Monday, February 15, 2021

Book Review: First Day of Unicorn School

First Day of Unicorn School 
by Jess Hernandez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If it has unicorns on/in it then I'm likely to 'need' to read it. Lol.
This is a cute little story about a donkey that wants to attend a prestigious unicorn school.

The story starts out a bit awkward... our donkey is planning to wear a party hat (and lied on their application) to school. So I can only give this 4 stars because it kind of says that lying is okay if you just want to be included. This is a bit difficult given this is a children's book and kids are unlikely to understand the overall premise here. However, the end of the book has a lovely moral about how it's best to just be inclusive and not say only one animal species can attend. We find out that many other animals lied in order to attend unicorn school.

So on one hand this is great to teach kids. It's just unfortunate that to get to the right place our donkey had to lie first. All that 'perfect' moral discussion aside; I'm willing to concede that this is very accurate to how real life often ends up unfolding. We end up telling a small lie to benefit in a larger way. This is a slippery slope and so I'd recommend pairing this story up with others about how lying is not a good thing just in case.

I loved the colourful artwork, the simplicity of the illustrations is really nice too. A short, cute story that would work as an upbeat bedtime story and would be appropriate to gift to any child.

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 Empty Grave

The Empty Grave 
Series: Lockwood & Co. Book 5 (final)
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This just might be my favourite middle grade series... ever!
It beats out Harry Potter for me. It even beats books from my own childhood like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Jonathan Stroud has taken a scary, creepy setting of a major ghost problem and made it just scary enough that kids will get a bit of a shiver (I certainly did at times) but still able to sleep at night. Everything about this series is just wonderful! I cannot wait for my niece to be 9-10 years old so I can get her this series! She just turned 8 and is a great reader but is currently into unicorns, fairies and such. So I don't want to jade her just yet into more gothic things. But I absolutely plan to do so in the coming years! (lol)

It's hard to write reviews for books late in a series without spoilers; but here's a few tidbits for those who know the series:
- We do find out the 'official' reason for the Problem
- We do find out more about the Skull
- We sort of get some resolution to some of the romantic tension present
- Many questions about Fittes and other major players are explained.

The Empty Grave picks up only months after the end of book 4; so it's perfect to just keep on going if you are so inclined. And if, like me, you wait a bit to read the 5th book there is a really well done set of reminders to get you quickly back into the game.
All of our characters are present (of course) and many of them have moments of revelation during this last book. If you've enjoyed the series to date then I guarantee you will love this final piece of the puzzle.

As for the ending...
Not my favourite ending but totally appropriate for a middle grade kids book and definitely will make a beautiful movie/tv series. This whole series (if done right with good effects and acting) will be absolutely stunning. I cannot wait for us to see it on screen! Of course something is always left in the books to discover and so I hope many people will see the (forthcoming) show and proceed to grab the novels as well.
One of my favourite pieces of this series is that it doesn't go on forever and ever. Five books feels perfect in this instance. Stroud does such a great job of leaving the reader feeling satisfied at the end of the series; but still also loving it and wanting to revisit it again.

I will definitely be making this series my top gifted one to kiddos in the right age group. And I know I'll be rereading them in the future. The print books have a proud place in my personal library.

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Sunday, February 7, 2021

Book Review: Every Bone a Prayer

Every Bone a PrayerEvery Bone a Prayer 
by Ashley Blooms
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fantastical yet genuine, loving yet hurtful, brilliant yet dangerous story. So emotional and well done that I found myself, and most I knew, in at least one character. I am Penny in this story; except I didn’t realize what was happening until decades later in my version of this story. This is a regret I live with everyday as I was too blind to understand circumstances make us all the people we are. Because of a personal connection to this story I cannot objectively remove myself from my emotions to write about it. So please forgive this review for being haphazard and a bit abstract than my usual musings.

Lead gal Misty discusses names as being the complete essence of everything we are and have done; meaning we cannot avoid the awful things, but also must embrace the wonderful things too. An emotional, throat choking story that some will cry over, will make others lament their own choices, will invoke guilt in a few, and ultimately make every one of us consider what our name is and if we have embraced ourselves and our pasts.

