Review: Hunted

HuntedBook: Hunted
Author: Meagan Spooner
Genre: YA, Fairy Tale Retelling
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: A retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast… set in medieval Russia. When Yeva’s father doesn’t return home from one of his hunting trips, she goes out to find him. She ends up a captive in the castle of a Beast.


1) Yeva, aka “Beauty”. I liked her. I particularly like how she grows during the course of the story. For her recognition of her own faults, as she comes to see the good in the Beast.

2) I like what Spooner does with the story. It doesn’t follow the Disney storyline (you know, with roses and magical furniture). And it doesn’t fully follow the original French version either. (For example: Beauty’s two sisters are not quite the same as the jealous duo that end up as statues at the end of the actual fairy tale.) And yet, the elements that make up the story of Beauty and the Beast are definitely in this book.

3) I loved the inter-chapters that give us insight into the Beast. I particularly like that they begin as fairly cryptic. Then as we get to know him, they help us understand his frame of mind.

4) The imagery and motifs surrounding the Firebird, and what Spooner does with the Firebird plot-wise in this book, is nicely done.

5) Bonus points for incorporating the magical fairy tale “rule of three” into Yeva’s own story. It’s hard to explain how this is done, but it’s done very well. It’s almost a breaking of the fourth wall of sorts. But it doesn’t feel gimicky. It works with the plot.

6) The cover is beau-ti-ful!


1) The tag-line is “A Beauty deadlier than the Beast”. I thought this was a stupid tag-line. First of all, it almost turned me off to reading the book. Secondly, after reading the story, I don’t think it’s true. It makes the Beast sound like a wuss. (He’s not.) Nope. If I were on the marketing team for this book, I would have STRONGLY recommended to remove this ridiculous tag-line.


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – This is a delightful retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story. If you like this fairy tale, then you should have a blast reading this book!

Photo Challenge #8 / Negative Space


“Maple Leafs Forever” / Theme: Negative Space

A little about this photo…

Found these little details on top of an iron fence. I like how the negative space at the top draws you in towards these like black maple leafs. (And yes, for some reason, they are maple leafs, and not maples leaves. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the hockey team. Not that I’m a hockey person or anything.)

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

The Art of Forgery


So, I’ve recently been reading Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History, by Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio. Basically, because I wanted to know how much of the movie was really “based on a true story”. (The verdict: Plenty of Hollywood in the movie. With a tiny bit of History.)

ArgoBut here’s what I found particularly fascinating about the book… All the behind-the-scenes stuff. All the description of the ways the CIA prepped for this mission. Creating the fake documents, passports, etc. etc.

I’m kind of a behind-the-scenes kind of person. Literally.

It’s what I do. I work behind-the-scenes in the world of film. (Not Hollywood, but independent film.) Oh, and theatre. In fact, my first job in theatre was in the props department.

And ever since, I’ve loved props.

I love finding the right props. I love scouring every conceivable shop for that hard-to-find prop. I love creating props. Aging props. You name it.

The best compliment of all is when a cast or crew member looks at a prop that I created and thinks it’s the real deal. I have “forged” World War II identification papers. I’ve painstakingly created mail, complete with cancelled stamps. I’ve created aged, torn newspaper articles and aged, torn photographs.

In short, part of my work in props calls for me to take part in the art of forgery.

I have gathered various tools for these tasks. All types of pens and papers. I scour the internet for photos of real documents so I make things look authentic.

And it always makes me feel a bit like a spy.

So, as I read the story of Tony Mendez and how he and his team prepped to rescue the American hostages from Iran in 1979, I felt right at home. When we have to dress a set, we have to create backstories, too. We need to have “pocket litter”. Everything on screen or stage is meant to sell the story as real. It’s not always easy, but it’s amazingly satisfying when you know you’ve pulled it off.

Did I miss my calling to be a spy?

Or maybe I really am a spy, and this is just my cover. 😉

ARC Review: Hidden Women

Hidden-WomenHidden Women  // by Rebecca Rissman
Genre: MG, Non-Fiction (ages 8-12)
Release Date: February 2018
My Rating: 4 Stars*

*Note: I received a copy of this title from the people at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Basic Plot: This is a non-fiction book about the African-American women who did the math that launched rockets into space… From Katherine Johnson to Dorothy Vaughan to Mary Jackson to Miriam Mann and others.


1) Each chapter deals with one of the women who worked at NASA during the years of the Space Race. It was a nice way to organize the information. For the most part, Rissman tells one main story per woman. For example, Katherine Johnson’s story is that of John Glenn insisting that they “get the girl to run the numbers” before he is launched into space. He knew he could trust HER where he didn’t know what to think of this new IBM computer contraption.

