Sunday, December 27, 2020

Book Review: A Longer Fall

A Longer Fall 
by Charlaine Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Exactly what you’d expect from a shoot em up romance book.
Just like book 1 we meet up with our loveable, if sometimes morally abject Gunnie Rose, and guess what? She's in trouble, lol. This series is like Firefly but without the space; so you know a western but updated and not set in the Old West time period.
If you love Charlaine Harris' Sookie series then you are sure to love this. It has a bit more guns, no vampires, but all the jokes, wit, and violence of Sookie's series. Just an all around fun, engaging, little read. This book helped get me back into the groove of reading again after the drought that has been 2020. 
Additionally, this series would make a great tv show! I sure hope Harris is in talks with HBO or Amazon Prime already!

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Saturday, December 26, 2020

Book Review: The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea

The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea 
by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A wonderfully magical book set in a cruel empire, across a sea of mermaids (who play a minor role and are not the mermaids most think of), and where anything might hold a little magic. I adored our characters, yes even the cruel ones. Given I am terrified of water, especially the ocean, its surprising that the love affair this book has with the sea felt natural and right to me. Now that’s proof of good writing!

Stories Inside Stories
I always love books that have lore or stories inside of stories. Maggie Tokuda-Hall gives us this in the form of little fables or myths; as well as the stories the characters tell of their past. This writing technique is perfect for fantasy world's as it gives insight into the history or foundation of the world. Done well it's a delight every time; and I definitely was thrilled each time I encountered one here.

Gender Swap
A (perhaps) cliché piece of this story is that Florian, our lead girl, is hiding out on a pirate ship as a boy. This is not an uncommon trope if only because women have been legitimately doing this for thousands of years in our history. The reality is, for this fantasy world (and our own) that being a man is almost always safer and provides opportunity that being a woman does not. I like how Florian handles her identity of being a woman inside of being a man. Her own sexuality is at question throughout and it plays nicely with the gender question as well. I was unsure at many points what way Florian might lean and thus felt like I was discovering her as she discovered herself.

So there is some pretty heavy romance in this. It doesn't feel out of place, and it's handled beautifully; but it is there. So if you are hoping for an all out violent and brutal fantasy you will find that those pages are present as well; but that much of the over arcing story has a romantic tone to it. It felt genuine in The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea for me. I liked how the Sea itself had a few moments to speak to us and expressed itself in a very lyrical, romantic way.

This may be one of my favourite reads of 2020. It's been a tough year to get into books and things have really distracted me from reading this year. So to find a story like Tokuda-Hall has given us was a huge relief; and allowed me to really enjoy the experience. There are fights, torture, and injustices in this gorgeous novel; alongside rescues, love, and pity. The magic of this book is that it has a little bit of magic laced into it; while still feeling realistic, harsh, and unfair. Just like our own world so often is.

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, December 15, 2020

Book Review: The Midnight Circus

The Midnight Circus 
by Jane Yolen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The introduction to this short story anthology is beautifully done. Jane Yolen shares a couple personal insights into this set of stories and directs everyone to take a look at the related poems (which make up the last half of this book) related to the stories themselves. Yolen truly is an endearing and lasting female SF/F author of her generation.

Story 1 - The Weaver of Tomorrow
Lovely little reminder that what you think you want may not be what you really crave. Love the use of time passing here to show the two inevitable pieces of life, birth and death.

Story 2 - The White Seal Maid
This story features a man and a selkie. It feels very similar to many stories I’ve read before, except it’s missing something. Perhaps it’s the desire to have an obvious moral at the end, or that our man is very one-dimensional, or that we never understand why the selkie chose to do what she does. Either way it wasn’t satisfying for me.

Story 3 - The Snatchers
Meh. Just okay.

Story 4 - Wilding
This is such a cool concept and the use of Central Park is just brilliant. I want so much more! It reads like the tease you'd send to a publisher to try and get them to endorse a full story being written. So very unsatisfying in length and content but really cool concept.

Story 5 - Requiem Antarctica
First, I want to sincerely thank Yolen for writing this. I did not know the history of the race to the South Pole. As I read this, and realized it is an alternate history, I immediately went and read pages on the events. If you read the Wikipedia page that will be enough to realize Yolen did a brilliant job of combining fact with fiction.
This is a jewel of a story. It's creative, briliant, contextually relevant, and an interesting way to learn about history. Absolutely amazing!

Story 6 - Night Wolves
I wish I’d read this story as a child or teen. Then perhaps I’d be a little less intimidated by the dark.
A clever manifestation of a certain kind of loss and grief. Very well done

Story 7 - The House of Seven Angels
Alternate origin story for Moses during his youth. Meh.

Story 8 - Great Grey
This one is creepy... like serial killer creepy but totally not that. Kind of clever. Wasn't perfect but a very solid read.

Story 9 - Little Red
I dunno what it is about little red riding hood but I can’t get tired of retelling or spins on her story. Wonderful rendition with a twist.

Story 10 - Winter’s King
As someone who lives in a cold place (and hates the heat; give me -30C over +30C any day of the week or year) this had a nice dose of melancholy for me.

Story 11 - Inscription
Interesting method of story telling used.

Story 12 - Dog Boy Remembers
Where’s the rest of the story?! This feels like a preview to a larger novel. Really interesting and well done but I want sooo much more. Does dog boy ever succeed in his desired revenge, what is the symbolism of the cap, and so much more. This should definitely be a full book to explore all the interesting nuances dog boy has."

Story 13 - The Fisherman’s Wife
Love the description of the mermaid as alien (not beautiful) and the use of communication (or lack thereof). A wonderful little tale.

Story 14 - Become a Warrior
A story about how women can become as strong and cunning as men. Although ultimately a revenge story which I often struggle with. Revenge feels so petty to me most times.

Story 15 - An Infestation of Angels
The Gipt in this story must be Hutts (Star Wars) as that was immediately what I imagined them as (lol). Clever little trick to make one think that a deity is watching over and not just biology at work.

Story 16 - Names
I didn’t really get this one to be honest...

Definitely some real gems in here. I'm giving it five stars overall if only because the Antartica story and Dog boy are easily shining stars that make this whole anthology worth reading. None of these are poorly written (It's Yolen and she keeps her high standard in place) or so bad that I didn't want to finish the story. Given how difficult it can be to find good, consistent anthologies this one is easily a step above most.
Yolen is an absolute champion of the writing world and each year that goes by, as I get older and so does she, I worry about the day she won’t be here anymore. With over 350+ stories out there published you’d think there is enough of Yolen in the word; but I do not. Please keep it coming!

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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Saturday, December 12, 2020

Book Review: The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt

The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt
by Riel Nason
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This (Canadian made) children's picture book is not just for the Hallowe'en season. It's perfect for anytime of year as it's about being different from others.
Our little quilt child is surrounded by family members who are sheets; and so much lighter than he. Instead of being able to fly all around, our quilt has to lay in places, walk about, and find vantage points to lay down to see what's happening. Riel Nason has given us a clever way to explain that everyone is a little different; even if it seems like we are the only one.
The illustrations are perfect. A little haunting but not scary in any way. Instead they have just a bit of melancholy that I think comes from the subdued colours chosen.
I would highly recommend this children's picture book for any child from any walk of life. We all feel singled out or excluded for whatever reason at some point and this book beautifully demonstrates how being different isn't always a bad thing.

