Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Book Review: The Conductors

The Conductors 
by Nicole Glover
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Really well written for a debut novel. Let's jump right into the details today:

Characters
Our characters are adults whom are in committed relationships. No weird love triangles, first time love, or overdone romance. It's so rare to have a married couple (whom we didn't see meet one another at first) be the focus of a first book in a series. I love how their relationship grows and changes over the course of the book. As someone in a relationship of 13+ years their interactions, nuances, and treatment of one another felt very genuine. It's relaxed, but caring; and very understanding at the end of the day, much like my own. This gave it a nice real feeling which is something I always appreciate given how many over-the-top and ridiculous love stories there are out there.

Magical Systems
The two magic systems in The Conductors are unique and interesting (although I wish we had learned more about how they work). I loved the use of the constellations as our characters 'good' magic (if you will). I do wish I understood more about the sorcery or 'bad' magic as I am still not quite certain what makes it less desirable or why it lends itself to evil. Regardless, it didn't take away from the overall story, nor did it seem a big deal to not have this context. I just like knowing the intricacies of how an author has imagined complex magical systems and uses.

The Setting
Set shortly after the USA abolished slavery The Conductors is interesting as it demonstrates how unfair the country continued to be. Without a doubt (look at today to see proof) the sudden freedom people experienced did not necessarily improve their lives. Although it gave them a fighting chance; as we all know, change is much, much slower to truly come around. And I would think it clear that the world has still not achieved equality between races, cultures, religions, etc. Sad as that may be.
I was intrigued to see how scattered so many families and friends were at that time. This is something I had not really thought about very much before. The idea that you could be married to someone and your 'owner' sells them off to someone else is not only heartbreaking but unduly cruel. No person should be a commodity to be benefited from as someone else sees fit.

The Underground Railroad
I loved the snippets and little stories told of the Underground Railroad. I actually wish the whole book was written about our two main characters and their time as Conductors! With any luck more of these events are also told in past tense in book 2 of this series. This is a great introduction to what was being done, and the risks people took to save themselves and others around them. However I would say that Nicole Glover barely scratches the surface of what she could likely write about when it comes to the Conductors and their challenges, successes, and failures as they led people to freedom.

The Plot
The murder mystery was intriguing enough. I'm not really into murder mysteries; so I was far more engaged by the relationships, people, setting, and magical infusion in the novel. Ironically the plot of the story is the murders and their mystery; and yet it’s the part I cared about the least. It comes together fine, I was neither blind-sided, nor did the ending feel cheap; so for me that is a positive (if not resounding) approval of the main story.

Overall
I would definitely recommend this as a great (fun at times) read. If you are looking for details about the function of the Underground Railroad, it's Conductors, or in-depth look at the circumstances of the slaves I would say this is not really for you. Certainly the abolition of slavery is important here; but I didn't feel like I learned anything new or gained any greater introspective from what I had prior to reading The Conductors. All that said I quite enjoyed this book and will certainly check out the second one; and anything future Nicole Glover reads.

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: The Light After the War

The Light After the War 
by Anita Abriel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Having read one of Anita Abriel's other WWII books where most everyone/everything is fictional I had hoped that The Light After the War would have what Lana's War was missing; emotional depth. The Light After the War is Abriel's mother's story. Almost everything that happens in it happened in real life. And while it's a wild story of survival against all odds I still felt like it lacked the real emotional depth I've come to see in other historical novels.

Between the characters not being very well developed (which is weird as Abriel knew aa few of them personally, like her Mother) and the descriptions missing something; I just didn't come away from this novel with any sort of great emotional response; be it sad, happy, or otherwise. Everything in it is just fine. There's nothing inherently wrong with the novel; but it just lacks some sort of authenticity for me. Which is ironic given it's almost entirely based on a true story. At the end of the day I just wished for more. If you want to read a WWII book with a relatively happy ending then this is for you. The details of the war are mostly left out. The large plot points (who lives, who dies and how they die) are all said; but not described in any sort of detail that (at least for me) evicts a strong emotional response. 

If you want a "light" WWII historical novelization this might be for you. However if you are hoping for the intensity of The Tattoo of Auschwitz then I recommend passing on this one and reading one of the other thousands of WWII novels out there today.

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, September 16, 2021

Book Review: The Summoning

The Summoning 
by J.P. Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The leading ladies narrative is quite strong and well written. In fact, I was sure this was a female author. And was very surprised to learn I was wrong. Props to J. P. Smith for fooling me; and for keenly understanding that strong, smart women can still be nervous or unsure at times. I appreciated the dynamic here of our lonely widow and her struggles; but how she’s persevered regardless. The heroine of the story and her character’s voice is what makes this story for me.

Mystery/Thriller
I was pleasantly surprised by this mystery/thriller (with a hint of supernatural) to it. This is not my usual genre; but I was intrigued by the psychic medium spin and in the mood for something a bit different. I’m glad I read it. While not amazing or perfect; and maybe 3.5 stars would be more appropriate than 4, the reality is that I truly enjoyed the strong narrative voice in The Summoning. The slow burn of the story felt very well paced to me and quite realistic. Added to that the supernatural element tossed in and I was hooked.

The End
The ending is the key to this story and you won’t know what the plot really is until you’re almost done with the novel. Without giving it away, I can say it brings up questions of societal power, gender roles, grief, and the assumption or expectation (if you will) that most people are inherently good. This skewing of people and the ‘goodness’ of our society comes crashing down even as I still asked myself ‘am I sure whose the villain?’ Not because it’s not obvious in the end but because of the blend of the otherworldly with stark, assured realism.

Overall
Clever is the best description for The Summoning. You think you’re reading one type of story; only to realize that maybe it’s not as cut and dry as it seems. A wonderful blend of realism and paranormal. While a few moments felt slightly ripped off (I swear it’s Sleep Away Camp referenced) none of these moments change the impact of the ending. Thankfully I enjoyed the characters a lot, and found the pacing to my taste (which is to say that some might find it a touch slow). I liked how realistic the set-up (and ending) felt given the occult inclusion. This is one you have to read to decide if it’s for you as I can’t say too much because it would spoil the whole experience and ending.

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 13, 2021

Book Review: Piranesi

Piranesi 
by Susanna Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Weird, weird. Kind of like the movie Inception, the moment I put this down I wanted to reread it knowing what I know now. This is a very odd story; but very good. It sucked me in and even had me questioning my own reality at one point. If you read it in one or two sittings (which I did not) I think it could really make you feel surreal. I dragged it out because I love Susanna Clarke’s writing so much and there is so little of it to enjoy for the first time. No footnotes which made me a little sad (lol); but a superb piece of surreal magical(?) realism literature.

It has been a couple months now since reading Piranesi and I keep trying to find a way to express my love for it more appropriately than the summary paragraph above. Yet, I seem to come up short every time. The thing is that Piranesi is a unique story. Unlike any other I've read to date. And so it is not only very well written and framed but also absolutely engrossing. There are pieces of it that come back to me still weeks and weeks (and many books) later. I mean who doesn't want to be the caretaker of precious artifacts or bones; who doesn't want to have the ability to find 'holes' in the fabric of reality and find another land. In fact Piranesi is almost like the Narnia for adults. We are led into a quite, relatively safe space, just as a wardrobe once put us next to a light post with snow beneath our feet. Instead we are taken to a land of stone and carvings; with lots of water, that has its own magical properties.

