Friday, April 24, 2020

Stitching: Band Sampler Finish & Mini Motif Start

Well... the world is still all weird; and there isn't any real relief in store, here in my area of Canada, anytime soon. It has just been announced that all summer events (including the famous Calgary Stampede) are to be cancelled as per the city and province. My husband keeps saying that "summer is cancelled". It sure is feeling that way. I can't believe that in the month since I last posted some stitching items that: a) it's been a month, b) nothing has changed, c) this has started to feel normal. 
All that said, I have no new job and while I'm trying to get one there are almost none to apply for and it's depressing to see what is out there. Luckily we are still okay and should be eligible for some government support funds next month. Sooo... that should mean I have lots of stitching done right? Well... sort of. I have some, for sure, but not really as much as I would have thought I'd get done in a monthly quarantine situation. Same with reading, I'm finding it hard to concentrate on stitching (with no frogs present) at times and so progress is slow. But I do have a finish! 

On the left is: 
On 40ct Ivory Linen. Using DMC Variations (Autumn pack from Lakeside) thread. 

I substituted a couple elements of the design. The biggest change I made was to not use the cat or dog design in the doorways and instead out little snakes in. It's a subtle change but meaningful to me as my pets aren't furry but scaly. Speaking of the snakes we just installed new tanks for the boa (whose now over 6 feet!) and I'm super happy to have upgraded space for him and one other. 

Here's a picture of the snakes change up close: 

Finishing the band sampler left me with the option to start a new piece. As we were just getting into quarantine I figured I'd go with a little piece I've had in mind that uses some of the motifs from Kelsyn's Itty Bitty pattern.
These are on 36ct Weeks Dye Works 'Gun Metal' Linen using DMC Coloris thread. I'm really pleased with how nice the Coloris thread is and it's variegation (considering it's quite cheap compared to most overdyed). Working on the dark linen has definitely given me a challenge and the frogs have come to visit a lot. But I'm enjoying how it looks, and it has even given me a need to use my magnifier (that in 10 years I've used maybe 3 times) when I misplace a stitch. I have the three you see below on top, and enough room for three more motifs underneath if I want. So I'll see what I'm feeling when I get to the bottom row; I might swap to a different variegated type of thread. 
Here it is to date: 

Thanks to everyone who continues to take the time to read and care about my stitching and posts. I hope everyone is staying safe, sane and stitching! 

Book Review: Stormsong

Stormsong by C.L. Polk

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is book 2 of Polk's debut series. I'm a little disappointed that Miles isn't our main character. Instead we get his sister. I really missed the banter between Miles and his partner in the first book. While our leading gal and her minor romantic interest (a woman) have a couple quip's; it just didn't feel the same (or as romantic) as Witchmark did. It is critical that you read book 1 (Witchmark) before you read this one. Stormsong continues the complex politics between nations, the discovery of souls/magic made in book 1, and the repercussions of war.

As stated above, the plot gets more complex the further into the Kingston Cycle Series we get. It worked fine for me, but I could see those who dislike highly politicized stories being unhappy about the focus. We have all our characters from book 1 plus some new ones; including our leading lady's semi-love interest.

Love Interest/LGBTQ+
Yes our leading lady's love interest is another woman. But if you're hoping for hot lesbian scenes, or even the cuteness we had between our two men in book 1, you're going to be disappointed. The entire side relationship felt very unnecessary. As though it was added in as an afterthought to the story. While the representation is good, and this is an 'own voices' series for Polk when it comes to sexuality; I'm just not sold on it feeling like add-on. Either develop the relationship a bit more, or just cut out anything above 'overtones of attractiveness' and flesh out the story later in series.

This is a great series. It has fun, excitement, intrigue, complexity, politics, and magic. What more could you ask for? As this is only Polk's sophomore release I am really looking forward, to not only more from this series but, other books from her. I think TOR has found a shining new voice who will help make fantasy characters less archetypal and feel more like people we might know today (just handling magical issues of their world). I look forward to seeing more of myself and other more modern representations in fantasy books.