2) There’s a nice balance of NASA history interspersed with the history of desegregation. Again, Rissman chooses a vignette to illustrate. The story she uses is that of Miriam Mann’s quiet defiance against segregation in the cafeteria.

3) I thought Rissman did a nice job explaining the high (and low) points of the Space Race. I actually learned some things I didn’t know before.

4) I like the pictures scattered throughout the book. And the graphics that incorporate the math and physics involved in rocket science are nicely done. We get to see old photographs of the women who worked at NASA, alongside photos of the rockets and astronauts they helped launch into space.


1) Sorry, but I am NOT crazy about the title of this book. It certainly invokes the book Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly. But that title IS clever. I’m guessing that since this book is for kids, they decided to go with a title that is more on-the-nose. Which is okay. It’s just not great.


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I thought this was a nice dive into the history of these women at NASA. For ages 8-12, it’d be a great resource for any classroom!

Photo Challenge #7 / Architecture


“Stately” / Theme: Architecture

A little about this photo…
This building is abandoned. It’s over 100 years old. It looks like Pemberley or Thornfield Hall. But it’s not… It’s actually used to house the giant, old turbines that harnessed power from Niagara Falls, Ontario. Yes, this beautiful, stately building was built for to harness water power. Imagine that.

For history buffs… The building was designed by Edward James Lennox, who also designed Toronto’s old City Hall (1899) and Casa Loma (c.1911). This power station in Niagara Falls was retired from service in 1973. But the building remains, a little run down, but as stately as ever.

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

Review: Young Man with Camera

young-man-wth-cameraBook: Young Man with Camera
Author: Emil Sher
Genre: YA Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic Plot: T— is the young man with the camera. And he’s dealing with a lot of issues, including a disfiguring scar, and the school bullies. He finds an escape in photography. Then he strikes up an unlikely friendship with a homeless woman. 


1) Love the stuff about photography. As a photographer myself, I enjoyed the analysis of various famous photos that the teacher shows to T—. In addition, we have the actual black and white photos scattered throughout the book show a young photographer’s attempts at viewing the world around him.

2) T—’s relationship to the various secondary characters, especially Lucy, the homeless woman. I especially liked the realism captured with her character. There’s a moment where he can’t reach her (it obvious she has some form of mental illness), and he doesn’t know what to do. I liked how that played out. Sometimes with mental illness, there isn’t anything we can do… in the moment. But T— still comes back another time. He doesn’t give up on Lucy.

3) Another relationship I enjoyed was that of Sean and Watson the dog. What a good friend Sean is.

4) While I didn’t like the bullies, I thought they were well-portrayed. It was painful to see T— trying to deal with them. I liked his “unsaid” moments… things he said in his mind, but wouldn’t say out loud. He does this throughout the book, and not just with the bullies, but with many of the adults around him.

5) Other elements I liked… Jared’s character arc. I like how that played out. Especially with regards to the photo that T— gives him.

6) I like the cover of the book with the blue-toned black and white image. Especially with how the camera is covering the identity of the boy’s face.


1) The adults around T— are somehow amazingly dense (with the exception of Ms. Karamath). The Principal especially and the police officer. I don’t understand why they think T— is such a trouble-maker. Because he’s so quiet? Because Ryan lies about him all the time? I didn’t quite buy this, and so it felt forced to me… like the author said that’s how it is, so there.

2) T—’s attraction to fire… I didn’t think this was set up right. So, he likes to go out and watch houses on fire. I don’t see how that marks him as having SUCH a fascination with fire. Why not make him carry matches around? Why not make it so he light fires in the park? Why not make it so he lights fires in order to take photos of the flames. THOSE would seem like it would earmark somebody with an attraction to fire. But none of that happens in the book (except that he goes to see a few house fires). Oh, and his made-up Zito scale to measure the intensity of a fire. That’s actually quite cool, except nobody knows about this scale but us, the reader. (I’m not even sure Sean know about the Zito scale.)