Ashley Bloom has a magical way with words and imagery that gives essence to things that are impossible to describe or know. Her ability to transfer feeling from the words on the page to the reader is incredible.
The opening of this book has a trigger warning from the author in it. Instead of warning about some of the events that transpire in the book I think Bloom should warn that the reader may never be the same after reading it.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to write a conventional review for this novel as it has invoked so many emotions and thoughts that I cannot share with anyone other than my own crawdads (Misty’s creature of choice); my pet snakes. Ironic (or perfect?) that my pets also shed their skin like the crawdads Misty is obsessed with in Every Bone a Prayer. Maybe we all look to shed some part of ourselves and our past; when in actuality humans cannot shed, but we can embrace, accept, and move forward with making our name our own.

If this feels a bit too random or abstract for a review then all I can say is read this moving story and you’ll see for yourself how it changes you. Maybe you’ll have a review of your own that is abstract, emotional, and all over the place just like this one.
This was written moments after reading the last line and knowing if I didn’t write something in the minute it was being felt that nothing I could compose in the future would truly have the right emotion that I feel now.

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, February 6, 2021

Book Review: Legendborn

by Tracy Deonn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Even though I loved this book; I didn't write a review right away. It was almost like there was so much to unpack and talk about here I didn't know where to start. Now it's been over a month since I read it and while many things are still crystal clear in my mind (because that is how good this story is); a lot of it has faded some. So I'm going to be more general than usual in this review.

Arthurian Legend
Tracy Deonn herself has admitted to a lot of influence from Arthurian legend. And it's obvious once you start to read this that she has intentionally used it to make her story feel familiar; yet different. These days I am not a huge fan of Arthurian legend being used as the basis for any fantasy world or idea. I got over dosed with it as a kid/teen (I'm 38 right now) and, regardless of Marion Zimmer Bradley's politics and personal opinions, my Arthur and his fellows is in Mists of Avalon. Therefore I was not excited to read more Arthur legend based stories.
However, Deonn has changed this enough that it wasn't a deal breaker for me. I still wish she'd just made up her own heroes and lore instead; but I do understand that the Arthur construct is easier to use and people are already familiar with it so it requires less explaining. All that said I still rolled my eyes when Excalibur came on the scene. Not only is it over the top and just outrageous; but it's also a catalyst for the story (sigh).

What isn't in this book? There are strong themes of grief and coping, oppression and slavery, teenage angst (including an almost love triangle), and then the overall construct of magic is also a commentary on power. My favourite part of the fantasy elements in this story is the magic. It costs practitioners and isn't infinite. I also really adore the struggles of one of both the main boys that are put in positions of "power" that they may or may not want. Each wrestles with the idea of duty, commitment, and wanting the ability to have more freedom and make their own choices. This is a reminder that not all chains are actual chains.

Own Voices Perspective
There is one huge take away from Legendborn that I do not think will ever leave me, or I hope it doesn't. Our lead gal is a black girl attending a historic college. Upon on entering the historic main building she thinks to herself that it's weird to be proud to be there as a black girl; but also to feel awkward knowing slaves built it. As a white woman I will confess I have never thought of this conundrum before. You want to be proud to be one of so few from your race or culture to 'make it' somewhere; and yet feel bad that you are benefiting from being somewhere that would have used slaves for labour.
THIS is really what own voices is all about in my opinion. Deonn takes a typical feeling of pride that many of us would have to attend a historic college and strips it away in one sentence. And she's absolutely right; we cherish our ancient buildings and monuments (the pyramids are a prime example) even though we know they were built by those being oppressed.
I don't have a solution for this conundrum; and I do love, love old things, especially buildings. But it is worth seriously thinking and remembering each time we enter an ancient/old place that someone likely shed blood and freedom for the place to exist at all.

Legendborn surprised me in a number of ways. I didn’t love everything about it but for a YA fantasy it’s top notch. Right up there with Bridget Kemmerer as a new YA fantasy author to stay with.
If nothing else it brought me out of a big time 2020 reading slump for which I am very grateful. I look forward to following Bree, the boys, and the creepy adults in the next installment of the Legendborn series.

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: Do Not Let Your Dragon Spread Germs

Do Not Let Your Dragon Spread Germs 
by Julie Gassman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An obviously timely book, exactly what every child under 5 probably needs right now. Today's little ones will be hygiene superstars in the future!
Do Not Let Your Dragon Spread Germs teaches hand washing, mask wearing, social distancing and repeats the mantra "do not let your dragon spread germs" many times. Toddlers will love to repeat over and over again the title as it comes up every 3-5 pages; and is often written to imply you should yell it out!

