“The Cottingley Secret” by Hazel Gaynor

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asteriaiconI had received this book in the Novel Editions subscription book box I received in December. I am very thankful for that, as this is something that would not have crossed my path otherwise, and I would have missed out on a great story!

Olivia Kavanagh traveled from London to Ireland to attend her grandfather’s funeral, and learns that he has left her his book shop and an old manuscript. The manuscript belonged to Frances Griffiths, and is her account regarding the Cottingley Fairies. In 1917, Frances moved to Cottingley, England with her mother, while her father has gone to war. She moves in with her aunt and uncle, and her cousin Elsie Wright. Frances and Elsie become the closest of friends, and frequently play along the beck at the end of the garden. While they have been frequently told to avoid the area, something continuously draws Frances there, and eventually in an argument with her mother she blurts out that she goes there to see the fairies. Her family does not believe they exist, so Elsie and Frances take photographs of themselves with the fairies. Word gradually spreads throughout the town of the fairy photos, and eventually even captures the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and becomes national news. Olivia, in the present, is fascinated with the story of the fairies, and immerses herself in the manuscript. She has a number of personal issues in her life, as well as dealing with her grandfather’s book store and home, and as she reads the manuscript, she starts to understand her life a little more, makes some large decisions for herself, and gradually comes to learn how the Cottingley girl’s lives tie in to her own family’s history.

Fairies generally are not my thing. To me they are more of a fantasy story, and I leave those books to Artemis. But I was really excited to give this book a try. Maybe it was the lovely cover, maybe it was the fact it came in a box at Christmas time with a card showing the theme of “Magic”. Either way, I am glad I read it. I was not aware that the Cottingley girls were real. They really did exist in 1917, and they really did take 5 photos of the fairies, though the fairies themselves were actually a hoax. However, they always swore that the 5th photo in the series was, in fact, real.

As part of the subscription box, you are able to sign up for a private Novel Editions Facebook page for a book club that pertains to each month’s book.  At the start of January, I was able to log on and actually talk with the author, Hazel Gaynor, which was an amazing experience. Hazel was very friendly, and very attentive, making every effort to write back to every question or comment that was made. It was a pleasure to discuss her book with her, to understand a little more how and why she decided to write this novel, her favorite character to write, even her favorite books.  Hazel was lovely, and the whole experience of the discussion with her made me appreciate the story just a little bit more.

I was so impressed with the writing of the story, how everything all unfolded for Olivia, and how Gaynor built a fiction story around true events. The writing flowed nicely, and I loved how it just took me along on the adventure. I loved how she balanced telling Frances and Olivia’s stories, each getting equal attention and careful thought. Gaynor did a lot of research for this book, even meeting Frances Griffiths’ daughter, and reading a book written by Frances of her side of the story, and the amount of research really showed in the story in all the little details provided. My favourite part was a little window in the old bookshop that mysteriously grew daily, and flourished when Olivia was doing well, and seemed to dwindle when Olivia was struggling. Oh, and Olivia kept finding little flowers (of which pertained to the Cottingley story) around the book store and her bed. It all just added a nice touch of magic to the story. Gaynor has written a few other books, where she has done something similar in taking a true event and writing a story around it. One is pertaining to the Titanic, and one is set during WWII. I will definitely be picking up these books in the future to read!

Even if you are not really a fairy fan, give this book a try. Try to understand the draw of such a tale at a time when everyone grasped to a chance to see their loved ones again, and the world was gripped by war. Try to believe in the possibility of magic. Let the fable of the fairies sweep you away.

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Holiday News

Today will be the last blogs until the new year. I will be leaving for home tomorrow, and will be without the internet until we get back.

So January 4th should be the day the blog is back up and running!

Hope everyone has a good holiday and we will see you all in the new year!

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“Dark currents” by Jacqueline Carey

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artemisiconI will be adding a proper picture once I get home from holidays, our table is currently buried.

