Book review: "The Josephine Knot" by Meg Braem

The Josephine Knot  

The Josephine Knot is one of the 2018 releases by Playwrights Canada Press, and I received a copy of this play in exchange for a free and honest review.

Synopsys

 

The author of Blood: A Scientific Romance is back with a story in which a family must pack up a matriarch’s things while unpacking the past and untangling the present.

After Samantha’s baba dies, her fractured family is summoned to pick through the house full of belongings and trash, leaving taped notes on whatever they want to take. Between old napkins, a closet full of ketchup packets, and a freezer full of rotting meat are gems like a grandfather clock and plastic deer statuettes that hold more sentiment. While her father David sifts through his own memories, all Samantha wants is to find a simple object that could represent her place in the family. When other family members arrive, tug of wars and passive-aggressive conversations commence. In a house full of junk and sadness, it comes down to Samantha and David to find a new way to fit together.

 

Review

 

A bit funny and a bit chilling, The Josephine Knot is the perfect blend of both - living up to its title to a T. Unlike with some plays and short fiction, with which I struggle to envision everything happening as it would on stage, I had no such problems with The Josephine Knot - it sucked me in from the very beginning, and there was a reason for that.

Reading this play, I felt as if I was reading about my own family’s story. The similarities are so uncanny that I felt almost creeped out by it. My name may not be Samantha, and my dad is not David, but my grandma was undoubtedly the baba from the story. With an apartment full of porcelain figurines, with the dubious cooking habits and a bad leg, my baba was as much of tour de force as Samantha’s grandmother. And as the character in the play, she was often at the heart of the family drama, leaving, even in her passing, some unresolved issues and a property to be divided among family members.

I was both fascinated and petrified by the fact that the playwright, Meg Braem, unknowingly, managed to perfectly capture the story of my dad’s family. However, obviously, many family dramas are similar, and I do not claim any privilege rights to a grandmother named Olga.

I can find no faults with The Josephine Knot. Reviewing it almost feels as if I am trying to pass judgement onto my own family. The blend of dark humour in the face of family drama, macabre details, heartbreaking revelations - you need to read the play to understand the whirlpool of emotions that I experienced when reading the play. It is very true to life, lively, and inspirational, in spite of the topic of death.

If I am ever someone important enough to warrant a biography written about me, I would like Meg Braem to do that. She, apparently, knows what she is doing.

 

About author

 

Meg Braem’s plays have won the Gwen Pharis Ringwood Award for Drama at the Alberta Literary Awards and the Alberta Playwriting Competition, and Blood: A Scientific Romance was nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama. Her work has been presented at the Citadel Theatre, Theatre Calgary, Lunchbox Theatre, the Belfry Theatre, Sage Theatre, Sparrow & Finch Theatre, Theatre Transit, Atomic Vaudeville, and Intrepid Theatre. She is a past member of the Citadel Playwrights Forum and was a playwright-in-residence at Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre. Her next book, Feminist Resistance: A Graphic Approach (co-authored with Norah Bowman and Domique Hui), will be published by University of Toronto Press in 2019. Meg currently divides her time between Edmonton as the Lee Playwright in Residence at the University of Alberta and Calgary as the co-director of the Alberta Theatre Projects Playwrights Unit.

 

Rating: 4.5 stars

 

 

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Book Review: "The Savior's Champion" (The Savior's Series #1) by Jenna Moreci

The Savior's Champion  

I received an advance copy of The Savior’s Champion from the author in return for an honest review.

 

I have been following Jenna on YouTube for some time and heard good things about her first book, Eve: The Awakening, but I never had a chance to read her writing. Jenna is a fellow authortuber, and her writing advice videos are hilarious and on point. So, naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to read an ARC of her new upcoming novel The Savior’s Champion.

 

Synopsis

 

Tobias Kaya doesn't care about The Savior. He doesn't care that She's the Ruler of the realm or that She purified the land, and he certainly doesn't care that She's of age to be married. But when competing for Her hand proves to be his last chance to save his family, he’s forced to make The Savior his priority.

 

Now Tobias is thrown into the Sovereign’s Tournament with nineteen other men, and each of them is fighting—and killing—for the chance to rule at The Savior's side. Instantly his world is plagued with violence, treachery, and manipulation, revealing the hidden ugliness of his proud realm. And when his circumstances seem especially dire, he stumbles into an unexpected romance, one that opens him up to unimaginable dangers and darkness.

 

Review

 

I have a lot of thoughts about The Savior’s Champion - some of them are a bit contradictory, in fact. That’s why this review took me so long to put together. I think it is an excellent book, in certain aspects, but rather weak in the others. Most importantly though, it is a very memorable and exciting book. Something that I haven’t been able to say about a self-published book in a long while.

 

I often fall prey to intriguing summaries and premises but then get disappointed, quite often in fact, by the book itself. I was extremely relieved when I realized that The Savior’s Champion held my attention from the very start.

 

The prologue and first chapter serve as scene setters; they are engaging enough, but not too stunning, I am afraid to say. Which explains why some people after reading 1-3 chapters from Jenna’s website, ended up giving the whole book lower rating. In my opinion, even though the purpose of a prologue is clear once you get halfway through the book - or maybe even sooner, - it feels weak compared to later chapters.

 

I did not like Tobias from the very beginning, but I grew to like him way more in later chapters, once his morality and goodness of character began to shine. He did get a bit whiny, in my opinion, at the very end - but he went through a lot, so I guess it is understandable and realistic.

 

I loved all of the female characters in The Savior’s Champion, and I think Jenna did a great job creating a pleiad of strong women. Even secondary female characters were well developed and had their distinct storylines and purpose. I loved Leila from the start - her fierceness and strength, just like her name, reminded me of Princess Leia. Leila can stand up for herself and does not need rescuing (for the most part). In fact, she quite often rescued Tobias and others. That was so much fun to read.

 

All women in The Savior’s Champion were well-written, except for the two most important women in Tobias’ life: his mother and sister. And this is where I had a problem.

 

Tobias’ mother throughout the beginning of the book was only concerned about keeping Tobias away from the championship. For no reason. As for Naomi, her only purpose in the book seemed to be of an unfortunate “cripple” to provide Tobias with an excuse to enter the competition. Although it may sound like a legitimate and noble reason, the fact that we did not get to learn anything about Naomi or her relationship with Tobias - although he thought and talked about her during the tournament - sours it. It feels as if the disability and disfigurement were used as a plot device. I understand why, but I think it should have been handled better. (There is a connection between what happened to Naomi and Tobias’ mother’s comments and the plot line. However, I feel that it was not explained at the end of the novel. We were left hanging there.)

 

Same goes for LGBTQ+ representation. There is no real conversation in the book in regards to sexuality. There were characters who mentioned having sex with the members of their own gender, but it was either hidden or mentioned in an offhand way, which did not sit well with me. I fully understand that the purpose of the championship was for men to compete against each other for a woman - which is as heteronormative as it can be - but I was still hoping for better representation. And, most certainly, better handling of the topic. I am tired of reading about unhappy gay couples or promiscuity. Just saying. It was not something shocking given the plot of The Savior’s Champion, but I just hoped for better representation.

 

Now onto the things, that I really liked.

 

The action, oh goodness, the action! Once you get past those two or three chapters at the very beginning, you are constantly kept on your toes. The first death came as such a big shock; I had to do a double take. I just couldn’t believe it would happen this soon and that quickly. And let me tell you, Jenna seems to enjoy killing and torturing her characters. It took me some time to realize that I should stop caring for anyone beyond the main protagonists as everyone would get killed eventually.  

 

The Savior’s Champion reminded me of a weird mix of Royal Battle, Kill Bill, and The Gladiator. The book is full of action, blood, death, gore, more death, more gore, etc. I must give it to the author, as she created the most intricate and creative set of challenges (aka ways to kill off her characters). The Savior’s Campion is not a tiny book - I think it is probably about 90K words judging by the time it took me to read it - but the narrative keeps you hooked as you are often deceived into thinking there is a break in torture, but it is only an illusion.

 

I think this book has one of the best executions of action and fight scenes I have read in awhile! Some dialogues were brilliant too, very snarky and funny. There is, however, a lot of swearing and crudeness that almost put me off. But once again, it served very well for the setting and atmosphere of the book. Some tagged it as Young Adult on GoodReads, but I disagree. The characters are between 18-21 years old, plus there are older characters too, and considering mentions of sex, level of violence and swearing, it is more of a New Adult or even an Adult novel.

