Thursday, August 31, 2017

Review: The Curl Revolution: Inspiring Stories and Practical Advice from the NaturallyCurly Community

The Curl Revolution: Inspiring Stories and Practical Advice from the NaturallyCurly Community The Curl Revolution: Inspiring Stories and Practical Advice from the NaturallyCurly Community by Michelle Breyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Many of you have never met me. You just know that I like fairy tales, Jane Austen, fantasy, sci-fi, real sci and cats. You don't know about my crazy Irish head of hair that frizzes if you do ONE thing wrong to it. Yeah, it's supposed to be wavy. Sometimes it can go from glorious almost perfect pre-Raphaelite waves to hornet's nest just walking out the door into the humidity. Frankly, I don't even have to leave the house. You should see me when I cook, for instance.


My father, a now-retired dermatologist, used to chide me saying "there's only two kinds of hair- the kind you have, and the kind you wish you had." Truer words, people... My mother, she of the coarse, thick, ever so slight gorgeous waves, who used to tell me to "just leave it alone," said that I got my great-grandmother's hair and was going to just have to live with it. (She did, however, have the sense when I was little to only comb it, and only wet, with conditioner, and starting from ends up, rather than from the top down, which would just snarl it.) There are so many perils facing curly girls. From hotel shampoos with sulfates to your guy running his fingers through your hair and having them get stuck and then yanking your hair out to free his hand from the Medusa-like tresses. Did I mention how a simple haircut can ruin curly hair?

When Lorraine Massey published Curly Girl: The Handbook in 2001 it captured my attention like no previous book on style or beauty ever had. It was the first truly multi-ethnic book on curly hair care and styling. Sixteen years later and the hair product market has finally gotten into full swing for curly girls. There are plenty of products and, thankfully, I finally have a hairstylist who can deal with my frizz-fest. (She calls her salon The Curl Whisperer and she's not kidding.) But there still aren't a lot of recent book resources out there to tell us how to deal with our curls. Enter The Curl Revolution!

This gorgeous book is a treasure trove of information for women, children and men with curly hair. From identifying what type of curl you have to which products, styling tools, and methods of cutting and handling are best for your hair. The book also details what to avoid for curly hair. They give you recommendations about everything from how to identify a curl-safe hairstylist to handling post-chemo curls to protecting your curls from friction while you sleep so you don't wake up with the hornet's nest effect. This is a compendium of good, solid, and in fact, invaluable advice for people with curly hair. Greenleaf Publishing gave it to me to read for free and I pre-ordered it in the first five minutes I had the ARC on my computer.

If you have straight or slightly wavy hair, this review doesn't speak to you and I'm sorry. But if you're a curly haired person, this book is so worth getting!


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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Review: The Glass Town Game

The Glass Town Game The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was fortunate to receive an Advance Review Copy of this book. And I mean way fortunate because my requests on both Net Galley and Edelweiss Plus are still "pending" (i.e. in limbo) for the past two months. Luck was mine with a paper ARC! Also to note: This book was reviewed without the accompanying artwork.

So if you know me, you know I have loved Cat Valente's works ever since I first opened The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden in 2007. To be honest, I would read her cereal box blurbs if she wrote them and I would listen to her soothing voice read the telephone book (yellow pages, please). Whether her lyrical Orphan's Tales, the whimsy of her Fairyland books or the clever Russian folklore meets Soviet Russia mashup Deathless, I've loved just about everything she's put her keyboard to, including her Twitter feed. With that said, this is a very odd book to me. It's marked as Middle Grade Fiction, ages 10 and up. I can't really see it as a book for a 10 year old, however, as its structure and language seem far too sophisticated for a ten or eleven year old child. It might not be picked up by young adults, either, because let's face it, toy soldiers are not popular with many teens these days. As I say below, I settled on its being a book for families.

