Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Book Review: Diamond Rattle Loves to Tattle

Diamond Rattle Loves to Tattle 
by Ashley Bartley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First I just want to express my HUGE gratitude that the snake is not completely vilified and made out to be awful in this book. In fact our snake (the star of the story) learns something and eventually champions a tough concept by the end. Too often snakes are turned into evil or bad characters and it reflects in how people treat or see real snakes. It may seem silly but when you are combating a myth that all snakes are bad it's the little thing that count.

This is an adorable book. And it's about a really tough topic for many children to understand. Tattling. When is it bad enough to tattle?
Writer Ashley Bartley gives us examples of when to (and when not to) tattle. More importantly she gives us some words to use to help children out:
"Consider: Is someone unsafe? Can the problem not wait?
And does the problem even involve you?"
This is a brilliant simplification to help anyone (adults included!) to determine when it's time to tattle and when not. There is also a parents guide at the back, great examples in the story, and more tricks and tips for little ones to help them truly understand.
I will definitely be buying this for future children and it should be a part of every library. Complex topics stump many of us adults (myself included) and tattling is one I've struggled to explain to children in the past. I'm excited to have this book in my toolbox for the future.

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Book Review: Trouble the Saints

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Written in three parts from three different POVs, Trouble the Saints is both a commentary on racism and societal rank; as well as a fantasy story that questions the ideas of fate, religion, and free will. Comparing it to The Night Circus really rubs me the wrong way as Night Circus is one of my favourite books ever. While Trouble the Saints was okay, it was no five star read.

Flow & Cohesiveness
The flow just isn't smooth, I believe I would have liked this better if Alaya Dawn Johnson flipped between our three character POVs. Even if that meant the story had to alternate timelines and wasn't presented as the segregated mess it becomes. I'm glad I didn't give up on this one as the last POV was my favourite.
Trouble the Saints lacks a cohesiveness between the three parts and the main plot. I struggled to feel like I was even reading the same book at times. We go from beautiful descriptions in part one to frame jobs that could belong on Sons of Anarchy in part two to a commentary on racism in part three. For this reason I think it would have been better to tell the story between all three POVs (and timelines). Hopefully then I could have pieced together important events or tidbits that I was supposed to with the parts separated.

What am I Missing?
I really want to read the books that come before this one... there isn't any; but it felt like there should have been. A lot of content is told to us by our characters. The main plot stems from events that happened years before. Unlike Game of Thrones or another 'typical' fantasy series where there is a large backstory and history, but the current story is just as good, Trouble the Saints lacks something in it's current setting. I kept thinking I wish I was reading the story about XYZ event that was being explained or described from the past. While any good (complex) fantasy novel will have a solid backstory I think authors need to be careful that the backstory isn't better or more interesting than the one they are currently telling.

All that said there is one thing that is excellent in this book. Johnson explains, portrays, and discusses sexism, prejudice, racism, etc. as though she is a woman twice her age. The insight and eloquence with which Johnson lays out these social issues is brilliant. With quotes that challenge the reader to really think, like:
"Does just avoiding bad things make you a good person?
Don’t you have to do good things for that?"
We are given a platform in which to really ask ourselves tough questions. The discussion and bantering of our characters in part three lends itself to a really interesting book club (or English class) conversation. I definitely want to read more of Johnson's opinions and takes on social issues (be it in non-fiction or fiction) in the future. And lending her some street cred (if you will) she is not a snowflake and can pull from her own genuine experiences; something many authors (including my white self) cannot do.

Johnson is certainly a writer to watch for in the future. While Trouble the Saints isn't without it's pitfalls and issues; there is a lot of promise here that can be seen under the surface. This is her first book with a significant publisher (TOR) and I can absolutely see their amazing editorial team only improving on the talent that is clearly there. I will definitely read future Johnson in the hopes that some of the more amateur issues here are improved on.
Lastly, it was a huge mistake to promote this book as The Night Circus in my opinion. I might have enjoyed it a lot more if I wasn't expecting something different than what was delivered. A good reminder that blurbs matter. Unfortunately they are rarely written by the author, and yet blurbs are the first entrance (besides the cover) that we have to get a sense of what the book is all about. I really love TOR books 90% of the time. They do have the occasional miss from an author but they are rarely wrong about the author having potential or promise. Let's hope TOR invests in Johnson and we see more from her in the future.

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Book Review: Unbirthday

by Liz Braswell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With the abundance of Alice spin-offs, re-tellings, misappropriations and more I went into Unbirthday with relatively low expectations. The nice thing about that is that it doesn’t take too much to impress in the end when this happens.

Unbirthday is a clever continuation of the classic Lewis Carroll Alice series. All of what you know from the original two Carroll books has happened. In fact having read the original Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (or at least having seen the animated Disney movie) will greatly increase your understanding of the story. Liz Braswell returns Alice to Wonderland as a teen whom is close to losing her ability to be 'mad'. Right alongside her the Mad Hatter and others are losing their whimsy that makes them so critical to Wonderland. The entire story is about saving Wonderland from too much logic (and a Queen you might know...).

