Category Archives: Review

Review of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Vol. 5.

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For the honour of Grayskull!

I have been patiently reading DC’s He-Man and the Masters of the Universe graphic novel series in the hope that She-ra would have to show up eventually and I was not disappointed.  I absolutely loved the recently released volume 5: The Blood of Grayskull, in which She-ra (and Swift Wind!) makes her first appearance of the series.  Although Adora first appears in #3, and again briefly at the end of #4, this story focuses on her journey to becoming She-ra.
This graphic novel is definitely more sophisticated than the cartoon I watched as a child, but there are some very familiar echoes.  Adora is more traumatized from her time with the Horde and realization of what she did in the name of Hordak.  After a brief flash back to set up the story, the main plot begins at Adora’s campsite – motivated by guilt to be alone, yet determined to fight Hordak any way that she can. He-Man makes an appearance with a message from the sorceress and the pair soon start out on their quest.  In turns, she is mission-focused military tactician (at one point He-Man has to convince her to rescue some prisoners which she has ignored in order not to give them away), healer, animal lover and He-Man’s equal in battle. Ultimately her first transition into She-ra is motivated by her love for Adam.  She is portrayed as a compassionate warrior, a role model for any woman.
If you were a fan in the 80s, it is familiar enough to connect to with the added benefit of some really beautiful artwork.  And although I’m obviously biased, it really is one of my favourite covers ever.  I enjoyed this one so much I am anxiously awaiting Dan Abnett’s next release: He-Man: The Eternity War, due out next month.
Melissa

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The Masked Truth does a lot of unmasking.

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Kelley Armstrong is not hesitating to go straight for the real stuff with The Masked Truth.  Although there is more representation of mental health in literature lately, there is still not nearly enough, especially in teen fiction, and this book is a valuable addition.

Teens at a group therapy session are taken hostage by masked killers, seemingly for the purpose of ransom – one of the participants comes from a very rich family.  The truth of the situation is far less straightforward, and a lot of secrets are going to come out before it’s all over.

Spoiler alert: if you don’t want to know anything more, stop reading.

I want to stand up and applaud Armstrong for her main characters.  The protagonist is struggling with PTSD, and the love interest has schizophrenia.  Armstrong shoots straight for the heart with the turmoil and fear they feel, and the struggles they endure, with so much compassion for the characters.  You don’t love Riley and Max despite their mental health – it is included in who they are, and are that much braver because of it.  There is great diversity among the characters too, on many different levels, and it makes the story feel much richer than most YA.  Even the villains aren’t one-dimensional.  I would call this YA literature.

There is some very on-point dealing with stigmatization and misunderstandings  – survivor’s guilt, PTSD, schizophrenia, homosexuality, racism.  There’s corruption, ashamed parents, estranged friends.  Well done, Ms. Armstrong – this is a book that a kid dealing with one of these things will read and think “Maybe being different isn’t bad.  Maybe it means you are that much tougher.  That much stronger.  That you are a hero for living every day with something not many other people understand.  And maybe out there, I will find someone who does.”

Bit too neat of an ending, but otherwise great.  Highly, highly recommend it.

Christie

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Never, Ever, Ever Buy “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”

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What to Expect When You’re Expecting is iconic.  It is the title of a movie.  It was the book Hugh Grant was reading in “Nine Months.” It is the book everyone rushes out to buy the minute the test is positive.  And it is absolutely the last book I would recommend buying a first-time parent.  Speaking as someone who read it during my first pregnancy, it terrified the crap out of me.

When you find out you are pregnant, it is a big, scary deal, even with a planned pregnancy.  You are growing a person.  Everyone you know (and many you don’t) will suddenly recall horror stories about pregnancy and labour, and are compelled to share them with you in gory detail.  In case you aren’t nervous enough, What to Expect will bring week by week hypochondria to the experience, telling you not only how big the baby is and how your body has changed, but also what horrible crisis can occur to you and your fetus this week!  Preeclampsia! Placenta previa! Oligohydramnios!

Some doctor’s offices (including my own OB-GYN at the time) not only don’t suggest it as recommended reading, but in fact discourage expectant mothers from reading it. The authors are not medical doctors, and there is a lot in there that is questionable, including many iffy holistic treatments.  Also, as a Canadian, this book is aimed at the US market, and our health care system and options are different enough that it makes a big difference.

Here are my recommendations for pregnancy books here in Canada, based on my own reading and experiences – please feel free to comment with your own recommendations:

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Canada’s Pregnancy Care Book.  This book was fantastic.  A solid, reassuring book put out by the amazing pregnancy clinic at Mount Sinal Hospital that covers a wide range of topics and has lots of practical information.  They don’t assume that you have a ton of money, and there are great tips for healthy eating and fitness during pregnancy that you can use even with a tight budget.  They cover complications, but you are more likely to feel reassured by the information than alarmed.  Good for both reading through from cover to cover, and for keeping on hand as a resource.  This is my number one recommendation for first-time parents.

