Lazy Sundays: Barbecue Season

Yep, today I’m mostly reading an amazing new ARC I got from Marc Secchia and then I’m attending a family barbecue.  My throat’s all healed up so I’m going to thoroughly enjoy finally being able to eat real food.  And my friend’s barbecued ribs are so delicious you could kill for them.  (I’m not really even exaggerating about that last bit.)

So have a fun Sunday!  What’s your favourite food to eat at a barbecue?

Discussion: #YANeedsMore…

If any of you were on Twitter a few days ago you were probably annoyed at me for tweeting so many things under the YANeedsMore hashtag.  I apologize for that but it got me so excited about the chance to share my thoughts on what my favourite genre needs more of.  I don’t expect it to change anything because hashtags rarely do but it was nice to get things out there.  Some of my suggestions for #YANeedsMore were:

  • Main characters who try, fail and then learn from their mistakes. Just like real teenagers do!
  • Main characters who struggle with mental illness as teens: clinical depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, OCD, etc.
  • Characters with parents who care when their teenager suddenly starts behaving completely differently!
  • Characters who live in poverty and struggle with it daily. Not everyone lives in the suburbs.
  • Teen characters with chronic illnesses. Yes, even teenagers can be sick! And sometimes it isn’t always obvious.
  • Female protagonists who are okay with not currently being in a relationship. Seriously, not everyone wants to date constantly.
  • Disabled characters as main characters, not as cheesy inspiration for the able-bodied protagonist.
  • Clumsy non-athletes who don’t become butt-kicking machines after only a few weeks of training. Not realistic!

Those are just the highlights of my time on that particular hashtag but there were so many other tweets highlighting the need for actual racial diversity, interracial relationships, LGBT representation and so much more.

Now, this is absolutely not to say that books with these characteristics don’t exist because they do.  And that’s awesome!  But it would be nice to see a few more with some of these traits, to see them in the mainstream.  I love that so many indie authors are working on bringing some of these books to life but I would really love to see big publishers with the guts to publish YA books like that.

So what I want to know now is this: What do you think YA as a genre needs more of?

Seaside by Wylde Scott

Seaside by Wylde Scott(Cover picture courtesy of Barnes & Noble.)

Every boy in Seaside wants to be one of Blackbeard’s Boys. From the time ten year old Robert Grace O’Malley could hold his very first fishing pole, it was all he thought about. Every captain of every ship had been one, and now he was well on his way. That is, until he meets Walter, the young octopus who will change his life forever. In Seaside, Wylde Scott takes you on an exciting voyage through a fairly-tale fishing village and a pivotal moment in the life of two unexpected friends. An adventurous story perfect for young readers graduating into their first novels or parents reading their little ones to sleep, it’s a book that’s bound to be a staple in every family’s library for years to come.

[Full disclosure: I received a hardcover copy of this book from the author at Book Expo America 2015 in exchange for an honest review.]

Novels for  younger readers aren’t what I typically review here on The Mad Reviewer but the blurb was so intriguing and Mr. Scott pitched it very well at his booth so I just had to pick it up.  In the end I’m really, really glad I brought Seaside home.

Seaside is a great book, as the blurb says, for young readers starting to read novels on their own or for parents reading to younger children before bedtime.  But really, I’m a grown woman and I thoroughly enjoyed it so it’s not just for the little ones as long as you let your inner child have free reign for a while.  It’s written at a level that any age group can enjoy but it’s the story itself that is (of course) the most important part.

Our human protagonist Robert is a ten year old boy who wants nothing more than to be one of Blackbeard’s Boys.  In his village of Seaside virtually everyone works as a fisherman but Blackbeard’s Boys are sort of the in-crowd, the group of future fishermen that you really want to be a part of.  They’re the cool kids and Robert quite naturally wants to be one.  Which is where we begin our story: with Robert swimming out to the lighthouse late at night in order to prove he’s worthy to be one of Blackbeard’s Boys.  That’s also when we meet our octopus protagonist, Walter.  Walter is just a carefree young child who questions almost everything his mother says, especially when it comes to humans.  Unfortunately, Walter’s reluctance to leave his play area that also happens to be a popular fishing area leads to his mother being captured by Captain Bonicelli, the son of the man Walter’s grandfather dragged to the bottom of the sea when he was caught.

