Monday, December 18, 2017

Book Review: Hanna Who Fell From the Sky


Title: Hanna Who Fell From the Sky
Author: Christopher Meades
Genre: Ficion, literary, religious
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

When you expect a book to have purpose, like tell a morale, be inspiring, etc., it's a bit odd when it doesn't seem to play out that way. I think Christopher Meades (based on the afterword he wrote) intended for this to be an inspirational story. For me it was a story of being caged and powerless; and while that could be inspiring depending on the end I do not feel like there is any inspiration to be drawn from here. 


Plot

Hanna Who Fell From the Sky had an interesting enough plot. A girl who has been raised on a 'colony' of religious fanatics who have essentially taken the Bible and re-written it. Their version encourages polygamy for older men (3+ wives required) and extensive procreation (no birth control here). Our lead gal is about to be married off and is just starting to question the small, restricted world around her. 


Moral Points

I was expecting a book filled with a lot more moral points than this one has. There are morales to be learned based on how the women and children are treated, maybe something in the story of Hanna being forced into marriage with an elderly man she does not like (his 3rd wife), or in the treatment of the 'crippled' little sister Hanna has. But overall for the average person I don't think there is anything special or new here. 


One Point of Interest

I did find one thing very interesting however. Having not thought much about polygamous societies before it had not occurred to me that you'd have an influx of men, and not enough women to go around. So in this colony they banish the boys at nineteen except for one who is the family heir and remains in the colony. Those who are sent away forbidden to return. 


Fascination

I have a strange (maybe concerning, lol) fascination with cults, religion and faith. I was raised Christian but as a teen turned my back on it when a minister told me my gay friend was evil (don't even start me..). I eventually found my spirit in Wicca (a branch of Paganism). I could write a book about why I ended up with the beliefs I did; but one aspect of many was that Wicca is not an organized, attend somewhere every week religion. Therefore I'm intrigued by those who need a place or are restricted to places of worship. 

When I talk about religious requirements to attend a worship location I'm always reminded of a quote from The Big Bang Theory that sums up my thought perfectly:<I> "I don't object to the concept of a deity, but I'm just baffled by the notion of one that takes attendance."  </I>And thus I'm intrigued by religion that requires no outside influence as it's too falliable. 


Worth the Read?

I'm unsure of whether or not I would recommend this book. While Meades writing is acceptable (but not special) and the characters have sufficient development for the most part; I found myself thinking as I read that I could easily put the book down and not continue. Having read the end I feel even more 'meh' about it than before as it didn't really go anywhere interesting to me. So unless you are dying to read about a society with polygamy I think this is an easy pass. 


A Shout out of the Author

I can't help but have been moved by the afterword in which the author tells us a little of his struggle during writing Hanna Who Fell From the Sky. I actually think those few pages were more interesting than the whole book. Maybe Meades will write a fictional version of his concussion story that occurred while he wrote this book? That I would read. 


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

Friday, December 15, 2017

Book Review: The Last Namsara

Title: The Last Namsara
Author: Kristen Ciccarelli
Genre: YA Fantasy
Rating: 5 out of 5

This is an absolutely amazing first book in a debut YA fantasy trilogy! Hunger Games, Graceling, Incarceron and other favourite YA fantasy of mine have a new friend because The Last Namsara deserves a spot next to those gems on my print bookshelf!

I'm not going to tell you what this is about because you can read the blurb. Instead let's talk about things that make this such a wonderful read; but first I have to do some national pride gushing...


Canadian YA Fantasy

It makes me so proud that Kristen Ciccarelli is Canadian! As a fellow Canadian I try to read a few authors a year that are Canadian. I have never ever read a young adult fantasy book by a Canadian that was this amazing! Don't get me wrong there are some wonderful books and authors out of Canada but it's rare to find a teen author with this kind of talent anywhere in the world; never mind my own country! 


An unusual, yet genuine love interest 

My number one complaint in YA books is love interests. The insta-love, triangle, stunningly handsome boys, and over-the-top 'he's so hot' descriptions get boring after a while. Besides the real world is not like that! At 35 with a husband ( yes - I love him more than anything) I can say that you might have chemistry when you first met someone but that doesn't mean it's insta-love or even your life partner. So it's nice to read teen fiction that is realistic, and yet still sweet and romantic in a real life way. 

In addition our main gals love interest is seemingly a very random character. Not someone super special or a prince or any of that crap. Just an average person dealing with the cards in life they've been dealt; just like a real life partner is bound to be. 

Even though it maybe a fantasy world and story I still appreciate characters who are honest and realistic (magic aside) to what real people are like. 


The Last Namsara has everything!

Seriously everything is in this book. Including betrayal, sketchy family, forbidden love, female warriors, dragons(!), magic, 'old' religion, poison, death, double crosses, loyal friends, gorgeous settings, elaborate architecture, cool weapons and so much more! 

It's rare to read a YA fantasy that has all the elements of an amazing adult fantasy series. Yet Ciccarelli manages this without even needing 800+ pages. 

While The Last Namsara is not overly complex, like Sanderson or Martin are, it doesn't need to be. With a full list of 8-10 characters who are all unique and complex, alongside simple yet awfully disturbing politics; I didn't feel like I was reading a 'lesser' novel at any point. 


Still YA writing

Just like Hunger Games, the writing in The Last Namsara is for a teen audience but elevated enough that adults will still love it. If I have one critique of the writing it's that the first 20% or so of the novel is very YA feeling (but hey that is it's genre). However it quickly turns more to showing over telling and eventually the YA voice was irrelevant because I just wanted more! Given this is Ciccarelli's debut novel I'm more than forgiving of the slightly cliche YA sounding beginning. 