 

The world itself is reminiscent of Ancient Rome or Ancient Greece. The society's structure and the tournament - just like that of a gladiators’ era. Even though it is a fantasy novel, the magic is only present in the powers of The Saviour, which takes the form of a blessing or a transfer of powers. The Saviour is treated like a goddess, although she is not referred to as one, and quite often characters exclaimed 'oh my God', which I found a bit confusing, as there was no depiction of religion in this world. All people seem to believe in is The Saviour’s powers - and that’s all.

 

The romance was not too bad either - definitely a slow burn, which is excellent, as I am not a huge fan of romance-focused books and “instalove” as a trope should die already. There was a lot of teasing and sexy innuendo, once again only heteronormative, naturally, but it was well written.

 

The main plot twist was good, but I figured it out very soon into the book. However, I must say, I enjoyed the way Jenna weaved different hints and plot lines together in The Savior’s Champion from the very beginning. Considering how well put together all the plot lines are, I was a bit let down by the ending. The revelation scene was perfect, but what followed was not a real resolution, but more of an open ending. And I was a 100% sure that it was going to be a stand-alone.

 

Now I feel cheated, as I need a sequel because we were left hanging, but as far as I know, Jenna is currently writing a companion novel and not the sequel. I am not sure what to make of it. Surely, The Savior’s Champion ended well for certain characters, but for the kingdom - not so well. Plus, certain things were hinted at but never explained.

 

This is why I was torn for some time about what rating to give this book. The Savior’s Champion held my attention enough that I didn’t notice how fast I went through it, which is usually the sign of 4 star read. But the representation and small things that could have been improved disappointed me. My rating overall is the representation of that conflict. It is a solid start of a series if it is what it is, but I was also left disappointed in certain aspects.

 

Regardless of my conflicted thoughts, I decided to give this book a bit of a higher rating on GoodReads and Amazon, as it has a well-constructed plot, and it is very option something that lacks in the books of late. I am very grateful to Jenna for giving me an opportunity to read and review The Savior’s Champion, and I hope to read more of her books soon!

 

 

Rating: 3.5 stars

 

P.S. I feel, as if it is one of my longest reviews to date - oh boy!

 

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Book review: Life Debt (Star Wars: Aftermath #2) by Chuck Wendig

Life Debt  

After finishing "Aftermath", I was very hooked with this trilogy and couldn’t wait to continue with "Life Debt". I did, however, take my time to listen to it as I had other books on the go.

 

Please, beware of spoilers below as it is book two in the trilogy.

Synopsis

 

The Emperor is dead, and the remnants of his former Empire are in retreat. As the New Republic fights to restore a lasting peace to the galaxy, some dare to imagine new beginnings and new destinies. For Han Solo, that means settling his last outstanding debt, by helping Chewbacca liberate the Wookiee's homeworld of Kashyyyk.

 

Meanwhile, Norra Wexley and her band of Imperial hunters pursue Grand Admiral Rae Sloane and the Empire's remaining leadership across the galaxy. Even as more and more officers are brought to justice, Sloane continues to elude the New Republic, and Norra fears Sloane may be searching for a means to save the crumbling Empire from oblivion. But the hunt for Sloane is cut short when Norra receives an urgent request from Princess Leia Organa. The attempt to liberate Kashyyyk has carried Han Solo, Chewbacca, and a band of smugglers into an ambush resulting in Chewie's capture and Han's disappearance.

 

Breaking away from their official mission and racing toward the Millennium Falcon's last known location, Norra and her crew prepare for any challenge that stands between them and their missing comrades. But they can't anticipate the true depth of the danger that awaits them or the ruthlessness of the enemy drawing them into his crosshairs.

 

Review

 

If you read my review of "Aftermath", you probably know how much I love Marc Thompson’s narration of this trilogy. He does a superb job of giving each character their voice. Even the secondary characters who appear in the intermissions. So, obviously, "Life Debt" was no exception.

 

Obviously, Sinjir is still my favourite. I was hoping for a solid love arc for him since Jas got a relationship with Jom (both of whom seem to deny it). Sinjir did get a “boyfriend”, Conder Kyl, but we had maybe one scene with the two of them (and he was never mentioned before that), and then he was mentioned maybe once more - and that was it. Nevertheless, Sinjir is the first gay character in Star Wars franchise, which is both very cool and disappointing (because seriously? No more queer characters? Seriously? None?).

 

***There was a moment in which Sloan was changing and her assistant Adea was there, and Adea blushed, which made me hope for some feelings between two women, but alas I was disappointed.***

 

I like Jas. She went through a lot of character development. Which is why I am very sad that I accidentally spoiled myself regarding something that happens in the final book and which would affect her. This is why you do not check Wikipedia for the series you have not finished!

 

Even Nora got an expected bit of romance. I liked the fact that her relationship with Temmin began to mend, even though I still don’t like Temmin much. He is really both hot-headed and naive. I may not be very fond of Nora, but the things Temmin does and says to her are mean.

 

Han Solo and Chewbacca’s friendship is the best portrayed in this book. I loved all the action on Kashyyyk - I think that was the strongest part of Life Debt as it both showed Solo’s and Chewie’s characters. And let me tell you - Marc Thompson does a great impersonation of Harrison Ford.

 

Part of the "Life Debt" plot revolves around Imperial Admiral Rae Sloane, and I found myself liking her more and more. She is strong-willed, focused, and tough, not to mention incredibly smart. I enjoy parts of the story with her, even though I do not understand her loyalty to the Empire.

 

I enjoyed "Life Debt" audiobook overall, but I still had the same issue with Life Debt as I had with Aftermath: some parts of the plot (like a fake betrayal by Jas) were way too flashy and not thoroughly thought through. We get thrust into a scene right in the middle of the action and have to scramble to understand what is going on and why this is important. And then we are fed information through exposition - telling us what had happened before this scene, instead of showing us. And I did not like that.

 

There were also two instances of audio editing mistakes. In one part of the book, Sloane was told to be alone in the street, but we could hear the voices in the background. And those noises did not change from when she was in the crowd and when she was alone in the street. Another instance was when there was an opera music play, and we are told specifically that it is the music and there are no words. But in the background, we can hear a singer singing, although the words are not distinguishable.

 

It may sound as if I am nitpicking, but considering how big Star Wars franchise is and how popular it is, they could have done a better job at editing.

 

Nevertheless, "Life Debt" was a lot of fun, and even though some of the plot twists were predictable, the narration and the joy of being in the world of Star Wars again made up for it.

 

Rating: 4 stars

 

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Book review: "In Spirit" by Tara Beagan

In Spirit  

A copy of "In Spirit" by Tara Beagan was kindly provided to me by Playwrights Canada Press in exchange for a free and honest review.

 

Summary

 

Twelve-year-old Molly was riding her new bicycle on a deserted road when a man in a truck pulled up next to her, saying he was lost. He asked if she could get in and help him back to the highway, and said he could bring her back to her bike after. Molly declined, out of interest for her own safety. The next things Molly remembers are dirt, branches, trees, pain, and darkness.

 

Molly is now a spirit.

Mustering up some courage, she pieces together her short life for herself and her family while she reassembles her bicycle—the same one that was found thrown into the trees on the side of the road. Juxtaposed with flashes of news, sounds, and videos, Molly’s chilling tale becomes more and more vivid, challenging humanity not to forget her presence and importance.

 

About author

 

Tara Beagan is a proud Ntlaka’pamux and Irish “Canadian” halfbreed based in Calgary, Alberta. She is co-founder/director of ARTICLE 11 with her most cherished collaborator, Andy Moro. She served as the artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts from February 2011 to December 2013. A Dora Mavor Moore Award-winning playwright, she has been in residence at Cahoots Theatre, NEPA, the National Arts Centre, and Berton House. Five of her twenty plus plays have been published, and her first film script, 133 Skyway, co-written with Randy Redroad, won the imagineNATIVE award for best Canadian drama. Beagan is also a Dora and Betty Mitchell Award-nominated actor.

 

Review

 

Similar to my experience with “This Is How We Got Here”, I was lucky enough not only to receive a copy of “In Spirit” but also see Tara perform a piece from it at Playwrights Canada Press Fall Launch party and the readings as part of Native Earth’s Weesageechak Begins to Dance festival in November of 2017. Together with Keith Barker’s play, "In Spirit" by Tara Beagan was one of my most anticipated reads, and I am a bit sad I got around to reading and reviewing it only now.

 

"In Spirit" serves as an important message about an ongoing issue of missing and murdered indigenous girls and women in Canada. Based on a true story with amended names and places, it pulls us into a mind of a young girl, who is trying to figure out what had happened. Slowly, we realize that she is a spirit and what she is trying to piece together is not just a broken bicycle but is her murder.

