Review: The Rig – Black Mirror But With Less Rampant Cynicism

The Rig

Title: The Rig
Author: Roger Levy
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: May 8th, 2018
Genre(s): Science Fiction
Page Count: 617 pages
Goodreads

Rating: 6.5/10

 

 

 

 

The Rig is one of those books that I know a lot people will love for its sheer originality and exploration of complex themes, but just didn’t really work for me. It’s also one of those books that make me think, “Am I an idiot and/or need a degree in philosophy to enjoy this, or is the author just not presenting their themes very effectively”?

The first 100 pages is rampant with imagination (the first chapter alone deserves an award for being so damn memorable). Picture a future where humanity has ruined Earth to the point of no return. They decide set out to a whole new solar system, filled with hope and determined to do thing right this time. But these new planets aren’t the safe haven they’d dreamed of; each comes with its own share of problems–lethal diseases and infections on top of social conflict. So as technology evolves (at least in some respects), human lifespan becomes halved. And while health care is in constant development, it’s not enough to save everyone. So how do the doctors decide who gets first priority?

Enter AfterLife–a kind of a social networking site that allows its subscribers a second chance at life. When you find yourself on the brink of death, and the morticians/doctors find out that you have an implant in your brain called a “neurid”, your body gets frozen and your “data” uploaded onto AfterLife. At this point, the people in the System get to access the sordid details of your entire life and vote whether or not you deserve a “resurrection.” These people get a chance to play God, in a society that’s largely devoid of any faith, and this idea fits beautifully with the theme of religion that runs throughout the entire story. If you loved those futuristic episodes of Black Mirror that deal with social media, you’ll probably enjoy what this book initially offers.

And in this early part of the book, Levy juggles 3 vastly different plotlines with compelling ease–coming-of-age, murder mystery, and a man working in an underwater structure called a “rig”. The ideas are complex, the scope large, and the characters fascinating. I don’t often come across aneurotypical characters in SFF, so it was nice to see an autistic protagonist portrayed with humanity.

My problem with the story is that as you move away from this “honeymoon” phase–filled with new and exciting wonders–it begins to resemble a dry documentary. We get the rundown of gang wars, psychopathic characters doing psychopathic things, and the mystery of the rigs, which should have been engrossing, but I just felt rather disconnected from it all. A deeper exploration of the characters’ relationships would have helped; considering Alef and Pellenhorc’s friendship is at the heart of this story,we never really get beyond what was established in those first chapters. Then there’s the matter of the Rig itself being a metaphor for God, which I appreciated but wasn’t wholly impressed with.

“Appreciate” more or less sums up my feelings on this book. I appreciate what it tries to do and I appreciate that it exists. And I hesitantly recommend it to those who enjoy their sci-fi with a side of social and philosophical commentary.

~
Copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

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Diversity Spotlight Thursday: Pirates Ahoy!| 3 Days, 3 Quotes [Day 2]

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Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Aimal from Bookshelves & Paperbacks. Each week you come up with three book for three different categories: a diverse book you’ve read and enjoyed; a diverse book that’s already been released and is in your TBR; and a diverse book that hasn’t been released yet.

And this week’s topic is pirates! ☠️

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Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

The sequel to Scott Lynch’s incredibly addictive, high-octane fantasy heist debut, Red Seas Under Red Skies follows the misadventures of our beloved conmen Lock Lamora and Jean Tannen, as they end up butting heads with pirates. The captain of the pirates in question is a middle-aged black woman who also happens to be a mother, which is one of the most badass things ever. While it’s got more structural issues than the first, the entertainment value is still through the roof and I find myself rereading it time and time again.

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The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

I’ve been meaning to read this for a while now, because a plot that revolves around a monster-raising girl getting kidnapped by a pirate queen sounds fun, if a little romance novel-esque. I’ve heard great and not-so-great things about it, so I’m looking forward to finding out what the fuss is for myself.