The dragons get up to antics in these brightly coloured pages including: setting things on fire, trying to put on a mask over a large snout, and difficulty of social distancing. There is good diversity as we are shown not only different dragons but each page has a different child 'handler' for their pet dragon. This allows the illustrations to show diversity in race and gender.

I especially like the section, near the end, about: not wanting to over worry anyone, make your friends mad that you can't sit closer to one another or upsetting anyone. One line is even "stay home when you're sick, and just do your best." Acknowledging that kids (and adults) are more upset right now and it's hard for everyone. Even though this isn't advice on hygiene, it may be the single most important page of this cute story as it reinforces that it's okay to worry and be upset.

When reading this book it reminded me of a video I saw a couple months ago. It was of a one year old girl. She was sooo cute and toddled her way outdoors to anything square that might have looked like a hand sanitizing station. She'd put her hands underneath said square item (usually a block, electrical piece, or other innocuous item low to the ground that adults don't even notice) and pretend to wait for the sanitizer to pour; then rub her hands together to get it all over. Both the cutest (and possibly saddest) video of what it means to be born in the middle of a pandemic. She is trying to be just like the adults. This is ultimately what kids want to be in the end is like the adults. This is a good reminder that kids mimic us all the time; and so it's critical to set a good example during this time of difficulty. To the littlest of us it becomes 'old hat' very quick.

The person I know who has adapted to masks and distancing the easiest is 5 years old. She just shrugs when asked how it is to wear a mask at school; as every day she has every gone to school that has been the rule; so it's just part of a normal school day to her.

This is a great reminder that we can all do this. It might be uncomfortable, inconvenient, and depressing but it can also just become part of the routine. Keep this in mind as we teach the youngest of us how to fight against an invisible force of contagion.

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, February 1, 2021

Book Review: Love After the End, An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction

Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction 
by Joshua Whitehead
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The introduction alone, to this collection, has given me a lot to think on. From questioning what defines an apocalypse (one idea: Native Americans had theirs with colonialism and today is their dystopia), to understanding a bit more about how Native cultures have non-gender roles in their traditions, and what it means to be LGBTQ+ inside Native cultures. There is a lot to learn in these stories.

Story #1 - Abacus by Nathan Adler
A cute little love story between an AI and a human.

Story #2 - History of the New World by Adam Garnet Jones
A lovely story of possible migration to another planet, and the inherent destructiveness of humans.
“…we must always strive for balance. Above all else, our circle must be round.”

Story #3 - The Ark of the Turtle’s Back by Jayne Simpson
A unique melancholy feel to this story. Really enjoyed it and the idea that leaving the Earth would be impossible for those whom are connected to the land.

Story #4 - How to Survive the Apocalypse for Native Girls by Kai Minosh Pyle
A touching narrative about how a lesbian native girl copes to ‘fit in’ before she realizes that maybe she can make her own world to ‘fit’ into it.

Story #5 - Andwanikadjigan by Gabriel Castilloux Calderon
Say that title five times fast... or you know even once.
A beautiful story about passing oral stories down the generational line.
I imagine having a mark for every story I know. I’d strive to be a beautiful tattooed/marked girl whose original skin colour would be hidden. 😉

Story #6 - Story for a Bottle by Darcie Little Badger
A wonderful story! Reminds me of the writing style of Paolo Bacigalupi. Well paced, evenly voiced; but clever science fiction dystopia.

Story #7 - The Seed Children by Mari Kurisato
I wonder if so many of these stories compare the indigenous to AIs, synthetics or other non-human entities because the tribes see themselves as so starkly different from the rest of the human race (or at least the majority of us).
Another brilliant story that has a happy ending which is rare in sci-fi stories.

Story #8 - Nameless by Nazbah Tom
Dream communication is one of the many stories I heard as a child and understood to be a skill or talent only available to some people. It was always the Indigenous tribes that live on the edge of, or near my city. I remember being envious of them then; and I’m envious of them now after this story.

Story #9 - Eloise by David A. Robertson
This is like an episode of Black Mirror. In fact I think they should legit take this story and make into one. Brilliant, creepy and certainly worthy of thought. Would you rather get over someone or spend 400 virtual years forgetting them?

