Book review: "The Magic Misfits" by Neil Patrick Harris (audiobook)

The Magic Misfits I came across “The Magic Misfits” as I was browsing the newest releases at my favourite Indigo store. I was thrilled to find out that Neil Patrick Harris wrote a book! The cover looked so adorable that I couldn’t wait to read it. Since I occasionally struggle with middle-grade books, I went to my favourite option - that is an audiobook.

“The Magic Misfits” has a gorgeous cover! And for once, I can’t decide whether I like US or UK edition better!

The Magic Misfits UK edition

Synopsis

 

From beloved award-winning actor, Neil Patrick Harris comes the magical first book in a new series with plenty of tricks up its sleeve.

When street magician Carter runs away, he never expects to find friends and magic in a sleepy New England town. But like any good trick, things change instantly as greedy B.B. Bosso, and his crew of crooked carnies arrive to steal anything and everything they can get their sticky fingers on.

After a fateful encounter with the local purveyor of illusion, Dante Vernon, Carter teams up with five other like-minded kids. Together, using both teamwork and magic, they'll set out to save the town of Mineral Wells from Bosso's villainous clutches. These six Magic Misfits will soon discover adventure, friendship, and their own self-worth in this delightful new series.

 

Review

 

“The Magic Misfits” is read by Neil Patrick Harris himself and it was a treat to my ears. I should not have expected anything less than a stellar performance from him, but I was still thrilled. He has a perfect voice range and goes from low and grumbly to high pitched. Neil also performs all the songs in the story, and that was just an added bonus! The audiobook is only 4 hours long, so I went through it fairly quickly.

My admiration for Neil’s performance, I was a bit bored by the plot. It is a cute story about an almost orphaned runaway boy who finds his place in the world and his new family. Everything from Carter’s backstory (which really reminded me of Oliver Twist for some reason) to the magic shop and carnival, to the group of unpopular kids - it all has been done before.

What has not been done before is this amount of diversity in a middle-grade book, and that representation is not the focus of the main story and nobody is given grief or bullied for whatever they represent. And that is a big deal! We have characters of colour, disabled characters, foster and adoptive families, as well as LGBTQ+ representation. In one middle-grade novel. I mean, c’mon! This book has to be a bestseller at least for that!

Sadly, I had issues with the plot, especially the very ending. The conflict seemed to have been resolved as if by magic (which it was, in a way). The book has filler chapters in which the author addresses the readers directly, breaking the fourth wall (which is my least favourite device as it keeps taking me out of the story), and provides instructions to future magicians on how to do tricks. It is a lovely concept and will, undoubtedly, appeal to the younger audience, but for me, it was all more of a nuisance. Overall, it felt as if the book was targeted at the younger side of the middle-grade scale. I mean, sometimes the author even explained certain words to the listeners! It felt as if it was not a recording but a real person reading the story, which is excellent, but I am obviously too old for that kind of narration.

It is hard to rate the book without taking into account the brilliant performance by Neil. So, I am going to give the book a half-star more for the narration and representation, although the plot left more to be desired. It was a cute story, but not a very original one.

However, since “The Magic Misfits” is only the first book in the series (a quartet?), I have hopes that the plot will improve with the sequel, and I definitely plan to continue reading the series.

 

Performance: 5 stars Plot: 2.5 stars Overall: 3.5 stars

 

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Book review: “Norse Mythology” by Neil Gaiman

Norse Mythology

 

I have mentioned it more than once in my blogs that I have a love/hate relationship with Neil Gaiman’s works. There are some that I absolutely love, and there are some that I do not like at all. I can’t think of any other writer that would evoke such different emotions in me, as a reader. I do love the fact that Neil is such a versatile writer that he writes across genres and across ages. I read his fiction novels for adults and kids, graphic novels and picture books.

And then came “Norse Mythology”. I was seeing “Norse Mythology” everywhere and kept thinking that it would be a cool book to read, however, I couldn’t justify paying the full price for it, so I got a copy from my library.

Synopsis

 

Introducing an instant classic—master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a dazzling version of the great Norse myths.

Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales. In Norse Mythology, Gaiman fashions primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds; delves into the exploits of the deities, dwarves, and giants; and culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and the rebirth of a new time and people. Gaiman stays true to the myths while vividly reincarnating Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, the son of giants, a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator. From Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerges the gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to dupe others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

Review

 

I had a course in mythology as part of my Bachelor degree, and I studied ancient Greek, Roman and, of course, Norse mythology. Naturally, I forgot many things, since it’s been years, and I always wanted to re-read those myths but never had an opportunity. It came in the form of the book by Neil Gaiman.

It is hard to review something that Neil was merely re-writing plot-wise, but his writing style is undeniable in the book. There is a lyrical flow of words and some dry humour mixed into it. The myths are split into stories or chapters, if you will, and go from the very beginning - the world creation - to the end.

If you have never read Norse myths before, but you love Marvel movies about Thor and Loki, you might be in for a surprise. Thor is less noble, Odin is more cruel, Loki is more frustrating (if it is even possible), and there is so much violence and gore, you might think those myths should have been made into horror movies.

Naturally, there is very little of actual Norse mythology in Marvel movies. But if you are interested in learning about it, Neil’s book is a perfect choice. “Norse Mythology” is not dry and lecturing, but a magical, easy read. Or as easy as a book can be if we have gods and giants killing each other on every other page. But you know - it is old mythology!

I thoroughly enjoyed “Norse Mythology”. It was nice to be immersed into the world of Asgard once again. It was a well-written book, however, since it is somewhat fictional and somewhat mythology, I liked it but did not love it. It has a gorgeous cover, though, both in hardback and paperback.

Nevertheless, I do recommend “Norse Mythology” to all myths and Neil Gaiman fans.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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Book review: “City of Ghosts” by Victoria Schwab

City of Ghosts

One of my main goals for BookCon 2018 was to meet one of my all-time favourite authors, Victoria Schwab. Sadly, I missed out on the opportunity to get my copy of new US Vicious signed by Victoria, but after standing in the line for an hour on the second day of the convention - I got an advanced reader’s copy of “City of Ghosts”. I was over the moon!

As a matter of fact, I have several vlogs on my YT channel from the BookCon this year.

I wanted to start “City of Ghosts” as soon as possible but didn’t want to rush into it either. So, I decided to pick City of Ghosts” for #ARCAugust challenge.

Synopsis

Cassidy Blake's parents are The Inspectres, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can REALLY see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one.

When The Inspectres head to ultra-haunted Edinburgh, Scotland, for their new TV show, Cass—and Jacob—come along. In Scotland, Cass is surrounded by ghosts, not all of them friendly. Then she meets Lara, a girl who can also see the dead. But Lara tells Cassidy that as an In-betweener, their job is to send ghosts permanently beyond the Veil. Cass isn't sure about her new mission, but she does know the sinister Red Raven haunting the city doesn't belong in her world. Cassidy's powers will draw her into an epic fight that stretches through the worlds of the living and the dead, in order to save herself.

Review

I could not wait to read “City of Ghosts”! I was very excited! I was, however, trying to be very mindful of the fact that not only I am reading an ARC, but it is also middle grade, so I can’t expect the same depth of world building and character development from “City of Ghost” as from some other Victoria’s books.

I was right. “City of Ghosts” is precisely what Victoria multiple times said, it was. It is the book that she wrote for her 12-year-old self. It is spooky and wonderful, and I kept thinking of Cassidy as Victoria in that age. It is a lovingly crafted narration set in Edinburgh, which is a special city for Victoria, and her current place of residence.

“City of Ghosts” is a fun read full of adorable characters and unexpected adventures. I adored this book. However, no matter how much it pains me to say this about Victoria’s work - this is not the best story she has written.

In her Instagram Stories, Victoria said that she saw some early readers complain that “City of Ghosts” is too simple or the plot is not layered enough, and she explained saying that middle-grade books do not have the same complexity as young adult or adult books because they simply can’t be. That is the whole point of the genre. I wholeheartedly agree.

I felt that “City of Ghosts” was written perfectly aligned with the target audience. It has just the right combination of fun and thrill that is so attractive to the younger audience. I did, however, expect more originality of the plot than there was. Even the title surprised me, as there are dozens of novels with the same title out there.