3) The thing that got to me most of all is the ending. This is what downgraded a 4-star book to a 3-star book, in my opinion. [*SPOILER] I don’t understand why he doesn’t tell his parents, teachers, principal, police that he didn’t set the fire! Why doesn’t he show the pictures of Lucy’s attack!! It doesn’t make sense!!! Especially once Ryan is charged… Can’t these adults see?! I think the author was trying for realism by not having a sugar-sweet-every-works-out ending, and I like that idea in theory. But to make that work, T— would have had to have been a real trouble-maker. If he had been caught, early on in the book, setting other fires (I mean really caught, not framed by a look-alike), then I could see why the adults around him wouldn’t trust him, including his parents. He has SUCH a good relationship with his teacher. Her message that you can change things through photography isn’t fully played out. He has the pictures to change things, but he never uses them. Like I said, I wasn’t convinced by this ending, and so it seemed off to me. [END SPOILER]


My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – Overall, I liked this book. I liked the message of the teacher that you can change things through photography. Of course, when it comes to photography, maybe I’m biased 😉

Review: Hidden Figures

Hidden FiguresBook: Hidden Figures
Author: Margot Lee Shetterly
Genre: Adult, Non-Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Nonfiction. This is story of the African-American women who worked behind-the-scenes at NASA during the days leading up to and including the Space Race. These women overcame the racism so ingrained in the South to become instrumental in sending American rockets to the moon and bringing the astronauts safely home again.


1) I love this title. And I love how the title has so many meanings behind it.

2) History and space. These topics are a perennial favourite for me. I love the behind-the-scenes peek into what made the space program successful.

3) I love it when I learn something I didn’t already know. Like that Virginia was the original Houston?! We associate the space race with Houston and with Cape Canaveral. But who knew that it actually had its beginnings in Virginia. And of course, the story of these women who made the rockets fly.

4) I wanted to read this book after having seen the movie. Whenever I watch movies like this one, I want to know what’s real and what’s Hollywood. Okay, so there was a bit of Hollywood in the movie. Like the stuff with the “Colored Bathrooms” being a big problem for Katherine Johnson. According to the book, this was not so much a problem for her. Not that it wasn’t an issue, but the story comes from Mary Jackson. I found it interesting that they chose to switch that up a bit for the movie.

5) I loved the Star Trek Uhura story. At first, it seems like it comes out of nowhere, and yet it makes complete sense. (I also happen to like Star Trek!)


1) There are a lot of characters. And some, don’t seem quite as important as others. But, I guess they each had their own stories to tell. And sometimes the women’s stories ran together so I couldn’t remember who was who. This isn’t a major critique. Just a minor one.

2) The cover of the book isn’t the most appealing cover I’ve ever seen. It certainly doesn’t live up to the coolness of the title. (It rather looks like it was designed by a mathematician instead of a graphic designer.)


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Ever since watching the movie, I’ve wanted to find out more about this part of history. I enjoyed learning the true histories of these women. And, thanks to my high school Physics class, I was able to appreciate the difficulty of their amazing work.

ARC Review: Surprise Me

imagesSurprise Me // by Sophie Kinsella
Genre: Adult, Chick Lit
Release Date: February 2018
My Rating: 3 Stars

**Note: I received a free copy of this title from the people at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Basic Plot: When Sylvie and Dan find out that (medically speaking) they’re going to live into their 100s, they begin to worry about what that will mean for their marriage. In order to combat what they fear will be a life-sentence of boredom, Sylvie comes up with a game where they each try to outdo one another with surprises. But surprises have potential to bring dark secrets into the open…


1) The story is told through first-person narration (the voice of Sylvie). Sophie Kinsella tends to do this quite well and I felt Sylvie comes across as very sympathetic.

2) I love Sylvie’s workplace at the historical society! I love the quirkiness of her boss, and even the nephew who comes in to upset the balance of things. (I’m still not quite sure, though, why she doesn’t want to stay on with them by the end of the book. Why?! This didn’t make sense to me.)

3) Sylvie definitely grows up during the course of the story. She’s so proud of how she and Dan finish each other’s sentences. (Yes, they’re that couple!) But the book is about how she matures. As a person. And I love how this is symbolized by her long “princess hair”.

4) I loved the friendship Sylvie has with her neighbour, Tilda. There was a nice mentor-thing going on there. Tilda warns Sylvie about the whole “Surprise Me” idea. And she’s right. But she doesn’t rub it in when so many of the surprises turn out badly… (Many are quite relate-able, like the one involving the lunch with Claire.)

5) The secrets and surprises revealed in the book definitely keep us reading. I had my suspicions about a few things. Although, there were some twists I didn’t predict.


1) I didn’t understand why Dan and Sylvie keep freaking out about 68 years of marriage. As if the doctor is a fortune teller or something. Why are they worried that they’ll become bored with each other?

2) I didn’t understand the apparent need of the subplot regarding the other neighbour, John. It seemed unnecessary to the story. Like it was thrown in because “you have to have a gay couple in the book.” Why??

3) Warning about the foul language. This is one thing I hate about these types of books. It’s no better/worse than in other Sophie Kinsella books (although, for some reason, I don’t remember this from the Shopaholic books). I just glaze over these words.


