October 2018 Wrap-Up – Book Things & Art as a Double-Edged Sword

It’s the middle of the month…and you know what that means! 😀

So, I was going to include mini reviews for some of the games I played in the past month because Nicole @ Thoughts Stained With Ink was like, “Heck yeah! You should totally do that!” But the post was getting kinda long and there’s this one game that I absolutely need to GUSH about, so I’m shuffling those to separate posts.

And that means I’ve finally decided to do semi-regular posts about video games (with a heavy focus on indies because while I love AAA titles, it’s the indies that make my heart sing). Will anyone read them? Who knows!

As for books, October was an okay month. I read 9 in total, most of which I enjoyed:

⚔️= Fantasy; 🚀= Scifi; 👻= Paranormal; 🔍= Mystery; 🌺= Contemporary; 🗝️= Historical; 🌈= LGBTQIAP+; Horror= 👁️

The Brilliant

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The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth ⚔️🗝️:
If I were a cat, this book would have killed me nine times over. Thank you for breaking me in the best way, Laura.  [Review]

A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland ⚔️🌈:
This was such a clever and entertaining story about, well, stories and their power to change the fabric of the world. And its protagonist is an elderly man in his 70’s which you don’t see everyday in fantasy. [Review]

 

The Great

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Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink 👁️🌈:
I really liked it. I think it works perfectly as a companion to the podcast. But I don’t know if it’s something that can hold up on its own? I’ll talk more about it in the actual review.

Sadie by Courtney Summers 🔍🌺:
Yet another review I have to finish writing! “Enjoyable” is probably the wrong word to describe the story, but it is a compelling one and I can’t say enough good things about the audiobook. Massive kudos to all the voice actors.

Mort by Terry Pratchett ⚔️:
Read this as part of our Discworld Readathon! I’ve heard people talk about it like it’s the second coming of Christ, and to my surprise, it was actually really good. [Review]

 

The Good/Okay

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The Better to Kiss You With by Michelle Osgood 👻🌈:
Gerry (Book Nook UK) remarked about the prevalence of male werewolves in stories, and this is one of the few books I’ve read with a female werewolf love interest! Overall, a fun, sexy F/F story about werewolves, MMORPGs, and harassment culture. Plus, the author’s a local!

Time’s Children by D.B. Jackson ⚔️🚀: A mashup of time travel and epic fantasy! I guess “pleasant” would be the best wor? Nothing amazing but I did enjoy it for the most part. [Review]

 

The Bad

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The Phoenix Empress (Their Bright Ascendancy 2) by K. Arsenault Rivera ⚔️🌈:
Yeah, this was not a good one. The cultural issues aside, I found the pacing to be glacial, the character development lacking, and worldbuilding more or less nonexistent. [Review]

Mage Against the Machine by Shaun Barger ⚔️🚀🌈: I noped out of this one halfway through and my tablet is so, so grateful. [Review]

 

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So in this second half of the wrap-up I’m going to ramble about art and my decision to return to it after so long.

And it begins with a little story, so gather around!

Once upon a time there was a little girl who had a bit of an eclectic family. In terms of profession, anyway. On one half there was a seafood restaurant owner, a spicy chicken restaurant owner, movie producer, teacher, pastor, dentist, investment banker….and the other half were just artists and writers.

So the girl grew up with a brilliantly artistic mother and a brilliantly artistic grandfather, and some years later she met a brilliantly artistic young girl who would become one of her best friends. And it was really, really hard for the girl not to feel dull and dim in comparison. Like a ragged baby bird that may grow up to be large and healthy and magnificent, but most likely won’t.

The girl loved photography, writing, and drawing, and it was this last one that she felt the most insecure about. Insecurity turned to shame and shame turned to cold dejection and she decided one day that she would quit–because she wasn’t any good, so what was the point? (And when the girl looks back on it years later, she’ll recognize that it was partly an act of self harm–this denying herself of something she so loved)

But then 8 years later, thanks to a book, the girl’s returned to the world of drawing (because books are amazing and can literally change lives), and she’s been loving it–absolutely loving it. But on the heels of that love came doubt and heartache.

(And here I switch back to first person because talking about myself in third person is getting on my nerves)

So it’s been four months since my “return” and I’ve been spiraling into that oh-so familiar mindset of “I’m fucking terrible at this,” with my brain constantly yapping in the background, “Hey, remember how you quit all those years ago? Yeah, this is why.”

