Monday, February 26, 2024

Book Review: Last Winter

Last Winter
by Carrie Mac
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was not what I had hoped for. A small part of it was about wilderness survival; but it was mostly about a wife and mom, and her bi-polar disorder that ravaged both her, her husband, and her family. Which is not to say it wasn’t well written, because it was. To the point where it had my own mental health reacting to the words of the story. My anxiety spiked multiple times during this story; not because of the cold, winter, or avalanche; instead it was because of the intensity of Mom’s actions, thoughts, and struggles.

I don’t know why this is marketed the way it is. The Last Winter is NOT a story about a town or avalanche at its core. It’s actually about a little girl and her bi-polar mother, and amazing father. It’s about how hard it is to keep a family together when one person is unstable, unpredictable, and hard to manage. And it’s sooo incredibly intense because the author herself is bi-polar.
I love that this is written by a Canadian queer woman with a mental health issue (which is awfully close to what my own bio could say…). I just wish I’d known more of what I was going into in advance.

It’s possible I’d give this 3-stars in another situation, just for being other than expected, but I can’t imagine doing so given how much this book affected me. The writing is brilliant AND (most importantly to this Canadian) it’s an actual reflection of how dangerous snow and cold actually are!! I cannot emphasize how important it is that hypothermia, frostbite, dehydration (even when surrounded by snow) and other cold ailments are properly portrayed. If for no other reason than because I live in a cold and sometimes dangerously cold place, I think it’s important people remember that Mother Nature has always been able to beat our species.

While I’m so glad to have read this, I’m also glad to put it behind me and move on. It was just too intense in ways I wasn’t ready for.

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, February 14, 2024

Book Review: The Circus Infinite

The Circus Infinite 
by Khan Wong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been struggling to complete a review of this book for (believe it or not) months. It's not that I didn't like it; or that I loved it. It's a good enough read. The kind of thing I'd be pleased to pick-up at a local bookstore if it was curated content (ie: local, POC author, met a monthly theme, etc.); yet it wasn't quite good enough to give five stars. But it's not really fair for me to say that as I can't seem to articulate why it wasn't five start quality.
Upon thinking on this for quite some time I think it maybe comes down to two things:
1) wordsmithing: being able to really pick the exact right word and par your sentences down is a real skill that has to be learned. I think there is a lot that could be cut here; not in plot or characterization, but maybe in the descriptions, set-up, etc.
2) outcomes: I think it wasn't clear what the real outcome Khan Wong had for his readers was. And no I do not think that just to 'have a fun time' is enough to justify a story. There needs to be some meaning, connection, or message that is being developed, portrayed, or told. The Circus Infinite maybe just needs some more finessing to really highlight what the author wants the reader to take away.

Overall this is a good read. Well above the fan fiction 'standard' that has been set, and certainly above most YA trash standards. So if the plot, characters or blub at all intrigue you give it a shot.

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, February 13, 2024

Book Review: The Bone Shard Emperor

The Bone Shard Emperor 
by Andrea Stewart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As I write this I am halfway through the third, and final, book of this series. I know two things already: Andrea Stewart is now on my 'must-read' list, and second, that I LOVE the diversity of the points of view Stewart shows and her ability to give us realistic, meaningful characters. Even the companions (who are creatures of a sort, but they talk) are sooo well done.

My worry going into a second book in a three part series is always that it will just be set-up and nothing else. Thus falling into middle book syndrome (as I call it). Let me reassure you The Bone Shard Emperor does NOT have that problem. By the end of this book so much has changed that you couldn't have anticipated the next book's plot from the start of book two. This is a real talent, to see ahead but still develop and give meaningful moments for your characters as you get to the climax of each novel in a series. And boy does Stewart give us a climax!

As I said for book one I love the uniqueness of this series, the struggle with determining what is 'alive' or 'human' versus just a 'thing', the creativity of the bone shard magic, the complexity of the history of the realm (especially the Allanga), and the intricate politics that each of our characters is carefully navigating. This is one of the best fantasy series I have read in a little while (that wasn't written by someone we already know can write fantasy). There is a special something you have to have to write fantasy novels well and without a doubt Andrea Stewart has it!
But be sure you start at book 1. As with most epic/high fantasy, there is no jumping in mid-way. And besides you wouldn't want to miss out on all the juicy events that happened before you get to the start of this installment.