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Compass Rose by Anna Burke

In the year 2513, the only thing higher than the seas is what’s at stake for those who sail them.
Rose was born facing due north, with an inherent perception of cardinal points flowing through her veins. Her uncanny sense of direction earns her a coveted place among the Archipelago Fleet elite, but it also attracts the attention of Admiral Comita, who sends her on a secret mission deep into pirate territory. Accompanied by a ragtag crew of mercenaries and under the command of Miranda, a captain as bloodthirsty as she is alluring, Rose discovers the hard way that even the best sense of direction won’t be enough to keep her alive if she can’t learn to navigate something far more dangerous than the turbulent seas. Aboard the mercenary ship, Man o’ War, Rose learns quickly that trusting the wrong person can get you killed―and Miranda’s crew have no intention of making things easy for her―especially Miranda’s trusted first mate, Orca, who is as stubborn as she is brutal.

Yet another book where the protagonist falls for a ruthless captain! I first saw it featured on one of Anna’s posts, and the combination of the words “2513” and “seas” and “mercenary” made me positively light-headed with excitement. Because if there’s one thing I love more than maritime mercenaries and pirates, it’s futuristic maritime mercenaries and pirates.

Releases July 10th

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For the second part of the post, we have Day 2 of 3 Days, 3 Quotes, for which I was tagged by Alyssa from Serendipitous Reads.

The Rules

1. Thank the person who nominated you
2. Post a quote for 3 consecutive days (1 quote for each day)
3. Nominate three new bloggers each day

“Uh, Kathy, it says right there in the rules that you have to post the quotes consecutively. You haven’t posted one in fi–”

Now onto today’s quote! (From a book that also features pirates!)

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I can’t not do a quotes tag without including one from my favourite author of all time. And this one is rather timely considering how much of an unabashed dumpster fire the world is right now. One of the central themes of Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings books is how the small actions of ordinary people can snowball into extraordinary, world-shaking events. And this quote is a loud call for such action. It’s disconcertingly easy to resign to weariness and think, “I can’t change anything,” but these books remind me that every step made, however small or shaky, is a step forward. And those steps add up to a lot.

(And I most definitely did not pick pirates as this week’s Diversity Thursday theme just so I could use this quote. Not at all.)

Today I tag:
– Justine from Milkz Bookshelf
– Alexia from The Bookworm Daydreamer
– Bibi from Bibi’s Book Blog

Top 5 Wednesday – LGBTQ+ Books (Sans Cis M/M Relationships)

“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 theme is: LGBTQ+ Books That Don’t Feature Cis M/M Relationships.

If this week’s prompt seems rather specific, here’s Sam’s reasoning:

This may seem oddly specific, but in honor of Pride being this month, I wanted to have a topic to celebrate LGBTQ+ books. But, the book community tends to, when given the chance, lift up cis m/m pairings the most. And while those books are still important and valued (we’ve even had topics covering m/m relationships earlier this year, which featured many cis m/m pairings), I wanted to shine the spotlight on some of those lesser known, recognized, and celebrated books.

I love that this gives us a chance to shine a spotlight on some of the other areas of the queer rainbow. Thanks, Sam!

1. Pantomime (Micah Grey 1) by Laura Lam

Pantomime

The first in Lam’s Micah Grey series is a fantasy story set around a travelling circus, which in itself is fun and interesting, but it also stars an intersex protagonist, which I’d never before encountered (in genre fiction or otherwise). Micah is a wonderfully likeable protagonist and his gender struggles are explored in a respectful, heartfelt manner. Plus I kind of liked the (sort-of) love triangle that he ends up in with two of the other circus members, which is a rare occurrence for me.

2. Peter Darling by Austin Chant

Peter Darling
With Peter Darling, Austin Chant creates a brilliantly original retelling of the classic tale. Peter in this story is trans and he finds himself back in Neverland to reclaim the Lost Boys and renew his old feud with Captain Hook. It’s a short but sweet story that touches on gender identity and the enemies-to-lovers trope.

3. The Thousand Names (Shadow Campaigns 1) by Django Wexler

the thousand names

I’ve said it before, but this entire series should be the benchmark for mainstream adult epic fantasy when it comes to LGBTQIAP+ representation. Some authors out there are patting themselves on the back for writing in a single gay character (out of a dozen) who appears in a total of maybe three scenes, and meanwhile Django here has amassed a total of (at least) nine queer side characters, plus one lesbian protagonist, by the end of the book 5. So if you’ve never heard the phrase “flintlock fantasy” before and are now curious to try it, I recommend you start with The Thousand Names. It’s got addictive military action, political intrigue, and interesting character relationships.

