Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Book Review: Snow Song

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, September 27, 2020

Book Review: Goldilocks

by Laura Lam
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, September 21, 2020

Book Review: The Unspoken Name

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Book Review: Havenfall

by Sara Holland
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, September 18, 2020

Book Review: Harrow the Ninth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Book Review: If You Tame Me

If You Tame Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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