Saturday, July 22, 2017

Book Review: The Book of Whispers

Title: The Book of Whispers 
Author: Kimberley Starr 
Genre: YA, Teen, Demons, Historical 
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

DNF @ 61%

There's a distinct oddness to this book. It's a YA book set during the crusades. We have a lead gal and guy from very different walks of life. I was really enjoying the demons and stories of our characters right up until they met each other (45% in). And then all of a sudden the magic was gone. Yet ironically the introduction of a lot of convenient magic shortly after that is what turned me off in the end. 

I love fantasy, but magic needs to be used so as not to just set-up convenient ways to travel, time to change, items to only work for some, etc. It's like every magical thing that happens in this book is very convenient. As this is one of my biggest pet peeves ever I decided I was done with The Book of Whispers. 

It may very well have an amazing and profound ending but getting there just got too difficult. The last couple days I've thought to read this book my response is very dull. Like I'm not really interested. Once I'm reading that improves but it's almost like this book is a slump in and of itself. 

I am giving it two stars, even though I didn't finish it. 

I have a few reasons for still liking much of it: 

1) the writing is quite good. I would look forward to and read a future book by Kimberley Starr. 

2) our two main characters are interesting people. They could use a bit more depth and emotion during their POV scenes but overall I didn't dislike either of them. 

3) the demon concept is interesting and ties in very well to the time period. The crusades were a time of massive superstition, religious war and all around distrust. The setting is well chosen. 

The main things that need improving: 

1) as discussed above, not using magic as a convenient excuse for plot to happen

2) the adults surrounding our two teens need to have a bit more development to really add depth to the story. 

3) historical facts are pretty few and far between in this. If you're going to use a famous time in history it's best to make sure you really understand why it happened. 

4) there is excitement missing from this book. Lots of exciting things happen but somehow I didn't get excited during them. A great writer makes you feel what your characters feel and puts you in the scene and story. 

Overall if you are very intrigued by the book blurb then check it out. But if you have hundreds of other books to read I'd skip this one. That said I would still read Starr again in the hopes that her writing improves. I think there is real potential for her and I hope to see more from her. 

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Book Review: The Hate U Give

Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Genre: Young Adult, Teen, Racism, Social Commentary
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I finished this book yesterday, wrote a 4,000 word review and then promptly the interwebs ate it when I hit submit. So I'm going to try this again. Maybe being a day later this will be a little more concise and less well gushing. Edit: at 2600 words it’s shorter, but I hope no less powerful than my first review/commentary. 

I've tried to break this review, because it's huge, into sections by topic. If you just want to know my overall opinion scroll to the bottom and read my summary. 

The Hype
Any book that receives the kind of hype that The Hate U Give has gotten made me nervous. It's just too often that a book is awful (Twilight) and yet the hottest book of the year. That said many books that are hyped deserve it (Hunger Games, Ready Player One, etc.). So I went into The Hate U Give a bit skeptical and (as a 34-year-old Canadian white girl) a bit unsure of what I was going to be confronted with. Turns out, the hype is well deserved for Angie Thomas' novel. In fact this may be one of the most important novels of the decade in ALL genres; not just YA. 

Truthful & Honest
This has to be the most honest and realistic book I've read in a really long time. And that includes historical novels and literary novels based off real life recent events. The dialogue, language, thoughts and attitudes of all the characters are so genuine. It's clear that Thomas has experienced at least some of the internal conflict that our main gal Starr has. But Thomas does something that is very difficult for many authors, she also gets the other side of the story too. Not only are the black and other minority characters perfect; but so too are the white characters. From the white boyfriend who feels guilt "I feel like I should apologize on behalf of white people everywhere.",  to the black mom who understands the world is not fair, "Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.", to the mislead and mean white girl who implies that because our dead teen might have been a drug dealer he deserved to die.  
These kinds of comments and thoughts are only a small sampling of the truth said and conveyed in this book. So many quotes hit home for me and I hope I remember many of them forever. 

Social Issues Galore
Not since the Handmaiden's Tale have I felt that a book brought together so many social issues in such an elegant and simple way. To take a number of complex issues and tie them together into a realistic story is a major talent. I cannot wait for Angie Thomas to write more books that touch on other social issues. I’m hoping her magic in The Hate U Give is not a one-time hit. 

Social Issue 1: Two People in One
The portrayal of our main gal, Starr, and her major internal conflict between being a black girl in the ghetto who goes to preppy white kid school is sooo well done. Starr expresses how at her white school she is cool by default (being one of two black kids). But that in the ghetto (her home community) she is terrified to be made fun of, look awkward or stupid in general. Even with her own boyfriend she has tried to hide her ghetto life. This is a sub-plot and by far lesser discussion in some ways to the overall black kid killed by a white cop plot. And yet it really resonated with me as it can be true of so many different scenarios (not just by race); but in any situation where you feel you are different people.

