Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Once Upon a Time: A Review of The Raven and Other Tales

 

Title: The Raven and Other Tales

Author: Joy V. Spicer

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical

Length: 132 pages

Source: I received a free copy from Joy

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb: A raven appears on a cold winter’s night. An old woman helps a stranger find his way home. A young girl encounters a bad-tempered dwarf. Enter within, where magic is found alongside the ordinary, and things aren’t always what they seem. Where curiosity leads to a nightmare. Where ashes have the power to transform. And where stolen mortals are doomed to be forever lost in the forest.

Review:

This is a collection of ten short stories that are all firmly rooted in the fantasy genre. One of the coolest things Joy did with them was to briefly explain where her ideas for them came from after the conclusion of each story. I always enjoy learning where writers find inspiration for their work, so I was excited to have a sentence or two of explanation before beginning the next tale.

The most effective way I’ve found to review anthologies like this one is to pick about three of the stories in them that most accurately represent the over-arching themes and writing style in my opinion, describe their plots in a spoiler-free sentence or two, and then share my impressions of them. If any of these mini-reviews grab your attention, I’d heartily recommend checking out the whole book.

The Forest of the Others

Grace’s father and younger brother had wandered into a mysterious, forbidden forest and never come home again in “The Forest of the Others.” Three years after their disappearances, Grace ignored her mother’s warning to stay away from those trees and went into the forest to see if she could find out what happen to them.

I sure would have liked to see better communication between Grace and her mom. These woods were such an irresistible place in this universe that I think Grace would have still gone into them even if her mother had been more clear about how dangerous they were. It felt a little odd to me for someone who had already lost two relatives to what should have been an innocuous patch of land to be so vague about what she thought happened to them or why Grace should never break this rule.

This is something I’m saying as someone who loved everything else about this story. The dialogue was fresh and crisp. Grace’s character development was handled wonderfully. Her experiences in the woods made me shudder, although I’ll leave it up to future readers to discover why. The world-building was really nicely done, too, especially when it came to the mixture of emotions Grace had about the forest she wasn’t supposed to visit. All I needed was for Grace to know exactly why that area was forbidden before she decided to break that rule anyway.

Stranger at the Crossroads

Some of the tales in this collection were so short and filled with plot twists that I need to be pretty careful what I say about them for fear of wandering into spoiler territory.  “Stranger at the Crossroads” was one of them. In it, a woman who was walking down the road with her donkey met a stranger who wasn’t at all what he appeared to be.

Does this sound like a mystery or possibly something from the horror genre? Well, it wasn’t. The main character was such a brave and kind soul that her reaction to the unnerving stranger at the crossroads was as pleasantly surprising as it was creative. I enjoyed this entire anthology, but I must say that she was my favourite character of them all. I couldn’t have asked for a better protagonist on that particular day and in that specific time and place.

An Unlikely Friendship

In “An Unlikely Friendship,” a young girl named Meg met a grumpy dwarf in the middle of the woods one day while she was out searching for edible plants to feed her family. Meg’s friendship with Nev, the dwarf, was unexpected but a nice distraction from the grinding poverty she, her widowed mother, and two older sisters had struggled with for years.  Yes, this story was one of the ones mentioned in the blurb!

Meg’s personality was nicely written. She’d been taught to be kind to everyone she met. That’s a common trope in the fantasy and fairy tale genres, so I won’t go into much detail about it here. What was refreshing about this particular take on that lesson was how Meg reacted when it appeared that her kindness was not only going to be taken for granted but could very well lead her into a worse predicament than she’d been in when she was only poor and hungry.

This is the sort of twist to a genre that makes me want to come back for more.

 

Wombs for Rent: A Review of The Farm

I’ve decided to start reviewing more books on this blog. All of the rest of the titles I’ve set aside for this purpose for the foreseeable future are indie, but I thought I’d start off with something mainstream. The star rating below is out of a possible five stars.

Title: The Farm

Author: Joanne Ramos

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Publication Date: May 7, 2019

Genres:  Dystopian, Contemporary, and a pinch of Science Fiction

Page Count: 326 pages

Source: I borrowed it from my local library

Rating: 3 Stars

 

 

Blurb:

Nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley is a luxury retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, personal fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you’re paid big money to stay here—more than you’ve ever dreamed of. The catch? For nine months, you cannot leave the grounds, your movements are monitored, and you are cut off from your former life while you dedicate yourself to the task of producing the perfect baby. For someone else.

Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, is in desperate search of a better future when she commits to being a “Host” at Golden Oaks—or the Farm, as residents call it. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her family, Jane is determined to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on the delivery of her child.

Gripping, provocative, heartbreaking, The Farm pushes to the extremes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.

Review:

The first time I heard of The Farm was a few months ago when another reviewer compared it to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, one of my all-time favourite books. As soon as I read that line, I was hooked. Like Ms. Atwood’s famous story, this one is also about fertile, generally lower-class women being used to gestate babies for the most powerful members of society.

Unlike the characters in The Handmaid’s Tale, Jane and the other surrogates chose to become impregnated. Whether they knew what they were really consenting to is something I can’t discuss much in this review without wandering into spoiler territory. Let’s just say that the glossy description of what this job was like didn’t necessarily match Jane’s actual experiences with it.

What I would have loved to see from this book were more details. The most frightening parts of it were glossed over so much that I had to make educated guesses about how they played out. While Jane’s perspective was a limited one, it was a little frustrating as a reader to get so far into the plot only to receive the same vague hints that were contained in the blurb and early chapters.

There was a satisfying payoff for a subplot involving the woman who first introduced Jane to the idea of gestating a pregnancy at The Farm. If only the other clues at the beginning were given the same treatment. Not every dystopia is necessarily going to include a government being overthrown or other major signs that a society has gone terribly wrong. I loved the more subtle approach Ms. Ramos took with the assumptions she made about how people might respond if they couldn’t find decent paying work and selling the use of their reproductive organs seemed like the best option to make some semi-quick cash. If only she’d developed these thoughts further.

With that being said, one of the things I liked the most about this storywas how realistic it was. Yes, there were little snippets of what could be interpreted as science fiction and dystopian content in it, but everything in it is either really happening in our world today or could easily occur with a few small tweaks to how science works and what society tolerates. This is the kind of soft science fiction that grabs my attention because of how close it is to our reality.

I can sleep easily at night knowing that little green men from Mars aren’t actually ever going to invade Earth. The thought that women could so easily be coerced or enslaved into producing babies for wealthy, powerful families, on the other hand, is chilling because it has happened in the past, it is currently going on in some parts of the world, and it will almost certainly occur again in the future.

That’s frightening. Despite it’s flaws, The Farm’s no-nonsense approach to this topic is why I’ll recommend it to anyone who finds the blurb interesting.