Friday, January 31, 2020

Book Review: The Frost Eater

The Frost Eater by Carol Beth Anderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the beginning of, what looks like it will be, an epic YA fantasy series from Carol Beth.
Once I got past some of the cheesy points of The Frost Eater I really enjoyed it. You just have to get past the way our characters got their magic and a few other nuances that felt awkward to me. But hey, there are dragons! So get past the initial cheesiness and it pays off. Plus you get to look at this gorgeous cover.

Cheesy at First
The opening chapter feels like a scene from Frozen. No joke, our leading teen girl “eats ice” and can produce pretty snow and ice magic, just like Elsa. She’s even a princess just to put the icing on the cake. But here’s the thing... once I got over the way our magic users “fuel up” (by eating certain items) I loved the magic. It’s interesting, unique, and yet familiar so it took me very little time to slide into the magical lore. I really like that the magic runs out; like your strength and stamina do.
Which brings me to cheesy issue number 2. These people are Earth humans... whom got magic in a way they aren’t sure of and live on a different planet than Earth. I’ll leave more of the details out for you to discover on your own; but essentially the construct is this is a post-apocalyptic human existence with a lot of fantastical magical twists. The human/Earth connection felt unnecessary to me. The history is mostly irrelevant in book one but maybe it plays a part in the future books? I’d have preferred Anderson just built her own world and didn’t include humans or Earth at all.

Great Series Start
There is a lot of story to tell here still. We get a semi-end; but it does lead into a cliffhanger for book two (out Sept 2020). A lot is unknown about why certain magic works, what caused major past events and a multitude of other things. I assume, and it feels like, Anderson has a plan and will reveal more and more as the series moves on which is very exciting!

I was really enamoured with all of our characters; but I held a personal preference for the manly guard that is one of our four teenage main characters. We get glimpses of events and thoughts from each POV; but the majority of the story is told via our lead princess. There was a moment where I felt like pieces of The Frost Eater were reminiscent of A Curse So Dark and Lonely (which I loved); however, these are teen characters and there is more of a YA basis and feel here. Additionally the romance story is far from the main focus.

Romance & Plot
The Frost Eater is definitely in the YA/teen genre. So be prepared for our characters to have multiple love interests, first kiss excitement and all that teenage lust/love stuff. Thankfully the romances aren’t the core story; they are more of a driver for a couple plot points and flow naturally given the close proximity and deadly circumstances our characters find themselves in; never mind a lack of people and friends our princesses age to interact with.
The actual plot is politically driven and Anderson keeps the reader guessing who is involved throughout. None of the instances felt convenient (my usual complaint with YA books) and everything doesn’t go “as planned” which is important to me in a story; because nothing goes as planned in real life.
Additionally Anderson ensures to have details another sustainment of life including bathroom needs, food, water, sleep, etc. No one is seemingly indestructible and injuries don’t heal magically (until they are healed with magic, lol); and there isn’t really a replacement for sleep. This attention to detail makes the story feel more real for me and I appreciate that Anderson gives them a place throughout.

The Frost Eater is a solid YA fantasy choice. Especially given it’s an indie book. I’m surprised that Anderson hasn’t been picked up by a major publisher as she has a number of series that are well done and deserve to sit on a shelf next to today’s hyped YA fantasy picks. Although as I write that I realize she has perhaps kept herself indie to keep some control; but I’m speculating.
If the introduction and way our characters fuel up their magic was a little less cheesy this could just reach a five-star rating. As always four-stars from me means it’s a solid read and I would recommend it to others with small caveats; in this case our Frozen start has to be pushed through, but otherwise I believe most will enjoy this series introduction.
It’s definitely worth the $0 price on KU! And quite affordable in other formats making it well worth trying out to see if it’s for you. I’m now counting down the days to September 2020 for book 2!

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Book Review: On the Mountain

On My Mountain by François Aubineau

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a really cool children's book. It reads one way from one POV and then you flip it over and it reads the same story from a different POV. So very clever! This allows children to understand that there are always two sides to the story. In this case we have the point of view of a wolf and their children, compared to a human and their children.

If you were to take the two stories and lay them side-by-side you'd see that each panel/spread is the same comment (or similar) and that each believes they have a stake in the food, wildlife, beauty, etc. of the area. Additionally we learn that both are afraid of the other and caution their children against interaction out of fear. And while wolves and humans don't tend to mix; this is an excellent showcasing that sometimes we're just afraid of the unknown and not necessarily because someone poses a threat to the other.