It’s hard to look at a finished work and not see a road map of all my flaws. Not just flaws of the drawing–though they’re obviously the first ones I see–but all of my flaws. Like, as a person. Because that’s how my brain operates.

And it is exhausting.

Turns out comeback stories are more fun to read/watch/play than to actually experience.

But one thing’s for sure: I’m not quitting again. Because once was enough for me to realize that it’s a shitty, shitty place to be in–no wi-fi, no heating, 1/5 on Yelp.

It was like locking yourself out of your house, throwing the key down a drain, and then just standing there, peering through the window (and there’s a part of you that knows this is your home, it’s always been your home, it could have always been your home, and just what the hell have you done?) And this terrible, aching longing settles inside you, and the more you peer, the more it floods you until you’re no longer a person but just a vessel of regrets and self-inflicted hurt.

I run through my life via two extremes–exaggerated indecisiveness or blind impulsiveness–and I never really know which one I’ll pick in a given situation. With this, though, my brain chose the latter. So deciding to return to art after nearly 10 years of avoidance was like punching through the window (because that key’s lounging at the bottom of the Pacific by now), climbing in and declaring, “Okay, you and me? We have unfinished business.” And the sheer relief I feel in that moment? Indescribable.

But then I realize my hand is all bloody and crusted with glass and I end up hopping around muttering expletives which really just ruins the bravado of it all. (That’s generally how my life goes. I want to think of myself as a protagonist in a Chris Nolan epic, but in reality I’m probably more like the sidekick in an Adam Sandler film–awkward, sad, and the antithesis of good comedy).

I could rant for days and days about how unfair it is that your passion can be this nourishing, too-bright thing that fills up your entire world until it’s not.

Until your fears and insecurities take the reins and turns it into an ugly, shameful blot that you can’t bear looking at so you shove it into the deepest corner of your mind-closet, buried under every rejection and hurt you’ve been collecting since childhood.

Except, as it turns out, not looking at it is equally painful, just in a different flavour.

So that’s where I’m at right now. Fighting myself (which isn’t anything new), a lot of late-night crying (also nothing new) and saying “I’m not letting you take this away from me again,” and my brain–always eager to get in the last word–whispering with smugness and false concern, “I’m only trying to help you.”

On good days I can laugh and give it the finger because, hell, the floodgates are open and I can finally create everything that’s been crowding my brain for years and I’m having fun. On bad days–and those often eclipse the good–I sit down and listen like it’s a sermon worth giving a damn about.

And I just wish it were easy to find a healthy, balanced relationship with our creative endeavours. To be able to hold forgiveness in one hand and critique in the other and navigate the tightrope that life demands that we walk, and achieve a state of…well, not satisfaction–because no creator is ever completely satisfied with their work–but a comfortable awareness.

And this is all just a really dramatic explanation for why my reading/blogging pace has dropped, why I’ve not been blog-hopping as much, why it’s taking me forever to respond to your comments, etc, etc. Because I’m dedicating these last three months to aggressive, aggressive drawing–to try to meet my pains head-on instead of shying away as I’ve done in the past.

Because it’s you or me, brain.

And I plan on winning.

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On that note, I hope all your Octobers went super well! Happy reading!

Top 5 Wednesday – Books I Want to Read Before 2019

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes in which you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic.

This week’s topic is “Books You Want to Read Before 2019.”

Short answer? All of them. But I don’t think a list of five different spreadsheets cataloguing my TBR was quite what you had in mind.

So here’s the abridged version!

(On a separate note, I would like a few words with whoever okay-ed this new editor interface because it is maddening. Why the heck is everything hidden??)

The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington

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A friend recommended this months and months back and I ended up reading 1/4 of it before stopping. Not because it was bad! That just happens to me sometimes; if I take a break in the middle of a book, it’s hard for me to pick it back up again.

The beginning of the story is kind of like Harry Potter but with more stabby action and sketchy treatment of magic users (reminiscent of The Circle in the Dragon Age series). It’s good stuff!

 

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

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My most anticipated read of the year that I said I was going to read as soon as I got my hands on it.

Except I didn’t.

Then I said I was going to read it by the end of October.

Except I didn’t.

And now I’m saying I’ll read it by the end of the year.

…Third time’s the charm, right?

 

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

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All the hype around this one has made me keep it at arm’s length, but I have to say, I’m SUPER curious–about the dynamic between Jude and Cardan, in particular. I’ve heard a few people say that the romance is borderline abusive, and I’ve heard others talk about it with starry eyes and hands clutched to their chest.