"In Spirit" is one of those plays that makes you feel uncomfortable, guilty and sad. Aand as it should. Because no child deserves the fate that had befallen Molly. It can happen to anyone and is still happening. And we must feel responsible for it.

 

It is disconcerting to say that ‘I liked the play’ as the word ‘like’ seems to be inappropriate due to the subject matter. I liked Molly as a character and found her to be in some ways more mature than her age - the way she feels threatened by the stranger on an instinctive level and how she notices his eyes lose a smile, etc.

 

A broken bicycle represents her life and her fragile body - the image striking enough to be a character on its own in this play. As she picks up pieces one by one, marvelling at how similar this broken bike is to her new one, Molly attempts to reassemble her identity and her memories. It is heartbreaking to read, especially her mentions of the family and dogs.

 

Oh god, the dogs!

 

As Molly reflects on her life, we learn that every dog that she ever owned was killed in road accidents (as their house is next to a road). Molly says:

 

“But do you think one of them even stopped to see what it was they ran over? ... Not even once! And sometimes for sure other people saw what happened, and they didn’t even say nothing either.”

 

That paragraph strongly resonated with me. It almost feels as if Tara is alluring to the society and police who seem to be doing nothing about the violence against indigenous people, who are going missing or killed and nobody seems to care.

 

I had, however, some issues with stage directions. There was a moment in which Molly drops the handlebars she was holding, and next direction says that she still holds them, and then after another couple of lines, she drops them again.

 

I am a visual reader. When I read, I visualize all the events as in a movie. Which means that whenever there is a tiny inconsistency in my “brain movie” script - I will most probably pick on it.

 

With "In Spirit", I had some issues visualizing the events. The descriptions of visual and sound effects of the billboard were not enough for me to recreate a full image of the play in my head. Perhaps, it would have achieved the desired effect, had I an opportunity to watch it on stage.

 

Sparse stage directions forced me to lower the rating of this play. Some may not find it enough for axing one star, but as I only go by the script, I can’t have incomplete or inconsistent directions. Perhaps, it was intentional to give actors free reigns, but I felt as if the play was lacking something.

 

I encourage you to read this play and educate yourself on the issues that are still plaguing our society.

 

Together with links to GoodReads and Playwrights Press pages, I added some links to articles on the topic.

 

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Book review: The Wicker King by K. Ancrum

The Wicker King  

I came across The Wicker King on Indigo website. I think it was among the new teen releases or something similar. I knew it was tagged as LGBTQ+ on GoodReads, and that is more than enough for me.

 

I got this book from the library, and I kept it on my shelf for awhile before I picked it up.

 

And oh my god.

Summary

 

The Wicker King is a psychological young adult thriller that follows two friends struggling as one spirals into madness.

 

When August learns that his best friend, Jack, shows signs of degenerative hallucinatory disorder, he is determined to help Jack cope. Jack’s vivid and long-term visions take the form of an elaborate fantasy world layered over our own—a world ruled by the Wicker King. As Jack leads them on a quest to fulfill a dark prophecy in this alternate world, even August begins to question what is real or not.

 

August and Jack struggle to keep afloat as they teeter between fantasy and their own emotions. In the end, each must choose his own truth.

 

Review

 

I read The Wicker King in less than two days. I would have finished it in one go, if I had time. I picked it up because I was not feeling like reading anything and The Wicker King had such an appealing cover. Besides, I knew nobody else who read this book, and I was very intrigued.

 

Ten pages in, I was so hooked that I couldn’t put the book down.

 

The Wicker King is a hard book to describe as it should be approached more like an experience than the story. It is about two best friends, friendships and loves, relationships, and other worlds. It is a lot about trust, and faith, and abandonment.

 

The chapters in The Wicker King are short. Sometimes just a couple of pages. Sometimes - a paragraph. As the story progresses, the edges of the book get darker and darker - a visual representation of the darkness that is slowly swallowing August and Jack.

 

The synopsis calls The Wicker King a thriller, which is true in the sense that it does create the atmosphere of suspense and tension. However, I would call the novel a mix of contemporary and magical realism. The things that Jack sees and the things that both characters experience at times feel more real than the real world itself. I loved the writing and the characters in the book. You need to pay attention to chapter titles and the small bits here and there, that make the story so compelling, and a bit weird (but in a good way).

 

At times poetic and symbolic, at times outright scary - The Wicker King is a vortex that pulls readers into its depths, spinning heads and breaking hearts. I cried halfway into the book. I cried at the end. I cried because it was over and I was not ready to let August and Jack go.

 

I read the library book and then went and purchased my own copy. The Wicker King is undoubtedly going to be my favourite read of 2018.

 

The Wicker King novella

 

There is a novella set in the same world. It is titled The Legend of the Golden Raven, and it is free on Kindle. You have to read it after reading The Wicker King though, as it won’t make much sense otherwise, and you will get so much more emotions if you read the novella afterwards. I gave the novella the same rating as The Wicker King.

 

I refuse to believe that this is the only book and there is no sequel.

 

Kayla Ancrum has instantly become my auto-buy author. Her next novel, The Weight of the Stars, is coming out in March 2019 (although initially it was listed as October 2018).

 

I can not wait to see what this author comes up with next.

 

Rating: 5 stars

 

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Book review: Take Me with You by Andrea Gibson (poetry)

Take Me with You

I discovered Andrea Gibson from The Morning Show on Global, which I have been watching religiously for the past 5 years. They invited Andrea as part of Take Me with You, poetry collection, release promotion, and it was the first time I ever heard the name. I was instantly intrigued.

After discovering Rupi Kaur and falling in love with her artistic and melodic performance of poetry, I have been keeping my eyes open for more contemporary poets, even though my tastes primarily lie within classics or speculative genres.

Immediately after the show, I went to my library website and put Take me with You on hold.

Summary

 

For readers of Rupi Kaur (Milk and Honey) and Cheryl Strayed, a book small enough to carry with you, with messages big enough to stay with you, from one of the most quotable and influential poets of our time.

 

Andrea Gibson explores themes of love, gender, politics, sexuality, family, and forgiveness with stunning imagery and a fierce willingness to delve into the exploration of what it means to heal and to be different in this strange age. Take Me With You, illustrated throughout with evocative line drawings by Sarah J. Coleman, is small enough to fit in your bag, with messages that are big enough to wake even the sleepiest heart. Divided into three sections (love, the world, and becoming) of one liners, couplets, greatest hits phrases, and longer form poems, it has something for everyone, and will be placed in stockings, lockers, and the hands of anyone who could use its wisdom.

 

Review

 

I read Andrea Gibson’s Take Me with You poetry collection in one go while having my morning coffee. The poems range from raw and open, bleeding across the pages, - to cute and funny (there are sketches of dogs!), - to the ones which sound like a battle cry against injustice, patriarchy, discrimination. It is the poetry that is saturated with the world’s problems and political views, and I can not imagine anything more relevant nowadays. I found myself both nodding my head in agreement and holding back tears when some of those poems struck too close home.

 

I can’t recommend Take Me with You enough. So, I will just say - read it. The world is a better place with this book on the shelves. I will leave you with this one poem:

Take Me with You

About author

 

Andrea Gibson is an award-winning poet and activist who lives in Boulder, Colorado. Their poetry focuses on gender norms, politics, social reform and the struggles LGBTQ people face in today's society. In addition to using poetry to express what they feel and provide social and political commentary on real issues, they are involved with many activist groups. They often perform at Take Back the Night events, LGBTQ events, pride events, trans events, anti-war rallies, peace rallies, organizations against the occupation of Palestine, and groups focused on examining the wrongs of capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy. They also work with a group called Vox Feminista whose model is to "comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable" on all these issues. Throughout the year, they tour Universities and other venues across the country.

 

Rating: 4 stars

 

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Book review: "The Prince and the Dressmaker" by Jen Wang

The Prince and the Dressmaker  

If you ask me now how I head of The Prince and the Dressmaker, I would not be able to tell you. But it was on my Amazon wishlist way before it came out. I was even going to purchase it when I saw it available on OverDrive through my library. So, obviously, I had to request it.

 

I found the summary of the book a bit spoilery, so if you would like, just skip over it to my review.

Summary

 

Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

 

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

 

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairytale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

 

Review

 

Okay, so my first reaction when I opened up The Prince and the Dressmaker was “this is a graphic novel????”. I admit that my habit of not reading the summary and staying away from spoilers completely blindsided me in this case.

 

I was delighted though as I found that the format of a graphic novel worked very well for this story.

 

Discovering this story as it goes felt as if I was a kid reading one of the classic fairy tales for the first time. The pace is great, and the story has all the attributes of a good tale: we have a hard-working dressmaker with a dream and a misunderstood prince who struggles to express himself.