Social Issue 2: Racially Motivated Mistrust
The main plot is the situation in which we have all seen in the worldwide news a lot in the last few years. Black kids being shot without enough ‘reason’ by white cops. I would like to say this is a USA problem, but I know that’s not entirely true. If you substitute black for any other minority group, and white for any majority group of any country you can tell the same story over and over again. Initially I had a hard time with Khalil, our murdered teen, because he did move and talk back a bit to the cop… but as I read The Hate U Give I realized that I myself am being too harsh and judgmental and probably thinking like a typical white person. Thomas nails it on the head when she talks about how there needs to be trust between the public and cops. On BOTH sides. Cops need to trust that just because of a certain race, religious affiliation, neighbourhood, vehicle drives, etc. that someone isn’t going to shoot them just because. Now this is a tough thing because stats may show the likelihood of an event is higher in certain areas. But we have to build trust and the best way to build trust is to bring down those who are breaking it. If we, as a society, are too afraid to snitch or report events, people or situations in which the trust is being broken then we are part of the problem. And that is really the inherent message of The Hate U Give… you must speak up! Even if it’s scary, difficult, seemingly useless and costs you something. Without everyone speaking out things will just stay the same, or possibly get worse. The second part of this is to ensure our actions don't break that trust. That might be really hard as it may seemingly affect our personal safety; but without it we are perpetuating the cycle. 

Social Issue 3: No One Deserves to Die
This is another major theme in the book that no one deserves to die unless they have actively done something to ‘deserve it’. Now of course the issue is who deserves it; what is our benchmark at which killing someone is not murder but self-defense. This is an issue that is unbelievably difficult to find two people who agree on never mind a nation of people. But I think Thomas makes her point extremely well by the end of this book. That no one deserves to die for what they may or may not do in the future. Or for what they may or may not have been doing that can’t be proven. Whether we like it or not we cannot decide some people are predisposed to a certain fate, we do not live in the world of Minority Report, and we should be eternally thankful we don’t. 
Most Canadians don’t believe in the death penalty… except in 2 or 3 extremely difficult serial killer situations that have occurred in Canada. But certainly something most Canadians can agree to is that you DO NOT deserve to be shot at unless you are making an offense move towards someone. Ie: you must have a gun in hand and aiming it at someone; or an equally killer intention or weapon. And this is where I think a lot of us that are in majority groups forget that the issue of trust comes back into play.
This issue brings together social issues 1 and 2 discussed above and wraps them all up into one very simple statement: DON’T ASSUME!!!  

So why is this so hard for people…
Self preservation is a biological response we ALL have without even thinking about it. We inherently, like any animal, want to survive. And so those that are in difficult jobs (ie: cops, firefighters, etc.) tend to be very careful people. They understand their job is more dangerous than others and have almost always seen or known someone to be killed by a mistake. The problem is when is a mistake by a cop actually a mistake and not just bad luck or a bad situation gone worse. 
My uncle was an RCMP officer (like a state cop in the USA) and he talks a lot about how you had to trust that no one was going to shoot you. Because you aren’t (in Canada) supposed to shoot at until shot at first or some dangerous threat or offensive action is taken. So we’re back to, what is an offensive action? And this is where Angie Thomas did something most people cannot do, she shows the arguments on both sides and yet by the end of the book I would challenge anyone to say that they disagree with Starr; that shooting an unarmed teen, with their back turned is okay. If you think it might be right now, read this book and see what you think afterwards. 

Emotional Response
So all of these social issues and realizations put together have actually made a huge impact on my opinion and thoughts. It’s a rare thing that a voracious reader, as most of us on GoodReads are, actually changes their thought process because of a book. We all just read so much that it takes a truly powerful and stand-out novel for a major change to take place. The Hate U Give has blown me away, made me laugh (I agree with Starr’s Dad that Harry Potter houses are kind of like gangs…) and made me cry. I’m not a crier… my husband tells me that’s how he knows I’m at my wits end is that I’m in tears and not just angry (lol). I’m a person who doesn’t cry at the ‘make you sad’ books like The Fault in our Stars or Still Alice. If you wrote it to try and make me cry then I’m probably not going to quite get there. But Thomas has done something different; she has created some of the most realistic characters I’ve ever read that have thoughts just like I do, that are morally conflicted and confused, that are overwhelmed and marginalized, who feel that they cannot make a different no matter what. And when these honest characters have sudden moments of rage, despair or euphoria then suddenly so does the reader. This is a rare talent, especially in YA books, in my opinion and so I give all the stars to Angie Thomas for making this connection with her readers. 
The great part about a connection this powerful with the reader is that whatever your character learns is exactly what your reader learns as well. 