Overall Piranesi is brilliant. I just can't find a way to say that strong enough. So you'll just have to read it and find out for yourself if you agree. Luckily its a short page count and so not a huge investment in time; although be prepared as you may sit down to read it and not want to stop until you reach the final pages.

While I received an excerpt (sampler) from the publisher in advance to publication; I also made sure to purchase a first edition hardcover because I loved Clarke's first book so much and had an incline that Piranesi would be as loved as Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell was for me. So this is my disclaimer, but not a disclaimer write-up as technically I did purchase a copy for my own consumption. I cannot wait to re-read Piranesi in the future and see what new secrets it might unlock for me.

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Book Review: Sky in the Deep

Sky in the Deep 
by Adrienne Young
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Absolutely wonderful! I would put this right next to Graceling as an excellent YA/Teen novel that has cultural clashes, intrigue, sweet romance, and a guilty conscious to contend with. Adrienne Young has put together a wonderful story that progresses smoothly and without ever getting boring, or feeling too quick.

Heroine
Our leading gal has a strong, reasonable, yet doubtful enough voice that she feels genuine. Her thoughts about love, honour, and loyalty are classic; and yet she is challenging at every turn to defend them to a certain degree. There is no lack of character growth here as our leading lady comes to realize that all people are, well... just people at the end of the day. Something our own society could certainly use a reminder of.

Romance
Just like in Graceling the romance here is very nuanced. It's in the background, not at the forefront. There would still be a plot and story to follow without the romance that blooms underneath. The nice thing about that is that if you wish to largely ignore the romance pieces you can without loosing the entire story. Near the end of course our romantic entanglements become more centered in the story. However our heroine's choices are far more intelligent and mature than usually found in YA/Teen books. And it is clear she is not choosing her path based on lust or obsession.

Fighting
There are a lot of battles in Sky in the Deep. Without a doubt there is some gore (nothing too graphic) and certainly lots of death. We have two warring tribes that ritually meet on the battlefield every year and slaughter one another. The death is not made out to be elegant or romantic however. Instead it is dirty, brutal, and harsh. Young ensures that it is clear to the reader that no one wants the glory of battle (even if it seems like the younger children do) once they've been on the battlefield and seen firsthand what death truly looks like.

Overall
There are many core themes to Sky in the Deep that are put forth. The best emotion that is handled is guilt and honour. How one can feel both guilty for their actions; and dishonourable for their choices; even in the face of love. Getting over our prejudice is not just difficult; it's seemingly impossible. Young does an excellent job of showing it's not only possible; but often the key to survival. And while love does kind of save the day it doesn't feel cheesy or lame here. Our slow burning romance builds at the perfect pace and level to feel genuine and true. This gives credence to the idea that true love can lead someone to make different decisions than they otherwise might have; especially given the prejudice taught from the tribe.
This is a solid read, and an excellent YA choice for any child over the page of 12. There is implied sex but nothing erotic or descriptive that is inappropriate. Additionally said small sex scene is really well written and quite sweet; without being unrealistic. If you are concerned about the level of violence in Sky in the Deep I would assure you that it is no worse than 90% of the video games and teen shows on the market.
As always my biggest compliment is to keep a hard copy of a book. I cannot wait to put Sky in the Deep next to Graceling in my YA/Teen print collection!

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, August 27, 2021

Book Review: The Lions of Fifth Avenue

The Lions of Fifth Avenue
by Fiona Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Fiona Davis is one of my recent favourite historical authors. So to give her four stars is a bit surprising; but The Lion of Fifth Avenue was just not near as compelling as some of her previous novels. You'd think the setting, of the New York Public Library, would be more than enough to make this perfect; but the reality is quite different. Here we have a historical mystery (as Davis tends to write) where the mystery felt unsolvable as it was so tenuous a connection.

The Mystery
Stole artifacts, including paintings, books, manuscripts, sculptures, etc. are always super intriguing. For one, you have to find a buyer in order to get cash value out of them; and two, you need to know exactly what to take. Not just any old Shakespeare book is going to do. It needs to be a special one, for example: a first edition, hardcover, only 10 in the world left, etc. Knowledge plays a key part in stealing these items. And so I was disappointed to learn who our thief was (both in the present and past), their motivation of the theft was very dull, and the way it was stolen only had a hint of interest for me. Perhaps if there had been more details about each book/piece that was stolen, or even an estimated worth (although arguably priceless artifacts) I would have felt more drawn into the intrigue. All the who, what, where, when, why and how questions of this mystery are wrapped up in the last 25 pages and just stated. The whole core plot lacked a romance that I know Fiona Davis is capable of.

Characters
Our leading ladies; one in the past and one in 1993 were equally interesting however. Both had excellent love interests (including one that is lesbian!!) that kept me on the hook wondering how they might resolve the conflicts in their way of each relationship. As per usual these ladies had strong voices and Davis gives each their own way of telling their part of the tale. So that you can't mistake one for the other (even if you miss the chapter heading telling you when you are). I felt both ladies have good introspective moments and each is a much better person as they grow in life and love. It's refreshing to see two women, albeit in two very different times, combat prejudices of being a woman, and be faced with situations similar to ones I've been in professionally in the past.

Women's Rights
I really wanted to know more about what Laura Lyons (our past lady) wrote about women's rights that was so compelling. I know this is a made up character and Davis doesn't want to rewrite history; but some more examples of the types of writing she did near the end of her life would have whet my appetite. Our 1993 lady could have certainly been a little more staunch in her stance as a women. She seems to just fall into a number of the scenarios and promotions; as opposed to really fighting for, and earning, them. There should have been more of a connection here between our two ladies.

Overall
The weak mystery outcome and a lack of real connection between our two ladies (past and present) really brought The Lion of Fifth Avenue below the usual standard that Fiona Davis has set for herself. I would still recommend this book but I just can't give it the five stars I did The Address or The Chelsea Girls warranted. Much like Davis' novel, The Masterpiece, The Lions of Fifth Avenue is just missing the special spark that the other novels have. I hope she is able to bring it back in her upcoming novels! Either way I will still continue to read her stories and have them on my print bookshelf (my highest honour) as I do love to read Davis' style, tone and narrative overall.

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, August 25, 2021

Book Review: The Way of the River

The Way of the River 
by Shan L. Spyker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This independently published middle grade book is quite the adventure! With a large cast of boys, girls, and animals to adore. While the introduction was a bit slow and disjointed for me, The Way of the River more than makes up for it with it's evil circus ringmaster/owner and his minions whom are awful to both humans and animals alike. Add in a big dose of talking animals from a magical forest, healing water, mystical powers, and some good ol' sibling rivalry; and you've got yourself the recipe for Shan Spyker's debut novel (and first in a series).

Disclaimer
Normally I would put this at the end of my review. But in this case I think it's important I be really upfront. I know Shan Spyker. I donated to her Kickstarter for this novel, and am thanked in the book's liner notes (which is super cool for me!). So this review does need to be taken as it is. I've tried to be as honest and up-front as always; but I will confess it is possible that I've given Spyker more room for improvement and less critical comments than I might another debut author. The Way of the River is not without its faults (as you will read below) but overall I am super proud to say I had a teeny tiny piece in getting it to it's audience and have proudly gifted copies to all the little kiddos in my life.

