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.

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?

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

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.

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!

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?

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.

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.

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?

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.

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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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Book Review: The Bright and Breaking Sea

The Bright and Breaking Sea 
by Chloe Neill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Utterly delightful!! Kit and her crew are a joy to cheer for, and fear for. This seafaring voyage is a (not so subtle) nod to Napoleon but with a dose of magic throw in for good measure. From stowaways, traitors, young queens, old advisors, and a budding sarcastic romance there is something for everyone who enjoys a good frolic at sea with a spunky, smart, and sassy female captain.

The Bright and Breaking Sea is a lighter fantasy novel with an easy to follow plot. I really liked how Chloe Neill has taken what is a complex world of magic and given the reader exactly what they need to follow this first book in her series. We don't need all the nitty gritty details of the magic at this point (and frankly our characters don't really understand the magic either), and the political maneuvering doesn't require us to know every nuance that happened in the past to understand the current situation. Instead Neill choose to tell us what we really need to know. It certainly helps that the book is obviously inspired by Napoleon and his imprisonment; but I didn't feel like anything was given away knowing this r making this connection early.

Our leading lady Kit is absolutely wonderful. She is the kind of woman I wish I could be. Tough yet clever, strong yet compassionate, and full of fun sarcastic quips. Her (begrudging) partner in doing the queens bidding is a viscount whom wants to be anywhere else than on a boat from the beginning. These two have a wonderful rapport that shows how opposites can attract. Supporting characters include a young girl, a brash cook, a first mate with a family on shore, and many other diverse characters.

Where Robin Hobb's Ship of Magic is complex and dense (but absolutely one of my fave series ever) and The Edge of the Worldfrom Kevin J. Anderson is intertwined in politics and religion (another great series); Kit's world is one that could easily be visited anytime without too much initial investment. A great introduction to fantasy, or break for those of us who read a lot of dense material, while still having all the best attributes of a good fantasy series.
I hope to see book 2 on the horizon soon as I cannot wait to enter this fast paced world and its enamouring characters again.

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, April 12, 2021

Book Review: When We Were Vikings

When We Were Vikings 
by Andrew David MacDonald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Without a doubt When We Were Vikings is a strong showing of first person perspective written well. Andrew David MacDonald brings us into the world of a 21-year-old with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). She is high functioning, for the most part, but certainly sees the world differently than many of us would. Her coping mechanism? Viking culture and ensuring she meets the expectations and structure of a Viking accordingly; thus we have villains, heroes, battle plans, romance and more.

Disability Representation
I feel like there is some good disability representation here. The reader is able to see that in some ways our characters are 100% competent, in others perhaps not so much. The one thing that is apparent is that society expects little from them; but also doesn't provide very good supports or encourage them to participate either. It's certain sad to think that many are under estimated and under utilized to the best of their abilities.

First let me disclose, I have known or know many children (and two adults) with Down syndrome, a child with q22 cognitive disfunction, and have a cousin with cerebral palsy; so I am not completely unfamiliar with the types of things that might 'trigger' or upset our leading gal. I'm also not squeamish about sex since my parents were very open and discussed it at length from when we were little. Yet I felt the exploitative nature of sex was awkward and a bit off putting in this novel. Not that our gal might have sex; but that it could easily be with someone who is taking advantage of them (as showcased in this plot). This sits awkwardly with me and of course shows the nature of why we must protect those with cognitive disabilities; while still allowing them their independence. It's a fine line and one that MacDonald clearly portrays for the reader. I suppose the awkwardness of it is intentional, and thus it's successful..?

Supporting Characters
The key to this entire story is actually the characters that surround our lead gal. Each of them is critical to her life and plays an important part. I thought the brother was the least developed and most one dimensional; ironic as he's arguably the most important. Each of the other characters is a specific archetype from her boyfriend 'the fair maiden', to AK47 the saviour, to the therapist who is like her cheerleader; they all advise, help and influence her into the decisions she ultimately makes.
Without these characters I do think the plot of the story and the decisions she makes would fall flat.