The Glass Town Game features a fictionalized story about the four real-life Brontë siblings, Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell. As Judith Shulevitz said last year in The Atlantic , the amount of related work, whether biographical or fictional, related to the Brontës is something of a cult. This book might well be a get 'em early story, to hook children's interest on this famous literary family. It is like a story (their creation, a world of make-believe) within a story (Valente's creation), and is quite clever and beautifully written. I can't wait to hear it read aloud. It begs to be read aloud. There are aspects of a truly classic children's story here, a kind of portal fantasy with the depth and complexity that you don't often see. What I'm not sure of, however, is whether it works as a piece of juvenilia for its target audience. I think a lot of the book is largely going to be lost on children, but I'm not sure adults, especially Brontë-loving adults, will pick the book up for themselves and enjoy it as the very sophisticated children's book that it is intended to be, either. My conclusion is that this is the sort of book that you read aloud to and with your children, and intersperse with little details like Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre and Villette, Emily wrote Wuthering Heights , Anne The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Branwell was an artist, and here, have a look at their house in Haworth, look at this picture of Charlotte, etc. The beastly Cowan Bridge School (which sadly lived on well into the 21st Century as Casterton School, rather than falling to the fate the children envision or create) can be pointed out as informing Jane Eyre's miserable experience at Lowood School, and the death of her beloved friend Helen was clearly an expression of the deaths of Charlotte's sisters Maria and Lizzie. And so on... Hopefully enough of it will lodge in the brains of a middle schooler that they will feel a familiarity when reading the Brontë sisters' works later on. Goal accomplished!

In conclusion, this book and its plot structure and language are everything I love about Cat Valente's writing. I'm not sure it's a read-alone children's book, though, even for Middle Grade children. So I hope enough grownup readers will share it with their children to help it gain the appreciation it deserves. It's truly the perfect family reading night book.

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Review: Wicked Like a Wildfire

Wicked Like a Wildfire Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popović
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was fortunate to receive an Advance Reader Copy/Uncorrected Proof of this book in exchange for an honest review.

3.5 Stars

As a great lover of folk and fairy tales from around the globe, I’m always excited to find new authors or new books that weave a fantasy story around fairy and folk tales. There are a plethora of books out there in this fantasy subgenre, especially those steeped in the Irish, Nordic or Russian mythos. And so it was with abundant interest that I read Wicked Like A Wildfire, whose Serbian-American author Lana Popović gives us a story rich with Balkan and Slavic folklore and a bit of Romany culture, as well.

Wicked Like A Wildfire, first book in a duology titled Hibiscus Daughter, begins with the story of twin sisters, Iris and Malina, growing up in a village in Montenegro, Catttaro (Kotor). From the start we know they possess a form of magic, termed a gleam, that their mother Jasimina lures forth from them in infancy by use of scent and taste, which is their mother’s own special form of gleam. Iris, lured by a tart hibiscus flower into gleaming becomes her hibiscus daughter of the series title, while Malina is similarly lured into gleaming by a crushed cherry. As is often the case in magic, knowledge of one’s true name or nature gives you power over that person, so their mother names them for another flower, Iris, and fruit, Malina or raspberry. The nature of the sisters’ relationship with their mother by the time the story gets its real start is quite strained. Iris has had her gleam deliberately stunted by her mother because it was just too strong. Both girls have been by Jasmina told not to find romantic love, lest their gleam give away their not-quite-human nature, which would brand them as witches and lead to their deaths. They share affection only with their close friends, Luka and Niko (short for Nikoleta), whose Roma mother Koštana was a friend of their mother’s, and with their father figure, Čiča Jovan. Jovan always knew that Jasimina was more than she seemed yet took her in all the same when she arrived in mysteriously their village. Horrible things lurk in Jasmina’s past, including a lost beloved sister. Jasmina as seen through Iris’s eyes is sharp and all edges. The reasons for Jasmina’s nature are central to the plot and can’t be detailed without spoiling the story.