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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Thursday, December 3, 2020

Book Review: The Angel of Crows

The Angel of the Crows 
by Katherine Addison
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF @ 32%
Just not enough here to keep me going. Let's delve into the specifics below.

Holmes Mysteries
I came to a realization as I was reading this, and investigated it in other reviews to see if I was correct (which I was), all the mysteries (except for Jack the Ripper) are all well known Sherlock Holmes cases. They all resolve the same as the originals. For someone like me who is familiar with many of the original Holmes stories and knows how most of them are solved this took away a lot of appeal. I get that it's supposed to be about nostalgia and a new setting for Holmes (plus add in Jack the Ripper) but honestly I just can't bring myself to navigate this dense writing just to read outcomes to mysteries I already know.

Jack the Ripper
While still slightly intrigued about how Katherine Addison plans to resolve the Jack the Ripper case in this story; it wasn't enough to keep me going. The writing is absolutely beautiful here, and her set-up of the snippets of the Ripper's point of view are clever. I absolutely loved each one of them. It's almost tempting to just read those pieces of the story until the end of the book; but that feels sacrilege and I just can't bring myself to disrespect the effort Addison has put into this. Additionally my greatest fear, and one of the reasons I also didn't finish this, is that the Ripper cases will end unsolved as they are today in this story. A thoroughly unsatisfying end that I just wanted to avoid.

Beautifully Written, but Dense
Some books are just so beautifully written you don't care what the story is. Addison almost achieves that for me here. This is a gorgeous piece of prose taken on it's own without any other context. But it's also dense. The writing matches the Victoria era on the story and really puts you into the place and time of London. It's tragic that instead of finding this glorious, I instead found this to be more dragging density along with the plot that didn't have enough to keep me interested.

I am sure there will be people who think this is the best book ever. And I wouldn't disagree with them. It just wasn't for me at the moment I had it in hand. There is a possibility I could come back to it if the mood strikes me to want some Holmes stories repurposed. The density of the story reminds me of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (although not quite that epic with footnotes) which is one of my absolute favourite books of all time. So I may be inclined to blame the pandemic for my inability to focus, or I really just found this too predictable knowing that the Holmes mysteries will all be resolved in the way I already know.
I would say if you have any interest in this book give it a shot. But don't be afraid to put it down early if it's just not for you.

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

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Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Book Review: Diamond Rattle Loves to Tattle

Diamond Rattle Loves to Tattle 
by Ashley Bartley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First I just want to express my HUGE gratitude that the snake is not completely vilified and made out to be awful in this book. In fact our snake (the star of the story) learns something and eventually champions a tough concept by the end. Too often snakes are turned into evil or bad characters and it reflects in how people treat or see real snakes. It may seem silly but when you are combating a myth that all snakes are bad it's the little thing that count.

This is an adorable book. And it's about a really tough topic for many children to understand. Tattling. When is it bad enough to tattle?
Writer Ashley Bartley gives us examples of when to (and when not to) tattle. More importantly she gives us some words to use to help children out:
"Consider: Is someone unsafe? Can the problem not wait?
And does the problem even involve you?"
This is a brilliant simplification to help anyone (adults included!) to determine when it's time to tattle and when not. There is also a parents guide at the back, great examples in the story, and more tricks and tips for little ones to help them truly understand.
I will definitely be buying this for future children and it should be a part of every library. Complex topics stump many of us adults (myself included) and tattling is one I've struggled to explain to children in the past. I'm excited to have this book in my toolbox for the future.

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: Trouble the Saints

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Written in three parts from three different POVs, Trouble the Saints is both a commentary on racism and societal rank; as well as a fantasy story that questions the ideas of fate, religion, and free will. Comparing it to The Night Circus really rubs me the wrong way as Night Circus is one of my favourite books ever. While Trouble the Saints was okay, it was no five star read.

Flow & Cohesiveness
The flow just isn't smooth, I believe I would have liked this better if Alaya Dawn Johnson flipped between our three character POVs. Even if that meant the story had to alternate timelines and wasn't presented as the segregated mess it becomes. I'm glad I didn't give up on this one as the last POV was my favourite.
Trouble the Saints lacks a cohesiveness between the three parts and the main plot. I struggled to feel like I was even reading the same book at times. We go from beautiful descriptions in part one to frame jobs that could belong on Sons of Anarchy in part two to a commentary on racism in part three. For this reason I think it would have been better to tell the story between all three POVs (and timelines). Hopefully then I could have pieced together important events or tidbits that I was supposed to with the parts separated.

What am I Missing?
I really want to read the books that come before this one... there isn't any; but it felt like there should have been. A lot of content is told to us by our characters. The main plot stems from events that happened years before. Unlike Game of Thrones or another 'typical' fantasy series where there is a large backstory and history, but the current story is just as good, Trouble the Saints lacks something in it's current setting. I kept thinking I wish I was reading the story about XYZ event that was being explained or described from the past. While any good (complex) fantasy novel will have a solid backstory I think authors need to be careful that the backstory isn't better or more interesting than the one they are currently telling.

All that said there is one thing that is excellent in this book. Johnson explains, portrays, and discusses sexism, prejudice, racism, etc. as though she is a woman twice her age. The insight and eloquence with which Johnson lays out these social issues is brilliant. With quotes that challenge the reader to really think, like:
"Does just avoiding bad things make you a good person?
Don’t you have to do good things for that?"
We are given a platform in which to really ask ourselves tough questions. The discussion and bantering of our characters in part three lends itself to a really interesting book club (or English class) conversation. I definitely want to read more of Johnson's opinions and takes on social issues (be it in non-fiction or fiction) in the future. And lending her some street cred (if you will) she is not a snowflake and can pull from her own genuine experiences; something many authors (including my white self) cannot do.

Johnson is certainly a writer to watch for in the future. While Trouble the Saints isn't without it's pitfalls and issues; there is a lot of promise here that can be seen under the surface. This is her first book with a significant publisher (TOR) and I can absolutely see their amazing editorial team only improving on the talent that is clearly there. I will definitely read future Johnson in the hopes that some of the more amateur issues here are improved on.
Lastly, it was a huge mistake to promote this book as The Night Circus in my opinion. I might have enjoyed it a lot more if I wasn't expecting something different than what was delivered. A good reminder that blurbs matter. Unfortunately they are rarely written by the author, and yet blurbs are the first entrance (besides the cover) that we have to get a sense of what the book is all about. I really love TOR books 90% of the time. They do have the occasional miss from an author but they are rarely wrong about the author having potential or promise. Let's hope TOR invests in Johnson and we see more from her in the future.

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: Unbirthday

by Liz Braswell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With the abundance of Alice spin-offs, re-tellings, misappropriations and more I went into Unbirthday with relatively low expectations. The nice thing about that is that it doesn’t take too much to impress in the end when this happens.

Unbirthday is a clever continuation of the classic Lewis Carroll Alice series. All of what you know from the original two Carroll books has happened. In fact having read the original Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (or at least having seen the animated Disney movie) will greatly increase your understanding of the story. Liz Braswell returns Alice to Wonderland as a teen whom is close to losing her ability to be 'mad'. Right alongside her the Mad Hatter and others are losing their whimsy that makes them so critical to Wonderland. The entire story is about saving Wonderland from too much logic (and a Queen you might know...).