This was one of the books I picked up for my birthday. Working in the book store I saw a lot of Jacqueline Carey books, and had some people tell me about her writing, so I was interested. Finally, when I was in the book store as a customer, I decided to buy all new authors, and she became one of them.

I knew next to nothing going into this series, and I will admit, it falls into the category of guilty pleasure. I love modern fantasy crime novels. Laurell K Hamilton, and Jim Butcher being common titles on this blog that fall into that category.

I think most female paranormal writers fall into a similar category, and we all know what to expect when reading their books. Female lead that every man falls madly in love with, campy first person point of view writing, tropes for days. We get it, and yet somehow I still find myself reading and enjoying these books. But if I have to hear about a characters ice blue eyes one more time I might throw-up.

I was trying to explain this series to a friend of mine and after thinking on it, my best explanation was “think Anita Blake, but only if it had been written about Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

The protagonist, Daisy, is a small blonde half-demon. When her mother was younger, her and some friends had been playing with an Ouija board and accidentally summoned an incubus. Daisy, who has a very close relationship with her mother (which impressed me, most of those situations the mothers blame the children, but Carey went a different direction which is amazing!) is doing her best to ignore her demonic half and stay on the straight and narrow. She calls them the seven deadlies, and she has to do her best to steer clear of them. For the most part she looks human, her demonic trait can be hidden easily – a nice baggy pair of jeans or a flowy dress can hide a tail pretty easily.

Daisy is normally a file clerk for her local police department but when a boy ends up drowned with odd circumstances, she is pulled in as an investigator. Daisy is also an Agent of Hel (the Norse Goddess, not the Christian place), and is the policing force for what they call the Eldritch community. They are all manner of faerie, ghoul, werewolf, and supernatural being. For these creatures to exist in an area they have to have a functioning underworld, and thanks to Hel, Pemkowet does. The big difference, is because of the new Yggdrasil, the Eldritch community isn’t “underground” and Pemkowet has become a huge tourist spot with people hoping to spot something other worldly.

All of these things are what I hope for in a good fantasy mystery book! Daisy borders on annoying, and some of her traits are written badly, but I’m actually enjoying the book, and want more of the series! But like I said, guilty pleasure.

Daisy is partnered with a cop, who is still in the closet about being one of the Eldritch community. He is a werewolf, and their community has been brought up to be silent about what they are, and to only associate within the pack, because in some countries, it is legal to hunt them. He is the muscle behind Daisy’s investigation team, and travels with her deeper into the community to figure out an accident was most likely a murder, and the murdered boy isn’t the only creature in danger.

Most of her supernatural types are standard typical, she’s following the new trope of werewolves turning whenever they want, fairies, psychics, etcetera, but a new one she has that I found interesting was her representation of ghouls. I’ve always known ghouls as creatures that haunt graveyards and feast on the corpses of the newly dead, so when Daisy started to oogle the new head ghoul, I was a little creeped out. Ghouls (which is actually a slang term used, not what they actually are – glad that was cleared up) are humans that died and were accepted into neither heaven nor hell, so they were sent back to earth. They are very similar to vampires (of which are in this book) but they feast on emotions, not blood. The new head ghoul in town is a millenias-old european that owns a biker club. You probably see where this is going, Daisy is stuck between the squeaky clean werewolf cop, and the dark and dangerous biker ghoul. I’m not quite finished the book, but so far there has been no sex or anything like that (lust is one of Daisy’s seven deadlies) but most books don’t start out with the heavy stuff, they build up to it (and some forget to stop), so I don’t know how far this series will be going into erotica territory. So far, it’s just good old cop fun. Where a lot of series have the mystery in the background, this story is solely focused on the cop aspect, and even stuff Daisy does on the side still revolves around her job, so there is not forgetting the plot, or only bringing it back up when it’s convenient. I was really impressed about that.