There is a lot to learn and think about in When We Were Vikings. I will admit I was choked up by the ending (a relatively uncommon reaction for me). The realization that any person, regardless of their physical or mental capacity, can be a hero to another is very profound. I have personally seen this in action; a baby that renews energizes a new Mom, a puppy that engages someone from depression, or a friend who says the right thing at the right moment and saves someone's life. These are things happening everyday around the world and I love the message in When We Were Vikings that it doesn't matter how: smart, strong, or sufficient someone might be or appear; they can still be a significant influence to anyone's life.

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

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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Book Review: The Secret Garden: A Graphic Novel

The Secret Garden: A Graphic Novel 
by Mariah Marsden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Secret Garden was a huge favourite of mine as a child.
I loved the idea of a garden that no one else could enter with gorgeous flowers and such mystery! It was also one of the first books I can remember having a child in a wheelchair. I have a cousin with cerebral palsy whose been confined to a wheelchair almost all his life I found this to be a very important point to note in my teenage years (my cousin is almost 10 years younger than me). This is one of those books like: Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and others where I tread carefully with re-tellings or new formats as they hold a special place in my heart from when I was young.

However I will confess that one of my own nieces (currently 8 yrs old) loves reading books but tells me that graphic novels are "the best." As a comic collector I don’t disagree with her. And yet oddly, I feel like classics should be classics and remain in novel format most days. But in the interest of possibly having my niece and her sister's favourite medium to share The Secret Garden story I gave this adaptation a shot.

True to the original story, the sentiment is, that being outdoors, amongst gorgeous lowers, sunshine, birds and wildlife can only be positive. Additionally the bonds of friendship and how important it can be to be friendly to everyone; regardless of their station in life or if they ‘report’ to you. This is an important lesson for children (and everyone) to learn and be reminded of. I always remember my father telling me that ‘you never know who your next boss will be’; so try not to alienate anyone. Personally I’m not always very good at it (lol); and so it’s a good reminder.

The artwork is very simple and cute. It felt like it gave it the 'older' feel that this story has always held for me. I like that it’s clearly the same time period (as witnessed by the clothing and wheelchair). The copy of this story I kept from my childhood was actually highly illustrated on glossy paper. Similar to the graphic novel the colours in the home were muted; but within the garden (and most of outdoors) were vibrant. I also liked how many of the lines used in this format are the exact same as the novel. Making this a vey true to the book adaptation.
An excellent option to bring the younger generation into a story that still has a core message relevant 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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Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Book Review: Seeking an Aurora

Seeking an Aurora 
by Elizabeth Pulford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having seen the Aurora Borealis as a teenager, I can tell you that few things I’ve ever seen or heard are quite like it. The crackling sound, the vibrant light that radiates from the sky, the sheer size of it all happening on a cold winter’s night.

Seeking an Aurora is clever in that it doesn’t define if it’s the northern or southern Aurora that our boy and his father are seeing. While written and illustrated by an Australian we can assume she intended it to be south; but it works just as well for the northern hemisphere.

I wouldn’t have thought there was a colour palette in the world that could show the glimmering light on the dark night sky of the Aurora. I was wrong. The pastels that are used here are brilliant. The page is obviously coloured in black or deep purples and blues; then our characters and the Aurora blended overtop (I think anyways) and it pops so well. I adore the look and feel of the pages in this enchanting children’s book.

A perfect before bedtime story for any little one. The kind of book that a child might keep long into their adult years because it’s beautiful and feels like it is imparting a secret of the Earth to the reader.

I hope to one day see the Aurora borealis again. I live almost far enough north in Canada; but inside a city too large to see them well if they are seen this far south. In the meantime this book is a gorgeous representation of the solar winds and the truly glorious colours they bring to our sky.

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 Queen of Paris: A Novel of Coco Chanel

The Queen of Paris: A Novel of Coco Chanel 
by Pamela Binnings Ewen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Can you truly enjoy a book and kind of dislike the main character?
The Queen of Paris challenges the reader to determine an answer to this question as they see the choices and lifestyle famous perfumer Coco Chanel benefited from during France's occupation in WWII. Personally I don’t like all her decisions and struggle to determine which truly saved her life and which were in her own best interest to keep her elegant, high lifestyle. One thing I do know is that this book is well worth the read and fairly different from your average WWII fiction.

