Saturday, March 28, 2020

Book Review: The Hollow Boy

The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We could probably get a lot more kids to read if all middle grade books were this exciting, spine-chilling, and intriguing! Lockwood & Co series proves that the Goosebumps books I read as a child were mild in comparison. I'm so glad that today's kids have this kind of amazing writing and story-telling to read instead of some cheesy Goosebumps books (that while fun lack the depth of story telling and characterization we get here).

New Girl = Jealousy
I really liked the girl/girl jealousy that immediately springs up between Lucy and (new girl) Holly. Jonathan Stroud really hit the nail on the head when he write the snippy, hurtful, sarcastic comments that these two girls throw at each other. I felt at times like I was re-living a few childhood moments between myself and other girls. Stroud makes it a clear point, by the end, that both girls are jealous of one another for no reason whatsoever. And why? Because us gals have been taught to be wary of other girls. We are supposed to 'win'; be is the boy, the race, or the popularity contest; and so we tend to be wary of new females in our comfort zones (even if it's undeserved or unfair).

There are a number of great models for friendship in The Hollow Boy. Stroud continues with our terrific trio of Lockwood, George, and Lucy of course. But he also brings back lesser loved Kipp and his team; plus new gal (mentioned above) Holly. The Kipp dynamic is a carry-over from the previous two books and I like how, in the end, both team of agents always ends up helping one another in some way, shape, or form. Our Lockwood-should-be-with-who dilemma continues; and of course he has swashbuckling moments where his hair is flowing perfectly as he jumps *eye roll*. I make fun but I know 11 year old me would have eaten it up like candy.

Plot & Ghosts
The story is really where Lockwood & Co books shine. While our characters are well done and interesting; it's all about the haunting problem in London. Without the ghosts we'd have nothing to be chilled by. We are introduced to more types of Type Two ghosts in The Hollow Boy, a couple super creepy presences (ick to all the spiders!), and in the end a hoard of... well I can't tell you! You'll have to read up to find out. But let's put it this way; there are more ghosts in this book than any of the previous two combined. Oh, and our skull buddy is back. He has to be one of my favourite 'people' (is he people?) in the series. Sarcastic, mean, and all around self-serving; the skull is a great reminder that people can be both good and bad at the exact same time.

My husband calls me a wuss when I read these books because I have been known to actually shiver from Stroud's incredible descriptions and atmospheric tension. The sense of disaster that lingers throughout The Hollow Boy (in a few different ways) keeps you on the edge of your seat. Each time I picked this book up I didn't want to put it down (resulting in two very late nights, lol). Stroud has taken the idea of child ghost hunters, which is already a bit disturbing, and elevated them to just the right level. He allow this series to remain middle grade (no gore) but still be creepy enough to make you think twice about turning the light off.
If you need to get a child who loves creepy things into reading; then I would highly recommend this series. If you're a teen or adult that wants something that is nice and easy to read, a bit scary, and has great writing then this series is for you.

Finally... that ending!! Oh that ending! I need to find out how quickly I can get book 4 delivered to my house (all our bookstores are closed at time of writing this due to COVID-19) because it's a 'necessity' for me to read it now! (lol) I'll leave you with one of Stroud's chapter ending sentences; that always pulls the reader onto the next page.
"Yes, all the living inhabitants of the store had left.
But that didn’t mean we were alone.
Of course not. After dark, we never are."
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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Book Review: The Toll

The Toll (Arc of a Scythe, #3)The Toll by Neal Shusterman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Overall this was a disappointing closure to the trilogy given how amazing I thought book 1 and 2 were. I had hoped for more. Defining what that 'more' is however, is kind of difficult. As though I wasn't sure what I wanted; but I know this isn't it. For the record, this is an awful thing to say to artist and is not helpful feedback at all. However it is how I feel right now. Maybe breaking this down will help give some definition to my let down feeling.