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 12, 2024

Book Review: Me and My Dysphoria Monster

Me and My Dysphoria Monster: An Empowering Story to Help Children Cope with Gender Dysphoria 
by Laura Kate Dale
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Even if the only thing a child understands from this book is that boys are sometimes girls, and girls are sometimes boys, for me that would be enough. Yet I think there is a whole lot more here that even a 5 or 6 year-old could understand. From what dysphoria is (because lets face it this is a new word for a lot of us), to the idea that you might feel a certain way and not be sure why (ie: hate or love dresses, etc.) all the way up to the idea of what it means to be transgender and how that manifests at a young age. And to be clear, it does manifest when children are very young.

Occasionally we might be surprised that a child or teen or even adult approaches the world and says they are trans. It absolutely happens. But in the majority of cases these kids know. They inherently have known since they were very young.
No different than at 11 years old I couldn't figure out why I could have Keanu Reeves on my wall as an 'idol' but my Mom acted weird about me wanting to put up Reba McEntire next to him as equally 'pretty'. I knew then I liked boys and girls; I just didn't have words for it (it was the 90s after all) and I wasn't really sure it was a 'thing' that could be true. However looking back, I knew. I've always probably known I was bisexual. It wasn't until I had a word for it and a definition that I could apply it to myself. That is why this book, and others like it, are SOOO important to get into the hands of little ones.
Let's give all children (and adults) the vocabulary to properly express themselves. Lets give them the safe space to do so, and the love and support every child deserves no matter what gender.

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, February 8, 2024

Book Review: Weyward

by Emilia Hart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Went in expecting the typical persecuted witches (across a couple generations) story. And while Weyward is that, at its core, it’s also distinctly different and has some great twists on the idea. For a debut novel, Emilia Hart has done an incredible job of making sure you are drawn into the story, compelled to flip the page, and rooting for our three leading ladies.
A tough part for me, and likely won't bother too many others, is that there are a few too many bugs in this. I have a huge bugs-phobia. That said it wasn't so bad I couldn't skim the text or get over it. A couple scenes gave me some good goosebumps and the creepy crawly feeling. Thankfully I was able to get past them quick enough and didn't have to give up on the book. That said, I loved the crows!!! And I feel like if this was to become a movie, or a huge fan series, everyone would covet a crow feather (like we do the Mockingjay pin).
Overall this is a great generational trauma story. I love that our witches are clever, herbalist women, and that it really perpetuates that even today it's possible to be brought down by one powerful man; just like it was hundreds of years ago. I especially look forward to what Hart will bring us in the future. If she improves from this debut then it should be stunning!

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, February 6, 2024

Book Review: Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea

Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea
by Rita Chang-Eppig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Please note this is NOT a middle grade, or young adult book. It may look like one on the cover, and read like one in the blurb but it has prostitution, violence, sex, etc. i it. Nothing worse than Sarah J. Maas has in Court of Thorn and Roses; but it should be listed as Teen, in my opinion.

Onto my review...

Piracy in Asia looked a bit different than you might think… or at least according to Rita Chang-Eppig and her leading lady in Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea.
We meet our lead gal as she is in a conundrum. Her husband has just passed and she needs to find a way to hold onto the captaincy of her ship, a small fleet, and protect those she loves on board her vessel (and keep herself alive as well). Thus she makes decisions that are justifiable; but perhaps not always in everyone's best interest. Although it is worth noting she is a pirate after all...
In no ways is our leading gal a hero; but she's not a villain either. Instead she is the perfect kind of morally grey character most of us are in life. We make good decisions, we make bad decisions; and overall we just have to keep on moving to stay alive. This is the main theme and take away from Chang-Eppig's story. Sometimes it's just about surviving.

I loved the enduringness of these characters, the detail and narrative of the story was also excellent. Although near the end I was kind of tired of our crew and certainly of our leading gal. You can only hear someone express regret so many times before you lack empathy, sympathy, or even any emotion towards them. And so I think a quicker ending would have served this book and our leading lady better.

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: At Midnight (anthology)

At Midnight 
by Dahlia Adler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really solid. 15 stories inspired by 15 fairy tales. Like with the Poe edition the original story (or a version of it) is at the back of this book. So I read the original and then the retelling.
The biggest downfall here is maybe the selection of which fairy tale original was published. There’s so many versions of these tales and to go back to THE Grimm one (for example) is harder than you think as the Grimm Brothers published many variations of the original stories themselves!
Highly recommend this one for anyone who loves a good fairy tale.

A few notes about each story:
Story #1 - Sugarplum Inspired by The Nutcracker
It has just rung New Year’s 2024 as I write this. It is perhaps ironic that the first story here is about the holiday I just got through.
As our leading gal feels stifled in her Christmas Eve event, so too do I feel (in general) about Christmas.
An excellent little ditty with many nods to the SugarPlum Fairy dance.