Translated from French, illustrated and written by a French Canadian. I'm very proud to say this story was made by a fellow Canadian. The illustrations are simple bit beautiful and I love that the use of the traditional sketch medium alongside the digital colour overlays used. It's the perfect harmony; and feels appropriate give the topic of the book. The moral is that we should always find a way to live side-by-side and not have fear; but instead respect. A wonderful little story that is perfect for bedtime.

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Book Review: The Storm Crow

The Storm Crow (The Storm Crow, #1)The Storm Crow by Kalyn Josephson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For a debut novel, in the flooded teen fantasy genre, The Storm Crow provides what I was hoping for with a little twist here and there. The easiest way to describe this is expect the Crows to be equivalent to Dragons in most stories.

There are politics, different countries (at war of course), and strong relationships. Not only are there some partners meeting up, but also lovely friendships and even some sisterhood moments. This places Kalyn Josephson in a category above most of the average YA writers of today; as she was able to create love in more than just the average pairing.

I would be surprised to learn if Josephson hasn’t had some mental health moments in her life. The descriptions and emotions of our lead gal who is suffering from depression are very well done. And instead of having the depression last a day and magically getting it better; The Storm Crow focuses on finding our lead gal purpose and inspiring her to have desires.

I’m really impressed with Josephson’s first book. If she continues to improve on what she has begun in The Storm Crow I’m confident she will be the next big teen fantasy author. Her pacing, descriptions, world building and characters are all at a quality above the average author in this genre. The more I think about this book the more I feel my four stars might be too low. So consider this one a solid 4 stars with an opportunity to jump to 5 if the sequel carries forward on par or stronger.
I just need to keep remembering that a giant Crow is as cool and sleek as a Dragon. 😉

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Friday, January 17, 2020

Book Review: Do You Have Kids?

Do You Have Kids?: Life When the Answer Is NoDo You Have Kids?: Life When the Answer Is No by Kate Kaufmann

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been trying to write a comprehensive review for this book for months. And I just can't seem to really get my feelings and emotions on the page. On one hand I'm sooo thankful to Kate Kaufmann for writing this book and doing as much research as she did. Interviewing women, getting statistics, compiling thoughts, etc. On the other side I'm disappointed that so many women have experienced what I have over the years; judgement and rudeness over their choice (or inability) to have children. So instead here is a review that is more high level.
PS: If you want my story/situation please read it below this review.

The first half of Do You Have Kids? is a wonderful read about all these women from different walks of life. I found many were saying things I've said or had sentiments I've thought. It was nice to connect with them.

The second half was a bit disappointing. It focused almost exclusively on end of life care and estate wealth. I understand that I am 100% responsible for my own end of life care; but to me that's not because I don't have children, but because everyone should be responsible for their own end of life care. I'm disappointed to learn that the norm is still to burden children with their elderly parents. I don't like this mentality as it puts too much pressure on the children and not enough on the adult who should have been anticipating their own needs as they age.
I did however determine that a large amount of my estate (if anything is left but books, lol) will be donated to my local library. I was struck by the thought during reading this last half of the book that most children today are benefiting from public and/or charitable donations made by those without children. Ironic in a way; but also proof that childless people still contribute a lot to society and the future of the human race.

I would recommend this to anyone that is childless by choice or not. I'd also recommend buying this for a struggling family member or friend that doesn't get why someone would select not to have children. It will (hopefully) help them understand that it's not about being selfish. It's about being realistic, pursuing personal happiness and not allowing being female to dictate how we must live our lives. Overall this is an excellent read; but it was emotionally draining for me on many levels.

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

Why I don't have children:
1) Even as a teenager I didn’t want biological children. I was always a bit out off by the idea of a child growing inside me and figured if I had children they would be adopted.
2) at 23 years old I was told that I have a very low chance of carrying a baby to term and would need a “scraping” surgery (yep as awful as it sounds) to even try conceiving a child.

It is said that 1 in 5 women are infertile and I’ve always been okay with being that infertile woman so my friends can have babies. I actually love babies; but have a hard one with kids in the 6-12 range. I also never felt like I would be a Mom. It just didn’t seem right for me.