Villain or Survivor
In the spectrum of WWII historical fiction there are clear survivor stories where I think people cannot be held accountable for some of their action based on circumstances. The Tattoist of Auschwitz is the first that comes to mind; but nowheres near the only example. In The Queen of Paris we see the luxury that Coco Chanel retained during the occupation of France by the Nazi's. Did she have to endure Germans in her living space (ie: hotel)? Yes. Did she have to perhaps 'make nice' with some of them? Sure. But did she have to eat so luxuriously, attend parties, have tobacco access, and pass on notes? Here I am not so sure. Given the conditions for the 'average' person in France at the time even the hardships that Coco Chanel experiences are actually luxuries to most. Arguably she would have been in better shape if the Nazi's had won the war...
So is she a villain or a survivor?

Hating the Main Character
I love villains. Always have. As a kid I thought they were the best as they were always so powerful and didn't rely on love or luck to get by. Yep I'm pretty black hearted a lot of the time when it comes to romance. Villains are interesting as they are often made into awful people because of circumstance and so I tend to have more empathy for them than heroes. A few mainstream examples of villains I adore include: Loki, Maleficent, Gollum, Harley Quinn, and many more. So I'm used to disliking a lot about the main character in a story.

So what makes CoCo different?
Coco Chanel was a real person, in real life situations. It's one thing to have fan-girl love for the characters above; but we all know in real life most people are not going to make those exact choices. But in the case of Coco she really did do these things. She really did spy and pass information to the Germans. She really did benefit from their time in Paris; and she really did flee in fear of persecution when France was freed from occupation as she was certainly a sympathizer if nothing else. While people around her were starving, murdered in camps, stripped of everything they owned and their humanity; she wined and dined with prestigious Germans. This is a lot harder for me to forgive.
Pamela Binnings Ewen does an excellent job of showing some of the tight spots Coco was in and how at times it certainly felt like she had few 'good' choices. But the reality is that she had the means to help a lot of people; and she didn't try until it was too late. Being more concerned about securing ingredients for her perfume than helping a friend in true peril is only one example of her choices not sitting right for me.

I could be a total hypocrite for criticizing Coco Chanel's choices and life. Having never been in the types of situations she was; it's hard to say if I might have chosen to fight a little harder. What I do know, in early 2021 as I write this, is that those who are anti-maskers or don't understand the necessity of the lockdowns for the COVID-19 pandemic are the types of people I might put into a bin with Coco. It's not hard to: wear a mask for the majority of people (I had to get over my own anxiety about it), avoid holding gatherings, and be conscious of those around you by sanitizing and keeping your distance. These are relatively simple requests in comparison to the strict curfews, persecution, rations, etc. that most of Europe experienced in WWII.
So, I would like to think that unlike Coco Chanel, I would have used celebrity power to benefit as many people as possible; while still staying relatively safe. She did not need to remain at the hotel like she did; and she did not need to participate in the spying. Those are decisions she made of her own will. But don't trust me on it, read this brilliantly written book and determine for yourself; is she a villain or a survivor?

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, March 27, 2021

Book Review: A Vow so Bold and Deadly

A Vow So Bold and Deadly (Cursebreakers, #3)A Vow So Bold and Deadly 
by Brigid Kemmerer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At 38 years old you’d think I’d have gotten past devoted, unconditional love stories. Brigid Kemmerer has reminded me that I haven’t. And maybe it’s because for 12+ years I’ve had my Grey/Rhen next to me; so I know love exists. Or maybe it’s because the 16 year old version of me is bawling her eyes out at how poignant and amazing these characters and their stories are. Either way I’m glad to still be able to enter a fantasy world made for teens and fall in love with it.

My personal notes:
- As a lover of Grey, from early in book 1, I can honestly say that his character progression is lovely. And I love him even more after every page I flipped
- Rhen and Harper still annoy me... in the last half of the book I got over it without even realizing it until I was at the end. Lol
- Noah and Jake are adorable and I wish there was so much more of them
- Virginity is lost! It’s YA rated but still pretty steamy
- Blood is spilled. Like a lot of blood. And yes I loved that too. Give me a tortured soul any day
- Beauty and the Beast has never been my favourite story. But this series is proof it can be done without it seeming totally inappropriate or wrong. I’m impressed.

If you’d read the first two books then you don’t need me to tell you to read this. Just know that the ending is lovely. And as someone who hates most endings it’s nice to smile and put this third book down, content with where we are at.
Although already dreading the possibility of a follow-up series... because I’m paranoid to touch good things in case they get messed up. However, as Kemmerer points out to us many times during this series, you cannot gain anything without risking something as well.