The book is tropy, campy, and predictable (in some ways), but I absolutely love it. It fits into all the markers needed to qualify as a guilty pleasure. If you like the paranormal mysteries, without the heavy emotion and gore of Anita Blake, or grew up a fan of Buffy the Vampire slayer, this is definitely up your alley.

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Our first Unboxing!

asteriaiconHave any of you ever bought or received one of those subscription boxes in the mail? I first heard about these by a co-worker about 4 years ago. He told me about this box he received monthly that contained a t-shirt and some various items that pertained to that month’s particular theme. I was very intrigued. I thought it would be a great gift idea for my fiancé, so I looked into it. There are tons of different boxes you can purchase, pertaining to anything you can think of: beauty products, socks, alcohol and food, tea, chocolate, crafting, fashion, fitness, jewellery, home décor, books, even a box for pets! As I was looking into the idea of getting a geek box subscription, I noticed the price of shipping these types of boxes to Canada (if they shipped at all), and after doing some quick conversion math in my head from US$ to CDN$, I quickly realized it was just way too expensive to get one.

I gave up the idea for a very long time until very recently, when I was listening to a podcast about books. I did some googling and found a very handy blog post about various boxes that ship within Canada. There were a few different book boxes to choose from, and after careful consideration, I decided I would buy a 1 month box to Novel Editions. It seemed to have more of what I was looking for at a better cost, and I figured if I hated it, I was only out one month’s cost, rather than a full 6 or 12 month subscription. Then I decided to document the un-boxing for the blog! This is the box I received in the mail a few days ago. It comes in a nice sized box, with a beautiful logo on it.

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As I opened the box, and took my time to take pictures, I got more and more excited!  The theme for the month of December is Magic! I had received an email about the theme before the box shipped, and I have been thinking about what type of book could be in the box. After all, the term “magic” in books can mean a number of things. Are we talking like witch magic? Or are we talking dragons and fantasy type magic? Would it be a Christmas magic story?

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I am not going to lie. I was like a little kid on Christmas morning opening this box. I took my time with each item, saving the book for last. Every part of this was just perfect, and it felt like this box was put together just for me!

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First I took out the fairy lights. I love fairy lights! There are a million uses for these, especially at Christmas time! Then I pulled out the lavender bath bomb, perfect for a nice relaxing bath with a book! I next pulled out a little tin, which turned out to be chocolate mint loose leaf tea, which smells heavenly! There was a small box in the one corner, which turned out to be a Christmas ornament! A Christmas ornament!!! It has ribbons of text from C.S.Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

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Finally. The book. At first glance, the book has a stunning cover.  When reading the synopsis on the back, it sounds very interesting. The book follows two girls who photograph fairies in a garden, and become a national sensation.  It also looks 100 years later to a woman who find a manuscript in her grandfather`s bookstore, and learns about the little girls and the fairies. I also loved that the box included a little note from the author about where she got the idea for the story. It added a very nice touch. Also, Novel Editions has a book club where they discuss the book, and the author for this will be joining in to discuss with the readers, which I think is fabulous and I am really excited for it!!

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Overall, this was a fabulous experience. It was somewhat pricy, it cost me about $60CND, but the items inside plus the book definitely are worth more than that. And really, the excitement alone of opening the box and even talking about it with people, made it worth the money! Sadly, after I purchased the box I found out that Novel Editions will only be shipping only once more for the month of January, and then they are closing up shop. I have bought the January subscription though, so I will post pictures of that once I get it, as it is supposed to be very good, but I have to be honest it will be hard to top the December box!

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“Lord of Shadows” by Cassandra Clare

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artemisiconI wasn’t going to review this book, since it’s book two, and I like to review the beginning of a series and let people delve into it on their own. But a few things happened in this book that really impressed me.

It is the second book, after Lady Midnight, an extension of her Shadowhunter world. We are still following the same characters as the last book, but there are a few new faces added in.

This time the beginning of their story takes them into the land of fairy, which was interesting to see because most of her stories take place on the city around the Institute, and in Idris, Shadowhunter home land. So, for the story to take place in fairy, it’s extending her world a little bit more.

