage Without Bars becomes a typical story of trying to grow sugar under awful conditions. There isn't really much here that even tugs at the heart strings (which really says something given that the children are slaves and starving). I just didn't feel the emotion that I had when our children were on the boat. Not sure what changed but the narrative felt so different.

I've read a variation of the failed sugar plantation run by slaves dozens of times before. Unfortunately there was nothing new to really add to this one. I wish I had been more wrapped up in the survival of the children; and I wish that we had the perspective of the sister (and not just the lead boy).
A Cage Without Bars is also very short. So I suppose that's a positive if you want to add a quick indie book to your list for the year. Overall I just don't think there is enough here to be worthy of even the short time spent. However, I did finish the story (and not just because it was short). There was just enough to keep me interested; even when I felt like I had read the plantation setting before. So it's not all bad; but not all that great either.

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, May 13, 2019

Book Review: Kingdom Cold

Kingdom ColdKingdom Cold by Brittni Chenelle

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So much potential exists in Kingdom Cold. Unfortunately it is squandered. I don't know if it was because cuts were made, entire scenes were never written or the author just made poor decisions on when to show us the action and when to make it a passing remark. What I do know is that in each instance it felt like the wrong decision was made.

Epic Fantasy
There is real potential here for a great, young adult epic fantasy story. Our characters are all fairly well established (although I think a lot more needs to be said about the romantic feelings of each given how important they are in the end), the setting is good and the political alliances are okay. However what's really missing is a sense of understanding. I'm not sure that Brittni Chenelle has ever seen a battlefield or played a game like risk to really understand how troops invade and organize. Mass confusion near the end of this story had everything unraveling quickly for me and a huge chunk of this was the battle progression. If you're going to write epic fantasy you've gotten know how to set-up a board for a fight; and how to describe said battle in a cohesive way.

Romantic Nonsense
Assuming the target here is young adult, which is seems to be, there is an awful lot of romantic wishy-washyness happening. No explanations of who likes who and why, or how they really feel is ever given. Instead we seem to have a random selection of people that randomly love one another for no reason. Sorry but spending time with one another is not a good enough reason. Nor is that they are cute. There needs to be a depth to the relationships in order for love to sprout. I barely even got lust tones at times.

A Hot Mess
If you've ever read a story outline you'll understand how Kingdom Cold is written. It's like; a story outline with some scenes fleshed out and others just a notation for future inclusion. Except that future writing never happened... or was cut out. We actually have an epic POV where someone is about to be seriously injured... a few chapters later when that character shows up again there is ZERO explanation as to what happened except to say that it turned out fine. Say what?!? Don't set me up on a cliffhanger and then not follow through; that's just mean.
Maybe that's a good description of the problems with a lot of Chenelle's novel; there is no follow through with her plot, characters or scenes.

Sadly this was just not up to any publication standard in my mind. I did finish it as it has good bones for a solid idea and could be a good story; but a lot more work needs to happen to bring Kingdom Cold up to a literary standard. Epic fantasy stories beg for, almost insist on, details and more details. I'm not saying bore me to death with descriptions; but let me feel like I'm a part of the story. I want to feel what the characters feel; and I need to be able to visualize the battle ground.
Perhaps if Chenelle went back to the drawing board with a thought to expand the story ten-fold, add some major emotion, and flesh out her action scenes there could be a great novel here. Unfortunately as it stands now there isn't much merit to this as a comprehensive story.

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

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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Book Review: Wish

WishWish by Chris Saunders

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's just something about children's books that rhyme. They are such a delight and joy to read.
Wish has two or four lines of narrative on (about) every second page. The first two rhyme with one another and the last two rhyme with each other. It's glorious to read aloud as the words just dance off your tongue. I really loving reading rhyming stories! And while the narrative is set-up in a traditional rhyming scheme the illustrations are soft and modern in a way that brings the story to life.

Chris Saunders gives us a story about a bunny/rabbit and his three wishes. As he's unsure what to do with his wishes he asks his friends. Fox obviously has the best wish as it's about writing stories (lol). Each of our three characters that the bunny asks give a different response. Their answers are of course geared towards things they cannot do. I'm betting you can guess the end of this cute little children's story. That's right the bunny grants his friends wishes and only after realizes he's left none for himself. But, as with most children's stories, it's all okay as his friends share their wishes with him.

It's a pretty, cute little story about being generous and sharing. The perfect length for a bedtime story or mid-day nap. I think any child would enjoy this one. But let's face it, none of those things matter as it's all about the rhyming.