Whether intentional or not Neal Shusterman has created a dictator that reminds me of Donald Trump in Goddard. I don't think this was an intentional choice per say, it is just reflective of worldwide politics right now and how there is a massive power struggle going on. We keep seeing examples of the dictatorship model to the communist model. Of course in reality, as with Goddard, everything falls somewhere in the middle of the two extremes there are certainly leanings certain ways. I was a bit disappointed that Goddard was used as a pawn in the story and felt less human, even after that one big twist.
"Language means what they choose; dictionary be damned."

Pre-Chapter Snippets
One of my favourite things about the previous two books were the journal entries of book 1 or the Thunderhead's internal commentary at the beginning of the chapters. In The Toll Shusterman gives us snippets of future civilizations discovering elements or relics of the one we are currently experiencing. And of course, they inevitably assume certain things and get it wrong. I of love this because it shows how often we are likely to have misinterpreted ancient history or relics. These snippets remain one of my favourite parts of this series.

As expected there are a number of twists and turns that we encounter in The Toll. Some more obvious than others. Unfortunately there also seems to be a lot of filler. I didn't really need to experience certain aspects of the discovery of an island, or what some of the side characters were up to. I missed more of our two MC's. I really just wanted Scythe Anastasia and Scythe Lucifer and their direct narrative. I would have been fine with discovering many of the events that happen through their eyes; instead of experiencing the event through a minor characters eyes and then again glazing over it as our MCs encounter the scenario. It just felt unnecessary and made me bored overall.
Important work often loses the spotlight to self-important people"

Politically Impact
I could see this series having a large impact on younger reads. Those who perhaps haven't seen as much history unfold, understand politics in-depth (and how they are really just human nature), or encountered a truly persuasive person, may find the concepts in The Toll hold more impact than those of us who are older. This is entirely appropriate, given this is YA/teen book. I wish I had had this series to read when I was a teen; but alas at 37 I'm perhaps too jaded to really buy into many of the concepts presented here.

While not a 'bad' book, it's certain not the ending I was hoping for with a series that I loved this much. Perhaps it was ultimately too predictable of an ending, or Shusterman just lost track of who his 'MC' amoungst all the events happening. Either way it wasn't enough for me and didn't live up to my love of the first two books.
I would still recommend this series to many people; but with a caveat that third book is not as strong as the rest.

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Book Review: Eunice and Kate

Eunice and Kate by Mariana Llanos

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A very cute, little story about two girls who live side-by-side in an attached townhouse. The illustrations are lovely! I really appreciated a number of things about this story. Starting with the girls living in a city, in a shared basement dwelling. It shows that they are not rich. This point is then further emphasized when each mom gets a page describing what she does for a living (hairdresser and baker), and how they sometimes don't have enough money. Eunice and Kate feels very authentic right from the start. I suspect that many little girls (and maybe boys?) will have a strong connection with it. These are two normal gals with a home situation that many children are likely to be in. Whether it's having one parent, shared housing, or knowing they aren't very rich.

The story continues on to be about what the girls want to be when they grow-up. It's a wonderful story of friendship and how it's easy to see differences; but harder to see similarities sometimes. There's a strong moral here about friendship, and that being different from one another is a good thing, because we can always find some common ground and continue to be friends (even when we disagree).
A great book to pick-up. Short enough to be bedtime length to read to littler ones; but also easy enough to be read by those just starting to read aloud.

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, March 23, 2020

Stitching: New Start & Alice

I can't help but laugh (lest I cry) at the irony of the two reasons I have stitching updates to share with you today: 
First is that I was laid off from my government job (due to budget cuts) 5 weeks ago. I was crushed and very upset. That has taken me time to digest and start to figure out what is next. Just as I was feeling like I could get things on track and find a new job the second major event happened, the announcement of COVID-19 virus as a pandemic. Canada immediately reacted (of course) and started shutting down events, gatherings, and asking people to self-isolate and stay home where possible. Since that March 11th day it has been a whirlwind for the entire world. No one (okay maybe the Antarctic penguins) has been left untouched by this crisis and it will be remembered for generations to come. 

