Book review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (audiobook)

The Hazel Wood  

This review might contain spoilers.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is the first book in the new, young adult, fantasy trilogy. The moment I heard about this book, it became one of my most anticipated releases of 2018. I ordered my first Owlcrate subscription box and received an exclusive cover edition of The Hazel Wood. I was so happy!

Months later, my excitement abated a bit, but I still wanted to read the book. When I found out that Rebecca Soler narrates the audiobook version, I immediately ordered it from Audible.

Synopsis

 

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Review

 

I have mixed feelings about The Hazel Wood. First of all, Rebecca’s narration is fabulous, and whatever misgivings I have about the book, they have nothing to do with the narrator.

For some reason, I expected The Hazel Wood to be like “The Darkest Part of the Forest” by Holly Black (which is one of my most favourite YA fantasy novels - I am still not over the fact that it is a stand-alone). But it is different, although, at times, especially moments about the forests and Hinterland dwellers coming through to the real world did remind me of Holly Black writing. Alice, the main protagonist, sometimes reminded me of Kate from This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab - she is a straightforward and unapologetic girl with anger management issues.

And that is the problem with The Hazel Wood - it reminded me of other books I have already read. Not too much, but enough that I felt as if the story was not original enough. I loved the idea of travelling between worlds and the book with creepy fairy tales. That is definitely something that I enjoy in stories. More so, Melissa does an excellent job at developing the plot and characters and weaving in references here and there.

The main protagonist is Alice Proserpine - her first name, obviously, refers to Alice from Wonderland, and her last name - to Proserpine (or Persephone in Ancient Greece), the ancient Roman goddess, who was kidnapped by the god of Underworld. Thankfully, Alice from The Hazelwood had a better fate than that of Persephone.

There were other literary references, multiple mentions of Kurt Vonnegut, Harry Potter, and other classics.

Alice, her mother Ella (which is short for Vanilla, by the way), her grandmother Althea - all seem to have rather sonorous names creating almost alliteration. Even, Ellery (Finch) fits into the trend.

Alice is not a likeable character, and she is not supposed to be one. But seeing as the narrative is told from her perspective, it is hard to be completely detached from her personality. I neither liked nor disliked Alice. I felt that she was well developed, but failed to make me care about her as a character. Same about the plot. The Hazel Wood failed to make me care.

The only character whom I liked was Finch. I did not like him from the very beginning, but I liked him later, for his determination and excitement about the Althea Proserpine’s book and Hinterland. He was also very sweet to Alice, and even though later we learned about some of his ulterior motives, it still does not cancel out the fact that he did a lot for her.

And she was a shitty friend in return.

Sadly, Finch’s fate turned out to be a sad one, and seeing as he was the only character of colour in the book, his mistreatment by the plot does not sit well with me. I thought about it a lot. It is possible to argue that Finch got exactly what he wanted (I can’t really say more for fear of spoiling it all), but I just don’t like the way it was delivered in the book.

There was a reference to the police mistreatment of people of colour in the book. And there was at least one canon same-sex couple. I must give it to Melissa, she did try to cross her Ts to make the book diverse and appealing to all readers, but I still found that the book was lacking in this regard as well.

I am torn. I can compare The Hazel Wood to a slightly warped mirror reflection - everything seems to be in place, but at the same something is off. I wish I loved this book, but I didn’t. I liked the wrapper but not the filling.

I still plan to continue with the series - although the ending of The Hazel Wood wrapped up so nicely, I am surprised it is not a stand-alone - I hope that since it was a debut novel, the sequel will be better.

 

Rating: 3 stars

 

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I created a mood board inspired by The Hazel Wood, as it is a very atmospheric book. I made two versions - one with black and another with biracial Finch. (Since the book didn’t specify and I loved both images that I found.)

Version #1

The Hazel Wood mood board 1

 

Version #2

 

The Hazel Wood mood board 2

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Book review: "The Poet X" by Elizabeth Acevedo (audiobook)

The Poet X  

I heard of "The Poet X" on social media but didn’t think I would be interested in reading it. After devouring “Long Way Down” by Jason Reynolds, I felt that no other young adult contemporary poetry book would beat that. Unfamiliar with slam poetry, I assumed that it would be too out of my comfort zone, but when I accidentally came across the audiobook on my OverDrive, I decided to give it ago.