It's an Indie Book
As always I think it's important to note this is an indie book. No big publishing house editor looked at it, critiqued it, or edited out the typos. So there are some to be stumbled over. I've let Spyker know of my list so that she can fix them up for the eBook, or a second edition publication.
Additionally I found a few points in the book to be quite weak. Sadly the introduction is one of them. For the first 50 pages or so I had a hard time figuring out if Kellandale Wood was supposed to be on Earth, or in another magical realm or planet. For the record it's in another land. Adding to this was my confusion about timeline. There is mention of events from hundreds of years before; but no real mention of 'today's' timeline. This also added to my confusion on if we were supposed to be in today's world and timeline or not. When you say things like 100 years ago, it makes more sense if I have a basis for what the present day looks like. In this case we do not.
Once I got over my time and place issues I then had to contend with large jumps in the timeline for our main characters, the kids. There are times where a few weeks go by, a day or two, and then months at once. While Spyker does a decent job of ensuring we are aware of when we are, it does feel a little leap froggy to me and made my head spin once or twice to keep track of when we were in the current storyline.
These are all critiques that are standard fare for an indie book; but are still elements that do bring the enjoyment down for many readers.

The Narration
Minus our introductory elements discussed above, the narration in The Way of the River is fabulous! I mean really, truly strong. I felt like I was in a movie at moments when our kids are infiltrating the circus and I felt the change in points of view was done gracefully as the narration is clear on who is speaking or thinking at any given moment. Spyker is a talented action writer. Many middle grade and young adult authors struggle with this. They do well at the editorializing and info-dump; but fail in creating truly captivating action. Not so for Spyker. I would compare the action here to recent debut YA author Tomi Adeyemi; whose overall first novel I wasn't a huge fan of but there was no discounting her ability to write some engrossing action scenes. Spyker fits well into this same category. The action and plot are not at all a problem. Some of the finer details about the magic, time, and place are needed to really bring this to the next level.

Characters
I know it's not right... but this nearly 40-year-old woman (yes that's me) loves Alister. I mean adores him more than any adult should fan-girl over a teenage boy. This is unusual as it's often a girl I am most drawn to in MG/YA books; but here it was Alister. His adoration of the circus animals, cunning and swift thought process; plus the fact that he's young and quick all contributed to me loving every moment his name came up on the page. But don't worry there are two young girls to adore here, including the adorable Tillie that most girls under 10 are likely to want to be, the older Elinore that reminded me of Susan from Narnia (a bit stoic and definitely in-charge), and then the other boys/cousins that are around. One thing I lament is that I lost track of Tillie's BFF at some point near the end and I'm not sure what happens to her. I hope this comes back around in book 2. Or I need to reread the story as maybe I simply missed her role in our exciting climax. In fairness there are a lot of characters to keep track of.

Overall
I wanted to love this book. I really did. And I have to say after a rocky start I'm happy to recommend it as a great debut novel. You need to know what you are getting into, as per my Indie Book section written above; but if you want to treat yourself (or a child you know) to a story that is very exciting, has lots of characters (and animals!) to love; and is quite magical then you cannot go wrong with The Way of the River. I know Spyker is planning (hopefully writing currently!) the second installment. One warning this book does not have a wrap it all up in a bow ending. We have resolution for some of our characters but not all (including my boy Alister!). So be prepared to want the next book immediately!

My huge thanks to Spyker for allowing me to be a part of her journey and donate to her Kickstarter. And for putting my name in her liner notes! This is hugely exciting to me and as a lover and reviewer of books I'm proud to say I had one of the first copies in my hand.

Order a copy on Amazon or at the author's website:
www.shanspykerauthor.com/shop/p/thewayoftheriver

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Book Review: Hummingbird Salamander

Hummingbird Salamander 
by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I hate writing reviews for books I didn't like. Unfortunately this is one of those. And to think it's a Jeff VanderMeer book! But alas I have to be honest, the reality is I was psyched for Hummingbird Salamander and ended up massively disappointed. Here's why:

Genre Confusion
Part of the problem with VanderMeer's novel is that it is really toted as a science fiction book in it's classification and marketing. But I found there was really nothing sci-fi about it until the last 75 pages. Which means you have to slog through 250+ pages of what would be classified as a weak mystery novel. Unfortunately it was just boring to me. I'm not much of a mystery/thriller (on it's own) reader so I struggled through a lot of this.

Narrative Voice
First off, I hated (yes I mean hated) our leading lady who narrates the novel for us. She seems to be rambling, confused, and in need of some serious mental health help at every turn. At about 80% through the novel VanderMeer reminds us that this is supposed to be a written account of the events that happened. I had completely forgotten that tidbit from the beginning. Why were we not reminded more often? Why did the prose not read that way? It felt like Interview with the Vampire for me which was an attempt to have a personal narrative but flopping badly because the voice is not strong enough or just not consistent enough to feel like someone is telling (or writing) the story down.

The Ending
I'm surprised I made it to the ending. Honestly if it was an unknown author I would have DNF'd Hummingbird Salamander for sure. But because it was VanderMeer I kept thinking there had to be something up-coming that was worth the wait. I wasn't totally let down. The point or morale of the novel is very good in the end. But I'm not sure why it took 250+ pages to get to it. I almost feel like the last 75 pages was a great novella at some point and someone made a poor decision to make it a full length novel. The first 250+ pages could easily have been put into a paragraph at the beginning of a novella to get you into the story and then explode into the epic ending from there. I felt no value to the lost, confused, and boring narrative leading up to the sci-fi section of the novel.
That said I do get what VanderMeer is making a political/societal comment here. And so I really appreciated this quote; especially given the crazy amount of misinformation during the pandemic to date:
"Impossible to tell how fast society was collapsing because history had been riddled through with disinformation, and reality was composed of half-fictions and full-on paranoid conspiracy theories."
Overall
It's really too bad that the majority of this novel is not for me. If you like super slow burning, disjointed stories with very little foreshadowing then you'll maybe enjoy this one. If you're hoping for a fast paced science fiction novel (like you'd expect from VanderMeer ) then step away slowly and find something else to read; I wish I had. And while yes I did enjoy the ending it was simply not worth it. Maybe there is a screenplay here that might play out better with more character development and really good acting chemistry, maybe. But honestly I'm not sure it's salvageable at all without cutting the first 2/3 out and just working with the last bit.
This won't turn me away from VanderMeer as I've enjoyed this short stories in the past. I'm sad it was my first novel by him. But I have a few others of his on my shelf that I will definitely try in the future. He is after all a Canadian, like me, and I always try to support my fellow Canadians! For now I need to move onto something with some true science fiction elements and maybe a bit snarky to get over my bitterness...Murderbot anyone?

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

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Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Book Review: I Come With Knives

I Come with Knives
by S.A. Hunt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars


The further away I get from reading this book the more I think three stars is just too generous... so I'm dropping it to two stars. Honestly, unless you thought book 1 in the series was the best book you've ever read then I cannot see anyone finding this read good and it's certainly not better. Given book 1 was only okay it's really not enough to get much from me (no matter how many cute Buffy or Doctor Who references S.A. Hunt puts into her stories. I will not be lured into liking bad writing by nostalgia!)

In the Beginning...
...there was an info dump. And I don't mean like a couple pages to catch you up and remind you of the story. No, no I mean like almost 50 pages of non-stop information that is impossible to digest or remember in the end. I know many writers, especially novice ones, feel like they need to explain everything about their world (be it a: fantasy world, Earth with magic, etc.). This is not the case! Readers are smart, and in fact, better writing keeps things interesting, provides just enough information while still moving the plot and our characters development forward. Please don't set-up every detail of your world to start any novel. It's just plain boring.