Iris’s gift, of a “fractal flower magic,” and here can I say I hope that Popović’s young readers look up both the meaning and pictures of fractals to get an idea of Iris’s magic, is stunted in comparison to Malina’s. Malina possesses the gift of music and song, and can literally sing a song of a person’s present emotional state and even tell if they are truthful. This differing magical capacity has strained the sibling relationship but not frayed it entirely. Iris loves her sister a great deal, even if she’s jealous of her. Romance hovers around Iris, from both her childhood friend Luka, and his steadfast friendship which waits for her to truly see the nature of his love for her, and with a seductive stranger, Fjolar, who arrives on the scene as a dashing figure. Malina has her own romance going, but that, too, would be too much of a spoiler to go into detail about. In the course of the book we see the sisters encounter the Slavic goddess Mara/Marenna (a Baba Yaga variant in terms of her dark powers, representing night, winter and death), her sometimes fierce offspring, and Death himself. In some respects, one can see traces of the iconic story of Marya Morevna, Ivan and Koschei the Deathless here.

Popović shows us much that is interesting about Montenegran culture, it’s folk history, its delicious and alluring food (the sensuous descriptions of Jasmina’s pastries and baked goods are lush enough to make you hungry reading this book, I assure you.) Given all these many gifts, you’d be fair asking why I rated the book only 3.5 stars. After the spoiler cut, I can give you more of an idea as to why.

(SPOILERS BELOW)

Popović is a writer with an impressive curriculum vitae leading up to this, her first novel. With an academic background that features degrees in literature, law, and writing, along with her work as a literary agent in the YA field, one expects a lot from her and in many ways she delivers. The thing that makes me sad about this book is that I feel that at its heart, we have the trope of a powerful young woman who finds everyone in her life trying to shackle, rope in or tamp down on her magical power… except for that one deliciously bad guy. She knows he’s bad, we know he’s bad, but she can’t help herself, or so it seems. That's not a message I would aspire to have my teenage daughter reading. I’m sure we’re meant to think this is because of his overwhelming power. Yes, we have either her giving in to his tantalizing nature or his totally over powering her, draining her of magic, leaving her weakened and vulnerable. Midway through the book you can easily find yourself asking if this is akin to rape. In sum, she vacillates between the good guy and the very bad guy. (So yeah, something of a love triangle, with some abuse thrown in?) And then, reader, she leaves you hanging- the book ends in a cliffhanger, where we are left to wonder if the Hibiscus Daughter, the Cherry Daughter and the goddess of winter can somehow put things right. (Of course we're betting on them.) While I’m sure I’ll happily read the second book (releasing in 2018) in order to see the resolution, I was just disappointed that such beautiful worldbuilding got sidetracked by relationship tropes and cliffhangers in the plot. Nevertheless, Popović is a writer I will follow in future.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I will be giving away my ARC copy of Wicked Like A Wildfire! (I bought the book, in spite of my reservations) How to win it? Like the Marzie's Reads Facebook page and comment on the Giveaway post. For a second chance to win, comment on the Marzie's Reads Twitter tweet about the giveaway.


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Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Long Overdue WorldCon Recap!




As you know, I had to leave WorldCon early because my boycat, Pushkin, became very ill back in the US. So I hightailed it out of Helsinki, missing coveted kaffeeklatsches with Ada Palmer (winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, 2017) and Mary Robinette Kowal (winner of the same award in 2008). I was sad to miss speaking with them in a smaller group but eager to get home to care for my kitty, who was in the ICU.

This was the first WorldCon I've attended and while I had voted in previous Hugo Awards, and attended other Cons (for instance NYCC) I was kind of taken aback by how non-commercial WorldCon is. A case is point is that there are no publishers hawking books at WorldCon, which, on the one hand is great because you don't get tempted to buy a bunch of stuff and spend a fortune shipping it home and on the other hand is bad because if you've travelled a long way with a carry-on only bag, you're probably packing clothes, not books for your favorite author to sign. Some authors take it all in stride, bringing their own small promotional items they can sign (Fran Wilde, Carrie Vaughn) or will happily sign anything that you set in front of them (Max Gladstone kindly signed a WorldCon postcard for my friend and fellow blogger Alex, who couldn't come to WorldCon because of Fiscal Realities of New Home vs. Sincere Desire. So other than some interesting panels (climate change in science fiction and fantasy, readings by Amal El-Mohtar and Annalee Newitz, while I can say that pigeonholing fantasy genres is not for me!) the author signings and beloved kaffeeklatsches, the latter limited to ten people, are the definitely the most exciting thing about WorldCon. 

