Shelfie By Shelfie #1

This is a tag that I first saw on Tar Heel Reader, which is run by the indelible, incredible Jennifer, and was created by Beth from Bibliobeth. Thank you to Jennifer for bringing this to my attention and to Beth for coming up with this awesome tag!

“If you want to join in, you share a picture (or “shelfie”) of one of your shelves i.e. favourites, TBR, however you like to organise them, and then answer ten questions that are based around that particular shelf.”

I told myself I’d do this post weeks ago and then–surprise surprise–I ended up procrastinating. Now we’ve gone from scorching sun to constant rain and I lost the opportunity to make use of natural light. So I dragged out two desk lamps from the closet and tried to create some nice indoor lighting. The result wasn’t…great.

Imagine a praying mantis–like this one!

praying-mantis_kung-fu

Now imagine those two front legs as my table lamps. And imagine a camera resting against one of the shoulders.

That’s more or less how I looked trying to take this picture. Only 10 times more wobbly and 1000 times less fabulous.

Glitter and glamour, my life is not.

flourish

shelfie1.png

1.) Is there any reason for this shelf being organised the way it is or is it purely random?

…That’s a very good question! *Sweats* Is “I like the way these books look next to each other” a valid sorting mechanism? How about “I let my right hand guide me like a dowsing rod and these are the books it picked out for this shelf”? No? Okay.

I recently resorted my books and I’m still trying to figure out what works best for me. But these ones do share a few things in common: they’re mostly fantasy, most of them have LGBTQIAP+ representation, and they’re some of my favourites. You may also notice that I have a habit of not buying all the books in a series.

2.) Tell us a story about one of the books on this shelf that is special to you i.e. how you got it/ a memory associated with it etc.

Six years ago, I got my copy of The Handmaid’s Tale signed at a university event where Margaret Atwood gave an hour-long talk about the zombie apocalypse.

Two things I learned on that day:

1. Atwood is very funny in a very dry kind of way. I couldn’t believe she was Canadian because I don’t generally associate our country with wry humour. Some guy asked during Q&A (in the most haughty tone imaginable), “What made you go into writing? Was it the elements of plot, the characters? Or was it the language, the words, the sentences?”

And she answered, “Well, it was better than Home Economics.”

I loved it.

2. Margaret Atwood may look like “a frail baby giraffe but [she] has the intimidation factor of a 8.0 earthquake” (actual words I found in my journal entry).

See, I’d brought The Handmaid’s Tale and my new journal to get signed after the talk–my new journal that I hadn’t written in for about a month. When I gave the journal over, she flipped to the latest entry, flipped to the front page, looked at the date and then at me and said, “You haven’t been writing.”

I squeaked out “Um, no!”

Which she followed with a shake of the head and a “You need to write more!”

Then she proceeded to scribble across half of an empty page, “For Kathy–write more on this page today! – Margaret Atwood”

I don’t know if I was more ecstatic or mortified. But I did write on that page that day. And the day after. Becaue when Margaret Atwood tells you to write, you write.

3.) Which book from this shelf would you ditch if you were forced to and why?

I think I would sooner ditch myself. BUT if my loved ones were being held at gunpoint, I guess The Soul Mirror by Carol Berg would do the job since I have another (larger) copy on a different shelf. 😛

4.) Which book from this shelf would you save in an emergency and why?

Beth, we haven’t even talked yet! Why do you already hate me? 😭 I adore these books and two of them are signed and beloved, so I’m going cheat this time. I’ll get myself a Bag of Holding and just stuff the entire shelf inside.

5.) Which book has been on this shelf for the longest time?

Most of these are fairly new but I’ve had Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta since 2011!

6.) Which book is the newest addition to this shelf?

That would be The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater.

7.) Which book from this shelf are you most excited to read (or re-read if this is a favourites shelf?)

I have already re-read quite a few of these, but I’m very excited to get to Blue Lily, Lily Blue for the first time!

8.) If there is an object on this shelf apart from books, tell us the story behind it.

There are several objects!

Tal
On the left: the miniature traditional Korean masks (“tal”) my mom got for me on her most recent trip to South Korea. The larger ones were/are used during ceremonies, rituals, plays, and dancing (which my dad used to do). We had them hanging around our house when I was little and they used to freak me out. These two are much more pleasant to look at.

In the middle we have the Little Prince & Fox figurines!

And on the right there’s a Joan of Arc-inspired mini sword that I got for myself last Christmas because I love swords and Joan of Arc is one of my favourite historical heroines.

9.) What does this shelf tell us about you as a reader?

That I read a lot of fantasy and that my methods of organization are a mystery even to myself?

10.) Choose other bloggers to tag or choose a free question you make up yourself.