I was quite impressed with this given how bad most of the Alice retellings or spin-offs I've read have been over the years. This is a story that has been 'done' to death. But as my husband is the biggest Alice fan ever (two arm sleeves of tattoos with Alice; one the good characters and the other the bad characters, Cheshire is on both arms) I decided to read this to let him know if it was worth a read. While it's clearly YA it's still well written and I liked the treatment of Hatter enough to recommend this to him if he wants a take on Wonderland and Alice post Carroll's story.

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Book Review: The God Game

The God Game: A Novel 
by Danny Tobey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let's start with a disclaimer:
This is NOT a teen/YA book like Ready Player One. It is an 'adult' science fiction read, I would liken it to Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.

Plot & Characters
Sadly The God Game was not as good as I had hoped for (although I had high expectations); but still a solid read. Featuring lots of teenage angst and crazy decisions. If you're not ready to be annoyed by typical teen behavior (think book 5 of Harry Potter but times 10) then you may not want to delve into this one. The characters are so well written that they feel very genuine and make decisions just like I would have as a teen (and might still as an adult). Bullying has a huge presence throughout. There are also abusive parents that play a factor.
The 'game' itself is cleverly disguised. In actual fact (and you will realize this quickly) it is just a series of moral dilemmas. Many of them are extreme; but the outcome of if you'd choose to be moral or not, sacrifice yourself for the good of others, or protect your family or friends no matter the cost all remains. We make decisions like this everyday. They don't always lead to immediate death or dismemberment; but they are contributing to overall outcomes. I think there is a good reminder in The God Game that Danny Tobey wants us to remember in the end: every decision we make leads somewhere. Choice is freewill, and there is always a choice. It might not be a choice between two (or more) things we want to do; but it is still a choice.

Ultimately this is a philosophy story. Asking questions like: what is a god? who is a god? and how can they even exist?
To be a god does it only require someone to worship you or think you are a god? Or is there some sort of omniscient presence required? Now bend your mind for a second, what if someone, or an AI, with unlimited Internet access was manipulating you in such a way that you were both terrified and intrigued. Because let's face it there is a large aspect of almost every religion and god in the world that expects (or relies) on us being terrified of them.

This is nothing like Ready Play One in my opinion. Not only is it written for adults; but the overarching concepts and plot are far more complex. While both books are sci-fi and both feature teenage characters; the reality is that this is not enough to make them comparable. So for those concerned it will be like Ready Player One, rest assured it is not.
Definitely worth a read even if only to enjoy Tobey's fast paced writing and admire the intricate tasks that he comes up with for our teens to engage in. 

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

Stitching: Pumpkin Finish

Well... everyone still out there?

I feel very off lately. Stitching (and reading) has been hurting because of it. I have been hearing that many people are a bit off-kilter lately; and rightfully so. No matter where you live in the world you can't avoid the issues of COVID-19 and likely the USA election. Here in Canada we are anxiously awaiting (as is everyone) for Dec 14 when the election will be 'finalized' so we can all start planning for what things might look like in January. And in my city we are seeing crazy high infections and should be locking down; although our government is being flaky about it. Again all things I'm sure most of you are encountering as well. 

As I've been struggling to stitch I decided to pull out a brand new project, a nice, easy, fun Mill Hill Kit. This is from this year's set of Halloween releases, Glowing Pumpkin. As always it's on 14ct perforated paper using DMC and Mill Hill beads (all kindly provided in the kit). 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Book Review: The Finder

The Finder: A Novel 
What the world needs is bolder sheep

This was not quite what I was expecting. I guess I imagined more of a hunt, worldwide travel, and exploration for the items. While those things happened almost all of them where portrayed as stories told from the past. We don’t go on a true journey with any of the leading characters. Although many of them are in diverse locations; we spend the longest in Christchurch in the before and after the devastating earthquake. We see our characters as they are in a current moment, near the end, if you will, of what seems to be an elaborate and perhaps random treasure hunt.

Literary Style
For anyone familiar with Wil Ferguson’s past works (including 419 which won the Scotiabank Giller Prize from Canada) they won’t be surprised to learn that it’s very literary. I had to look up a handful of words, reread some passages, and certainly couldn’t read this while a bit tired. This is a book that requires some effort to read and get the true experience from. Depending on if you enjoy this style or not will likely dictate your love for The Finder.

Author’s Note
I kind of wish I had read the Authors Note at the back of the book. I always waffle on this, especially with stories I know have true elements. Do I want to experience the story with no prejudice or do I want to know what to watch out for?
In this case I’ll give you a hint towards reading the authors note. If you want to know about the list objects themselves, look for hidden Alfred Hitchcock references, or look up history on places or the items as you read then definitely flip to the back and read Ferguson’s notes.