Clare doesn’t shy away from any emotions, and with her new books, she doesn’t shy away from any social issues. With everything happening in the States, it’s easy to find material for socially impacting issues. There is a unit within the Shadowhunter world that wants to make the world great like it used to be where Shadowhunters rule and humans and downworlders serve. Also known as a world that never existed. They are trying to pass laws that control how, when, and where warlocks use their magic, amongst other things, and every downworlder will need to go on record with names and information about what they are (think x-men 1). It all sounds frighteningly familiar. But in the book, there is hope because there are a lot of people who believe in the current ways.  So it is up to our protagonists to carry on that hope.

On top of many characters dealing with mental issues, actual teenage and adult emotions (that some writers believe teens don’t deal with), there is one growing topic that is showing up in some YA. There is a character, I won’t mention which, that is transgendered. She mentions how she has to keep her true identity hidden because of the rules of Shadowhunters, and because of that, has to stay kind of under the radar, even if it means putting others in danger. The thing that impressed me the most, is the person whom she was telling, took a second to take it in, and then made it a non-issue. They deal with enough in this society to not have people they love turn on them.

I think worldly issues like this need to be in YA books, and younger. Studies have found that kids who read Harry Potter are more open minded, politically involved, and understand that the media does lie. Books like this, and Rick Riordan are now expanding on the good work JK Rowlings Harry Potter has started.

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“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas

HateUGive

asteriaiconStarr Carter is a 16 year old girl who is caught between two lives: the life she lives while going to her mostly white prep school, and the life she lives when she goes home to her poor, black neighbourhood. One night Starr is driving home with her childhood friend Khalil, when they are stopped by the police, and Khalil ends up being shot and killed in front of her. This is nothing new for Starr, she has seen another friend get shot in a drive by, but this time it was by a white police officer, someone who is supposed to protect them. The death of her friend is the tipping point for her neighbourhood; starting riots and protests for justice, making national headlines. Starr will have to testify in front of a grand jury of what happened that night, and she is caught between speaking up and staying silent. She faces pressure from both the police and the local drug lord, and what she does could have deep consequences for her community, as well as her life and the lives of her family.

I have really been struggling with this review, mainly because nothing I can say will ever do the book justice. I started hearing about this book on a weekly podcast I listen to about books, and it sounded interesting. Soon the book starting popping up on a number of must-read lists and was touted as one of the best books of the year, so I knew it was something that I had to read. It is such a wonderfully written book, so powerful and moving. I can honestly say I sobbed twice within the first 100 pages. There is no way to really discuss this book without spoilers, so consider yourself warned.

I live in a small city in northern Ontario. Where and when I was growing up you didn’t have to lock your doors. To step in the shoes of a 16 year old black girl who lives in a neighbourhood that frequently sees drive-by’s, and is constantly bombarded with drugs and gangs, was a real challenge for me, and very eye opening. I went to visit my mom in Toronto a few years ago, and at a small indie book store there was a jar collecting money for Black Lives Matter. I asked the cashier what that was about, and she looked at me in horror. My mom even looked somewhat embarrassed that I asked. But where I live, we didn’t have those jars, we hadn’t heard about the Black Lives Matter movement. It wasn’t a question out of arrogance or racism; it was a question out of ignorance to the cause. It was something that existed outside of my world completely, something I knew nothing of. Once I clarified that to the cashier, she visibly relaxed and explained politely. But for the first time, I now understand that hesitation, that concern over what I thought was an innocent question.