4. Borderline (The Arcadia Project 1) by Mishell Baker

Borderline

Borderline is the first in an urban fantasy series that stars a disabled bisexual protagonist with bipolar disorder. In another writer’s hands, this might have been a complete disaster. But Mishell Baker writes Millie Roper with startling complexity–funny, not always easy to like, and fucks up a ton, but always, always trying to move forward. The first book also mashes your typical fae lore with Hollywood and the result is incredibly entertaining.

5. Curved Horizon (The Camellia Clock Cycle 2) by Taylor Brooke

Curved Horizon

This one might be considered cheating because I’m reading through it right now and still have about 15% left to go, but it’s impressing the hell out of me, so I want to take this chance to showcase it. The Camelia Clock Cycle books are set in a world where scientists have discovered a way to calculate the exact moment that you meet your soulmate. Book 2 follows Daisy and Chelsea (former is Asian and demi, the latter is bi), who were secondary characters from the first book, as they navigate through trauma, mental health, and the complexities of love and friendship. Brooke does such an exquisite job exploring these characters and their demons to the fullest; there’s angst and heartbreak, but also moments where the characters just talk and try to figure things out. It combines the messiness of real life with the sweet optimism of romance novels, and I’m loving every bit of it.

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Have you read any of the books on this list? And shower me with your queer book recommendations!

 

 

Review: Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe – Hilarious and Life-Affirming

Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe


Title:
Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe
Author: Preston Norton
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: June 5th, 2018
Genre(s): Young Adult, Contemporary, Speculative
Page Count: 416 (hardback)
Goodreads

Rating: 9.0/10

 

Life is more than just existing. And it’s more than just a door with death and nothingness on the other side. Life is a series of doors. Every moment, every decision, is a door. And by opening them and stepping into the unknown, we are expanding and illuminating a world that we never knew existed. But if we never open those doors? If we stay put? We’ll be living in a world of walls.

Don’t you want to know what’s on the other side?

This book is a 400-page love letter to life. It’s like a rib-crushing hug that says, “I believe in you. Whatever you’re going through now, I believe you can push through it and come out on the other side stronger.” Ridiculous, witty, heartwarming, and full of wisdom dressed up in laugh-out-loud–sometimes over-the-top– humour, Preston Norton has written an indelible story of friendship, love, and what it means to live.

Cliff Hubbard is going through the worst year of his 16-year old life. On top of dealing with highschool bullying (he’s nicknamed “Neanderthal” for being 6’6 and 250 pounds), he has to face ongoing abuse from his father and the never-ending grief of losing his brother to suicide a year ago. Then one day, his arch-nemesis Aaron Zimmerson approaches him after a near-death experience and claims that he has met God (who inexplicably sounds like Morgan Freeman) and that God has given him a To-Do List of sorts. One that would make Happy Valley High a much better place. And guess whose help he needs?

First and foremost, the prose is absolute perfection. Humour, the kind that has you devolving into helpless laughter, is incredibly hard to nail. What’s even harder is to combine it with smart, no-nonsense wit. And what’s even harder is to transition from that humour into serious poignancy within a matter of a few sentences without it being jarring. And Norton nails that. There are so many moments that had me giggling to misty-eyed in a matter of seconds. Cliff’s narration finds the right balance of sarcasm and self-deprecation, and the metaphors and imagery he uses are inventive and so, so on-point.

“So…you don’t like the List.”

“I feel like the stupidity of the whole thing is burning a hole in my cerebral cortex. I’m trying to figure out which part is the dumbest, but the levels of stupidity for each point are so astronomical, I wonder if two of ideas bumped together, the universe might implode in a reverse Big Bang, and life as we know it would vacuum into a supermassive black hole and disappear from existence.”

The book also uses pop culture references in a way that doesn’t make me cringe, which is kind of a rarity. I’m not sure why YA contemporary writers have the idea that teenagers are these reference-spewing machines, but I figure if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it well. And Norton does it pretty damn well. My heart positively fluttered at seeing how 2001: Space Odyssey got woven into the main storyline.

I also loved the way it touches on the complexity of parent-child relationships. Cliff’s mother is a very kind, very loving woman when it comes to every aspect of his life except for one: his abusive father. With her, Norton pitches the question of how your parents can be so supportive and wonderful in certain aspects, but not so in others. And as with everything else, Cliff puts it perfectly:

“In times of peace, she was Mother of the Year. In times of war, she was a mannequin.”

