The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fantasy, LBGTQIA+
Pub date: Oct. 2nd. 2018 (read Oct. 2018)
Series: Montague Siblings #2

I’m a little bit on the fence for how to rate The Lady’s Guide. On one hand, it was wonderful, but I just didn’t love it quite as much as The Gentleman’s Guide. There were parts of this that I loved, but I also thought the plot progression was a little awkward and slow moving at times.

Felicity was my favourite character from The Gentleman’s Guide and I thought this book had a really strong start with her getting proposed to, but deciding to pursue medicine instead, despite being routinely ignored by medical schools since it’s the 1700’s and she’s a woman. Mackenzi Lee is great at writing historical fiction that induces that perfect level of righteous rage and indication at the injustices the characters face because while their dilemma’s are historical, the issues they face are not. Felicity is discriminated against because of her sex and dreams of more than just a life as a wife, something I’m sure many women can still relate to. But Felicity is unwilling to give up on her dreams and pursues a medical career through whatever means necessary.

I loved Johanna in this book. I love that she had a great love of the natural world as well as a love for make-up, dresses, and all things fancy. Felicity boxed herself in, thinking that her ambition made her different from all other women, looking down on Johanna for still embracing femininity. But Johanna and Sim both proved that what you look like doesn’t define you and that having ambition outside of your traditional gender roles doesn’t make you better than any other woman. They both helped Felicity to grow and understand that just because your progression doesn’t look the way you want it to (going to medical school), doesn’t mean that you can’t adapt your ambition and your path. Sometimes we just won’t get what our heart desires, but it doesn’t mean we have to be cut out entirely from those dreams, we just need to adapt them.

Sadly I just didn’t find this book quite as funny as The Gentleman’s Guide though. I loved that the plot of this book also featured a lot of travel around Europe, but something about it just didn’t flow as well. Some parts were really fun and interesting, while other parts dragged. The ending is very ambiguous, with two parties debating the best course of action. Both positions had merits, but I felt that Johanna and Felicity’s motivation wasn’t really clear and that the story lacked resolution. With the exception of the petticoats, I just felt the story wasn’t really that clever. It was interesting, but I wasn’t really impressed with how the story played out and I wanted more. Like I said, I liked all the awesome female characters in this book, particularly Johanna, but I felt Sim was a little underdeveloped.

So overall, I think I will rate this 3.5 stars. The author definitely did some fun and interesting stuff with the plot and characters. I love that diversity is a priority for her and I liked that Felicity was asexual, something not often represented in literature. But I didn’t find this book as funny and it was one of the key things I wanted from this book.

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Queen of Shadows

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Genres: Fantasy
Pub date: Sep. 2015 (re-read Oct. 2018)

I’m five books in and still going strong! I’ve decided not to re-read Tower of Dawn since it’s just too soon since I last read it and I’m not ready to sit through it again. That said, Tower of Dawn is the only book I have already written a review for (prior to my re-read), so I will post that review on my blog before Kingdom of Ash comes out in case anyone is interested. So I’ve got 10 days to read Empire of Storms, which should be a breeze because I remember Empire of Storms being SUPER INTENSE.

Back to Queen of Shadows. Everyone rags on this book and I’ve never really understood why. Heir of Fire was definitely the dud of the series for me on my first read through and I thought Queen of Shadows picked up the pace again by bringing all our beloved characters back together. However, on the re-read I absolutely loved Heir of Fire and while I still liked Queen of Shadows, it wasn’t quite as good as I remembered it. I disagree with anyone who says this book is slow – I thought it had so much action, but I did notice a few slower parts between action scenes the second time around. Maas gets more indulgent with each book and because of her popularity, her editors seem to let her. I thought this book had a small case of overindulgence where some parts could have been shortened up.

My favourite part of this book is the resolution of Sam’s murder and Aelin finally being reunited with Arobynn. We’re introduced to this juicy origin story in The Assassin’s Blade and it is then suspended for 3 entire books. I loved watching Aelin return from Wendlyn stronger and ready to confront her demons. Lysandra is pure brilliance and I’m so glad Maas brought her back into the story and created a new female friendship for Aelin. She’s constantly surrounded by petty, possessive men and she definitely needs a female friend. Plus, Lysandra is hilarious and my hero and I LOVE HER.

Arobynn makes me cringe. In my opinion he is a textbook abuser. Everything is about power and dominance for him. He tries to control Aelin with gifts and affection, seeking influence over her as a sort of creepy father figure, but it is all about power for him. He is a great antagonist though and I thought Maas wrote Aelin and Arobynn’s reunion and resolution so well. It was clever and I loved how it tied in to the greater plot of the series.