Gory & Gonzo
Do these things go together? Maybe... but there needs to be a really delicate line between a lot of gore (which Hunt seems obsessed with) and weird, odd descriptions. I just have trouble imaging a gory monster when it's so oddly described. A good lesson here is refer back to H. P. Lovecraft. That is an author that excelled at descriptions that were both icky, gory, and horrific (without sounding just silly). Here is an example that made me shake my head in utter confusion. Is this scary? Does adding blood to it help the absurdity? Not for me.

"It was all head and lanky frame, an enormous black-green chimpanzee with jagged dinosaur legs and a giant mascot head."

Overall
As with S.A. Hunt's first book in the series there is a heavy reliance on shock value to keep the reader interested. Maybe that keeps the attention of 12-year-old's? But it will not keep the attention of the average 16-year-old... so to me this is a fail. If this is supposed to be a teen book, and given how gory it is I think it must be put there, then relying on shock value isn't going to work. Hunt commits a classic kid/teen literature mistake: assuming the reader is not intelligent. Even a child of 5 can handle a complex plot. So don't dumb it down for MG or YA readers.
Additionally there are a lot of references in here that I suspect the average teen isn't going to pick-up. Now maybe that's okay... but writers need to be careful not to have throwbacks to their own teens in a book written for today's teens. Let's face it, as much as I want to think that being almost 40 doesn't put me in a different realm of language and pop culture knowledge; it does. And referencing Buffy the Vampire Slayer seems cute; but if your target audience is currently 14 it's doubtful they will catch the very subtle reference. Maybe that's okay... but to me it would be better to have a more current reference that your target reader will appreciate.

I have told myself under no circumstances am I letting myself read book 3. I will not allow my "need" to finish a series waste my precious reading time on anymore of Hunt's over-the-top, absurd, and gory descriptions or ridiculous plot points.

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, August 9, 2021

Book Review: Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons (Anthology)

Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons: Stories 
by Keith Rosson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This collection of stories was very 'real' feeling. Intense, violent, and sad; but very truthful about how messed up the word is. If you want to feel better about your own life this is a set of short stories that is likely to help because these stories are brutal.

Story #1 - The Lesser Horsemen
I’ve always thought Death didn’t fit in with the other horsemen. I mean all of their powers result in death. This story really nails on the head this issue. As well as brings up a great ‘new’ horseman.
Although I can’t help but wonder if our buddy Pestilence should get a sequel since covid hit. (Nervous laughter?)

Story #2 - At This Table
Footnotes!! Gotta love a good (generally useless) footnote.
Sadly the story is meh.

Story #3 - Baby Jill
What is it about tooth fairy stories lately? This has to be like the fourth or fifth I’ve read this year! Granted three were in one fairy anthology; but still.
This one is odd… feels more like an opening to something bigger.

Story #4 - Their Souls Climb the Room
A. I like pork and no amount of gory slaughterhouse descriptions is likely to change that,
B. If this is attempting to compare slaughtering pigs to killing humans it misses the mark.
If the story is just about loving pigs and not eating them then I'm a poor target audience. *shrugs*

Story #5 - Hospitality
Wow, shocker of an ending. I can’t say anything about this without possibly tipping off too much. So I’ll just say wow.

Story #6 - This World or the Next
An interesting little story about the connection, or difference, between a head injury and what most would call a religious experience. Can they be one and the same?

Story #7 - Gifts
Dark, forbidding, and depressing. This story would make an amazing full length novel or movie.

Story #8 - Coyote
It feels like there are about 20 pages missing to this story. A piece where we learn about the brother a bit more; something other than his heartbreak.

Story #9 - Yes, We are Duly Concerned with Calamitous Events
Well this is very disturbing. A Lord of the Flies with office workers. Another visceral story in which I can't quite peg the reason that people are motivated to kill in awful ways. Very strange and a bit psychotic.

Story #10 - Winter, Spring, Whatever Happens After That
This is a very sad, yet realistic story of a family destroyed by alcoholism, poverty, and the failure of the ‘American Dream’. The children; a young boy and a teen girl, are stuck in the cross-fire of it all and suffer because of it. A good account of how circular life is and that the choices we make affect the children around us immensely and (all too often) negatively.

Story #11 - Forgive Me This
Another father to child (in this case a son) story that is sad all around. I can only wonder at Rosson’s relationship with his parents if he has garnered inspiration for his stories from them...

Story #12 - Dunsmuir
This may be the most hopeful story of this collection. While it has murder, drugs, and alcoholism. It also has rehab, (what passes for) justice, and a baby. Really well put together and could easily be a full fledged novel with a lot of introspective comments in it.
One critique is that snakes do not molt. They shed. These are very different activities. One involves feathers (molting), the other involves scales (shedding). It really bugs me when people get info on snakes incorrect! My poor babies are so misunderstood.

Story #13 - Homecoming
I’m not sure if Rossom means this afterlife to be a type of hell or not. But if hell is as desolate as described here then it might be worse than fires and constant physical pain. Bring on Satan and his whips instead please!

Story #14 - The Melody of the Thing
Brutally violent story about how one innocuous decision can bring everything to a grinding halt.
Also a reminder that we leave people with little proper care once they leave the hospital. Super sad; even if the ending has some hope in it. The violence here would warrant a warning; but then if you've read this many stories in the anthology, in order, you aren't likely to be surprised by this escalation in violence and gore.

Story #15 - Brad Benske and the Hand of Light
This final story is a bit odd but interesting. It is about a man with anger management issues (who is trying to 'handle' them); and a woman who is a bit flighty.

Overall
All of these stories so far are so well written and most have been very clever. I’m definitely going to keep my eye on Rosson. His early (first two) novels were only okay; but these stories suggest major talent. Highly recommend this for any horror fans or those who want some really dark insights into our lives as humans.

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: Penelope Strudel

Penelope Strudel: And the Birthday Treasure Hunt
SPOT THE CLUES and CRACK THE CODES to help Penelope find her birthday surprise!
by Brendan Kearney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had a book super similar to this one as a kid. It was one of my favourite books ever. I wish I had a copy or could even remember the name! But it had a hidden dodo on the cover and decoding, search and find, etc. just like what is found in Penelope Strudel. Here you find puffins instead of a dodo.

This is such a beautiful book. Well put together, easy to follow, and sooo fun! The type of book that a 10-year-old will adore; but that the adults will want to join in on to solve the clues. Perfect for a car or plane trip, rainy day, or for a kid that is intrigued by codes. Don't know if your kid cares about decoding? This is a great place to 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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Saturday, July 17, 2021

Book Review: The Brideship Wife

The Brideship Wife 
by Leslie Howard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


While this book is well written, with a spunky heroine, and a fast paced narrative; I can’t in good conscious give it the full four stars I might if it was only fiction. The reality is it is not just fiction; but historical fiction, and so the commentary, ethical/morale choices, and societal arrogance of the book should represent the time period.

Our leading lady being insistent she wouldn't take 'free land' from the government because it 'didn't belong to them' is so far from what a women in that time period would have understood or thought I just struggle with it. While that is what we all wish they realized or thought; the reality is that they likely didn't. And so I don't like the way Leslie Howard makes our leading lady seem more aware and culturally understanding than any woman of the time period was likely to be. It just feels wrong.