Without giving too much of the plot away, Walter and Robert end up meeting and striking up a friendship that is as unconventional as it is taboo in the fishing town of Seaside.  And it’s this friendship that really makes both of them reconsider their preconceived notions about both humans and octopi.  Walter has to really think about his stereotypes regarding humans and Robert has to really reconsider whether or not he really does want to be a fisherman for his own sake or because it’s what is expected of him.  That leads me into another important point about Seaside: it has some really great lessons in here for young readers.  For example, the idea that you don’t have to fit in with the cool crowd and that you should choose to do what makes you happy rather than what’s expected of you.  Those are lessons that people of all ages can use, but they are especially important for children.

Obviously for someone who reads quite a bit, the ending was a little predictable but kids will absolutely love it.  One of the things that’s really striking about Seaside in general is that for a children’s novel, the characters were incredibly well developed.  Of course both Walter and Robert were well developed, but the surprising thing was that all of the adult characters were as well.  They all had a little bit of page time of their own and that revealed their backstories as well as the motivations for their current actions.  We learn, for example, why Robert’s father retired from being a fisherman and why Captain Bonicelli has a bit of a chip on his shoulder when it comes to giant octopi.  There are all sorts of fascinating little details in these peoples’ lives and I think you do have to read the book a couple of times to truly appreciate the thoughtfulness and detail Wylde Scott put into his novel.  Of course the illustrations by Hannah Shuping really add to the story and bring the characters to life even more.  They’re a little dark for my liking but they are fabulous and at times adorable.

Basically, if you have a child that’s just starting to read chapter books or one that’s a little too young but loves to be read to at bedtime, Seaside is a great choice.  It has some amazingly memorable characters, a great plot, fabulous illustrations and some very important life lessons.  What more can you ask for in a chapter book aimed at young children?

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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*Not available.

King Callie by B. Lynch

King Callie by B. Lynch(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Caliandra, the teenage princess of Barra, is in dire straits.

Not only did her fiancé break off their engagement and leave her for a richer woman, but Caliandra’s father is gravely ill – and if her brother Valric is unable to find the cure he’s set out for, their titles and wealth will disappear. Their father had been chosen as king by a magic axe, and when he passes on, so does the crown.

Soon, the worst befalls the princess – Valric turns up dead, her father succumbs to disease, and the axe goes missing, leaving the throne open for a coup by the devious Minister of War. Caliandra and her mother decide to risk everything on a desperate bid to find the axe and oust the Minister, driven by a prophecy that the proper King will take his place – Caliandra.

But when she finds out which trusted family friend betrayed her brother, will Caliandra’s thirst for revenge sabotage her only chance at the crown?

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

If I could describe King Callie (both the book and the title character) in one word it would be ‘underwhelming’.  For a story with magic, prophecy, revenge and intrigue, this book is kind of boring.

Caliandra as a character is thoroughly underwhelming.  She mopes around about being ditched for a richer woman for most of the book and then spends the rest of the book getting mad at the people who are actually just trying to help her (and actually end up putting her on the throne).  I don’t mind characters with generally unlikeable personalities as long as they’re interesting but Callie wasn’t.  We’re told she’s driven by revenge for her brother Valric’s death but you never really feel that anger and desire for revenge.  It manifests itself in stupid actions like challenging her own guards to a duel but as a reader you really don’t feel that desire for revenge.  And for someone who grew up at court, she’s strangely naive when it comes to plotting.  Sure, I’ll go help you two mysterious ladies kill the Seer who sent my brother to his death!  By the way, maybe I should ask you why you want this guy dead instead of just going along with it?  Yes, I get that she’s young and inexperienced but at the same time I expect at least a little bit of a sense of self-preservation when she actually grew up at court.  Courts aren’t exactly the most honest, open places in the world.

The plot seemed to be convoluted in the beginning because there were so many names thrown at the reader at once but it’s really not. It’s your typical evil General trying to seize the throne at an opportunistic moment sort of thing.  The only interesting parts were with the Seer, who happens to work for a shadowy organization that may or may not be evil.  We’re not entirely sure at this point and I’m not particularly inclined to find out.  Really, the only interesting character that can actually plot is Caliandra’s mother, who Caliandra spends most of the time undermining or insulting for being too womanly or suggesting Callie should tone things down.  Unfortunately, the book is not really about Callie’s mother.  I really do love books with lots of political maneuvering and on the surface there’s plenty here but it’s actually all very shallow and follows the same old political tropes you’ve read a hundred times before.