I don’t want to pressure anyone to showcase their shelves so I won’t be tagging anyone, but if you’d like to do the tag, go for it!

And go check out Jennifer and Beth’s shelves!

Advertisements

Review: Strange Grace – A Beautiful Dark Fantasy

Strange Grace

Title: Strange Grace
Author: Tessa Gratton
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date: September 18th, 2018
Genre(s) and Subject(s):
YA Fantasy, Fairy Tales, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 400 (hardback)
Goodreads

Rating: 8.0/10

 

 

 

 

I am so damn conflicted about this book. After reading the first 50% I was ready to call Strange Grace one of the best books I’ve read this year and the title of the review, “Dark Fantasy At Its Finest.” I was utterly blown away. Then I read through the last half of the story, and I flipped the last page feeling…less enthusiastic. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great story–but I feel like it could have been a brilliant one (from start to finish) and it ended up missing that mark by a couple of notches. And that just kills me.

Let’s get to the positives first (and there are a lot!):

Strange Grace is a dark, sensual story (never thought I’d say that about a YA) that explores love and passion and the idea that to live is to make sacrifices. The story is set in a secluded valley (called “Three Graces”) that’s surrounded by a mysterious forest. And in this forest lives a devil. Now, a long, long time ago, this devil had made a bargain with the founders of the valley: every seven years, the villagers will send a boy–their best boy–into the forest and have him survive its terrors. Survive, or die. For this sacrifice, the devil blesses the valley with magic–crops flourish, no one dies early, and wounds heal abnormally fast.

The prose is wonderfully rich. Dreamy and atmospheric, it reads very much like a fairy tale, except not the pleasant variety. This one has claws and fangs and blood dripping from its pores. It’s like those ancient stories told over the flickering of an open fire–the ones that say, “My child, the world hides beautiful, terrifying secrets.” It creeps through you like the tendrils of a song and leaves you entranced and gasping for more.

And like many fairy tales, the worldbuilding is hazy. We get the history of Three Graces and a couple of tidbits here and there about the cities beyond, but that’s about it. Some people might find it frustrating; I found it perfect. Because the worldbuilding isn’t the focal point of the story–that would be the characters.

At the heart of the story are Mairwen, Ruhen, and Arthur and their love for one another. Yes, this book explores polyamory, and it is done beautifully.

Mairwen is a witch and a descendant of the original Grace witch who had made the bargain. Her love for Rhun runs deep and her feelings about Arthur range from irritation to gruff affection.

Rhun is the next likely saint (or so everyone thinks). He’s kind-hearted, gentle, and so full of love for everyone and everything. The perfect saint candidate.

Except that he’s secretly in love with a boy.

Arthur has been raised as a girl until the age of six because his mother couldn’t bear the thought of losing him to the forest. So he’s spent the next decade or so trying to prove to every men in the valley that he’s just as strong and capable and male as they are. He’s molded himself into a moody, sharp-edged thing–prone to pick fights and dole out sneers.

Arthur was, unsurprisingly (to me, at least), my favourite of the trio. I loved his fire and his determination to take Rhun’s place as the sacrifice, not only because he wants to save him, but also to prove that he’s just as capable as the other boy. His heart is a turmoil of selfishness and selflessness, which I found that absolutely fascinating. I also really appreciated the way Gratton uses the character to explore societal expectations on gender roles.

“He chose the worst parts of boys, thinking they were the strongest when they were only the least girl

Now for the criticisms.

Character Development: While I quite liked Arthur’s character progression, I feel like Mairwen and Rhun’s progression just…stagnated after the first half. We also don’t see much interaction between Mairwen and Arthur, which is a shame because they’re so prickly with each other and I would have loved to see them work out their differences. Overall, I just felt a lot more disconnected from the characters in the latter part of the story.

The Kissing:

kissing book.jpg
This is very much a kissing book. The main characters kiss. The side characters kiss. The main characters kiss the side characters. There’s just a whole lot of smooching going on and, this may be a weird thing to say, I actually really like reading about kissing in stories–especially if it’s between friends. But I have to admit, there are times in this book when it gets a bit too much.

Pacing and Tension: This is probably my biggest complaint, aside from the character development. The pacing is weirdly sporadic in the second half of the story. The characters spend a whole lot of time seemingly doing nothing and then all of a sudden there’s a flurry of activities. Also, the tension that’s so evident and gripping in the first half dissipates in the second (at least for me). And the funny thing is that the dark horror stuff really ramps up in the latter sections, but I found myself less fearful for these characters than I was in the first half.

Despite my complaints, I still highly recommend this book, especially to those who loved the atmosphere of Uprooted and how the forest was kind of its own character. It’s written beautifully, it brims with love of all shades, and I very much look forward to seeing which dark corner of her imagination Tessa Gratton will take us into next.

Copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

September 2018 “TBR” – Procrastination, Witches, and Hard Choices

“Kathy.”

“Mm?”

“We’re pretty much in the middle of September right now.”

“Yep, I can see that. I have a tear-away calendar thingy on my desk.”

“Well, one generally writes a TBR post at the beginning of the month.”

“Eh, that’s debatable. There’s no Blog Police skulking around checking for these things, ready to clap you in handcuffs (and not the fuzzy ones). So you can technically write a TBR whenever. Hell, you can even write them at the end of the month and be like, ‘Here are all the books I thought I was going to read this month…and here’s what I actually read.’ Do whatever you want, you know? The world is your oyster. Break free from the shackles of conformity.”

“I mean, sure, shackles and oysters. But this one’s just a case of you being a lazy procrastinator.”

“Oh my god, you are ruining my brand. Why are you even here?”

“Well, I’m you. And you’re me. And this is an overlong conversation you’re having with yourself. And I feel like we should just get to the post before we scare off the readers. What’s left of them, anyway.”

“But I’m not the one who started–UGH. Fine.”

flourish

Right, so here we have the latest TBR post I’ve done to date! It’s a badly stitched-up mix of “TBR” and “What Did I Just Finish Reading?” and “What Am I Reading Now?” and “Hey, You Like Voting For Things, Right? (‘No,’ Said 50% of America) Well, Here’s A Thing You Can Vote For!”

It’s awkward, kind of ugly, and suffers from a heavy case of identity crisis.

My own little Frankenstein’s monster. Please treat it kindly. ❤

(Fun fact: that above conversation was originally twice as long and included a side-argument about adjectives. No, I don’t know what’s wrong with me either.)

 

Recently Finished

sept1.png

Bloody Rose (The Band 2) by Nicolas Eames:
Great sequel to a great debut. Review here.

Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton:
Oh boy. I have a lot of thoughts on this one and I’m in the process of trying to sort them out. Review to come.

The Deepest Roots by Miranda Asebedo:
A YA contemporary/fantasy/mystery/paranormal story that didn’t really work for me. Review to come.

 

READING NOW

sept4.png

Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon:
McCammon wrote one of the my favourite books of all time–Boy’s Life–and I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while now. It’s a doorstopper historical mystery (at nearly 800 pages) that centers around a witch trial and I’m loving it so far. McCammon’s gift for creating atmosphere and interesting characters really shines in this one.

Los Nefilim by T. Frohock:
A historical gothic fantasy (aka my favourite subgenre) about angels and daimons. I’ve had the book for a couple of years now and I figured now is a good time to get started on it, seeing as how the sequel’s dropping in a few months.

Equal Rites (Discworld 3) by Terry Pratchett:
I’m reading this as part of the Discworld Readathon and very much liking it so far!

 

YET TO READ

sept3.png

Nightingale by Amy Lukavics
YA historical horror set in an asylum and featuring an unreliable narrator. It’s also been blurbed by Paul Tremblay so I’m rather quite curious.

The Nine (Thieves of Fate 1) by Tracy Townsend:
Another book that’s been milling around on my shelves for a year. It’s about a mysterious, magical book and it’s set in a secondary world that’s kind of similar to our own…but not really? I don’t know. The blurb gives you a lot without really giving you anything.

The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang:
This one will probably/maybe/hopefully be a buddy read with Justine from Milkz Bookshelf!

sept5.png

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar:
A historical fantasy (yay!) about a (dead?) mermaid set in 18th century England. I’ve been hearing amazing things about this one and I can’t wait to dive in!

The Tower of Living and Dying (Empires of Dust 2) by Anna Smith Spark:
Sequel to one of my favourite books of last year. I’m hoping it’s be as brutal and bloody and beautiful as the first.

 

Undecided (aka Oh God Choices are Hard Help Me)

Both of these are ARCs I want to knock out before October, but I have no idea which one to tackle first. So if you’d like to relieve me of my choice paralysis, vote for one and tell me in the comments below!

sept6.png

Time’s Children (The Islevale Cycle 1) by D.B. Jackson
A blend of high fantasy and scifi in which a 15-year old boy is sent back in time to prevent a war and finds himself in an adult body. I did say I was going to take a break from scifi for a bit, but the premise for this one is just too interesting to pass up.

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee
Sequel to Lee’s Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue in which the former protagonist’s sister is the new protagonist. It’s got adventures and pirates and well, petticoats, presumably. Should be good fun!

flourish

And there you go! See any that catches your eye? What are some books you’re excited to get to this month?