There are many lovely lines and adages to take to heart in this last book of the Cursebreaker series; but I think my favourite one is this one; because in real life people make mistakes and we hurt one another. Trust is always so hard to gain; and yet easily lost. Kemmerer reminds us to give others a break sometimes; as we need one ourselves at times:
”One choice shouldn’t undo a thousand good ones.”

Excuse me while I go kiss my husband and thank him for all our wonderful years together; and all those to come. Don’t forget to love those around you openly and unabashedly. Just as Rhen and Grey do their ladies.

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Thursday, March 25, 2021

Book Review: Wicked As You Wish

Wicked As You Wish 
by Rin Chupeco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a difficult one to review. On one hand I liked it. It's a fast paced teen fantasy with an (actually) tolerable romance, diverse group of characters (including a non-binary one!), and a rich world to build the story around. Yet, on the other hand, the use of existing stories, characters and worlds was really disappointing. I might read the second book in this series, maybe, if I find myself caught up in the hype or am intrigued by its blurb; but honestly I could easily see skipping over it entirely.

Use of Existing Characters and Settings
The first thing that absolutely shocked me was that this is a fantasy world that is not 100% unique. Nowhere on the blurb or in the promotions for this book do I recall ever reading that it has Camelot, Wonderland, Neverland, Russian history, mythology and so many more known worlds, stories and characters mashed together onto Earth. This really threw me off when I started reading and I cannot figure out why it wasn't marketed as what it is. I was disappointed by this realization as the one element of Rin Chupeco's The Bone Witch I really enjoyed was her unique world building. And while this world is still odd and different; it's not quite the same as starting from scratch.
For example; I immediately do not trust Loki, Cheshire Cat, and others because of how untrustworthy they are in their original stories. And I wanted to meet Rasputin sooo bad; but now suspect that the Russian history piece used isn't going to result in a bad guy like I had hoped. Additionally I am, personally, over Camelot and Arthur stories. Have been for years. I read far too many as a teen in the 1990's and they just keep multiplying. Every second teen fantasy book I pick-up seemingly has a Camelot connection. I don't care to invest anymore time in Arthur's immoral world. On the other hand I'm usually read for Alice stories and Loki is a beloved super villain (hero?) of mine. So it's really down to personal preference. Either way I think the marketing is misleading on this series and should reflect that it is not an all new fantasy world.

Too Much Prophecy
Has no one learned that too much prophecy is bad? Between LOTR, Sword of Truth, Wheel of Time, and dozens upon dozens of books published this century it should be well known that having too much prophecy is a poor narrative choice. It confuses readers, makes the story seem predestined (which of course it is but why would you want to ruin that ride for the reader), and rarely makes the author look smart by twisting the words around. We all know prophecy is never what it seems to be so don't pretend it might be. This is a used up tactic in my mind. If you are going to use prophecy then have one prophecy for the whole world or future. Definitely don't have a prophecy for each individual character in your core party. Not only can I not keep track of it all but why does every character need a prophecy or is even worthy of one?
Yes there are lots of Seers in this story world and perhaps Chupeco wants to show that she has an end in sight (a big complaint of fantasy fans, including myself, are the never-ending series) but a prophecy per character is just too much.

While it's clear that Rin Chupeco has learned a lot about writing since her Bone Witch trilogy; I do think she still has a ways to go before being able to contend with Brigid Kemmerer, Sara J. Mass, and others in this genre. In a very diluted fantasy teen genre it's important to stand-out. Unfortunately re-tellings are so over done now and Chupeco would be much better served to start a new series that is wholly unique.
Irregardless of my personal thoughts, I think this is a decent enough start to a series that if you are intrigued at all then pick it up. A good library choice so you can see if you like it enough to really purchase it. I'm sure there will be people that will adore this take on melding fantasy worlds together into our own. The politics, characters, setting, narrative, story, etc. are all good enough that I wouldn't judge anyone for loving this. For me it was just alright; a 3.5 star read that I rounded up to 4 as I did enjoy reading almost every time I picked the book up.