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, April 15, 2020

Book Review: The Night Monster

The Night Monster by Sushree Mishra

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I adore how dark and creepy the illustrations are in this book. Sanket Pethkar, illustrator, has done a wonderful job of making the pages feel like the shadows and curtains are moving. I felt like I would hear the owl hooting as Sushree Mishra, writer, talks about why the night is the way it is.
This is a clever little story in which a little boy 'talks', via letters, to what he believes to be the night monster. Through these letters our boy realizes it's not the night that is scary necessarily; but all the things that happen at night combined together. Of course there is no actual night monster to write back and instead the boy's older sister is writing the letters that are found in a locked box each morning.

I love that The Night Monster touches on a simple, yet very true concept, that darkness is scary to us humans. You can try to deny it but at some point in our lives we've all been afraid of darkness. Whether that be at night, a darkness in our heads or hearts. And so it's good to remind ourselves of what that darkness actually is. Reactions to individual stimuli. I think the psychology here has a lot of depth and I love how a simple children's book is able to dispel a fear of the dark so simply.
I am definitely going to get this book if I see it in the wild and add it to the collection as I can imagine gifting it to a child who is struggling to sleep because of fear.

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, April 14, 2020

Book Review: Johannes Cabal & the Fear Institute

The Fear Institute by Jonathan L. Howard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Going into the third book of a series is always nice; generally you know exactly what to expect. Thankfully Jonathan L. Howard delivers the same sarcastic pompous character in Johannes Cabal, strange fantastical happenings, long monologues about 'why are we here', and words to look up in the dictionary because they likely haven't been used in hundreds of years (thank goodness for smartphones and dictionaries being electronic these days or this would really annoy me). While overall this is exactly what I expected it didn't blow me away. It also differed from the past books in that it appears a larger story is being set-up and a few plot points are changed. 
There are two distinct differences to this Cabal book from the past:

  1. There is a lot of H. P. Lovecraft lore in The Fear Institute. Howard 'borrows' heavily from Lovecraft (including using Lovecraft's constructs, gods, demons, etc.) and integrates it into the Dreamworld that is an alternate dimension Cabal enters.
  2. There's a lot of death (not new) but this time you might almost care about some of those characters dying. For the first time we have real, tangible supporting characters that actually, almost, make you like them.

As per usual you love to hate Cabal. As the reader I know he's a loathsome bastard and yet I still laugh and adore his sarcastic, laissez-faire attitude. This is a slow read, as all of the Cabal books have been. Because of the density of the language (and need to occasionally look a word up) this is not a book that can be skimmed, speed read, and it doesn't flow quickly. However, it has a beautiful literary cadence that I just adore and I can't wait to move onto books 4 & 5 to see what further craziness Cabal gets into.

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Monday, April 6, 2020

Book Review: Educated

EducatedEducated by Tara Westover

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How do you rate a book like this? A book that holds a life within it.
Full disclosure: I did not like this for the first 3/4 of it. Educated features horrific farm accidents, abusive siblings, useless parents, and untreated mental health. But the hardest part to take of it all is that it's a true story. Tara Westover actually lived through all this...

I did not want to believe that Westover, a woman with two doctorates, could so readily allow these things to happen. But she did not ‘allow’ anything; instead she was subject to poor luck and born into an un-winnable situation. And so she tells her story as she experienced it at the time of events; not as she sees it today. There is an important distinction here between judging history and telling it. Given Westover’s time spent researching historians for her later doctorates it’s perhaps fitting that she becomes a historian to all of us in telling her tale.
What is most important here, that I realized at 82% of the way through the book is that everyone’s reaction to this story is different. Not because we all read a different story but because of our ability to understand and have empathy for Westover’s situational childhood.

At the end of the day education is about more than just math, science, reading, and books. It's about social connection, psychological growth, and becoming a part of society. The quote below really resonated with me.
"Napoleon felt no more real to me than Jean Valjean. I had never heard of either."
It's not that Westover doesn't know who Napolean on Valjean are that is relevant; it's that these are people that are a part of our cultural existence in most of North America. Therefore by not knowing who they are she is missing out on a key piece of a complex culture.