In a league of its own

For those who remember earlier this year (2017) there was a ton of hype for: The Bone Witch, Mask of Shadows (both which I thought were decent 4 star books) and Caraval (which is awful!); it appeared early on we might have a stellar YA fantasy year. Yet none of these YA fantasy books really lived up to the hype they had. Luckily just as the year is ending I read the book that deserves all the hype of 2017 and more! 

The Last Namsara could have had huge hype (which it didn't) and still have blown me away!! Proof that having a large marketing budget or bigger publishing house behind your book doesn't mean it's the best of the best. At the end of the day writing, plot, atmosphere, lore and characters are what really counts. Dragons help too! 


Overall

In case you haven't figured it out I absolutely loved this book. I'm desperate for the second book; but will be patient because I want the next book to be as wonderfully put together as this one and it looks like the proposed publishing dates aren't too far away! 


If you want to read a YA fantasy that isn't your average everyday YA story then pick up The Last Namsara. I finished it three days ago and can't stop thinking about it and replaying scenes in my head. Something I only have happen with books that are special and will have staying power. So do yourself a favour and read The Last Namsara; then purchase copies for everyone you know because you want the whole world to appreciate it like you do (wait maybe that's just me). I do know what everyone I buy gifts for is getting next (whether they like to read or not!). 


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

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Book Review: Swearing off Stars

 
Title: Swearing off Stars
Author: Danielle Wong 
Genre: Historical fiction, LGBTQ 
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

DNF - 60%

It begins solid
Author Danielle Wong begins by setting up a wonderful story in the 1920s of a young woman attending university. Now at this time in history women could attend university but not receive actual degrees or formally recognized education. An awkward time for women. Made more awkward for our lead lady as she discovers she's a lesbian and falls in love. 
This is a dangerous time for gays and only gets more dangerous as WWII approaches and Hitler's persecution of anyone not like him is brewing. 
Wong takes us through the 20s, and the 30s with our leading lady in a way that shows these challenges for lesbians of the time. 

And then it goes all wrong
But then, suddenly, at about 55% of the way through the book, we go from 1939 to 1955 (in America). And the only comment made back to the war is that our lead gal worked as a nurse after work for a few years, and her male childhood friend enlisted and was injured (but survived) battle. At first all I could think was WHAT?!?! Then as I read on I realized that was really all that was going to be said about the war. 

What could have been
Now if I was going to write a book about lesbians trying to emerge into a world where they are not accepted; and started this story in the roaring 20s, I would be sure to have written about the most significant event of the 1900s and used it to delve deeper into the psyche of the lady's POV. But instead Wong made a unforgivable mistake. And one that had me putting the book down in disgust. She skipped over a section of history because it's a messy, difficult and all around nasty time period. 

This is a showing of a weak story teller. While Wong's  prose is acceptable for publication and her characters well formed; the inability to even give us one or two chapters set in the 40s tells me that she assumes her readers will go along with it. As though we all don't know what happened. 

Cheap tactics
It's an unforgivable error, in my mind, to back your way out of a messy situation. Not unlike authors who create time warps, miracle healing or other cheap ways to avoid something they aren't sure how to handle (but still need to have happened). It's even worse in historical fiction as it's not like the basis of the story doesn't exist. You don't even have to creative enough to think up an awful war and dictator invading countries. Because it ACTUALLY happened. 

What could have been
There are so many places this could have gone to involve our gal in the war from her standpoint on American soil. I can imagine her thoughts on prejudice as it pertained to what was happening around her. Maybe some fear from her that someone would find out she was a lesbian during that time and how that would have been more awful than during the 20s. We have Hitler sending (at the very least) any gay man to concentration camps alongside the Jews, armbands to mark their sexual orientation publicly and more. Our leading gal, hearing this unfold (even from a far) must have had thoughts, fears and emotions right?
There are just so many things that could have been written into this story to at least pay some sort of nod to WWII and its influence on the world as a whole. Hitler's reign influenced future discrimination and thoughts profoundly and possibly shaped the course of some of the acceptance in the world that came after. 

Final thoughts
I read a lot of historical fiction, and truth in the main events is very important to me (altered small details are fine). So skipping an entire decade or more would be nearly inexcusable to start with. Never mind skipping the imperative, relevant and world changing decade that was the 40s.
So I am giving up on reading this. Nothing, no matter how good the end is, will convince me it's okay to skip WWII in a historical story. Our history happened whether we like it or not and ignoring it or brushing it off is an insult to those who lived (and died) during that time period.

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

Stitching: Free Pattern


A lovely little freebie has been released by Whispered in the Wind. Even though I don't have any ornaments specifically planned for people this year, I may have to stitch this cutey up just because! 
You can get the pattern here: 

Enjoy! 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Book Review: Rebel of the Sands


Title: Rebel of the Sands
Author: Alwyn Hamilton
Genre: Young Adult, Teen, Fantasy
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

All in all, this was pretty darn good. I certainly didn't want to put it down. It has an intense and fast pace that keeps the pages turning and I was actually okay with our lead girl and her attitude (no special snowflake here). She's a strong, leading girl that understands choices and that sometimes you make crazy ones because you are no other way out. That doesn't make those choices wrong; they just are what they are. 

Setting
I loved the Arabian setting and the feel and context given to the desert. As though it's a living breathing thing. Desert is a distinctly unique environment in that it's habitable for a short period of time. Where water is uninhabitable and most of is very habitable; desert is not unlike the Arctic in that you can survive but you will need supplies because it's mostly a barren wasteland. I hope that the kinds of sentiments, mirages and other things in the desert are truthful. I certainly felt like descriptions and sentiments helped me understand desert living a little better. 

