Thursday, May 28, 2020

Book Review: Failsafe

Failsafe by Anela Deen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s nothing special about this story per say. And yet it feels special. It’s really all about one girl and a man fighting for the impossible. And aren’t we all fighting for the best and maybe the impossible everyday?

Some amazing representation here. Our lead gal has epilepsy and struggle in her dystopian world. From drones, AI, not-safe areas; this is already a world fraught with danger. Add onto that the possibility of have a seizure at any moment and you definitely have the recipe for: over bearing parents, drive to prove yourself, and fighting just to contribute to daily life.
"I refuse to be useless because you feel better when I do nothing."
Our MC is a strong gal who pushes over and above in every instance. And her epilepsy just might be the reason she has 'access' to certain keys...

Love on the Run
We spent the majority of Failsafe running through unsafe zones with our MC and an android-like man. During their travels they enter a colony, encounter droids, get shot at (a lot), hide, and talk. Through this Anela Deen gives us the beginnings of a love story. It's subtle, and feels realistic. It's not insta-love, it's not 'you saved me so now I must love you' syndrome, or anything that feels false. One of the best things about this story is the budding interest and caring that our two MC's start to have for one another. As someone who usually hates all love stories inserted into sci-fi novels; I gotta say this one really surprised me, in a good way. Our MC really finds herself alongside her android companion.
"I had no control over the actions of others. Why had I chosen to reject myself?"

The writing in Failsafe is really good. Don't be fooled by the Indie publisher here; this is a solid story. The mystery of how the world works and what is really happening at any given time is done very well and drives our story forward. We have good plot and motivation at all times.
While it's not a five-star 'outstanding book' for me; it was excellent and I'd absolutely recommend it to those that enjoy a fast-paced, action sci-fi story. It's also short, at only 200 pages, yet jam-packed with insightful comments from our MC, relationship building, tragedy, and lots of action. You can't go wrong with this story given the small investment it takes to complete. I'll be in the look-out for more of Deen's work in the future; as I think there is real talent here and in a larger, more complex story it could really shine.

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

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Monday, May 25, 2020

Book Review: I Can Catch a Monster

I Can Catch a Monster by Bethan Woollvin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Adorable! Big illustrations, easy to read text, and a plot that sees a little girl besting her two brothers (although not in the way you might expect. This is perfect for a girl that has brothers who pick on her or any child that feels like they are bullied. Little Bo proves that she's brave; not only in her actions, but also in her ability to understand that what might seem like a monster might not be one after all.

The Kraken is my favourite of the 'monsters', although most children will likely gravitate to the dragon. I do like that there is the option of three creatures that a child has to choose from as their favourite.

An easily accessible children's book that has a nice simple feel to it. This comes from the use of only 3 colours, plus black (used across different shades so it feels like more colours), in my opinion; but also from the easy to read and understand text. A great book for a child starting out to read or one that might be likely to memorize lines or words (especially that ROAR! page, always fun with toddlers).

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

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Book Review: The Lady Rogue

The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was okay. Nothing overly special here. Felt a lot like Indiana Jones, but with a leading gal and an attractive boy sidekick her age. The Dracula pieces of the story are not vampire-like at all; but instead focus on the actual Vlad Dracul, human, who did exist. Good enough but nothing spectacular.

If you want to go on a treasure hunt you might find The Lady Rogue has something for you. If you're hoping for blood, gothic overtones, and vampires this is NOT the book for you. Those looking for an intriguing mystery are also likely to be let down. While there is a mystery here, and it should be the focus of the story, it's not that entrancing. This is more of a girl coming into her own teen book than anything. The love story is meh as the chemistry between the characters is missing.