I didn't get what many people were hoping I would from Educated. It had been 'sold' to me as a story about hope, perseverance, and strength. There is no hope here, in my opinion, instead there is just a failure of society to protect children from parents whom are mentally ill, lesser educated, and incapable of properly raising a child (ie: putting them intentionally in harms way to save a couple minutes). It disturbs me that in a tight knit community, like most Mormon ones, no one reached out to this family at any time (or at least not that we are aware of). There is, of course, the relevance that women have no authority, power, or voice in Mormonism (like most religions). The suppression of Westover's Mother to know, inherently, the wrongness of what was happening in her home; and yet she turns a blind eye because that is what a good wife would do.
These are the things I take away from Educated. That 'we' as a society need to do better.

Without a doubt Westover has overcome all odds to even exist, never mind have two PhD's. But I don't think that is the story here; or at least for me it isn't. This is instead a story about the inequality that exists for children. The luck that is required to be born into a stable situation; and to be 'lucky' enough to be born into a gender, race, sexuality, etc. that will give an advantage in the world.

Educated, for me, is a reminder that the world has a long, long way to go before we are all educated enough to be able to influence people and avoid children being raised like Westover was.

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Book Review: The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane

The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane by Julia Nobel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. For a debut novel this is pretty good. Nothing super original here in terms of plot: girl sent to boarding school, makes a couple key friends, secret society (passage ways and all), bullying, absent parents, etc. Lots of intrigue, some action, tons of time spent doing homework, some soccer (football), and a good dose of mystery.

One of the stand-out pieces of Julia Nobel's debut is that the narrative of our lead gal is very strong. Right from the first couple chapters I felt like she had a dominant, prevalent voice. Her personality shone through and she felt very real to me. Sadly the secondary characters were all a little flat, even the two best friends. I'm hoping this is an area that Nobel's writing improves and evolves in. After all the world expects well written secondary characters since Hermoine and Ron entered our lives.

Continuing Story
This is a part of a series, and so not all of our questions are answered in this first book. However, enough of the mystery is revealed so as to not feel ripped off. The biggest thing that bugs me about the whole set-up, and what will continue, is our lead gals Mother. She's supposed to be a parenting expert; yet she's a really crappy Mom (not unlike Leonard on Big Bang Theory's mother). I'm not sure the choice to make her a parenting expert really made sense. I get the idea of her fame being in the way of parenting, and all that jazz; but I would have preferred she was just a movie star or something. Unless in the next book (or two?) we actually delve into the psychosis of having a mother who is a parenting expert. Given this is a middle grade book I'm going to say that is unlikely.

This is a decent read. It kept me occupied for a period of time and reads up quickly. There's not a lot of fancy vocabulary in The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane, which is good for a middle grade book. I feel if I went back and analyzed this closely there are probably some plot holes and issues; but I didn't have any jump off the page at me or get in my way of enjoying the story. Overall a decent debut by a Canadian author; and so I am rounding up my 3.5 stars to 4.
A tidbit of advice from this book that stuck out to me:
"...when you prepare for the absolute worst, nothing can be as bad as what you’ve imagined."

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, April 2, 2020

Book Review: Twisted Fairy Tales: Snow White and the Seven Robots

Twisted Fairy Tales: Snow White and the Seven Robots
by Stewart Ross

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well if this take on Snow White in space isn't the cutest ever! I mean who doesn't love the line:
"Viewscreen, viewscreen, who is doing best of all?"

That's right, no beauty obsession here; just female engineers making robots and space stuff. Additionally this time our 'witch' is Snow White's actual Mother; no evil stepmother to be found here. And the 'dwarves' are just perfect. But I can't say anymore or it will spoil the surprise and take away the fun.

I love this little series of Twisted Fairy Tales that Arcturus Publishing has recently started coming out with. This is my second one and I gotta say if the rest are even half as good as Snow White and the Seven Robots then they'll all be great. Easy enough to be read by children just learning to read, but short enough for a longer read aloud choice. Lovely illustrations throughout help break the pages up so children don't feel overwhelmed by too much text on the page.

I have one complaint about Snow White, and that is that she did no readings of the strange planet she ended up on to make sure she could breathe the air. This is obvious space travel 101 to me. Oh wait, unless we are on Star Trek planets where the air is always safe (lol).

