The Day the Sky Fell: The Yellow Hoods, Book #5 by Adam Dreece

The Day the Sky Fell (The Yellow Hoods, #5)The Day the Sky Fell by Adam Dreece
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is it. The last of the series. Do Tee and her brave friends triumph against the Lady in Red, the Piemans, the Fare, and all the other foes arrayed against them? Can a group of teenagers best experts in intrigue?
Of course I’m not going to tell you. Read the book and find out. The Day the Sky Fell had the fastest plot of the whole pentalogy, I really couldn’t put it down. I still wanted a flowchart for all the character relationships, but at least there weren’t any new ones added. Again, some violence and bloodshed, but little else. Dreece has even revealed one of the characters is gay, in the sort of offhand scene that makes me dream of one day having a society where homosexuality isn’t a big deal. It just is. I’m happy to see that Dreece agrees with me, and put his beliefs where his mouth is. Or rather, where his writing utensil is.
Despite Dreece closing The Yellow Hoods with this book, not all the loose ends are tied up. A few of the antagonists could certainly stage a comeback some years down the road, and Dreece mentions possibly starting a second series around a more mature Tee and her friends. I wouldn’t say no to that. It’s been a good run.

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Beauties of the Beast: The Yellow Hoods Book #4 by Adam Dreece

Beauties of the Beast (The Yellow Hoods, #4)Beauties of the Beast by Adam Dreece
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maybe you thought there weren’t going to be new characters in the penultimate book. Maybe you thought you could stop updating your cast flow chart. Finally laminate it and put it up on the wall to use as a reference. Well put that frame back in the box. Dreece put in more people. Never fear, the delightful Tee, Elly, and Richy are still with us. As are many of the old favourites from previous installments. Plus all the backstabbing, plotting, and double-dealing we’ve come to expect from Dreece’s writing. But wait, there’s more! Airship battles! More explosions! Rocket packs! Here I thought shock sticks and mechanical horses were enough excitement. Dreece disagreed, and we all benefit. Something he didn’t add more of was bloodshed. The level of violence has been pretty consistent since it was upped in the second book, and there isn’t much else to warn for. This is a really decent series, and I’m looking forwards to seeing how everything gets tied together in The Day the Sky Fell. Stay tuned!

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All the King’s-Men: The Yellow Hoods Book #3 by Adam Dreece

All the King's-Men (The Yellow Hoods, #3)All the King’s-Men by Adam Dreece
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just when you thought you knew all the characters. Dreece keeps stuffing them in, with more betrayals and flashbacks than you could shake a shock-stick at. If your memory is anything like mine, it isn’t the gripping plot alone that keeps you from putting these books down. It’s the fear that when you pick it up the next day you won’t remember who is on what side anymore. Tee, Elly, Richy, and Nikolas Klaus haven’t left us, nor have the Cochon brothers from Along Came a Wolf, but the leaders of the Tub and the Fare join the Pieman family in seeing just how many people can fit into a 340 page steampunk romp. (Answer: about 30). I wonder if Dreece reads much Russian literature? Tolstoy would be proud.

It seems that Dreece uses All the King’s-Men to start tying the history of Eorth with its present political climate, as he brings the series to its climax. Tee and the Yellow Hoods are joined on their flight through the wilderness by new friends and questionable leaders as they flee the agents of the Fare and other rogue factions bent on toppling the government and taking over the world. Again, some bloodshed, gunshots, and deaths. Suggestions of child abuse and mentions of kidnapping, but written from the perspective of the (safe) survivor which takes out much of the sting. An even mix of female and male characters. With an even mix of strong and weak traits. Take a spy novel, add teenagers, set it in the medieval era and then hose everything down with a good spray of steampunk and you’d have yourself The Yellow Hoods series. It’s good stuff.

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Breadcrumb Trail: The Yellow Hoods Book #2 by Adam Dreece

Breadcrumb Trail (The Yellow Hoods, #2)Breadcrumb Trail by Adam Dreece
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is where things start to really pick up. Tee, Elly, and Richy are joined by a steadily increasing number of characters as Dreece weaves several parallel plot lines; chapters on missing children in the previously peaceful town of Mineau tag team with secret societies plotting to steal steam engine plans in a universe where inventing has been outlawed. If you had a tough time putting down Along Came a Wolf, clear your calendar when you start Breadcrumb Trail. You can put it down if you really have to, but there aren’t exactly breathers built into the plot. It’ll be a struggle. This was also the book with the strongest fairy tale influences, thanks to the plot line with the disturbing “Ginger Lady.” The fairy tale influences in the first book seemed to revolve around names and titles rather than having those old stories come to life, or be rewritten in a novel way. Compared to the first book, this one has more violence. Actual bloodshed, gun shots, deaths. No racism or sexism. Child abuse and kidnapping are present in this installment, however. Only hinted at, but they are there. Having finished the series, I can say they are mentioned again later in the series, but only in passing in two other books. Dreece writes a good story without resorting to sensationalism, and his non-stop plots make for a quick read.

