Sunday, February 27, 2022

Review: The Dancing Trees by Masiana Kelly, Illustrated by Michelle Simpson

by Masiana Kelly, Illustrated by Michelle Simpsom
Release Date: November 2, 2021
2021 Inhabit Media
ARC Edition: 32 Pages 
ISBN: 978-1772273694
Genre: Fiction / Children / Nature
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Thomas loves to tell stories. Big stories. Stories about how skilled he is on the land. But when one of his friends grows tired of his tall tales, Thomas has to prove how skilled he really is. Taking the challenge to spend a night alone in the forest, Thomas heads into the wilderness. The trees, who have heard his stories, watch him tear off their bark and litter as he goes. And so, while Thomas sleeps, they dance a dance that will leave Thomas with a very different kind of story to tell―if he can find his way home…
My Thoughts
The main idea of The Dancing Trees is to take care of the environment and to be careful that you are truthful, that you don't boast about things that you didn't do.  I really liked the message/themes of the book and think they are relevant to many of the concerns in today's society.  The illustrations were lovely and I did take my time looking at them as I know lots of illustrators include a lot of little nuggets if you pay a lot of attention.
What I really liked: I really liked the digital art as the colours were vivid, yet earthy, colours I love. As someone who loves hiking and canoe trekking, these pictures attracted my eye and I did spend a lot of time looking at them.  I also have a background in children's literature, so I tend to look to see if the illustrator has included any other little things that are easy to overlook in their artwork if you just flip through the pages.  
I read the book was originally published in Inuinnaqtun, so it is nice to see a children's book based on an Indigenous oral legend.  Everyone has exaggerated their exploits when they were young, and I liked how this book tackled that topic, to encourage truthfulness and that boasting will not be tolerated.  I loved listening to oral stories as a kid, and it is important for young children to understand the relevance these old legends have in today's society.
I did think the story was a bit wordy for young children, and when I did read to a couple of my neighbour's kids, they had trouble with the idea of Thomas going off into the forest by himself at such a young age.  I also had an issue with that, even though I know it's just a story, relevancy is important, and young children would definitely not spend the night along in a forest today.  And while I loved the message regarding the environment and how we have to protect it, I did think Thomas' quick turnaround was just that, way too quick.  He just seemed to change personalities and everything was forgiven without accountability, something else my young readers picked up on.  
The Dancing Trees was a charming book and I loved that it was based on an Indigenous oral legend.  I would definitely love to see more of those legends brought to life this way.  I did think the book was a bit wordy for a young child, and Thomas was able to change his ideas and behaviours way too quickly without being accountable for his actions.  Lovely artwork so I will definitely be looking for more from this illustrator as well.  I do recommend this book if you have young children who are interested in the environment. 


Monday, February 21, 2022

Review: The Perfect Escape by Leah Konen

by Leah Konen
Release Date: January 4, 2022
2022 G.P. Putnam's Sons
Kindle Edition; 372 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593085448
Audiobook: B093MG4298
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

New friends Sam, Margaret and Diana are thrilled to be getting out of the city for a girls’ weekend—they’ve bonded over their messy divorces, and every mile on the odometer feels like another step towards putting their exes in the past. But when car trouble halfway into their trip strands them in the most unlikely of mountain towns, they come face-to-face with the hurts and betrayals they were so desperate to leave behind.

When Diana doesn't return home after a night out, Sam and Margaret's search for her reveals just how little they know about their friend. As eerie coincidences and secrets begin to pile up, and an ex-boyfriend arrives in the tiny town, the women realize that their detour may not have been a mistake...and that someone wants to guarantee that they never make it out.
My Thoughts
The Perfect Escape had a fairly interesting premise, started off fairly strong, but I thought it went downhill from the middle of the book; I did enjoy the situation in which the girls found themselves, but I struggled with the writing as it seemed to be more in the nature of telling you what was happening rather than letting you figure it out on its own.  
Sam, Margaret, and Diana are newish friends who bond over their difficulties with their respective spouses and decide to have a girls' weekend. Unfortunately, something goes wrong right from the beginning and they are stranded overnight in a town that is of interest to one of the other girls.  Personally, I hate coincidences like these and thought this was one of the weakest parts of the book.  For me, it affected the level of suspense and made it way too predictable.  

This was a fast-paced read, although it did slow down considerably in the middle.  Unfortunately, told through the perspectives of only Sam and Margaret took away from the overall suspense as it made Diana look quite suspicious.  Personally, I think having Diana's perspective would have strengthened the overall story.  I wasn't a huge fan of these women as their communication was terrible and they certainly didn't make mature choices.  Maybe they are all passive in nature, but I know I would not have let things go the way they did and I would have asked a lot more questions.  

The Perfect Escape was an easy fast-paced read, but it did have some issues with pacing and I thought keeping it to the two perspectives lost some of the overall suspense. The story didn't feel quite like a thriller, but more of a domestic fiction with all of the trials and tribulations of marriage, infidelity, miscarriage, and so on.  There was a nice little twist at the end over which I spent some time reflecting, but it wasn't enough to boost this book. Although this one was a miss for me, if you are looking for an easy beach read, this might be for you.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Review: The Mitford Vanishing by Jessica Fellowes

by Jessica Fellowes
Release Date: January 8, 2022
2022 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 416 Pages
ISBN: 1250819208
Audiobook: B09NB163JY
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

1937. War with Germany is dawning, and a civil war already raging in Spain. Split across political lines, the six Mitford sisters are more divided than ever. Meanwhile their former maid Louisa Cannon is now a private detective, working with her policeman husband Guy Sullivan.