Colonization
This book falls down regarding it’s handling of the colonization of what eventually becomes British Columbia. Particularly regarding the seizure of land from the Indigenous tribes. It feels like it was written by a privileged white women (which yes I am also) whom wanted to try to say the right things but just doesn't actually consider what the women in the real historical situation would have thought or done. Howard does a great job of researching the actual circumstances of many of these women and how their lives ended up after coming across on a crazy journey. However I just don't think you can say some things; make your character seem all righteous, and not delve deeply into the tragic history. In the end it made the commentary on colonization appropriated in order to give our leading lady a more moral existence. This is inherently not okay.
Is it sad that the women of the time likely didn't understand? Yes.
Is it sad that even if they did they would have had little to no power to stop it? Yes.

But pretending the women were aware or attuned to the sufferings of the Indigenous tribes just feels wrong to me. Especially when none of our ladies stand up to say something; or make a huge difference in the lives of the people who were being colonized (aka: conquered). I'm sorry but delivering a small amount of vaccine for the smallpox is just not near enough to make her settling down somehow acceptable.

The Ending
I have a real pet peeve when it comes to book endings, and unfortunately The Brideship Wife hit it bang on. Everything magically seems to work out in the last 20 pages. Suddenly our leading lady doesn't need any 'free land' or a handout from others. She just has the world become her oyster and everything lands in her lap. I'm sorry but real life is NOT like this at all.
Additionally it just adds to the entire attempted touch regarding the destruction of the Indigenous bands and lands as insulting. It makes me think of a scar leftover from a wound. In no way does the 'free land' from the government or our leading ladies choices seem to put the Indigenous lands at risk in the end. And yet she still ends up happily living in (what will be) Western Canada. Hypocrite much?

Overall
I get that the point of this historical fiction is to tell the story of these women who were either (essentially) sold to be wives of the new settlers on the West of the 'New World'; or those whom actually volunteered. What was just too hard to take here was the passing commentary on the sufferings of the Indigenous and the devastating affect colonization had. I get that may of the colonists, especially women like this, might not have realized the situation and/or not had any power to truly change the eventual outcomes. But I just feel like in today's society, especially recently in Canada, it's not to just pay lip service anymore. Yes this book was about women whom left everything behind for a chance at a good life, and many at great expense to their possible, original dreams. I just couldn't help but feel like the thoughts of our leading lady regarding the Indigenous were just a way to try and tell this historical story without blaming the women for the situation. That didn't sit well with me. And so regardless of decent writing and solid character development I just can't give this anymore than 3 stars; and I think even that is being generous.

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: The Chickadees and the Moon Above

The Chickadees and The Moon Above 
by Sara Simon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The watercolours in this children's book make it worthwhile even if the type setting is less than ideal. For the art alone I would buy this book.

Our story is simple and cute. Here we meet a mother and her baby chickadees. As the babies grow up and move away she tells them to look at the moon, as she will be too, and they will all be sharing the same moon each night. A nice little truth that applies to anyone, anywhere in the world. The simplicity of it is likely to be understood by even a toddler; and it may have them looking for the moon in the sky at any given time (maybe in their life if the book makes a big enough impression). I also liked the inclusion of at least one chickadee that doesn't go on to marry and have more little chickadees. As a childless woman this little nod is quite important to me. I believe it's important that children know they have options in their lives and it doesn't have to be marriage and babies for everyone.

Let's talk about the biggest flaw of this book, and maybe no one else will really care but it stood out like a sore thumb to me. The typesetting. This book uses a nice serif font that is easy to read and would be good for kids who are learning to read. Except for one huge change. A white glow effect has been put on the black text. Now I know that it's because on the watercolours they were probably having trouble with readability. But a glow? What is this the 1980's? And what about the science that fonts with glows around them are distracting and hard to read. It completely removes this children's book from a level 1 or 2 reader's possible repertoire which I find very disappointing. Additionally it adds a lot of noise to the beautiful watercolour pages. I have to say, personally, shame on the illustrator, author, publisher, etc. for thinking this was a good 'solution' to their legibility concerns. I can think of half a dozen better ways to deal with legibility than to junk up the page with 'glowing' text. Now again, I realize most people won't care or maybe even notice; but as a past Art Director/Graphic Designer I just can't get over it. Good thing the watercolours are so pretty. They almost distract enough from this faux pas.

Overall this is a cute little story that would be perfect for anyone whose parents or guardians  live far away, or travel for work.

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, July 8, 2021

Book Review: The Dangers of Smoking in Bed

The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories 
by Mariana Enríquez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is a creepy, haunting, somewhat depressing collection of stories only get better as the anthology moves from story 1 - 12. It's so creepy I almost felt like Mariana Enriquez wasn't willing to add a story #13 as it would be too much to take.
As someone who loves short stories, and believes it takes a lot of talent to write really good ones, I can honestly say I will be watching Enriquez for future novels. The types of books that get put in Fiction when they should really be in Fantasy or Horror. That is what this collection felt like. Stories that were so real feeling you forgot that the ideas behind them are 'supposed' to be fictional. I have to wonder if all of them (especially story 12) actually are.

Some notes on each story:

Story #1 - Angelina Unearthed
Spooky and melancholic.
"It's weird to see a dead person during the day."

Story #2 - Our Lady of Quarry
Little lost on this one. I need an English professor to explain it...lol.

Story #3 - The Cart
This is a very normal story with an extreme ending I didn’t see coming. We have social classes, racism, mental capacity and more dividing the world. I think this is an attempt to show how quick poor decisions can be made in heated situations.

Story #4 - The Wall
I find this story difficult to accept. Would a parent or grandparent really condemn their child to take on evil intentionally?"

Story #5 - Rambla Triste
This one gave me shivers. Maybe because it’s 3am and I can’t seem to sleep (lol) or maybe because I’ve been to old European cities with areas that just feel inherently haunted. The old church in Amsterdam on a corner of the red light district was like this for me when I was there years ago. Like someone(s) watching, waiting to ensnare you in their misery.

Story #6 - The Lookout
Chilling, depressing, and creepy ghost story. Ghosts preying on the weak, living, just seems unfair."

Story #7 - Where are you, Dear Heart?
This story made me a bit queasy at the end. Not gonna lie it’s pretty gruesome. Here’s a small taste of where it heads:
"I had to contain that desire, that wish to date myself, to open him up, play with his organs like hidden trophies."

Story #8 - Meat
Pieces of this story remind me of We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix. It’s about a rock star whom influences two teen girls in a terrifying way.
Another gruesome element here; but the obsession is handled really well and comes through in the end. I felt convinced by the end why the whole terrifying scenario.

Story #9 - No Birthdays or Baptisms
I’m not sure the point on this story. It’s beautifully written, as they all are in this anthology, but it doesn’t seem to have a purpose.

Story #10 - Kids Who Come Back
By far the longest story in this anthology. I really expected more. After so many great stories before this one it felt a little flat. Missing some of the creep factor of the stories before. A bit disappointed on this one.

Story #11 - The Dangers of Smoking in Bed
Less paranormal and more real life disturbing. Not even sure I get it but feels like some real madness is bleeding off the page in this super short narrative.
Or maybe I don’t get it as I haven’t smoked in 15+ years? Or never smoked past age 23?

Story #12 - Back When We Talked to the Dead
So as a teen I also played with a Ouija board. And since everyone who goes in my parents basement, where we used it a few sleepover nights, swears year one basement corner is creepy. Doesn’t matter what furniture or décor we put there; hasn’t ever mattered. It’s just a cold spot in an already cold room.
This story felt like the perfect creepy ending to this haunting anthology.