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 Paris Library

The Paris Library 
by Janet Skeslien Charles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's early in 2021 still; but I feel this is likely to be one of my top historical fiction recommendations of the year. I absolutely loved it. The Paris Library takes a slightly different approach to telling the story of the occupation of Paris during WWII than most novels in this highly saturated genre. WWII fiction has boomed in the last few years and certainly there are millions of stories to be told that are all different. It's appropriate that as many of them be told as possible; not only so that we can learn from history, but I find that I always appreciate my current life more after reading about the harsh conditions of that time.

Perspectives & the American Library Setting
Before we get into the deep war talk, I just want to touch lightly on some of the super cool ways that Janet Skeslien Charles narrates this novel. This is a split perspective book from the past to 'current day'. We have our core story during WWII in Paris that features Odile's perspective most of the time. The second story is in the 1980's and features a teen girl's view of the world where her neighbour is Odile; obviously later in her life. While the split perspective with years in-between is super common in historical fiction these days it's rare that the main character of the past is a support character to the future. I really enjoyed this view of Odile and her choices.

The cutest part of The Paris Library is the Duey decimal system references that Charles uses. When Odile is struggling to relate or trying to remember something she will often indicate a word or phrase followed by it's top or secondary Duey decimal number (ie: Shakespeare, 822 or Infidelity, 306). This was adorable and it intrigued me at times as you could see that the topics were in the same batch of numbers or were very different from one another. A clever way to keep reminding us that this library has no computers, no easy searching, and is laid out in the same order libraries or bookstores were at one time. As someone who had a Duey decimal catalog for their libraries into my early teens I really loved this throwback. If you're too young to remember the Duey decimal system then take a quick look on Wikipedia to understand the layout and use.

We are also reminded of the set-up and use of the library many times as Charles refers to our characters updating sign-out cards, adding bookplates to new books, bundling holds, and delivering them to those who can no longer enter the library. For most of our characters the library is a refuge and an essential piece of keeping sanity and mental health in check during the war. For others it becomes a reminder of what is forbidden to some by the Nazi's and how everything is now censored. For me, the reader, the library represented a fixture that was so changed by the Nazi's occupation of France that it was never the same again; just like our characters. So in a way it was a character in the story. And really what book lover doesn't want to read about a library?!

Why The Paris Library is Different?
Let me be very honest and clear, the violence and gruesome moments of the war are significantly toned down. While there are still beatings, mass killings, etc., when we are in the past; it's not near as difficult to read as many WWII stories of late. We never see or encounter a concentration camp, we see people put on trains a couple times; but it's from Odile's perspective (whose only 20-something at the time) and her view of the world is very tinted by rose coloured glasses.

This view is really what makes Charles story so different. It's the war from the perspective of a woman just starting her life. She's naive and trying to make huge life decisions about a career, marriage, and shaping her life. How the war affected those decisions and shaped Odile's later life are the real 'learning's' (if you will). I feel like many of us, including myself, that live in first world, non-war torn countries, are very lucky to live the way we do. But also that we are just as naive as Odile was about our own surroundings.

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly brought circumstances surrounding many of us to light in a lot of ways. For example I knew, but didn't really understand what it meant to: have neighbours who are using the food bank every week to feed their children, coworkers who live alone and see no one without an office or event to attend, friends who get groceries and carry them on transit every couple of days. These are difficulties, of varying degrees, that many of us perhaps were 'aware of' but didn't really understand until the pandemic hit. I'm much more empathetic towards others these days; and want to be more aware of reality than ever before. It's difficult and overwhelming; and frankly depressing, but it's critical we are all in this life with eyes wide open so that we can change the circumstances.

It was the same for Odile who heard rumours of 'death camps' and people stripped from their homes; but she never truly understood it until it was late in the war years. She too feels guilty and helpless once she starts to see what is actually happening. This is a story we could all benefit from as it reminds us that we should not assume certain things and be sure to seek the truth.

The Moral
Many historical fiction books have strong morales at the end of them that are almost child-like in nature. WWII fiction usually focuses on the importance of life, individuality, freedom, and what I'll call (as a Canadian) multiculturalism (be it in race, religion, sexuality, etc.) as things we must focus on and ensure we provide to everyone.

