Review: The Crown’s Game

The Crown's GameBook: The Crown’s Game
Authors: Evelyn Skye
Genre: YA Fantasy
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic Plot: It’s 1825 and two Enchanters are being groomed to help the Tsar Alexander rule Mighty Russia. But the Tsar can only have one Enchanter. This is where the Crown’s Game comes into play… Which will pit Vika against Nikolai in a deadly duel that neither of them asked for.

WHAT’S COOL

1) I must say that I really liked both Enchanters as soon as I met them. Usually, you’re drawn to the first protagonist you meet, but somehow the author pulls this off with BOTH her protagonists. Although, if I had to pick, I think I liked Nikolai slightly more. I liked his style of magic. (Maybe it was the putting the books in order at the library that tipped the balance!) Not that I didn’t like Vika. I liked her, too!

2) I liked the contrast between the Mentors: Sergei and Galina. Sergei is definitely more likeable, but I like how Skye humanizes Galina towards the middle/end of the book. Of course, being such as she is, she still has a trick up her sleeve that serves the plot. And ultimately, she comes off as self-serving.

3) Pasha and Yuliana. I generally liked Pasha, the Tsarevich. I definitely liked the friendship between him and Nikolai. Although I thought he was a little stalkerish when it came to Vika. Regarding, Yuliana. When she first comes into the story, I thought I would like Yuliana, but her character just went downhill for me. (Which is one of the reasons we have the ending of the book that we do. So, this is not necessarily a bad thing.)

4) Very cool how Evelyn Skye was able to incorporate some real Russian history into the book. (I’m glad she put the historical notes at the end, including where she deviated. Of course, this is historical fantasy, so don’t expect things to be super historical.)

5) I looked forward to seeing how each Enchantment would play out. In fact, the closer I got to the end, I actually forced myself to stay up (past my bedtime) to finish the book. I wanted to find out what happens!

WHAT’S NOT COOL

1) Some of names I thought were a little odd. Like Renata. I’ve never heard this name in connection with Russia and, frankly, it doesn’t seem like a Russian name to me.

2) I felt there were a lot of characters to keep track of. Almost too many. I’m not sure some of them were necessary… like Renata. Or even Ludmila.

3) For some reason, I didn’t like the overt Cinderella connections in the story. Like the glass pumpkin and the bakery called the Cinderella Bakery. It was too much “in your face”. I would have preferred a more subtle approach. (The masked ball was more subtle.)

4) The Ending. As I was reading this, I thought “This is a 4-star read!” And then came The End. Sigh. I’m not sure how it should have ended but, this ending was a let-down for me. I want to like it. I like the idea of the nobleness of what happens at the end. Here’s to hoping that the second book is able to revive this rating back to its 4-star place. (UPDATE: You can read my review of The Crown’s Fate here.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – This book had a bit of a Hunger Games vibe to it… albeit with an historical, Russian theme running through it… With magic, of course. I liked The Hunger Games, so this was a plus for me. (So close to being 4 stars!)

Advertisements

Photo Challenge #4 / Close Up

20180125ma_0224

“Frozen in Ice” / Theme: Close Up

A little about this photo…

Lily-of-the-valley… frozen in ice. After having seen some wonderful photos (I forget where now) of flowers frozen in ice, I decided to try something like it. I am quite pleased with the result. I almost feel as if the flowers have been trapped in amber.


THIS WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE is posted every Saturday. Please join me in posting your own photos with #2018picoftheweek

If You Like Russian Fairy Tales

Bear and the NightingaleSo… I recently read The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden.

Everybody is raving about this book. So, what can I say?

Well, I liked it. But…

I probably didn’t like it as much as you. I don’t know why, because I love Russian fairy tales. In fact, that’s the reason I read the book in the first place. I loved the premise. (And the cover of the book. I mean, just look at it. It’s enticing me. Yes, even now. It’s drawing me in…)

So… this book did not make me want to write a review of the book. (I am definitely not inspired to write a review just now. Maybe later? Instead, I decided to come up with a list of books that I recommend for those who did love the book and loved it because of the Russian fairy tale aspect of the book.

Without further adieu, here is that list*:

7973Enchantment // by Orson Scott Card

While he’s probably best known for his sci-fi (Ender’s Game ring a bell?)… Orson Scott Card does a wonderful job with this book. It mixes Russian folklore and fairy tale elements with our modern world. In a sense, it’s a Sleeping Beauty story. The story begins in the modern day with Ivan, who travels to Russia as part of his graduate studies. But then he comes across a woman sleeping in the middle of the forest and… Well, I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t read it.

By the way, I am truly enchanted by this book. It is probably one of my favourite books outside of classic literature and have read it numerous times.