Both these events has left me with time to do things. For a little while I couldn't even concentrate or figure out 'what' to do. Here I am at home (where I usually love to be) with all my hobbies around me (ie: stitching, reading, comics, puzzles, etc.) and at a loss for what to do. How can this be? 
Slowly I've realized that it's part of being stunned. Two whammies in a row have nearly paralyzed me into playing cell phone games and napping. Thankfully the Internet (while often a big sucking hole of time) has connected me with many people (as always) and I've received some inspiration from those people; and so I have stitching to share! 

This is a new start for me by Kelsyn's. It's one of 16 motifs from her Itty Bitty's pattern. I have been starkly reminded why dark fabrics are so much tougher to stitch on, and even pulled my magnifier out for this one. But I do love the way the colours pop so far. I'm hoping to fit 6 motifs on this black piece of 36ct evenweave. 

And I have worked on Alice! I know you're all shocked. One of my 'goals' recently was to actually pull her out a lot more often. And you know I'm reminded that I love stitching her once I have it all going; it's just finding motivation to grab her as she's large and a bit unwieldy. Nevertheless I am committed to making Alice happen. And so here is the latest little area I worked on and a picture of the larger piece completed from right before I added more stitches yesterday. 

I hope everyone is staying safe, practicing social distancing, trying to stay as calm as possible, and reacquainting themselves with some at home hobbies! Or maybe even trying something new. 

Book Review: The Chelsea Girls

The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As always, Fiona Davis delivers in this startling story about life post-WWII in the theater industry in NYC. This was a time when the FBI and USA government was going crazy about finding the infiltrating communists. So much so that they accused innocent people and ruined many people's lives. Davis does a fabulous job of telling this story.

The Chelsea Hotel
Yes it's a real place. And yes it hosted many celebrities and artists (of all kinds) over the years. I love the little drops of descriptions during the book that are clearly famous people you likely know; but Davis doesn't use their names as our (fictional) characters don't know these celebs at this time. This hotel is noted for many crazy events; but perhaps most famous for being where Sid Vicious (of the Sex Pistols) is said to have murdered Nancy Spungen in the 1970's.
I love how Davis always chooses a prominent, historical building to feature in her stories. In this case the Chelsea Hotel feels like a character at times. As though the hotel is living, breathing, and dictating people's lives. Is it fate or the hotel pushing who ends up in an elevator together and/or who chooses to stay overnight? I love the drama of it and the mystery it creates.
"The Chelsea Hotel. A 'she', like a lumbering redbrick ship filled with foolish dreamers,"

Fiction vs Truth
As with so many historical books these days the core story and characters are fiction; but a lot of truth is incorporated. Davis describes her inspirations at the back of the book and gives a fulsome list of resources she used to research the historical events and people of the time. For me nothing felt off, although the communist hunt is not something I know about super well. What is important in the end is that the stories of our fictional characters could be 100% true and are certainly truthful in many ways. And of course the power struggles, greed, and selfishness of those with even a tiny bit of power are still very true today.
"The world is run by men who want power, who will say anything to attain it, and do anything to retain it."

Scary Truths, Even for Today
As I type this it is March 23, 2020 and we are in the midst of the COVID-19 virus crisis with no known 'end' in sight. Civil liberties are being taken away from many as areas lock down all unnecessary movement in entire countries! The slippery slope mentioned in the quote below certainly rang true to me; as governments are making the best decisions they can in this unknown playing field. I imagine this is not unlike the choice by many European countries to surrendered to the Nazis in WWII or when to enter into another war (the Korean War is mentioned a number of times). And it's certainly true that people were hunted down for being suspected communists, detained unjustly with no actual evidence, and pressured into false confessions during this time. All pieces of the story Davis touches on; and all possible scary realities that may be in our (not so) near future.
"Of course, she had nothing to hide. But it was the principle of the matter, the slippery slope into censorship, that irked her to no end."

I believe I would have loved this book irregardless of what is happening in the world today. It was just 'luck' that it came up for me to read at this moment. The Chelsea Girls felt like the perfect read to draw parallels between then and now; but also gave a sense of security. I don't believe agents are banging on doors accusing people unfairly of treason in Canada and so at least one piece of the past will hopefully not repeat itself.
The Cold War saw many things happen that would have been unthinkable prior to WWII; and today is no different. We are always living in unprecedented times. The thing about history is that we should ensure we pay attention and learn from it. The below quote really resonated with me in the end; even though I believe lock downs are the only way to fight the virus it is a sobering thought that we have reached this point in 2020.
"We must promise to be vigilant against our own worst tendencies. Only by doing so will our country sustain it's ideals of freedom."