One of the only things that I actually found on par with my relatively middling expectations was the world-building.  I liked the fact that this magic axe chose the next king.  (Why not?  It’s no more ridiculous than relying on the dubious merits of a king’s offspring simply because they are his offspring.)  I also liked the scenes with magic, particularly in regards to the Seer’s prophecies and how he chose to interpret them.  One of the things I was fairly impressed with is that B. Lynch actually acknowledges that a kingdom does not exist in a vacuum and when the king dies, other kingdoms are fairly opportunistic.  They really do like to kick their opponent when said opponent is practically on its knees.  Of course that’s very realistic and in line with the history of almost every country in the world.

So despite the good world-building I have to say that King Callie was underwhelming.  It’s not the worst book I’ve ever read and I’d even hesitate to call it a ‘bad’ book but it certainly wasn’t the most enjoyable book I’ve ever read.  It really does feel like there was so much potential that was just squandered.

I give this book 2/5 stars.

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*Unavailable.

The Courtesan Duchess by Joanna Shupe

The Courtesan Duchess by Joanna Shupe(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

How to seduce an estranged husband—and banish debt!—in four wickedly improper, shockingly pleasurable steps…

1. Learn the most intimate secrets of London’s leading courtesan.
2. Pretend to be a courtesan yourself, using the name Juliet Leighton.
3. Travel to Venice and locate said husband.
4. Seduce husband, conceive an heir, and voilà, your future is secure!

For Julia, the Duchess of Colton, such a ruse promises to be foolproof. After all, her husband has not bothered to lay eyes on her in eight years, since their hasty wedding day when she was only sixteen. But what begins as a tempestuous flirtation escalates into full-blown passion—and the feeling is mutual. Could the man the Courtesan Duchess married actually turn out to be the love of her life?

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

This was a book I requested as a guilty pleasure read that actually turned out to be quite a wonderful story that was not only well-written but emotionally resonant.

Julia has been neglected by her husband for eight years since her wedding at the age of 16 (which wasn’t even consummated).  Now with no heir her inlaws are furious with her and the manager of the estate that her husband appointed is hinting that she may have to do more than beg to get even a livable allowance.  With her husband ignoring any letters she sends pleading with him to rectify the situation, he leaves her with no choice but to resort to drastic measures: seduce him under an assumed name to become pregnant.  She knows it’s wrong to dupe him and throughout the whole affair she feels incredibly guilty but justifies it to herself by remembering the circumstances in which he left her.

By the time Julia met her husband in Venice I was personally ready to strangle him for leaving her in such circumstances and not caring at all about her.  But as Julia and Nick grow closer under the courtesan-patron relationship, they start to actually develop feelings for one another which leads to us readers learning a lot more about Nick.  I don’t want to spoil too much if you do decide to read this book, but needless to say Nick had some genuine reasons for wanting nothing to do with Julia (none of which were her fault at all).  What I loved about The Courtesan Duchess is that both characters are so well developed.  They each have their own baggage from their childhoods and they have very interesting, unique personalities.  And Joanna Shupe doesn’t go for a straightforward romance; she recognizes that love is way more complicated than that and throws many, many twists and turns into Julia and Nick’s relationship.

The romance in this book is absolutely sizzling and the sex scenes were actually sexy instead of absolutely ridiculous.  Not only that, they actually advanced the plot, which was quite fast-paced for a romance.  I honestly wanted to find out what happened next and instead of reading a few chapters ended up reading the whole book in a single sitting.  Joanna Shupe’s writing style is very descriptive without being overly boring and she really makes you as a reader feel the emotions of her characters.  When I read romance books I often can’t emotionally click with one or even both characters but that was definitely not the case here.  I wanted Julia and Nick to hash out their problems and get back together!  I wanted their love to be real and not just a fake fling in Venice that happened because of entirely selfish reasons on both their parts.  It was quite a refreshing change.

As I’ve said previously, I’m not a huge romance reader but I can’t deny that I absolutely loved this book and want to read more of Joanna Shupe’s work.  It’s both guilty pleasure and serious novel with a great mixture of romance, intrigue and three dimensional characters.  Really, what more can you ask for?

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Hidden Huntress by Danielle L. Jensen

Hidden Huntress by Danielle L. Jensen(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Sometimes, one must accomplish the impossible.

Beneath the mountain, the king’s reign of tyranny is absolute; the one troll with the capacity to challenge him is imprisoned for treason. Cécile has escaped the darkness of Trollus, but she learns all too quickly that she is not beyond the reach of the king’s power. Or his manipulation.

Recovered from her injuries, she now lives with her mother in Trianon and graces the opera stage every night. But by day she searches for the witch who has eluded the trolls for five hundred years. Whether she succeeds or fails, the costs to those she cares about will be high.