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Along Came a Wolf: The Yellow Hoods, Book #1 by Adam Dreece

Along Came a Wolf (The Yellow Hoods, #1)Along Came a Wolf by Adam Dreece
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With Along Came a Wolf Dreece launches a steampunk-fairy tale young adult fantasy series with ample excitement, danger, and plot twists to keep you engaged until the last page of book five. We follow the spunky Tee, Elly, and Richy as a visit from a mysterious messenger to Tee’s grandfather plunges the four of them into a world of intrigue and danger. The action barely pauses until the last page. The characters are pretty well fleshed out and a good balance of gumption and terror. There isn’t a single thing for me to offer a content warning about. Very little violence, no sexism, no racism, nothing. Only the editing could have been better. There are some sentences that could have been more polished, and a few times where Dreece used the same word in two adjacent lines, which is kind of a pet peeve of mine. However, I will say that I started book two Breadcrumb Trail immediately upon finishing Along Came a Wolf and the editing has much improved, so if it bothers you push through it and the rest of this page-turner of a series will be your reward.

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Doubting Yourself to the Bone by Thomas Trofimuk

Doubting Yourself to the BoneDoubting Yourself to the Bone by Thomas Trofimuk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Moira James dies in a car crash while taking a time-out from her marriage, her husband Ronin moves himself and his two daughters to a tiny town in British Columbia to try to reassemble their lives. The stunning mountain scenery makes an incredible backdrop to the grief Trofimuk explores in his incredible, heart-opening story. It has been one of my favourite books since I snagged it on a whim in the library one day. I liked the title. I love the writing. Every page has poetry on it. There’s weight to the grief, to the range of emotions. Depth to the confusion. There are also monks. Scotch. Wine. Music. This book always makes me want to put on some classical and pour myself a drink; I could see it being a problem for a recovering alcoholic. There is also a lot of emphasis on womens’ bodies that rubs me the wrong way. Of the five adult women in the story, four are depicted on the basis of their sexual attractiveness to Ronin. But I can’t tell you what Ronin looks like. This gets under my skin. As I mentioned at the beginning the novel is built around an automobile accident death, but there are also discussions of bombings and suicide. Some not-great language surrounding abortions. While Ronin doesn’t outright condemn abortions, the words he chooses when discussing them are pretty judgmental and someone who actually supported a woman having the right to choose what happened to her own body would most likely use different language. Again, not outright anti-choice, but not as good as it could have been. No book is perfect. For the delight I have gotten – and continue to get – from this wonderful work I am content to overlook a few flaws.

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Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam Trilogy, #1)Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have many mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it’s a unique portrayal of a dystopian future that has come about in an unusual way. On the other hand, I really didn’t like it. Snowman, around whom the story revolves, is a sexist, useless blob of paste and has only marginally improved by the end of the book. (Spoiler: Oryx and Crake is the first book in a trilogy. So there is time for Snowman to grow more as a person. But you aren’t going to get closure out of this one.) The story alternates between Snowman remembering his childhood and struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland with a strange tribe known as the Crakers. Atwood leaves us wondering until the end of the book how his privileged – if lonesome and shallow – upbringing stumbled into a world where he is quite possibly the last human. Even before it falls apart, things are not in good shape. Society is as structurally sound and cohesive as a paper doily. A moldy one. Health care is hugely exploitative. The internet has four uses: email, online games, porn sites, and websites broadcasting live executions. Snowman’s preferred uses are the latter two. He does not restrict his porn consumption to single species offerings and vids with individuals pulled from his age group. And I don’t mean he’s into geriatric acrobatics. So consider yourselves warned. Pedophilia winds up featuring very heavily in the storyline of one of the characters, so it crops up over and over. And over. Really Snowman has zero redeeming qualities. Also Atwood spells all the business names wrong. “Helthwyzer” “Rejoov” and “Nooskin” are only some of the delightful tidbits you can stuff into your eyeballs. Apparently that is one of my biggest pet peeves. And the entire book is full of it. I tried, you guys. But I just don’t appreciate Atwood’s work.

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All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

All My Puny SorrowsAll My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A book as full of tragedy as this one should not be so uplifting. I’m really not clear on how Toews did it. She weaves this story around two sisters; Elfrieda and Yolandi. Yolandi accompanies us through Elfreida’s multiple hospitalizations for suicide attempts as the Von Riesen clan rallies around her. While Elf clashes with the nurses, Yolandi fills us in on the family history. The Von Riesens grew up in a Mennonite colony and Elf especially fought against the restrictions and close-mindedness. We also learn Elf is not the first in the family to attempt suicide, despite what seems like a jackpot adulthood. Toews treats both sisters with kindness and respect even though they are on opposite sides of an emotionally fraught issue. Euthanasia. Elfreida is determined to end her life. Yolandi is determined to save her. Their relationship is the eye of a hurricane and we are reading to find whether it will make landfall or dissipate over the sea.