Djinn
I know a little about Djinn. A mythological creature that appears in many Indian or Middle Eastern stories. They are cunning, not quite good or bad, and often have great magical powers. I loved the use of these creatures, and the unique twist on the lore and ability to bring magic into the story that Alwyn Hamilton uses. It's nice that we start out the book with a tiny bit of the desert magic and by the end it's full blown magic everywhere. I liked this because it allowed me to learn about the Djinn and learn to understand them as the story unfolded. 

Step by Step
Hamilton has done something in Rebel in the Sands that all good fantasy authors understand and utilize well; she has built up the world around us from the eyes of our lead gal and brought in elements slowly. If you ever read Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule then you know what I mean. It's a genius way to bring a complex world that is very unknown (to most) and to slowly introduce factors like values, religion, magic and eventually the politics we all crave. Because, lets face it, politics what starts wars and makes our characters lives interesting. 
This step by step introduction helped me feel a part of the desert world I am very unfamiliar with. 

The Romantic Interest
I can't believe I'm going to say this... but I love Jinn. Just for being himself. And I don't mean in the fangirl, omg I want to marry him way, I mean I love him as a person. He's complex, troubled, and above all else, realistic. He's not perfect and he's not immediately in love with our lead gal (thank goodness!!). Romance and relationships are complex and if nothing else Hamilton has established this to be true. 
An absolute A+ for character development and not writing a love troope fantasy novel like everyone seems inclined to do today. 

So why only give 4 stars?
Sounds like I really enjoyed the Rebel in the Sands right? Which is true I did. It was a fun, entertaining read. But... it was missing something. I can't quite put my finger on it, and maybe it's that I didn't quite connect with our lead gal all the time, but something was missing. Unlike recent reads like Cinder, I wasn't immediately drawn to our gal and was very reluctant to put all my faith in her. 
One could argue this is a good thing; but in the end it felt like something was off and it's the only thing I can identify that I didn't love. So I'm going with the theory that the lead gal needed to be more likeable (if that even makes sense). 

Overall
I would definitely recommend this book to YA fantasy story lovers. I would buy it for someone as I think there's a lot to love here. 
And as with many YA novels, if this was a girls first foray into the genre she'd likely think it's the most amazing book ever. As with nothing to compare it to (like the flooded market of fantasy YA out there these days) I could see this being a favourite of a teen. 
So pick it up and read it. If only so you can experience the sand and desert setting. 

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

Book Review: The Dollmaker of Krakow


Title: The Dollmaker of Krakow
Author: R.M. Romero
Genre: middle grade, historical, some magic
Rating: 5 out of 5 

Anytime you pick up a book that is set during WWII you must be prepared for a sad or at the very least a bittersweet ending; even when it's a middle-grade book. 


The Setting & Characters

The Dollmaker of Krakow is set in German occupied Poland. As a survivor of WWI whose missing a leg, the Dollmaker is a quiet, downtrodden older man. To me he felt like the kind of old man that you just want to hug and listen to all day long. I adore him. 

As this is a middle grade (ages 9-11) book it conveys the horror of the treatment of the Jews and the Polish people in a way that children can understand. And even though I knew how it was likely to end and that not everyone could get out, I still couldn't wait to read more each time I had to put it down. 

Our other main character is a doll that has come to life. This doll named Karolina, lived in the Land of the Dolls first and experienced a war herself. She is unlike Pinocchio in every way and instead is our Jiminy Cricket of the story, always telling us what is right and wrong. 


Plot

The focus of the book is the telling of two parallel stories. One of the Land of the Dolls being invaded by rats (told in past tense) and the other of Poland being invaded by Germans (told as its transpiring). As the story is told from Karolina's perspective we have a constant voice asking why people are doing these things and questioning why the Germans are so awful; but also questioning why the adults don't fight back. This allows the story to be told in a way that keeps the message clear; the actions of the soldiers are wrong and immoral and that the Polish are afraid and most are not at fault. I like this treatment of the story and morality a lot. It allows R.M. Romero to keep the story true to actual events (ie: Jews being moved around and eventually onto the trains if the Germans aren't just outright killing them in the streets) without the need to lie about what happened. 

I believe it's important we tell children the truth of events and situations so that they can know not to repeat these actions. If we ignore history and it's awful moments then I fear humans will make the same mistakes again. We must teach our children to have their eyes open and be able to identify fascism, racism, injustice, etc. early and then to try and give them the tools to fight back long before an army is invading. 


Magic

There is some fictional magic in this book. It's used sparingly and really only to allow for two major events. First for Karolina to exist at all in our world (talking doll and all) and second for a major plot point to be plausible. I think it's brilliantly used and absolutely love that it's very specific and used sparingly. It helps keep the majority of the events in the story realistic. 


Word Choice

I have only one major complaint about this book. Which frankly is amazing as even some of my favourite books still have multiple issues. 

Word choice is something that really good authors pay a lot of attention to and actually think about. 

All of the vocabulary in The Dollmaker of Krakow is well chosen (for reading comprehension of the 9-11 age bracket and for tone and impact to the story). All except for one word:

Witch

This is what Karolina calls the Germans. Some are worst witches than others in the dolls mind and she does discuss that briefly. There is also a distinction made between magicians and witches (I will concede that witch is lowercase on all uses at least). A magician can be good or bad. I'm not sure why Romero decided to use the word witch, but I really hate it. Using it to describe the Germans soldiers perpetuates the use of witch as a word for someone evil or wrong. 