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Canadian Medical Association’s Complete Book of Mother & Baby Care. If you know absolutely nothing about pregnancy or babies, this is the book for you (and me).  I was the first of my friends to have a child, and I had literally changed one diaper in my life before my daughter was born.  This book has step-by-step instructions and photos for all the things that people just assume you know.  How to express breast milk.  How to properly clean and change a baby. How a diaper shirt works.  How to give a baby a bath (imagine trying to wash oiled jello that is actively trying to escape).  This book is why my children are still alive.

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The Mother of All Baby Books. This is a great book as a reference – it has really handy charts and a great list of resources and services.  If I could get just those things, it would be perfect.  The other parts I found more annoying, because the author is very pushy about some topics. It made for good practice in taking the advice I found helpful and ignoring the rest.

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Ruby is Painfully Beautiful and Worth Every Minute

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Cynthia Bond has written about how terrible human beings are in the most beautiful way possible.  I never really needed to use the term “lush prose” until I read this book.  The words are fat, and gorgeous, and paint a picture that you wish was not quite so vivid because Ruby is full of horror and misery, and a tiny bit of loveliness.

The story of Ruby is the story of a young black woman who tried to outrun her past, and found that it wouldn’t stay in the past.  Mostly set around the time of the Washington Riots, a letter from a beloved friend reached Ruby, and she made the choice to return home to her small town.  Once home, she found small minds, judgement, and secrets waiting to tear her down, and Ruby’s descent into mental illness is met with smugness and derision, not compassion.  Many of the characters are just horrible, but Bond doesn’t let you have the satisfaction of completely despising them, because almost all of them have some horrible happening in their own past that twisted them – and it almost makes it worse, because they could maybe have been good people.  Maybe.

Some of the characters are truly evil.  I’m talking gag inducing, have to put the book down for a while evil.  This book has child abuse, sexual abuse, and rape in it, and you should be prepared for that.

If you can manage it, read it.  It is heart searing, dreadful, flashback prompting – beautiful.  And there is a little hope for humanity in there, I promise.

Don’t be surprised if this starts showing up as required reading for English Literature classes.  Wow.  One of the most powerful books I’ve read in a long time.

 

Christie

 

 

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Red Queen is Bloody Good

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If you love a good dystopian YA, Victoria Aveyard’s debut novel,  Red Queen is for you.  With a lot (and I mean a lot) of parallels to The Hunger Games & Divergent, the characters and plot twists make this read different enough to still be enjoyable, without feeling like you’re just reading on repeat. If you have read Pierce Brown’s Red Rising, this is like a weird parallel universe to that book.

Red Queen is a little more rooted in fantasy territory, and has a unique take on the dystopian theme.  The nobility of Red Queen‘s world is distinguished by their innate ability to channel fire or electricity, or possess extreme strength or psychic powers.  Their control over the lower class is absolute, who don’t possess any superhuman talents.  Imagine the uproar when Mare, a girl of perfectly common blood, suddenly displays her own power – and no one’s surprise is greater than Mare’s.

I won’t get too deeply into the plot  and spoil it, but there are some great twists, a little romance, lots of intrigue. Lots, and lots, of intrigue.  Like baby Game of Thrones.  If you have a teen who is looking for an entry to more sophisticated story lines, this is a good place for them to start.

This is clearly the start of a series – it should be a fun ride.

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As far as Flavia De Luce is concerned, Having a skeleton in the closet (or chimney) is a good thing.

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I love Flavia.  She is one of my favorite characters – Alan Bradley has done such a good job with her I can imagine sitting together and making sarcastic assessments of passers-by.  Accordingly, I snapped up As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust almost before it hit the shelf, the latest in the mystery series that has won pretty much every big mystery award out there.  Flavia is a brilliant, mouthy twelve-year-old who loves chemistry, particularly the poisonous kind.  She is almost always far smarter than the adults around her, possesses no tact whatsoever – and has the habit of stumbling over dead bodies.  In this book, she has been “banished” to a boarding school in Canada, which may or not be a front for a secret spy training facility.  Things start looking up when a dead body falls out of the chimney in her room.

I was fortunate enough to join Alan Bradley for high tea at Toronto’s Windsor Arms along with other booksellers and some representatives of Penguin Random House.   Firstly, I highly recommend having high tea there.  If you don’t have your own fancy hat, they have ones you can use for a small donation to charity, and the food and tea was amazing (I indulged in lapsang souchong, which is the most wonderful tea for winter).  Also, I got to wear my own fancy hat. I was seated next to Alan, who I would happily have tea with on a weekly basis.  Originally from Ontario, Alan now resides in England, and is such an excellent source of British television and film recommendations that we started taking notes.

He spoke about fond memories of family book readings, where adults took turns reading aloud, and the children were allowed to stay up until the story was over.   I thought this sounded like a wonderful idea, and we discussed the impact of reading aloud to children, and favorite read-aloud books (I mentioned Narnia, and Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately the Milk).  This series would actually be a wonderful one for that purpose, because it would be entirely appropriate to read to children, but has a sly subtext for adults.

