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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