In actual fact there are people who identify as Witches in modern day (yes my caps usage is intentional). Witches are commonly followers of Wicca but can be Pagans in general depending on who you ask. Witches are generally people who believe in nature as the strongest force in the world and follow the sentiment of 'If ye harm none, do what you will'. An obvious hurt no one belief and certainly contrary to the definition used. 

I believe this is likely an innocent mistake by Romero to choose the word but it's still a mistake. If Romero wants a word for monster or evil that children would understand easily I believe there are much better choices. 


Overall

Despite my cringe each time Karolina called a soldier a witch, I still absolutely loved this book. The Dollmaker of Krakow is a gem. Written in the magical voice of a little doll who comforts and helps a lonely old man; it's impossible not to be in love from the opening word to the final period. 

If you are a crier I would recommend some tissues for sure. I'm not a crier but still nearly succumbed at one point. For me that is a showing of how amazing and powerful this story is. 

This is a book that transcends age or genre. It tells the truth, and reminds the reader at every turn of what is right and wrong. In the scenarios in The Dollmaker of Krakow there are very few grey moments of morality. Instead it is black and white which I believe will help children understand the travesties better. Destroying people is never okay; whether the destruction is running people from their homes, starving them or (obviously) ending their lives. 


A Special Spot

A spot next to The Book Thief and The Sky is Falling.  is now being reserved on my shelf for The Dollmaker of Krakow. I can't imagine not adding it to my permanent library in a place of honour. It definitely deserves to be there next to other fantastic WWII children's novels. 


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

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Book Review: The Infinite Now


Title: The Infinite Now

Author: Mindy Tarquini

Genre: Young Adult, Historical, Supernatural

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars


DNF @ 40%


While the concept and set-up of The Infinite Now are really good; the actual execution of story is so boring. I can't believe I was only at 40% when I stopped reading this as it felt like the story should be almost over. By 40% I felt like I had been reading for thousands of pages (even though it was only just over 100 pages in reality). 


The Plot

It's really unfortunate as the concept is quite god. Our lead gal has lost her parents due to the influenza outbreak during war time in London. Her mother was a seer or witch. Subsequently the superstitious Londoners are afraid of her and she is lucky to be taken in by an old man who seems to have some loyalty to her family. 

She inherits a curtain that seems to help tell the future, meets another witch who may be nefarious but appears to be trying to help, everyone in her area is ailing, children are starving as their parents have influenza and can't get out of bed, meanwhile war is raging elsewhere. 


Sounds kind of good right?

It should be but sadly it's not. I'm not sure if it's the writing, the repetitive nature of the narrative or that our lead gal is just boring. But I can say with certainty that I'd had enough and just wanted to read anything else. So a DNF it is. 

I'm always sad to DNF (as it's maybe unfair to the author) but at some point you have to stop the bleeding and move on. 


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

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Alice Page 2 Complete!!

Well I know I always saying I'm almost there on things for Alice. But here's a for real page 2 finish. 
Black is always such a pain as the coverage never feels right up close. As you can see here: 



There are white gaps showing. However when I draw back to the width of the piece then of course it looks just fine. 
So I know I need to curtain my expectations when I'm looking at it from an inch or two away. 
Because here the 1 thread on 28ct over 1 looks fine: 


There you have it two pages done of more than I want to think about (40+ pages). At the rate I'm Stitching I'll be lucky to finish this in 10 years! Gotta have lofty goals right (lol). 

More Dragons on their way shortly and I just got amazing threads for Autumn Quaker by Rosewood that is sooo pretty. Once I pick out some fabric for it then it may need to be moved near the top of the list to be started. 
Thanks for drppping by and happy stitching! 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Book Review: Strange Practice


Title: Strange Practice

Author: Vivian Shaw

Genre: Supernatural, Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4 stars out of 5


I'm rounding up from 3.75 as I really enjoyed this book; but I think others will possibly disagree with me. There are a number of small annoyances in Strange Practice and some of its oddness distracts from the story itself. 


Vocabulary

I had to look up multiple words while reading. This is something that can be both good and bad. It can be educational to learn new words, but it can also just be snobbery that has an author including those words. It doesn't help that Vivian Shaw has actually created new words in order to support her variety of medical conditions for the supernatural. 


Supernatural conditions

This is probably one of the most unique things in Strange Practice that sets it above other paranormal/supernatural stories. There are different kinds of vampires. For example, some are deathly allergic to garlic, others have sun allergy, some need blood of a virgin (not kidding!) and whatnot. Shaw has set up an elaborate world of supernatural beings (inside our existing world) in order to support her main characters job of doctor to the supernatural. From baby ghouls with ear infections to knife wounds to mummy's that are falling apart, there's no lack of creativity in ailments that are treated. 


Characters

Shaw has excelled at creating interesting and likeable (while still a little scary) characters. Many of them remind me of the first time I met characters like Jean-Claude and Richard in Laurel K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series. It helps that demons and vampires tend to have interesting back stories but it's still easy to do it wrong. Reveal too much (or too little) about each person/creature and you can collapse the intrigue. I thought there was a good mix and lots to still learn about our main players. I just hope Shaw doesn't get carried away with too much sex like Hamilton did in her series. 


Plot

Which brings me to plot. There is a very solid, easy to follow plot that brings our characters together and gives valid and easy to recognize reasons for them to do what they do. 

That said one of my sticking points in books is when things are too convenient. There were two major moments near the end where I rolled my eyes because things were a bit too convenient. This is definitely part of why this was an enjoyable book but not a five star one for me. 


Religion

The inevitable topic that needs sorting in any supernatural universe is religion. It's pretty tough to have angels, demons, vampires, etc without touching on the religious basis for your beings. 