To find Anushka, she must delve into magic that is both dark and deadly. But the witch is a clever creature. And Cécile might not just be the hunter. She might also be the hunted…

I had serious doubts about how Hidden Huntress would turn out, given the fact that Cécile and Tristan are now separated and their relationship was the absolute highlight of the first book.  Their banter also provided quite a bit of comedy relief given the relatively dark atmosphere of the story.  However, I didn’t really need to worry because although there are some places where this book suffers from Book 2 Syndrome, it is a solid book on the whole.

We meet Cécile as she’s trying to find her place in society: she’s on stage almost every night singing opera, just like she dreamed.  Except now she’s really not happy because she’s separated from Tristan, has to deal with her overbearing perfectionist mother and is missing Tristan terribly.  Yet she manages to function like a relatively normal human being, going about her daily routine while secretly involving her friends in the search for Anushka.  Things are frustrating for her but they’re going well considering Tristan’s predicament: he’s been disinherited and thrown in jail, tortured regularly with iron to suppress his magic.  It’s pretty horrific and it’s understandable that when Cécile meets with his father, the king, she makes a promise she might not be able to keep.  And troll promises work on humans in strange ways, ways that the human in question might not have anticipated.  It’s Cécile‘s hasty (but understandably so) promise that really kickstarts the main events and action in the novel.

Once again, the characters are incredibly well developed.  Cécile is still very much her own woman but has to learn to rely on her friends and her brother in order to help her hunt Anushka.  She also has to come to terms with her mother and her mother’s expectations of her as a budding opera singer (which includes the entertaining of men).  Tristan also really has to confront his past arrogance in his schemes and learn to think in about four dimensions in order to anticipate his scheming father’s every move.  He does a few incredibly rash things but since it’s in the name of restoring a semblance of equality to Trollus I think some of them are understandable, if not entirely justified.  One of the characters that really stood out for me was Anushka.  We don’t really learn much about her until the end of the novel but wow, her backstory makes her cursing of the trolls entirely understandable.  Trust me, whatever you’re thinking her backstory was, it’s actually much worse.  You really do feel quite a bit of sympathy for her…temporarily.

The plot is not the most fast-paced, unfortunately.  Sometimes Danielle Jensen gets caught up with the Cécile angle of the story and neglects Tristan’s very important scheming, which really needs more page time in order to be fully understood and appreciated.  She could have cut some of the opera scenes with Cécile in the name of trimming down the plot and that’s coming from me, an opera lover.  I think Hidden Huntress is definitely a solid sequel to Stolen Songbird but the plot just lacked something that the first book had.  I can’t quite pinpoint what it is, but it seemed like there was something missing in this second book that was definitely there in the first.  That’s not very helpful, I know, but it’s true.  Although, to be fair, the cliffhanger at the ending was massive and makes me want to read the next book immediately.  I also loved the fact that the origins of the trolls are explained a little more even if we’re still lacking in a full backstory.

Basically, Hidden Huntress was a decent sequel but it definitely suffered from Book 2 Syndrome in some spots.  I’m absolutely still going to read the third and final book in the Malediction Trilogy but I do feel this one could have been better.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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The 5 Things No One Tells you About Getting an Adult Tonsillectomy

Now that I’m fully recovered, there are a couple of things I learned from my experience getting an adult tonsillectomy with essentially no de-briefing from my doctor other than “go to the ER if you start bleeding”.  So here are some things that if you have an adult tonsillectomy like I did, you probably won’t be told:

Tonsillectomy and Adenoidectomy

1.  Everyone’s pain levels and recovery time are different.

When I told a lady I clean house for about my impending tonsillectomy, she told me that her sister had one in her late teens and had actually been bed ridden for about three weeks.  My bosses’ daughter had a similar experience.  And a quick Google search had me reading through any number of horror stories about how getting a tonsillectomy as an adult was an absolute pain-ridden nightmare.

Except for me it wasn’t.

I have the world’s worst immune system and I have a bad record with injury recovery, so I was definitely expecting a hellish experience.  Except I was really only in what I would count as moderate pain for about 5 days after the surgery.  After that?  Meh, not really.  I really think pain levels and recovery time are different for every person and my experience is definitely not representative of the majority of experiences.  For me, having a combined tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy was far less painful than the time my right eardrum burst or when I had H1N1 a couple years ago during the peak of the epidemic.  But for some people, an adult tonsillectomy will be incredibly painful. Continue reading