Sunday, March 26, 2023

Book Review: The Paris Orphan

The Paris Orphan 
by Natasha Lester
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s good, but not as good as Paris Seamstress. I found the marketing on the cover to be a bit misleading as the story is not really about the orphan (she’s obviously in it), but the focus is on a photojournalist/model who goes into the war zone. Based on a real person. Natasha Lester really brings to life the fear, love, and casualness that war brings in so many different ways.

There’s a fair bit of romance in this one. Luckily our two main men for our leading ladies (one in 1940s and one in 2000s) are very chivalrous, kind gentlemen. There’s some mildly racy scenes but nothing erotic or over the top. Certainly less explicit than your average Nora Roberts novel. I actually liked the romantic build-up in both timelines. It felt genuine, realistic, and the intimacy of each relationship is defined early on (not in the bedroom).

There’s perhaps too much going on in the end. It felt rushed, anticlimactic (even though we learn all the twists and shockers of the connections between everyone). I was happy to be done with it, sadly. I don’t think I’d read it again; but I’m happy to have read it this time. For sure Paris Seamstress is a more engaging novel; but it’s also safer. The war area danger is a lot higher in The Paris Orphan, and Lester touches (very poignantly) on what war can do to a person. Especially when one sees the indignities of the concentration camps. Lester doesn’t try to sugar coat it or gloss over it like some historical fiction. I commend her for that, 100%. Although it does make it a heavier book. But then again, it’s a historical WWII story it should feel harsh, unfair, unjust, and (at times) downright evil. There is hope (of course) and Lester’s incorporation of singing hymns and other true stories from the front are most endearing.

There was a distinct moment at the end I really disliked. And for that reason this is only four stars for me. I vehemently detest cop-out endings. Just randomly doing certain things makes the ending ‘too easy’ or just doesn’t do justice to the story and the characters. I’m very disappointed that Lester took, what I see, as an easy out of the complex emotions and set-up she spent almost 400 pages setting up and commuting to.
Overall it’s good; but I know Lester can do better. With some of these heavy hitter authors I just have higher expectations of what they will deliver. That all said, I’ll still crave and be sure to read everything Natasha Lester publishes. I’m not turned off, just a little disappointed.

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Friday, March 24, 2023

Book Review: The Dead and the Dark

The Dead and the Dark
by Courtney Gould
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. Rounded-up as the queer representation is excellent.
Queer ghost hunters. Need I say more?
Okay I guess I can also tell you about The Dead and the Dark...

Let me first be clear, I really like Courtney Gould's delivery in most areas. I would definitely read another book by her and certainly wouldn't want my review, that has some not so good moments in it to, to deter someone from giving this newer author a try.

Overall, The Dead and the Dark is quite different. A bit of a whodunnit mystery, with some teen romance (bi, lesbian, and gay representation) thrown in, add a spooky (but not scary) premise, some missing (or dead?) teens, a small town of relatively one-dimensional people; and you pretty much have most of what this story entails. The Dead and the Dark is overall a good read. I didn’t think it was amazing, or anything too special necessarily; but it’s a solid read. Overall, for me, it lagged a bit in the middle, mostly when it was Ashley’s point of view (I wish they’d focused more on her attraction to both boys and girls, instead it just being an unsaid fact; I need more bi-representation!!). Our other lead gal, daughter to two gay married ghost hunters; is far more interesting. I felt empathy for her situation with her Dads, the awkwardness, the constant travel (no real home base), and the lack of real friends she has because of the transient life of her Dads travelling ghost hunting TV show.

If the premise or representation intrigued you then I’d say this is worth a read. If you're only mildly interested then I wouldn't don't read it; as it is good. But maybe don't put it at the top of your list? In fairness, someone I really trust (who is a good 10+ years younger than me, non-binary) really, really enjoyed it. So this could be one of those times (sad sigh) where I have to admit that my age is perhaps getting in the way of connecting with a YA book. Thus, I want folks to try this one out; and why I will definitely pick-up another book by Gould. This is after all a debut novel and there is always room to grow.