Shaw takes an interesting approach to this by having some characters be directly from Heaven or Hell; yet others that just exist, no religion needed. She also sets up a world in which it's less of good vs. bad and more about a balanced existence. 

This certainly plays well into my own personal beliefs and didn't rub me the wrong way at all (unlike the Supernatural tv show where Dean's quick conversion was a bit too in my face). I think it's a very thin strand to walk the line between not offending anyone and also being a bit neutral. Shaw hit the nail on the head for me and set-up a world and characters I got easily on board with. 


Overall

I would recommend this book for folks who feel supernatural books are often too 'dumbed down' (ie: smutty romances) as there is a lot here to take away. The ingenious medical set-up of the beings certainly sets it apart from so many others almost like it in the genre. 

I will definitely be carrying on with this series as I think it stands out in a genre I love (but often hate because of the style of writing and choice of plot points). 


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

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Book Review: The Visitors


Title: The Visitors

Author: Catherine Burns

Genre: Fiction, Thriller

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars


For three days I have been trying to figure out what to say in this review. This is an odd and fairly disturbing book. I think my biggest problem with it is I can't figure out what the point is in it. Especially given that the blurb gives away that the brother gets ill and yet that doesn't happen until almost the very end of the novel. 

Perhaps as a short story this might work. It could still hold the creep factor without being so drawn out. 


The Premise

This is not a pleasant book. Be warned. It's clear from the beginning that the 'visitors' are being held captive. That the brother is the one doing it and his unintelligent sister is (mostly) a passive bystander. Both siblings are rich by inheritance so there is none of the usual issue with getting a job or being concerned about funds. This may help to distance the average person even further from the sister (whom the story perspective is written from); but for me this doesn't make any of the things she does more acceptable or less horrific. 


Pity Party?

I think Catherine Burns intends to make us feel badly for our lead gal (the sister) at points. She's a 50+ virgin with no friends or true relationships (except for her brother). She has a low IQ and some large mental health issues. But being less intelligent doesn't (generally) mean you are less morale. It just means you are not as clever. And this is where I don't like the way she is portrayed; as though her lesser IQ is an excuse for many things she does or doesn't do. I don't believe that IQ indicates a person's morality or capability to feel emotions. The traits of a sociopath are available to any intelligence level and, perhaps ironically, often to those more intelligent than the average. 


Nothing to see here

I honestly feel like I want to use the force to wave my hand and say there's "nothing to see here" because there really isn't. If you want to read horrific literature just because you like crazy creepy and terrifying things happening to others then sure maybe The Visitors is for you. But go in knowing it's not a horror novel; it's a literary novel that has horrifying things happen in it. And maybe that's what's most odd of all; the writing is good and the characters themselves are well developed, it's just there is no substance of plot here except to maybe say that the sister is naive or chooses to be blind to her circumstances. I'd love to hear what Burns has to say about why she wrote this book.  


But does it turn out okay?

Some who have read this novel may say "oh but there's a sort-of happy ending". I disagree there is absolutely nothing happy about this ending. In fact the ending may be more unsettling than the obvious horrifying things due to its skewed perspective. 


Unless you are obsessed with serial killers or kidnappers then I just can't see a reason to pick The Visitors up. 

I generally like creepy, smart thrillers (although not my primary genre choice); but neither smart nor creepy are really present here. Instead it's just flat out horrifying because it could be real (has been all too real to some real-life women) and seems to provide no context that allows the reader to 'get something' out of the book (other than perhaps a sick to your stomach feeling). 


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

Monday, November 20, 2017

Book Review: Dreamwielder

Title: Dreamwielder (book 1)
Series: Dreamwielder Chronicles 
Author: Garrett Calcaterra
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

There are so many great things about Dreamwielder and yet I am only giving it 3 stars (maybe this is like 3.25 stars). The characters, plot, world building and magical system are wonderful. They could easily come from any high-end fantasy book. Author Garrett Calcaterra of Dreamwielder (the first book in the Dreamwielder Chronicles) is clearly talented. Right up until you need him to describe a building or scene; or show you what is happening….

Give me more cowbell!
Really good fantasy books require some intricate descriptions. I’m not talking about 10+ pages about rocks (ugh Emyn Muil) but there has to be some sort of substance to the descriptions. If I’m in a throne room numerous times which is enthralling to the characters then I’d like to be able to see it in my head. Instead it was as if it was a generic “Lightbringer” throne room. 

Here’s an example of a lack luster description: ”…the ceiling of the throne room was vaulted, and there was a high balcony lining the rear and side walls, but apart from that it was similar in size and layout to the throne room in Castle Pyrthin.” 

That’s it? I want sooo much more; what are the colours, what’s on the tapestries, what does the throne look like, how big is it, are there windows, is it intimidating, etc. I started (by the halfway point of the novel) rewording the sentences to have descriptions in them that incorporated more of the plot, what characters were seeing and descriptions. 
Even a phrase like (forgive my bad writing) “Not unlike Castle Pyrthin the vaulted ceilings, held up by stone columns, gave the room the impression of being larger than it was. As Caile walked towards the throne he realized that the man on the small, but ornate, gold throne didn’t fit in with the elegant royal purple tapestries which depicting epic fights and sorcerers of great power flinging their blue balls of magic in battle. The Emperor instead appeared…” 
Yes I made up those details, because in my head that’s what I started to do when given no descriptions of the settings. I just wanted so much more! 

Simply put, I wanted someone like Robin Hobb, Brandan Sanderson or Elizabeth Haydon to have written this story because it could be a rich, intriguing and intricate fantasy story. Instead Calcattera gives us a glimpse into what could be an intricate, intriguing and impressive fantasy world and then lets us down with mediocre descriptions and not enough showing. 