Even though this book is the literary equivalent of a category 1 hurricane, it’s still a wonderful read. I had to keep reminding myself I wasn’t reading an autobiography. Yolandi felt like she was Miriam Toews. As if she was recounting Toews’ own childhood, failed marriages, and personal griefs. That’s definitely a possible explanation for how Toews managed to create something so real that isn’t technically true. It took me a couple of pages to get used to her writing style – at first I thought it was going to drive me crazy – but by the third chapter I had acclimatized to it. Her sentence structure reminded me a lot of Gabriel García Márquez, the same sort of almost-run-ons-but-not-quite that populated One Hundred Years of Solitude. Fewer metaphors, though. There’s a wonderful segment on pages 45-46 about how whether or not something is “working well” is relative; depending on your current life challenges circumstances that are typically disastrous or ludicrous may barely merit attention. When you have family unwillingly clinging to life, showering without a curtain can easily get bumped from the “disaster” category into the “functional work around” category. (Of course, it can easily go the other way too. The most minor set back or inconvenience can get abruptly upgraded to epic level catastrophes. I’d rather have the former than the latter, but sometimes you don’t get to make that choice.) All My Puny Sorrows also has poems recited by several characters, strange dreams, and poignant letters. There is so much love and tenderness in spite of all the sadness that against all odds, I felt better after reading this book. Few are the books about suicide that I can say such a thing about.

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Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan Coyote

Tomboy Survival GuideTomboy Survival Guide by Ivan E. Coyote
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Coyote grew up in Yukon Territory through the 1970s and 1980s, in a small, unnamed town. Their survival guide is full of intriguing diagrams wherein the parts are labelled but the machines are not, and it occurred to me perhaps these mysterious items are allegories for Coyote and other transgender individuals, for how this book describes their lives. To anyone who already knows what these machines are, everything in the diagrams is obvious. What it is. What it does. But because the machines aren’t always named, you can study the picture and learn all the names for the components and still not know what the item itself is supposed to do. You can learn everything there is to know about someone, about a transgender individual; read all the little labels telling you all the little details, and still not understand what their lives are like because you haven’t walked around in their skin and lived it, and how well can we ever really know another person?

But maybe I’m reading too much in to it. Maybe a diagram is just a diagram. Maybe they’re just there because this is a book for tomboys, and equipment is a manly man thing.

Tomboy Survival Guide balances tales of growing up in a rural Northern community with a more cosmopolitan adulthood, and splits both of those with the hardship of being transgender. There are original song lyrics (with chords; I didn’t try playing anything), poems, copies of letters they receive from people all over the continent asking how they can bring themselves to write about these personal, painful memories and how do the writers relate to their transgender relative and how do the writers survive their very un-trans-friendly high school? Coyote writes back. Eventually. Sometimes it takes a few months to come up with the right words to say. They are as helpful and hopeful as possible, but frequently the letters are sad. And Coyote’s own stories are often painful. There’s discrimination, hatred, ignorance, the endless bathroom debate (can we just have gender neutral bathrooms already? Like we do in houses? Or for families? Or for disabled people?), rampant sexism, threats, and sexual assault. There are many happy stories too. I actually wanted more memories and fewer poems and songs. The personal anecdotes are engaging, hilarious, and eye opening. Whereas I found the poems and other tidbits didn’t resonate with anywhere near the same intensity. I even liked the equipment diagrams better. But the songs did serve to break up reminiscences from disparate time periods and add some levity between bleaker stories, so I can see why they may have been included. And hey, if you want more of Coyote’s stories, they’ve got more books.

*edited to reflect Coyote’s use of they/their pronouns, with thanks to the individual who corrected me.

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Tower in the Crooked Wood by Paula Johanson

Tower in the Crooked WoodTower in the Crooked Wood by Paula Johanson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this ebook in exchange for a review

This was a really good story. It’s quite short, but is well-crafted enough that it doesn’t feel like the ending just dropped out of the sky, or like pieces are missing. The characters are interesting without feeling contrived, and the descriptive passages of the scenery are lovely. I felt as though I were hiking the BC coast alongside Jenia don Dela don Tared, who, with her mouthful of a name, is Johanson’s heroine. And an arborist. We need more stories where arborists are the heroes. Very unique. Jenia has left her home and is searching for a wizard who is building a tower. But that is all she knows. Who, or why, or even where are questions to which she doesn’t have the answers. Excluding a love interest, this story has all the elements of a classic quest narrative. A journey. A goal. Strangers in strange lands. People who help and those who hinder. Danger and chases and terrifying beasts. All those good things.

There are still some editing issues, but of the three books I read by Johanson this one had the fewest, and most minor, errors. Overall the construction was pretty solid and it made this book much easier to follow. It’s a good read for a fantasy lover looking for something quick and straightforward, but still satisfying.

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