1369831Blood Red, Snow White // by Marcus Sedgwick

This book is broken up into three parts. The first part deals with the events of the Russian Revolution almost as if it were a Russian fairy tale. Actually, it’s very reminiscent of Old Peter’s Russian Tales (see below). The second part introduces us to Arthur, an Englishman who comes to live in Russia. It’s almost like reading a new book, but you begin to see how it connects with the first part. And finally, the third part shifts yet again, this time with first person POV. We continue our story, seeing Russia through the eyes of Arthur.

P.S. The Arthur in the book is based on the real life experiences of the author, Arthur Ransome. (If you don’t know who Arthur Ransome is, he wrote one of my favorite children’s series: the Swallows and Amazons books. And yes, Swallows and Amazons does get a nod in this “fairy tale”.)


old-peters-russian-tales-by-arthur-ransome-fiction-animals-dragons-unicorns-and-mythicalOld Peter’s Russian Tales // by Arthur Ransome

Speaking of Arthur Ransome… He really did live in Russia at the time of the Revolution. And he came to love Russia very much. Part of his infatuation led him to write a collection of Russian fairy tales. He created Maroosia and Vanya who live with their grandfather, Old Peter. It’s Old Peter that brings us the stories “that Russian peasants tell their children and each other.” Beautiful writing. Wonderful stories.


Honourable Mention…

The Crown's GameThe Crown’s Game // by Evelyn Skye
I just finished reading this. So, I’m not sure it even belongs on this list. It has some fairy tale elements, like Enchanters and magic. But it also seems a little like it shouldn’t quite be on the list. Probably because there are no bears mentioned in the book! (Tigers are are mentioned. But I don’t remember any bears!)  In all, I haven’t quite decided if it’s got that Russian Fairy Tale vibe. Anyway,  I liked the book, so I’m going to tag it on here for now.

City of ThievesCity of Thieves // by David Benioff
Again, this one isn’t so much a Russian Fairy Tale. It’s more of a coming-of-age story set in the time of World War II. And it’s been awhile since I’ve read it, but I remember a fair bit. It definitely has that Russian feel. It’s the story of two young men on a quest to find a dozen eggs during the Siege of Leningrad. Maybe it’s the quest that made me give it Honourable Mention status.

*Please note that none of these books are really children’s books. Although for some odd reason Blood Red, Snow White is listed as a children’s book. In my opinion, it is not. (Not that a child couldn’t read it.) In any case, the only book on this list suitable for kids is probably Old Peter’s Russian Tales. Those were meant for children of all ages. Grown-ups, too!

Got any books to add to this list? Please let me know in the comments. Because I love a good Russian fairy tale!

Review: Full of Beans

Full of BeansBook: Full of Beans
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Genre: MG Historical Fiction
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: A prequel of sorts to Turtle in Paradise. Beans and his gang live in Key West. They have all sorts of plans to make a little cash (Hey! It’s the Depression)… including some shady dealings. That’s when some government men arrive to turn the place into a resort.

What’s Cool

1) I enjoyed returning to some fun characters. Beans is a great narrator. I love his antics and his voice. And how can you not love his diaper gang?

2) Love the setting. And the historical back-drop of Key West being turned into a tourist destination during the 1930s… this was new information to me. And I always like to read about things I don’t already know in history.

What’s Not Cool

1) I’m not sure why this bothered me, but I didn’t like how Mr. Stone kept calling Beans “Peas”. And Beans corrects him everytime, but he still doesn’t get it. I think it comes across as a little too gimicky on the author’s part. Like she was trying too hard??

2) Dropping Ernest Hemingway’s name was a little too obvious. I feel maybe Beans would have referred to him as “Mr. Hemingway”.

Final Thoughts

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – After reading Turtle in Paradise a few years back, I enjoyed coming back to Key West to hang out with the gang.

Photo Challenge #3 / Opposites

20180110ma_0166

“All Lined Up”

A little about this photo…
The theme for this photo is Opposites. As in… Pails are not made for snow, and yet that’s what we have. Pails are full of snow! And then there’s the soft snow, which is the opposite of the rough brick wall. And I love how the bottom part of the photo is almost in black and white, which is in stark contrast to the brilliant colours above.

This photo also just shows what you can find when you aren’t exactly looking for it. I came for the sunrise, turned around and saw this. I liked it and snapped a few frames.


THIS WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE is posted every Saturday. Please join me in posting your own photos with #2018picoftheweek

Review: Swing It, Sunny

51Dl5f8bEEL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Swing It, Sunny
Authors: Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Genre: MG Graphic Novel, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: Sequel to Sunny Side Up. Sunny’s back home and starting middle school. But she’s having a hard time adjusting to the absence of her big brother, Dale. (Note: This is a Graphic Novel.)

WHAT’S COOL

1) The theme of the happy-go-lucky television show… How everything seems slick and fine on the outside, but there’s got to be conflict somewhere.