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, June 19, 2021

Book Review: The Clockwork Crow

The Clockwork CrowThe Clockwork Crow 
by Catherine Fisher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A relatively quick middle grade book about fairies (or the others) who stole/tricked a little boy, a cursed/magical clockwork crow toy, and an orphan girl. Nothing too original here but a solid story written by an author I adore.

Catherine Fisher has a way of writing children’s/teen books that is just engrossing. I never want to put them down! I wish more of her works were released in North America.
This series is actually a republish by Candlewick Books making it more available worldwide hopefully. Or at least here in Canada (where I live) it will be readily available from Candlewick.

The perfect book for boys or girls that maybe haven’t learned to love reading yet; but are competent enough to read at a 8-9 year-old reading level. I think Clockwork Crow easy enough for most kids but interesting enough to really get them liking reading. Especially if they’ve never read a fantasy/mystery like it before.

There are two further books in the series that I already grabbed e-books for and when the full series is out from Candlewick Press I hope to get the set as I can never have enough Fisher on my shelf!

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, June 8, 2021

Book Review: The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep

The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep 
by Allan Wolf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


"Authors Note... I hope, like me, you won’t judge the Donner Party too harshly... I hope you will try placing yourself in their train-worn shoes."

Wow. This book is incredible! It’s brilliantly written in a lyrical fashion. This true story is endearing, haunting, and horrifying all at once. While I read this book 2 months prior to writing this review; it feels like yesterday I finished. As anticipated, The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep has stuck with me in different ways and truly affected my psyche; especially on the issue of survival. I was very concerned that I would have trouble reading this as cannibalism is one of my major horror triggers. I avoid the topic in almost all instances. I blame the movie version of The Road and some episodes of The Walking Dead for giving me literal nightmares with their visceral portrayals of cannibalism. Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps. The difference here is stark. This is about pure survival of the cold, Snow, and Hunger. If your children were starving would you really allow available (dead) meat to go to waste?

No Regular Novel
So many pieces of Allan Wolf's treatment of the Donner Party story are brilliant. This is not a typical novel. To start Hunger is our narrator in places. Hunger's perspective fills in some of the holes with presumed events that are not confirmed. Hunger also lends a lot of humanity to our characters. A reminder that in the end they are starving and cannot afford to waste anything; no matter what type of meat it is.
Alongside Hunger's unique perspective we have diary entries from one of the children, the innermost thoughts of one of the father's, odd ramblings of a couple characters, a mother's despairing perspective, and Snow. Yes, Snow is a character and has pages of grey text that are literally just names. It's impactful as you start to see the accumulation, not just of the word snow from page to page; but also of the pile of dead left in their wake (or eventually at their campsites).
On top of all this the narrative is lyrical. Almost poetic in places. It read like a lullaby for me; both soothing and yet a bit horrifying. Think of the typical lullaby and you'll realize most of them had (or threatened) awful outcomes. This story is written in the same way and the treatment absolutely humanizes this true story and reminds us that it is not just a punchline of a joke; but dozens of people's lives playing out in a harsh, unforgiving, and ultimately tragic environment.

True Story of Poor Choices
One of the biggest takeaway's I have from The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep is the reminder that this is a true story. This group of people including small children, elderly, women, and a few strong men truly did make a whole host of bad decisions. The mountain pass was just the final straw. In fact they were lucky to make it to the pass at all. Honestly a large chunk of what happens feels like pure stupidity; but then Hunger will remind you that when you are unable to focus on anything but the emptiness in your stomach all other logic or common sense is set aside. Prior to Hunger being a factor we must remind ourselves that these people literally have only one way to move forward. They have left nothing behind and put all their eggs in the wagons they travel with. Turning back is never an option as their future is in their final destination.
And yet many times I wanted to just scream at the party for bad choices. Never mind the stupidity of the 'shortcut' that they convinced themselves was worth it, but their choices not to bring the animals into the cabins from the storms, sending way too many people out to find a way through the pass (wasting food on the energy needed for all of them), and overall just not thinking clearly a lot of the time.
Ironically, given the time period and importance of physical strength to much of the story, we actually see that the mothers were perhaps the most resilient in the end as they watched, their own and other, children die around them and despair at how to keep surviving so their living ones could have a future. If you look at the ratio of how many of the mothers of children lived versus the men or children it's quite startling to realize they were most fortunate (if we can call it that) in the end. If anyone was a hero in the end it must be the women who watched their families fall apart as the men searched for a way through the pass (and most didn't return), their children starved (many to death), and their ability to stay warm became imperative to anyone's survival.

The Cold and Snow
I've already mentioned that Snow is a character; but it's important to note how good of a job Wolf did of portraying what it's like to be truly cold. And I don't mind a bit chilly because it's just below freezing. We're talking about conditions with snow, and fierce wind in the pass. Where temperatures would have easily plummeted to the point where Farenheit and Celsuis meet, -40. This is a kind of cold, especially if you are wet from the snow or sweating, that is different than most people ever experience. As a Canadian, who lives in a places that see -30C or lower for at least a week each year, I can tell you that your brain is so quick to lose feeling and not notice the cold in your appendages. It tricks you into thinking it's warm, convinces you that it's safe to leave your enclosed space, and causes utter madness. It's been documented by science many times. Yet so often in fiction; cold, snow and North wind effects are downplayed; but not here. Wolf is explicit in his explanations of the cold, wind and snow on everyone. Especially well written is the narrative where a large party (of mostly men) try to summit the pass and get caught in a fierce winter storm. The eloquence and understanding that Wolf has of exactly how this situation would have played out, both physically and mentally, in real life is exquisite.

Overall
Honestly I could go on and on about so many pieces of this novel that are just perfect. Although let's face it the thing everyone wants to know is did cannibalism happen in the end? Yes the children were likely fed the remains of those they knew and some of the adults may have succumbed to Hunger as well.
At the end of the fictional account Wolf gives us a comprehensive bibliography as well as a very explicit description of exactly what is known and 100% true; versus what he has assumed or supplemented to make a complete story. As all the players are now passed on we will never truly know what happened in the valley leading up to the deadly mountain pass. Yet one thing is certain for me after reading this novel; no one from this story deserves to be demonized, mocked, or used as the butt of a joke. These were real people, just trying to survive in impossible conditions with children and adults dying around them. And so while I'm still terrified of the idea of humans being used as a meat source and locked up (like The Road); I'm no longer completely put off by the idea of surviving on what is available. If your children were starving and meat was just a few feet away, preserved in the snow (waiting for the wolves to take it away) wouldn't you feed it to them (and yourself) in order to survive?
If you think no, then I encourage you to read this book and understand the extreme circumstances that these people lived (and died) in. I guarantee it will at least have you pausing to wonder at what point Hunger would win over any ethical or morale concerns.
This incredible piece of literature deserves a lot more discussion and awareness than it has gotten to date. I hope Allan Wolf is aware that he has written an award winning piece of historical fiction and that, if nothing else, there are people out there like myself that truly respect his work; and have been strongly affected by it.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review. 
I read a hardcopy of this book from my library in order to get the feel for the page layout. I recommend this be read in print format due to the layout of the pages being a part of the narrative; especially for Snow.


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Book Review: The Best of Mythical Beasts and Magical Creatures

The Book of Mythical Beasts
and Magical Creatures
by D.K. Publishing
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Having read and reviewed a number of large format children's books about mythical creatures, Gods or Goddesses, and other interesting lore; it really means something when I tell you that this is the best I've ever seen of them!

