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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