Starr is brought in to give a statement to the police about what happened that night as part of their investigation. Two officers walk in to question her; one Latina and one white male. At first the questions are simple and straight forward, and then they turn towards justifying the officer’s actions rather than about what happened. The questions start to be about Khalil; was he a drug dealer, was he drinking that night, was he a part of the local gang scene. It took about ¾ of the book before it came out that the police officer held a gun to her until back up showed up, all while she cradled her friend’s body and posed little threat. The entire time she was interrogated, she is acutely aware of her actions and words. She has learned a sad reality, that she needs to choose her words carefully so as not be thought of as “ghetto”. She has to keep her hands visible at all times, make no sudden movements, and only speak when someone talks to her. She has to make sure to look them in the eye, so the cops have no reason to doubt what she is saying. The media make it out to be Khalil’s fault. There are reports there was a gun in the car, which there wasn’t, and reports that he was in a gang selling drugs, which is not entirely accurate. It paints the picture we see all too often that the victim was at fault.

Starr cannot live the life of a typical teenager. She tried to have her white friends over for a sleepover once. One friend was not allowed to come over because her family didn’t want their daughter in the ghetto. Another friend came over, and called her parents to come get her shortly after getting there because of a drive-by around the corner that scared her. She is very aware of the fact she lives in a small house, while her friends live in huge mansions and have multiple fancy cars. She is “cool by default because I’m one of the only black kids” at school. The black kids in her community barely even know who she is. She is known as the girl that works at Big Mav’s store, not by name.

Starr soon realizes that the wall she has so carefully constructed between her two worlds is starting to collide. Students at her school start protesting for justice for Khalil, not because of the cause, not because they knew him or cared what happened to a black kid, but because it would get them out of school. One of her friends doesn’t understand why they were protesting the life of a drug dealer, insinuating that he deserved it. Her friends do not know she was friends with Khalil, and do not know she was a witness to his death. She finds herself saying she didn’t know him, lying to her friends and her boyfriend, trying so hard to keep both halves of her life separate, and trying so hard to not have her white friends think less of her. Her boyfriend, by the way, is a white boy from school, a relationship she is hiding from her father because he would be upset his black daughter is dating a white kid.

I cannot love this book enough. I loved how the author illustrated that the world is not black and white, but rather very grey. Sure Khalil may have sold drugs, but it wasn’t for a glamorous life, it was to help his mom pay back a debt, to save her life. Starr’s uncle is a police officer, he knows the cop that shot her friend, and he too is stuck between understanding the officer’s actions, and seeking justice for the loss of another young black kid. Even her father is an ex-con who used to sell drugs, and now is struggling with how to better his community and protect his family. He wants to stay in Garden Heights and help kids succeed and help them to not make the mistakes he made, while his wife wants them to move out of the Garden to a safe neighbourhood, a move he feels is selling out his community.

To me, I found that both the police officer and Khalil stepped right into their stereotyped roles. The police officer immediately thought a black boy was up to no good, selling drugs, potentially in possession of weapons, when all he was doing was making sure his friend was okay, attempting to get her home safely. Khalil, in turn, started being a little more hostile than necessary towards the cop when they were pulled over, saying  everything with a disrespectful tone, which further antagonized the officer. The whole thing could have been avoided had the officer came to the window and explained a tail light was out, and Khalil said “okay officer, I understand, thank you for telling me, I will get that fixed right away”, and the officer walk away rather than demand ID and attempt to do a background check because Khalil was black. But, had that happened, this important story would not have been told.

I did a little bit of googling after reading this book in prep to write this review, and found out some amazing things, which makes me love this book just that much more. Most recently, the book has been banned in a school district in Texas. To me, this is terribly sad. I hate the idea of books being banned period, but to have a book which has touched me so deeply, and something that was written to enlighten people about the harsh realities that black people face every day, to me is appalling. I have seen that it was banned due to “inappropriate” language, and indeed there are swears in the book, but I feel that is the farthest thing from the reason why they are banning it as some classics that are taught in high school contain curse words, such as The Catcher in the Rye. I have also read that the book is being adapted into a movie, which I am super excited to see (I will have to remember to bring some tissues!).  I loved learning that Angie Thomas based the main character loosely on herself. She herself grew up in a rough neighbourhood, and read Harry Potter to help distract herself from the sounds of gunshots near her home, according to a website I found. I super love that she took a shining to HP, as I too am a fan, though I was sad to read people compare Hogwarts houses to gangs. Thomas herself also went to a mostly white college, so she understands the feelings that brings, living within both worlds. It was very clear to me that Thomas used the book to bring to light the Black Lives Matter movement, to help people understand the racism and police brutality that occurs all too frequently in today’s society.