Yes I really mean it, give me more!
Now, I know what you’re thinking… “Mel, are you saying you wanted this book to be longer?” Yes!! There’s a first time for everything (lol). I wanted to be immersed in this world where we swap characters points of view and split up only to reunite characters later on. It’s an absolute tragedy to me that there is sooo much good stuff here and yet the core base of what makes a book readable and immersive is missing. 
The characters, plot and world are more than good enough that I will read the next book in the series; but I suspect I will be re-writing it with descriptions in my head as well.
 
Genre
I know this is listed as a young adult book, and yes it’s suitable for a young adult. But I think it’s mis-categorized. This is really an epic high fantasy book that just needs a good fantasy treatment added to it. What I mean is that I want it to feel grander than it does right now. Again, I just think there’s so much more Dreamwielder could be. I’d hate to see Calcaterra stay at this level of writing because I think he can be so much more than he is. That’s not to say YA books aren’t good (I personally love them); it’s only to say that Dreamwielder feels bigger and I want a lot more out of it so an epic fantasy treatment feels like the way to go here. 

In Conclusion 
I’m a broken record by now because all I can say is give me more! Calcaterra should re-write this with a more adult audience in mind, add-in descriptions to flesh out this world, and overall step up the writing to a more show and less tell approach. If this was to happen I honestly believe there is a promising future for not only Dreamwielder but Calcaterra himself. 
If I could afford to I’d hire him a big-time editor and copy-editor from TOR or Orbit to work with Calcaterra and make this the grand story it deserves. In the meantime I’ll be moderately content with what I have and keep hoping that a larger publishing house sees what I do in this wonderfully set-up series.

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

Friday, November 17, 2017

More and more Dragons!!

I've got 2 dragons today to share! I know it's crazy to have 2 done. It's amazing what you can get done when you put down your phone and actually get stuff done (lol). 

This is July and August Dragons. Meaning I'm only 3 behind now. Although given there are only 4 left that isn't very impressive. 





Here's the bottom 5 Dragons together. I was too lazy to take the rods off to show it all off. I won't lie that is why they aren't all there. 


Overall I continue to be huge happy with these guys. I did change some colours here and there but mostly they are as they should be. I have not yet figured out what I plan to do about the birthstones each has that I didn't stitch in. On lots of places I just figured out the stitches to make the dragon whole where the stones were. I have been thinking maybe krenik thread overlaid, or many ladies in the SAL have used actual stones stitched on. 
If you've got suggestions I'd love to here them! 
Also stones are not needed... except for many the tiny green guy (but I could always figure something out for him). He's originally standing on the stone. 

In other news
- page 2 of Alice is really close to done!
- got a new SAL (bands in variegated thread) to start 
- made some progress on Here there be monsters 
- and have kitted up the Feminist ladies. 
Never mind all the next things I want to do and stash I keep buying!! :) 

Thanks for stopping by and Happy Stitching! 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Book Review: Blood & Ink


Title: Blood & Ink 
Author: Stephen Davies
Genre: Historical, Young Adult
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This is a difficult book to know what to do with. 

On one hand it's a fairly boring, typical Romeo and Juliet story (with a twist). On the other hand it's based on real events in Timbuktu in 2012 which makes it both relevant, educational and sad all at once. 


Historical Content & Importance

Blood and Ink is set in 2012 Timbuktu when radicals Muslims took over the city. These are real life people who believe women should always be veiled in public. Now Timbuktu had been, to date, a very progressive Muslim society in which many women chose not be veiled. So this was an obvious infringement on their rights. Among many other things that happened during that time of occupation 

Timbuktu had public lashings!! 

I cannot even begin to tell you how disturbing I find this. Not only, that it happened a mere five years ago; but also that my sheltered Canadian self remembers hearing of the occupation of Timbuktu and not thinking it meant much at the time. Let me stand corrected now. Stephen Davies has opened my eyes to the radical violence that came (and in some cases still comes) from these jihads. I find it truly disturbing. 

pledge from here forward to be more aware of the actual circumstances that fair practicing, innocent Muslims undergo. And that if anything is in my power to act or do something I will. Even if it's only to bring awareness.


Why just the event is not enough

No matter how important or world shattering a book may be due to its context and content that doesn't make it good writing or characters interesting. 

Without a doubt the main events, based on true stories, are compelling and horrifying in Blood and Ink but that's really where it ends. Everything Davies added to the book; his characters, motivations, etc are dull and cliche. 

To take an event like the protecting of the manuscripts and dumb it down to a couple children being responsible seems offensive to the original folks who actually spent weeks achieving his smuggling act. To indicate somehow that the entire occupation somehow laid on one little boys shoulders in many ways is also ludicrous. 

What I would normally accept in completely fictional stories (extraordinary children) I just cannot abide by when the events actually happened in a completely different way. What was wrong with telling the story the way it happened? 


Historical Fiction is Different

I read a lot of historical fiction based on true events. This is one of a rare few where it's historical fiction written for the young adult crowd. This intrigued me at first; but after reading Blood and Ink I think that Davies has taken complex human emotions, motivations and acts, and dumbs them down to lowest common denominator. 

I'm not a fan of this as it seems to do disservice to the actual history. 

I look at stories like Titanic where the storyline we follow plays no bearing on the ship sinking. This I'm okay with as our characters did not cause or create the iceberg hit. But in Blood and Ink our two main characters appears to be behind almost all the major decisions and events. This doesn't feel right to me. 


Finally

I know there are extraordinary people and children in our world. And I love to read about them. But don't downplay the importance of real people by having your fictional characters take credit for things they shouldn't. Because somewhere out there now is someone(s) who perhaps believes a teen girl in Timbuktu single-handedly actually did what this girl does in the book. 