 

Fallen Princeborn: Stolen by Jean Lee

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In rural Wisconsin, an old stone wall is all that separates the world of magic from the world of man—a wall that keeps the shapeshifters inside. When something gets out, people disappear. Completely.

…Welcome to River Vine, a shrouded hinterland where dark magic devours and ancient shifters feed.

The lovely Sarah from Brainfluff raved about this one in her review, and it sounds absolutely brilliant and 100% up my alley. It’s got shifters, fae, troubled protagonists, and a whole lot of dark, rich worldbuilding. Get in my brain!

 

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

I adored Bennett’s The Divine Cities books, and while I understand Foundryside is a more traditional fantasy story, I’m still eager to give it a try. There’s also a sentient key character (as in, a character who is a key), and I’ve heard nothing but praises for it!

What are some books you want to get to before the end of the year?

 

 

Review: Someone Like Me – Genre-Bending Thriller Feat. Anthropomorphic Fox in Armour

someone like me

Title: Someone Like Me
Author: M.R. Carey
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: November 6th, 2018
Genre(s): Thriller
Subjects and Themes: Mental Health, Abuse
Page Count: 512 (hardback)

Rating: 7/10

Add to goodreads

 

 

Liz Kendall wouldn’t hurt a fly. Even when times get tough, she’s devoted to bringing up her two kids in a loving home.

But there’s another side to Liz—one that’s dark and malicious. She will do anything to get her way, no matter how extreme.

And when this other side of her takes control, the consequences are devastating.

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I feel like most of this review will boil down to “A lot of cool things happen in this book but I can’t really discuss them because spoilers. But I swear the cool things do happen!” So I won’t go into details about the plot, but I will wink and nudge and say that this is no ordinary psychological thriller.

I can most definitely talk about the characters, though!

The story swaps back and forth between Liz, a mother of two children and the ex-wife of an abusive husband, and Fran, a teenage girl who had been kidnapped as a child and is still dealing with the aftereffects of the incident. With Liz’s storyline we explore the horrors of domestic abuse and the lasting scars it leaves on a person, all of which Carey portrays with poise and care.

Both characters are dealing with mental health issues–or, at least, what they believe to be mental health issues. Liz has discovered that there’s an angrier, more volatile side of her that surfaces during stressful moments. And Fran has been dealing with the fact that physical properties of the world randomly changes for her and only her (the colour of a bedroom wall, for example).

Fran was my favourite of the two, however, and a large part of that is because of Lady Jinx, her “imaginary” anthropomorphic fox companion who wields a sword called Oathkeeper. That sentence alone should have you reaching for this book. Jinx is an awesome, awesome character–hands-down my favourite of the story. I also quite loved Fran’s interaction with her father, who is just the most supportive, protective, goofy parent you could ask for (can I get an “Amen” for positive parent-child relationships in speculative stories?) and Zac, Liz’s empathetic teenage son, who becomes Fran’s partner-in-crime as she tries to unravel the mystery surrounding her kidnapping.

While I found the two main characters (and the orbiting side characters) interesting, I did find the main villain a bit too campy, especially towards the end. I also feel like the book could have been shorter. Carey’s writing is meaty and introspective and there are scenes that have you completely engaged, but there are also scenes that feel overly dense and not all too necessary. As a result, my interest rose and waned in waves.

Overall, though, Someone Like Me is an entertaining genre-bender that successfully juggles many heavy topics and has you exclaiming “Oh!” as it slowly reveals its many fantastical secrets.

 

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Review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Discworld Readathon Month 5 – Sourcery

Hey all! So some not-great things came up and my blogging/reading has suffered as a result (which is why it’s taking me forever to get to comments). More about that in my wrap-up, but in the meantime, let’s get to Discworld!

We’re now 5 months into the Discworld Readathon that Nicole and I started up and it honestly feels like we’ve been doing this for years.

For those who don’t know, our goal is to read one Discworld book per month (chronologically, despite how much we may want to skip around. And I really want to skip to the next Death book now) and post a review on the last Monday of said month.

This month we’ll be tackling SOURCERY! Just leave a comment below if you’d like to join in!

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I have a love-hate relationship with these covers

We’ll be posting the reviews on November 26th (give or take). Happy Reading!