Overall this was a very disappointing read for me. I would perhaps try another book by Jenn Bennett in the future. There was enough here that with some good editing, focus on mystery writing, and a less snowflake-like heroine; I could see Bennett telling us some interesting stories. Sadly The Lady Rogue isn't up to par; especially in the high saturated teen 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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Monday, May 18, 2020

Book Review: Recursion

Recursion by Blake Crouch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Whew! What a ride! Recursion deserves all of the stars. It’s a perfect sci-if thriller with a surprisingly poignant love story weaves in the middle. I know I’ve said it before, but I think it’s really true, Blake Crouch is the 21st century Michael Crichton. I have no doubt that if you loved Dark Matter you will also love Recursion.
"Life is nothing how he expected it would be when he was young and living under the delusion that things could be controlled."
I still hope for control on a daily basis. But it is delusional; even in our own more mundane lives, than in the crazy complex timelines of Recursion. Crouch takes us on a interwoven journey that shows the 'butterfly effect', explains deja vu, draws attention to the Mandala effect, and more. All current scientific theories or concepts, just like in Dark Matter, and Crouch reaches to just the next moment beyond what seems physically or metaphysically possible. It's brilliant the way he is able to root everything so solidly in known science (yes I googled many things while reading this). This solid scientific base allows the reader to believe in everything happening; even when your mind is stretched to the limit of understanding.
"Time is an illusion, a construct made out of human memory."
As I write this it's week 8 (I think) of the COVID-19 'stay at home' mandate in Canada. And time has become less and less relevant as the days go by. With no job to go to, I'm lucky my husband is working from home to keep us on a semi-regular schedule. Routine is an important and valuable thing that most people don't even realize they need until it's gone. In Recursion Crouch proves that humans can do extraordinary things when needed; but he also shows the limits that even the most advanced human brain can handle.
I love the way we experience a jarring event and to the reader it seems exactly as impactful as it does to our lead character; but he sees how it affects others and realizes many humans cannot handle the stress of a sudden wealth of information or traumatic event. This really resonated with me as we continue on with the COVID-19 crisis and have been starting to see the real cracks, not in society, but in the people around us. Recursion portrays this well and could even give you insight into current worldwide events that change the course of history; from Germany invading England to 9/11 to today's pandemic.

One thing is certain about Recursion; you won't want to put it down. The last 100 or so pages had me gripped to the very end. I'm glad I had the time to read this one quickly and not have to break it up too much. If you're in the midst of a reading slump, lacking inspiration or feeling meh about books and enjoy sci-fi, then Recursion is the exact book to pick-up; it worked just like this for me.
A must read for any Crichton fan, sci-fi or thriller lover, and anyone whose ever wondered 'what if I could go back and change something'.

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, May 16, 2020

Book Review: Fairy Tales for Fearless Girls

Fairy Tales for Fearless Girls
by Anita Ganeri; Illustrated by Khoa Le

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The diversity of stories in Fairy Tales for Fearless Girls is wonderful. From India to Sweden, Japan to West Africa; we are taken on a gorgeous illustrated ride throughout the world. Our champions are all girls whom have been told, for one reason or another, their ‘place in the world’ or where their capacity maxes out. Of course, these women defy that idea and, in most cases, challenge it head on.

The art of Khoa Le is by far the highlight of this hardcover, over sized book for me. It’s the kind of book a little girl might receive, read a thousand times, and keep forever. I have three books like this from my childhood: one is Disney stories, another Raggedy Ann stories and finally an amazing illustrated copy of Little Women. But while beauty is important, let’s face it the text and stories are far more important in (to me at least) when it comes to content.

The Text of the Tales
The stories told all feature a leading female, often younger or just of marrying age. These women range from warriors to magicians to intellects, and more. My personal favourites were the instances where the girl outsmarted a foe (usually a man, but not always) with her smarts, riddles, or common sense. That said, any girl will likely find at least one story that resonates with them, regardless of what attribute they value most; be it intelligence, strength, magic or beauty.

My Favourites
I didn’t hate any of the stories. Some were just okay, others ended too abruptly, and one or two that were based off cultures I know a little more about didn’t quite live up to what I’d imagined or hoped for them. But two stories stood out for me.