I was fortunate to attend Amal El-Mohtar's kaffeeklatsch. Amal spoke more with everyone about various life things and adventures rather than about her work. She quite successfully tried to engage all of us in attendance with info about ourselves. The following day I attended her reading from her Hugo Award-winning short story Seasons of Iron and Glass, which turns the princess trope on end by giving us young women who rescue themselves. I was very struck in her reading about her poignant experience in writing short stories steeped in mythos that was not reflective of her heritage as associated with her name but was reflective of her literary heritage in terms of what she had grown up reading. Her description of being told by a dear friend that she should write about what she knows, implying an Arabic mythos, instead of a Celtic mythos was a thought-provoking lesson about not really understanding an author's experience and perspective. From Amal's perspective what she knew was the Celtic folk and fairy tales she'd grown up reading. They were her experience! (More on such paradigm shifts later.) In any case, this made me reflect upon the poignant interface between your heritage and what you read, as expressed in her moving short story The Truth About Owls.

Next up was a fun and fascinating kaffeeklatsch with Max Gladstone, wherein we discussed writing, The Craft Sequence and a bit about why Elayne Kevarian is the way she is. Max cited a sort of PTSD stemming from the cumulative effects of her experience leading her to a place where she isn't exactly cold, but she is very careful about how she responds or makes herself vulnerable. Max was a real delight to listen to, and the next day at his signing I was able to ask him discreetly about the weird situation with his series not being fully available in audiobook and whether Tor.com, which is taking over publishing of Craft will be contracting for audiobooks. He mentioned that he has little control but that he and his agent were interested in audiobook publishers and did I know a good one? (Brilliance Audio is a good one!) I told him he ought to be talking to Mary Robinette Kowal, who, did you know, gives advice about both narrating audiobooks and audio publishers on her Patreon? 

I also got to meet Fran Wilde and Carrie Vaughn at their signings. Fran Wilde confirmed how stoked she was to continue writing in the world of her Hugo Award finalist short story The Jewel and Her Lapidary and the deeply creepy short work The Topaz Marquise. I asked Carrie Vaughn whether her moving short story That Game We Played During the War, one of my favorite short stories read in 2016, was truly a standalone. Her answer was an interesting one- the story started as a fragment of a novel but she couldn't get the book to work. What she was most interested in was the interaction between those two central characters and not as much the world and the circumstances. She tried several times to make it into a book and ended up with that one kernel of their story as a powerful short story. It certainly worked as a short! I was moved to tears by that story. You can read it here on Tor.com.

As I mentioned above, one of the most important things I got out of this Con was a paradigm shift. First, there was that moment of hearing Amal describing being hurt that someone mistook her name as her literary experience. Do we mistakenly look at an author's name and think they will be writing to their heritage? That Nnedi Okorafor is only going to write about Nigeria or that Amal El-Mohtar is going to write about Arabic fantasy? Your name shouldn't define what we expect you to write! Second, there was a great conversation I had with Estonian and Russian freelance translator and writer Andrei Tuch. I asked him about Andrus Kivirähk's book The Man Who Spoke Snakish, a book I reviewed in 2016 and about which I had many conflicting feelings as a possible representation of Estonian culture. The book was a highly sexist folktale-inspired story that pairs the opposing force of a more pagan, forest style of living against that of a Christian, agrarian lifestyle (bread is the temptation here, not the proverbial apple). Well, Andrei kind of spun my head around with the idea that Kivirähk, who, of course, probably never contemplated being translated into English and being read in America while writing the book, was giving the Estonian reader social commentary, if not criticism, on Estonian society, its sexism, and its fear, self-loathing and small-mindedness. All this was totally lost in translation for me as an American reader. And that should give us all food for thought- what is lost when we translate not just a language but a culture? I was so sorry to have missed Andrei's panel on translation of names. To give a simplistic example, think of the connotation of names in Harry Potter. Take Malfoy, for instance. Or Umbridge? How are you going to get those names to convey the underlying character's nature in say... Russian or Japanese or Hebrew? And speaking of Hebrew, I had a delightful time with the husband and wife team of small translation publisher based in Tel Aviv, husband and wife Henry and Ella Harel. My friend Gloria and I enjoyed a lovely side trip to Tallinn, Estonia with Ella. (I have to go back! It was really lovely!) I also had some interesting discussions with Harry about the difficulties inherent in translating cultural aspects in novels. Some books lose so much in translation. So when you read a book that has been translated into English, maybe you really shouldn't exclusively judge fault with the author but with your own lack of experience with the milieu that the author may be writing in and capturing perfectly. Andrei, I have taken so much away from our conversation!