 

I flew through the book. I found it adorable and cute, a very easy and light read, but lacking in some unidentifiable way, even though I think it is well written. Perhaps, my impression came from the fact that I kept thinking of Gru from Despicable Me every time I saw Sebastian and it just ruined all drama for me (I am sorry! It is the nose!). There are some earlier sketches at the back of the book, and I liked Sebastian better in those with a less pointy nose.

 

I loved Frances, though. She is strong and talented, and I like how she goes in the pursuit of her dreams even though it means breaking her heart. A delightful character!

 

Only after finishing the story, I realized that The Prince and the Dressmaker was tagged as a middle-grade book on GoodReads. I am not sure if it is the actual case, as it didn’t feel like a middle-grade novel. I often struggle with the middle-grade genre as those books tend to stay away from edgy topics or gloss over certain details, focusing more on external conflicts rather than internal. In The Prince and the Dressmaker, there is an internal conflict (for both Frances and Sebastian) as well as an external one, and the characters are in their teen years, so I would rather classify it as young adult. However, there is no violence, explicit sexual scenes, etc.,  and it is generally a happy book overall.

 

Would I give it to read to a 10-12-year-old kid? Absolutely.

 

The Prince and the Dressmaker can show children that sometimes people can be different, and it is okay. In some ways, it reminded me of George by Alex Gino, although Sebastian does not have the same gender identity (it is not explicitly explained as the story is set in a fairytale setting, but I assume Sebastian is non-binary or gender fluid).

 

I highly recommend you pick up The Prince and the Dressmaker. It is a light and fun read with an important message hidden within the folds of pretty dresses.

 

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Rating: 4 stars

 

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Book review: "Aerie" by Jon Keys

Aerie  

I requested Aerie from NineStar Press, LLC on NetGalley based on the description and the fact that it is a blend of fantasy and LGBTQIA+ genres.

Description

 

Askari, Dhala, and Gyam grew up as childhood friends during happier days for the Chinjoka, an Iron Age people with the ability to shapeshift, but now they must learn their place among the tribe while dealing with both a devastating plague and war with the Misiq.

 

Ena is a young warrior for the more savage Misiq, a tribe whose cruelty exemplifies their deity—the Angry God. The Misiq, also shifters, have declared a genocidal war against the Chinjoka, blaming them for the disease devastating both tribes. As a result, they are locked in a battle for survival. But when Ena is shown compassion by those he means to harm, he begins to question all he’s ever known.

 

A chance meeting changes their lives, and maybe their tribes, forever.

 

Review

 

Aerie sort of throws you in the world with little exposition. It took me a second to understand what was happening and why it was relevant. The writing is solid enough, however, lacks the descriptions that would have enriched the experience for me as a reader and made the world easier to comprehend.

 

The fantasy world of Aerie is set in Iron Age, which is not something that is very common for this genre, much less LGBTQIA+ romance. However, one of my favourite indie series has a similar setting and has set the bar pretty high, and, unfortunately, Aerie didn’t live up to my expectations.

 

I was a bit confused about what kind of creatures the characters shifted into: perhaps, some versions of prehistoric animals and birds and dinosaurs? I would have preferred more explanations concerning the magic system and how the gods fit into it as well. The world seemed a bit undeveloped, and most things were explained as “this is how things are”, and that was it.

 

My biggest problem was with the feud between Chinjoka and Misiq which was a big part of the plot. The author failed to fully explain why the war had begun, skipping over details and mentioning briefly that Misiq blamed the other tribe for the plague but never clarified why or how. The use of the world “genocide” in the book which is set in Iron Age was ridiculous. I would have understood “blood feud” or “blood war” or whatever else, but inserting a contemporary term into the narrative was a mistake.

 

The writing was not too bad, and once I familiarized myself with the world, I began to enjoy the story. I did find that the relationships were not as well developed, as I would have preferred. I do, however, appreciate the fact that the sexuality in this world was never an issue and the only conflicts resided either in the war between tribes or within the characters themselves.

 

The book ends with the issues resolved for the characters but not the tribes. I am rather curious to know whether this is supposed to be a stand-alone or not, as the plot certainly can be developed into a series.

 

However, I did enjoy Aerie to a certain extent and I would be interested in reading a sequel if there is ever one.

 

Rating: 3 stars

 

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Book review: "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" by Jesse Andrews (audiobook)

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl  

I purchased "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" as a paperback some time ago and never read it. Then, as I was waiting for another audiobook to become available, I picked this one up.

And, oh boy.

Description

 

Greg Gaines is the last master of high school espionage, able to disappear at will into any social environment. He has only one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time making movies, their own incomprehensible versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics.

 

Until Greg’s mother forces him to rekindle his childhood friendship with Rachel.

 

Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia—-cue extreme adolescent awkwardness—-but a parental mandate has been issued and must be obeyed. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide the thing to do is to make a film for her, which turns into the Worst Film Ever Made and becomes a turning point in each of their lives.

 

And all at once Greg must abandon invisibility and stand in the spotlight.

 

Review

 

Short version - I did not like it. At all.

 

I think I managed to pull through "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" only because it was an audiobook (narrated by Thomas Mann and R.J. Cyler) and it was not a rather short one. It served as a more pleasurable - most of the time - background to the noise at my work, but I must admit that if I had picked it up in a physical form, I would have DNF’ed it almost immediately.

 

Rarely, I ever get so angry at the book. I have read my fair share of poorly constructed prose and characters lacking development, but seldom I get to read a book which was completely pointless. (Oh, wait. I know one other. But I won’t be pointing fingers.)

 

As I listened to "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" and got more and more frustrated with it, I went to GoodReads to read reviews of other people and was surprised to see some of the bloggers that I follow praise this book for its humour! Excuse me, but what humour?

 

"Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" has the most ridiculous dialogues full of swear words and ranting that most of the time has nothing to do with the plot. The jokes are supposed to self-deprecating, as the book is told from Greg’s perspective, and he states at the very beginning that he is very socially awkward. However, those jokes fall short by much and make Greg seem like a shallow person, incapable of even empathy towards a dying girl.

 

Greg is not funny or likeable at all. I found him quite pathetic. Can’t say I liked Earl more, but at least Earl did exhibit real emotions towards Rachel, while Greg was faking his way through it. Rachel, although she is part of the plot and even is mentioned in the title, barely gets any dialogue at all. If you think this book is anything like “The Fault in Our Stars” (which I did not like for the plot but could appreciate for the writing style and execution) - think the exact opposite. There is no real emotion in "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl", and I hated all of the characters.

 

I don’t understand the point of "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" story. The narrative was either Greg ranting in a stream of consciousness or repeating word to word the dialogues in the form similar to a script. Everything that was happening felt pointless. I can’t believe this book was published - no, even written! - as it gives readers nothing.

 

The narration of "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" was okay. It was the only thing that pulled me through the book. So, if I had to be precise - 1 star goes to the plot, and 1 star to the narrators, which makes it 2 stars overall.

 

If you want to read a contemporary YA novel, there are plenty of better (and even mediocre) novels that you can read. Do not waste your time on "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl", unless you want to see for yourself how bad it is. I can’t wait to unhaul this book from my shelves.

 

Rating: 2 stars

 

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Book review: "Keeper" by Kim Chance

  Keeper

I received an ARC of "Keeper" from the author during the giveaway on Twitter and promised to provide a free and honest review in exchange.

Description

 

Magic always leaves a mark.

 

When the ghost of a 200-year-old witch attacks her on the road, sixteen-year-old bookworm Lainey Styles is determined to find a logical explanation. But even with the impossible staring her in the face, Lainey refuses to buy in to all that “hocus pocus nonsense”—until she finds a photograph linking the witch to her dead mother.

After the library archives and even Google come up empty, Lainey gives in and consults a psychic. There she discovers that, like her mother, she’s a Keeper: a witch with the exclusive ability to unlock and wield the Grimoire, a dangerous spell book. But the Grimoire is missing, stolen years ago by a malevolent warlock who is desperate for a spell locked inside it—a spell that would allow him to siphon away the world's magic.

 

With the help of her comic-book-loving, adventure-hungry best friend and an enigmatic but admittedly handsome street fighter, Lainey must leave behind her life of books and studying to prepare for the biggest test of all: stealing back the book.

 

Review

 

I have been following Kim Chance on social media, and especially YouTube, for a while, so I knew of "Keeper" way before the release date. It is Kim’s debut novel that she spent years working on. So, I was very pumped to read the book. However, my opinions are all mine and are unaffected by the fact that I like Kim Chance as a person and fellow AuthorTuber.