Nana Miriam and the Horrible Hippopotamus
In this early placed story (third in) we are in West Africa and a daughter is told by her hunter father that no one can kill a hippo. No one, but especially not her. Guess what our girl must do then to prove otherwise? Not the most clever story in the book; but this one felt so great to finish as it’s a clear ‘win’ by our heroine. As an early story in the anthology it set a good tone for what's to come

The Princess, the Merchants, and the very Unusual Cupboard
The second story anchors the collection. Set in Sudan it features one of the most clever girls we meet in this anthology. She is annoyed by merchants who agree to “help her” get more value for an item by giving her money but also looking to secure her hand in marriage. By the end she shows them what it feels like to be bought or sold, and even shipped to the highest bidder. I liked the obvious comparison to slavery here and that the position of wife, which here is clearly a lesser role, is still important enough (in the end) to be worthy of our gal if the partner is respectful. It keeps the idea of a strong relationship and it’s value intact, doesn’t degrade men quite as much as some other stories did, and it’s the perfect reminder that gender isn’t the only thing that has (and sadly still does) separate people from one another.

This isn’t necessarily the best fairy tales collection I’ve read that targets middle grade or a bit younger children. But it is the most diverse; representing different cultures and locations around the world. The perfect type of book to be in a daycare, school library, or featured at a children’s gathering of any sort. I believe any child could find at least one story they identify with.
It could also be a good gift for a young girl. Be aware that animals are killed/hunted for food and sport (I have a 7-year-old cousin this would really upset, for example); but otherwise I don't foresee major objections by parents to the content. I would definitely buy this for a random gift exchange between kids, as an unwrapped gift donation for holidays, or as a donation to any library.

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

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Sunday, May 10, 2020

Book Review: Children of Virtue and Vengeance

Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi
Legacy of Orisha, Book 2

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm so glad this is over. It took me forever to read.

The Plot
The first 60% of this book is so boring! It's just our main characters lamenting about war, wishing it didn't have to happen; or figuring out schemes (none of which were interesting) to stop the war. It was so dull I wanted to cry.
At about 75% we have a significant-ish event that happens. A good action sequence and excellent character moment. Sadly it's overshadowed, almost immediately, by the fact that the larger war is happening. And so all the impact we should feel just dissipates away. And then we're in the last 25% in which we have an inevitable larger battle.

The Ending
Like WTF? I literally don't even understand and don't care enough to bother reading the last chapter and epilogue until I do. I just don't care. If the ending is supposed to make me want to read the next book (will be third in series) then it failed horribly. I hate cheap or random endings and this is about as random as it comes. There had better be a damn good explanation, that makes sense, in book three early on or I'm likely just out.

The writing style here felt very rushed to me. A couple chapters held the excitement and action that I had felt through much of book 1; but mostly it was repetitive and like someone told Tomi Adeyemi to just 'fill pages' and so she rushed to do so by putting in a bunch of boring whining from our lead characters. It's too bad as I think the emotions our characters are battling during this time could have been significant for the reader (especially a teen); instead it was just meh.

If you're hoping for romance (like in book 1) you should not bother. There is almost no romance or loving moments in Children of Virtue and Vengeance. Instead we get a lot of feelings of remorse or longing; an emphasis on betrayal (and thus Vengeance), all followed up with a heavy dose of guilt. It's bleak, but not even in an interesting way. As someone who loves dark, gothic, and despair type stories this should have worked for me; sadly the emotions were too superficial and repeated between our characters. It's like Adeyemi has one character with emotions and she split them up into four characters.
I don't know about book three... maybe I'll read it. But I certainly am not going to be all excited for it or holding my breathe. It's too bad; book one was decent and had a lot of potential. But this, book two, just about threw me into a reading slump and there's just do way I can say a story that did that was any good.

Note: I read this during week 6-7 of the covid-19 'stay at home' mandate in Canada. This may have affected my reading experience of it. However I do not believe it did. Had this been a good book it would have pulled me in as a few others have managed to do in the last 7 weeks. But in the interest of full disclosure I will be fair and advise that it's possible my own frustration and despair were in the way of enjoying this story.