Review: Summer Bird Blue – Of Grief, Music, and Sisterhood

Summer Bird

Title: Summer Bird Blue
Author: Akemi Dawn Bowman
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: September 11th, 2018
Genre(s) and Subject(s):
YA Contemporary, Death/Grief, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 384 (paperback)
Goodreads

Rating: 8.0/10

 

 

 

 

Rumi Seto spends a lot of time worrying she doesn’t have the answers to everything. What to eat, where to go, whom to love. But there is one thing she is absolutely sure of—she wants to spend the rest of her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea.

Then Lea dies in a car accident, and her mother sends her away to live with her aunt in Hawaii while she deals with her own grief. Now thousands of miles from home, Rumi struggles to navigate the loss of her sister, being abandoned by her mother, and the absence of music in her life. With the help of the “boys next door”—a teenage surfer named Kai, who smiles too much and doesn’t take anything seriously, and an eighty-year-old named George Watanabe, who succumbed to his own grief years ago—Rumi attempts to find her way back to her music, to write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish.

flourish

Summer Bird Blue opens with an unspeakable tragedy–a car accident that takes the life of Lea Seto, leaving her older sister Rumi and their mother to pick up the pieces. Now Rumi’s been sent to her aunt’s place in Hawaii, where she finds herself drowning in anger and sadness. Rumi must now find a way to deal with her grief and finish “Summer Bird Blue,” a song the two sisters had been working on.

This is my first experience with Bowman’s writing and I can see why readers are so taken with her work. Summer Bird Blue is well worth the praise. And the ugly tears.

Let’s start with my favourite part of the story: the protagonist. Rumi is a fantastic character for many reasons–her pragmatic attitude, the love she has for her sister, her passion for music–but what I love most is her anger. From the flashbacks we see that she’s always been prickly, kind of cynical, and generally not the most sociable person to be around–like the moon to her sister’s sun. But with her sister’s death, she’s become this whirlwind of explosive anger. She says cruel, terrible things and lashes out at those around her (because where else is all that helpless grief going to go?) and it all feels so unbelievably realistic. People grieve in different ways and sometimes we can’t help but dole out our hurt to others because bearing them alone is too hard. Bowman explores this to perfection.

We alternate between the present to short flashback scenes where we get a better sense of Rumi and Lea’s relationship. As an only child I’ve always been distantly envious of my friends who have sisters, and this book makes me even more so. Good memories, bad memories, we get it all, and their addition makes us empathize all the more with Rumi’s grief.

I loved the navigation of friendship and sexuality Rumi goes through with Kai, whose constant sunshiny attitude offers such a great contrast to Rumi’s wry one. Bowman has such a talent for writing dialogue and it shines the brightest with these two characters–their exchanges are so fun and charming and I found myself grinning ear-to-ear through many of their scenes. 

I did find some of the side characters rather underdeveloped and the plot a little too stagnant for my tastes, especially in the latter half. But that’s probably just me–there’s nothing specifically wrong with the story and Contemporary YA lovers and/or teen readers should gobble it right up.

Overall, Summer Bird Blue is a beautiful and heartbreaking story that balances anger and humour and tackles many important topics with veteran ease.

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

Discworld Readathon Month 3 – Equal Rites (Witches 1)

Pratchett Banner 1.JPG

 

Because I have ZERO concept of time and think “fashionably late” means arriving when the rest of the guests are just leaving (tip: if you ever invite me to a party, lie and say that it starts two hours before the actual start time), I’m writing this announcement post a week late. *Long sigh*

For those who don’t know, Nicole (Bookworm Drinketh) and I started up the Discworld Readathon in July (you can read about its inception here). Our plan is to read through one Discworld book every month and then post a review on the last Monday.

It’s one of those “What have I gotten myself into?” deals, but like, in a good way–with a smiley face attached to the end.

I couldn’t get to The Light Fantastic in August because A) mental health and B) drowning in ARCs, but I’m back on schedule this month (though still drowning in ARCs) and very excited to be diving into Equal Rites!

equal rites

It’s the first in the “Witches” subseries and probably would have been more apropos for October, but hey, I figure Mort (Book 4) will be spooky enough for Halloween.

If you’re interested in joining (or dropping out) this month, just leave a comment below!

Reviews are to be posted on September 24th! Happy Reading! ❤

Review: Bloody Rose (The Band 2) – Zigazig Ah-ing its Way to Glory

Bloody Rose

Title: Bloody Rose (The Band 2)
Author: Nicholas Eames
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: August 28th, 2018
Genre(s) and Subject(s): Epic Fantasy, Humour
Page Count: 560 (paperback)
Goodreads

Rating: 8.5/10

 

 

 

 

Before we dive in, let me just mention that Chapter One of Bloody Rose sees our protagonist reverse-mansplaining to an idiot and then declaring she likes girls (to the readers, anyway). If that’s not one of the best openings of 2018, I don’t know what is.

flourish

In a land where mercenary groups are like rock stars of our world–with gigs, tours, groupies, and a penchant for drugs and sex–Tam Hashford is just an ordinary teenage barmaid. But when Fable, a mega-famous group led by a woman they call the “Bloody Rose”, comes into town, Tam decides she wants to join them as a bard instead of spending the rest of her life working in a tavern under her helicoptering father. What follows is a bloody, thrilling quest for glory (or death).