Synopsis

 

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

 

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighbourhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

 

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

 

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

 

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

 

Review

 

To understand the impact this book had on me, you have to know two things: one - Elizabeth Acevedo is a slam poet and narrates the book herself; two - she is a daughter of Dominican immigrants, and the "The Poet X" reads in many ways as a memoir. If I were presented with this book as a completely fictitious narrative, it wouldn’t have swept me off my feet the way "The Poet X" did. Elizabeth narrates it in the way her protagonist is - blunt, emotional, unapologetic, fierce.

 

Brought up in a conservative family, with the mother who speaks to God more than she talks to her own daughter, and the father, who is more absent than present, Xiomara is left to tend to herself as she struggles with her blooming emotions. She is not allowed to even talk to boys. She is not allowed to speak up. She is not allowed to doubt things that she was taught. But Xiomara does all of those things, and her journey is an emotional rollercoaster.

 

There are so many reasons to love this book: it is written by a female poet of colour; its plot would appeal to any teen reader; there is first love, and heartbreak, and parents being cruel when trying to be kind. But my favourite thing was Elizabeth’s voice. Low and husky, it felt so tangible that it felt as if "The Poet X" was being told only to me and nobody else. It was a secret that I was made privy to.

 

Listening to the audiobook, I could see Xiomara in front of my eyes, scribbling fearlessly, relentlessly, in her notebook - a line after a line, a poem after a poem. I flew through this audiobook, my heart in my throat, as I desperately hoped for a happy ending for Xiomara. Few YA contemporary books make me anxious about character’s future. With "The Poet X", I wanted - no, needed - a happy ending. Too many things could go wrong, and I wished for this book to prove me wrong.

 

And it did.

 

Even though I immensely enjoyed "The Poet X", I struggled with the rating. The book is positioned as both a novel and a poetry collection, which you would not know unless you pick up a physical book. Each chapter is indeed formatted as a poem and even has a title. But listening to an audiobook felt as if it was a prose narrative through and through, except for in certain moments the author changed the tone and rhythm of her narration. I am not too familiar with slam poetry, but I have been to spoken poetry readings, and I love prose poetry, so I am a bit on the fence with this book. For me, it was mostly the prose with just a hint of poetry at times, and I wish we had gotten more rhythm, intonation and voice inflexion. All of those were present in "The Poet X" but not as much as I would have preferred given the format of the book. I wanted more of it all.

 

The plot and the characters are excellent, as well as the audiobook narration, but the formatting of the book seemed not to fit the idea behind it. I still loved everything about the book, but if I were a bookseller, I would be confused with whether to categorise it as a poetry collection or contemporary young adult.

 

If you have an option of choosing between a physical copy and an audiobook - go with the audio. Elizabeth is a professional slam poet and knows how to read her book.

 

My heart got squeezed so many times while I was listening to "The Poet X". It is a fabulous read, and I wish more people would be talking about it.

 

Highly recommend.

 

Rating: 4 stars

 

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AGO Exhibit: Infinity Mirrors by Yayoi Kusama

Infinity Mirrors YAYOI KUSAMA: INFINITY MIRRORS March 3 – May 27, 2018

Information about the artist and the exhibit are taken from Art Gallery of Ontario website. All photos and opinions are mine.

Guided by her unique vision and unparalleled creativity, critically acclaimed artist Yayoi Kusama has been breaking new ground for more than six decades. In 1993, she became the first woman to have a solo presentation at the Venice Biennale’s Japanese Pavilion, and in 2016, Time magazine named her one of the world’s most influential people.