The other high point of the WorldCon was, of course, the Hugo Awards, which were exciting enough to live tweet. I was thrilled when Seanan McGuire won for Every Heart a Doorway, and when Arrival, based on Ted Chiang's The Story of Your Life won over Hidden Figures, which I am still annoyed was even nominated for a Science Fiction award because WOMEN DOING SCIENCE ISN'T FICTION, PEOPLE!!! (Sorry for getting a bit carried away on that point, but I've still got a hornet's nest under my bonnet on this one...) I was so happy for Amal El-Mohtar (though a bit sad for Carrie Vaughn, whose story I loved). But most of all, I was so utterly thrilled for Nora K. Jemisin winning back to back, for The Obelisk Gate. As readers of my reviews know, All the Birds in the Sky was not my favorite book. All the Birds had cleaned up at the Nebula Awards and Locus Awards and I really thought it was going to win the Hugo, as well. My two favorites of the finalists were Obelisk Gate and Becky Chambers' delightful A Closed and Common Orbit. (I struggled over third place between Ninefox Gambit  and Too Like the Lightning.) Jemisin is only the third author to have won back to back Hugo Awards for Best Novel since the award's inception in the 1950's. It was exciting to see that the fans selected Jemisin for this honor. It was a firm, and hopefully final, salvo to the Sad and Rabid Puppies of Sci-Fi/Fantasy that writer diversity and work reflecting diverse real world denizens, are here to stay. (By the way, did I mention that whenever Vox Day, Castralia House nominees or other Puppy affiliates were announced in the finalist lists that the audience was largely dead silent, as opposed to applauding all the other nominees?)

Meanwhile, thankfully, my boychik Pushkin is on the mend. He still has a feeding tube but I can finally catch my breath and think about how interesting the WorldCon was, without thinking about it as That Time My Cat Nearly Died When I Was Off Playing in Helsinki.



P.S. Can I just say that the lines for George R. R. Martin to sign his books were the longest I've ever seen for any author? Ye gads! He must have been exhausted afterwards and he signed on two different days!

Review: Seven Surrenders

Seven Surrenders Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

"Only Utopia thinks the future is more important than the present, that there are worlds that we could make which are worth destroying the one we have here."

This book, this book... It's almost impossible to rate for me. Is it four stars because it's so hard, so dense and not a facile read (no breezing through this book, readers, and the change of audio narrator was maddening although that criticism is unfair because Ada Palmer probably has zero control over anything to do with the audiobook contract) or 5 stars because it's so fricking stunning? As you can see, I have split the difference with the 4.5.

This series is hard to review, as well. What can I give you without revealing major plot points? Yes this is sci-fi and yes it's a ultimately a dystopian rather than utopian world view. That's the simple take and yet it's a pale description of these books. Ada Palmer gives us a long dystopian gaze at future history, and at what a failure "utopia" is, both as a concept, and as in the case of this particular seven Hive-run world. (I talked about my love of hives as a concept in my review of Too Like the Lightning.) But this book is also a political thriller, and the politics are just as complicated as the failed philosophy that informs the world that Mycroft Canner (and briefly, Sniper Saneer) have tried to tell us about. I am quite sure I have never read a science fiction series quite like this, and you probably haven't either. The world, its language, its use of gender, of the unwinding of the ideas of enlightenment, are utterly unique. These books make you ask many fundamental questions about human nature, society and what a world can and should be.