I can’t help but dig Rowan. In my first read of the series I still harboured feelings for Celaena and Chaol and hoped they’d make things work. But my second re-through of the series has just totally changed the way I feel about Chaol, even in the first two books. I’m just going to say it – Chaol sucks in this book. I appreciated that through Chaol’s inner monologue, Maas raises moral questions on who will keep magic wielders in check if magic returns. It really is an important question. Aelin threatens to burn a city to the ground in Heir of Fire and she’s proven again and again that she’s not the most emotionally stable individual, so the idea of there being no checks on her power should be a concerning one. But Chaol is just so whiny and ‘woe is me’ that I really just didn’t have a lot of sympathy for him. He lets his guilt and shame rule his life when he really needs to come to terms with it and forgive himself and forgive Aelin.

As for the other characters, Dorian breaks my heart in this book. He’s controlled by a valg prince, so he’s more or less absent from the story and I did really miss him. He has become one of my favourite characters in my re-read and it was actually heartbreaking to see him broken in this book. He is just so pure and precious and it’s upsetting to know he’ll never really be that way again after what has happened to him. Manon’s mostly just doing her thing in this book, being angst-y and unforgiving, but she finally grew a backbone towards the end upon learning the truth about Asterin and I am so ready for her to kick some ass in Empire of Storms. Elide is an interesting character, but I find her kind of boring. Elide is to Queen of Shadows what Manon was to Heir of Fire. She’s the newest character being introduced to us, but she doesn’t serve a whole lot of purpose to the plot at this point and is mostly just there for character development. Lysandra is new to the series in this book too, but she carries plot and development – she’s easy to love quickly, whereas with Elide and Manon, it takes longer to really care about them when they are first introduced (or at least that’s how it was for me).

What didn’t I like about this book? Aedion, Rowan, and Aelin’s weird little love/power triangle. I hate how Maas talks about fae dominance and power struggle. I don’t like how Rowan and Aedion were always competing with one another over Aelin and who treated her better, should be her protector, take the blood oath, yadda yadda yadda. She can take care of herself and make her own freaking decisions! She’s been looking out for herself for like 8 years before either of these sods came along, so give it a break already. I also hated how they would constantly refer to her as ‘the queen’ and treat her like a god. She is a human being and Rowan and Aedion are the backbone of her court. If anyone should treat her like a normal person, they should. She doesn’t need groveling and deference from them, she needs a friend and someone who will respect her decisions, but call her out on her bullshit.

I have to admit though… Aelin and Rowan’s flirting in this book was kind of sexy. I know all the weird ‘mate’ and ‘claiming’ business is coming up in the next book, but I was kind of into Aelin and Rowan in this book. I just think they’re kind of bad at actually treating each other like equals. Rowan (and Aedion) give Aelin too much license, while at the same time being too controlling about what she does on her own. I’m not really sure what the right balance is, but it’s off in this book, between both Aelin and Aedian and Aelin and Rowan.

But overall, still a great read. I’m pumped to read Empire of Storms and to be honest, slightly terrified of how Maas is going to end it all in Kingdom of Ash. A Court of Wings and Ruin was a bit of a disappointment for me as a series conclusion and I’m nervous about how this series is going to play out as well. But only one way to find out – so it’s on to the next book and then finally the epic conclusion!

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Pub date: Sep. 4, 2018 (read Oct. 2018)

The most overwhelming feeling I have upon finishing this book is that I’m just so glad it exists. Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree is about Boko Haram and the many girls and children they have abducted to their cause since 2009. You may recall in 2014 when Boko Haram kidnapped 276 female students from their dormitory in Chibok, Nigeria. Because of the large number of girls that were kidnapped, the crisis finally garnered international attention and forced the Nigerian Government to take real action in rescuing the stolen girls.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t a one off event. Boko Harem has been pillaging and killing in the North of Nigeria since 2009 and while many of the Chibok girls have escaped, been released, or been rescued since then, many have not. Boko Haram is a radical Islamic group that believe in Sharia law and absolute Islamic government. They kill men and kidnap girls, women, and children, forcing them to convert to islam and act as slaves in their outposts hidden deep in the Sambisa Forest. The boys are radicalized and the girls either act as slaves or are married off to Boko Haram fighters called the Rijale.

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree is a short book told from the point of view of a kidnapped young girl. She is not one of the Chibok girls, but she was stolen from her village along with several of her friends. She dreams of winning a scholarship to attend university and become educated, but instead she is forced to convert to Islam, change her name, and marry one of the Rijale and attend to his home. Her dreams sustain her through the ordeal and remind her of who she is and that Boko Harem does not adequately represent Islam. But it kills her to watch her best friend lose her grip on reality, fall for her new husband, and begins touting the benefits of Boko Harem and Sharia Law.

There’s nothing I would change about this book. I thought it struck a wonderful balance between introducing us to Nigerian village life and the hopes and dreams of these young girls to the devastating contrast of life under Boko Haram. It’s easy for Westerners to become desensitized to these stories, and I loved that Nwaubani spent the first half of the book developing characters before focusing on the girls kidnapping. It’s an upsetting read, to be sure, but an important one to remind us of the atrocities that Boko Harem has committed, and that are still ongoing.