Infinity Mirrors

 

Born in 1929, Kusama grew up near her family’s plant nursery in Matsumoto, Japan. At nineteen, following World War II, she went to Kyoto to study the traditional Japanese style of painting known as Nihonga. During this time, she began experimenting with abstraction, but it was not until she arrived in the United States, in 1957, that her career took off. Living in New York from 1958 to 1973, Kusama moved in avant-garde circles with such figures as Andy Warhol and Allan Kaprow while honing her signature dot and net motifs, developing soft sculpture, creating installation-based works, and staging Happenings (performance-based events). She first used the mirror as a multi-reflective device in Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field, 1965, transforming the intense repetition that marked some of her earlier works into an immersive experience. Kusama returned to Japan in 1973 but has continued to develop her mirrored installations, and over the years, she has attained cult status, not only as an artist, but as a novelist.

 

Infinity Mirrors

 

Experience infinity: From her immersive infinity rooms to mesmerizing paintings and playful sculptures, Yayoi Kusama welcomes you to participate in her extraordinary and innovative explorations of time and space.

 

Infinity Mirrors

 

Infinity may be a difficult concept to grasp, but it is easy to contemplate when you step inside one of artist Yayoi Kusama’s iconic Infinity Mirror Rooms in the exhibition Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors. Rich with key works from the contemporary Japanese artist’s significant 65-year career, this major exhibition also shows the evolution of her immersive, multi-reflective installations, in which she invites you to share in her unique vision.

 

 

Infinity Mirrors

 

Immerse yourself in six of these kaleidoscopic environments where you will be endlessly reflected within fantastic landscapes. You’ll also see Kusama’s mesmerizing and intimate drawings, her early Infinity Net paintings in which nets organically expand along the surface of a canvas like cell formations, and her surreal sculptural objects. These key works join more than 90 works on view, including large and vibrant paintings, sculptures, works on paper, as well as rare archival materials.

 

 

Infinity Mirrors

 

The 88-year-old artist continues to work at a brisk pace in her Tokyo studio. The exhibition features the North American debut of numerous new works. Her most recent painting series, My Eternal Soul (2009–present), may be the greatest surprise. Exuberant in colour and paired with sculptures that bear titles such as My Adolescence in Bloom, they mark a striking progression in the use of Kusama’s signature symbol of the polka dot. Also on view in North America for the first time is the recently realized Infinity Mirror Room, All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, 2016 , a field of yellow, dotted pumpkins spreading into infinity.

 

Infinity Mirrors

 

In addition to the paintings, sculptures, drawings and environments, viewers will encounter posters, letters, cards, and invitations that relate to Kusama’s early exhibitions and events—including her first solo show, which took place in Seattle—a slideshow of Kusama’s performances as well as an interview with the artist filmed on the occasion of this exhibition.

 

 

Infinity Mirrors

 

Thoughts

 

I do not consider myself to be an expert in any art, but Infinity Mirrors by Kusama made me think about how the art has evolved over the years with the world. Lights, mirrors, stuffed tubers, lanterns, and big polka dot balls wouldn't seem to be such appealing art objects were they not presented in small rooms, in which only few people are admitted at a time, and what a short time it is! Twenty to thirty seconds with an art installation is barely enough to make an impression of it, less so to take a selfie. And this is what it's been, really - people rushing to see Infinity Mirrors only to post their moving and still photos on Snapchat and Instagram, feeding to the popularity of the exhibit.

 

 

Infinity Mirrors

 

The lack of supply increases the value of the product. People, myself included, are willing to stand in lines to each little room for the sake of spending less than a minute inside a kaleidoscopic environment. It is crazy when you think about it.

One of my favourites was the only room where we were not allowed to take pictures. And that was "All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins" - those pumpkins were gorgeous. And now I want a nightlamp shaped as one.

 

Infinity Mirrors

 

The last installation was a simple white room that invites the audience to deface it - it was fun but did not feel new or original enough. Although seeing how high up some visitors were willing to go was fun on its own.

My dots are hiding somewhere here, invisible among all others.

 

Infinity Mirrors

 

"Infinity Mirrors" really stretched my depth perception. One room had flashing lights. The polka dots hurt my eyes when I was trying to edit the photos. This exhibit was a sensory overload - so, I suggest you proceed with caution if you do not do well with that. My constant fear was - since in every room except for the last one, we were either in the dark or on a narrow catwalk - that I might lose balance and fall into the art.