At the end of the day The Hate U Give has probably changed my life… 
I won’t know for a while longer, but I feel like something has just inherently changed for me. My first version, lost to the interwebs, of this review was much more emotional and raw as I had written it hours after finishing this book. Having now had a day to think about it I feel less raw, but no less impacted. This tells me that I will not forget Starr and her plight any time soon. Additionally I will continue to feel like I want to repeat what Starr’s white boyfriend says “I feel like I should apologize on behalf of white people everywhere.". If it would help I’d be honestly more than happy to do so. 
I have never understood people that make assumptions based on race, religion, culture or geographic area. Maybe because I grew up in a decent neighbourhood in a Canadian city that is moderate in size? Or maybe because we had a lot of minorities at my school’s over the years and one of my best friends was a Japanese boy for many years? I’m not sure. And that just because I’ve dated an Asian guy, a black woman, alongside white men and women, that it makes me perfect and means I don’t have unknown prejudices. I am hoping that I have learned from The Hate U Give to identify more of these prejudice, discriminatory, racist or ‘white’ thoughts that I may not have even realized were in the past. This book has made me realize that everyone, including ME, makes the mistake of thinking we aren’t prejudging people or situations when we probably do it on a daily basis without even realizing it.
We cannot work towards changing this in our society until we realize we are part of the problem. Every person in the world needs to realize they do this towards others, no matter what minority, group or situation you make an assumption towards. This is not just about black vs. white. This is about humanity taking a step forward to be ‘one’ and appreciate each other for what we bring to the table. As well as realizing that many of the prejudice’s we have are based on situations that people haven’t even been able to control. Being born to a poor family isn’t the child’s fault but somehow we always put it on them as they get older. These types of things need to STOP.
The Hate U Give title is taken from a TuPac song that is over 20 years old… the fact that it’s shown in the book that the lyrics of the 90’s are still as relevant today as they were then means we are not making enough. We are not listening. 
Let’s start by listening and trying to understand the problem. Regardless of who you are, stop for once and listen to people. Not just those different from you, but those similar to you. Maybe you will learn something about where the real problem is; and can start to break down the walls our society has put up. We need to LISTEN to minorities of all kinds and stop thinking we know best (yes I’m talking to you SJW’s). Let’s listen to the problems that we are made aware of and not invent issues where they don’t exist. We have enough problems to solve without creating more. 
The second step is to speak out and not let things happen because we are afraid. Whether that is letting someone know you are hurt by their comment, reporting illegal activity or events you witness, or just being strong enough to stand by others and talk to people in a respectful and mature manner about issues. Attacking people with weapons or words is not helpful. We need to really open the dialogue up to make real change happen. And even if we lose and aren’t heard on the first try or the hundredth try we still MUST work towards the morally correct outcome. Because if we don’t then who is going to? 

I want to thank Angie Thomas and everyone that had a part in publishing this book. It’s an important book that I cannot wait to buy for everyone I know (seriously). You can easily replace black for any race, religious group, sexual orientation or other minority and find that it’s about more than just white and blacks. It’s about how we treat one another and the trust we need to build. Trust is best built by the actions we take. It takes time and effort to build it and only one moment, like a gun shot, to crush all the trust in the world. Let’s be conscious of those around us, and things in ourselves, that are deplorable and start to really change the world in a mature and change motivated way. Calling one another names and attacking is never going to fix the issue. Start a dialogue that is intelligent, mature and respectful. Really consider others opinions and admit when you are wrong. 

You can start yours and others journey into this conversation and being a part of change, by reading The Hate U Give, immediately.

I’m not perfect and might say things here that seem wrong or can be misinterpreted by twisting my words. I know some will try to do this. My point in this review is not that we should call people names or make them feel badly. My point is that we should listen to each other, offer fair advice and points of view to affect real change (not just one group against another). No one of us is 100% correct, and this review and book are about building trust and community together. This starts by having intelligent, honest and mature conversations. I hope that by admitting my past mistakes and discussing what I feel I have learned from this book helps people to see what I mean by good intentions and affecting true change.

Thank you for reading this giant review/commentary.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Stitching: Disney Freebies

Just today on Facebook someone posted a link that I can't believe I've never seen before! 
Crazy right? 

My absolute fave is Dory and "just keep swimming". I actually say this a lot either outloud or in my head. It's a great little line to think or say when times are rough and you just have to push through. 

I also love the Up balloon house. But really who doesn't?! It's so colourful and super fun as it's so unrealistic! 

I hope you enjoy these as much as I did. 
Check them all out here:


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Book Review: Aftercare Instructions

Title: Aftercare Instructions
Author: Bonnie Pipkin
Genre: YA, Teen, Abortion, Drug Abuse
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I'm tempted to give this 5 stars just because Bonnie Pipkin was willing to take on the topic of teenage abortion. However moving, realistic and moving this book might be it didn't bring me to tears; and while I'm not one to cry easily at all a five star book of this sort probably would have gotten me there. The ending is a bit too weak for me given the harsh  content of the overall book. 

Aftercare Instructions is set-up in a clever way. The past is read as screenplay entries and the present as first person narrative from our lead gal, Genesis. This is a story of hardship. The kind that comes along and you have no control over (like loosing a parent) and the kind of hardship where you made a choice at some point (or multiple points) and now you need to accept it and move on. 

There are so many great moments in this book. Especially the beginning and when Genesis meets a boy. Both handled in a very realistic and surreal way. Exactly how I myself have felt in the past; both as a teenager and an adult. Sometimes you're just there for the ride and can only think about the immediate step in front of you. It's clear to me that Pipkin has experienced this first hand and she displays the distance, but intense emotion really well on the page. 