A therapist I saw one time told me that it is possible that I inherently knew I couldn’t have children and so never imagined a life with kids. I just wasn’t that child that had visions of my wedding or motherhood.

The hardest part was the years I spent knowing for sure kids were off the table when I dated heavily. It was before online dating was really a thing (yeah I’m old, lol) and so I always had to broach the topic with prospective partners at some point because it’s a deal breaker for so many.
And then I re-met (we had dated before) my (now) husband after a five year break and told him on the second day back hanging out that I couldn’t have children. He was the first partner to tell me that thrilled him; as he also has no interest in having biological children. 😊

The moral of the story: Having kids is the largest deal breaker of them all. Make sure your partner is on the same page. It's okay if they aren't; but then you have to know to walk away. You won't convince them otherwise and if you do they may begrudge you forever because you stole their chance to have a typical family unit. 

BUT... and this is a big one for me personally. I am 'Auntie' not by blood or marriage to many wonderful small children. I love my friends children and try to be important in their lives. My hope is that I will be the adult they come to in the future when they don't want a "parent" to lecture them but need help or advice. I am lucky to have so many lovely children in my life and I work hard to make time for them and ensure they know they are loved. It's not being a parent; but it doesn't mean I'm not an important person to some children in the world. And that is more than enough for me. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Book Review: The Vine Witch

The Vine Witch (Vine Witch, #1)The Vine Witch by Luanne G. Smith

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF at 35%
Whomever wrote the blurb for this book should be given a talking to. Not once in that entire blurb does it mention romance, love interest, growing attraction, or any of the key words I would expect given the clear and obvious intent of The Vine Witch to be a romance novel. It's okay for it to be a romance novel, but tell me that up-front so that I'm not disappointed. 

Luanne G. Smith does a few other disservices to her novel in the first 35% that I read.
Here are a few points that really bothered me:

  • Smith assumed that five pages of our lead gal being a frog/toad is enough for us to hate whomever cursed her. We never find out what she might have done wrong or how it came about (up to the 35% point) so I guess we are just supposed to 'trust' that our gal was wrong.
  • Similar to the above issue, we are presented with a 'bad guy' that is a classic successful business man whom wants to take over everything. Seriously put a guy in a black hat and suit, any bad guy from Dallas or other soap operas and you've got this guy. But again we don't really know what he's done. We know there are some charms that have been put in place; but no one actually establishes they are his or that he is aware of them. Being a shrewd business man doesn't necessarily make you evil. And yet the fierceness with which are lead gal wants his death is somehow supposed to mean something to me...?
  • Who buys a property with a locked door and doesn't insist on seeing inside? I mean come on...
  • If you want to combine the idea of the science that goes into wine making (which is fairly complex) and magic, I'm okay with it. But I need a way to connect the two. It can't be that science is all out and magic is all in, or the other way around. Find a way to make them harmonious.
  • And finally, if you are going to be a romance novel then you need to set the precedent of why our gal or guy might be intrigued or interested in the other. With the exception of proximity and no other characters around of the right age I couldn't figure out what would attract our two characters to one another.

Overall, I'd pass on this one unless you care a lot about wine, silly romances, or revenge magic. Don't let the pretty cover fool you.

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Book Review: Storm Glass

Storm Glass by Jeff Wheeler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whew! This book really surprised me. The main two girls POV we get are so well done. The economic and social lessons are brilliant. The plot is fast and interesting. I would love to see this picked up by a major publisher so it isn’t restricted to Kindle. Because of the kindle only format, I had to read this book on my phone instead of my e-reader. However it’s a testament to how well done it is that I didn’t mind reading on my phone one bit.

World Building
Normally what Jeff Wheeler has done to simplify any complex world building that might be needed would bug me. For some reason in this structure and with our younger lead gals I didn't mind that the answer to everything supernatural, unknown or unexplained (ie: floating islands, floating buildings, etc.) being:
"Of course, it was all explained by the Mysteries, which meant it wasn’t to be explained at all.”
I mean could you leave yourself any more room to be vague and have things just magically happen? I dunno if it's because of our younger lead characters, or just because Wheeler convinced me, but I didn't hate this explanation. Also perhaps I tolerate this answer because there is promise that the Mysteries are explained to those who pass certain educational milestones and that our lead gals might each get there. Which just makes me want to keep reading the books in this series! So maybe Wheeler is just clever and knew how to hook me in.