Some of the booksellers spoke about having books you saved for reading when you needed a treat, or to be cheered up, or to make up for the other book you had to read because it won an award likely due to the judges panel being drunk (this seems to happen frequently).  Alan Bradley is our reading reward, our book dessert.  Flavia is delicious, and not to be missed.

 

Christie

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Fairyland Isn’t Just for Kids

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One of the most magical things in the world is a book that transcends age and era.  Although this brings to mind for most people classics like The Hobbit, or Treasure Island, people are in fact still writing these books.  Catherynne M. Valente is one of those people.

Her Fairyland series captured my eye with its first title, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.  Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a title.  A title to make you dream, to entice… where you feel like the only proper place to read it is in a blanket fort, with a flashlight, immediately.

My nine-year-old daughter adores it, and so do I.  The writing is just beautiful; whimsical and perfect.  You will fall in love with the characters, with the story, with the author.  You will want to get your friends together for an adventure in your tree fort (if you don’t have adult friends who are willing to have adventures in tree forts, find new friends). This, along with The Boundless, makes me remember why I have loved books for as long as I can remember.

Indulge yourself.  Pick up this book series.  Go home and make a blanket fort, grab a flashlight, and read (it’s a grown-up blanket fort, so feel free to make it fancy and include wine).

If your kids are really well behaved, maybe you’ll let them borrow it.

 

Christie

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The Bulletproof Diet is Full of Holes

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I think most diet books are bullshit,  but Dave Asprey’s The Bulletproof Diet stinks more than most.  At this time of year, a lot of people are coming into the bookstore for diet and exercise books, self help, “new year, new you” stuff.  I had heard of Asprey’s “Bulletproof coffee with butter” (another one of his diet tips that helps you achieve “mental clarity”), and decided to have a look at what he was putting in the book – curious to see if it could possibly be as dumb as his coffee.  It can.

The first page I flipped open to contained a weird rant about how garlic and onions are “Suspect” (the capitalization is his).  He claims you need look no further for evidence of their evil than the fact that in the Koran, garlic and onions sprang from the cloven footprints of Satan.  Yep, that’s right, the scientific reasoning is that obviously these are Satanic plants, so they will make you fat.  He ranks all foods on his pseudo-scientific scale of toxic to bulletproof.  Apparently he’s not a veggie person, and hey, raisins are toxic.  Who knew?

He also wants you to skip breakfast, despite the many, many scientist who share an opposing view, because obviously he knows more than some “scientist” who went to “school.”

He has a handy-dandy line up of Bulletproof branded products that are even more expensive then the stuff at Whole Foods, so they must be extra good at weight loss!  Of course he is only making these products out of the goodness of his heart, to help you lose weight!  There is no profit-based motive here at all!

As far as I can tell, The Bulletproof Diet is your personal guide to malnutrition for you, and enrichment for Asprey.  What a sleaze.

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Why You Should Buy a Copy of Walking Home Right Now

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Eric Walters is a bestselling writer of books, ranging from picture books for the littlest to adventure novels for teens.  Kids are drawn to his books because he doesn’t hesitate to tackle major issues – 9/11, war, poverty – but he does it at their level.  He’s also a very cool guy.

He runs an orphanage in Kenya.  He covers all the administrative fees.  He is an elder in the Kumba tribe – as he puts it, “the whitest Kumba ever.”  And Walking Home is based on true events, and some of the kids he has gotten to know there.

In Walking Home, a brother and sister have been forced to move to a refugee camp, after political violence ended in their father’s death and the destruction of their home.  While in camp, their mother dies of malaria.  Rather than be separated into different orphanages, they make the decision to slip away from camp in the night, and try to find their maternal grandparents, who they have never met, in a town no one has ever heard of.  They have no money to speak of, so the journey of hundreds of kilometres will be on foot.

It is a moving story, and it’s enhanced by the fact that Walters walked the walk – literally.  He made the journey they did, and the text has symbols throughout the book where you can go to the book’s website and watch a video clip, or see a photo, or hear the sounds of Kenya.  It is an immersive experience – and listening to Walters talk about Kenya, his compassion for her people, his amazement at their strength – well, I dare you to stay unmoved.  I certainly was touched.

In fact, my whole bookstore was touched to the point where we decided we were going to sell as many copies as we could.  Since the publisher has committed to donating $1.30 from the sale of each copy of walking home to Walters’ charity, Creation of Hope ( creationofhope.com )   we found out from Walters that selling 77 copies of the book in store was enough to run the orphanage for a day.

At last count, we had sold almost enough for three days – more than 200 copies.  We received the following photo:

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So, help out.  Buy a great book, help a great cause.  You have nothing to lose, and they have everything to gain.

Christie

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Boundlessly Entertaining

 

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I am reading my (signed) copy of The Boundless right now.  You know those perfect stories?  Like Harry Potter, or The Princess Bride.  Those books where the story transcends age brackets, genres, and is just perfect?  This is that book.  Give it to everyone as a gift – they’ll thank you.  Would probably make an excellent chapter-a-night bedtime story with ages 9+.  Do not leave adults off your gift list with this one.  It has also won a few awards already, proving that my opinions on books are always right.

Christie

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