My biggest disappointment here is that our lead gal doesn't to give much thought to her abortion after the fact. While this may be what some girls do in real life; I have to say that it would have been nice to see more agony over the morals, concerns and emotions of her choice. Additionally the part the 'boyfriend' plays in the abortion decision is downplayed overall and the ending didn't do him any justice. 

As a woman who cannot have children, and it is believed that I miscarried a baby at 19; I can say that the whole realm of babies is a difficult place for me sometimes. Most days I'm happy to see my friends have little ones and be the one in five whose unable to carry. But occasionally I wonder what it might be like to hold my own baby in my arms. These types of thoughts all happen to a woman at some point no matter what her decisions are or where fate may take her. I think it's important more of these discussions happen openly among women and that our society accept that whether people like it or not getting pregnant doesn't come with a survey to fill out or pre-screening. We need to continue to offer support and options; pre and post sexual intercourse in order to ensure that both women and men feel they have played a part in the decision. 

Overall this is a wonderful debut YA book, that tackles a couple difficult topics. I think Pipkin has talent and in a couple more books she will hopefully hit her stride as a YA writer whose willing to tackle the heavy stuff and keep the emotions raw and real. 

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Book Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones

Title: Down Among the Sticks and Bones
Series: Wayward Children, book 2
Author: Seanan McGuire
Genre: YA, fairy tale, fantasy
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars 

It should be noted that I'm a bit of a Seanan McGuire fan girl. I think she's a very talented, diverse and interesting author (in all her pen names). You just gotta respect her ability to write things so vastly different from each. 

While book 1 was perhaps slightly stronger than this; I must say that Sticks and Bones was absolutely engrossing, enchanting and engaging! (Wow that was a lot of E's!) 

The blend of two commonly known classic monster stories, alongside the story of the twins and their odd and frustrating upbringing works beautifully. There is just so much here even though the book is less than 200 pages. 

The shortness of these books is perhaps part of their magic. They are concise, pretty without being overly flowery, and all around well edited and written. I've always said that a good short story is often more impressive than a good 1000 page epic. (Which is ironic as I love epics). The reason is that the writer had to work so much harder to get their message across in a short story. To make you understand a setting, character development and enough plot to feel like something started and stopped in less than 200 pages is very difficult. And McGuire does it fantastically here. 

If you love fairy tales, stories of children finding their way or spins on classic myths then I believe you will like this book. 

I personally loved it and would recommend it to everyone to read. It's just that magical.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Book Review: Shadow Fall

Title: Shadow Fall

Author: Audrey Grey

Genre: YA, Science Fiction, Dystopian

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Did Not Finish (DNF) @ 33%

I just can't do it. I love elaborate novels. Especially fantasy ones but you have to be able to write them in a way that keeps your reader engaged and aware. If too much happens and too many info dumps are supposed to 'explain things' then readers get frustrated, bored or detached.

In addition to there being too much all at once there is also not a single moment in this book that felt unique or it's own. A death match. Giant impact about to hit the earth. Girl whose a nobody but is 'chosen'. Looking to save a sibling. Caste society separated by colours. Etc, etc, etc. 

It's like Audrey Grey couldn't decide what elements of which books she liked best so she used ALL OF THEM. And in the end it's a jumbled mess of nothing. 

I'm super disappointed as this book sounded really cool. And taking what's been done and putting a new spin on it is what stories are all about. Sadly there is no new spin here, just a mish-mash of everything into one. 

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Stitching: Sugar Skull Start

Wow that is a lot of S's in that title! 

I have a quick little start to share today. 
But the bigger bed is I'm very very close to the first page finish on Alice. It's been slower than I expected due to a lot of confetti... 
but in the meantime here is a new start on my fave little kits by Mill Hill... 

Start to date

What it will look like 

That's it for now, but I really have been stitching a lot it's just not exciting to post blobs of beige and pink on Alice. 

Thanks for visiting and commenting!! 

Book Review: A Murder in Time

Title: A Murder in Time 

AuthorJulie McElwain 

Genre: Time Travel, Murder Mystery, Historical 

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

This is more of a 2.5 stars book. And what I'm about to say is going to be very contradictory...

I enjoyed this book, but it also drove me crazy. The overall concept of a FBI agent time travelling to the past and solving crime is amusing, clever and unique. Also the time period of the 1800s is a personal favourite. 

And yet there were so many things I had to look over in my enjoyment of this book: 

 science or myth/lore, and your character trying to return... Kendra puts ZERO thought put into returning to her own time. And while she may not want to in the end, the reality is that she should have tried something for a day or two... or just been more frantic. 