Kings of the Wyld was a rollicking debut featuring a band of aging mercenaries. Eames could have kept the same formula–a group of male adventurers, a “damsel” in need of saving–and it would have been just as fun and wildly successful. But instead he does something that genuinely surprised me: he changes things up.

What he did in the first book, he improves on in nearly every way–introduce more diversity, add more character depth, explore more of the world and its history. In Kings of the Wyld, we had a gay side character with a dead husband; in Bloody Rose we get a lesbian main character with a F/F plotline. In Kings of the Wyld, we see middle-aged characters trying to reclaim old glory; in Bloody Rose we explore how the expectations we place on ourselves can become a crippling weight. The ending of Kings of the Wyld was exhilarating and sweet. The ending for Bloody Rose hits you like a goddamn freight train.

Tam is very much an observer protagonist (think Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird). She’s the narrator of the story and her POV is the only one we get, but she’s not the main character. She’s the chronicler. The witness. The Bard. Not the main attraction but the one who, more often than not, stays in the background. Does that mean she’s any less of a character than Rose or the rest of Fable? Hell, no. The trouble with observer protagonists is that they can easily end up being bland and underdeveloped. That is not at all the case with Tam. She’s capable, talented, and her youthful eagerness and naivete is a refreshing contrast to Rose’s fiery personality.

A bard’s duty was to watch, to witness. For Tam to turn an eye when glory faded, when heroes were forced to endure heartbreak and hardship no strength of arms could overcome, was to betray that duty.

Rose is, of course, the star of the show. Through Tam’s eyes, we see her shift from a legendary warrior to a woman who’s so desperate to surpass the glory of her father, she’s willing to sacrifice her own identity for it. Her struggles are at once fascinating and heartbreaking.

Eames is blessed with a prose that is addictive and so, so much fun. For those of you who avoid epic fantasy because sometimes the characters talk like, “It behooves me to mention that the King bespoke of my lord with indubitable respect”–well, these books are for you, because anachronistic, colloquial style of writing is Nicholas Eames’ game.

“What about Rose and Freecloud?” Tam asked.
“Don’t expect we’ll see much of them today,” said the shaman with an exaggerated wink.
“Okay.”
“If you know what I mean,” he added, winking again.
“I do,” Tam assured him.
“Because they’re having–“
“Bye,” she said.
“–sex, Brune finished, but she was already headed for the stairs.

But I think his greatest talent, prose-wise, is his ability to transition from ridiculous, laugh-out-loud humour to serious poignancy with fluid ease.

My only main criticism is that the plot follows a too-similar pattern to Book 1–lots of moving from point A to B and then defending a city from a horde of monsters. But if you love lengthy travel sequences in your fantasy (I usually don’t), you’ll probably love this. I also wish we got a little more from the villain than the typical “I want revenge” motive.

All in all, The Band series continues to be a love letter to gamers, fantasy connoisseurs, and anyone who enjoys a good story filled with friendship, action, and heart. If Eames keeps moving at this trajectory, I have no doubt his work will leave an indelible mark on the pages of SFF history.

(Also, I’m inordinately proud of myself for coming up with that title)

Top 5 Wednesday – Favourite Friend Groups #Squadgoals

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes, where you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This week’s topic is: Favourite Friend Groups.

Me: *Muttering* I will not make this post all about Dragon Age and Final Fantasy and anime. I will not make this post all about Dragon Age and Final Fantasy and anime. I will not–

Me #2: Oh, please. You know you want to.

Me: …….I will not–

Me #2: C’mon. Just do one.

Me: ….

I’m weak and it’s late (why oh why do I keep writing these posts at 1 AM??), so I added one Dragon Age to the list. But the rest are examples from books and you’re spared from having to scroll through a 5000-word essay on how much I love Bioware and Final Fantasy games. For today, anyway!

flourish

1. The Raven Cycle Kids

https://pagesbelowvaultedsky.files.wordpress.com/2018/09/36653-the-raven-cycle-series.jpg?w=1236&h=473

I’m only halfway through the series right now but I’m already very much in love with the Blue + Raven Boys dynamic. These kids could not be more different from one another, but they still somehow manage to fit together perfectly. And I love how Gansey is the one who holds them all together.