I was quite impressed with this given how bad most of the Alice retellings or spin-offs I've read have been over the years. This is a story that has been 'done' to death. But as my husband is the biggest Alice fan ever (two arm sleeves of tattoos with Alice; one the good characters and the other the bad characters, Cheshire is on both arms) I decided to read this to let him know if it was worth a read. While it's clearly YA it's still well written and I liked the treatment of Hatter enough to recommend this to him if he wants a take on Wonderland and Alice post Carroll's story.

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, November 17, 2020

Book Review: The God Game

The God Game: A Novel 
by Danny Tobey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let's start with a disclaimer:
This is NOT a teen/YA book like Ready Player One. It is an 'adult' science fiction read, I would liken it to Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.

Plot & Characters
Sadly The God Game was not as good as I had hoped for (although I had high expectations); but still a solid read. Featuring lots of teenage angst and crazy decisions. If you're not ready to be annoyed by typical teen behavior (think book 5 of Harry Potter but times 10) then you may not want to delve into this one. The characters are so well written that they feel very genuine and make decisions just like I would have as a teen (and might still as an adult). Bullying has a huge presence throughout. There are also abusive parents that play a factor.
The 'game' itself is cleverly disguised. In actual fact (and you will realize this quickly) it is just a series of moral dilemmas. Many of them are extreme; but the outcome of if you'd choose to be moral or not, sacrifice yourself for the good of others, or protect your family or friends no matter the cost all remains. We make decisions like this everyday. They don't always lead to immediate death or dismemberment; but they are contributing to overall outcomes. I think there is a good reminder in The God Game that Danny Tobey wants us to remember in the end: every decision we make leads somewhere. Choice is freewill, and there is always a choice. It might not be a choice between two (or more) things we want to do; but it is still a choice.

Ultimately this is a philosophy story. Asking questions like: what is a god? who is a god? and how can they even exist?
To be a god does it only require someone to worship you or think you are a god? Or is there some sort of omniscient presence required? Now bend your mind for a second, what if someone, or an AI, with unlimited Internet access was manipulating you in such a way that you were both terrified and intrigued. Because let's face it there is a large aspect of almost every religion and god in the world that expects (or relies) on us being terrified of them.

This is nothing like Ready Play One in my opinion. Not only is it written for adults; but the overarching concepts and plot are far more complex. While both books are sci-fi and both feature teenage characters; the reality is that this is not enough to make them comparable. So for those concerned it will be like Ready Player One, rest assured it is not.
Definitely worth a read even if only to enjoy Tobey's fast paced writing and admire the intricate tasks that he comes up with for our teens to engage in. 

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

Stitching: Pumpkin Finish

Well... everyone still out there?

I feel very off lately. Stitching (and reading) has been hurting because of it. I have been hearing that many people are a bit off-kilter lately; and rightfully so. No matter where you live in the world you can't avoid the issues of COVID-19 and likely the USA election. Here in Canada we are anxiously awaiting (as is everyone) for Dec 14 when the election will be 'finalized' so we can all start planning for what things might look like in January. And in my city we are seeing crazy high infections and should be locking down; although our government is being flaky about it. Again all things I'm sure most of you are encountering as well. 

As I've been struggling to stitch I decided to pull out a brand new project, a nice, easy, fun Mill Hill Kit. This is from this year's set of Halloween releases, Glowing Pumpkin. As always it's on 14ct perforated paper using DMC and Mill Hill beads (all kindly provided in the kit). 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Book Review: The Finder

The Finder: A Novel 
What the world needs is bolder sheep

This was not quite what I was expecting. I guess I imagined more of a hunt, worldwide travel, and exploration for the items. While those things happened almost all of them where portrayed as stories told from the past. We don’t go on a true journey with any of the leading characters. Although many of them are in diverse locations; we spend the longest in Christchurch in the before and after the devastating earthquake. We see our characters as they are in a current moment, near the end, if you will, of what seems to be an elaborate and perhaps random treasure hunt.

Literary Style
For anyone familiar with Wil Ferguson’s past works (including 419 which won the Scotiabank Giller Prize from Canada) they won’t be surprised to learn that it’s very literary. I had to look up a handful of words, reread some passages, and certainly couldn’t read this while a bit tired. This is a book that requires some effort to read and get the true experience from. Depending on if you enjoy this style or not will likely dictate your love for The Finder.

Author’s Note
I kind of wish I had read the Authors Note at the back of the book. I always waffle on this, especially with stories I know have true elements. Do I want to experience the story with no prejudice or do I want to know what to watch out for?
In this case I’ll give you a hint towards reading the authors note. If you want to know about the list objects themselves, look for hidden Alfred Hitchcock references, or look up history on places or the items as you read then definitely flip to the back and read Ferguson’s notes.

On Lost Objects
The idea of a treasure hunt absolutely intrigues me. Maybe I watched Indiana Jones too many times as a kid; but my first career choice at the age of ten was to be a journalist in the midst of the action. At the time Desert Storm was everywhere and I imagined myself as a daring woman climbing through dust and rubble to get the real stories. Boy was I wrong.
Today I’m a anxiety medicated computer programmer who loves to be in new places but hates the process of actually getting to them. So maybe that’s why I really wanted more of a worldwide hunt; because my brain loves to feel like I’m travelling from the comfort of my home.
So if you’re hoping to have big reveals or Da Vinci Code like cryptics to solve for the lost items you will be sorely mistaken. That said, all of the items lost (except for one obvious one that is significant to our lead character) are real. And so you can discover more about them on the internet and in the wonderful list of recommended books Ferguson gives in his author’s note.

The Finder is the kind of book I’ll talk about to people and recommend (with a caveat about its literary style), likely muse about rereading it for years, but never actually get to it. But I’m happy to put my trade copy on my shelf. Not only because Ferguson is a fellow Canadian and Calgarian (where I’m born and raised, having never left up to today) so I want to support local, but also because it’s truly a worthwhile read even though I hesitate and chose not to give it 5 stars.
If you enjoyed Ferguson’s 419 you will be sure to enjoy this. If you like Margaret Atwood (not just Handmaiden’s Tale), Miriam Toews, or Michael Ondaatje then I am very confident you will enjoy this beautifully written story with a cast of varied characters whom (of course) all connect together in the end.

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Saturday, November 7, 2020

Book Review: The Last Lie

The Last Lie 
by Patricia Forde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clarifying Editions and Order of the Series
This is Book 2 of the series that started with The List. This book has also been published under the titles The Last Word and Mother Tongue. The List was also published under title The Wordsmith.

Review Introduction
A solid follow-up to The List. We meet back up with our characters shortly after the high action ending of The List. You could read this without reading book 1 but the context and characters will have much more meaning if you begin with The List. As before the intriguing premise of having language rendered down to 500 English words remains. Although there is a lot less 'list speak' in this book, so if that bothered you in the first novel then you will likely enjoy the reprieve here. This is because our lead gal and her cohorts are now outside of Ark and looking for some sort of safety.

Those hoping for some sort of love triangle (or dreading it like I did) will be happy to know that the issue is resolved in this book. Succulently, although the actual drama of it all is down-played to the primary plot to take down the rules of Ark. Although the romance in the pages is short and sweet it's still quite sweet. Perfect for a younger young adult (easily good for a 12-13 year old); but the average older teen might be a bit disappointed.

The Last Lie is really predicated around one idea or concept. That change is required. Interestingly Patricia Forde makes it clear that change can be really awful (civil war, climate change, etc.) but also that sometimes change is required in order to 'move forward'. 