What if the idea of utopia is a fallacy? What if, by merely envisioning its boundaries, its structure and rules, we have already gone astray? Can you really force people to abide by rules in a utopia? When you think of utopia, you probably never think about the price of utopia. How is it maintained and at what cost? Who pays the price and who exacts that price? In the end, are you propping up merely a façade of utopia, with a bunch of lies and morally questionable actions? Who leads in utopia, and why? Can one ever lead for a greater common good or is human nature such that we are always ultimately limited by our self-interest? Who is this utopia really for? Can it ever truly be a genderless, areligious society? Is that sort of utopia even compatible with our fundamental human nature? Are we always questing to assign a simple, binary gender identity, or to find something, someone, to believe in, worship? Are all miracles that occur in a utopian world doomed to fail because utopia itself does not work? Terra Ignota is seeking to understand these questions. We may not like what some of the answers say about human nature, however.

All that said, I have my quibbles with the plot and the world Palmer has built for us. While classism/elitism certainly still exists in Palmer's world, racism seems to have been resolved and is pretty much a non-issue. While that's a refreshing take, I'm not sure I completely buy the idea that racism is not an issue, while gender secretly remains a prominent one. I especially find Madame D'Arouet's path and role regarding the reintroduction of gender somewhat unconvincing, although I find the power of her Salon to be a pleasing echo of the 1700 and 1800s. Other things to quibble with... Carlyle, where is Carlyle? Carlyle was one of the most relatable, likeable characters and their absence is felt. And while this book is resolved as part two, and an immediate continuation of book one (Too Like the Lightning), I felt as if I was left hanging off the edge of a cliff at the end of Seven Surrenders. Yes reader, this is a very odd kind of cliffhanger, but a cliffhanger it is. But Ada has me hooked now. The Will to Battle cannot come out soon enough.

One thing I would note for readers is that you may want to think about the format you read this book in. I listened to Too Like the Lightning as an audiobook. It was hard, I got lost, and then bought the eBook to try to figure out names and search for threads of connection. With Seven Surrenders I started with the audiobook, moved to the Kindle eBook and now have decided to (gasp) order paper so I can make notes. Yes, you need notes. And if ever a series needed a Wiki site, this one does. Someone should send a message to Romanova about it. Step away between books and when you return you'll be asking about 'bashes and hives and Graylaws and Blacklaws and Cousins and it goes on and on. You'll need to keep it straight if you are following the political endgame.

So all in all, if you are looking for a challenging read, Terra Ignota is the series for you. You will need to have history, philosophy and a number of current social issues (religion vs atheism, gender, including non-binary gender issues) under your belt or within your quick reach for research. But this thought-provoking series is worth your time, reader. And Mycroft Canner, its charismatic narrator, will lead you along a path of wonderment.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Forthcoming ARC Reviews for Late Summer and Autumn 2017




In the next couple of months, I'll be reviewing ARC copies of some pretty enticing books.

First up will be Lana Popovic's Wicked Like A Wildfire, which I hope to have up by no later than tomorrow because it releases tomorrow! (Worry about my kitty really killed the reading plans over the past couple of days...) Before the end of the month we'll have reviews for  Catherynne Valente's YA novel The Glasstown Game (releases September 5th, followed by National Book Award winning Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied Sing, releasing the same date. And on September 5th, I'll finally get a chance to share my review of Seanan McGuire's The Brightest Fell, following the author's request to delay publishing reviews until release date. Boy, do I want to talk about The Brightest Fell... Some of it is going to stun longtime Toby Daye readers.