So what does this make her? A bad parent? An enabler of abuse? A victim? There’s no one satisfactory answer. Part of growing up is realizing that your parents are very, painfully human, that they make very human mistakes, and that sometimes they’re just as lost as you are. And Norton explores this with pitch-perfection.

Most importantly, though, Neanderthal shines a spotlight on human potential, and the hope that there is always, always good in this world. It calls on you to embrace empathy and discard apathy. To show vulnerability and to take a chance into the unknown, the strange. I admit, there was a point where I thought to myself, “Is this a little too heavy-handed?” Then I realized, no. I don’t think there’s ever a heavy-handed way of saying that life matters–that you matter. There are scenes near the end that moved me to my core, and you can bet this is one of those books I’ll be returning to time and time again.

The Mystery Blogger Award (Part 1)

The Mystery Blogger Award

I’ve been procrastinating on these tags and have accumulated multiples of the same one, so I’ll be splitting this into two parts! For Part 1, I was tagged by two wonderful people–Justine from Milkz Bookshelf and Gerry from the UK Booknook. Justine is a relatively new blogger (only two months old), but she’s already been kicking ass and taking names. And Gerry’s posts are my kind of weird, hilarious, and passionate. Both are incredibly supportive and amazing, so go drop by and say hello!

RULES:

1. Put the award logo on your blog.
2. Thank whoever nominated you and include a link to their blog.
3. Mention the creator of the award and provide a link to their blog as well. (Maggie @okoto enigmas blog)
4. Tell your readers three things about yourself.
5. Nominate 10-20 people.
6. Notify your nominees.
7. Ask your nominees any five questions of your choice, specifying one weird/funny question.
8. Share a link to your best post(s).

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3 Things About Myself

1. I used to play tennis competitively, from middle school to undergrad, up until my mental health issues got dialed up to 11. Nowadays I just play for fun, and while I do sometimes miss the thrill of competing, I definitely don’t miss the crippling anxiety that comes with it. I adore the sport, though, both the playing and the watching, so if any of you are tennis fans, for the love God, come talk to me.

2. I have trypophobia, which is defined as the “fear of irregular patterns or clusters of small holes or bumps.” I used to freak out whenever my mom added fresh strawberries to my cereal, because the milk would cover up the seed dimples and create these hellish white clusters.

3. I don’t like drinking tea. I’m pretty sure this makes me some of a heathen in the blogging community (“burn her!”). I like the idea of it–the smell, the varieties, the…aesthetic. But once it enters my mouth region, all my happy feelings decay into a train of “UGH” and “BLERGH” and “THIS IS JUST WARM LEAFY WATER.” Though if you end up inviting me to your place and serving me tea, I will drink it up with a polite–and definitely-not-pained–smile like a good Canadian. And quietly plot your demise.

Justine’s Questions:

1. How did you into book blogging?

Oh boy, it’s a real rollercoaster of a story, so brace yourselves.

*Ahem*

One day I was ranting about a book to my friend and they said (probably in an attempt to extract themselves from my crazed lecture), “You should just start a book blog.” And I was like, “You know what? Yeah! I should totally do that.” And 15 minutes later my blog was born.

*crickets*

The end!

2. What genre of music do you listen to the most?

Rock and alt-rock, probably! Early teen me was obsessed with Linkin Park, Rise Against, Damien Rice, and punk-rock Demi Lovato. And that kind of carried into adulthood. Some of my other favourites today are Poets of the Fall and Breaking Benjamin.

3. If you could never read a book genre again what would it be?

*Deep breath* Canadian. Historical. Fiction *Shudders* *Curls up into a ball and weeps softly*.

Listen, I love this country and we have some incredible authors–from legends like Margaret Atwood to more up-and-coming ones, especially in speculative fiction. But Canadian history (sans First Nations history) is about as exciting as watching the Windows 10 update screen for 4 hours. And there are only so many stories about 19th century immigrants starting potato-and-wheat farms and surviving famines I can take before I start fantasizing about ramming my head through the nearest wall. Grade 11 AP English was decidedly not a fun time.

4. What’s your favorite scent?

The scent of a forest after a fresh fall of rain. Very few things make me happier than hiking through a damp stretch of woods.