Would I have become a part of the exhibit?

 

May 17, 2018

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Book review: "The Scorpion Rules" (Prisoners of Peace #1) by Erin Bow

The Scorpion Rules  

 

I purchased “The Scorpion Rules” back in a day when it came out in this gorgeous paperback. I saw this book mentioned again and again in YA LGBTQ+ recommendations and was excited to read it. But as it often happens with impulse purchases, I didn’t pick up the book until much later.

 

I was quite in the mood for a YA Sci-Fi audiobook after listening to Nyxia, and while browsing Overdrive library, I saw that “The Scorpion Rules” was immediately available.

I downloaded it to my iPhone and started listening to it right away. I had only a vague recollection of the plot of “The Scorpion Rules” from the back of the book. I knew that the book had diverse characters, was generally considered to be sci-fi, and was somehow related to Canada. For the sake of accurate spelling of names, I am providing the official synopsis below.

 

Synopsis

 

A world battered by climate shift and war turns to an ancient method of keeping peace: the exchange of hostages. The Children of Peace - sons and daughters of kings and presidents and generals - are raised together in small, isolated schools called Prefectures. There, they learn history and political theory, and are taught to gracefully accept what may well be their fate: to die if their countries declare war.

 

Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan-Polar Confederation, is the pride of the North American Prefecture. Learned and disciplined, Greta is proud of her role in keeping the global peace — even though, with her country controlling two-thirds of the world’s most war-worthy resource — water — she has little chance of reaching adulthood alive.

 

Enter Elián Palnik, the Prefecture’s newest hostage and biggest problem. Greta’s world begins to tilt the moment she sees Elián dragged into the school in chains. The Prefecture’s insidious surveillance, its small punishments and rewards, can make no dent in Elián, who is not interested in dignity and tradition, and doesn’t even accept the right of the UN to keep hostages.

 

What will happen to Elián and Greta as their two nations inch closer to war?

 

Review

 

I listened to “The Scorpion Rules” for about 10 minutes, paused and went online to look up the narrator. The audiobook is narrated by Madeleine Maby, who, judging by her website and extensive Audible presence, is a rather experienced voice actor. I was not impressed though at all. Madeleine gives all characters distinctive voices, but her intonation is clipped and artificial. (There were mentions of accents in the book, but it still didn’t make much sense to me.) I would have understood if she narrated for AI in that manner, but it was all of the characters in different variations. I found the narration for Greta the most annoying as she talked in the way that Siri or an artificial intelligence might, with odd stops between words and occasional uprise in intonation. Elian’s southern accent came and went, and seemed to be more prominent whenever there was a line in the book referring to it.

 

I was so not impressed by the narration, that I even considered switching to a paper book. However, I decided to stick to the audiobook as I wanted to listen to something during the commute or work breaks. Getting over the narration style was a bit difficult, but I somewhat got used to it by the end of the book.

 

Now, onto the plot. Sadly, I was somewhat disappointed by it too. I think “The Scorpion Rules” is more character driven than plot driven, which is usually fine by me, but not in this case. It took awhile for me to get into the plot. The first third of the book, I was bored and couldn’t figure out why things were the way they were. There is a lot of exposition in the book, which I do not like. We have even quotes and reciting from the AI that at times seemed a bit unfitting to the main narrative. I enjoyed the world but didn’t like the fact that I could barely make head or tail of local politics, not to mention rivalries and alliances between countries.

 

Regarding characters, I liked Michael the best, from the moment he made an appearance. Everything about him, his character, the circumstances of his arrival, the complications, etc. - I liked everything. But regardless of role in the plot of “The Scorpion Rules”, Greta and Elian were the main protagonists (which is confirmed in the synopsis), and I did have a lot of problems with both of them.

 

Greta seemed too plain to be anything special, and yet she was. She was too all over the place in her emotions and affections, and yet she was described as exceptional and strong. Elian seemed perpetually confused and rebellious, even when nothing was happening to warrant either. I could not understand Greta’s feelings towards Elian. She viewed him as someone who needs care and protection and at the same time - as someone dangerous.