We should be cautious of ever giving too much credit to the wrong people in historical fiction. 

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

Book Review: The End of the World Running Club


Title: The End of the World Running Club
Author: Adrian J. Walker
Genre: fiction, post-apocalyptic, survival
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The first four chapters would make an amazing short story about an asteroid(s) impact on Earth. I rate those four chapters 5 out of 5. And then the rest of the book comes... and ruins the magic. 


The world is scorched, people die, horribleness ensues, and through it all our annoying, whiny lead character (an overweight, disengaged father of 2) leads us on his painfully boring trek. 

I'm actually not sure why I kept reading The End of the World Running Club to the end. So let's look at what was good and what was bad. 


The 4 Great Things

1) Like I said the first four chapters are fantastic. I absolutely loved them. Read them and make up your own ending. 


2) The title, The End of the World Running Club, is clever given where the book heads. I do appreciate the sarcasm and irony that is used throughout the world ending story. 


3) I loved that the lead character is an average 30-something man, Edgar. A father to two small children, with a wife, a moderate house, and a job he goes to because he must. He's the archetype of the regular middle class Joe existing in a first world society. 


4) The end is a perfect combination of victory and sadness. A way to resolve a story such as this without coming out too optimistic is difficult and I do appreciate that Adrian J. Walker resisted the urge to tie it all in a bow. 


The 4 Awful Things

Are you ready for this? The four things that were great are also the same four things I hated. Let me explain:


1) It is so frustrating to read four chapters of brilliance and then wait for that magic during the last 3/4 of the book. Only to realize as you approach the end that his boring, annoying dribble of a story is all you're going to get after the amazing start. Makes the rest of the book feel worse than it probably is. 


2) In most running clubs you, you know, run. While a small part of this book is certainly about running (and it's clear our author has experienced a runners wall, high and all the emotions and pains that come with it); the reality is it's really just your average the world went to hell the moment we lost amenities book. The attempted scary, philosophical mini side stories fall flat. It's so sad to me that Walker created a world where so many things could be done and instead there is no depth to these events.


3) Edgar is the most annoying man ever. He constantly complains, gives up and is really lucky to have people with smarts and perseverance around him. I guess while I think I want books about regular people in extraordinary situations maybe I'm totally deluding myself. Maybe I read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy because I want exceptionally competent and capable characters..? All I know for certain is that Edgar made me want to throw him off a cliff; instead of cheering him up the cliff. 


4) I am not a fan of a book that has you believe one premise throughout the entire book; only to throw that awry at the end. There was absolutely no reason for the moment of possible uncertainty that was written in. It's like it was put there because book clubs would salivate over it; not because it made sense to the story or added to the ending in any way. Additionally it felt forced and that is a huge pet peeve for me. Endings should make sense. There can be twists or reveals, of course, but they need to make sense and feel natural. 


Just read Station Eleven instead

Maybe I've just read too many post apocalyptic books lately... or maybe I've just read the best of the best and now no one will ever measure up to Station Eleven (read it if you haven't; amazing piece of literature!). I was moved by Station Eleven, excited to tell everyone I knew about it and loved the side stories and philosophy. In this book the most moved I felt was to close the book and do something else. 


Overall I'm not convinced that Edgar ever felt a genuine emotion towards anyone in his family, running club or whatnot. I'm not even sure he felt emotions about himself. When I should have been crying over events that happened I just felt 'meh'. When I should have felt joy and awe, I felt 'meh'. And when I should have been afraid for our characters and their safety I mostly wanted to cheer for the crazy people they were encountering because then maybe the story would end sooner. This just didn't do it for me. Call me out for being a hypocrite, I'm okay with that. Apparently a story about a boring person who barely feels emotions himself meant I just never had any emotions either (except ones that involved being frustrated and annoyed). 


But seriously read the first four chapters and then imagine your own end; because they are brilliantly put together. And because the actually journey to the end is just a bunch of running, crazies and a whole mediocre mess of nothing. 


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


Monday, November 6, 2017

Book Review: The Agony of Bun O'Keefe


Title: The Agony of Bun O'Keefe 

Author: Heather Smith

Genre: Literary fiction, Canadian

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars 


This book is gut wrenching. I'm hesitant to tell anyone to read it because it's about such awful things. Certainly there are moments of love in it; that come from the awful things but that only makes the emotion of it harder to take. 


Heather Smith has done what few writers can do to me. She's written a story that is about tragic circumstances and instead of making me annoyed, that she was tugging on heart strings, I was completely enthralled and absolutely crushed by the sadness of it all. The Agony of Bun O'Keefe is not for the faint of heart. 


Between hoarding, abandonment, molestation, abuse, extreme prejudice and racism there is barely a chance to breathe in between moments. Thank goodness this is only 123 pages. I don't think I could have taken anymore of it. 


And yet the characters, especially Bun (who the story is told through) are vibrant, real people. Smith puts so much energy (good or bad), character, emotion and realism into this short novel it's nothing short of a literary masterpiece. And yet I wouldn't want to read it again because I can only take so much heartache. Considering I rarely cry at books and usually scoff at those written to intentionally make you cry (I hated The Fault in our Stars); it's clear to me that Smith has written something special. And while you share the agony of Bun, Busker Boy, Chef, Big Eyes and others in this book you'll also share in their moments of true love and I suppose that is the whole point. Experiencing the world means sharing equally in both the unbearable pain and overwhelming love. 