Looking onward toward October, I have internationally best-selling author David Walton's The Genius Plague (a reversal of the usually dire plague trope). But you'll be seeing a host of reviews in late October for all the November releases, including actress Krysten Ritter's (Marvel's Jessica Jones) debut novel Bonfire, Andy Weir's (author of the acclaimed international bestseller The Martian) new book Artemis, and Mira Grant's Into the Drowning Deep.

Thereafter I have Katherine Arden's follow up to the Russian folktale inspired The Bear and the Nightingale, titled The Girl in the Tower, which releases in early January. The Bear and the Nightingale is one of the most impressive debuts I've read since I started reviewing formally. I'm looking forward to seeing where goes thing in book two!

In between, I'll be doing my regular NetGalley and Edelweiss duty on a host of new authors, and filling in around the edges with a couple of more academic approaches to fairy and folktale forms (Baba Yaga, Seepling Beauty) plus there are those forthcoming releases that I couldn't get my greedy little hands on in ARC formats, like Nora K. Jemisin's The Stone Sky, which releases tomorrow!

The months ahead promise to be filled with interesting reads!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Review: Country Grit: A Farmoir of Finding Purpose and Love

Country Grit: A Farmoir of Finding Purpose and Love Country Grit: A Farmoir of Finding Purpose and Love by Scottie Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review. I have no connection with the author or her farm but do provide links below for informational purposes.

3.5 Stars rounded up to 4 stars because FARMS and FARM STAY!

Country Grit is a farm memoir or farmoir by Scottie Jones, who started the 'Farm Stay' movement in the USA and who is the founder and executive director of Farm Stay USA. Her farm, Leaping Lamb Farm in Alsea, Oregon, was the inception of the Farm Stay concept in the US back in 2006. If you don't understand how important Farm Stay as a concept is, go check out this Washington Post article in which children don't understand a distressing amount about what they eat and drink. (No Sally and Bobby, chocolate milk doesn't come from brown cows.) The story of how Scottie and her husband Greg came to own a farm in Oregon after a hectic life in Phoenix was an interesting one to read, but the compelling stories of the animals and interesting humans around Leaping Lamb Farm are what really captures the reader.

Scottie chooses to respect the privacy of her community by melding stories of the people in it, and indeed the town itself which she calls Elsie, into composites. She has done a good job with keeping these composite characters real, and some of their stories are quite poignant. I am still on the fence about the episodic nature of the vignettes she presents, some of which I wasn't always getting the feeling where in chronological order, thus making the memoir aspect slightly confused. I felt that the book would have benefited from better editing, which might have toned down the episodic tone and made a smoother, and maybe even slightly longer memoir. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this book and am happy to provide their first review.

Scottie has also authored another book, Paco the Dusty Donkey about her friend Jack's pet burro. I'm really feeling that her horse Tater deserves his own children's book, about horses with the magical power to open latches.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Review: Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market

Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If Arthur Rackham and H. P. Lovecraft had an artist lovechild, that artist might create fanciful horror illustrations like Omar Rayyan's lush watercolor and oil images. I discovered Rayyan long ago on on his Etsy studio page, where his print of his oil painting titled "The Socialite" made me laugh out loud. Finding that Rayyan had released an illustrated interpretive edition of Christina Rossetti's iconic poem Goblin Market was a delightful surprise that made great sense, when I think of some of Rayyan's frightful yet humorous creatures. It's easy to imagine that Goblin Market has long fascinated him.

This is a book targeting adults, based on its somewhat steep $35 price tag. But if you love his work, you'll know that it's a real bargain to have so many of his illustrations. And if you love the poem that has inspired so many writers of magic, it's all the better. My only criticism is that if you want to read the verses paired to the many images, the delicately drawn text is rather difficult to read. Though the full poem is offered in clear bold text at the back, flipping back and forth reduces the enjoyment and flow of his illustrations. I'd suggest reading the full poem first and then paging through the 80+ pages of illustrations, letting the imagery lead you through Christina Rossetti's sensuous masterpiece of sisterly love overcoming goblin malice.

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