 

There are a lot of descriptions in the text of what characters felt, lots of comparisons - the language flows most of the time quite wonderfully. However, I often felt that the lack of actual reasoning and plot holes were being hidden behind grand statements about life and sacrifice and characters’ feelings. We were often being told that something was happening just because it was happening. I would have been able to oversee it if there was more action, but too frequently it felt as if nothing was moving at all. And when something was happening, we were not really told why. At times, I could feel my mind drifting, as I was almost bored with the book. Perhaps, it is once again the fault of the narrator, who failed to make “The Scorpion Rules” sound engaging enough.

 

“The Scorpion Rules” disappointed me from the standpoint of LGBTQ+ representation too. The book is tagged and listed on GoodReads as having prominent LGBTQ+ characters, however, the only female/female relationship proved not to be strong enough to overcome the obstacles (add to that a cliched presence of a male protagonist - obviously), and the only male/male couple was not given any visibility until the tragic end. Yes, we get various sexualities in the book, and there is some sort of a gender swap, so to say, which can be viewed as gender dysphoria almost, but I am hesitant to say that it can be viewed as a representation for genderfluid or transgender people. Perhaps, it was not intended as either at all, and it was my wishful thinking trying to find more representation in the book.

 

The Children of Peace and Swan Riders come from various countries and therefore from different racial and cultural backgrounds. I liked that about “The Scorpion Rules”. In my opinion, the cultural representation was handled well.

 

Perhaps, if I approached “The Scorpion Rules” in physical format, I would have connected with the characters better. Unfortunately, I finished the audiobook feeling somewhat cheated. I didn’t get the representation I was looking for; the plot was murky; the characters - annoying, and the only thing that I liked about the novel - the world itself - was presented to us through obvious exposition, which often felt detached from the plot.

 

I like “The Scorpion Rules” much more as an idea for a book or a sales pitch, as opposed to the actual result. I can’t tell if it is the writing style that I have more problems with or the narration of the audiobook - or, maybe, both. “The Scorpion Rules”, as well as some other books by Erin Bow, received favourable reviews from multiple sources and was even listed in Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Books of 2015. I still decided to continue with the series, in spite of feeling disappointed by the first book.

 

Rating: 3 stars

 

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Book review: "Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear" by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic  

Years ago, when Elizabeth Gilbert’s "Eat, Pray, Love" came out and everyone was obsessing over that book and then the movie, I, honestly, could not care less. I was far from being thirty-something, experiencing a mid-life crisis, or interested in a self-discovering journey across the world. More so, I was turned away by the title that sounded too "privileged, rich, devoted Christian, American" to me, when I was neither of those things.

I made assumptions about the author and her books and steered away from both.

Once “Big Magic” came out, it seemed as if it was everywhere: in stores, on people’s Instagram accounts, on recommendations lists. I was getting tired of being recommended the book by the author, who was so very much unlike me.

Finally, almost against my own will, I checked out a copy of “Big Magic” from the library. I wanted to see for myself what the fuss was all about. I won’t pretend that I didn’t ignore the book on my shelf for a few weeks until I finally picked it up.

Now let me be clear here. I am not a huge fan of non-fiction books - it is probably the only genre I would never voluntarily pick up to read. With “Big Magic”, I decided that I needed to read it if only to be able to tell people if asked, that I read it and hated it.

And then a strange thing happened.

I did not hate it. At all. The realization of that left me a bit stunned.

A decade ago, I was too young to sympathize with the author or the life hurdles she might have gone through at the time. Now, being same age as Elizabeth at the time of “Eat, Pray, Love” (which is referenced in “Big Magic” a lot), I found myself less opposed to the idea of reading about another woman’s journey and self-rediscovery.

“Big Magic” is both a self-help book and a memoir. It is a curious blend of things that Elizabeth discovered herself about her writing and creative process and the things she learned from others. Where I expected the book to be patronizing - it is written by the award-winning and bestselling author after all - it was very humble; where I expected it to be complicated, it was lighthearted in tone; where I thought I would hate it - I liked it enough to order my own copy.