2) I love it when Gramps pops into the story. First on the telephone, but also for a visit later on. (Too bad the “Girls” from the first book couldn’t tag along. I really liked those old ladies!)

3) I like how the story of Dale remains complicated, yet hopeful. It felt true and honest. I love Sunny’s attempt at connecting with him by giving him a pet rock to take care of.

4) The book has a lot of 1970s nostalgia. And I thought it was done well.

5) I like the introduction of the neighbour girl and her flags. And then how Sunny takes the flags as a challenge, especially when they aren’t as easy to manipulate as they seem.

WHAT’S NOT COOL

1) I still would like to see this as a full-scale novel. The graphic novel is fine, but there’s so much more to explore with these characters.

2) I felt the end might have been a tad rushed. When I got there, I felt like saying… “Wait… where’s the rest?” Then I realized that was it. It’s not a bad ending. Actually, it ties up nicely enough, but I still felt there was something lacking.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I thought this was a good follow-up book. Although, I think I like the first one better with the Grandpa. But I really did enjoy returning to Sunny’s world.

It Take Three Strikes

20171112ma_5277Years ago, when I’d crack open a book, I knew I was in it for the long haul. If I committed to reading the book, I would finish it… no matter what. Yes, no matter what.

(I’m guessing this is probably (most likely) due to school. We are assigned a book and we have to read it for class or do a report on it or whatever.)

But now things have changed.

For me, most of my reading is (supposed to be) for pleasure. So, when I crack open a book, and for whatever reason I’m not liking it, I’ve found that it’s okay to give myself the luxury of NOT FINISHING THE BOOK.

Yes, it’s okay to not finish a book.

Really.

Now, this came as a bit of a revelation to me.

By nature, I’m a rule-follower. I always felt this (perhaps unwritten) rule that once you start a book, you need to finish it. But for what purpose? What if the book is poorly written? What if I can’t stand the plot? Or the characters? What if…? What if…?

As I stated above, I’m a rule-follower. So, I created a new rule for me to follow.

What I call”My Three Strike Rule”.

This is how it works. I always start with fresh optimism that this book may become one of my favourite books. (And sometimes it does! Hooray!)

But, sometimes, the book gets strikes. Strikes can range from lousy writing to too much historical inaccuracy to too much profanity. (Aside: If every other sentence features the f-bomb, I’m probably not going to stick around.) Or sometimes I’ll just realize I’m not actually enjoying this read. For any of the above, that’s when I’ll say to myself (and yes, often I say this out loud to myself): “Strike One”.

Now, I am pretty kind when it comes to giving strikes. If it’s a minor thing, I may ignore it at first. When it starts to get on my nerves, but it’s still not THAT big of a deal, I may even give it only a half strike. My hope, always, is that the book will just get better. (And sometimes it does! Yay!)

But sadly, in my experience, once I’ve identified a strike, or even a half-strike, it usually goes downhill from there. Strike Two. Strike Three. DNF.

A few years back, this happened to me with a book that took a modern-day girl into the world of Little Women. Now, I love this kind of book. Except when it messes with the original book too much.

(Note: If you’ve never read Little Women, this next bit contains SPOILERS.)

In this case, this book messed with Amy. Now, to be perfectly honest, Amy has never been my favourite character. And as a kid, I wanted Jo to marry Laurie just as much as anybody. I ranted at Louisa May Alcott for what she did. But, I’ve also come to accept Amy and Laurie as a couple (although I do wish Alcott had left Jo single instead of marrying her off to the Professor). But even though I don’t care for the Professor as  marriage material, I know and accept that Little Women is Little Women. And just as you cannot change history, I believe you cannot change book history.

So, as I was reading this modern take on Little Women, I began to see what the author was doing. She was getting rid of the real, true Amy of the book! Louisa May Alcott’s creation. And then she was arranging for things to be different for Jo and Laurie.

Yes, here’s the point where I gave the story my first strike.

Why was that a strike for me? Because I think the author of this book missed Alcott’s point. Amy didn’t steal Laurie from Jo. Even if Amy never existed, I still think  Jo would not have married Laurie. And while I wish in my heart of hearts that Jo could love Laurie as he loved her, sometimes that just doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen in real life. (Marriage didn’t happen for Alcott.) And so, it doesn’t always happen in book life.

Did this book get three strikes? Absolutely, yes, it did. Probably about half-way through. I can’t remember the exact point anymore. I do remember peeking at the end of the book to see if I was right about the author’s intent. I was. If I was a book thrower, I would have thrown that book across the room. (I’m not and I didn’t.)

So, I’m glad I did not feel obligated to finish this book in any way.

What about you? Do you have any rule for finishing or not finishing a book?