Lead Girls
The two point of views (first person) that we get in Storm Glass are from two younger girls (I think they were 10-12). One whom is very privileged and one who has come from the dirt of nothing up to privilege in the blink of an eye. At first I wanted more of the poorer girl's story from before she was 'saved'. But as time went by I realized that Wheeler was telling those stories in small snippets as our poorer gal experiences the grandeur of the privileged society she is thinking the stories of her past; which we then experience. Both girls are relatable and likeable in their own ways.
Each chapter with their POV tended to go on fairly long and everytime I didn't want to leave that girl's POV; until I got a couple pages in to the next POV and felt the same again. Wheeler has very compelling writing.

Genre Novel
For sure Wheeler has given us the beginning of the series (called Harbinger) that is fairly genre typical. We have some characters who differ, a fantasy world, socio-economics, and the ever endearing politics of said world. Then we have the fantastical Mysteries, some shady folks, and some really fun locations to visit. Storm Glass felt like a book I'd read a thousand times and would love to read a thousand times more. It was comfortable and felt like it fit in my brain nicely not unlike: LOTR, Shannara, WoT, and other (slightly older) fantasy does. For this reason some may find it 'dated' in its style. But for this girl, who was born in 1983 and read GoT at 16, it felt perfect.

The biggest downfall to this book is that I can't get it on my Kobo as it's Kindle only. Seriously TOR or Orbit need to jump on this series like now!
I am however going to order myself the series in paperback so I can enjoy it in all it's printed glory. I'm very happy to have found a unique but comfortable series to fall into.

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Book Review: The House at the End of the Road

The House at the End of the Road by Kari Rust

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are lots of things to like about Kari Rust's second children's book. As both author and illustrator she has a unique opportunity to control all aspects of the story. However Rust doesn't do this as effectively as I would have liked her to.
The cover and blurb imply this is a scary story, and it is, sort of. I know five year old children who would be sooo disappointed that there are only two pages of 'ghosts' and the rest is just about (albeit cool) old stuff. I would have liked the suspense of a possible ghost to extend longer, maybe a second trip before they tell Grandma(?) That said there are many younger children who may find this a little bit intense. If your child tends to be afraid of Disney villains than on first read be prepared for a bit of fright. However the beauty here is there is no real ghost and so subsequent reads are likely to be fun.

The part I don't like about this story, and my primary reason for only giving it three stars is that the elderly gentleman is just taken away from his home. It disturbs me to think that we are teaching children that old people are just removed from unsafe places. This is definitely not the norm in big cities and feels like a side effect of the story that Rust was perhaps not intending to imply. I also don't like that all his items were gone. Where did they go? Did he get them? His family? It's a little too loose for me and I can see many children asking where his stuff went and no (easy) answer being forthcoming.
With some tweaks this could be an amazing children's story. Unfortunately for me it doesn't quite hit the mark and leaves too many questions unanswered.

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Book Review: The Very, Very Far North

The Very, Very Far NorthThe Very, Very Far North by Dan Bar-el

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very cute chapter book for kids. There are lots of good, challenging vocabulary words, a few science moments and lots of morals about family and friendship. I enjoyed the Polar setting and our lead character, a Polar Bear, is easy to connect with. He moves to a new place and has to find a home, friends and discover what is all around him on his own. Luckily he doesn't stay alone for long and finds many adventures to go on.
A very smart thing done in The Very, Very Far North is that each chapter begins with a line saying what the last thing was that happened. This is clearly written to be read one chapter each night with a child. To me this is brilliant. Especially if you don't read the same book every night (ie: kids that live at different homes or time restrictions).
There are lots of good quotable lines like:
"You can have hopes and you can have goals, but a day will take you where a day wants to go."

Overall this is a cute book about finding your way in the big scary world and that sometimes just leaving your front door is an adventure. Each animal is unique and has its own characteristics (the anxious musk ox is a favourite of mine). Comparisons to Winnie-the-Pooh aren't wrong necessarily; but with the lack of a human character in the story there is more of a connection (I think) to our lead bear.