 

2. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants – Carmen, Bridget, Tibby, Lena

Image result for sisterhood of the travelling pants

I have no idea how the Travelling Pants series holds up as an adult but I adored it when I was 12-14 years old. These girls supported each other unconditionally in every way, regardless of the distance between them, and I found that to be so inspiring and moving. It offers such a positive depiction of female friendships that we always need more of in YA.

 

3. Kings of the Wyld – Saga

Kings of the Wyld

Saga used to be a mega-famous mercenary group back in the day and now, decades later, they’re a bunch of retired middle-aged men with families, beer guts, and confidence issues. And I love them to bits–especially their willingness to drop everything to help out one of their members.

As individuals they were each of them fallible, discordant as notes without harmony. But as a band they were something more, something perfect in its own intangible way.

 

4. The Gentleman Bastards

Lies of Locke

The dynamic of Locke, Jean, Calo, and Galdo (and later, Sabetha) is one of the main things that make The Gentleman Bastards series so addictive and compelling. They may drive each other crazy, but their love runs deep and wide and they’ll do just about anything–kill, rob (well, more so than usual), sacrifice–for one another.

“Bug,” Calo said, “Locke is our brother and our love for him knows no bounds. But the four most fatal words in the Therin language are ‘Locke would appreciate it.'”

“Rivalled only by ‘Locke taught me a new trick,'” added Galo.

“The only person who gets away with Locke Lamora games …”

“… is Locke …”

“… because we think the gods are saving him up for a really big death. Something with knives and hot irons …”

“… and fifty thousand cheering spectators.”

 

5. Dragon Age 2 – Hawke and Co.

Image result for dragon age 2 characters

 

I will defend this game until the day I die because, among other things, DA2 is the “found family” trope at its finest. In this ensemble we have a lady guard captain, a pirate captain, an elven blood mage, a storytelling dwarf, a former slave, a would-be revolutionary, plus Hawke the protagonist and their sweet sister/asshole brother. While calling them “friends” might be a bit of a stretch–half of them hate each other and the other half just want some peace and quiet in their lives–they’re most definitely family. A weird, dysfunctional family who go on murder sprees adventures together.

flourish

And there you have it! Tell me about your favourite friend groups! (I’m gonna take a wild, wild guess that one of them’s Harry/Ron/Hermione)

August 2018 Wrap Up – It’s Not You, Scifi, It’s Me…But It’s Also Kind of You

So mental-health wise, life has been a veritable mess from July to August. After a trip to the emergency room, days of yelling and apologizing, and talking to from doctors, things are now marginally better. I’ve been throwing myself into art which has been helping quite a bit. And while it feels like I’m creeping along a tightrope and one breeze at the wrong time can push me over again, I’m hoping things will continue to move in a positive direction. Also, to the beautiful, wonderful people who messaged me with words of encouragement and support, I can barely express how thankful I am. ❤

Well, enough of that–onto the books! I read (or tried to read) 12 books this month which is a little surprising, all things considered. Of those 12, four were scifi and I didn’t much like any them, so I’m going to try to take a small break from the genre.

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

The Brilliant

a1

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T Anderson and Eugene Yelchin ⚔️:
I didn’t really know what to expect from this book going in, but holy hell, I had such a great time with it. It’s labelled YA but it’s got the same wit and dark humour found in Pratchett’s writing. So Discworld lovers, this one’s for you. Review to come.

The Dust Feast (Hollow Folk 3) by Gregory Ashe 👻🔍🌈:
I’m saving the big, sappy words for the review so for now I’ll just just say that the Hollow Folk books killed me, resurrected me, and then ascended me to the heavens. Read this paranormal/mystery/thriller series and you too can experience being Jesus. Novella Review to come.

 

The Great

a2.png

I Can’t Date Jesus – Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put my Faith in Beyoncé by Michael Arceneaux 🌈:

I Can’t Date Jesus is an amazing collection of personal essays where Michael Arceneaux–a journalist whose articles have been published in pretty much every media outlet–talks about his struggles with intimacy, the complicated relationship he has with religion and family, and his general experience of being a gay black man in America. It’s hilarious, raw, opinionated, and wonderfully intimate–almost like you’re having a discussion with an old friend. And Arceneaux’s dating woes make me feel infinitely better about mine because at least I can say that no one’s ever brought bedbugs and/or fleas into my bed.

A must-read for everyone, LGBTQIAP+ or not.

The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins by the McElroys and Carey Pietsch ⚔️: (8/10)
The graphic novel adaptation of The Adventure Zone podcast. Unsurprisingly, I loved it. Review here.

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman 🌺🌈:
A YA contemporary with beautiful, honest portrayal of grief and sisterhood. Review to come.

 

THE (Kind of) GOOD

a3.png

The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bèrubè👻🌈: (7/10)
A paranormal YA that’s been called Black Swan meets Paranormal Activity. I wasn’t too impressed with the paranormal plot, but the main character and her mental health struggles were done very well. Review here.