I'm really looking forward to more in this adorable series; and these are for sure going to be gifts for little ones I know in the near 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: Winterwood

Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is Shea Ernshaw's sophomore release, following The Wicked Deep last year. I wasn't a huge fan of Wicked Deep but I thought it had potential. I was hoping Winterwood would have taken Ernshaw's writing one step further. In some ways it has, unfortunately we are still subject to wooden characters whose dialogue is painful and poor descriptions of hypothermia. I don't know why she keeps using it given she obviously doesn't understand how hypothermia works.

In Wildwood we meet Nora, a witch of sorts, who lives in a forest on a mountain near a camp for troubled boys (mostly teens). So naturally she will be the only girl amoungst many boys. But at least it makes sense here and isn't just by chance or luck like in many other YA/Teen novels. Nearby is a large lake that plays an important part to the overall story. If you're suddenly thinking Friday the 13th with Jason Voorhees you get the isolation, seclusion, and danger of a lake near a camp in the forest.

Snow and Hypothermia
I don't know why Ernshaw has used hypothermia (especially water induced) in both her books; as she doesn't seem to understand how it works. First up, almost no one ever 'wakes up' after they have fallen asleep and are hypothermic. Magical intervention aside. So it would be nice if cold is being used to 'knock' our characters out that there is a sense of why/how they woke. Second, it is extremely unlikely that anyone would survive falling into a frozen lake if they did not get immediately pulled out, and immediate attention to slowly warm them up. Think, all wet clothing removed, rubbing skin, immersion in lukewarm (or even cold) water to bring body temperature up, etc. It really bugs me when authors use well-known medical injuries poorly. And so I don't know why Ernshaw seems to have a fascination with snow and the cold, but this Canadian (who knows the cold very well) would really appreciate the descriptions being more accurate.

Plot and Dialogue
As with The Wicked Deep, there is a great creepy, dark story here. A legacy of misunderstood magic, an area of the forest no one enters, genetic magical ability, and more. And this plot would work, even if it's similar to many other stories, if only our characters didn't seem to break up the well written moody and creepy descriptions. Both the setting and plot are good. Right up to the point our teenagers open their mouths and say something stilted, stupid, or ridiculous. Ernshaw seems to have real issues with developing dialogue for her characters that doesn't feel forced. It's as though she wishes no one needed to speak and we could just infer what was happening from descriptions. Sadly that is not the case.

If the dialogue and character development were improved upon then Winterwood would be a solid 4 stars. Sadly because it is not I can barely justify the 3 stars I've given it. If Ernshaw can really up her game with her characters and dialogue she might be able to crack further into the over-saturated YA fantasy genre. But as it stands now she is on the edge and barely hanging on. I hope her third novel comes out stronger. I will leave you with the most amusing quote from the book; which had me considering who is more madder, the Hatter or Jekyll. I think Jekyll.
"A person can go mad in these woods. Hatter mad."

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, April 1, 2020

Book Review: The Lazy Rabbit

The Lazy Rabbit by Wilkie J. Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fairly dark and depressing children's book.
The Lazy Rabbit has heavy on bottom text; making this a good for dyslexia or children learning to read (although not as pretty as other font choices it works well here). However the difficulty of the words chosen is likely far past most children, even I didn't know what a 'gorse bush' was until I looked it up. I know we want children to expand their vocabulary but it seemed excessively hard to read. I would recommend adults pre-read this one to make sure they know all the words and can read it to the child. If you were looking to purchase a book for a new reader to practice with this is probably not a great choice.

Fair warning, the lazy rabbit ends up expiring in an untimely death. There is even water colour red across the page to symbolize the death of the rabbit. It reminded me of the old Aesop tales in which someone who doesn't follow the rules or do the smart thing inevitably looses. I had many books like this as a child that were the original tales including: Ariel cutting off her fin, the rabbit loosing everything in a race, etc. To me books like this are a good way to start teaching little ones that the world is not all butterflies and rainbows. The morale here is that the rabbit shouldn't have been so lazy; then maybe he would have survived..

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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