  1. It rambled on and on, often. It could be 200 pages shorter and you'd sacrifice no story or character development; instead you just loose some extremely detailed autopsy info, details about maids and servants that are irrelevant. 
  2. A lot of our lead gal, Kendra  thinking (also easily cut out) includes stupid one liners (think Caruso in Miami Vice bad comments) that are just unnecessary and frankly is a cheap trick that an inexperienced author uses at chapter ends. 
  3. If you are going to do a book on time travel you had better be ready to deal with a few things... your character desperately trying to return, some actual
  4. Accents. I get it servants have accents and nobels/aristocrats don't. But I do not need an apostrophe in place of every single 'H' muttered by a servant. There were entire lines I couldn't read even after three tries. Ridiculous over emphasis of accent. 
  5. Speaking of not understanding things; while it was only done once it as almost an entire page of actual conversation in French. No translations. Now for me this is fine as I'm bilingual but had it been any other language I'd have been screwed. This is a rude disservice to readers in my opinion. 
  6. Id have liked to see more effort put into researching the time period for historical issues. Many, many small things drove me crazy... but I love historical fiction that is well researched. So maybe I just expect too much of a fun book like this.  

And yet I really LIKED this book. Confused yet? LOL 

A Murder in Time is like Outlander meets J.D.Robb. I'm not a big murder mystery person per say but I enjoy a bold, break all the rules female that kicks ass every once in awhile. 

I also really enjoyed how Julie McElwain demonstrated the intelligence of our 1800s characters even though they didn't have our current technology. I think we often think people in the past were dumb which is just not true as they got us to where we are today. 

I will read the second book as I now want to know about the romance that was just getting started, more about the time travel aspect and how Kendra continues to manage her situation(s). 

And because this was a decent read, even if it wasn't amazing. 

It would make for a fun beach read or lazy Sunday afternoon. Just don't over think it.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Book Review: The Danish Girl

Title: The Danish Girl 
Author: David Ebershoff
Genre: Historical Fiction, Transgender
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is a fictionalized story. It's important to know going into The Danish Girl that this is NOT meant to be a history of Lili Elbe's story. It is inspired by her story and uses key milestones from her life but most everything else is made up. In my copy there is a lovely afterword by the author where David Ebershoff  discusses the reasons he wrote the novel and the atmosphere and point he was trying to make. 

While a beautifully written story it is not a page turner (which is okay) as it's more an atmospheric book that is fronted by confusion. Lili's confusion towards what she should or should not be. 

Remember it's the 1920's transgender is unheard of and any other medical diagnosis you might feel belong to Lili just aren't known at this time. Therefore I think it's appropriate that they are not discussed here. 

The actual story, in my opinion, is less Lili's story and more Greta's. They say the ultimate form of love is being able to let the person you love go if that will make them most happy. With absolute certainty then Greta loves her husband and Lili. She is the instigator of so many things that she clearly understood Lili had a yearning for. Without Greta there to support and encourage Lili may never have come to be and remained suppressed inside Einar resulting in a subpar life for both of them. 

This love story is not gushing, descriptively romantic or over the top and even at times boring. Instead it's very realistic and portrays the way long term love in a favourable and intimate way. I think many will believe that Lili and Greta are not in love because there are no obvious, out right moments; for me the most intimate of moments is that they share a bed through it all and their finger curl is extremely poignant and lovely. 

Having been with my common-law husband for almost ten years I can tell you we have our moments of "ultimate romance" but they are not near as important as the little things we do for each other everyday to show one another our love. And I think The Danish Girl shows this type of intimate love that is truly only known in the bedroom of the two people who share it.

Overall I'm glad I read this book, but I'm not sure I would ever reread it. However I will proudly display it in my library as a piece of literature that I think is worthy of a spot in anyone's collection.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Book 1)  

Author: Benjamin Alire Saenez 

Genre: Teen, YA, Coming of Age 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is a story about two boys who at fifteen are just living their lives. There's no real plot, however, a few things happen that are very realistic and engaging until the end. 

The only reason Aristotle and Dante doesn't get five stars from me is the ending. There is a significant event or moment that I just have a hard time accepting as likely. It's especially hard to swallow given how honest and realistic most of the rest of the book is. 

I love the writing sooo very much. It's compelling and feels like a fifteen year old wrote it that has a decent handle on the English language. (Lol). 

As always I won't talk specifics or spoilers but besides the end that I found ridiculous there is also a few moments were people seem to heal or handle situations way better than should be physically possible. So be forewarned that there are some little things that might annoy. 

At the end of the day Aristotle and Dante is a beautiful story of two teenage boys and an unlikely, but perfect friendship. It touches on why loners are usually loners, gay relationships, bullying/violence amoungst teens, ethnicity/identity, separation and above all else love. 

I would highly recommend this for anyone to read as I think there are lessons or reminders that adults can benefit from here as well. 

PS: I'm kinda disappointed there is a sequel as I feel like it's better to not know more of the story... will be interesting to see how that plays out I suppose.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Book Review: Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles

Title: Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles
Author: J. M. Sullivan
Genre: YA, Teen, Dystopian, Zombie, Fairy Tale Retelling
Stars: 3.5 out of 5 stars (round up to 4) 

I probably enjoyed this book way more than I should have. It was fun, fast paced and the writing was pretty darn good for a debut YA author. But I think many will have mixed reviews... 