Review (DNF): Mage Against the Machine – An Exercise in Anger Management

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Title: Mage Against the Machine
Author: Shaun Barger
Publisher: Saga Press
Release Date: October 31st, 2018
Genre(s): Fantasy, Science Fiction
Subjects and Themes: Artificial Intelligence
Page Count: 512 (hardback)

Rating: DNF (@ 50%)

Add to goodreads

 

 

The year is 2120. The humans are dead. The mages have retreated from the world after a madman blew up civilization with weaponized magical technology. Safe within domes that protect them from the nuclear wasteland on the other side, the mages have spent the last century putting their lives back together.

Nikolai is obsessed with artifacts from twentieth-century human life: mage-crafted replica Chuck Taylors on his feet, Schwarzenegger posters on his walls, Beatlemania still alive and well in his head. But he’s also tasked with a higher calling—to maintain the Veils that protect mage-kind from the hazards of the wastes beyond. As a cadet in the Mage King’s army, Nik has finally found what he always wanted—a purpose. But when confronted by one of his former instructors gone rogue, Nik tumbles into a dark secret. The humans weren’t nuked into oblivion—they’re still alive. Not only that, outside the domes a war rages between the last enclaves of free humans and vast machine intelligences.

Outside the dome, unprepared and on the run, Nik finds Jem. Jem is a Runner for the Human Resistance. A ballerina-turned-soldier by the circumstances of war, Jem is more than just a human—her cybernetic enhancement mods make her faster, smarter, and are the only things that give her a fighting chance against the artificial beings bent on humanity’s eradication.

Now Nik faces an impossible decision: side with the mages and let humanity die out? Or stand with Jem and the humans—and risk endangering everything he knows and loves?

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I tried with this one.

I really, really did.

But between me and the book, something’s gotta give and the book is, well, a book. It doesn’t have emotions. It doesn’t have a network of neurons all simultaneously screaming “Abort! Abort!” The book will remain cool and unbothered and utterly pristine.

I can’t say the same for my tablet which has suffered from verbal abuse and my fantasies of hurling it against the wall.

Or the future of my tenancy in this apartment. Because I can’t count the number of times I yelled “What???” and “UGH” as I was reading through this, and I’m sure my neighbours were all privy to my 1 AM musings.

I actually considered DNF at about 1/4 of the way in, and the only excuse I can give for continuing is that I was overcome by an especially strong bout of masochism.

Here’s the thing. Nothing about the premise or the cover or the marketing screamed “DNF.” Harry Potter meets Terminator? Sign me up! And if you look at it from a wide angle, you can see that it’s got some really interesting material to work with: an Earth that’s been taken over by machines, a human Resistance group created to combat them, a mage world that occupies the same space as the human world, and some snappy action scenes sprinkled throughout.

All of that is negated by the characters.

One character in particular.

Nikolai Strauss gets the honour of being the most irritating, rage-inducing protagonist I’ve come across this year, his glowing list of qualities including arrogance, entitlement, pettiness, and fits of jealous rage. I have zero good things to say about him.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Nik is a mage and a member of the Edge Guard which the book unceremoniously tells you right from the start is “a powerful government order charged with the defense and maintenance of magical domed Veils that hid the magi from the human world, which had been reduced to lifeless, magically radioactive wastelands a century prior, in 2020.”

Clunky worldbuilding info isn’t all that the story throws at you from the first page. There are also reveals of long-buried family secrets, confession of betrayals, blooming of romance and then unblooming of it, and all within the first 50-ish pages.

Naturally the next half of the book would be dedicated to untangling some of these mysterious and exploring more of the world, right?

Yeah, no.

The next half of the book is dedicated to Nik trying to get with a girl he likes but getting the “I’m not one for relationships” treatment, brooding about it for some bit, meeting his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend, and then brooding about that in the most childish ways imaginable.

At one point, after hearing about the boyfriend’s promotion, he stomps to his bedroom, slams the door and thinks, “okay, that was kind of immature,” and then proceeds to rip away all the posters on his walls in a fit of rage. Which is, of course, the far more mature option.

And the biggest kicker is that these childish fits come with dollops of self-awareness. Comments like “He knew he was being immature” and “What was he doing?” doesn’t make him any more likeable or complex, it just makes his actions all the more baffling.

The side characters fare no better, with some verging on caricature-levels of ridiculous. I mean, just what am I supposed to do with dialogue like this?

“I have a girlfriend now. And you know what that means? “
“That you–”
“Sex!” he interrupted. “And I don’t have to tell you, but this sex thing? It is some seriously good shit.”