"Change is always possible. It happens with with or without us. 
I’d rather be the one making the change."
The quote above really resonated with me as it's relevant for almost any situation in any timeline or world. Change is inevitable and it will happen, whether we want it or not. I have often been someone to resist change myself. Generally I resist change out of fear. Given the year 2020 has been (written Nov 2020) the whole world has had to undergo a similar change to one another unlike any we've needed to adapt to in decades (at least in North America). Forde reminded me that it's always better to embrace the change, and (if possible) be a promoter or leader of said change. The reason? So you can be (or feel) in control of the change; instead of just reacting to it you can be pushing it. 

The intriguing premise of restricting language so that people cannot communicate continues in book 2. To the point that in one scene our lead gal makes a poor choice so she can save the words from pages of a dictionary. It's weird to think of a dictionary page being valuable given that currently I can know the definition of a word with a quick internet search.
Forde also does an excellent job of showing how important a single word can be. Imagine loosing words like: freedom, violence, human, spirit or soul, war, peace. Some of these words we might want to loose but others would create a void in being able to explain concepts to children. And this is where Forde will really impress upon you a question that is terrifying at it's core:
What happens if a child hears no language for years? Can they ever regain said language? Will they be dumber for it? Does it matter?

I really like this series because of it's clever use of language to create a dystopian world. The violence and romance is lesser here (making it suitable for younger children) than in other dystopian stories like Divergent or Hunger Games. And yet The List duology still has a lot to say about freedom and choice. 
As an avid reader and lover of any/all languages (I now get to code all day long for a job!) this story really draws me in. In Forde's world restricting words means that all grammar is removed and communication comes down to single words or short statements. Imagine explaining computers, physics, sex, love, or politics with a limited vocabulary; it would become impossible to teach complex concepts. Humans would loose much of their intelligence. The question that Forde tackles here is whether we, the human race, and the Earth would be better off if humans could say (and presumably do) less would it also result in less destruction?

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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Book Review: Snow Song

Snow Song 
by A.K. Riley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A very lyrical children's book with few words and lots of beautiful illustrations.
The illustrations really portray the idea that snow swirls to the ground. Unlike rain it doesn't fall straight now, instead it is taken on a journey to the ground. All of the children are fairly dressed for their playtime in the snow; which as a Canadian I really appreciate. There is nothing like arguing with a toddler to put on their gloves and hat because it's cold outside and them telling you Elsa doesn't wear gloves (thank goodness Anna does)!
The words here are nice and easy to read, with a rhythmic verse and flow to them. However they are a bit too flakey (haha) for me. I like the idea of the snow being soft, pretty, and fun. But snow is also cold, hard, and dangerous. As someone who lives in a cold climate (where many people I know have frostbitten toes or fingers from their childhood) it is important that we avoid making snow too romanticized. By creating the illusion that it is all fun, soft and lovely to play in the snow we do children a disservice.

It's disappointing as this book is written by two Canadians (albeit both live in relatively warm areas of the country: Vancouver and Southern Ontario) who should really know better than to write a story for kids that doesn't mention putting on gloves, toques, jackets, etc. There should be a reminder to not stay wet from the snow (a common way kids get frostbite is their socks or mitts get wet from the snow, that dampness freezes and causes frostbite). And perhaps the last page should have been a mug of something hot (like chocolate or cider) to warm them up from their play time. Snow is super fun to play in; but like anything (ie: beach, lake, forest, etc.) you have to be aware of your surroundings and what dangers they might bring.
Some may consider me overly cautious given this book is relatively innocent. However I believe that these types of romantic musings about nature and weather are where children begin to learn the idea that there is nothing to be cautious of in situations.

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, September 27, 2020

Book Review: Goldilocks

by Laura Lam
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a sci-fi, space voyage with one distinct difference from usual; it’s all women. No men need apply. As a female this excited me to see female astronauts steal a spaceship and try to ‘save’ all of humanity. Unfortunately, as is often the case, Laura Lam takes it a bit too far. By the end of the book I was so over all of these women, discussion of fertility and babies, and their giant space egos. Proving that gender holds no sway over how confident someone is in their own opinion being right.

Future Set-up
This is a future vision of Earth where a version of Trump is US president, and boy does this guy hate women. He’s systematically removing us ladies from positions of power, or even from working at all. Thus we have five women who bond together to steal a spaceship and take over a mission to find sustainable life on another planet (as Earth is nearly toast). And so begins the non-stop feminist agenda. It’s a rhetoric that doesn’t work for me personally. I believe all types of people and personalities are needed to build a cohesive team; especially one that is manning a five-person spaceship to find humanity a new Earth-like planet.

Someone might accuse me of jealousy here based on what I’m about to say. I’m okay with that, as it might very well be true. I doubt I would have picked this book up if the blurb had made it clear that a large focus of the story would be about re-population, pregnancy in space, and babies/children in general. As a childless woman, sort of by choice (I have medical constraints and chose not to pursue surgery, IVF, etc), I love real life tiny babies, am okay with toddlers and kids until about 7-years-old. Then I’d rather handle a 16-year-old as I have difficulty relating to middle grade children.
When a book throws at me an obsession with whose had a baby and when, especially if I’m not prepared for it, then I tend to shy away. This is where Handmaiden’s Tale influences come into place in Goldilocks. I think there are some interesting concepts to develop here; but I just wish it was a lot less of the story.

New Planet and Warp Technology
I’d have rather focused on the science of what is needed for a new planet similar to Earth for us all to move to. There is some context; like growing food, different length of a day, sky being a different colour, etc. But mostly it’s fairly vague.
Secondly I’d have rather focused on how and why the warp drive works that makes them faster than the speed of light. And while I realize this is fictional I like getting into some of the nitty gritty dirt of these types of scientific ideas or concept.

Thus it's 3 stars for Goldilocks because the blurb was a bit misleading. I was wanting to read some space cowboys with women; not about too much estrogen in the bloodstream and how a woman may handle that in space and not babies in space. If that interests you then you'll probably really enjoy this. If you are looking for a solid space travel book, or the way to find a new planet for humans this is an okay book; if you want a fun space cowboy story you will not find it here.

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, September 21, 2020

Book Review: The Unspoken Name

The Unspoken Name 
by A.K. Larkwood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Unspoken Name is a lesson in why beautiful prose just isn’t enough. This is a gorgeous story. It’s written in a vivid (albeit sometimes confusing language) with lots of world building and depth. A. K. Larkwood takes us on an elaborate, lengthy journey where years pass by allowing our characters to grow and change. There is a tension held just below the surface of the story that keeps you flipping pages and wanting to scream at characters to just do things (like kiss, even though the romance is subtle in this)! And yet I didn’t care about a single one of the people in the story; and thus the proof that beautiful prose and an elaborate fantasy story just aren’t enough.

Subpar Characters
I want to say I cared about our leading gal Csorwe, or the mage that saves her, or any of the numerous people they encounter over the years in this book; but I just didn’t. The opening (Part I and Part II) are interesting enough as we are learning the world (or if you’re me being confused by how the Maze works), encountering new religions, trying to decipher how to say things (there is a pronunciation guide at the start), and keep everything straight (there is also a cast of characters at the start). However as the book progress past those first 100 or so pages and Csorwe ages, develops her skills at being a thief, a spy and an assassin, I came to realize that she could live or die and I kind of didn’t care. The only reason to keep her around was that she was our main character and the story revolved around her.