 

Allow me to start my review by stating that for a debut novel - and I was given an ARC, so not the final version - it is a very well put together book. The writing flows well, and the plot has enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes.

 

However, I struggled with Lainey’s character. She is very likeable, but I found it hard to like her myself. She seemed to be very all over the place and very gullible, especially when it came to the sudden reveal of her powers. Her relationship with her uncle is, however, wonderfully written, and I adored it.

 

Maggie was my favourite in the book. She is very “no-nonsense” and stands by Lainey’s side through thick and thin. And this type of friendship is really precious.

 

I liked the character of Ty too, although his character development did not go the way I expected it to. The romantic attraction and the first meeting between Lainey and Ty were very cliched, although well executed if you are into contemporary romance, but the big twist that came at the end of the book was hardly surprising. Although Kim did a great job with inserting a couple of red herrings. The ending saddened me, as I felt that it went against the nature of the story but it was a bold move, so I approve it from the writing perspective.

 

There are a lot of dreams and flashback scenes in "Keeper" that add an atmosphere of southern gothic to the story - those were my favourite parts of the book. I wish there had been more elements like that and that they had led to a darker type of a story. I have a feeling as if the author wanted to both write this story and not hurt her characters way too much. I definitely would have preferred "Keeper" to be darker as it had a lot of promises of dark urban fantasy, but failed to deliver it to my taste. (When I think of southern gothic, I think of Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite - so, yes, my expectations of it are rather high.)

 

Like I said already, "Keeper" is a well put together novel. However, it has way too many cliches and tropes for my liking. Its saving grace is rather solid prose for a debut novel and the aspects of southern gothic which is not too common in YA literature. It is a very easy read with some lovely humourous dialogues between Lainey and Maggie, but while reading, I had trouble fully grasping the concept of Grimoire or why the Master wanted it so badly, and how come some of the magic folk obeyed him, while others defied him. I felt that it was a bit too jumbled in the narrative, and made it difficult to follow. I think that the aspect of the supernatural world existing in parallel with our world should have been explained and developed better.

 

"Keeper" has an absolutely stunning cover. And I am saying this as someone who dislikes green colour! Kim has a video on her channel, in which she talks about the development of the cover, and I recommend you watch it.

 

As it stands right now, "Keeper" is a stand-alone novel. However, the ending is done in the way that it offers a possibility of a sequel. I hope that Kim gets an opportunity to write and publish the sequel, as it would wrap up some loose ends left. I am looking forward to seeing what kind of book Kim will write next.

 

In spite of my opinion regarding "Keeper" and writing style, I am very grateful to Kim for providing me with an opportunity to read and review her book.

 

Rating: 3 stars

 

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Book review: "Ibuki" by Kathryn Sommerlot

Ibuki  

I have requested a copy of “Ibuki” from NetGalley. It was marked as LGBTQIA and Fantasy read, which is one of my favourite genre combinations.

Description

 

Ibuki: the gift of healing through breath. Chiasa has possessed the ability since childhood and shares it with her father as they care for their Inuru community. Chiasa has never doubted the stability of her simple life. That is, until Namika, a water-gifted priestess, shows up outside the Ibuki shrine gates with information promising Chiasa’s doom.

 

With Namika’s help, Chiasa is determined to find the secrets behind the ritual that will claim her life, but her growing feelings toward the other woman reach beyond her control, adding to the confusion. Time is rapidly running out, and Chiasa can’t seem to sort out the lies woven through the magic of Inuru and its emperor.

 

Caught in a tangled web of immortality, betrayal, and desire, Chiasa must find the right people to trust if she hopes to stop the ritual—or she will pay the consequences.

 

Review

 

“Ibuki” is a novella long story set in a semi-alternative version of Imperial Japan. The magic in this world is elemental, and only few priests and priestess possess it. It reminded me a lot of various anime series that I watched years ago. The magic system is integrated seamlessly into the narrative and I liked the depictions of the life and everyday tasks that Chiasa had to do.

 

However, the story lacks depth, and the narrative is rather bland, once you look past trite metaphors and cliches. Even the big twist at the end of the story was obvious from ahead and made me only roll my eyes. There was almost no tension or suspense, and the ending didn’t surprise me at all.

 

“Ibuki” is a sweet story if you are okay with cliches and glaring plot holes. I did not find the relationship believable but it was not the worst I read in a short story.

 

I love Japanese culture and language and I studied it for some time years ago. It was lovely to read a story set in Japan, however, I did have issues with the writing.

 

In spite of my opinions on the writing, I am thankful to the publisher for giving me an opportunity to read and review “Ibuki”.

 

Rating: 2.75 stars

 

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Book review: "This Is How We Got Here" by Keith Barker

This is How We Got Here  

I received a copy of "This is How We Got Here" from Playwrights Canada Press in exchange for a free and honest review. I requested it based on the description and, let’s be honest, the cover.

 

Description

 

It’s been a year since Paul and Lucille’s son Craig committed suicide, and their once-solid family bonds are starting to break down. While the now-separated couple tries to honour their son, Lucille’s sister Liset and her husband Jim refuse to discuss their nephew. The ties that keep the four together as sisters, best friends, and spouses are strained by grief and guilt… until a visit from a fox changes everything.

 

About author

 

Keith Barker is a Métis artist from Northwestern Ontario. A graduate of the George Brown Theatre School, he has worked professionally as an actor, playwright, and director for the past sixteen years. He is a recipient of the SATAward for Excellence in Playwriting and the Yukon Arts Audience Award for Best Art for Social Change for his play The

Hours That Remain. He has served as a theatre program officer at the Canada Council for the Arts, and is currently the artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto.

 

Review

 

I was lucky enough, not only to read the copy "This is How We Got Here"  but also listen to Keith Barker read excerpts from it at Playwrights Canada Press Fall Launch party and the readings as part of Native Earth’s Weesageechak Begins to Dance festival in November of 2017. Keith’s voice as he read the dialogues was so perfect and natural for the story that I kept hearing his voice in my head as I read the play.

 

Even before starting "This is How We Got Here", I knew that this play would be a hard one to swallow. The premise of the story is tragic, more so, since Keith Barker had to deal with a similar tragedy in his family and some of the situations were drawn from his own experiences.

 

This is a story about a close-knit family which starts to fall apart as some of them refuse to acknowledge and deal with the loss and others lose themselves in it. "This is How We Got Here" is full of raw and unapologetic dialogues between couples, friends and siblings, as they all try to make sense of what their lives should be. They lash out at each other in the way that only the closest people can - pushing the buttons almost to the point of no return with the words that hurt the most.

 

The writing in "This is How We Got Here" is so realistic and true to life that anyone can relate to the story regardless of whether they experienced a profound loss or not. You can take any line from the play, and I am sure you have either said it yourself or had it said to you. In spite of the grievous theme of the plot, I can see myself reading this play over and over.

 

The introduction of a fox into the plot was rather surprising as I did not expect it to be relevant at all. It can be viewed as either an aspect of magical realism in the play or just the struggles of an unravelling mind of Lucille. I am a bit torn as I like both ideas equally, so I’d rather stay in the dark as what was the actual intention of the author.

 

I don’t know how to recommend "This is How We Got Here" well enough without making it sound as if it is only about grief. Yes, it is the story of grief, and loss, and mental health, and, perhaps, even bullying, and about broken families, and, yes, it will make you cry. But it is also the story of hope and trying to rebuild what is broken. It was very much worth your time.

 

I am very grateful to Playwrights Canada Press for once again giving me an opportunity to read and review one of their brilliant plays.

 

Rating: 4.5 stars

 

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Book review: Space Mac by Emma Jane

Space Mac  

I requested “Space Mac” from NineStar Press, LLC on NetGalley after reading the description. The cover caught my eye and I was very eager to read it. However, I struggled with writing this review.

Description

 

Cocky escort Mackenzie “Mac” Jones has just the right type of blood so that when he steals an odd silver brooch from a client, it transports him to a strange planet. Frightened and confused—and confronted by aliens—he flees and ends up bumping into a handsome humanoid male named Teevar.

 

But Teevar and his companions are also on the run, and Mac finds himself embroiled in the affairs of his new friends with no idea how to get back to Earth. Can Mac and Teevar survive long enough to work out their feelings for each other? And will Mac ever see home again?

 

Review

 

I was extremely pumped to read “Space Mac” - it sounded like a queer love story in space, which is totally my jam. However, I was bitterly disappointed.