When Elephants Fly by Nancy Richardson Fischer🌺:
A YA contemporary that explores schizophrenia, which I don’t come across too often, and the ethics of keeping animals in zoos versus circuses. Again, while I loved the mental health aspect, the plot left me wanting more. Review to come.

Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North🗝️⚔️:
A fun choose-your-own adventure novel that lets you navigate the story of Romeo and Juliet as either Romeo or Juliet. It’s got robots! And weightlifting! And kissing! And lots and lots of ways to die! I was never a huge fan of the original story (two teens insta-falling in love wasn’t really my thing), so I didn’t enjoy this as much as North’s other choose-your-own adventure book, To Be Or Not To Be, which tackles Hamlet. It’s still a lot of fun, though.

 

THE OKAY

In the Present TenseIn the Present Tense by Carrie Pack 🚀🌈: (6.5/10)
A near-future time travel story with a ton of diversity–mental health rep, PoCs, LGBTQIAP+. I loved the time travel stuff but the actions of the characters were baffling to say the least. Review here.

The Bad and DNF

a4.png

Temper by Nicky Drayden 🚀⚔️: DNF 40%

I loved Nicky’s debut, The Prey of Gods, and while I appreciate the strangeness and the sheer imagination of Temper, it wasn’t really something I could enjoy so soon after my brain short-circuiting on me. There’s a lot to the worldbuilding and I just couldn’t keep up. I’ll give it another shot sometime this month.

Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio 🚀: DNF 20%

As I wrote on Goodreads, if a bunch of Ivy League classics majors got very high one night and decided they would write an epic space opera, Empire of Silence is probably what you’d get. But like, less fun.

I’ve seen this book compared with Name of the Wind, mostly because of the flowery prose. But to me, while the narration in NoTW sounds like the voice of someone who’s in love with language, music, and just art in general, the narrator for Empire of Silence feels more like someone who’s in love with the sound of their own voice–verbosity without the empathy. Plus the story drags. A lot. I’m guessing it picks up at some point but I didn’t want to have to slog through 450 more pages to find out.

Past Imperfect by Carrie Pack 🚀🌈: (3.5/10)

The sequel to In the Present Tense. In my review I called it a “bad soap opera envisioned by aliens” and that more or less sums it up. Review here.

 

Posts-Made-title

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY

Topics I’d Like to See Explored More in Fantasy
Book List for a Class on Developmental Psychology

REVIEWS

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers
And the Ocean was Our Sky by Patrick Ness
In the Present Tense by Carrie Pack
The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bèrubè
Past Imperfect by Carrie Pack
The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins

TAGS

The Weather in Books Tag

flourish

And that’s it from me! How did your month go?

Review: The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins – The Best (and the only) D&D Graphic Novel I’ve Read

taz

Title: The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins
Author: Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy, Carey Pietsch (Artist)
Publisher: First Second Books
Release Date: July 17th, 2018
Genre(s) and Subject(s):
Graphic Novel, Fantasy, D&D
Page Count: 256 (paperback)
Goodreads

Rating: 8.0/10

 

 

I tried to not make this a review about The Adventure Zone The Podcast because you can 100% read this comic as a standalone, but I’ll just say this: if you’ve never listened to TAZ before, I highly, highly recommend that you give a couple of episodes a try. Even if you’re someone who’s like, “D&D what? Fantasy who?” I have converted non-gamers and fantasy naysayers into worshipers of this podcast. My friend, whose only knowledge of RPGs came from what she saw on The Big Bang Theory, is now a fanatic. The McElroys will do that to you.

It will fill your life with giggles, rainbow dust, and baby penguins. In fact, here’s a baby penguin imploring you to please, oh pretty please, go check out TAZ:

penguin

C’mon. How can you deny that face?

And if you’re thinking, “But I already watch/listen to Critical Role! I don’t need another D&D podcast in my life. That’d be cheating!”–trust me, TAZ is an entirely different beast. So think of it as loving your significant other but also loving your dog. Nothing wrong with that! (…Right?)

  • Podcast HERE
  • Full transcripts of the episodes HERE

flourish

First, let’s introduce our main cast and crew:

Taako
Meet Taako (pronounced “taco”), an elf wizard played by Justin McElroy. He used to star in a cooking show called “Sizzle It Up with Taako”, but it ended in a bit of a disaster, so he’s now stuck being a full-time adventurer. (He’s also super queer but we don’t find that out in this first arc)

Pietsch’s early sketches of Taako showed him to be white in skin tone, but due to backlash from the fandom, he’s been changed to…blue. Which is fair.