Wonderland and I: a quick background
I love Wizard of Oz, my husband loves Alice in Wonderland (so much so he is working on half sleeve tattoos that are both Alice themed, awesome right?!). When I read [book:Dorothy Must Die|18053060], a couple years ago, I hated it. Steampunk + Oz = me stoked; but I was sorely let down. BUT Oz is a childhood escape place and maybe it's a bit sacred to me. In contrast Wonderland is a place I know of that is fun but not really nostalgic for me personally. So to read a re-telling or inspired by Alice book with a bunch of things all weird and different was fun for me.
I'll confess my husband helped with many of the references to Wonderland places and characters (my personal favourite is Dr. Waite R. Abbott, both the name and the character were my favourite) and of course our lead gal is named Alice. There is a super cute easter egg throughout the text that I was amused by (be sure to highlight in your e-reader, have stickies for marking pages or keep track in notes on your smartphone; in order to easily 'get it'). There's lots of Lewis Carroll nods and I'm sure a scholared Alice fan would pick up more than I did. You'll have to read it if you want to discover them all. ;) 

The weak points
I have given this four stars, but it's more a 3.5 for me. I appreciate that it was a fun, quick and action packed read. But I can't completely overlook some major faults that will possible cause others to give up on this book. This list is typical of a debut author, nothing here can't be fixed and I do think J.M. Sullivan likely has a career ahead of her as a decent YA novelist. 
But here's the things that bugged me:

  • The overall plot was fine, but a bit cliche. Alice goes out to find a cure for a plague/virus for her sister, runs into trouble on the way, is somehow important, blah, blah, blah
  • Alice is able to randomly fight really well with a knife (though can't shoot a gun) and seems to miraculously get out of sticky situations with minimal harm (when you consider what she is fighting against)
  • Convenience is certainly well used. While some of it is explained by a reveal or two near the end, overall it's just a lot to accept. If you're looking for realism this is not the place, it's Wanderland after all (haha)
  • Our characters are somewhat one dimensional but have lots of room to grow which could be good if this becomes a longer series. 

The positive points
These are big positives to me as they hit on a lot of my pet peeves. Convenience is a weakness that is on my pet peeve list however so you can start to maybe understand why this is such a mixed review. The good: 

  • The possible love interests, yes plural, are both intelligent, interesting, and there is ZERO INSTA LOVE. I can't tell you how big of a pro this is for me in YA books these days. Clearly there is opportunity for relationships to develop with Alice but it's set-up so that we don't go there in this book. 
  • Wanderland is clearly a world building set-up book and introduction to this alternate Wonderland, and the world building is pretty darn good. It's clever with it's Alice references, and overall well thought-out considering it's a 'zombie' YA book. Kudos to Sullivan for thinking about the science of a virus and giving us a clear idea of origin and even some basic genetics. It's very high level but enough to convince me that there was some thought that went into it and that's enough for me at this level of story
  • It just reads fast. I dunno what it is but it's a page turner. I am crediting this to good writing. I didn't want to stop reading it and even put my other book completely aside to finish this. Not something that happens all the time. It was a nice to read, fun and exciting book. Maybe it fit my mood right now, which desperately needed escapism reading but I'm going to give the credit to Sullivan and her writing.
  • It's a dystopian novel and I am a bit of a suck for them (lol)

If you want a fun action book that is written well, has lots of Alice/Wonderland references and don't mind some plot holes/conveniences or a couple one dimensional characters then I think you'll enjoy this book. 
BUT if you love Wonderland and are a purist DO NOT read this book. I suspect you will hate it just like I hated the dystopian take on Oz. Some worlds for some people just cannot be revisited or used in a way that will pay homage or do justice to the world as we have built it up in our head. And that's okay. 
If you know nothing about Alice then Wanderland probably won't hold up for you as a stand-alone world. A lot of the charm is how clever Sullivan is in her use of Wonderland and drawing parallels. Without this I'm not sure it holds up as a basic zombie dystopian novel. 

I however enjoyed it and look forward to another book in this interesting Wanderland world. It hasn't been confirmed as a series but the Epilogue sets it up to be nicely and so I will watch for book 2. 

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Book Review: Mapping the Interior


Title: Mapping the Interior

Author: Stephen Graham Jones 

Genre: Native American, literature, themes of death & loss

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

You know when you read a book and you know that at least 50% of the symbolism, comparisons, philosophy and psychology went over your head? That's what Mapping the Interior felt like to me. I know there is obviously a lot of importance and density to this novella but ask me to explain it or pull out snippets and I struggle knowing I missed a lot of somethings I can't articulate. 

"There are rules, I know. Not knowing them doesn't mean they don't apply to you."

This is a story of a Native American boy whose mourning a lost father, coping with leaving the reserve, trying to protect his damaged little brother and be the man of the house for his mom. It's a sad story and one I have heard variations of from other Natives in Canada many times. Having attended a junior high school where we had reserve kids it was always obvious that us "city kids" (as they called us) had it pretty darn good. Even those who didn't have it so good we're still better off in comparison. So very sad and yet so true. 