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

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Book Review: The Screaming Staircase


Title: The Screaming Staircase
Series: Lockwood & Co
Genre: Middle Grade, Young Adult, horror
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

4.5 stars for this super fun, creepy and fast-paced book. This may say it's a Middle Grade book, and certainly it could be given to a kid 9 and up, but don't be deceived by that everyone will enjoy Lockwood & Co! 

Why only 4.5 stars?
The reason for my deduction of 0.5 stars is perhaps going to sound petty to some; but it's a real pet peeve of mine. Jonathan Stroud is British and The Screaming Staircase is set in London. So can someone explain to me why, in the copy I read, the temperatures are in Fahrenheit?! Almost everywhere in the world (including here in Canada) we use Celsius. No child in the UK would use Fahrenheit. I am assuming, much like changes made to Harry Potter, that the publisher decided to change the Celsius to Fahrenheit to market to children in the USA. Now, you're thinking to yourself, but Mel how many times can they possibly mention the temperature? A lot!! As one of the main indicators of 'visitors' (aka ghosts or spirits) is that the temperature drops it is mentioned a few dozen times. 
Now I realize this is clearly not Stroud's choice. However, instead of changing the scale used what about putting a conversion chart at the beginning or end of the book. Maybe we can teach the USA children about Celsius instead of forcing the rest of the world to manage the metric used by one country. This is a classic example of publishing houses catering to the USA and stuffing everyone else into that category (especially us Canadians). Okay, rant over. 

So many questions!
Overall Stroud is a genius. He takes a simple idea, the world is plagued by visitors that are a menace and can kill people with ghost touch, and creates an intricate world around it. Only children can see the manifestations and so they are the best equipped to fight these menaces and clear places of the visitors. Obviously this comes with it's own set of morale questions. What age is too young to start? When things go wrong is the child responsible? Is it worth the sacrifice of youth to battle the visitors? 
These questions are more are handled exquisitely in The Screaming Staircase. I'm so sad it's such a quick read as I didn't want to leave the world yet. I'll be ordering the next couple in this series immediately! I'm also going to be purchasing this series for my 13-year-old nephew for the holidays as I know he will love the creepiness. What kid doesn't want to read about a 'red room' which fills with ghost plasma that looks like blood, a staircase where the screaming incapacities you, a ghost so unhappy she kills current residents of the home? And these are only examples of some of the things are three lead characters encounter. 

Bring on the sarcasm and fun!
The other thing that is amazing about Stroud is that he is able to write kids books that are sarcastic and funny. Alongside all that creepiness and atmosphere our three lead kids are able to poke fun at each other and fight over the silliest things (who gets the last cookie); just like normal children do. Without a doubt the humour in The Screaming Staircase is critical to breaking some of the tension and scariness that comes along with the story itself. 

Am I a child or an adult?
Most of all what I love is Stroud's handling of the conflicts and emotions that come from children playing at being adults. As the eldest child with two younger siblings in my family (one of whom has Type 1 diabetes) I remember a lot of moments as a kid where I felt I had to pretend to be more adult than I was. Even when it wasn't, I often felt like it was my responsibility to handle situations. As Lockwood & Co. has no 'adult supervisors' you see them struggle with this paradigm a lot. When can they show weakness? How do they convince adults they are competent and capable? And at what point is it okay to just collapse and let someone else take care of things. 
There are no easy answers to these questions but Stroud does an excellent job of helping readers understand that it's okay to show weakness and to reinforce that we ALL have weaknesses. It's less about what that weakness is and more about how we compensate for it. That by surrounding ourselves with people who we trust and will help us we can be both strong and weak as needed. 

Buy it for everyone!
I think this will be my go-to book/series to buy for anyone over the age of 10 for the next while. I look forward to buying multiple copies for kids (including my nephew)! While there is a lot of substance in this book, it still feels like a break as the language is simple and easy to follow. Do yourself, or those around you a favour and pick this gem up! 

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

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Book Review: 419


Title: 419
Author: Will Ferguson
Genre: literary fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

419 is very interesting. I knew almost nothing about Nigeria going into it and now I feel some real sympathy for their people and plight. I'm always in awe with books that can take me to real life locations and make me feel like I've been there or have a new understanding of that place. 


A section of the story takes place in my home city of Calgary (Canada). It's a bit odd to read about landmarks and roads I know so well (author Will Ferguson lives here himself) but also a little exciting. Right up until an apartment building could be seen from a road that is too far away (lol). I get it, fictional license and all but it was a bit odd to me because I do know the city so well. 


I'd highly recommend 419 for book clubs as it is sure to generate a lot of conversation. The basic story is a struggle between what we all feel we need to do to survive and what we are willing to do within our own moral compass. It's often surprising what lengths humans will go to protect themselves and others. I don't want to say too much else as I think the intricacies of the setting, plot and characters are all best discovered as you read 419. 


My four stars is merely because I wasn't dying to read the last 1/3 of the book. I'm very glad I did but it lost something at some point. I believe is was when we spent a large chunk of time with the same characters; instead of the back and forth that happens in the rest of the novel between locations and characters. Or perhaps I was just too concerned that one of our focal characters was not going to make it very far. There are some intense moments that really brought home to me how lucky I am to live where I do. 


Overall I think that this is an interesting book, it shares stories from a part of the world many are not very familiar with and it reveals more details about the "Nigerian Prince" email scams than most of us are likely to know. Ferguson does a good job of making you like characters that are morally ambiguous and a good job of telling the stories that are seemingly unrelated to start with. I will guarantee that it all ties together and the end felt perfect to me. Not necessarily happy or sad; just realistic. 


I am definitely going to pick-up more by Ferguson. Not only because he's local to me and meets my Canadian author criteria; but because I did really enjoy the set up and loved the end of 419.