“City of Ghosts” has haunted places, travelling beyond the Veil and ghost friends. While reading this novel, I kept having a deja vu feeling. Some of the elements reminded me of Fantastic Five by Enid Blyton, some of Susan Cooper’s books (perhaps, due to the setting). Which resulted in me lowering the overall rating of the book.

The writing in the novel is excellent and very typical of Victoria’s style, even though the ARC I got started “uncorrected proof” on the cover. I was impressed by the lack of obvious mistakes. I did pre-order the final copy and received it the day after I finished the book. I am tempted to re-read it again. “City of Ghosts” is supposed to be a duology, so I can not wait to see what other adventure Cassidy and Jacob would get sucked into next.

Rating: 3.5

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Book review: “Seafire” (Seafire #1) by Natalie C. Parker

Seafire

I heard of “Seafire” months ago, and the plot of a new Young Adult fantasy book with all female pirates appealed to me greatly. I was dying to get my hands on it early and jumped on the opportunity to ask the publisher for the ARC. (Meaning, I begged. More than once.) I was so excited to receive it in the mail from Penguin Random House Canada and immediately put it on my ARC August TBR.

Synopsis

After her family is killed by corrupt warlord Aric Athair and his bloodthirsty army of Bullets, Caledonia Styx is left to chart her own course on the dangerous and deadly seas. She captains her ship, the Mors Navis, with a crew of girls and women just like her, whose lives have been turned upside down by Aric and his men. The crew has one mission: stay alive, and take down Aric's armed and armoured fleet.

But when Caledonia's best friend and second-in-command just barely survives an attack thanks to the help from a Bullet looking to defect, Caledonia finds herself questioning whether or not to let him join their crew. Is this boy the key to taking down Aric Athair once and for all…or will he threaten everything the women of the Mors Navis have worked for?

Review

Before I got to “Seafire”, I read a short story “The Sweet Trade” by Natalie C. Parker in the anthology “All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages” (edited by Saundra Mitchell). It did not click in my head immediately that I was reading the story by the same author, whose book I was anticipating so much (yes, I am that bad with names), but once I did, I felt a surge of uneasy. Because “The Sweet Trade” was not one of my favourite stories. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t even be able to recall its plot now.

That did not make me very happy. I am a demanding reader, and I expect short fiction to be of the same quality as novels.

Nevertheless, I started “Seafire”.

Oh well.

Let me start by saying that I liked the world and the idea behind the book and ultimately gave the book 3.5 stars, which is not a bad rating. But I was very underwhelmed.

My biggest problem with “Seafire” came from the prologue. The prologue should not have been written. It gave us the background to the novel, explained why the characters were who they were, etc. The whole prologue was just a huge chunk of exposition. Instead, it would have been better to weave in that information into the plot through flashbacks - even that device would have been better. The readers would have been left to guess why Caledonia Styx was the way she was and why she hated Bullets so much.

Instead, everything was laid out in front of us in the prologue. More so, Caledonia is not that young in the prologue to make a mistake that big. If someone kept telling you all your life that those people were not to be trusted, would you have trusted one of them after five minutes of meeting them?

I don’t think so.

The prologue of “Seafire” annoyed me so much, I was getting stressed, thinking that the book would be like that as well. Thankfully it was not.

I do not think that Pisces would have been as trusting as we were led to believe in the book. Her insistence to trust someone who saved her life was valid but a bit too exaggerated. I even was confused by the timeline between she was off the ship and then back on it as it felt as if it was minutes but obviously could not have been. That was a weird timeline.

Certain parts of the book are really well developed. For example, everything that has to do with the navigation and running the ship was described in much detail and fabulous to read. There were certain things though, like running water in showers on board of the ship that seemed a bit too out of place, when everything else was just bunk beds and wooden furniture. (Well, I get that the author wanted to keep her girls clean, but it stuck out to me.)

The world building was intriguing, but very few things were explained. I went into the book thinking that it was a piracy age book, a colonist era, so to say. But there were mentions of the old world, and some of the technology was apparently inherited from a different time period, so the book should be classified as more of a dystopian adventure book, rather than fantasy. There were no fantasy elements in it, no magic, no supernatural abilities. Can’t say I was too let down by the lack of those, but “Seafire” turned out to be not what I had expected.