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 Girl the Sea Gave Back

The Girl the Sea Gave Back 
by Adrienne Young
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3 1/2 stars, maybe 4... I'm rounding up to 4 stars because the first book is SOOO good. While Adrienne Young does a fine job in The Girl The Sea Gave Back it just lacks something that Sky in the Deep had. It's a very similar premise in that we have a warrior girl whose just existing and trying to get by. Young gives us a lot more battle, fighting descriptions, and overall bloodiness in this one. I'm not sure it really adds anything to the plot or characterization; but if you like that sort of thing then it's there for you. For those that are less keen on it, you can absolutely skim the fighting descriptions in 90% of the instances (not that I condone that; just saying you can get by them without too much detailed thought or reading).

There are some intriguing discussions about fate, destiny, and love. While our characters are all caught up in it and obsessed (to a point) about if their future lover is already set, or if their death is pre-determined; I didn't feel like there was anything really new or special added to this discussion here. Young doesn't really give much of a different perspective on destiny or fate than we've been given in a lot of other books (YA or not). Although I have to remind myself that YA books today are written for teens today; and those teens are unlikely to read the same books I grew up on. So perhaps it's not fair to say there is nothing new here given that a pre-teen (in particular) would likely have a lot of thought and wonder come out of reading this story.

I wish I could give you more of what I think is really here for substance. The reality is that I was quite underwhelmed. Maybe I went in with too high of expectations after Sky in the Deep? Perhaps Sea Gave Back languished too long at the top of my prioritized TBR without being the 'next actual pick'. I'm not sure. All I know is that I felt like it could have been better.

I was given an eARC of this book via NetGalley; but also purchased a print copy for my own library prior to reading it. Therefore you can be assured this is an unbiased review as I still spent my own income on it.

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Book Review: Into the Forest

Into the Forest: Tales of the Baba Yaga (Anthology)
by Lindy Ryan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While this is an interesting set of stories about Baba Yaga; it's not really all that great in the end. There are a few diamonds in the rough; but mostly a lot of chicken legs that just don't hold the house up in the end.
I wouldn't necessarily recommend it; unless you are obsessed with Baba Yaga stories; in which case this is a must read. Likely there are better compilations of stories out there that focus on Yaga (although they may not be translated into English...). I'd like to see a lot more of this type of cultural anthology put together; just with better material overall.
The afterword really sums it up. As a culture and people we’ve gotten soft. Baba Yaga is THE icon of feminism horror and yet we’ve downgraded her to a mere witch because it’s nicer or easier to take. Not unlike how Disney changed significant fairy tale plot points to be more amiable and ‘appropriate for children’. I still think we need to be more honest and thoughtful with what we teach and hold onto. The false idea of a Princess carried by a Prince into the sunset is a future mental health disorder waiting to happen (or in progress). As it sets an unreasonable expectation for how great life is. Whereas a witch that can or cannot chose to be wonderful or evil, pretty or ugly, and everything in-between is much more reflective of what humans are really like. Setting this expectation early on in children would probably save many a lot of grief in their teens and adult years. Let's face it no one is just a princess or just an evil witch. We're all the shades of grey in-between; just like Baba Yaga is.

Here are my notes on each of the stories within:

Dinner Plans with Baba Yaga, By Stephanie M. Wytovich

A short but sweet poem.
It’s definitely been too soon since watching Monster: the Dahmer Story on Netflix. I can’t handle eating children references right now; metaphors or not.
I am going to have to remind myself that the power of Baba Yaga is partially in her ability to strike fear in children; the fear of being eaten by her.

Last Tour into the Hungering Moonlight by Gwendolyn Kiste
Where might one find Baba Yaga amongst the suburbs, math homework, and Amazon deliveries. Kiste brings us the answer.

The Story of a House by Yi Izzy YuMM
This is a cute story about how a little chick is chosen to be the legs/bottom half of Baba Yaga’s famous house. It’s both a bit brutal and also a bit comforting. Our baby chick has to prove he’s the right one for the house and I love the open ending. Maybe one day I’ll find the house (not likely in Canada however, lol).

Of Moonlight and Moss by Sara Tantlinger
Best ending ever!!
I can't say anything else for fear of spoiling it all.

Wormwood by Lindz McLeodM
Crimes require punishment. To take something requires that you give something back in equal measure.
Very good and easy to understand portrays of Baba Yaga here. Really like this one.