The other protagonist, Jem, is much more likeable, if a little bland. Through her PoV chapters we get glimpses of the Resistance group’s conflict with the Synths, and Terminator vibes are most definitely present here in a good way.

But then halfway through the book I came across this one nonsensical sequence of events involving Jem and her love interest and I just had to call it quits. While a non-irritating protagonist is a big plus, I generally like my characters to come with credible motivations and actions that make sense.

If you can ignore cringey romance and unlikable characters, the story might be entertaining in a messy kind of way. It wasn’t to be for me, unfortunately.

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Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

Discworld Readathon Review: Mort

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Title: Mort (Discworld 4)
Author: Terry Pratchett
Publisher: Corgi
Release Date: April 1st, 1989
Genre(s): Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Death
Page Count: 272 (paperback)

 

 

 

 

Yesterday was the “official” review post date but I didn’t actually start the book until Sunday, so you’re getting this one fashionably late!

So. Mort. This book’s been hyped to hell and back by everyone and I went into it clutching wide-eyed excitement in one hand and squinty skepticism in the other.

And, well, turns out all you hypers were right, because this is my favourite of the Discworld books so far (which may not be saying a lot seeing as how we’re only four books in, but still).

Here are some reasons why I think the book worked for me:

1. It’s explores a master/apprentice relationship in a macabre profession, which I have a particular weakness for. Professions like gravediggers, morticians, “monstrumologists,” and well, grim reapers. There’s something about the handling of death and the act of sharing that craft with a younger person that I find hopelessly romantic.

Sometimes I think I should have been born in a Victorian gothic novel.

 

2. I love, love Mort as a character. First of all, he’s an underdog–I can’t not root for those. Second of all, he’s this wonderful mix of teenage eagerness–of wanting to prove himself to others and to himself–and thoughtfulness. He’s utterly endearing and hands-down my favourite of the Discworld protagonists so far.

 

3. Speaking of endearing, I love this version of Death. He reads like the mysterious, eccentric relative you’ve been sent to live with for the summer. And when you ask your parents what Uncle Tim does for a living, they just flap their hands vaguely and say, “Oh, you know, he does the thing.”

And you go, “What thing?”

“You know…the thing.”

Turns out they can’t quite recall what it is. Strange. And then when you get there you find out that, oh hey, Uncle Tim is in the Grim Reaping business. And he’s kind of awkward and old-fashioned and–true to his reputation–eccentric, but he tries very hard to connect with you, and you can’t help but find it lovable.

He’s not my favourite Death incarnation (that title goes to a certain goth girl created by a different British author), but he’s definitely up there.

 

4. The humour really clicked with me this time around. It’s weird, because it’s the same humour–it’s still Pratchett at the helm–but with Mort as a main character, it feels…more grounded. Less loud. Still witty but not too gratuitous. It’s hard to explain.

 

3. It’s touching. I couldn’t really say that about the previous books, but the character dynamics combined with the musings on death and fate makes for a story with a surprising amount of heart.

 And Pratchett has a way of dressing up small wisdoms and life’s truths in the most whimsical garb:

History unravels gently, like an old sweater. It has been patched and darned many times, reknitted to suit different people, shoved in a box under the sink of censorship to be cut up for the dusters of propaganda, yet it always – eventually – manages to spring back into its old familiar shape. History has a habit of changing the people who think they are changing it. History always has a few tricks up its frayed sleeve. It’s been around a long time.

In short, I loved it a lot more than I thought I would.

So I’m giving this one four and a half elephants riding turtles out of five!

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Here are the awesome bloggers who are participating this month! Go see what they thought of Mort!

Book Beach Bunny
Confessions of a Serial Reader
Meeghan @ Meeghan Reads and Bakes
Nicole @ The Bookworm Drinketh
Storm of Pages

Mini Review: Time’s Children (The Islevale Cycle 1) – A Fast-Paced Time Travel Fantasy

Hey all! It’s been a terribly busy week and I’ve been neglecting my reading and blogging in favour of pretty much everything else. So I’ll try to catch up on your comments and posts in the upcoming week.