My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – Overall, this book is a fun and engaging read. It has some delightful moments. But it also touches on the real need for communication in relationships.

Review: The Crown’s Fate

Crown's FateBook: The Crown’s Fate
Authors: Evelyn Skye
Genre: YA Fantasy
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic Plot: Sequel to The Crown’s Game… Vika is the Enchanter for Pasha, the Tsarevich-soon-to-be-Tsar. And Nikolai? He has been banished to a shadow-state. But now, he’s out to snatch the crown from Pasha. A whole new duel is put into place to see who will ultimately wear the crown. And Vika is caught in the middle.

**NOTE: This review is FULL OF SPOILERS for both The Crown’s Game and The Crown’s Fate.**


1) I was glad the Nikolai was dead-dead. I like how he was turned into a shadow-creature, similar to the “mask” he wore when they started the Crown’s Game in the first book. (However, at times, it was really hard because his personality is SO different from the last book. See section below…)

2) I actually liked Vika better in this book. Not that I didn’t like her in the last book. But, this book definitely made me cheer more for her. I thought the band on her arm, forcing her to be at the beck and call of Pasha, a necessary plot point. All magic in these types of books MUST have some drawback. This is Vika’s thorn.

3) Yuliana. I hated Yuliana. And then I liked her and admired her. And then I hated her again. And then I liked her. She is such a conundrum for me.

4) The Decemberist Plot. I really liked how the author was able to fit in some historical Russian events, like the Decemberist Plot. As I was reading, I was trying to figure out how she was going to make it all work out with the fictional elements.

5) The Ending: The Good. There are things I love about the Ending and things I hated. My fairy-tale-happy-ending heart was very pleased overall with this ending. Vika and Nikolai will work together as Enchanters. Yay! (Unfortunately, it’s not all good. See below…)


1) I was expecting a few things to play out. Like the volcano? They mention Vika’s mother in the first book in connection with the volcano, but I didn’t feel this was played out in this book. In other words, why mention it in the first place?! Let Vika’s parentage remain more mysterious. Not knowing anything is sometimes stronger than knowing it, but it never goes anywhere plot-wise. (And, no, taking us to the volcano in a dream doesn’t qualify as being important to the plot. That scene really could have taken place anywhere.) Note: Compare this to Nikolai’s backstory with his mother. Now that is key to the plot!

2) Opening scene in the Kazakh Steppe. Again, I was expecting this to somehow play out at the end. Did I miss something? Vika does this cool freeze-frame thing, but that’s it. We don’t hear about it anymore. Why???

3) After his father’s death, why is Pasha NOT considered the Tsar? In other royal circles, where it’s clear who is next in line for the throne (in this case, like Pasha, the son of the late Tsar), the heir is immediately considered to be the new monarch from the moment of the death of the old monarch. This doesn’t “wait” until the coronation. The coronation just confirms this. Now, granted, my knowledge of royal protocol comes from the British royal system. The statement announcing the death of George VI in 1952 was: “The King is dead. Long live the Queen!” The Queen, of course, being his daughter, Elizabeth II. Her coronation didn’t happen for over a year later, to give the people time to both mourn the death of their king (and her of her father), and prepare for the celebration of a new monarch. Maybe it’s different in Russia???

4) Not sure I fully believed in Nikolai’s sudden lust for the throne.

5) The Ending: The Bad. As mentioned before, there are things I love about the Ending and things I hated. I’m not sure I believed the Ending. I’m having trouble imagining in my mind the scene where Nikolai suddenly realizes what he’s done to Vika as he and Pasha rush over to her poor, unconscious body… And everybody just stands there? All 10,000+ of them? Waiting and watching as Nikolai does his thing with the hand (which made me think, Oh, so Vika’s like Luke Skywalker now!)… This time of reconciliation and forgiveness and understanding seemed to come too easily. Why didn’t this happen earlier? Why is this happening in front of a huge audience of Russians? When it comes down to it, I just didn’t believe it.

6) As I was reading, I predicted that Nikolai would not die in the end. (I was right.) But, I also predicted that Pasha would die. (I was wrong.) I primarily made this prediction based on Nikolai’s name. Because I knew there was a Nicholas I of Russia during this time period. I checked, and yes, Nicholas I does indeed succeed Alexander I in 1825. So, I was surprised that Evelyn Skye did not have this play out! All she had to do was kill Pasha. (Not by Nikolai’s hand, of course. That would have been awful!)



My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I am probably being generous with this rating. It’s not as good as the first book, but I did find it an engaging-enough read. Since Nikolai is my favourite character in the book, I did find this book hard to read at times because he was so… different. And dark. Very dark.