5.  What came first, the chicken or the egg?

I want to be a smartass and say chickens obviously came after because eggs of all kinds existed before chickens were a thing….but my scientist brain is yelling at me to give a proper answer. I would still say eggs because the evolution of chickens from whatever pre-chicken species existed in the past couldn’t have occurred without sexual reproduction and the formation of zygotes.

Gerry’s Questions:

1. If you had to name a cocktail after your personality what would you call it? Bonus points if you know what ingredients it would have.

“Night Owl” Yes, it’s less personality and more lifestyle, but shush, because I know the exact ingredients for this one: kahlua, espresso, and irish cream served on the rocks with dark chocolate shavings.

2. You’ve woken up and had the sudden realization that you’ve grown a pair of wings. What do they look like? Do they suit you?

They start out as little baby bird wings that are all stubby and sickly-looking and spectacularly useless. I stare glumly at the mirror every morning, cursing myself for ever having dreamed about having wings, and do my very best to resist punching every smirking asshole who asks me, “Hey, can I see your wings?” (In this alt-reality, winged humans are considered rare, but not outside the realm of possibility.)

Then one morning I wake up tussling with an unexpected bedmate in the form of a pair of 14-feet wings that just happen to be attached to my back. Hallelujah, it’s the world’s quickest growth spurt! (Too bad the same couldn’t be said for my height). The wings are eagle-esque in terms of shape and they’re a mix of black and auburn with the occasional streak of grey.

So the good news is that that’s a definite improvement on ugly duckling wings. The bad news? Turns out owning a pair of new untested wings is kind of like being a pubescent boy popping inappropriate boners everywhere. I get hit with a gentle breeze? Out they go! I’m getting nervous during a presentation? Whoosh! Overnight I’ve become a walking, breathing hazard and all of this is just making me more depressed than ever.

Then yet another morning (I really need to stop sleeping) I wake to find a tiny sparrow sitting on my chest, sighing and mumbling, “Beggars can’t be choosers.” And it yells, in a hysterically squeaky voice, “Fate has chosen thee for a higher calling! And because fate is a bitch with a cruel sense of humour, it’s chosen me to be your illustrious guide. So quit moping around feeling sorry for yourself and get your shit together because we’re gonna to need to clean up this fucking mess of a world.”

“…What the what?”

And so that’s how I get saddled with a disconcertingly adorable and foul-mouthed mentor who whips me into a barely-competent, highly-reluctant superhero whose badass superhero getup consists of a bargain deal faux-leather jacket (because apparently being a superhero isn’t what you’d call a stable career), jeans with copious grass stains (from weeks of practice landings), and a pair of aviator goggles that looks to be circa 1920. Oh, and a bike helmet. ‘Cause safety and all that.

Look out evildoers, because I’m here to crash-land all over your ass.

(Fun fact: I was very much obsessed with the Maximum Ride series as a teen and even more obsessed with the idea of having wings.)

(And shout out to Gerry for giving me mini story prompts as questions. :P)

3. If you didn’t have to sleep what would you do instead?

Read, draw, catch up on TV shows, fly out into the night with my newfound wings to punch all the nazis dispense vigilante justice and rescue all the puppies, play video games. You know, the usual stuff.

4. You have to chuck three books you hate into the volcano to appease the god/goddess of bad books. What three go in?

Atlas Shrugged. It’s coldly devoid of any humanity so maybe it can help cool the volcano down a bit.

The North Water. I have no idea how this won the Man Booker prize. Is torture porn considered a form of highbrow literature? …Don’t answer that.

Fifty Shades of Grey. Though I don’t hate the book so much as I passionately dislike the author.

5. You’ve fallen down the rabbit hole and have entered Wonderland. Where the first place you head to? Why?

I know I said I didn’t like tea, but the Hatter’s tea party is probably one I shouldn’t miss. Weird stories and riddles are my jam. Plus, I want to pet the dormouse.

My Best Post(s)

Hands-down, my “Of Wit Bonds, Mental Health, and the Power of Stories: How FitzChivalry Farseer Saved My Life” post. I find it a struggle to allow myself to be proud of my creative work, but I poured every morsel of myself into this essay and writing it was a therapeutic, near-transcendent experience. So yeah, I’m proud…and content.  And it’s funny because I wrote it when my blog still very new so it didn’t get much traction here. But I cross-posted it to r/fantasy and r/robinhobb and the responses I got left me sobbing.