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Book Review: The Grizzly Itch

The Grizzly Itch by Victoria Cassanell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely adorable! This is a very short story, making it great as that "one more please" bedtime read ask for little ones. It's a very simple premise but displays friendship and helping others superbly.
A bear has an itch and has a favourite tree; but when he goes to use the tree it's suddenly on the ground! Because the beaver has chewed it down for his dam. And so they go on a little adventure to try and find bear a new tree; after no success our beaver realizes he can itch for the bear! It's really quite cute and the illustrations are also wonderful.
I like the simplicity of this story, narrative and words chosen, and the illustrations. I could see a two-year-old really getting into this one. And it has one of my favourite types of pages in it! A page with one word that is said loud and that kids will learn quick to join in on. In this case it's "crash".
A suitable read for any child under about 5 years old. It might be too simple for those older. It's a safe choice for any situation as a gift.

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

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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Stitching Book: Feminist Stitches

Feminist Stitches: Cross Stitch Kit with 12 Fierce Designs
by Haley Pierson-Cox

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you're looking to take up cross-stitch or just want a fun one-off project of stitching; The Feminist Stitches is a perfect option for the beginner stitcher. Filled with 12 snarky, bold, and powerful feminist patterns/statements you are likely to find at least 2-3 easy patterns you love here.

All patterns are in full colour and colour keys are in DMC thread (the most common). The average North American Walmart will have all the items you need to stitch up anyone of these beauties (note: DMC is not required, any embroidery thread will do and you can just match the colours up as close as possible).
If you're an intermediate to experienced stitcher (like myself) then these are super quick 1-2 night pieces could make great gifts for any lady friends who appreciates a good shot or two; or needs a pick me up. As I write this I'm on stay home orders to COVID-19. These patterns are a the perfect simple stitch needed for a time when it's harder to concentrate on more complex projects and easily done up using existing stash.
There are quite a few of these hardcover 'modern' books these days. This one is on par with all the rest in terms of how-to instructions for the first time stitcher and pattern size (quite large) for those who hate tiny symbols. You can't go wrong with choosing it; but take a look around as there may be others where you like the designers style more. It will come down to personal preference, in my opinion, when it comes to which of these types of books has the better patterns in it.

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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Alice stitching happening this week as part of a mini May-mania challenge. Update to come next Monday! 

Book Review: Upright Women Wanted

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wonderful novella! Action-packed western starring women and non-binary characters. Men need not apply; well... unless for the role of typical bad guy (lol). While there is a lot that is cliche western in Sarah Gailey's Upright Women Wanted; for every cliche there is an idea that I guarantee you've never read in a western story (novella in this case, 176 pages) before. Unless you're a Firefly fan, in which case read this immediately because you'll feel nostalgic for Mal and crew!

These are no Annie Oakley ladies. While they carry firearms and are transporting 'items' between towns; these ladies are also sharing intimate moments together, kissing and more. Something I can't imagine Oakley engaging with. Each character in our crew of five primary travelers holds a piece of the John Wayne/Clint Eastwood archetype for a western fighter; yet they are also so much more. The gem here though is really Cye. A non-binary character to fall in love with.

I adored Cye sooo much. Gailey does a fabulous job from the first moment we meet Cye; it's clear that no he/him or she/her gender specificity applies. The narrative always uses they/them and it really quickly stuck in my head and felt so natural. Unlike other characters I've read in the past, Cye doesn't swap between male and female identity. Instead they exist outside of these gender norms and (for me) it's a breath of fresh air. Gailey describes Cye and their actions so well that I didn't even try to place Cye as 'more' feminine or masculine. They just are themselves.
Now, I hope I didn't use any wrong words here or misrepresent; please feel free to correct me in the comments if I did.

Constantly Learning
It may seem weird for a member of the LGBTQ+ community, like myself (bisexual) to not fully understand all the different options in sexuality, gender, etc. that we now know exist. But when I was a teen I only understand the concepts of: heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual (and trans but they were put into homosexual category at the time). And so pan sexuality is still something I'm learning about. Cye is one of the first characters I've read where I clearly adore them and would definitively change my own description to pansexual if that means Cye and I can get together.
This is a pretty big deal to me. To date I've told my husband and others that I can't drop the moniker of bisexual because I've never met a non-binary person and don't know how I would react. Assuming Cye is a good representation of non-binary then I'm happy to say that, for me, gender doesn't make a difference; be it male, female or non-binary! This is a really cool realization to have and not at all something I expected to get from Upright Women Wanted.