Story #2 - In the Forests of the Night by Gita Trelease Inspired by Fitcher’s Bird
I didn’t think I knew this story; but as I got into the original I realized I’ve certainly heard the tiger story before. I just didn’t know the name Fitcher.
The retelling is well-written; but I found the authors blurb more interesting and wished I could hear more of the real tiger that inspired her…

Story #3 - Say my Name by Dahlia Adler Inspired by Rumpelstiltskin
I often forget little there is to the original Rumplestiltskin story. I love the concept, character, & power being in a name.
I can’t help but roll my eyes at the Twilight reference in this retelling. Although, every minute since reading it the idea is growing on me. If power is in a name; then a name can also steal power away…clever

Story #4 - Fire & Rhinestone by Stacey Lee Inspired by The Little Match Girl
Brilliant!!! I adore this one!
It’s smart, clever, and tells of a historical event giving a (fictional) backstory. It also shows the awful treatment of both women and people of colour from that day (and sadly today still).
This book is worth reading if this is the only amazing story; although I’m confident it won’t be.

Story # 5 - Mother’s Mirror by H. E. Edgmon Inspired by Little Snow-White
I LOVED this amazing version of Snow White that focuses on the ‘beauty’ of a trans man. The way this story shows the ‘ugliness’ that the lead character sees when their mother sees a different kind of ugliness is clever. A brilliantly written, accessible transgender story. This should be mandatory reading for everyone!

Story #6 - Sharp as any Thorn by Rory Power Inspired by Sleeping Beauty
While I liked this story, it’s a huge stretch to say it’s inspired by or based on Sleeping Beauty. The entire premise is skewed and makes no sense. The twist ending is great as a story; just not one related to Sleeping Beauty

Story # 7 - Coyote in High-Top Sneakers by Darcie Little Badger Inspired by Puss in Boots
This story is adorable! I’ll confess I don’t really know original Puss in Boots, or even many retellings (besides Shrek’s version, lol) so I can’t say much about its relationship or the original included here. However, I can say that this story was adorable! I just don’t meet enough talking coyotes!

Story # 8 - The Sister Swap by Melissa Alberta; whole new fairy tale)
Interesting to include a non-retelling in a re-telling anthology. Not sure I get why this was done. Regardless the story was fine. Nothing mind blowing; but I did love the gothic masquerade setting!

Story #9 - Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Hafsah Faizal Inspired by Little Red Riding Hood
If it’s possible to fall in love with a character in only a handful of pages then certainly I just did!
I love this leading gal. She’s a Muslim who wears a hijab. This, of course, makes her even more visible and ‘obviously different’ than just being a POC. Great heist-style story. I’d love to read more!

Story #10 - A Flame So Bright by Malinda Lo Inspired by Frau Trude
I’ve always loved a good evil wins tale. I’m sure that puts me in some scary bucket of concerning or crazy but I can’t help but often cheer for the ‘bad guy’.
The pacing and flow of this story is beautiful. It’s truly prose, if not poetry at times. I quite enjoyed this set of stories.
May the witch ever win. ;)

Story #11 - The Emperor and the Eversong by Tracy Deonn Inspired by The Nightingale
Is there anything Deonn cannot make her own and retell better than the original?
Gosh just amazing!!
I can’t say anything else because it would give away too much. Just read this story!!

Story #12 - Hea by Alex London Inspired by Cinderella
I didn’t know I desperately needed Cinderella retold from a flamboyantly gay social media boys perspective! This is adorable and very clever. Kudos to London for keeping it both light and yet still shining a light on what it takes to be a ‘star’ and stay current in social media. I was exhausting just thinking about ‘creating content’.

Story #13 - The Littlest Mermaid by Meredith Russo Inspired by The Little Mermaid
Not for the first time, I question if the version here is the ‘original’ tale from Hans Christian Andersen. It is not the same tale as from a book (the ‘original’ tale?) I had as a child.
Love the trans rep in this retelling! The rest is just okay. It’s a bit too lovey-dovey for me. Overall lacks plot.

Story #15 - Just a Little Bite by Roselle Lim Inspired by Hansel and Gretel
This story is a wild ride!! I love it! Not just because it’s set in Canada during a blizzard (can’t help but love my own setting), but because it’s brutal, doesn’t apologize, plus kids are great. They kind of reminded me of the Winchester brothers. No nonsense, don’t screw with us attitude. Very clever interpretation.

Story #15 - A Story About a Girl by Rebecca Podos Inspired by The Robber Bridegroom
Well this story is okay. But next to the Hansel and Gretel one right before it fails to compare. They should have been swapped around.
I will however give Podos credit for her title being a clever play off a song Nirvana famously covered.

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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