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, March 10, 2020

Book Review: The Chalk Giraffe

The Chalk Giraffe by Kirsty Paxton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This imagination filled story is very cute! Our young girl starts off with a giraffe but it doesn't remain alone.
With every second line that rhymes, bright colourful chalk art (on dark blackboard backgrounds), and a fun but legible font; every page of this book is adorable.

The story is simple enough; and at exactly the moment I was thinking our giraffe was getting kind of demanding our little girl calls him out! Just perfect. As the story progresses other elements and animals are added (even a snake, my favourite!). Resulting in a beautiful little ending about companionship and showing a wonderful use of imagination.

The only thing to be aware of here is there are some very complex words that adults will want to make sure they can explain. The three that stood out to me were: 'forlorn', 'genet' (I had to look up a picture of this medium sized cat up to see what it is), and 'acacia tree'. These same words, plus a couple others are great for kids to learn; but may stump a newer child reader as they are not used in everyday language.

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, March 9, 2020

Book Review: The Memory Thief

The Memory Thief by Lauren Mansy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The concept and bones of this world and story are amazing; sadly they haven’t been given the space to transpire, breathe and sink in for the reader. I feel like there is a trilogy or at least 1000 page epic story here; and it’s been ruined by being chopped down or rushed into ~300 pages, one POV, and for a broad audience; instead of the darker feel I hoped for from the blurb.

Unfortunately Lauren Mansy has made a critical error. One of my number one pet peeves in writing is convenience or too much luck. Our leading gal sure seems to know everyone in the realm and they are always super nice to her and helpful. Is there not one person (besides our clear bad guys) that lives in this land that isn't all for her?
What's worse is that I would expect in a world where memories are sold to the highest bidder (and lost to the original person forever) that you'd forget lots of people over the years because you sold all their memories or the memory of what their name is, where they are from, etc.

If anyone has a timeline of the events during The Memory Thief I'd love to see it. To me as the reader I thought only a couple days passed by. Yet there are multiple comments made by our first person leading lady about how she felt someone had "changed so much" since she last saw them or something had evolved or grown which really confused me. I'd love to really know how much time actually passes from the beginning through each event to the end.

There is so much that could have been explored here inside this unique construct of a world. But within ~300 pages and so much plot it's just not possible to do the story or characters justice. I wish this was a trilogy, with a broader arc, more opportunity to explore the memory situations created, and a lot more time for our characters to live, learn, and grow.

I just wanted a lot more from a book with such a great idea/concept (and beautiful cover). I know The Memory Thief is Mansy's debut novel and so I would consider reading another of her future books. I really hope that she takes the time (and her publisher allows her) to really explore her ideas and characters further. Mansy is young and so I have great hopes for her abilities to grow and become a solid addition to the YA fantasy (or adult fantasy) genre.

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, March 3, 2020

Book Review: The Veil

The Veil: A Post Apocalyptic Bio-Punk Survival Thriller (The Redemption Series Book 1)The Veil: A Post Apocalyptic Bio-Punk Survival Thriller by Torstein Beck

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a straight-up dystopian horror survival story. If you're hoping for something new, different or a big twist you won't find it here. I predicted (most of) the ending at about the halfway mark; which is a bit frustrating. However that didn't make me want to put The Veil down.

This high-paced, well written story will keep you on the edge of your seat when the fighting starts. Some writers have a knack for action and some don't. It's clear to me that Torstein Beck has a talent for action. Our characters go from calm to panicked and into flight or fight mode with a fluidity that feels genuine. I'd love to read a sword fight written by Beck because if this is what they can do with guns and monsters I can only imagine how awesome a straight-up sword fight could be.