Remote Location
A second critical error that Larkwood makes here is taking us from a vibrant, exciting small town with thieves, assassins, magic, competing religions and more; into a remote, boring planet with only 2 other people on it besides our leading lady and her perpetual (it seems) shadow of a partner (that she loves to hate). It was like going from Coruscant or Cloud City to Tatooine or Hoth; instead of the other way around. It just doesn’t have enough depth and excitement (no matter what monsters or magic are thrown at our characters) to compete with the cute little town we encounter early on in the story.

Debut Novel
It is worth noting that this is a debut fantasy novel. And so for a first publication in fantasy it is actually quite good. But to stand-up next to the many amazing novels written in fantasy over the last 20 years (or even just 10) there is more substance and emotional tie needed to the characters. The world, the magic, the fighting, the religion, and the constructs of society are all good enough to create a series from that is robust. I’m not opposed to reading the next of Larkwood’s books in this land as it is a very intriguing place (especially the Maze!); but I’d like to see Larkwood move into more of the grim dark genre that she teases with. A little more depth in the writing and substance are needed; and perhaps a bit more thought into some of the odd metaphors, similes, etc. are needed. This one in particular made me actually laugh out loud.
“He was white as a ghost, one-eyed, and handsome in the style of a shark.”

Not only did I laugh because I have no idea what it means; but because I couldn’t stop thinking of Chandler on Friends and his shark fetish! 

I did appreciate that The Unspoken Name didn't have a huge cliffhanger ending, and so if you wanted to try it out and not continue you’ll feel like you read a complete story. This is an interesting choice in a genre where large series are common. Many desire for stand-alone books (including myself) and yet when you put so much heart and time into the world developing it seems a shame to only use it once; and so I’m glad there will be more books and hope that Larkwood improves on what is a decent start.

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: Havenfall

by Sara Holland
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Surrounded by dozens of capable adults our teen leading gal ends up running a whole inn that houses three different species (including humans) from three different worlds (including Earth). If you’re thinking; wow this girl is a special snowflake isn’t she? You’d be bang on. She’s also dumb as a post. Sara Holland brings up an interesting set-up and story; but unfortunately it is plagued by teen tropes, a clueless heroine, and a really skewed view of mental health.

Dumbest Girl Ever
I don’t even know how to be nice about this. Our leading gal, Maddie, is just so dumb. At every corner she is given tons of knowledge, help, and clues; yet somehow she still manages to remain clueless. Albeit she’s only a teen but even a five-year-old knows not to trust random people they don’t know. Especially when it’s known that danger and strangers lurk around every corner. The worst of it is that because our heroine stays clueless the reader has to be strung along, painfully, until she ‘discovers’ things for herself. Havenfall is much too predictable in both it’s story and leading gals actions.

Mental Health
Holland may win the award for having the most offence line in a book I’ve read in 2020; and that includes Harrow the Ninth and other gruesome, gory stories.
”You have more happy memories than scary ones, don’t you? 
Why give the scary ones so much space in your head”
Only someone absolutely ignorant to PTSD, flashbacks, night terrors, and reactive anxiety would even consider saying this. To me this is like saying ‘just be happy’ to someone with depression. If it were that easy we’d all have done it by now!! I just about put this book down at this point because I was so frustrated. Who would ever think that someone whose mind is struggling with disturbing topics would dwell on them on purpose?!? My guess here is that Holland has literally never been down a dark alley and been concerned for her life; never mind feared for it. Even the average teenager, by 18, has had at least one incident in their life that was intense or terrifying. Apparently Holland is a super special snowflake, just like her leading girl, and has never, ever had nightmares (never mind night terrors), a traumatic incident that brings on PTSD or PTSD-like symptoms. If only we were all so lucky *drips with sarcasm*.

The world building here is very interesting; and the ending has some real potential for the future story. Unfortunately the actual writing, execution, and leading gal are subpar at best. There are just so many better teen/YA books out there that I can’t in good conscious recommend this one unless you are desperate or really, really like the idea or Holland’s writing from her previous books. Otherwise I would be confident in saying this is a series to pass over; especially if, like me, you have a huge TBR.

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, September 18, 2020

Book Review: Harrow the Ninth

Harrow the Ninth
by Tamsyn Muir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Note: I kept thinking I would write more of a 'review' and less of a WTF statement about this; but it's so hard to conceptualize and put into writing how I felt about this book. Just like book 1, Harrow the Ninth is intangible in its affect on the reader. So please forgive this vagueness of this review and know that I loved this, and loved to hate it at times. And was exhausted when I was finally done reading it. 

After 200+ pages, few words written are not insane or from the eyes of our unreliable narrator, Harrow. She can’t seem to remember what we, the reader, know happened at the end of book 1. It’s infuriating, it’s slow reading, it made me start to think I might not reach the end, and lament how great I thought Gideon the Ninth was. And then things start to open up, there might be hope for Harrow and her shattered mind, and just when I thought things were realigning crazy, epic, unbelievable events happen. So unbelievable that without the drone of insanity I read beforehand I might have scoffed and not believed any of it.

As with book 1, I am unsure what I just spent 19 days reading. Harrow the Ninth has put me 6 more books behind on my reading challenge and I’m not even sure I know what happened in it; and I’m certain I don’t understand more than half of the subtle, and not so subtle, messages Muir is saying.
Did I like this book? Maybe. Do I want to read book 3? I dunno. Mostly I just want to read book 1 again and recapture Gideon. But at the end of the day absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? If true then Muir plays her cards well.

When Alice falls down the rabbit hole the reader experienced a mind expanding story. When Harrow wakes up on a grand spaceship; with blood, bones and vomit surrounding her, the reader will begin to forget they even have a mind. I wondered by the end of the novel how living and dying could be so complex given it’s just made of meat, bones, blood, and time.

Harrow the Ninth makes our messed-up, immoral, crazy world seem simple. And so I give it five stars if only because it strained my mind enough to have less time for the real world insanity that surrounds us all. I feel helpless to affect much of today’s news; just as Harrow felt helpless to comprehend how she was who she was. Perhaps that’s the brilliance of Muir’s lesbian necromancers in space literary writing; she convinces me the world I live in is simple, because her world is so complex.

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Book Review: If You Tame Me

If You Tame Me

If You Tame Me 
by Kathie Giorgio
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The ignuana is the hero of this story. He's adorable, defensive, happy, eats voraciously, and lives a sweet, sweet life. Sadly he's not the main character (lol). The easiest way to describe Kathie Giorgio's novel is by comparing it to "As Good As It Gets" movie; but with a hetero 50+ couple, an iguana and birds instead of a dog. The bitter, angry, frustrated 'senior's talk' here is similar. As is the discussions about what it means to be 'happy' when you're past child rearing age.

What is a good life?
The primary focus of If You Tame Me is: what is a nice life? Does it have to include grandchildren, a spouse, an animal, a job, etc.? How do you define what is a nice or good when you are 55 years old, never married, have no children, and lack a companion of any kind. That is how we meet our leading lady.
There is a lot of great truth in this story that focuses on how those 'over the hill' can create a new life for themselves. But what does that look like? How do you make it happen? The obvious answer is that you must step out of your comfort zone and do things that are scary or anxiety inducing; like sign-up for an internet dating website, buying an iguana, or asking someone in for coffee. This is true at any age but I liked the focus here on those older; while showing that no matter our age we all have the same desires, needs, and hopes. To live a 'nice life'.