I can’t call “Big Magic” revolutionary or eye-opening. It was, however, entertaining and inspiring in its way. I felt less alone, when I read about Elizabeth’s writing process, the ideas that come and go, and inspiration behind her books. How some of her works, however, do not do very well. How she also struggles with mental illnesses. How she had to make sacrifices in her life.

Suddenly, I could fully understand Elizabeth Gilbert, and it took me by surprise. It seems I had to grow up to appreciate her work.

I am looking forward to receiving my copy of “Big Magic” as I want to go through the book again and underline all of my favourite quotes. I picked up this book when I was not feeling well and needed some light reading, and it turned out that I needed to read “Big Magic”. I can’t claim that it pulled me out of my funk completely, but it certainly helped.

Even if you consider yourself to be the most uncreative person ever, I still recommend you read this book. If you hate memoirs - as I do - still read this book as it is not a dry recounting of past events but a lively and engaging story. If you scoff at self-help books - I will still suggest you give “Big Magic” a go, as this book is much better than many self-help books out there, especially if you consider yourself to at least somewhat creative.

I am very happy that I gave “Big Magic” a chance, even though it was initially for wrong reasons.

 

Rating: 3.5 stars

 

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Book review: "I left nothing inside on purpose" by Stevie Howell

I left nothing inside on purpose  

I received a copy of "I left nothing inside on purpose" by Stevie Howell from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for a free and honest review.

 

I was attracted to this poetry collection by its title and cover. I admit that I had not heard of Stevie Howell before receiving the book, but as I would like to educate myself more on contemporary Canadian writers and poets, I was excited to read this collection.

About author

 

Stevie Howell is an Irish-Canadian writer & editor. A first collection of poetry, Sharps (Goose Lane, 2014), was a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. A second book, I left nothing inside on purpose, is forthcoming spring 2018 from Penguin Random House Canada.

 

Stevie’s poetry has appeared in The Best Canadian Poetry, Hazlitt, The Walrus, Geist, Eighteen Bridges, & Maisonneuve; in U.S. publications including BOAAT, Prelude, Prairie Schooner, The Cossack Review, Gigantic Sequins, & The Best American Poetry site; & in Irish & U.K. publications including The Rialto, The Moth, Southword, & Banshee. Their critical writing has been published in Ploughshares, The Rumpus, National Post, The Globe & Mail, & Quill & Quire.

 

Stevie is the poetry editor at This Magazine, an MFA candidate in creative writing at NYU, & lives in Brooklyn.

 

Review

 

"I left nothing inside on purpose" blew me away. Considering the size of the book - just a handful of pages - I expected myself to breeze through it. Instead, I spent almost a month going through it page by page, discovering more and more hidden gems between broken lines and slanted dashes.

 

Rich in symbolism and intricate in its form, Stevie’s poetry made me pause over and over to reassess what I was reading and feeling. I will be honest - it took me some time to get used to slashes and ampersands, but by the end of the book, I couldn’t imagine it being any other way.

 

I love books that make me take a moment and think. More so, I love books that make me google things that I don’t know as it does not happen very often (for example, an extraordinary case and life of Clive Wearing). Reading "I left nothing inside on purpose" felt like going on a long voyage: suffering from the unyielding heat, experiencing thirst and hunger, facing danger, making unlikely friends, and finally reaching the desired shores, weathered and more experienced than before. I am certain that this poetry collection is going to be a book I keep returning to, as I feel as if I have not explored all of its depths.

 

I kept delaying writing this review as I felt - and still feel - unequipped to review something so intricate and sophisticated. As always, in cases of the books that make me feel inadequate and simple, I suggest that you pick up a copy of "I left nothing inside on purpose" and read it for yourself. Dissecting and analyzing Stevie’s poems feels blasphemous.

 

Whatever misconceptions or prejudices you might have against contemporary poetry (something I can not relate to at any level), do consider giving “I left nothing inside on purpose” a go. It has to be experienced on your own.

 

Highly recommend.

 

Rating: 4.5 stars

 

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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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