" the same stupid person is trying life after life until he gets it right at last."

Mapping the Interior is about the cycle of shame, loss and how you are destined to be your fathers son whether you want to be or not. 

And while, again, I'm not sure I understood all the nuances of the book I'm glad I read it. If only for a reminder, in the year that Canada celebrates 150 years as a nation, that we built this nation on top of others existing culture and life. Be it right or wrong at the time it happened, and given we can't change that, we should at least remember and reach a hand out to help break the cycle and provide opportunities for those children and adults who are stuck in a life of poverty and helplessness. 

It's difficult to give literature like this a rating. It almost feels inappropriate to rate it. Like I can't put a value on something I can't entirely understand. So I will give four stars because it's an important story told in this novella, but the deep metaphorical overlay of the story leaves me feeling inadequate and therefore is not going to be good for everyone; nor does it make its point in an easily accessible way. 

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Book Review: The Suffering Tree

 Title: The Suffering Tree 
Author: Elle Cosimano
Genre: Teen, Magic
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I have lots to say about this book so I'm going to try and break it all down for everyone. Starting with the aversion many have with this book. 


Yes it is true our lead gal is a cutter. She self harms herself in about 8 described incidents (though I would argue that ones done for a spell are different), 4 of which are possibly graphic. I didn't think so but then again I dabbled with cutting as a teen myself and my husband had larger issues with it as a teenager. I think it's a really important issue that most writers shy away from. I've never read a novel where the lead character is a cutter and, given how widespread of a teen issue it is, it's occurred to me that we should probably be more concerned than we are. 

So, why is this such a taboo subject? 

I personally feel like those who have DNF'd or given 1 star because of the cutting content are incorrect. You can still dislike the overall book of course; and choose to say the book is not for you, but that doesn't mean it's bad or inappropriate. Especially if you DNF and don't witness the progression of the cutting issue. Right from page 1 it is not glorified or made out to be right. In fact the shame and fear our gal has over the issue, I think, sends a very good message to teens. 

I'm not interested in arguing about this at length. This is merely my opinion. But as a previous cutter and having witnessed those who struggle with it even worse I think this is a really important, rarely discussed issue. 


There is a lot of great content here. Between moving to a new town, dealing with death, stigma and corruption it has a good base. Then add in the historical context discussion indentured folks, slaves and witch trials: you suddenly have a well thought out book. There was more magic than I expected and I really enjoyed the jump between dreams of the past, and the past and present perspectives. 

It's quite intricate and the overall family tree and past element felt a lot like Girl With the Dragon Tattoo for me. Add in our damaged cutting lead gal and you suddenly start to have a bunch of themes that crossover. 

That said it's a teen book. While it's definitely not appropriate for less than 14 or 15 due to content, it is still not an adult novel. 


The overall writing is quite good. There are some really annoying issues at times where someone has the answer to a crisis when they couldn't have had time to make a call and plan in the span of the two minutes between incident and telling others of a confirmed plan. So some holes. But for the most part they are not too hard to overlook.


I'd say on principle this book is 3.5 stars for me, but I bump it to 4 stars for being willing to tackle self harm and mutilation issues with teens. 

Could it trigger someone? Sure. 

Should it have mentioned self harm in the blurb... I dunno... maybe...

Ironically I felt the scenes in the past including whipping, switches and other torture methods was far more graphic and disturbing. I have noticed a tendency as a society to be okay with past violence as we believe it no longer happens today, so it's not as disturbing or something... there's a psychology paper in there somewhere. 


I would recommend this book for adults who love magic that happens or is set in present day, those who enjoy a complex family tree and conspiracy, or anyone interested in a well done take on why teens (or others for that matter) inflict injuries upon themselves by choice. 

I think any teen over 14 would be entranced by this novel. 

Oh and I shouldn't forget to mention that the love interest is very unique. I liked it a lot. I especially appreciated he lack of love triangle, gushing about cuteness or hotness and that there is zero slut shaming. All things I'm more than tired of. 

Overall I would recommend The Suffering Tree and I commend Elle Cosimano for tackling a hidden issue that needs to be brought to the surface even if it makes folks uncomfortable. In fact the more uncomfortable you are the more likely it is that the issue needs to be discussed! 

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Book Review: Zenn Diagram

Title: Zenn Diagram
Author: Wendy Brant
Genre: Young Adult, Coming of Age
Rating: 3.5 out of five stars

3.5 stars... I'm rounding up to four stars as I think there are a lot of people who would really enjoy this book. 

It's not an amazing book in my opinion, there isn't anything here that hasn't been done before. Essentially girl has issues, boy has issues, girl meets boy, they fall for each other, maybe they can fix each others issues, random twist related to issues, boy and girl learn something about each other and themselves. See how it's pretty much every coming of age story ever? 
But there are some super cute quadruplets in the story that are only three years old. :)

The uniqueness here is in the idea that our lead gal cannot touch anyone without being bombarded with their feelings. This leads into a whole series of odd events that drive the story forward. 