There is A LOT of feminism in this book. Like to the point where I bet if you counted how many times that word, or a similar one is used it would be in the triple digits. And don't even start me on how often our leading lady refers to a fish needing a bicycle. It's a bit tiresome at points and much too beaten into the readers heads that we probably misunderstand the whole movement; and yet that wasn't even the most offensive thing in the story.
Giorgio and I greatly differ in one key area, that is a bit too prominent in her book, that I need to address. It would seem that Giorgio's focus on feminism is about control. She modifies it near the end of the story to mean consent (which is how I wish to define feminism: equal consent and standing). However on one key issue Giorgio is clearly still a bit too vanilla to understand some things...

Fifty Shades of Grey
Fifty Shades of Grey (while a terrible, terrible book with the worst writing I've ever read) IS NOT in any way RAPE or ABUSE. Period. This is a non-negotiable point. At no time does anyone in that book subject themselves to anything they do not enjoy or consent too. While they may be apprehensive and unsure this is not the same as screaming for your life while someone forces themselves upon you. Liking S&M, BDSM or other fantasy violent bedroom games is not perverse or wrong; it is a way to express yourself with your partner and enjoy yourself SAFELY. There is nothing wrong with it because it is done in a safe, consensual manner.
I understand that some may never understand this concept and for others it is trauma inducing. I am sorry for that; but I will not take away the rights and freedoms of some to enjoy their bedroom play just because someone is uncomfortable. This would be no different than telling someone they cannot kiss their same sex partner because someone is 'uncomfortable' to others. Not acceptable.
It is literally hurting NO ONE. If sometimes doesn't like the topic or feels uncomfortable then they too can leave the theatre, put the book down, or engage in their right to say no. Someone else's private choices does not put feminism back 10 years, change rules of consent, or make violent, unwanted behaviour acceptable. Those things are all still alive and well in our society. In fact some psychologists argue that those who express themselves violently with their consensual partner in the bedroom may in fact same themselves for acting out dangerously amoungst strangers. So how about we let people do as they wish knowing that consent has been given in these situations.

Once I calmed down a bit from raging about the comments made about FSoG in If You Tame Me; I was able to enjoy the cuteness again. It's a sickly sweet story that has moments of true clarity regarding how women are seen and treated in society (and absolutely every woman, no matter her age, should own a matching sexy set of bra and panties! I love the scene when the 70+ woman goes into Victoria Secret and gets herself a sexy set. Giorgio provides some insight into how lonely it can be to be alone; be it at age 55 or 25. I also like the straight-up admittance that wanting to be with someone and have a companion is not needy or wrong; it's natural human natural. We are social creatures (yes even us introverts need a bit of socialization) and do better when we have at least one confident to spend time with.
For the handling of loneliness, age, and exotic pets I give this 3 stars. I might otherwise have gone to 2 (as I am so angry about the BDSM representation); but just like our characters here I need to admit that something or someone can have both good and poor aspects to them.
If nothing else I learned that us exotic pet owners (I'm Mama to 3 snakes, including a 7'4" boa constrictor named Bowie) are always going to be seen as a bit odd and quirky; and that I hope at 55 years old I am still awesome enough to NOT fall into the 'nice' or 'typical' category by getting a kitten, and instead pick up that awesome reptile from the pet store.

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, August 26, 2020

Book Review: Night Spinner

Night Spinner
by Addie Thorley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The nice thing about going in with low expectations is you can be pleasantly surprised! While it took me a few chapters to really get into this; once I was in there was no getting out. If you think you know how this story might go because it’s a retelling then think again. There are twists and turns here I did not expect (or even see coming!). All of the plot points play well into the character personalities set-up (nothing cheap) and adhere to the constructs were given for this (somewhat gothic) fantasy universe.

A Creative Retelling
The biggest mistake here would be to expect the Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney or original) characters or story in anything more than on the surface. While the basic construct of the story is similar, our lead gal is obviously the hunchback, and many themes are picked up; Night Spinner has so much more to give. In fact I think it probably doesn’t give enough credit to Addie Thorley to say this is ‘just a retelling’. The last 100 pages took me by total surprise (which was great) and is where Thorley really makes this plot her own once and for all.

How many different essays could be written based on the themes, archetypes, and twisted plot of Night Spinner? Dozens at the very least! There’s so much to unpack here. Of course we have the major theme which is what makes someone a ‘monster’. Other themes include: desertion, morality, loyalty and betrayal, family versus blood, and finally treason. All these are globbed together in such a way that we feel every decision our main gal (and others) make.

This may be on the one place where Thorley could make some larger improvements; but given most YA fantasy literature out there these days I’m willing to give it a pass. Our characters are very clear archetypes at times and make decisions as expected (nothing cheap here). Some are a bit one dimensional at first; but all of them play key elements in the end. I love the way many characters who seem to be ‘unimportant’ at first become critical players in the end.

Coolest Magic!
I want our leading gals magic so bad! It’s different from most of the people in her land and seriously badass. The ability to gather darkness and surround yourself (or others) in it, so that you become almost invisible, is crazy cool and has a gothic feel I adore.

” soon as I flex my wrists, the ribbons of darkness wing from the forests like bats...”

Thorley uses this control of shadows and darkness in unique ways and ensures we are aware that the magic comes at a price and needs certain sources in order to work. Use of magic takes a massive physical toll on the user. Bringing me to one of my favourite elements of the novel, actual injuries and fatigue.

One of the constant themes in Night Spinner focuses on mortality. Although our characters are all from different areas, races and religions, they are all still human-like and mortal. And each of them is falliable and subject to injuries they can’t just ‘fight through’.
Even more surprising is while there is magic to essentially revive someone or bring them back from the brink (and yes it’s used); it didn’t feel cheap to me when used. Thorley is selective about using the magic and healing; instead generally defaulting to having characters that need actual rest and sleep to heal. It’s refreshing to not have characters that seem to be unbeatable and have an endless amount of energy. In fact our lead gal spends most of the story needing rest and pushing herself to accommodate and overcome her physical disabilities and it’s probably 50/50 whether she can find reserve strength or falters entirely.

What I have no doubt of is that Thorley has set us up with a beautifully constructed fantasy world. There is so much to explore still. This could be the type of series that runs past a trilogy if continuity is held up and advance thought out into the plot. Given how much happens in Night Spinner I don’t think plot or twists will be a problem for Thorley to continue to deliver on. As each time our characters do (almost) anything it’s subject to a morality test there are innumerable number of circumstances available.
My recommendation, get in now and be a part of what could very well be the next big YA fantasy series. I hope that even though this is with a smaller publisher it gets the marketing and attention it deserves. This gothic fantasy universe has so much more to give and I can’t wait to read more!

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, August 18, 2020

Book Review: Riot Baby

Riot Baby 
by Tochi Onyebuchi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”We don’t get where we’re going by matching hate for hate.”

This is an odd little story. I’m not sure I understood it all. But I hope I got enough of it that I know what Toni Onyebuchi is trying to say. It jumps around a lot. So be prepared to really pay attention.