Review: The Madwoman Upstairs

25814154Book: The Madwoman Upstairs
Author: Catherine Lowell
Genre: Adult, Literary Suspense
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Samantha Whipple is the last-known, living relative to the famous literary Brontes. She starts attending Oxford when she suddenly starts to find books in her tower room that once belonged to her (dead) Bronte-obsessed father. She is drawn into a mystery of discovering what the Bronte sisters really meant for her father and what they mean for her.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The Brontes. Yep!

2) I really loved all the literary talk in this book… From the flashbacks of Samantha and her father to the tutorials with Orville. I felt like I was back at university, taking one of my lit classes! What FUN to read all the critiques and discussions.

3) I thought the mystery was… okay. It definitely did make me want to keep reading. Which is always a good thing (for the book, if not for my need for sleep!)

4) The romantic aspect of the book was not spectacular, but it was fine. We have a very Jane-Eyre-like relationship between Samantha and her tutor, Orville. And of course, this is no more obvious than in the echoes of Jane Eyre in the Epilogue.

5) I am really drawn to this book cover for some reason. Maybe it’s the feather pens??

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) [SPOILER*] I didn’t really like the implication that Charlotte “stole” some of sister Anne’s best stuff. Really?! (I will admit I am partial to Charlotte’s work, with one of my favourite books being Jane Eyre.) [END SPOILER]

2) I also wasn’t crazy about the idea that [*SPOILER] Heathcliff and Cathy are siblings. As if that has to be the only explanation. Emily didn’t explain it that way and that’s really just conjecture. [END SPOILER]

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – I actually enjoyed this book… Especially as a Bronte fan. Although I personally think that Samantha was far too obsessed with Anne Bronte’s work. Not that I don’t like Anne Bronte. (I do.) I just don’t quite buy the fact that she was the hidden genius of the family that this book seems to imply.

Quick Pick Reviews #3

It’s Memoir Time! Yes, every single one of these books is a memoir. I love a good memoir. Here are three memoirs that I read recently. (How many times can I can use the word memoir in a paragraph? Five, apparently.)

Note: Quick Pick books are always recommendations. (If I don’t recommend the book, it’s not a Quick Pick!)

51aLUqonYFL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Book: As You Wish
Author: Cary Elwes

My Thoughts: As a huge fan of The Princess Bride movie, I found this book fascinating. On top of that, I work in independent film, so in some ways, this book felt like research… really fun research. It is chock full of great behind-the-scenes stories. I actually “read” this book as an audio book, which was performed by Cary Elwes himself. Bonus! And in addition to his own memories, the book includes the memories (in their own voices) of many of the other actors, including Rob Reiner, Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, etc. I especially laughed (out loud!) at the stories involving Wallace Shawn. The stories of Andre the Giant were also very interesting. And the story about missing ROUS actor for a key scene of filming! When the book came to the end, Elwes discusses the sadness of wrapping the movie. And this translates to the reader not wanting this book to end.


51oSP98YTeL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Book: This Time Together
Author: Carol Burnett

My Thoughts: This too was an audio book read for me. Carol Burnett does her own reading, which is amazing. She has such a distinctive voice. For this memoir, she has gathered together some delightful stories from her life in show biz. Some of the anecdotes are as funny as her comedy sketches. Some are just beautifully insightful, even poignant. Burnett is a born storyteller. One of my favourite stories is of how she met Jimmy Stewart (both times). And the Cary Grant story is also pretty fun. And I particularly enjoyed the stories about her involvement in the movie Annie (probably because that is how I first “met” Carol Burnett… on the TV screen as Miss Hannigan!)


51-EUN8mdEL._SY346_Book: Tuesdays with Morrie
Author: Mitch Albom

My Thoughts: This is a very touching account of the last days of a dying man. Morrie had a lot of wisdom, and Albom here is at his best. He captures that wisdom and actually succeeds in making these talks an interesting read. I love the dynamic between the young man and the old, dying man.

I’m not exactly sure if this is a re-read for me or not. I know I’ve known about this book for a long time, and I think I may have read it… but did I? If so, then I know I got something new out of it this time around. It certainly brought back memories of when I cared for my own grandmother. (She died in 2011.) She had Parkinson’s, which is different than ALS, but has some similarities. (Like Morrie, she was one of the wisest people I ever knew.)


6827652._UY450_SS450_Book: Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures
Author: Robert K. Wittman

My Thoughts: The book starts with detailing the 1990 theft of some great works of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, including a painting by Vermeer. Wittman then tells of his rise within the ranks of the FBI, to finally establishing and running the Art Crime Division. He goes on to recount some of his greatest achievements. I enjoyed his “undercover spy” stories. Particularly memorable is his work regarding some shady dealing with the hit TV show, Antique Roadshow. The end of the book brings us back to his work on retrieving the Garner Museum artwork. But I promise not to spoil the end for you 😉