In the meantime, here’s one very overdue mini review! (I told myself I would do more of these)

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Time's Children


Title
: Time’s Children (The Islevale Cycle 1)
Author: D.B. Jackson
Publisher: Angry Robot
Release Date: October 2nd, 2018
Genre(s): Fantasy, Science Fiction
Subjects and Themes: Time Travel
Page Count: 528 (paperback)

Rating: 6.5/10

Add to goodreads

 

 

 

Fifteen year-old Tobias Doljan, a Walker trained to travel through time, is called to serve at the court of Daerjen. The sovereign, Mearlan IV, wants him to Walk back fourteen years, to prevent a devastating war which will destroy all of Islevale. Even though the journey will double Tobias’ age, he agrees. But he arrives to discover Mearlan has already been assassinated, and his court destroyed. The only survivor is the infant princess, Sofya. Still a boy inside his newly adult body, Tobias must find a way to protect the princess from assassins, and build himself a future… in the past.

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I found this to be a pleasantly lukewarm read for the most part. The prose is simple but engaging. The worldbuilding isn’t overly complex but still snags your attention. It doesn’t do anything out-of-this-world fantastic, but it sets up a nice jumping off point for what could be a very good fantasy series.

The world of Time’s Children is one where Walkers (those who can time travel), Spanners (those who can cross long distances in a blink of an eye), Seers (those who can glimpse into the future), and other such gifted individuals ply their services to nobility. Tobias is a 15-year old Walker who has been tasked with traveling back 14 years to prevent a war. Everything goes awry when he arrives, however, and he becomes witness to the assassination of the royal family and ends up having to flee the castle with the baby princess in his arms.

The time travel plot doesn’t kickstart until about 1/3 of the way into the book, which I actually quite liked. I appreciated that Jackson took the time to not only establish Tobias’ character, but also the rules of time travel–clothes off when traveling; running into your traveled self is dangerous; and if you travel back 12 years, you age 12 years, and when you travel forward again, you age 12 more–and the political situation of these countries. It’s fascinating stuff and I enjoyed this slower-paced first half more than the action-filled second half.

I also loved that these Walkers aren’t romanticized. While respected by nobility and commoners both, their job isn’t a pretty one. They exist, really, to clean up the nobility’s mistakes, sacrificing years of their life while doing so. A character remarks to Tobias near the beginning that there’s little to separate it from slavery, and I couldn’t agree more. I hope it gets brought up again in the later books because it’s great foundation for character conflicts.

Which brings me to my main problem: the characters. Tobias himself is a sweet, likeable boy who reminded a little bit of young FitzChivalry. But pleasant and likeable is about the extent of his character. I would have loved an in-depth exploration into his PTSD as I can only imagine the psychological havoc that a sudden aging can wreak on a person. Unfortunately, it’s an area for character growth that the story doesn’t really take advantage of. Yet, anyway. Considering this is only the first book, I assume–hope–we’ll see more layers to him in the sequels. As for the side characters, they’re a diverse bunch and they’re all given PoVS of their own, but I had a hard time connecting with any of them.

All in all, though, this was a fast-paced, highly readable fantasy with a lot of potential and room for growth and I’m interested to see where the author takes the story next.

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Review copy provided by publisher via Netgalley

Top 5 Wednesday – Books Featuring Werewolves & Vampires

This week’s topic is books featuring any paranormal creatures of our choice, so I went with werewolves and vampires.

But it’s less “Five Books with Werewolves and Vamps” and more “Four Werewolf Books Plus One Vamp Book Because I Couldn’t Remember Any More Good Werewolf Books.”

I’ve read quite a number of werewolf/vampire stories over the years and most of them just sort of blend together after a while. These five books are ones that–pun wholly intended–stand out from the pack.

 

1. Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

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Mongrels offers the most realistically harsh portrayal of werewolves I’ve ever read. Jones strips away all the romanticism of shifters in pop culture and imagines what the life of a werewolf in 21st-century America would really be like. The result isn’t pretty.

Not the lightest read, but a compelling one with surprising amounts of humour and heart.

 

2. Wolfsong (Green Creek 1) by T.J. Klune

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My favourite werewolf stories are ones that focus on the idea of family (or “pack”), and Wolfsong does exactly that. It’s as much a romance as it’s a family drama, and I’d actually say that the former takes a backseat to everything else.

It also takes the notion that “alpha” means being the meanest, most badass wolf in town, balls it up, and chucks it out the window. Here, “alpha” means “nurturing.” It means “protector.”

And I can’t tell you how much I love that.

Wolfsong is a book I can’t help but return to again and again because, like This is Us, it’s a story that makes you feel warm and safe and like you belong to something greater than yourself.

 

3. The Silvered by Tanya Huff

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This book pushes all the right buttons for me:

1) A practical, bookish female protagonist who knows more about accounting than fighting.

