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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The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1 by Rick Riordan

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #1)The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Young adult books make for a speedy finish! It didn’t hurt that I could not put this book down. Riordan made quite the page turner. It took me a couple of chapters to get through the whole “main character is a whiny pre-teen” but once Percy gets his quest that pretty much fades away. Thankfully. There are a couple of issues that prickled me at the beginning of the story, but by the end Riordan had presented them in a different light and they troubled me less. The overall plot is pretty straightforward. A somewhat troubled youth who has bounced from school to school throughout the states finds out that his dyslexia and ADHD are actually caused by the fact that he is the son of a Greek god and a human woman. He doesn’t know which one, although he finds out later. Lots of characters straight out of Greek mythology, and the main story is an Epic Quest™ complete with cross-country trip and descent into Hades. Mystery, prophecies, betrayals, everything you’d expect to see in a Greek myth. There is a fair bit of violence, obviously all directed against youths, so if you’re sensitive to that proceed with caution. There’s also a couple of deaths. One within the context of the story and one that predates it, and if memory serves me correctly only one of these shows up in the movies, so be aware if you’re reading the book after watching the movie you might still be in for a surprise. Aside from that, the movie stayed pretty true to the original story. And neither was too shabby.

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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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King Kwong: Larry Kwong, the China Clipper Who Broke the NHL Colour Barrier by Paula Johanson

King Kwong: Larry Kwong, the China Clipper who Broke the NHL colour BarrierKing Kwong: Larry Kwong, the China Clipper who Broke the NHL colour Barrier by Paula Johanson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I received this free ebook in exchange for a review.

One minute. That’s how long Larry Kwong was physically on the ice in that earth shattering hockey game all those years ago. Sixty seconds of the third period. Kwong and another teammate, Ronnie Rowe, were called up from the New York Ranger’s farm team – the New York Rovers – to substitute for a couple of regular players who were out with injuries. Rowe played nearly the entire game. By all accounts, Kwong was the better player. He played on many teams throughout his life and consistently led in points scored per game. Such was his sportsmanship that he rarely got a penalty. Kwong spent over a decade in Europe, helping develop the Swiss Hockey League. He taught sports at a Catholic girls’ school in Lausanne, ran a restaurant in Quebec and a grocery chain in Alberta, survived two triple-bypasses and losing both legs to diabetes. Kwong was married twice and outlived both wives. In spite of constant discrimination he forged a career playing hockey professionally. One of the first things he did with the money was to build his mother the house he had always promised her. That’s not even the whole biography! Just some highlights. I can’t believe I had never heard of Larry Kwong before.

As a whole, this biography is pretty straightforward. A few spots where the timeline seemed muddled or jumped too quickly forwards; Kwong goes from being a 66 year old tennis and hockey player to an 80 year old losing his legs to diabetes with hardly a blink. There are a couple of places where the editing leaves something to be desired. Missing letters, erratic punctuation, changing tenses, the lost end of a sentence, that sort of thing. Johanson sets down a good baseline of the political climate in Canada during Kwong’s lifetime. There were some horribly racist laws well into his adulthood that dramatically influenced his hockey career. And many other areas of his life. Again, most people are familiar with some of the laws (the head tax, for one), but there were many more. While this is a wonderful book and an uplifting story, the constant discrimination makes some parts hard to read. I have no idea how Kwong was able to constantly be the bigger person in the face of these attitudes. According to the friends and team mates interviewed throughout this book, he “handled each and every situation with class and dignity.” (61) It takes a special kind of person to be able to do that. Kwong is that kind of person.

“Superstar is not enough to describe Kwong.” – Baz Shaw, The Longest Shot. Truer words may have never been spoken.

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Prime Ministers of Canada: Pierre Elliot Trudeau by Paula Johanson

Prime Ministers of Canada: Pierre Elliott TrudeauPrime Ministers of Canada: Pierre Elliott Trudeau by Paula Johanson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I received this ebook for free in exchange for a review.
A little background for my non-Canadian readers: Canada’s government is headed by an elected Prime Minister who can be from one of several political parties. Canada has elections every four years, but doesn’t have term limits, so a politician can run as often as they wish and serve for as long as they are elected. Trudeau was elected to office several times; in 1968 when he served multiple consecutive terms until 1979, and again in 1980 when he served until his retirement in 1984. In 79 the Liberals lost a vote of confidence and Trudeau took a brief retirement after deciding not to be the leader of the Official Opposition. Apparently he couldn’t stay away though, because when the Conservative party lost power in the early 1980s he stepped back in as leader of the Liberal party and was re-elected as Prime Minister…almost immediately, it sounds like. (I picture him strutting onto the Parliamentary floor on his first day back to the tune of Flo Rida’s “My House”. Despite that song not existing for several more decades.) He was involved in the Constitutional amendments in the 80s, and fought hard to have all the provinces sign and ratify it. There’s a lot I didn’t know about Trudeau that Johanson’s biography taught me. For instance, he expanded and revamped Canada’s national park system with several new parks and a focus on preservation rather than recreation or cautious resource development. He canoed, hiked, skied, and hitchhiked constantly. Much to the chagrin of his security detail, who often had to follow him on his river excursions. As Johanson said, it took a special kind of patience to be on Trudeau’s security detail. You could wind up underwater.

One of the things I did know about Trudeau was how charismatic he was. Extremely. Evidently it was something everyone he ever met commented on. Johanson drills this heavily into every chapter. It winds up being just this side of excessive. However, I never met him. Perhaps I would only nod in agreement if I had.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It’s a quick, easy read that still covers the salient details of the life of Canada’s 15th Prime Minister, Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliot Trudeau. To use his full name. I’ve a quibble here and there over some editing issues; missing words and the like. Spots where the timeline seemed muddled. Upon reading a chapter sub-heading of “Losing Maple One” (Trudeau’s code name) I assumed it was talking about Trudeau’s death. To my surprise it was another of his infamous canoe trips; his agents’ vehicles became mired in mud after seeing he and his friends off. They arrived at the rendezvous late, Trudeau nowhere to be seen. Pouring rain. Imagine their relief when the phone rings (vehicle phone, pre-cell days) and it is Trudeau! Security had gone to the wrong bridge. Trudeau, two of his sons, and a few friends had taken refuge in a cottage and called from there. It was the kind of comical story you see in slapstick routine. Not what you’d expect from a country’s leader. But hey, we’re all human. Even the charismatic, magnetic, multi-term, multi-year, many-named leader of a friendly first world nation.

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Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle, #1)Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a book which coincidentally has the same name as the famous Hayao Miyazaki movie, and a few of the same characters. But there the similarities end. Typically, I adore the book and like the movie, but wish it had been more like the book. Not this time. Possibly in part because I was introduced to the movie long before I read the book, and was completely crazy about the movie, I found I was underwhelmed by the book. Really they only share the most basic parts; Sophie, Howl, Calcifer, the Witch of the Waste, and the Moving Castle. In the book Sophie is much more argumentative, and she and Howl are much more tempestuous as roommates. I found her uncertain of herself in the movie, but in the book she comes across more as angry, and flat out unwilling to just go with the flow. There are more important characters in the book overall, and every single one of the major plot points works out differently. I’m used to noticing some differences, but not every single event. The book is the first of a trilogy, and I’m half wondering, half hoping that more of the events of the movie will show up in the other books. Quite the opposite of how it usually goes.

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