In the Paris Library our morales are a bit different. While certainly the library is full of interesting foreign characters we meet; it's also about how important knowledge is. A giant building full of books is only truly valuable when certain 'subjects' or texts haven't been stripped out. Knowledge is power. Had many known what was truly happening, or believed those rumours (almost all of which were true) about what the Nazi's were actually doing to people, we can't help but wonder, could more have been done? It's impossible to argue either way as we must remember that people were at gunpoint, at risk of starving, at risk of being persecuted themselves if they defied the orders given. Yet Charles ask the question of the reader that I have often asked myself; would I have acted different knowing what I know today?

I could talk about this book for thousands of words. The characters are vibrant and relatable (given most of them were real people that makes sense); the setting of the American library itself is unique from other WWII books, the naivety of Odile and others is refreshing, and the way Odile teaches our 'current day' teen is commendable. There is something for everyone to learn from The Paris Library.

This is a WWII book I can recommend to absolutely everyone as the gruesome events in it are toned down or only alluded to in comparison to those in say The Tattooist of Auschwitz or The German Girl. While I know that may disappoint some people to hear; but I think it opens things up for many people to read a WWII historical fiction book that otherwise might not be able to stomach it. Don't get me wrong there are still awful things, history is still abided by, and the war is still obviously brutal; however, this perspective is one that many readers are likely to be able to relate to and I believe can learn from.

Kudos to Charles for the extensive research done for this book. I loved the afterward notes, the biographies of the real characters, and admitting to where she may have altered things to hit her story. This is often my favourite part of any historical novel and Charles certainly delivered to ensure it was clear what is truth and what is not.

My final note on The Paris Library is to add it to your TBR for sure if you read a lot of historical fiction, consider adding it if you are intrigued, and if you usually avoid war novels maybe try it out. You might find this one a little more palatable without diminishing how awful the conditions were.

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, March 8, 2021

Book Review: The Last Smile in Sunder City

The Last Smile in Sunder City 
by Luke Arnold
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ultimately I am disappointed by this, relatively, hyped new series. I was looking forward to an ‘urban’ setting in a fantasy world with a gritty, bitter leading male whom took down the bad guys for the greater good. This was really not what we receive in The Last Smile in Sunder City; instead it's a testosterone fuelled mess that just lacks true emotion.

Setting, History & Magic
It feels like Luke Arnold had a clear intent with his new debut series: create a grim dark fantasy world, add in a complex magical history (that our leading man had a major role in affecting), plus a large disparity between races/species; all which culminates into a beautifully put together setting. This complex world and history is easily the best part of Arnold’s opening book in the Fetch Phillips Archives. I love the intertwined magical abilities that each species has (or had) at any given point; and how it affected the stereotype of each group of characters. From wealth, typical job, community lived in, etc. Arnold gives us a messy society that mirrors our own in so many ways. From unfair disparities to societal expectations to rules/laws, etc.
If the actual plot itself had been better and our leading man Fetch Phillips had more personality and intrigue then I believe this would have been a brilliant opening book to a series.

Leading Man, Fetch Phillips
Unfortunately our leading man Fetch misses the mark. He feels close in the beginning. But put him up next to say, Geralt of Riviera and suddenly he feels like a poor archetype of a macho man who messed up badly and is attempting, fairly badly, to ‘redeem’ himself. I know we are supposed to have sympathy for Fetch and feel like everyone else screwed him over and set him up; but to me I feel like if he was as “clever” as Arnold seems to want him to be, then he would never have made the mistakes of the past that dominate his current situation. There is a careful balance that needs to happen between young and reckless versus plain stupidity that doesn’t match up, even considering his experience over the years, with the man we know in the current timeline.

Supporting Roles & Masculinity
As with most fantasy stories, the characters around our lead(s) are super important. This is another place where Arnold almost makes it but then ultimately misses. It’s a bit frustrating as Arnold is an actor himself (in Black Sails) and should know how important every voice and person are in a story. Given he has played many minor characters I would have expected him to know that each of them needs to feel genuine and have a rapport with the leading man.
It becomes particularly relevant just past halfway that there are only ‘macho’ male characters in this book. It’s a typical pre-1990’s issue in fantasy; but I’m super disappointed to see it happening in 2020. There is no reason why some strong female characters or at least a few LGBTQ+ ones couldn’t have been put in some of the placements where we encounter more ‘manly men’. And while many of them are enemies I still don’t see why the testosterone level has to be so high on almost every character.