2) A steampunk setting (plus an airship on the cover! <3)

3) Werewolves that manage to be both realistic–well, as realistic as werewolves can be in a high fantasy story–and sexy.

This is such an underrated book and I need more people to read it!

 

4. The Wolf’s Hour by Rober McCammon

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First of all, please, please ignore the god-awful cover.

Second of all, I’m convinced that Robert McCammon is a chameleon; there’s just no genre he can’t write in. Post-apocalyptic horror? Check. Historical mystery? Yup. A coming-of-age tale with bits of magical realism? You got it. And with The Wolf’s Hour we get a paranormal historical fiction featuring a werewolf Secret Service agent going up against Nazis.

And yes, it’s as awesome and thrilling as it sounds.

 

5. The Brothers Cabal (Johannes Cabal 3) by Jonathan L. Howard

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Now, werecreatures do make an appearance in this book–including one hilarious-looking werebadger–but I’m sticking it under the “blood sucker” column because one of its main characters happens to be a vampire. A really sweet, affable vampire who’s rather ashamed of his vampire nature–the blood-sucking bit, anyway, not the super speed or any of the other cool abilities.

Horst Cabal had the misfortune getting turned when his younger brother Johannes abandoned him in a crypt a decade before. Despite all his trials, though, his disposition remains sunny and you could easily plop him in a coffee shop romance as the leading love interest and not notice anything strange.

I love this series and I especially love this book. It’s a perfect mix of humour, action, and heart-tugging sibling relationships.

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What are some of your favourite werewolf/vampire books?

Review: The Light Between Worlds – Stunning, Stunning, Stunning…

The Light Between Worlds

Title: The Light Between Worlds
Author: Laura E. Weymouth
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: October 23rd, 2018
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Subjects and Themes: Mental Health, Sisterhood
Page Count: 368 (hardback)

Rating: 9.5/10

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Six years ago, sisters Evelyn and Philippa Hapwell were swept away to a strange and beautiful kingdom called the Woodlands, where they lived for years. But ever since they returned to their lives in post-WWII England, they have struggled to adjust.

Ev desperately wants to return to the Woodlands, and Philippa just wants to move on. When Ev goes missing, Philippa must confront the depth of her sister’s despair and the painful truths they’ve been running from. As the weeks unfold, Philippa wonders if Ev truly did find a way home, or if the weight of their worlds pulled her under.

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Right. Where do I even start with this?

How about here: there’s only one other book (or series, rather) I’ve read this year that’s made me cry as much as this one, and even now, days later, it’s got me aching and drenched with its characters and their pains.

I wondered if should take a month to sort out my feelings and write something that can be at least 10% of what this story is worth. Then I realized I could take the entire year and still have no “perfect” review to show at the end of it.

Because this is one of those stories that feels too large to fit inside me. One of those stories that crawls through my skin to rip open old wounds and heal them anew, leaving me raw and open. And how do you deconstruct such a thing?

Well, I know I can’t do it justice. But I’ll try anyway.

The Light Between Worlds is a portal fantasy unlike any I’ve ever read. A re-imagining of Narnia and the continuation of it. The continuation of all portal fantasies, as it explores what happens to these children, who are no longer children, when they get dropped back into a world they’ve been absent from for so long. It’s a bit like the Wayward Children series and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in that respect

But Light Between Worlds takes things deeper. Darker. It approaches portal fantasy with a brutal lens that refuses to sugarcoat the reality of war, depression, PTSD, and the kind, wise mythical creatures who would take oaths of service from the mouths of children. But most of all, it’s about the love between sisters and finding a place–a world–that you can rightly call “home.”

One of the most brilliant things about this book is that it show how portal fantasies are, in many ways, tragedies. And it does that by being very light-handed with the fantasy. We only see limited bits of the Woodlands from Evelyn’s flashbacks, and I don’t think additional details are necessary (though it would have been welcome) seeing as how it’s a world we’ve all seen before–if not in Chronicles of Narnia, then in some other fantasy tale. The real focus of the story is in present-day England, where we see all the ways that the Woodlands haunts these characters.

It’s been five years since the siblings came back from the other world and Evelyn hungers deeply for it. Every part of her bleeds Woodlands and she walks through each day like a ghost, keening for a home that’s lost to her.