In a word: Fabulous! In all the ways and meanings of the word.
This is a MUST read for any LGBTQ+ reader; and certainly a great introduction to two-spirit, Indigiqueer symbolism, placement in Indigenous culture, and where today these wonderful folks fit.
I’m so thankful that Joshua Whitehead chose to participating in WordFest 2020 (virtual) in Calgary. It was a pleasure to listen to him speak and learn more about his background and literature.

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Book Review: Fantastic Hope

Fantastic Hope 
by Laurell K. Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Given today’s current pandemic situation these are paranormal short stories many of us might need right now. The outcome of each story is positive in some way. For many of these authors this is a unique ending as they tend to have things go badly more often than not in their stories.
Here’s some comments for each story:

Story #1 - Twilight Falls (Joe Ledger): by Jonathan Maberry
Everyone by now knows Maberry is a superb writer. His quick paced action, witty characters, and subtle plot twists always amuse. This short story is no different. Great ending that questions who the “bad guys” really are.

Story #2 - Not in this Lifetime: by Sharon Shinn
Well wow! In such a short story I want to know every characters story and hear about it all. Really well done and established.

Story #3 - Mr. Positive, the Eternal Optimist: by Larry Correia
Absolutely hilarious! This legit made me smile.
So far this set of stories is exactly as advertised and the perfect compilation to help dissipate some of the awfulness of 2020.

Story #4 - No Greater Love: by Kacey Ezell
Based on a Mormon folktale this story has the heart, courage, and ferocity of the wolves discussed within it.

Story #5 - Broken Son: by Griffin Barber
This could easily be expanded into a full novel; if not an on-going series. It starts off simple enough with a criminal on trial and by the end we are in space, dealing with neuropsychology, and contemplating other life’s existence. An easy 5 stars.

Story #6 - Heart of Clay by Kevin J. Anderson
I swear Kevin J. Anderson and I are like the same personality through and through. I always love his writing, his dry-ish humour is like my own, and he comes up with unique, creative, yet relatable stories that I love.
This one is no different; a short story set in his Dan Shamble PI series. A great intro to this series or to Anderson's writing.

Story #7 - Reprise by John G. Harris
This story is set in an existing world, Quincy Harker, that is intriguing (as it’s based on Dracula). Unfortunately the story itself felt too ‘thrown-in’ for me. I didn’t have any connection with the characters and felt like I was reading a personal story I shouldn’t be. It was awkward in the end as I don’t know the characters.

Story #8 - Asil and the Not-Date by Patricia Briggs
Classic and typical Briggs story. But I don’t mind that at all as you know exactly what you are getting into.
I really like this Asil and may need to look up which of her series he stars in.

Story #9 - In the Dust by Robert E. Hampson
An adorable story about a couple trying to preserve history on their moon colony.

Story #10 - Fallen by L. E. Modesittt, Jr.
Ugh. A bit much for wording and explanations. Got bored quickly.

Story #11 - Working Conditions by Patrick M. Tracy
This is a story about something I’ve longer been intrigued by since a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode as a kid. If you had a terminal illness and could be saved by becoming a vampire, would you choose that life over none at all?
This is an interesting perspective on that question.

Story #12 - Last Contact by M. C. Sumner
Brilliant! A great take on aliens visiting earth.

Story #13 - Ronin by William McCaskey
Oh wow... that may be one of the most moving short stories I have read in a very long time. I actually forgot all these stories were supposed to have happy endings as I was sure it would go another way as I read.
A magical teddy bear helps a dad and his daughter in their dreams, and real life. The dad has PTSD from a war and isn’t doing well... *shivers*

Story #14 - Skjolfmodir by Michael Z. Williamson and Jessica Schlenker
This is a widely known, old story written from the perspective of the mother of ‘the monster’. Poor Grendel whom; in this version of the tale, didn’t deserve what happened.
“But if they sing of him for a thousand years, they must also sing of me.”

Story #15 - Bonds of Love and Duty by Monalisa Foster
I liked this one and really wanted a lot more of it than we got. This is a solid idea that could easily be expanded into a full novel.

Story # 16 - Zombie Dreams (Anita Blake) by Laurell K. Hamilton
I started to read this and then realized I’m about four books behind in this series and there might be spoilers. So I’ve skipped past it just in case.

I highly recommend this set of stories. If not to find some new authors or series to try out; but just to lift your spirits a little in the dark days of early 2021 we are living in.

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