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I tag:

– Aurora @ Aurora Libralis
– Avery @ Red Rocket Panda
– Consu @ Paper-Eyed Girl
– Elissa @ Elissa Reads
– Nicole @ The Bookworm Drinketh
– Susy @ Susy’s Cozy World

My questions (and yup, some of these aren’t technically questions):

  1. Tell me one thing you’re really good at! (Aside from being an awesome blogger)
  2. Name one favourite and one least favourite plot trope.
  3. A character that you initially hated but eventually grew to love?
  4. What’s one place in the world you would love to visit?
  5. If you could form an adventuring party with any three people (real, fictional, etc) who would you pick? Free cookies if you can name your classes and alignments.

Diversity Spotlight Thursday: Historical Fiction | 3 Days, 3 Quotes [Day 1]

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Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly meme that’s hosted by Aimal from Bookshelves & Paperbacks and the idea is that each week you come up with three book for three different categories: a diverse book you’ve read and enjoyed; a diverse book that’s already been released and is in your TBR; and a diverse book that hasn’t been released yet.

This week’s topic is: Historical Fiction

I’ve been stupidly busy for the last week and a half with work, volunteer, and various personal stuff, so to save time, I’ve decided to smoosh two sort-of-related posts into one. I’m also rather behind on comments so I’ll be slowly be catching up on all your recent posts!

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At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neil

At Swim, Two Boys is one of those books that makes you think, “No human could have written this,” and at the same time, “Only a human could have written this.” O’Neil manipulates the English language with the finesse of a god and the pathos of a mortal to produce what is probably the most beautifully-crafted piece of fiction I have ever read. And it’s so wonderfully accessible, because although the story is historical–one that slides a lens over the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland–at its core it’s a tale of the endurance of love, friendship, and youth amidst violence and hatred. And anyone, regardless of sexuality, nationality, age, or gender can relate to that.

Goodreads | Amazon (US) | Book Depository

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Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters is the Queen of lesbian historical fiction, and Fingersmith has been on my TBR for a while now. I did, however, end up watching the Korean movie adaptation, The Handmaiden (아가씨) last year, and it utterly blew me away. Sexuality and open expression of sexuality–of any kind–is still very much a taboo subject in South Korea, so it’s eyebrow-raising (in the best way) to see them produce something so beautifully erotic. If the original story is anything close to this film, then I’m in for a wild ride.

Goodreads | Amazon (US) | Book Depository

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The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee

This one might be cheating because the first book in the series was a historical fiction with a dash of fantasy and I have a feeling the sequel will follow that trend, but it looks too good to pass up. Felicity was my favourite character from Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue and I was beyond stoked to hear that she would be getting her own book. The story feature ace rep and a possible (?) F/F pairing, which is exciting.

Goodreads | Amazon (US) | Book Depository

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And for the second part of this post, I’ll be doing the 3 Days, 3 Quotes tag! I was tagged by Alyssa from Serendipitous Reads ages ago, so thank you, Alyssa! She writes the some of the most thoughtful reviews so go check her out and shower her with love.

The Rules

1. Thank the person who nominated you
2. Post a quote for 3 consecutive days (1 quote for each day)–I’m totally gonna be bending this rule
3. Nominate three new bloggers each day

Because it’s Pride month, I wanted to share my favourite quote from At Swim, Two Boys:

“Help these boys build a nation their own. Ransack the histories for clues to their past. Plunder the literatures for words they can speak. And should you encounter an ancient tribe whose customs, however dimly, cast light on their hearts; tell them that tale; and you shall name the unspeakable names of your kind, and in that naming, in each such telling, they will falter a step to the light.

For only with pride may a man prosper. With pride, all things follow. Without he have pride he is a shadowy skulk whose season is night.”

This passage drove me to tears the first time I read it. It just speaks so powerfully of the importance, the necessity, of seeing our queerness reflected out in the world–whether through literature or some other medium. Each LGBTQIAP+ story is a call that says, “Your existence is beautiful,” and that’s something we need to be hearing every day, every minute of our lives.