 

Magnus

 
Here’s Magnus Burnsides! Played by Travis McElroy! He’s a human figher who lives by the motto of “act first, think later,” with his catchphrase being “Magnus rushes in!” He’s proficient in many things including animals and vehicles. (And wolf-throwing, apparently)

 

 

 

 

Merrle

 

Merle Hitower Highchurch, a dwarf cleric played by Clint McElroy (father of these goofballs). He carries around an Extreme Teen Bible to help educate the modern youth on the good word of his god Pan. His favourite go-to spell is “Zone of Truth” (which makes everyone in the immediate area tell the truth).

 

 

And finally we have Griffin McElroy as the illustrious Dungeon Master.

Our heroes’ tale starts out with an offer from Merle’s cousin, Gundren Rockseeker, who claims that he has “the last job [they’ll] ever need to take.” Which sounds, well, pretty awesome!

…And a little too good to be true.

The trio soon find themselves neck deep in a cave full of goblins (“gerblins”), tangled up in goblin gang politics, uncovering a mysterious artifact, and having some nice tea with an enemy.

taz3

I can only imagine the sheer head-splitting frustration that comes with trying to adapt an audio-only improv media, so kudos to the McElroys and Carey Pietsch for pulling it off.

The art is perfect. It’s cute and dynamic and everything from the characters’ facial expressions to the scenery is done with a lot of care and detail. We get the iconic moments from the podcast plus some new scenes that will delight both the veterans and the newcomers.

The story itself is goofy, action-packed, and super charming (and filled with swears, so probably not something you want to be reading to your kids). This first arc is kind of your standard fantasy adventure, but it lays down the foundation for the rest of the campaign story, where the really crazy and exciting stuff happens.

taz2

Despite me yelling at you to go listen to TAZ, I’m aware that not everyone can access them, so I’m happy this comic provides a way for more people to get acquainted with these beloved, idiot characters and the start of an adventure that’s stuffed to the brim with imagination, gut-splitting humour, and a lot of heart.

So buckle up, folks. It’s going to be a wild ride.

Review: Past Imperfect – I Never Asked For This

Past Imperfect

Title: Past Imperfect
Author: Carrie Pack
Publisher: Interlude Press
Release Date: August 9th, 2018
Genre(s) and Subject(s): Sci-Fi, Mental Health, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 274 (paperback
Goodreads

Rating: 3.5/10

 

 

 

 

Note: there are some minor spoilers for In the Present Tense, Book 1 of the series, as well as spoilers for Past Imperfect.

Past Imperfect takes place immediately following the aftermath of Present Tense and we see Miles and Bethany on the run from Dr. Branagan and his cohorts–scientists who have been conducting illegal experiments on children for decades under the guise of mental health professionals.

This time we get Bethany’s PoV added alongside Miles, Adam, and Ana, which gives us a better insight into her schizophrenia and the horrific things she’s experienced at the hands of Branagan. She’s probably the most interesting character in the story and while I can’t speak for the validity of the depiction of schizophrenia, I do feel it was done respectfully. You can empathize with her struggles, both within and without, which is more than I can say for the other characters.

And…that’s pretty much where the positives end.

I complained in my review for In the Present Tense that the characters felt like puppets being shoehorned into a story that doesn’t quite fit them. Well, in Past Imperfect, we get less of the time travel and more of the puppetry, which is kind of detrimental because the former was the best part of Book 1.

I won’t list exhibits this time, but here’s one example of a scene that made me slack-jawed with disbelief. At one point in the story Ana tearfully confesses to Miles that she’s been cheating on him ever since she’d sent him off to the evil mental facility. Miles, after a brief exclamation of “You’re what?” makes a joke that the man she’s been cheating with (Miles’ boss) has a “great ass.” Ana acts embarrassed, more jokes are had, and everyone’s happy with the situation.

https://media.tenor.com/images/cc1b697f28a2cf494824a80623d307fa/tenor.gif

There are other moments like this that made me wonder whether I was a reading a written adaptation of a bad soap opera envisioned by aliens, because no human acts like this. We get sudden declarations of love, an equally sudden reveal that one of the side characters has been a spy for the villains all along (because of course)–and all throughout I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or slowly grind my head into the nearest wall.

The other major problem was that I couldn’t take the bad guys seriously. Dr. Branagan isn’t quite the mustache-twirling villain, but his fingers are poised right on the tip of said mustache. The same goes for his underlings. Their personalities all begin and end at “evil scientists who experiment on kids,” and it’s kind of hard to feel concerned for the main characters when their enemies seem hell-bent on channeling the cheesiness of old scifi cartoon villains.

And most of all? I was bored. There’s no tension, no credible motives, and overall, not a whole lot to keep me invested in the story. And that’s incredibly disappointing because I found the initial premise of the series quite interesting and chock full of potential.

Copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review