My favourite part is when Onyebuchi describes using algorithms that are coded to persecute POC as the same as cops making conscious decisions. This is very powerful to me. Thus stating, systematic racism is no different than allowing a computer to run a program and determine the outcome. It’s 100% predictable. Sadly I think this absolutely true. People have been coded to react a certain way based on the colour of someone’s skin.

My privileged white girl self is completely at a loss on how to break things down and fight back to help all POC most days. Certainly understanding is the obvious first step. I desire to do more and so am trying to consume ownvoices fiction and truly listen to what is being said. Questioning my own thoughts and actions regarding race; and no longer letting family or friends make casual racist remarks. It’s long past time to call people out for what they say and how they say it. I certainly felt that part of Riot Baby was about driving home how many riots and times this issue has crept to the surface; and then been beaten down again with no change. I hope that this 2020 riot push back doesn’t go away until true progress can be made.

No one story or book will change everything; but like The Hate U Give, I think Riot Baby is a wonderful contribution to stating the issues in a way to give a different perspective. It’s very important we continue this conversation and change the delivery to get to more people. I recommend reading this, even if you feel a bit lost like I did, just so you can experience a perspective you’ve likely never seen/heard before. Thank you to Onyebuchi for providing this unique and moving story.

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, August 14, 2020

Book Review: I Couldn't Be Anne

If I Couldn't Be Anne 
by Kallie George
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Since Anne of Green Gables came out of copyright and into the public domain there has been a multitude of children's books and 'inspired by' texts to peruse. I have yet to find one that I feel embodies or moves the Anne of Green Gables legacy forward in a meaningful manner.

As a born and raised Canadian, whose got family members buried not 15km away from Anne's house on Prince Edward Island (although I live in the West), I have a bit of a protective 'mama bear' attitude towards L.M. Montgomery and Anne. I totally understand that like so many classic children's/middle grade books many of us have fond memories of Anne and her travels. But we weren't five years old when those memories began; and yet they keep publishing board/children's books about Anne even though it's much too young for full exposure.

Let's face it, the nostalgia factor for the parent means nothing to a small child. This story abut Anne could be about any girl of any name and it would still be: boring, insignificant, and underwhelming. At the age group this is targeted at we are much better off having books about animals, social responsibility, morals, etc. We are deluding ourselves if we think any children under 7 think some random redheaded girl is important (unless her name is Merida).
I think we should preserve Anne for the middle-grade group of children. Allow them to peruse the novel(s) the same as we did at the age. I do not believe there is a need for an introduction to Anne earlier than that. This book is just fluff.

While the illustrations are gorgeous, and the verse kind of cute, this just doesn't do it for me. Funny enough my middle name is Ann (without an E) and I remember telling my Mom how disappointed I was in her choice of spelling (I'm told my relatives didn't have an E on their name). It's funny now, but I can't even imagine if I had been obsessed with Anne at an earlier age than 8 as I might not have understood that how you spell a name is irrelevant at the end of the day. So I recommend you don't give any girls named Ann (without an E) a complex and find something a little more educational for your little ones for story time. Provide Anne at the right age so they can love her like we all do.

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, August 12, 2020

Book Review: The Swap

The Swap 
by Robyn Harding
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fair warning: this is not a happy book. It features a lot of spousal abuse, massive mental friendship abuse, insecurity, jealousy and every other emotion you can think of that you might experience when you are desperate for someone's attention. I didn't dislike it; but I didn't really like it either. Robyn Harding delivers a well written, quick to read story that is shroud in a pseudo-mystery. While our lead couple pretend not to know what is going on; I believe in reality they do and so they keep the idea that there is a mystery alive in order to protect one another from the truth.

Hit Close to Home
The Swap reminded me of a time in my life (about 10 years now) where I let a girl control everything about my life and happiness. It took my husband saying I was forbidden to speak to her for me to actually break the toxic cycle. I had been stuck in that cycle for almost 15 years (since I was about 10 years old).
Everything said in this book is like a ghost of what I said to myself time and time again as a teen and into my early 20's. Harding brought me right back to those insecure moments where I justified the lying, cheating, and verbal abuse because I 'needed' this friend. As such I didn't really 'enjoy' reading this. And yet I did.

The Conundrum
If you read a book and it's super impactful; but not necessarily in a happy way, does that make it a good book? I think usually the answer is yes. In this case I felt icky after reading The Swap. But I don't think that is Harding's fault. I think it's that I'm still embarrassed to say that I fell for every tactic in the book in the past; as our leading gal also does. So I guess I would say The Swap is likely to make you feel uncomfortable at times. For some you may just want to yell and shake our leading lady into oblivion because you can't believe what she's doing. I had a little of each reaction at times.

I'm always intrigued by alternate choices from monogamy. Harding asks a hard question here about 'what is sexual infidelity'? If both parties in a marriage make the exact same mistake does that make it okay? Is it infidelity? If you believed you were doing what your 'partner wanted' does that justify the action? These are all questions that The Swap asks. I'm not sure an answer is really ever given. These are very personal acts and I believe each person will react differently based on their own past experiences or existing state of any sexual relationships.

What is clear to me, by the end of the book, but also on the topic in general: truth with your partner is always the best choice. Always. It's rare that lying to 'save someone's feelings' is a good option and this is no exception. Be upfront and you will find that maybe you're not as far away from the same thought as your partner. And if you are, then accept what you've done and figure out the next steps.
Love is a funny thing and Harding really puts strain on a couple to see what will happen and who will 'break' first. While this book made me feel belittled again I think the majority of people will really enjoy it if they have read Harding in the past. Give it's outside my usual genre, got personal, and has asks tough questions; The Swap was still superbly written and well worth a look.

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Monday, August 10, 2020

Book Review: With the Fire on High

With the Fire on High 
by Elizabeth Acevedo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Contemporary teen fiction and I have a shaky past. With the Fire on High has some great moments; unfortunately it also has some cliche writing. Given what else is out there for contemporary teen novels; this is (finally) one I can straight-up endorse. Written by Elizabeth Acevedo, this is an own-voices story about a teenage girl who ended up pregnant. Unlike most teenage pregnancy books it's not about her time being pregnant. Instead it starts about 1 year after that point when she is trying to: attend high school, have a part-time job, enjoy extracurricular activities (in her case cooking), retain friends, consider a boyfriend, and take care of an almost toddler. All these thing combined turn into quite the life for our lead gal.

Love Interest
As with all contemporary teen stories there is a love interest. A cute, modest 'new kid' to the school. He is charming and completely focused on our lead girl; even after he learns she has a daughter. I want to caution everyone out there, this guy is a pretty rare breed. He doesn't push for physical contact, he's far too considerate and nice at times, and overall just feels like a unicorn among the scum of other boys available to our lead girl. I hate to tell you but he is a unicorn in real-life. Yes there are amazing boys and men out there; but, on average, you don't meet one this perfect during those tough teenage years. Why? Because few people are truly selfless as teenagers. Although I adored this boy's character and loved how sweet he was; I do question if it doesn't set-up an unrealistic expectation for teen girls reading this?

Reality of Paying Dues
Acevedo does an excellent job of helping our lead girl, and the reader, to understand what it really means to pay one's dues. Very little falls into our leading gal's lap (except a baby). She falls down and has some rough days, she laments being a teenage mom (even though she, of course, loves her daughter wholly), and she realizes that hard work is really, well, hard. I liked this portrayal that felt more realistic than most regarding the lack of sleep due to early hour and late nights; and overall worn down feeling that comes from paying ones dues. That's not to say that some miracle things don't happen in the story. They do; but it's easier to accept them when you know the recipient has worked hard.