 

The writing is very jerky and lack expressiveness or detail. Meagre descriptions made the narration confusing. It felt as if the characters jumped from one place to another. The emotions portrayed by characters felt artificial and their actions very often were not believable. I struggled to understand why things were happening the way they were and very quickly I stopped to care. There seemed to be lots of running and fighting and conning (or trying to out-con) somebody with no real purpose to the story. The main protagonist, Mac, wanted to get back to Earth but he only ever bemoaned his lack of knowledge how to do it and didn’t really do anything until very end.

 

His relationship with Teevar, which seemed to be a focal point of the book description, didn’t develop as I expected it to, and felt a bit forced. It was, however, the most tolerable part of “Space Mac”, even though I did find Mac behaving like a spoiled child around Teevar. Overall, I didn’t find any of the characters likable at all.

 

It was a rather short book, more of a novella really, but I struggled to finish it. I could have dealt with jumpy plot if the writing had a better flow, which, sadly, was not the case. The only saving grace of “Space Mac” is its cover - it is stunning!

 

Nevertheless, I am grateful to the publisher for giving me an opportunity to read and review this book.

 

Rating: 2 stars

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Book review: "Under Rose-Tainted Skies" by Louise Gornall (audiobook)

Under Rose-Tainted Skies There has to be more than just a high rating on GoodReads to make me pick up a YA contemporary novel by the author I have never read books by previously. But after watching Emma’s video on mental health representation in YA books and "Under Rose-Tainted Skies" being highly recommended, I decided to pick it up from the library on a whim. I wanted a short-ish audiobook to listen to in-between my other books.

 

Synopsis

 

At seventeen, Norah has accepted that the four walls of her house delineate her life. She knows that fearing everything from inland tsunamis to odd numbers is irrational, but her mind insists the world outside is too big, too dangerous. So she stays safe inside, watching others’ lives through her windows and social media feed.

 

But when Luke arrives on her doorstep, he doesn’t see a girl defined by medical terms and mental health. Instead, he sees a girl who is funny, smart, and brave. And Norah likes what he sees.

 

Their friendship turns deeper, but Norah knows Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can walk beneath the open sky. One who is unafraid of kissing. One who isn’t so screwed up. Can she let him go for his own good—or can Norah learn to see herself through Luke’s eyes?

 

Review

 

Allow me to preface my review by stating that immediately after starting "Under Rose-Tainted Skies", I realized that it was in a certain way reminiscent of “Everything, Everything” by Nicola Yoon, which in its turn put pressure on me in regards of the final rating. I struggled and went between 4 and 5 stars a couple of times before I finally settled on 4.25 stars, as I am writing this. Giving less stars to "Under Rose-Tainted Skies" felt extremely unfair as I liked it more for its very true and direct depiction of mental illness than “Everything, Everything” (which I read and reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed, but at the time of reading it, I did not consider the fact that some part of the plot can be damaging to some people - I was just swept by the cuteness of the story, which, honestly, does not happen often). Therefore, I am going to lower my rating of “Everything, Everything” both in my review and on GoodReads.

 

I loved “Everything, Everything” when I read it. There are some aspects of it which I can relate to, and I mentioned it in my review. But now, especially after having read "Under Rose-Tainted Skies", I don’t think “Everything, Everything” deserves full 5 stars. It is a great debut novel by an author of colour with the main character of colour, and I met Nicola and told her that I absolutely loved it. And I stand by my opinion. However, the way the plot is constructed - without giving anything away - it can not and will not compare in the impact and importance of “Under Rose-Tainted Skies” in portraying a long-term illness. It is my personal opinion, however, and it in no way diminishes anybody else’s opinion or the hard work that both authors put into their books.

 

What I am trying to say here is that I shouldn’t have given “Everything, Everything” more than 4 stars on GoodReads, but I felt pressured to as this book was very overhyped.

 

If you haven’t gathered from my confusing intro, I loved "Under Rose-Tainted Skies", and in some ways, it worked for me much better than “Everything, Everything”.

 

"Under Rose-Tainted Skies" is a story about a girl who has agoraphobia, general anxiety, depression, and OCD. It is the most honest and true depiction of anxiety that I have ever seen in young adult fiction. The book is “own voices” too as the author herself suffers from agoraphobia and anxiety.

 

The story is a typical young adult contemporary romance otherwise with a mysterious but alluring boy moving next door and how much of a difference he makes in the main protagonist’s life. I am not a huge fan of contemporary YA, but I think the romance was done well and had some believable problems which were not just magically resolved by the end of the book, for which I am very grateful. It made the story more realistic and relatable.

 

All supporting characters in the book are lovely, and I liked the fact that we get to see Norah’s visits and conversations with the psychiatrist.

 

I enjoyed it. Even the twist at the end came as a very plausible scenario. I can not recommend this book highly enough if you want to read more books about mental health and “own voices”.

 

Rating: 4.25 stars

 

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Book review: Island of Exiles (The Ryogan Chronicles, #1) by Erica Cameron

Island of Exiles  

I was provided with an e-ARC copy of "Island of Exiles" by Entangled Teen in exchange for a free and honest review. The book seemed like a perfect read for me as it was advertised as a YA Fantasy novel with LGBTQ+ characters.

Since I will be discussing world building and some of the relationships in the book, please, be aware that there might be minor spoilers ahead.

 

Summary

 

In Khya’s world, every breath is a battle.

On the isolated desert island of Shiara, dying young is inevitable. The clan comes before self, and protecting her home means Khya is a warrior above all else.

But when following the clan and obeying their leaders could cost her brother his life, Khya's home becomes a deadly trap. The only person who can help is Tessen, her lifelong rival and the boy who challenges her at every turn. The council she hoped to join has betrayed her, and their secrets, hundreds of years deep, reach around a world she's never seen.

To save her brother’s life and her island home, her only choice is to trust Tessen, turn against her clan, and go on the run—a betrayal and a death sentence.

Review

I started reading "Island of Exiles" at the end of November but due to some personal reasons, unrelated to the book, had to stop. I picked it up again in January and realized that I needed to start from the very beginning. I did just that, and I am very glad I did because I wanted to give this book justice and I felt that I wouldn’t have been able otherwise.

The strongest point of the book is the worldbuilding. But, sadly, it is, in a way, its weak point as well. The author created a fascinated world: the events of the novel take place on an island with very harsh, desert-like landscape and raging storms. The hierarchy of the clan is very strict; the obedience is not questioned; the rations are scarce. You train, fight, and die young. Erica Cameron developed the magic system and the society's structure in which your magical ability defies your position in the world. Every type of skill and status has its own name. The language of this world is quite extensive, which makes the process of submerging into the narrative extremely slow.

Plainly speaking, it will take you some time to get used to all the words and definitions. It is not a bad thing, and many of high fantasy adult novels have complex worldbuilding, including their races, cultures, and languages, but in the case of a YA novel, it slows down the pace of the narrative.

When I started "Island of Exiles" for the second time, I already knew what to expect and made sure to pay attention to the world of Itagami. It made it easier to get into the story again for sure. I do admit, that the narrative does not develop as quickly as I would have prefered in the beginning and once you hit one third into the book - this is when fun stuff happens.

By the end of the book, I was comfortable enough with terms and definitions that I didn’t feel like I was walking in the dark anymore (by the way, there is a glossary at the end of the book - I wish I had known!). I flew through the remaining pages, very keen to find out what happens next.

Let me tell you - the plot went into a completely different direction from what I expected!

My favourite part "Island of Exiles" was the gender and sexuality diversity of this world. People are born of either of three genders: male, female or ebet (which is explained in the glossary as the sex designation for those neither male nor female; while reading the book I kept thinking about intersex, although I can not claim if it is what the author intended it to be). There are specific pronouns for ebets too. Relationships between people can be khai (a relationship chosen specifically to produce children) or sumai (a deep bond/partnership/love, which does not necessarily have to be sexual and can be created between siblings, for example). Or relationships can be simply casual. The sexuality is never discussed or mentioned as something “normal” or not. Anyone can be attracted to any gender or or be ushimo, i.e. asexual or fall on asexual spectrum.

I loved this aspect of the world so much! I wish Erica Cameron would write a pure romance within this world as it would have so many possibilities!

I had some problems with the main character, Khya, as I had trouble understanding some of her actions. She kept referring to Tessen stealing her promotions - something which I only vaguely grasped. She seemed to be hell-bent on distrusting Tessen, while he was only ever amicable and pleasant to her and others. It felt as if the author was trying so hard to make it “enemies to lovers” type of relationship that it felt a bit unnatural. The same thing about Khya’s obsession with her brother, Yorri, that was borderline possessive and manipulative.

I feel as if Yorri’s character was not developed in full either, but hopefully, it is going to be remedied in the sequel.