My second pet peeve with the book - besides the unfortunate prologue - was the love plotline. “Seafire” is full of teen girls, who live and fight side by side. Some of the same sex relationships were implied, but almost nothing stated outright. I was entirely sure that Caledonia was in love with her best friend and was in the relationship with her until another person came into the picture. The way the author kept throwing Caledonia together with another person felt as if she was trying to create a love triangle on purpose. But since nothing that Caledonia did or said reflected her true feelings - except for her eternal guilt for what had happened - it was really frustrating.

Do not get me wrong - I did like other characters and other pairings, but I assumed that the book written by a queer author would have more queer relationships in it. Big, visible, spelt out relationships, and not just a hint here or there. I think there was only one same-sex kiss in the book, but even that was not between lovers. I know that it can be argued that “Seafire” is not about sexuality or coming out - and I agree with that and would love to have any book in any genre with characters who just naturally happen to be in love, regardless of gender or sexuality, and not a coming of age story in a contemporary setting - but when you have the plot where all prerequisites of it exist, but the book still goes like “Nah, they are just BFFs who have been through a lot”, that is a tad upsetting.

I do want to stress that I adored the concept of “Seafire”, and all the action in the book. I was there for epic sea battles, and we got them. I did have some problems with the execution, but the way the book left off, I am very excited about the sequel. I want more books like “Seafire”. I am just sad that it did not fully live up to my expectations.

Overall, “Seafire” was a fun read, and I am very grateful to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with an ARC.

“Seafire” is coming out on August 28, 2018.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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Book review: "Legendary" (Caraval #2) by Stephanie Garber (audiobook)

Legendary

If you read my review of “Caraval” last year, you probably can guess that I had a lot of reservations about “Legendary”. I felt let down by “Caraval” so much that I even considered not picking up the sequel. But since I am a glutton for punishment, I did request a physical copy of “Legendary” from the library. I must say, Stephanie Garber’s books have stunning covers, both US and UK editions.

I thought that I could get through “Legendary” but quickly realized that I didn’t care much to read the physical copy and got myself an audiobook instead.

Synopsis

A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister's. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice. But now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval...the games have only just begun.

Review

Whatever I said about the writing and plot holes in “Caraval”, sadly, still applies for “Legendary”. The characters seem to be two-dimensional, flat, their traits exaggerated beyond measure. The writing only follows the same route: the book is full of beautiful but completely useless in their abundance similes and metaphors like, “and her dress was made out of blue silk and midnight stars” (not an exact quote, but you get the meaning). It would have felt more magical and profound if not for the complete lack of world building and character development. Using pretty words won’t help the lack of plot.

“Caraval” was told from Scarlet's point of view. Her main objective in the first book was to find her missing sister Donatella. She does find her, but the ending has a twist that left a sour taste in my mouth. I felt that Donatella had betrayed her sister, and there was nothing that could redeem her in my eyes, even though Scarlet, naturally, forgives her sister. (I had a problem with it also because Scarlet should have had PTSD after everything that happened, but her feelings and mental state after events in “Caraval” were not addressed.)

Donatella was portrayed as spoiled, uncontrollable, impulsive, and greedy. Yes, Scarlet still loved her and forgave her, but that was how Donatella was depicted in the book. And I hated her.

In “Legendary” though, Donatella is portrayed as impulsive, yes, but also very determined to save and protect her sister in any way possible. Her character voice in the second book changed so much that I couldn’t believe my eyes. Donatella is fierce and unbending but also very gullible, which really goes against her character who reminds us again and again that “she does not kiss the same boys twice”. I found that annoying as her character seemed to be inconsistent with what she was in the first book - at least, this is how it felt to me.

Throughout “Legendary”, Donatella is being almost thrown at one of the villains of the story by the author. She constantly says that she should not trust him and that she is disgusted by what he did, etc., but she is still attracted to him. I found that too unrealistic, as that character went beyond the mere trope of “a bad boy”. He was written as a real villain, who would even force himself on Donatella (there were at least one or two kisses that she did not consent for), and somehow she also found that exciting. I think that Stephanie Garber was trying very hard to create some sort of a love triangle, but it felt forced and unattractive to me.