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Book Review: We Went to the Woods

We Went to the WoodsWe Went to the Woods by Caite Dolan-Leach

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There's an ominous feel to We Went to the Woods at the beginning. Our narrator (lead gal) is telling us the story after it's happened and so we know that whatever the scenario was it didn't go exactly well for her; although she did survive. The first few chapters give us a basic set-up of our lead gal and her current circumstances; as well as introduce us to the other four people who make up the core of the characters that live on the 'homestead' with our lead gal eventually. And of course we get the rhetoric about sustainability and climate change. Let's talk about that first:

Moral Message
You can't go into a book like Caite Dolan-Leach has written and not expect to be lectured about how the Earth is dying and we are the cause. There is a very, very strong message here that our current way of life in first world countries is going to end badly (as we all know already) and that we should look to alternatives to resolve the issue. In the case of We Went to the Woods the 'solution' is to live on a homestead where they only eat locally sourced items or ones they grew themselves. There is talk of the planning that is involved in preparing for winter and other logistical items that would come up. I liked that the specifics of the homestead were addressed and that the novel is set in a place where there is a true winter.

I'd like to say there is more plot here than there is. There is an attempt at plot that includes a weird nearby cult-like group, some environmental protests, sexual relations amoungst our homestead characters and other random things; but at no time is there ever anything driving the story forward except that existence is perceived as linear. So time just moves forward. It's not enough for me and felt more like I was reading a very boring diary than a story that I was invested in.

The reality is that We Went to the Woods is just boring after about 100 pages. No one really cares enough to read about cutting wood, growing vegetables, or other basic rustic living tasks. And while random things happen like a bear trap is found, some relations between characters, a storm or two; nothing really 'happens' in a way that feels like it matters. The sub-plot of the local 'cult' that lives nearby was not enough for me, and was so cliche that I felt like it was stolen right from a hundred books before it. I just never felt like there was anything interesting enough to really latch onto. So I forced myself to finish this one because it was needed for a challenge. Sad but true.

The best part of We Went to the Woods is that Dolan-Leach has clearly lived in a cold place or researched it really well. The snowy, cold winter months are handled superbly. As a Canadian this is a big pet peeve of mine with survival based books and it was nice for things like frostbite to be handled appropriately. Otherwise I struggle to come up with anything that I felt was worthwhile in this story. The way cults lure in members is not new, the idea of survival on local aspects only is not new, and the weird relationships people cultivate in small quarters is just not enough either. Especially knowing that at any time these characters can drive out to town and be a part of 'regular society' again takes away most danger that presents itself.
There might be a story to be told here but it would need to be re-worked and handled in a different way to really be worthy of telling.

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Stitching: Brooke's Books Ornament Finish

I finished two whole stitched item in 2019 (ABC Sampler) and this piece that I started on Dec 3. How sad is that? (LOL) 
I have a cousin who is 7 years old and her family lives in the same city as me. Most of my family doesn't live where I do. As I'm (obviously) much older than her she often refers to me as Auntie Mel. Along with many other amazing children that I get to be Auntie to without a family/blood connection. 
This year I decided I wanted to do a 'fancy' ornament up for her. As I'm a terrible finisher I decided to do a perforated paper ornament that could then be layered and assembled. I love Brooke's ornaments as they use beads, Krenik, ribbon, etc. but are easy to stitch up and put together. For those new to these supplies perforated paper is the perfect way to learn to use any of these supplies for the first time. 
I really wanted to have her name on it somewhere and so as I was flipping through Christmas ornament patterns I had I came across this Brooke's one from a Just Cross Stitch ornament magazine. The four stocking's made me realize that my cousin's name, Evie, is also four letters. I then giggled when I saw that the original word 'give' has all the letters from her name in it! Clearly this was a sign. So in my version below the stockings make up her name. I also changed a couple of the colours just because of what I had on hand for supplies. 
I'm really pleased with my glue gun skills (lol) to put this together. Each stocking, ribbon, and the kitty are attached to the larger figure. Here she is in all her glory:  

Normally I would commit to stitching more, blogging more, or some other thing here based on the date; but let's not fool ourselves into believing any of those things are going to happen even if I try to commit to them. So I'll casually be trying to stitch and post more... I did make a list of things I'd like to give more 'attention' to and one of the is posting here (and responding to a fellow stitcher and reader Leonore!) more often. Another is trying to avoid the trap of cell phone games and social media so I spend my time in a more meaningful way.