Mama Yaga by Christina Sng
Love the use of Hansel and Gretel here. Many may not realize that the witch in it was traditionally a version of Baba Yaga.

Flood Zone by Donna Lynch
Love getting more into the (controversial) mythos that Baba Yaga eats children. Really well written and great plot movement.
Can you tell some time passed since I started this anthology? (lol) For now, I've doing better with the whole eating issue... for now. Cannibals are just one of my realistic fears that haunt me sometimes and I just don't think I will ever get past it.

The Peddler’s Promise by Catherine McCarthy
Oh young boys and their greed. I do appreciate, in a dark sort of way, that none of the girls in the village of fall prey to Baba Yaga’s tricks and false promises.

The Space Between the Trees by Jo Kaplan
The world is cruel. We must all snatch whatever opportunities we have, however unpleasant they may seem. Harsh outlook; but for a witches daughter probably a smart one.
This is one of my favourites so far. It's got a great moral or understanding to it and feels like a genuine portrayal of what Baba Yaga was once meant to stand for... that women will always fight harder to the top; and so sometimes you have to use what you have to your advantage. If the playing field were level and equal then this would not be necessary. I don't see that ideal coming into fruition in my lifetime.

Birds of a Feather by Monique Snyman
A slightly longer story than most of the short snippets in this anthology so far. I loved the use of the typical horror movie set-up and how those iconic events then lead to finding Baba Yaga, and (of course) vengeance.

Water Like Broken Glass by Carina Bissett
Decent queer representation which I'm pleasantly surprised by as the area of the world in which Baba Yaga originated remains (largely) intolerant even today. Sad but true that there are still some places that us queer folk cannot be open and safe from persecution by the law and government (never mind the people around us).
Not sure this one felt quite like a Yaga story to me; but it wasn’t bad by any means.

Herald the Knight by Mercedes M. Yardley
Baba Yaga has a lover. Sort of… well put together tale but also a bit weird. Didn't really feel like a Baba Yaga story in the sense of most of the others.

All Bitterness Burned Away by Jill Baguchinaky
Really like that Baba Yaga didn’t know the truth here but had to trust the children to tell her. Very clever.

A Trail of Feathers, A Trail of BloodM
While I am a (born as) woman who adores itty bitty babies. Yet the idea of having one is absolutely horrifying to me. The whole process is just icky… which I suppose makes me lucky as I’m infertile. Although it has been suggested to me that my revulsion for pregnancy and birthing in general could be my brains defensive mechanism to protect me from being upset about being infertile.
Regardless of the reason, because of my immediate dislike of birthing, it’s unfair for me to rate this story as it's primary topic, and outcome, is birthing a baby.

Baba Yaga Learns to Shave, Gets her Period, and Comes into Her Own by Jess Hageman
Seriously this title is longer than the story! It’s really more of a prose poem (if you will). In its essence it’s about how it's okay to be a woman. Not super impressed with this quick one.

Fair Trade by Jacqueline West
One of my fave stories so far!! It’s got all kinds of weirdness, some creepiness factors, and in general makes you think. I don’t want to give too much away as the genius is in the not knowing. Definitely an author I will need to look into more as this was such a well written story.

Stork Bites by EV Knight
Umm… just no. Sorry but I'm a NO to making abortion seem like a nightmare. I'm a NO to deals involving babies. Just a NO overall on this one.

Where the Horizon Meets the Sky by RJ Joseph
A wonderful reminder to be careful what you wish for. Just like with the Western Rumpelstiltskin, as with Baba Yaga, you must be very specific of what you want; erstwhile you get what you want in a way you hadn’t conceived of.

Baba Gaga in Repose by Heather Miller
This is one of those stories you might right for a grade school English class. From the first person ‘you’ perspective that is supposed to make the reader feel like they are the participant making decisions. Ultimately it ends up being overly descriptive and boring. Yes you might get an A on the assignment but you haven’t written much anyone really wants to read. I'm sad that the second last story is one of the weakest of the lot.

Shadow and Branch, Ghost Fruit Among the Lillabies by Saba Syed Razvi
Another very artsy prose that tells no story at all. It attempts to evoke a mood and feeling towards Baba Yaga but lacks substance. Not really not all that interesting. It's one pro is that it as super short.

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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