I don't want to give anything away because the 'reveals' are interesting and I think knowing things in advance would ruin the book for most. But essentially there are a lot of stereotypes that are broken down (bare with the first couple chapters because they set-up why nothing she thinks is right in them later on). Overall Zenn Diagram is an excellent commentary on how everyone deserves a chance to be happy and no one person's pain, grief or hardship is bigger than another's. 

I think this book would be interesting for many teens to read. They are likely to learn something from it about the nature of sacrifice and that no one person's 'horrible' events in their life trumps someone else's. I guess that's why I'm rounding up to 4 stars, the reality is that everyone has issues and no one person's issues are more dramatic, painful or bigger than others. I do really like this main point that Wendy Brant makes. I like it because I believe it's true. Your pain or grief is relevant to you in it's size, not in how large it appears to others. Hardship is not quantifiable, it is individual to each person and cannot be put on a mathematical scale and measured. 

I would recommend this book for anyone who needs a reminder that it's not a game or contest to try and one-up one another in bad things that have happened to us. Alternatively it's not about one-upping good things either. It's just about living and being happy. 

Any other issues aside, that may have to do with the writing or overall story, Brant portrays the message that everyone deserves to be happy very, very well.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Book Review: The Enchanted


Title: The Enchanted 

Author: Rene Denfeld

Genre: Contemporary Literature

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

What a wondrously different book. 

First I think it's important to know that this book is about death. The main setting is death row of a prison. Second it's interesting to note that author Rene Denfeld has worked on death row. There is an obvious link between Denfeld's own experience on death row and the characters in this book. 

While this book is about death it is not gruesome. It is instead a beautifully written study of how many of the injustices in our society land people in bad situations that just snowball into worse. 

You could easily write an English thesis, maybe even a doctorate, on the symbolism and what it all means in The Enchanted. I can honestly say I probably didn't get all the nuances of this book. Yet I did still enjoy it. 

This was a hard book for me to get into. I had to start it three times and was only successful when I was at home alone with zero distractions. Once I was in it however I didn't want to let go. So I rank it at 4 stars only because it's a bit pretentious and maybe more difficult to read than it needed to be. However it is without a doubt a unique format to try and expose some of our worlds injustices.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Book Review: Mormama


Title: Mormama

Author: Kit Reed

Genre: Horror

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

DNF at 50% 

DNF = did not finish

This book is written from the perspective of many different voices. Something which I usually enjoy. It's also written in a disjointed way as it's characters random thoughts that aren't even always complete sentences. Generally I don't mind this type of writing, in some cases I love it (see Wink. Poppy. Midnight.). However in the case of Mormama there's not enough immediate character development (if any) to make me feel like I know the people talking. Especially from Mormama. 

I totally get what Kid Reed was going for here and I'm not 100% sure I can even pinpoint the problem except to say that it just doesn't work. 

Additionally there is very scarce plot, and some characters that don't make any sense. Yes I know if I had kept reading I'm sure it would have all tied together and been a beautiful reveal but at the halfway point of the book I can honestly say I just don't care. None of these characters are likeable (even the twelve year old boy) and they all just natter about this, that or the other. 

Mormama did remind me of a wonderful movie, and has made me want to rewatch it again, called Crimson Peak (starring Tom Hiddleston). I usually don't watch "horror" movies but my husband convinced me I'd love this one and he was right. It's not horror like you think... you have to watch it as I don't want to spoil anything

So if you want a helpful but unsure Mother Ghost story watch Crimson Peak. If you don't mind a lot of nonsense, history about people you can't keep track of, and boring points of view along with a Mother Ghost read Mormama. 

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Book Review: Perfect

 Title: Perfect

Author: Cecelia Ahern

Series: Flawed, 

Book 2

Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

DNF @ 30% (did not finish)

I just can't do it anymore. Book 1 was so good for the first 40% and then sooo bad; and here's book 2 with even worse writing than the last half of book 1. If I didn't know any better I'd say that someone wrote the first half of book 1 and a totally different person wrote the rest and has carried into book 2. 

This is book 2 in a series that has a brilliant dystopian premise. Right up there with Divergent and Hinger Games for creativity and impact. Unfortunately the rest of it is painful. 

This series/book suffers from the very typical YA pitfalls: 

- the main love interest thinks he's better than everyone 

- the lead gal is whiny and annoying; except when it's convenient for her to be a strong leader, then she's suddenly super smart

- the interactions between characters are wooden and dull

- the handling of loosing a gal loosing her virginity is really, really poorly handled (as in mentioned but no emotional depth at all!!) 

- the adults are so dumb and easily played by this wussy lead teenager

It's like someone wrote down a list of all of the typical issues in YA books and incorporated them in. 

Did I mention that I'm truly disappointed as I really love, love, LOVE the premise of this world and I think there are some amazing, deep and philosophical things that could be done with the dystopian construct. A huge opportunity missed in my opinion. 

<i>Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.</i>