The author tried to include some red herrings in the narrative, but it was done in such a blunt way that it was just ridiculous. For almost two-thirds of the book, Donatella kept saying that she couldn't believe that THIS could be true. And lo and behold, it turns out to be true. What a twist!

The only thing that “Legendary” made me happy about was Dante. I love his character, and we get to see more of him in this book, which was exciting. My favourite moment in the book was: “And, oh glory, he was shirtless. So very shirtless.”

(I keep hoping to see at least some LGBTQ+ representation in Caraval trilogy, but alas. My headcanon is that Dante is bisexual or polysexual - that would have been very cool.)

Scarlet was barely present in the book, and the way Donatella sees her is also skewed, in my opinion, from what she truly is as a character. At some point, Donatella even starts to doubt her sister. And, once again, big surprise - she shouldn’t have!

I think that overall Stephanie’s writing did improve from book one. “Legendary” is heavy on romance and not so heavy on fantasy and magic, which is a big let down once again. I love Rebecca’s narration - it was the only thing to keep me from giving up on his book. I will most probably pick up the last book in the trilogy in audio as well. I have no idea where the plot would go in book 3, as there is barely any plot, to begin with. I guess we need to get our happy ending for everyone so there will be more romance. Oh boy.

Plot: 2.5 stars
Narration: 4 stars
Overall rating: 3.25 stars

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Book review: Everless (Everless #1) by Sara Holland

Everless  

This year has been rather generous on new young adult fantasy series. One of the early 2018 debut novels is Everless by Sara Holland. I saw this book pop up a lot on BookTube, which, naturally, attracted me to it. Everless came out in January, but I only finished it in summer, even though it was readily available at my library.

 

Synopsis

 

In the kingdom of Sempera, time is currency—extracted from blood, bound to iron, and consumed to add time to one’s own lifespan. The rich aristocracy, like the Gerlings, tax the poor to the hilt, extending their own lives by centuries.

No one resents the Gerlings more than Jules Ember. A decade ago, she and her father were servants at Everless, the Gerlings’ palatial estate, until a fateful accident forced them to flee in the dead of night. When Jules discovers that her father is dying, she knows that she must return to Everless to earn more time for him before she loses him forever.

But going back to Everless brings more danger—and temptation—than Jules could have ever imagined. Soon she’s caught in a tangle of violent secrets and finds her heart torn between two people she thought she’d never see again. Her decisions have the power to change her fate—and the fate of time itself.

 

Review

 

I read the first hundred pages or so of Everless almost in one go and then got stuck. The beginning was engaging and well written, however very quickly the book fell into the pit of tropes and cliches.

We have a female protagonist, Jules, who is repeatedly told not to go to the Gerlings’ estate by her father, but, naturally, it is the only way to help her father, and Jules goes against his wishes. Of course, there is more to the story: half-forgotten memories and old friendships. There is a crush that happens unexpectedly for Jules - but can be seen a mile away by the reader. There is an obvious love triangle, which includes a naive but well-wishing girl, a good boy, and an archetypical bad boy.

For some reason, the very beginning of Everless reminded me Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. Perhaps, it was the idea of a girl with unknown powers going to the very place she should avoid at all costs and working as a servant. Even a love triangle was similar. But, naturally, the plot was different.

You can imagine that with that type of a setting, I was rolling my eyes a lot. But I have little patience for cliches. I must say, however, that for a debut novel Sara Holland did an excellent job with creating the world and her writing style is light enough that the book flows well. It is an easy read which helped me finish it eventually.

The magic system of this world, which is connected directly to the society and economic structure, is what makes Everless stand out from other young adult fantasy novels. I liked the idea of blood being tied directly to years of life that could be turned into a coin and used to pay for things. It is a fascinating concept. Unfortunately, everything else in Everless was cliched.

I guess about the betrayal long before it happened. I knew who would turn out to be a villain. I did enjoy the experience of reading this book, though, so I plan on continuing with the series. My favourite part was when Jules explored an abandoned town and the scene with the Queen.

I think that overall for me Everless was more about the world building than characters or plot. I want to see more of that world developed and explored. I feel that the author has the potential of making this story much better. Everless may not be the book I would want to own, but I am looking forward to the sequel.

 

Rating: 3 stars

 

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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 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.

 

More of my book reviews

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