Uncomfortable Family Issues
Here's where With the Fire on High truly shines. This is a messy family situation. A dead Mom from childbirth, a non-existent Dad, a Grandmother whose tired, a distance Aunt, and no siblings are all aspects of our leading gal's life that make up her disjointed family. I loved how Acevedo shows genuine struggles that adults have, how they are perceived by teenagers, and eventually how everyone starts to understand one another. It's important that we remind children and teens that adults are not perfect. This is something I wish I had better understood as a child. I blamed my parents for many things because I thought they were supposed to know everything. The reality is very different. It helps that a teenage Mom knows very little and so they can start to appreciate how difficult being a parent can be. The ending of this story has a very poignant moment that I think is perfect for any teen (or adult) that is struggling to understand why their family member acts a certain way. It reminds the reader that sometimes it's not at all what you think and the only way to learn that is by open, honest communication.

The cutest part of this story is easily the cooking references. There are a couple adorable recipes listed that include outrageously unspecific measurements. Our leading gal uses cooking and food to console herself. It's always great when someone's 'feel better' activity contributes in a tangible way (I often wish mine was cleaning and not reading, lol); and given the circumstances of our teenage Mom it feels perfect that she's not only a good cook; but puts her heart and soul into it.

I could tell you more about my frustrations with some of the writing in this; including the use of the let go the breathe I didn't even know I was holding line (ugh). But honestly those feel small in the overall context of what Acevedo delivers in With the Fire on High. Throughout the course of the story we are reminded that our leading gal is a teenager, doing her best and fighting through exhaustion. Given this is reality for many teenagers (and adults) it feels genuine. I think many events in the story are probably taken from real-life events. Whether ones Acevedo had herself, or those she has been told about by others. This is the perfect way to write a contemporary story, in my opinion, as it leaves reality solidly on the table.
It's rare I find a contemporary story I would recommend; but this is one of them. It's icing on the cake that it happens to be written by a black woman about a black girl. I hope more stories like this can bubble to the surface that speak of the reality of living in 'the ghetto' (as put by the leading gal in this story), paycheque to paycheque, whilst also trying to improve your life situation. The more we understand each others thoughts and struggles the more we can have empathy for one another.

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Friday, July 31, 2020

Book Review: The Engineer's Wife

The Engineer's Wife 
by Tracey Enerson Wood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whenever I read fiction based on a true story I go in skeptical. Does the story feel too perfect? Is our lead character too strong or too unbelievable? And while there are people in the world that are incredible human beings; the reality is that most of us are just average and incapable of most feats in our favourite novels. In The Engineer's Wife it's 1865; and so women are arm candy, the suffragette cause is protesting forward, and white men believe themselves to be the best of the best. Our lead character is the wife of the primary engineer whose tasked to build the Brooklyn Bridge. While the story is fascinating, deadly, and awe-inspiring at times in the end I can't quite give it five stars because of the romantic entanglement story (completely fictional). I will credit Tracey Enerson Wood however with being very honest in the afterword about what is true and what is not in this historical fiction novel.

I'm not a sucker for romances to start with; so anytime you want to try and justify why people should just fall into one another's arms instantly, or be compelled to cheat on their spouses because 'OMG the other person is just so amazing' (gag), it's going to be a hard sell. Yes I have a long-time spouse. It's a man (although be a woman) whom I've been with for 12+ years. We are not formally married (but call one another husband and wife). Neither of us is overly romantic or into the big gestures. Due to my health situation we don't have a ton of sex; nor do we take part in any overly romantic events or affairs. Why? Because that is not what the core of a relationship should be in my opinion. So when you give me a romantic story line that is seemingly 100% focused on the idea of 'good sex' and on grand moments of passion I will always remain unconvinced.
This is the problem with the developing relationship between our engineer's wife and P.T. Barnum (yes the circus man). The reality is it doesn't work because (most importantly) it probably didn't happen. This is man who made circuses famous, widely supported the thirteenth amendment to abolish slavery, and whom months after his wife of many years died married a woman 40-years younger than him. Barnum was a man of action, excitement, thrills, and didn't wait around for things to happen, he made them happen.
Thus the romantic side story and ridiculous insertion of Barnum is the entire reason this is not a 5-star book for me. While Barnum had some connection to the bridge construction; it's as though Wood thought no one would care to read the story without a famous historical figure to tote in the back blurb. I'd have much rather Barnum had a couple cameo's here or there like history tells it than have him smooching the engineer's wife time and time again.

Caisson Disease, the Bends, Depression Sickness
No matter what you call it, depressurization's affect on our bodies is intense. Those darn air bubbles wreak havoc on our ability to breathe, thus affecting the amount of oxygen our brains are getting and from there can ruin just about every aspect of how your body functions. I had no idea prior to reading The Engineer's Wife how prevalent caisson's disease was for construction workers, or the exact physics and math behind building giant bridges that was used in the late 1800's. It's impressive to me that humans were able to fathom these structures and then ultimately build them. However, they came at a price. Many lives were lost during construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and many others were destroyed from caisson's disease; including that of our primary engineer. There is a lot more death and sickness in this story than you might expect.
Caisson's disease is how a woman *gasp* ends up working directly on the Brooklyn Bridge plans and construction. If you want to be outraged by the way women were treated back then this is a great book to show it. With many references and lines like:
"Calculus. Trigonometry. Engineering. All subjects deemed unsuitable for women."

The Science and Math
I love how Wood gives enough details on engineering the bridge to whet my appetite; without going into vast amounts of detail. I understand tensile strength of steel cords, caisson building, weight allocation, and other engineering concepts better than before I read The Engineer's Wife. Yet, I never felt like the science and math were too belaboured. It is a real feat to balance a woman's suffragette story with a task as huge as building the Brooklyn Bridge. Not only does Wood do a good job in authoring this story but our leading lady does all the hard work fighting back every step of the way.
Everyone around her is gossiping, making fun, questioning her abilities, and/or deciding what political causes she can associate with because of her involvement in the construction. It makes me feel like my stories of being over looked, sexualized, or underestimated because I'm a woman are nothing next to hers. I can't decide if she would be pleased by how far we've come; or disappointed in the ~75% wage differential, number of female CEO's, that we still divide 'women's work' up in today's world.
”I set back my shoulders. To be successful in a man’s world, I would be strong.”

I did really, really enjoy this book. It's a fascinating time in New York as huge high-rises are being raised, bridges are reaching across water, and women are fighting for their rights. Wood does a great job of keeping the pace of the novel up, even if it does mean that some events are skewed (especially near the end of the story). I could forgive all of them if not for the ridiculous Barnum romance aside. Luckily the romance is not the crux of the story and each time it came up I could look forward to the next visit to the bridge site our leading lady would make or moment when she conferred with her debilitated husband over the building plans.
If you have ever had any interest in this time period, bridge building or the history of New York City I would highly recommend you read this book. Wood did a great amount of homework to put this story together for us and I"m so glad to have learned about Emily Warren Roebling and her immense contribution to the New York City skyline; and proof that women are just as smart and capable as men. I hope that I can continue my career and life in a male dominated industry (software development at this moment) with even half the dignity and courage that she had.
"Let them talk. Gossip has always been spread and there is nothing to do but to live ones life as best one can."

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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