My favourite characters were Tessen, Sanii and Etaro. I also suspect something is going on between Etaro and Rai - or maybe it is my wishful thinking, but I hope for the happy ending for all characters.

Since I am lucky to have already received the second book in The Ryogan Chronicles, Sea of Strangers, I jumped into it right after finishing “Island of Exiles”. Can not wait to see what happens next.

Highly recommend "Island of Exiles" to those who would not be intimidated by a complex glossary of the world and to the fans of diverse reads.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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Book review: "Royal Bastards" (Royal Bastards #1) by Andrew Shvarts

Royal Bastards  

This book got on my radar thanks to Indigo. Some time ago, they had Royal Bastards listed under Diverse Reads category - the section that I tend to scout religiously for new releases. This book is no longer listed there, and who knows, perhaps, I imagined it, but I was looking forward to reading a new YA fantasy anyway.

Summary

 

Being a bastard blows. Tilla would know. Her father, Lord Kent of the Western Province, loved her as a child, but cast her aside as soon as he had trueborn children.

 

At sixteen, Tilla spends her days exploring long-forgotten tunnels beneath the castle with her stablehand half brother, Jax, and her nights drinking with the servants, passing out on Jax’s floor while her castle bedroom collects dust. Tilla secretly longs to sit by her father’s side, resplendent in a sparkling gown, enjoying feasts with the rest of the family. Instead, she sits with the other bastards, like Miles of House Hampstedt, an awkward scholar who’s been in love with Tilla since they were children.

 

Then, at a feast honoring the visiting princess Lyriana, the royal shocks everyone by choosing to sit at the Bastards’ Table. Before she knows it, Tilla is leading the sheltered princess on a late-night escapade. Along with Jax, Miles, and fellow bastard Zell, a Zitochi warrior from the north, they stumble upon a crime they were never meant to witness.

 

Rebellion is brewing in the west, and a brutal coup leaves Lyriana’s uncle, the Royal Archmagus, dead—with Lyriana next on the list. The group flees for their lives, relentlessly pursued by murderous mercenaries; their own parents have put a price on their heads to prevent the king and his powerful Royal Mages from discovering their treachery.

 

The bastards band together, realizing they alone have the power to prevent a civil war that will tear their kingdom apart—if they can warn the king in time. And if they can survive the journey . .

 

Review

 

Royal Bastards is written in a rather simple and uncomplicated language which makes it a very easy read. It took me awhile to finish it, only because the book was due back to the library and I had to wait till I could pick it up again. Once I started reading it again, I managed to read almost 200 pages in one evening. A very easy read, indeed.

 

I had several issues with the narrative - most of them being connected to the fact that the author tells us things as opposed to showing. Granted, there are things that need to be delivered via exposition but for me, it was just a bit too much. The band of characters, the royal bastards, reads like a group of friends from a contemporary romance novel: a tomboy girl, a nerdy kid, a popular girl, a boy next door/BFF, and a bad boy with a heart of gold. You know what I mean. Not that it is a bad thing to include tropes, but for the fantasy book it was not necessary at all.

 

There are a lot of moments in which the characters conveniently discover certain things in their bags to help them on their journey or turns out they have hidden talents. It made the narrative a bit plain and predictable at times.

 

It is a debut novel, and, sadly, has typical mistakes of one. Not a bad book. Definitely, entertaining. The best action happened in the last 40-50 pages of it, though. There were some pretty good jokes too. In my opinion, the dialogues are the strongest part of the book.

 

However,  the plot and the intrigue that the author was trying to spin were the weakest points. “Royal Bastards” does read like a nice adventure/romance, but does not hold against an expectation of a high fantasy novel.

 

As for the diversity aspect. Well, there is a secondary character who appears by the end of the book and who is mentioned to be gay, but it is mentioned in passing, and by no means qualifies as a diverse read or a book with LGBTQ+ characters. Will see if this changes in Book 2. “City of Bastards” is coming out this June.

 

I do plan to continue with the trilogy. In spite of tropey tropes, I am curious to see where the story would go and I do like some of the characters.

 

Rating: 3 stars

 

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Cover Reveal: "Bring Me Their Hearts" by Sara Wolf

In a new series Publishers Weekly has listed as “one of the most anticipated YA's of 2018”, we're excited to share the cover for Bring Me Their Hearts! NYT bestselling author Sara Wolf delivers a fast-paced, gritty fantasy sure to thrill fans of Holly Black, Sabaa Tahir, and Sarah J. Maas.  

ARE YOU READY??

 

 

Bring Me Their Hearts

 

About the book

 

Zera is a Heartless—the immortal, unaging soldier of a witch. Bound to the witch Nightsinger ever since she saved her from the bandits who murdered her family, Zera longs for freedom from the woods they hide in. With her heart in a jar under Nightsinger’s control, she serves the witch unquestioningly.

Until Nightsinger asks Zera for a prince’s heart in exchange for her own, with one addendum: if she’s discovered infiltrating the court, Nightsinger will destroy Zera’s heart rather than see her tortured by the witch-hating nobles.

Crown Prince Lucien d’Malvane hates the royal court as much as it loves him—every tutor too afraid to correct him and every girl jockeying for a place at his darkly handsome side. No one can challenge him—until the arrival of Lady Zera. She’s inelegant, smart-mouthed, carefree, and out for his blood. The prince’s honor has him quickly aiming for her throat.

So begins a game of cat and mouse between a girl with nothing to lose and a boy who has it all.

Winner takes the loser’s heart.

Literally.

 

About Sara Wolf:

 

Sara Wolf is a twenty-something author who adores baking, screaming at her cats, and screaming at herself while she types hilarious things. When she was a kid, she was too busy eating dirt to write her first terrible book. Twenty years later, she picked up a keyboard and started mashing her fists on it and created the monster known as the Lovely Vicious series. She lives in San Diego with two cats, a crippling-yet-refreshing sense of self-doubt, and not enough fruit tarts ever.

 

***

Entangled Publishing: https://entangledpublishing.com/bring-me-their-hearts.html

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07232WZBF

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/bring-me-their-hearts-sara-wolf/1126358416

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/bring-me-their-hearts/id1237042410

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/bring-me-their-hearts

Goodreads Link:  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35144326-bring-me-their-hearts

 

Release Date: June 5th, 2018

 

Book review: Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig (audiobook)

Star Wars Aftermath  

I watched “The Last Jedi” a couple of days after its release and was smitten. After the epicness of everything that happened in it, I needed more of that universe. I was not ready to let go.

 

In my thirst for more of Star Wars, I went online and was randomly browsing Wikipedia, when it occurred to me that I could read more Star Wars books! I did read “Rogue One: Catalyst” (and reviewed it)  which I think really enhanced the movie for me, so I began my search for suitable adult novels. I didn’t want to read just about Luke Skywalker’s adventures or anything labels Young Adult. I came across the trilogy “Aftermath” by Chuck Wendig and immediately went to my library overdrive and requested the first book in audio.

 

And, oh boy. What a treat it was!

 

I think Star Wars books are perfect in audio. They have all the sound effects of space ships, engines and the infamous swish of laser swords. “Aftermath” trilogy is narrated by Marc Thompson and he does an amazing job with his accents and intonations. Especially, his British drawl of a bored ex-Imperial Officer is the best. And there I was, thinking that Jonathan Davis was the best narrator. But Marc did it for me in this book.

 

By the way, both Jonathan Davis and Marc Thompson were in audiobook adaptation of “Nimona” by Noelle Stevenson, and believe me, you have to listen to that one!

 

Summary

 

As the Empire reels from its critical defeats at the Battle of Endor, the Rebel Alliance—now a fledgling New Republic—presses its advantage by hunting down the enemy’s scattered forces before they can regroup and retaliate. But above the remote planet Akiva, an ominous show of the enemy’s strength is unfolding. Out on a lone reconnaissance mission, pilot Wedge Antilles watches Imperial Star Destroyers gather like birds of prey circling for a kill, but he’s taken captive before he can report back to the New Republic leaders.

 

Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, former rebel fighter Norra Wexley has returned to her native world—war weary, ready to reunite with her estranged son, and eager to build a new life in some distant place. But when Norra intercepts Wedge Antilles’ urgent distress call, she realizes her time as a freedom fighter is not yet over. What she doesn’t know is just how close the enemy is—or how decisive and dangerous her new mission will be.

 

Determined to preserve the Empire’s power, the surviving Imperial elite are converging on Akiva for a top-secret emergency summit—to consolidate their forces and rally for a counterstrike. But they haven’t reckoned on Norra and her newfound allies—her technical-genius son, a Zabrak bounty hunter, and a reprobate Imperial defector—who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire’s oppressive reign once and for all.