You don’t need to be a character in a portal fantasy to relate to Evelyn’s struggles. If you’ve ever longed for a time you wished you could return to; if you’ve ever longed to be somewhere else–or if not somewhere else, then to at least find some kind of footing in the present because most days it feels like you’re drifting above it; if you’ve seen your loved ones break themselves to keep you here, keep you whole; if it ever felt like you’re watching your life through the mirror of a mirror, all distorted and foreign–and the suffocating loneliness that comes with it, and the sense of unbelonging, and the feeling that one day you’re just going to float up and up away into nothing–and all that is enough to make you want to stop being…you will see yourself in Evelyn.

I saw far, far too much of myself and when I wasn’t tearing up or outrightly sobbing, I was turning pages with my heart lodged in my throat. And still I couldn’t stop reading. Because while Weymouth doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of mental illness, her portrayal is so honest and in its honesty there’s validation.

And the prose, at once simple and beautifully melancholic, compliments the subject matter so well and helps blunt the harshness. There’s a thrum of sorrow that runs through the writing, but above it you can also find wonder and love–so much love–and the combination is breathtaking.

And then we have Phillippa who’s waging a different war of her own but finds herself just as lost as Evelyn. While I saw most of myself in Evelyn, it was the elder Hapwell sister who captured my heart.

Phillippa is the pillar of the family. The one who tries to remain steadfast and strong even when she’s crumbling inside. The one who has to hold Evelyn back from her darkness time and time again. And unlike Evelyn she’s determined to carve a new life in this world and forget the magic of the woods and its great Guardian stag. Determined to wear a confident smile because she refuses to become what Evelyn’s become, she cannot. I don’t want to make a lot of Narnia comparisons, but with Phillippa the book does right by Susan Pevensie, taking Lewis’ “lipsticks, nylons and invitations” line and turning it from a condemnation into a shield and a weapon. It’s brilliantly done.

The love shared between Evelyn and Phillippa is undeniable. But love can exist with razor-sharp edges; it can hurt as much as it nourishes. And sometimes love isn’t enough to keep you from breaking when things get hard, and things can get so, so damn hard. The sacrifices these two make for each another despite the hurt and the hardship is the very definition of courage and what makes this story such a masterful one.

All in all, The Light Between Worlds is a stunningly beautiful character-focused story about finding light amidst the grey. And I know, down to my bones, that it’s one I’ll treasure for a long, long time.

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Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review

Note: the author has a paragraph of trigger warnings for the book on her website–including self-harm and suicide ideation–which I didn’t take seriously. Turns out I should have. And you should too. They’re there for a reason. I had to binge-watch The Haunting of Hill House to recover from it, because being too scared to go to the bathroom is better than being too sad to get out of bed. Take care. ❤

Friday Face Off – Horror Cover

Friday Face Off is a meme created by Books by Proxy, now hosted by Lynn’s Books.

The idea is that you find different covers of the same book, dump them all into a gladiatorial pit, and see which comes out on top (Lynn’s explanation sounds much more professional). And since this week’s theme is “horror” I thought it’d be the perfect time to join in!

I wasn’t sure whether “horror cover” meant a horror novel cover or a horrific cover, but I went with the former interpretation.

And I chose Josh Malerman’s Bird Box because the Netflix adaptation is slated to drop before the end of the year. A few days before Christmas, to be exact. Because nothing says “holiday bonding” like watching a film about people turning crazy and murdering their friends and families.

 

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Ecco Edition ; Turkish Edition ; Hungarian Edition

These three are all slight variations of the same thing. White typeface, grunge wood background, two birds. Well, I like grunge. And I like birds. And I very much dig the claustrophobic look of it all.

 

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Thai Edition ; Ecco Reprint (paperback)

I dislike these ones for different reasons. The Thailand one just looks…strange. Blurry typography isn’t my favourite thing and I have no idea what anything on the cover has to do with the story. And  I think Eco Reprint gives the wrong impression that the book is a slasher horror or a domestic thriller.

 

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Harper Voyager UK

More grunge! And our blindfolded protagonist! And overall, it’s…okay, I guess?

 

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Bulgarian Edition ; Special Limited Edition

I love the surrealism of both of these but the Special Edition is hands-down my favourite (and I’m super tempted to nab a copy).

I love everything about it. The blindfold grading into the river, the tree roots taking the place of Malorie’s hair, and the fact that it adds colour while still keeping that muted, gloomy look. It teeters between harsh and beautiful which, in my opinion, represents the story to a T.

Also, it’s a wraparound cover and the whole thing is just so brilliantly constructed:

 

Swoon ❤

 

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Which cover would be your pick?