If you're thinking to yourself 'um Mel this is supposed to be a book review and not about you' right now; all I can respond with is that for me this book was refreshing, fun, and uplifting. It shows that people will find ways to be themselves no matter what constraints are placed on them. We may think the 'typical' western doesn't have room for anyone other than a cis-male but Gailey makes it clear in Upright Women Wanted that this is not true.
I highly recommend this book to pretty much everyone. There is a lot of action and fun packed into 176 pages; but also a lot of social commentary and learning to be had here. You're perhaps unlikely to have an epiphany, like I did, but (I believe) you'll likely enjoy your time in this world. I'm really hoping Gailey plans to revisit these characters and their adventures 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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Friday, May 1, 2020

Book Review: The Winemaker's Wife

The Winemaker's Wife by Kristin Harmel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a story. It’s both complex, yet simple and embodies the feelings, ideas and fears of people, and how they vary in extreme situations (in this case WWII). You may be thinking, another WWII book; let me assure you there are thousands of WWII stories that are all very different and worth telling. Kristin Harmel tells one of them here.

During great adversity we are reminded of what the essentials are for human beings; and what are great luxuries. The Nazi's were obsessed with ensuring they received all the luxuries; even so far as to remove paintings from museums and galleries. Here we see this greed and selfishness shown in their desire for good champagne. And this in turn offers our characters (including one with Jewish connections) protection, of sorts. The problem with protection during an adverse time like this is the enemy is not playing fair. And so, of course, the Nazi's take advantage of their advantageous position by demanding, threatening, and belittling our characters.

Spoiled Products
One of the most interesting pieces of The Winemaker's Wife is that our characters making the wine can choose to make it sub-par. They know how to tweak it to make it amazing; and how to spoil it just a little. We see them scheme, along with fellow champagne makers, to trick the Nazi's into thinking they are receiving the best product; whilst preserving the actual best product for the future. It's dangerous, but clever.

How It's Made
Making champagne (or wine) is such an interesting process. I loved learning about it throughout this story. With a bit less detail, Kristin Harmel takes us though the process of making wine much like Lisa See did in The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. What's cool about learning about creation or farming processes like this via fiction is that it's far less boring (at least to me) than reading a non-fiction novel. You also get to see the impact things like weather, harvest delays, machinery breaking, etc. has directly on the process and people involved. The Winemaker's Wife is the next best thing to actually going out and making champagne in France yourself.

Lust and Sex
If you ever wanted to encounter a love-square/rectangle this is your book. Harmel gives our characters lusts for one another that make their lives a lot more complex than they needed to be (in an already complex time). That said it is what ultimately allows for our grand finale to be so stunning. Don't be surprised that there is a lot of sleeping around in this story. Scenes are all written tastefully, this is not smut and not really even romance; it's just a part of the story that affects people's interactions and motivations.

I really enjoyed The Winemaker's Wife. Harmel brings us a WWII story that is unlike any other I've read. The scheming between characters (even those who are working together) is brilliant and the complexities of scamming the Nazi's are well explained. While not my favourite WWII fiction, this novel deserves to be on a shelf alongside most other recent WWII fiction. If you enjoy these types of stories about people persevering and surviving in war times then you won't be disappointed.

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: Gideon the Ninth

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well the space part is irrelevant. The lesbian part comes up but not really anything major. The part that is really the whole focus of the book is necromancy. While convoluted in the beginning by the end I was following 85% of things; the rest I assume is fairly irrelevant. This wraps up many questions, but not all. I have two large questions that I assume book 2 or 3 will answer. Gore and writing style reminded me of Black Panther, Red Wolf (which I also loved). But a lot less sex and innuendos. Very different books and casts of characters but the complexity are close to one another.

I keep telling myself I will write a comprehensive review of Gideon the Ninth (better than what's written above). But then I realize that I don't want to say too much as it will take away from the reading experience. So I'm leaving it as is. I will add this I think this book is AMAZING. It won't be for everyone but it hits high on my best books ever list. It's complex, gory, deadly, and overall heartbreaking. Not for the faint of heart.

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