Louisa and Guy are surprised when a call comes in from novelist Nancy Mitford requesting that they look into the disappearance of her Communist sister Jessica in Spain. But one case leads to another as they are also asked to investigate the mysterious vanishing of a soldier.
My Thoughts
The Mitford Vanishing had a pretty interesting premise, and I really liked the inclusion of the Spanish Civil War in this one, but the mystery took a long time to get going which really affected the pacing of the book.  I also think I got caught up in how easily everyone just seemed to jump back and forth from France to England, without a care in the world; I felt like I was reading something a bit more modern rather than something that was taking place only two years before the start of WWII.
I do think the strength of this novel is the character development, but at the same time, it's also its weakness.  I enjoyed the relationship between Louisa and Guy and how well they worked together, trying to build a detective agency during this time period.  I did feel like the author sometimes struggled trying to create a heroine who was independent, living in England with all of its rules and strictures, rules under which the Mitford sisters rebelled and created all sorts of issues and situations for their very strict parents.   While most of the characters are fiction, the Mitford family are actual historical figures and created quite a stir during this time period, something that I don't think goes far enough in this book.  Their political associations were quite varied, and Jessica vanishing with a man would have created a huge scandal.  Louisa's freedom to investigate, and travel all over the place, seems a bit far fetched to me, considering she is now a mother.  I think even the most open-minded male might have trouble swallowing that concept in the 1930s.  But, then again, the rules were often far more strict for the wealthy and titled than they were for the lower classes.   

While this book is well-written, it is a mystery novel and I felt like nothing really happens until the last third of the novel.  Yes, Louisa and Guy were chasing Jessica, but there was another mystery intertwined throughout that story line, and eventually the two merged together, but the getting there was a trial.  It's not that I didn't enjoy the search for Decca, but when something is packaged as a mystery novel, the pacing should be somewhat different.  I have often wondered if these books would have been better served to have been packaged as just historical fiction, whereby the author could have really focused on the politics of the Mitford sisters, with Louisa intertwined in their struggles, and included the mysteries as a interesting side.  The last third of the book suddenly took off, but unfortunately, there were just too many coincidences for it to be convincing for me.  

The Mitford Vanishing was interesting, but suffered from some pacing issues. And while I enjoyed the search for Decca, I did feel like more emphasis on developing the two story lines early on, and intertwining them a bit more, would have helped with the pacing. And while I enjoyed the character development, I did feel like Louisa was a bit flat in this one, as if the author struggled with Louisa as a mother and Louisa as an independent woman.  I continue to read these books as I am interested to see how things will develop as Louisa and the Mitfords enter the WWII era.


Saturday, February 19, 2022

Review: The Women of Chateau Lafayette

by Stephanie Dray
Release Date: March 30, 2021
2021 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 576 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593335932
Audiobook: B08CY9R6W7
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

A founding mother...
1774. Gently-bred noblewoman Adrienne Lafayette becomes her husband, the Marquis de Lafayette's political partner in the fight for American independence.

A daring visionary...

1914. Glittering New York socialite Beatrice Chanler is a force of nature, daunted by nothing--not her humble beginnings, her crumbling marriage, or the outbreak of war. 

A reluctant resistor...

1940.As the realities of Nazi occupation transform her life in the isolated castle where she came of age, she makes a discovery that calls into question who she is, and more importantly, who she is willing to become.
My Thoughts
The Women of Chateau Lafayette was an absorbing book that I thoroughly enjoyed.  I am not typically a fan of the multiple time lines as they are used in so many historical fiction books today simply because I tend to enjoy one much more than the others and wish the author would focus on that one. And while I definitely loved Adrienne's story the best of the three, the other two story lines were fascinating in their own way, even if they weren't quite as absorbing for me.
Adrienne's story line was my favourite, but one of my interests in uni was the French Revolution (the other being the Roman Empire), so anything to do with Lafayette tends to draw my interest.  I loved the focus on the women and how they dealt with the political side of things and I thought the author did a great job trying to show how Adrienne's family manoeuvred the political ups and downs in France during this time period.  This would have been so tricky to do as so much was going on.  I have a pretty solid knowledge of who was who however, but I do think it could be challenging for those who have little knowledge to really understand who had political power during this time period and to keep everyone straight.  I applaud the author's choices as to who she focused on to keep the story easy to understand, which kept Adrienne's story from getting too convoluted.  And gosh, did I like Adrienne.  It would take a brilliant person to be able to navigate the situations that she had to navigate.  Personally, I could have read an entire book just about her.

I didn't know as much about Beatrice going into this story so it was a treat to read her story.  I found her personally relationship with her husband fascinating, but I also found her so interesting simply because of her accomplishments in a time period that didn't accept outsiders in their wealthy echelons.  I don't think the author went far enough showing how remarkable this lady actually was in her accomplishments.  I teach about the world wars and although I knew about the packages she sent to soldiers overseas, I had no idea how many and how involved she was, nor did I know about some of the other endeavours.  I liked how the author showed her vulnerabilities, secrets from her past, through simple things like being upset when losing her hats and having to go without.  It showed how she often hid her true self behind her more chic outer self.  

Marthe's story line I thought was the weakest and I tended to rush through these chapters.  While showing a bit more of the importance of how Lafayette's castle was used during the war, I don't think it really added anything to the story.  I think compared to the other two story lines, it took a long time for Marthe to really do anything to help, and to me, it seemed like the focus was more on her love life than her activities.  I would have preferred to read more about the resistance as there was such a strong element of it in that area during the war.  

The Women of Chateau Lafayette was well-written, but I definitely enjoyed Adrienne's story the best.  And while the book is fairly long, it was worth the ride. The story lines weren't overly disruptive and I found it fairly easy to return to each story, but I do think Marthe's story is the weakest of the three; I was not a big fan of Marthe and her petulance did get on my nerves after a while.  Highly recommend.