Thanks to HarperCollins Canada and HCC Frenzy for providing me with a free review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree is currently available in stores.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Balli Kaur Jaswal
Genres: Fiction
Pub date: Jun. 2017 (read Oct. 2018 on Audible)

Whoa! This was WAY more intense than I was expecting and had a lot more depth. I’ve been seeing this book going around for a while nice since it was featured by Reese Witherspoon’s book club, and my book club decided to pick it for our October read.

I really didn’t know what the book was about, but based on the title I was expecting a light-hearted story and a few laughs. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows definitely delivered on the laughs, as well as copious amounts of blushing! I wasn’t actually expecting erotic stories, but I definitely got them.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows is about the Sikh community living in Southall, London. It features 22 year old Nikki, who dropped out of law school, moved out of her parents house, and has been making ends meet by bartending at her local pub. She considers herself a “modern girl”, scoffing at her older sister for seeking an arranged marriage. When she sees a posting for a creative writing teacher at the temple, she applies, seeing it as a great opportunity to make some extra money and to help women. But due to a miscommunication, it turns out to be a basic English literacy class, attended primarily by Punjabi widows.

The widows aren’t enthused about learning to write and roll their eyes at Nikki’s learning exercises. But they are interested in storytelling, and in their loneliness as widows, they have a particular interest in sharing erotic stories.

There was a lot that I liked about this book. First off, the widows are hilarious and I love that Jaswal breathed such life into these (mostly) elderly characters. Society forgets about widows and seniors, especially in Southall where the women are seen as irrelevant without their husbands. There’s a limited amount of literature about elderly people and I loved how the author created these smart and dynamic characters. Sure, they couldn’t read and they were afraid of Nikki’s “modern” ways, but they were also funny, clever, and kind. They were very much mired in tradition, but the sharing of their stories was incredibly empowering for them. Reminding them of their commonalities, and the power of community, of standing up and supporting one another.

I also liked that the book had a lot more depth than I expected. Jaswal explores the challenges of breaking free of traditional, cultural beliefs, but she also explores the merits of those beliefs as well. Nikki’s feminism felt radical to the widows, and their conservatism was frustrating to Nikki, but the more they all got to know each other, they were able to realize they weren’t so different. Nikki discovered there are merits to having strong community values and a support network, and the widows discovered their own brand of feminism.

Believe it or not, this book also has a mystery element to it, as well as a romance. I liked that Jaswal kept adding additional layers to the story. While the story is mostly narrated by Nikki, some parts are narrated by Kulwinder, Nikki’s boss at the temple who recently lost her daughter. It was hard to relate to Kulwinder initially, but I enjoyed learning more of her story and where she was coming from.

While I mostly loved this book, there were a few things I didn’t like about it. I found it dragged a lot in the middle. There were a lot of erotic stories shared by the widows, but after a while I didn’t think it really added that much to the story. It also got really intense, really fast at the end, which I had trouble buying. It was a little too dramatic for this type of story and I didn’t think it fit that well with the tone of the rest of the book. I also would have liked to see a better resolution of Mindy’s attempts at arranged marriage and more growth from the brotherhood. They cast a foreboding shadow over a good part of the book, but ended up seeming not that relevant to the story. I wanted the characters to shake the brotherhood up a little bit more, although that might not have been the most realistic.

But overall I really liked this book. I listened to it as an audiobook and the narrator was fantastic! It provided some fascinating insight into Sikh culture and I really liked the dichotomy between conservative traditionalism and feminist awakening!

Check, Please!: #Hockey, Volume 1

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Ngozi Ukazu
Genres: Graphic Novel, Young Adult, LGBTQIA+
Pub date: Sep. 2018 (read Oct. 2018)

Okay, this was very sweet. It’s not quite what I was expecting, but I liked it nonetheless. Check, Please! is a graphic novel about young hockey player, Eric Bittle. “Bitty”, as he’s christened by his teammates, is just starting University. He’s a former figure skater, internet vlogger, and baker extraordinaire, who has been offered a spot on the Samwell University hockey team. Bitty quickly fits in with his teammates, buttering them up with his delicious pies, and fortunately they are all very accepting of him when he comes out to the team. But Bitty harbours a deep fear of being checked while playing hockey and seems to have started off on the wrong foot with the team captain, Jack.

I struggle to say further what this story is about. It’s not really a plot driven story, but a character driven one. The first volume is a compilation of Bitty’s first two years in University and I believe the second volume will cover his final two years. This book is about post-secondary education – the friendships and relationships you build in these formative years, the pressures to succeed, and the jealousy and insecurity that sometimes develops from that pressure. There are so few books that are set in University and those “new adult” years, so I really appreciate any literature featuring characters in their 20’s. Most of all though, I appreciated that this was a lot of fun!

A Nigerian immigrant from Texas is definitely not someone I would peg to write a book about boys and hockey, but this book never takes itself too seriously, so it just works. I feel like it could have had a little more depth. Ukazu explores the themes I discussed above, but it is fairly surface level, so I excited to see where she takes it in the next volume. But it was a very enjoyable book to read and the artwork is super cute!