While the book is geared more towards teenagers, I think it is a book that is so important for everyone to read, regardless of age, or really even race. I am a white woman who lives in a predominant white community, and I found it so moving and so enlightening. Tupac was a little before my time, or at least had little relevance for me, but the author uses his message as the title for her story. The Hate U Give= THUG. Thug life= the hate you give little infants f*cks everybody; meaning what we as a society teach kids effects everyone. We need to stop fearing each other, stop fearing our differences and learn to embrace them. Learn from each other. Stop looking down at those that have less, or more for that matter. I am fortunate that I was raised by a very strong, independent woman, who taught me that race doesn’t exist, that it is a term used to differentiate what doesn’t need to be differentiated. That we are all the same, regardless of skin colour, religion, sexual orientation, financial stature. We all deserve to be treated equally, we all deserve respect, we all deserve love, we all deserve to be here.

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“Ronaldo: The Reindeer flying Academy” by Maxine Sylvester

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artemisiconThis was another book review by request, which makes me incredibly excited. Especially since this was the first children’s book we’ve been asked to review. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the book, I was just happy she thought of our little page! It is a larger chapter book, with a small picture every page or so. It was an ebook, Kobo said it was about 80-some odd pages, and I’m heartbroken that my Kobo is only black and white because apparently this was a full colour version. The book was written AND illustrated by Maxine Sylvester, which is a feat! And according to the back page, there are several in the series!

As the title suggests, it’s a Christmas themed story. She has built a world around the mythology of Santa’s Reindeer, but taken it several steps further than the “Rudolph” movie we all grew up with. Instead of living in caves, everyone lives in houses, and hold steady jobs outside of being Santa’s Reindeer. These kinds adaptations always make me happy because I think it is easier for the younger generations to relate to, and make the message she’s trying to get across easier to understand.

All the Reindeer in their town are named after the famous Reindeer, even the name “Cupid” was making a comeback. But our main character was named after someone else completely (I’m pretty sure it’s after a soccer player, but she said football, but I read her Bio and she’s from London England). Due to this, poor Ronaldo gets teased about his name, (as a kid who grew up with a strange name, my heart goes out to him) but in this book, it doesn’t slow him down. Bullies will be bullies; which is another thing I really liked about the book – Ronaldo gets bullied, but he remembers being taught to believe in himself, and through that he manages the biggest and scariest grunt he’s ever done, and scares off the bullies. Non-violent. I believe a well timed punch isn’t to be reprimanded, but if there is a non-violent way to deal with a bad situation, to take that. Ronaldo’s grunt sends the bullies scurrying, and sometimes, that’s all it takes.

This story, as it says in the title, is about the Flying Academy, where all Reindeer learn how to fly! It’s absolutely adorable, and I was actually impressed that she went through the mechanics of how they flew. It wasn’t just, “he jumped up and started to fly”, Ronaldo mentally goes through the steps, lifting his nose, running as fast as he can, tucking in his front legs to make sure he gets better height, and using his tail like a plane rudder/ailerons.

This day in ‘flying school’ is the great endurance competition, one only the great Vixen holds the record for! Not to ruin any of the story, Ronaldo uses what his Grandfather taught him, to imagine, to see it, to feel it, and to believe in himself, to power through the tough endurance race!

This is a children’s book through and through, and even though I wasn’t the target audience, I still found myself laughing at some of the antics. I really do think this is a wonderful book, and I hope she gets the recognition she deserves for it! I would love to get these books for a couple kids in my life.

 

 

 

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