 

Review

 

All of my fangirling over voice acting aside, “Aftermath” is a solid first book in the trilogy. There is enough recap and flashbacks of previous events to keep you in the loop of what is going on. The action is a bit filmlike - flipping back and forth between the scenes as if we are watching a movie, often leaving us in the middle of an action scene to show something else. Plus, the obvious use of “deus ex machina” device and making sure nobody important died, because of the Hollywood reasons. Some characters could have used a bit more fleshing out and development, but otherwise baddies are bad, and goodies are good with enough grey edges in-between to keep you sufficiently invested in the story.

 

Aside all little things that work really well on screen, and not so much in a book, I really enjoyed the action and plot. Perhaps, there weren’t that many “oh my god” moments at the beginning of the book but there were enough plot twists that kept me happy in the end.

 

I am usually rather wary of books based on movie franchise (I still remember The X-Files books which were not very good, to put it mildly), but this was a great choice and I can’t wait to continue with the series.

 

My favourite characters are Sinjir, Mr. Bones, and Admiral Sloane. Sinjir is an ex-Imperial Loyalty Officer with an interesting backstory, keen perception skills and a dry sense of humour that I absolutely love (especially when he complains about things). He is also the first gay character in Star Wars universe, which is huge (and I pray to all gods that he does not get killed in a stupid way). Admiral Sloane is an Imperial Admiral, who is incredibly smart and ambitious. But she is not blinded by Galactic Empire's slogans and thinks beyond the commands that she is given. I can’t wait to see how her character develops. And, Mr. Bones is just a crazy droid, which is very funny.

 

My biggest problem with this audiobook lied in the fact that it took me some time to get used to the names of characters, places and planets. I had not trouble following the plot thanks to the masterful narration by Marc, but I sometimes felt a bit lost, trying to recall if I had ever seen that particular planet or race in the movies. Googling helped, although I still worry that I might spoil myself by accident (happened to me before, sadly).

 

The plot could have benefitted from more depth at times, and I would probably rate it at 3 stars, however, the narration was so perfect and helped to bring the characters to life, that I am adding a star to it.

 

Rating: 4 stars

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#SHReads18 - In Which Order to Read Sherlock Holmes Stories?

When I started thinking of writing this post, I didn’t even suspect that there might be different ways of reading Sherlock Holmes stories. Naturally, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was rather prolific, in spite of his developed frustration with the character that brought him fame, but it never occured to me that somebody could read the stores not in the publicated order - because it was the way I read them as a child.

I don’t remember how I was introduced to Sherlock Holmes stories. They seem, just like The Three Musketeers (although with that book I do remember the first time I read it), to always have been in my life. I think that it might have been my grandfather who introduced me to Sherlock Holmes. Or perhaps, I watched the tv show first. I honestly can not recall.

However, I do remember always reading the stories by starting with A Study in Scarlet.

Here is the list of all stories in chronological order by the publication date (taken from Baker Street Wiki):

  • 1887: A Study in Scarlet
  • 1890: The Sign of the Four
  • July 1891 to December 1892: Stories that would make up The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes published in The Strand magazine
  • December 1892 to November 1893: Stories that would make up The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes published in The Strand
  • 1901-2 (serial): The Hound of the Baskervilles
  • October 1903 to January 1905: Stories that would make up The Return of Sherlock Holmes published in The Strand
  • 1908–1913, 1917: Stories that would make up His Last Bow (short stories) published.
  • 1914-15: The Valley of Fear
  • 1921–1927: Stories that would become The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes published.

After looking into some forums and discussions and thinking about it, I was surprised to see that many people suggest skipping A Study in Scarlet, as it is the first story written by Doyle and therefore not as polished and a bit too long, and just dive into The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and then The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

Well, personally, I would not skip A Study in Scarlet, no matter how boring it is, as it introduces the main characters to us and just like the first episode of many Sherlock Holmes adaptations - you don’t want to miss that.

So, in honour of January being a Sherlock Holmes reading month and the read-a-long #SHReads18, I decided to introduce you to my favourite reading order of all Sherlock Holmes stories. I am participating in this January event, however, I have a bigger goal in mind. One of my reading challenges for 2018 is to re-read all of Sherlock Holmes stories and for that I am listening to them as audiobooks - the complete collection of stories read by Stephen Fry (one of my most favourite narrators)! The complete collection is an exclusive production by Audible and was released last year.

As I am writing this, I have already listened to A Study in Scarlet and started on The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Follow me on GoodReads, if you want to follow me on my epic re-read :)

There is no right or wrong way to read the stories - besides Doyle himself sometimes messed up facts and dates. However, The Final Problem and The Empty House have to be read together as they are tied in plot. Save The Hound of the Baskervilles for the last, as it is pretty good.

Here is my reading order, in which I will be doing this:

I. A Study in Scarlet (novel, 1887)
II. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  • The Red-headed League, 1891
  • A Case of Identity, 1891
  • The Boscombe Valley Mystery, 1891
  • The Five Orange Pips, 1891
  • The Man with the Twisted Lip, 1891
  • The Blue Carbuncle, 1892
  • The Speckled Band, 1892
  • The Engineer's Thumb, 1892
  • The Noble Bachelor, 1892
  • The Beryl Coronet, 1892
  • The Copper Beeches, 1892
  • A Scandal in Bohemia, 1891 (I plan to read this story the last in the book)
III. The Sign of the Four (novel, 1890)

IV. The Valley of Fear (novel, 1914-15)

(or read this novel between the stories from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, but before The Final Problem)

V. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
  • Silver Blaze, 1892
  • The Yellow Face, 1893
  • The Stock-broker's Clerk, 1893
  • The 'Gloria Scott', 1893
  • The Musgrave Ritual, 1893
  • The Reigate Squires, 1893
  • The Crooked Man, 1893
  • The Resident Patient, 1893
  • The Greek Interpreter, 1893
  • The Naval Treaty, 1893
  • The Final Problem, 1893
VI. The Return of Sherlock Holmes
  • The Empty House, 1903
  • The Norwood Builder, 1903
  • The Dancing Men, 1903
  • The Solitary Cyclist, 1903
  • The Priory School, 1904
  • Black Peter, 1904
  • Charles Augustus Milverton, 1904
  • The Six Napoleons, 1904
  • The Three Students, 1904
  • The Golden Pince-Nez, 1904
  • The Missing Three-Quarter, 1904
  • The Abbey Grange, 1904
  • The Second Stain, 1904
VII. The Hound of the Baskervilles (novel, 1901-02)
VIII. The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes
  • The Illustrious Client, 1924
  • The Blanched Soldier, 1926
  • The Mazarin Stone, 1921
  • The Three Gables, 1926
  • The Sussex Vampire, 1924
  • The Three Garridebs, 1924
  • Thor Bridge, 1922
  • The Creeping Man, 1923
  • The Lion's Mane, 1926
  • The Veiled Lodger, 1927
  • Shoscombe Old Place, 1927
  • The Retired Colourman, 1926
 IX. His Last Bow
  • Wisteria Lodge, 1908
  • The Cardboard Box, 1893
  • The Red Circle, 1911
  • The Bruce-Partington Plans, 1908
  • The Dying Detective, 1913
  • Lady Frances Carfax, 1911
  • The Devil's Foot, 1910
  • His Last Bow, 1917

It is not, by any means, a strict reading order. I might mix things as I go, but if you are new to Sherlock Holmes stories or haven’t had a chance to read them all - I hope you find my little guide handy.

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Book review: Petra by Marianna Coppo

Petra  

Petra by Marianna Coppo

 

Publication Date: 06 Feb 2018

Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada, Tundra Books

Genre: Children's Fiction

 

Description

 

The humorous adventures of an irresistible little rock who finds herself in constantly changing circumstances, Petra is a picture book that celebrates the power of perspective and believing in yourself.

 

Review

 

I rarely read picture books and, more so, request them for review but Petra looked too cute to pass on. I requested a digital copy from NetGalley and was very happy to be approved for it.

 

I loved Petra! It is an adorable narrative about a little rock that dreams of being many different things. The art looks like it is done with watercolours and has a very simple and clean design. It made me want to a have a sticker with Petra, the rock. It is short but, nevertheless, meaningful in its message: you can be anything or anyone you want if you dream of it! I thought it was well executed. If I had any kids of the appropriate age, I would definitely be buying a copy of the book.

 

My only complain = the book is too short! Would love to read more about Petra’s adventures and learn what else she can be!

 

Definitely recommend.

 

Rating: starstarstarstar

 

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