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, May 6, 2019

Book Review: Winter Loon

Winter LoonWinter Loon by Susan Bernhard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that is best described as being literary fiction. Not just regular fiction or mass-market fiction; but the kind of fiction that requires you to pay attention, has a lyrical sense to it and (of course) doesn't really end well for most characters in the story. These are what I call "Oscar" books. Great stories that are written specifically for the purpose of winning high-end literary awards. The same way you can watch a movie and immediately know it's an "Oscar" movie; this work with books too.

Beautiful & Descriptive
The writing in Winter Loon is such that it is beautiful while still being very descriptive. I always felt like I was in the setting and could sometimes even smell the description (if you will) that Susan Bernhard was presenting. This made for a very immersive book experience. But it also means this is a tough book to read in line-ups at the bank or Starbucks. There's nothing wrong with that of course; it's just good to know going in if you're like me and read multiple books at a time with certain types being 'dedicated time reading' books and others being 'read anytime' books. This is definitely a book you can get lost in and will fill your dedicated reading time with emotionally charged scenes.

Somber, Sad & Depressing
As with most Oscar movies, Winter Loon is a downer. Our lead boy is essentially abandoned by his father, has lost his mother (before his very eyes in the opening chapter) and is shipped off to a crappy town to live with his crappy grandparents. Ugh. The teenage experience is not really much fun for most in general; never mind when you drop a teen into a depressing setting such as this. The hardest parts of this book, ironically, for me are not the moments when someone dies but actually those moments when our lead boy is hungry and without resources (money) or anyone to care that he hasn't eaten all day. There's very little that is encouraging in Winter Loon. If you are looking for an uplifting, overcoming the odds story then look elsewhere.

This is a really good book. It's dense at times and in some instances the prose can go on and on. But for the most part it's a good read. I'm not sure who to recommend it for because it is really sad and a bit of a tough read. Unlike some of the sad tough novels I normally read this one is not historical so there isn't really anything to directly 'learn' from Winter Loon the way might be in historical settings. That said there are certainly lessons that can be derived from Bernhard's story. The least of which is likely that your life isn't as bad as you thought.

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, May 3, 2019

Book Review: Street Freaks

Street FreaksStreet Freaks by Terry Brooks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a Terry Brooks being, more or less, himself. Street Freaks starts like a teen book but ends somewhat more mature; but I wouldn't hesitate to give it someone 15 or older depending on maturity. I've been a moderate Terry Brooks since I was a child. As a kid of the 80's and a teen of the 90's there was significantly fewer fantasy and sci-fi books that weren't classics and had real action in them. So Terry Brooks, at the time, felt like he was a pretty good writer. Today I'd say he's mediocre. Unfortunately that is exactly what Street Freaks delivered was a typical okay book. I had hoped that in the sci-fi genre (a first for Brooks) that he would be able to up his game.

Fast and the Furious, in the Future
So basically Street Freaks is the movie Fast and the Furious (any of them, they are all basically the same premise) in a future with new shiny technology. It does have an added mystery element to it regarding our lead boy's father; but that is actually not really what the story is 'about'. It's actually just about these kids driving cars, evading police and rebelling against the status quo. Sound familiar? I bet you've seen this movie.

Cool Ideas
While Brooks had some cool technology ideas in Street Freaks; a good technological thought is not enough to keep me interested. There's some biological, genetic type upgrades that some of our characters have and the idea of a 'red zone' is certainly likely to be in our (near?) future. Humans have been building walls and acting elitist for thousands of years so that all seems like a same bet to predict. And while I like the set-up of how you can learn things, communicate with one another and (of course) drive super fast cars; I can honestly read something similar in any number of sci-fi books or short stories. There's just not enough here to engage me.

There was one really well done element of Street Freaks. That is it's focus on friendships and how tricky it can be to gain access into a 'group' of tight knit people. And what it can cost to have trust first and suspicion later. While friendship inherently requires trust there is a threshold moment in which you are risking something. Our lead teen learns this the hard way, as it always is with fiction, and Brooks accurately describes the feelings and emotions that hit many of us (teens or adults) when we are let down by others.

While the characters and their interactions are quite well done there's just something missing here. Some element or twist that would have surprised me; or maybe just more complexity. While there is a lot going on the reality is that it seems like there's a mystery that is, honestly, easily unraveled. I knew who was going to be the traitor (if you will) near the end and why. Maybe I just read too many books (lol) but I just wanted more from Brooks. As I said above this is not unusual of me to want more from Terry Brooks. Maybe my expectations are just too high for him and I need to come back to reality and realize he is a tolerable author. Not usually books I would DNF; but certainly not ones I will remember in the future or tell everyone about. In fact as I'm writing this review I feel like in five minutes I'll have already forgotten about this book and my life moved on.

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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