Mythical Beasts & Magical Creatures has an inclusive worldwide outlook that I have not seen in most. Not only does it include multiple stories from every populated continent (sorry penguins Antarctica is the exception), but it also hasn't labelled creatures that may be common in North America now as such; these are categorized under their first influences in Europe. This then allows for the North American creatures to be of Indigenous origin. I can't tell you how happy I was to see the Windigo included!

With two full pages for almost all creatures and gorgeous illustrations this is a beautiful coffee table book for an enthusiast or a great way to introduce a child to the world of mythical animals. There is also a two-page spread in each category that sums up many types of one creature. For example: on the fairies page we have brownies, pixies, etc. On the vampire page we have the typical Dracula type vampire, as well as all the Asian inspired creatures that feed on the blood of the living. Again the inclusivity feels very balanced.

At the high price point these types of books sell for you want to make sure you are getting good paper quality, beautiful illustrations, well written content, and comprehensive worldwide outlooks. I can say with certainty that Mythical Beasts and Magical Creatures meets all these criteria and more. I just might have to add this one to my own personal library, or the toy box for the kiddos that visit me to peruse through!

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review. 
Seen in person in hardcover format at my library to evaluate the page quality, illustration colour, and other print qualities.

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Sunday, May 30, 2021

Book Review: The Russian Cage

The Russian Cage 
Gunnie Rose series - Book 3 
by Charlaine Harris 
4 out of 5 stars 

More or less exactly what I expect from Charlaine Harris and this series. A bit more positive than the previous books; but that was okay. It felt like time some events and scenarios went Lisbeth’s way in her travels. Well besides her just surviving. The body count is not as high here as I recall from the last two books either. 

Random Thoughts 
Theres a little bit too much frivolity and fuss over how non-girly Lisbeth is. It felt overdone and unnecessary. Although it was fun to have all her fancy attire (dresses and the like) described. Clothing was very important in Russian Cage because of appearances at court/palace/whatever they were calling the Russian nobles housing. 

I enjoyed all the new characters we met; and really enjoyed getting to know the little sis better. Being in the Holy Russian Empire territory/state was interesting as the rules are so different and our gunnie gal is definitely way out of her element. I’d have liked a bit more in-depth discussion on the politics and laws perhaps; but it was written at the level I expected given Harris tends to have lighter reads. 

The flow and overall pacing was on par with the previous two novels in the series and most True Blood books. A decent read and definitely a good break from dense novels. What I would personally deem a ‘beach’ or summer read as I don’t usually read contemporary romance. Just enough romance in this to suffice my limited need for it; but enough violence to distract and create the fun. Although a lot more knives than usual; which is okay too (lol).

Firefly Comparison 
This makes me sound like I desire the violence but really this series is set as a futuristic western; so gunflighting is mandatory. Think Firefly without being in space. I could totally see our lead gal as the Zoe type. Eli however is Simon with magic (not just medical capacity). The more I think on this comparison to Firefly the more it makes sense. We lack a Mal type or Anara type character; but the little sis is cute and quirky (River plus Kaylee-esque). Yep that’s how I will describe these books from here forward. 

Reading Order
Last note, it’s worth starting this series from book 1 so you have character progression but it is not required. Harris does decent reminder/info chapters woven into the new plot well (without being info dumps). So you could jump in anywhere you wanted. 

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

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Book Review: The Infinity Courts

The Infinity Courts 
by Akemi Dawn Bowman


4.5 stars. Only because I struggled to accept the premise in the beginning...
This is one of those books where you need to read 100 pages and not think too hard about things like: the probable existence of aware AI, an infinite afterlife, AI having emotions, science of technology existing beyond human constructs, and other abstract concepts. Just accept them and go on the ride; because at some point you’ll find yourself so captivated by the world, characters, relationships, and idea of humanity that you won’t even care that those early pages came off a bit corny and lack some serious scientific rigour. But I promise it’s okay; because once the fantasy elements take over it works, and it works well.
Akemi Dawn Bowman has given us a gorgeous, intriguing new world (aka: the afterlife) to explore: wrought with monsters whose faces look like ours, people who are as complex in death as they were living, and a systematic set-up of torture that makes even grimdark fans (like myself) wonder if this is truly YA book.

Less is More
I want to get into so much with this; and yet I think the reader is better off going in with just the basic info on the blurb (like I did). It allows the story to unfold in a manner that catches you by surprise and makes the twisted ending feel all that much more perfect. There was a point during The Infinity Courts that I wondered something; it ended up being key to the whole construct in the end. This tickles me that while I didn’t know, somewhere unconsciously, I did have an idea but lost it in the pages. That is excellent, strong writing!

Relationships
Above all else the thing to really appreciative out of The Infinity Courts is Bowman’s ability to write relationships that resound true. There is no obvious love interest or best friend at the start. And even by the end the relationships our lead gal has with everyone around her are complex. Just like real life. The only solid thing that remains true throughout is that her love for her sister is stalwart. There is a beauty to Bowman’s eloquence in writing relationships between characters that feel genuine. The women in power distrust one another (what woman hasn’t doubted another woman, even a best friend, at some point?). The men make like they are all macho and indestructible; and yet they fall apart just the same as the females around them. And then we have the AI characters whom mimic being human. They are perhaps the most complex of all. Can an AI want or desire something?

Conclusion
Before I get too carried away in the genuinely intriguing concepts that Bowman lays out here (and spoil this), let me say that this is a series I cannot wait to spend more time with. If only I had time to reread! Now knowing the truths of the ending I wonder how many foreshadows and hints I consciously missed?
All that said, the most important takeaways to know in advance of reading The Infinity Courts are these:
- there is no love triangle (but a romance does blossom)
- the ending is clever and twisted but not cheap
- every good series needs a strong tag line. Where Hunger Games had “may the odds be ever in your favour”; Infinity Courts has “may the stars watch over you”.

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 18, 2021

Book Review: Where the Veil is Thin

Where the Veil Is Thin 
by Alana Joli Abbott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Apparently the tooth fairy is much, much scarier than I ever remembering thinking as a child. There are no less than three, yes 3, stories about evil tooth related fairies in this anthology. Who knew? Lol.Overall this is just an okay anthology. I was disappointed by the Seanan McGuire story; which is the reason I picked this one up at all. But finding new, upcoming author Gwendolyn N. Nix is hopefully worth my time.

Here's some quick notes about each story:

Story #1 - The Tooth Fairies, by Glenn Paris
This story is a bit disturbing... but that might just be because the fairies are harvesting blood from a child, and a spider takes at least one of them out. *shudder*.

Story #2 - Glamour, by Grey Yuen
I read this story this morning... it was so dull I can’t remember anything about it.

Story #3 - See a Fine Lady by Seanan McGuire
Oh Ms McGuire, whose has the ability to both invoke dreamy intrigue and make me laugh at the same time. Nothing like a unicorn in Target to make on chuckle; but then to have it poop on the merchandise? Yep that’s pure ridiculous gold.

Story #4 - Or Perhaps Up by CSE Cooney
This story is very subjective and existentialist. It didn’t really grab my attention but someone in the right frame of mind might glean some wisdom from it...

Story #5 - Don't Let Go by Alana Abbott
Drop me in a story about fairies in Ireland any day and I'm likely to be pretty happy. Add in a handsome local and a bewildering visitor; and you've probably got a story I can get behind.

Story #6 - The Loophole by L. Penelope
Loved this one!! Took a couple pages to figure out what was going on but the ending is just wonderful. Dark but romantic.