Writing and Dialogue
I'd definitely read another book by Beck as the writing style and pacing of The Veil is perfect. At times my heart was racing, the gore was as expected, and the dialogue had it's witty moments. The character conversations are part of what really makes this a great book. You gotta appreciate dialogue like this:
"Nothing like a bit of humour to take the edge off impending death.”
You'll have to read The Veil to find out what the joke was. *wink*

Where's the Science
I dunno what bio-punk is supposed to mean exactly but I was expecting more of a scientific read than I got. The science is there but not to any detail level that will satisfy those hoping for Michael Crichton or Blake Crouch level explanations. Our 'past' timeline scientists are messing with gene splicing and (of course) it doesn't turn out quite like they hoped. But don't expect to understand even the basics of gene splicing here. Read Jurassic Park for a better understanding of 'filling in' the genome to create new creatures.
Although geek me really wants to analyse the data collected during all the events of this story (in both timelines). As a data analyst I'm just imagining the possibilities of finding correlations!

The Veil is worthy of 3.5 stars in my mind. Had the ending been something other than what I, more or less, expected it might have made it all the way to 4 stars. Unfortunately the 'twist' is too predictable and lacks real climax worthiness. To get to 5 stars I would have wanted more of a scientific story that allowed me to learn about gene splicing (even if only theoretical) and had more focus on animalistic senses of our creatures.

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

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Monday, March 2, 2020

Book Review: Stories I Can't Show My Mother

Stories I Can’t Show My Mother by Ann Tinkham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A few gems, a dud, and some typical anthology stories. Here’s my thoughts on each of them:

Story #1 - Direct Deposit
The end of this story is highly unlikely; but it’s kind of cute that our MC is so uncomfortable with the idea of a sperm donor.
"She was someone who wasn’t afraid to use words such as “masturbation,”“ejaculation,” and "sperm count." The words sounded a little less obscene when said with a British accent."

Story # 2 - Needle Man Sticks Bat Girl
"But it was hard to find bat cave jobs, unless one were an animated character in Gotham City. Which I’m not, unfortunately."
Damn. I wish I was an animated character in Gotham too. But my gal won’t have a bat cave; she’ll have a fun house.

Story #3 - Chairs in Air
"People expected or at least weren’t shocked when artists were nonplussed, anarchic, and chaotic."
This one is short and yet it feels like a love story I might actually like to read. Dang.

Story #4 - The Sweetness of Salt
This story is funny, yet genuine in a ‘everyone’s life is like this’ kind of way. . An erotica writer who is tired of finding alternate words for penis has had enough.
"She wondered if she would ever be able to rescue her sex life from the pages of romantica writing."

Story #5 - Static Breakdown
"What the hell is an oxymoron? An idiot on Oxycontin?"
I suppose prostitutes aren’t the most educated of society?
This is a dirty story and I can’t really figure out the point except that sex gives women power over men. Meh.

Story #6 - Fourth Step Tango
"I didn’t want to let him off the hook that easily. One simple phone call in exchange for my virginity?"
I’m so with this chick. The resolution or absolution piece of therapy when you’ve been an awful human being to someone never, ever feels fair to the victim.

Story #7 - Fly me to the Moon
All this story did for me was get Sinatra stuck in my head and wonder why I was reading an outline of what could be a good book. There’s no real substance here, even as a short story.
However, I’d love to read this novel if it was expanded out properly.

Story #8 - He Brings Me Flowers
The longest story by far. Two women, both being used by a narcissistic man, one is the wife one is girlfriend. Lots to unpack here. In the end it’s about women standing strong. And this one truth; I've been in meetings where this actually happened:
"Her take-away: never duck out of a meeting; you will always be assigned the most unpleasant tasks."

Story #9 - The Magician
I could someone injecting some magic into my work situation right now. Too bad magicians with parrots who wear pirate eye patches aren’t found everyday. 😉

Story #10 - Cabin Pressure
Whew, steamy. Great little turn you on story.

Story #11 - The Horse Whisperer
A bit of an odd story.
By having this story last, it’s clear that the idea behind this anthology is to slowly bring the reader through a sense of restraint into freedom.

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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