Silly Language
I’lll confess I have a pet peeve against ridiculous metaphors, similes, and absurd language. There are so many in The Last Smile of Sunder City that I could write pages of them for you. But here is the one that annoyed me the most:
”The last thing I remember was the sound of the landing,
like someone stepping on an egg full of snails.”
Let’s just break this sentence down for a minute…
  1. Snails are not born with hard shells, they are soft and so there is no sound of a breaking snail baby (it’s too squishy),
  2. Like snake eggs the shells of snails are gelatinous or very soft; they don’t have the crisp break of a chicken egg like we are used to, and
  3. why on earth would you use a comparison that no one has probably ever heard (even if the shells were hard)? I just don’t get it and it drives me crazy.
  4. I literally put the book down upon reading this line just to post on Goodreads about how ridiculous it is. Anything that takes me out of a book so abruptly is a fail.

I really did want to love this book. I had high hopes for a new grim dark, gritty series with a sarcastic leading detective that would be a good break between intense historical or in-depth fantasy stories for me. This is Arnold’s debut novel and it is possible that this series will improve. I will likely wait for further reviews of book 2 (just recently released) or further releases in the series to see if other reviewers feel the story and writing improves. However at this time I have to say that if you are desperate for a detective story that is different in a complex world you might like this one. But if you are just fulfilling books on a TBR that were/are hyped or new; The Last Smile of Sunder City could be passed over for now. If you want a super witty, sarcastic, and disillusioned character I have to (continue to) promote Murderbot as the best choice in the last few years or pick-up any Jim Butcher series for some fun.

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, March 1, 2021

Book Review: Alpha Bots

Alpha Bots 
by Ava Lock
Series: The Womanoid Diaries
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a very weird book. If you're looking for off-the-wall, bizarre AI robots that act and think like humans this is for you. I want to say our lead gal is a bit like Murderbot, but the reality is that she is not nearly as clever, witty, or interesting. I'd say this is the sub-par sister series to Murderbot. Ava Lock has given us the Stepford Wives meets I, Robot meets Handmaiden's Tale meets Fight Club. And yes there is a literal Fight Club at one point.

The Plot
Surprisingly for a bit of a silly book the plot is fairly complex. I won't go too far into it as there are spoilers that would ruin the first 100 pages or so but essentially all the women in the town are AI bots whom are in service to the men. And yes when I say 'in service' it's quite literal. There is some sexual actions that take place and so this is one for mature readers only.
From there we learn that our lead gal can be freed from some of her protocols (enter I, Robot), and the way to make that happen fastest is by fighting (enter Fight Club). Really the premise of the entire Alpha Bots story feels like a number of pop culture references stuck together to make it's own odd, but unique world.

The Message
There are a lot of different messages and morals you could infer from Lock's writing here. The largest is easily that men are pigs. But the core of this story, and substance lies in the motivation for why humans do what they do. Imagine a robot that has protocols; it knows what to do based on a situation. For example: husband in bed turns over and starts kissing, to the bot this equals sex. Dishes are dirty in the sink, to the bot this equals clean them. But what happens when the protocol is stripped away? Now you are in a situation where the AI is choosing what to do. So we wonder how do humans decide? Generally with our emotions. Maybe some logic, or based on societies standards; but let's face it how many of us have said to ourselves "I don't feel like doing X." This is determination by feeling/emotion. And so a true AI would need to have emotions:
" 'Why would anyone give a computer feelings? It seems like a major design flaw.' 
'Emotions help you set your goals. Every you feel drives your decision-making process. That is how you prioritize... Your heart decides what truly matters.' "

This is not a stellar book. I won't lie, it's fairly silly, at times ridiculous, and certainly a 'light' read. But it's got moments that will make you think (like any good science fiction). There are actually times where I stopped reading and considered a concept that Lock had alluded to. While I want to say I loved this; I was just along for the ride really. It was a good palate cleanser and perfectly mindless for the week I got a new 10 week old puppy introduced to my house (as chaos ensured, and continues to ensue today).
So if you want some sci-fi, woman power fiction. Grab this one. If you miss out on it; that's okay. You know this story likely; just in bits and pieces of others over the years.

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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