Story #7 - Your Two Better Halves, A Dream With Fairies in Spanglish by Carlos Hernandez’s
Choose your own adventure books were at the height of popularity when I was a kid and the perfect age to love them. I’ve read dozens if not hundreds. But here’s the thing... they gave page numbers and we had paperback copies. On an e-reader with only letters and no hyperlinks it’s a disaster to try and read this

Story #8 - Take Only Photos by Shanna Swendson
Adorable! I really like the writing style of Swendson and am going to check out what else she has written. Some cute jokes, perfect portrayal of an introvert who just needed someone to reach out and be friends with. Oh and there are fairies. 😉

Story #9 - Old Twelvey Night by Gwendolyn N. Nix
”It’s crisp and good, but once you bite-even just a nibble-you have to eat the whole thing.” A quote regarding apples.
Wow! Love this. It’s creepy, compelling, and oddly relatable in a disturbing way. The only thing disappointing is to learn Nix hasn’t written much else. But she’s still young so here’s hoping she emerges. I’d sign her!

Story #10 - The Seal Woman’s Tale by Alethea Kontis
A classic tale spun with trolls instead of humans; and a survivor in the end. Lovely.

Story #11 - The Storyteller by David Bowles
Super short, a little sweet; but ultimately a let down.

Story #12 - Summer Skin by Zin E. Rocklyn
Predictable but still fairly well written.

Story #13 - Colt’s Tooth by Linda Robertson
Another evil tooth fairy story. Who knew so many people had bad thoughts or dreams about the tooth fairy! This one is okay; but nothing special.

In the end the best story, by far, is from Gwendolyn N. Nix. I really hope someone signs her immediately to a publishing deal as I need more of her work!!!

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: My Best Friend is Extinct

My Best Friend Is Extinct 
by Rebecca Wood Barrett
My rating: 2 of 5 stars


For a middle grade book this novel is much too long, way too boring, and even too outrageous. Now I don’t mean outrageously funny or silly. I mean like this premise is so ridiculous that even kids are likely to raise an eyebrow and say “really, you want me to believe that”? Or at least Canadian kids who understand snowy weather will.

Plot
A group of animals that was long thought extinct is discovered by our lead boy. He befriends an injured one and away we go. There is some school bullying, hiding/lying, and a few other elements here that the average kid experiences. What is most relevant is that the not-extinct animals need help. You know I'm the kind of person (and was the kind of kid) that wants Sasquatch and Loch Ness to be real. Or at least somehow find an explanation for why their are reported sightings every so many years. I am not the kind of person that thinks it's plausible that multiple species, in groups of 20+, are living relatively close to a human town (within a day's hike) and haven't been discovered in thousands of years. That's just silly.

Humourous?
I know kids books are supposed to be a bit outrageous and fun. I get that. So if you think the extinct animals plot is just 'fun' then that's cool. I'd have been far more comfortable had the species been aliens who landed here recently, or migrated from somewhere; as opposed to just overlooked by humans for thousands of years. For me it's either go big and make it crazy ridiculous; or keep things somewhat believable. Sadly Rebecca Wood Barrett doesn't really do either of these things. She tries instead to walk a fine line and unfortunately missed with me.

Cold & Winter
I'll warn you this is a huge pet peeve of mine... I'll try not to rant too much.
Barrett is a born and raised Canadian based on her profile information. Now, albeit off the west coast which is more temperate climate than most of Canada; but still it does snow there and temperatures drop below zero; especially in the mountains. Therefore there is no excuse for Barrett having our lead boy enter a hypothermic state (even describes him feeling hot when it's really cold which is one of the last signs before the cold kills) and then just magically bringing him out of it. Without a human being involved. Yes the fluffy animal from the cover is there to help; but come on you want me to believe that the bear-esque creature (I don't want to tell you what it is as it's a spoiler) knew exactly when and how to revive our boy and keep him from dying of hypothermia? I think not. Why is it so hard to mitigate enough that the cold doesn't 'nearly' kill someone off in a way that is realistic?

Overall
I was super disappointed in this one. It didn't keep my attention and felt drawn-out in page count and ludicrousness. Given it's a middle grade book I have to figure if the book can't keep a voracious reader like myself intrigued there is little to no chance it will keep a 9-11 year-old engaged long enough to make it to the end. This story could have been much, much shorter and it might have been improved; but it the silliness of extinct animals hiding in the wilderness for thousands of years is just not an issue I see getting over without a full rewrite.

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 29, 2021

Book Review: Burn the Dark

Burn the Dark 
by S.A. Hunt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This reads more like a preview of book 1 or maybe even a prequel. Generally we get a lot of set-up for the overall world (ours plus magical elements). S.A. Hunt establishes the history, characters, present day situation, and what is likely to be plot moving forward in the series. Sadly Burn the Dark lacks a depth and ends up feeling too generic for me; like many common stories pasted together into one.

Urban Fantasy with Humour
I will confess I much prefer a whole new world different from our own in fantasy novels. The urban fantasy where magic or creatures are added to our existing present on Earth is less appealing to me. I blame Laurell K. Hamilton and Charlaine Harris for over saturating me decades ago with their series Anita Blake and True Blood respectively.
The difference here is that Hunt knows she's writing a bit of a comical story and so plays it up! I really appreciated the cute pop culture references and lines like:
"Cram your light up your ass, Zulu, I won’t your Keymaster."
Note: if you are too young to know this reference please immediately rent the original Ghostbusters from the 80's, forgive the special effects (it was the 80's after all) and sit back to have some fun.
Because Hunt took the approach to not take her world too seriously overall this worked much better than it might have otherwise. Urban worlds always feel a bit ridiculous and so the humour fit right in for me.

Haphazardly Put Together
My biggest complaint about Burn the Dark is that there are three storylines with different characters happening and I couldn't find even a glimmer of reason why I was being told them or how they would come together. Of course they do, because otherwise why tell these perspectives; but I really wish a bit more foreshadowing had happened so I at least felt like I was reading the same book when the point of view changed. This took me out of the story quickly when each character's time came as the point of view was so drastically different. This is an issue I've had before with books my Michael Crichton (as an example) where it all feels a bit too abstract for too long. I don't need the convergence of stories to happen sooner; but some subtle hints about how they may (or may not) connect would be appreciated.

Self Help Book?
I must admit at times I felt like I was ready a caddy self help book. There are a lot of comments and references to being badass, to fighting back, and to overall self confidence. As I'm not big on overstating self-help style adages I found this a bit tiresome and annoying. Although I did really appreciate this one for it's humour and more pop culture references:
"Adapt and overcome. When life gives you a problem, you gotta adapt and be stronger, you know? Be the Hulk. Be better. Be bigger. Be badder."

The Roller Coast Ending
The last 30 pages (or so) are a horror filled ride of ups and downs; and easily my favourite part. Things get gruesome, horrifically creative, and fast paced! If the last few pages are an indication of future plot style in the next few books then sign me up. I'd love to have that crazy plot and speed of story right alongside the humour to create a silly; but intelligent and a bit scary series. That would be the kind of urban fantasy I would love to get on board with.

Overall
Given I know what to expect now I might read book 2. This first book felt more like a teaser, prequel, or pitch to get you invested in the series; drop a bit of excitement in the end to hook you in for book 2. A little more plot and character development would have been nice but that can always come in the next book or two. As I also have book 2 & 3 on my eARC TBR I will be getting to them sooner rather than later. This is likely to be a good series for when you need a brain break and just want to be along for a fun, if silly, and probably bloody ride.

"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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