On Lost Objects
The idea of a treasure hunt absolutely intrigues me. Maybe I watched Indiana Jones too many times as a kid; but my first career choice at the age of ten was to be a journalist in the midst of the action. At the time Desert Storm was everywhere and I imagined myself as a daring woman climbing through dust and rubble to get the real stories. Boy was I wrong.
Today I’m a anxiety medicated computer programmer who loves to be in new places but hates the process of actually getting to them. So maybe that’s why I really wanted more of a worldwide hunt; because my brain loves to feel like I’m travelling from the comfort of my home.
So if you’re hoping to have big reveals or Da Vinci Code like cryptics to solve for the lost items you will be sorely mistaken. That said, all of the items lost (except for one obvious one that is significant to our lead character) are real. And so you can discover more about them on the internet and in the wonderful list of recommended books Ferguson gives in his author’s note.

The Finder is the kind of book I’ll talk about to people and recommend (with a caveat about its literary style), likely muse about rereading it for years, but never actually get to it. But I’m happy to put my trade copy on my shelf. Not only because Ferguson is a fellow Canadian and Calgarian (where I’m born and raised, having never left up to today) so I want to support local, but also because it’s truly a worthwhile read even though I hesitate and chose not to give it 5 stars.
If you enjoyed Ferguson’s 419 you will be sure to enjoy this. If you like Margaret Atwood (not just Handmaiden’s Tale), Miriam Toews, or Michael Ondaatje then I am very confident you will enjoy this beautifully written story with a cast of varied characters whom (of course) all connect together in the end.

View all my reviews

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Book Review: The Last Lie

The Last Lie 
by Patricia Forde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clarifying Editions and Order of the Series
This is Book 2 of the series that started with The List. This book has also been published under the titles The Last Word and Mother Tongue. The List was also published under title The Wordsmith.

Review Introduction
A solid follow-up to The List. We meet back up with our characters shortly after the high action ending of The List. You could read this without reading book 1 but the context and characters will have much more meaning if you begin with The List. As before the intriguing premise of having language rendered down to 500 English words remains. Although there is a lot less 'list speak' in this book, so if that bothered you in the first novel then you will likely enjoy the reprieve here. This is because our lead gal and her cohorts are now outside of Ark and looking for some sort of safety.

Those hoping for some sort of love triangle (or dreading it like I did) will be happy to know that the issue is resolved in this book. Succulently, although the actual drama of it all is down-played to the primary plot to take down the rules of Ark. Although the romance in the pages is short and sweet it's still quite sweet. Perfect for a younger young adult (easily good for a 12-13 year old); but the average older teen might be a bit disappointed.

The Last Lie is really predicated around one idea or concept. That change is required. Interestingly Patricia Forde makes it clear that change can be really awful (civil war, climate change, etc.) but also that sometimes change is required in order to 'move forward'. 

"Change is always possible. It happens with with or without us. 
I’d rather be the one making the change."
The quote above really resonated with me as it's relevant for almost any situation in any timeline or world. Change is inevitable and it will happen, whether we want it or not. I have often been someone to resist change myself. Generally I resist change out of fear. Given the year 2020 has been (written Nov 2020) the whole world has had to undergo a similar change to one another unlike any we've needed to adapt to in decades (at least in North America). Forde reminded me that it's always better to embrace the change, and (if possible) be a promoter or leader of said change. The reason? So you can be (or feel) in control of the change; instead of just reacting to it you can be pushing it. 

The intriguing premise of restricting language so that people cannot communicate continues in book 2. To the point that in one scene our lead gal makes a poor choice so she can save the words from pages of a dictionary. It's weird to think of a dictionary page being valuable given that currently I can know the definition of a word with a quick internet search.
Forde also does an excellent job of showing how important a single word can be. Imagine loosing words like: freedom, violence, human, spirit or soul, war, peace. Some of these words we might want to loose but others would create a void in being able to explain concepts to children. And this is where Forde will really impress upon you a question that is terrifying at it's core:
What happens if a child hears no language for years? Can they ever regain said language? Will they be dumber for it? Does it matter?

I really like this series because of it's clever use of language to create a dystopian world. The violence and romance is lesser here (making it suitable for younger children) than in other dystopian stories like Divergent or Hunger Games. And yet The List duology still has a lot to say about freedom and choice. 
As an avid reader and lover of any/all languages (I now get to code all day long for a job!) this story really draws me in. In Forde's world restricting words means that all grammar is removed and communication comes down to single words or short statements. Imagine explaining computers, physics, sex, love, or politics with a limited vocabulary; it would become impossible to teach complex concepts. Humans would loose much of their intelligence. The question that Forde tackles here is whether we, the human race, and the Earth would be better off if humans could say (and presumably do) less would it also result in less destruction?

View all my reviews