Today I tag:

1. Gerry from The BookNook UK
2. Lily from Sprinkles of Dreams
3. Vera from Unfiltered Tales

 

An Interview With K.D. Edwards, Author of The Last Sun…After a Brief Infomercial

[BLACK-AND-WHITE FILTER]

Me (in a diabetes-inducing tone):
They say laughter is the best medicine, but do you find yourself going day to day and struggling to find even a smile?

Are you tired of fantasy books that feature muscly macho men doing muscly macho things? Sick of strong and competent characters that are always strong and competent?

Have you ever read something and thought, “Man, I like this but I wish it was 500% more queer”?

Well, INTRODUCING….THE LAST SUN, the first book in The Tarot Sequence by K.D. Edwards!

the last sun

It features:
– Hilarious banter
– Competent but beautifully flawed characters
– A brilliantly intricate world based around a reimagined Atlantis
– And 1000% more queerness

Voices In My Head: Wow, that sounds amazing! When can I get my hands on this gem?

Me: Well, my friend, this is your lucky day because the book is out TODAY.

Voices: Today?!

Me: TO.DAY. So you can skip on out to your local bookstore and buy or order a copy right now. Or put in a request at your library and you get to read the book for free (I always joke that I’m on my library’s blacklist because of the mountain of requests I make each month, but honestly, all the librarians I know love them–so go for it).

Voices: Can this book fix my crumbling relationship?

Me: Um…y–yeah, definitely! It’ll fix your relationships, water your crops, and probably eventually ignite world peace.

And if you don’t believe my words, I’ll let the author himself speak, as we awkwardly segue into the interview segment!

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1) Hi, K.D! Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview! To start off, can you tell us a little about yourself and your book, The Last Sun

Absolutely. Well, maybe. I deliberately chose an initial-only penname so that I’d be able to vanish into my novel. I’ve never been as concerned with making a reputation for myself, as I am in making my stories known. But I’m a native of the East Coast, and spent the first half of my life bouncing around the northern latitudes – Central Mass, up to Maine and New Hampshire, back down to Boston for 5 years, over to Colorado for 1, back to Central Mass, then over to Montana for 5 years, then over to Washington State (Spokane) for a few years, and finally to North Carolina, where I’ve more or less settled in the last 10 years.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer – always. I even used to write a serial soap opera in high school for a bunch of people. But about 7 years ago I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “Time to fish or cut bait.” So I wrote a horrible contemporary coming of age novel. And then a less-horrible gay mystery. And then a borderline-passable YA post-post apocalyptic superhero novel. And by that point I realized I’d leveled up as a writer, so I started TAROT, the book I’ve always wanted to write.

2) The Houses of New Atlantis are named after tarots, and their powers are associated with tarot imagery and meanings. What made you decide to go down this direction? 

I’ve always been fascinated with Tarot cards, as an individual; and deep world-building, as a reader and writer. This is the best combination I’ve achieved yet. The Tarot mythology is just so damn rich with archetypes. I love taking them as a starting point, and building a game of courts around them.

3) Your magic system and some of the worldbuilding reminded me quite a bit of role-playing games. Were video games and/or pen-and-paper RPGs sources of inspiration for the book?

Oh absolutely. I plot and plan in terms of RPG. I would LOVE to turn the world of New Atlantis into a sprawling RPG like DRAGON AGE or WITCHER, with the heart of LAST OF US. The magic system in LAST SUN is so RPG – the way Rune’s abilities are limited by sigils, and the way he’s clever enough to use a single elemental power in several ways (like turning Fire into fireballs or walls of fire).

I should have had him smash more crates and fight more rats, and given gaming companies more of a wink…

4) Rune differs from many urban fantasy protagonists in that he’s not human. But his struggles are nothing if not human. I’d love to know more about your decision and process in creating an MC who is powerful–and has potential to become even more so–yet also powerless in many respects. 

I’ve always told people that TAROT was the first book I wrote that contained my darkness. And, indeed, as funny as I try to make the banter between Rune and Brand, the backdrop of the story – Rune’s past – is chilling. And I tried to be true to it. I believe that when you’re writing about abuse, whether physical or sexual, you damn well better respect it. That’s why it’s not simply backstory: Rune’s past, and the violence he encountered the night his court fell, informs all of his decisions, in one way or another. It’s why he can be such a force of nature in a fight, yet have no idea at all how to make small talk. It affects his ability to trust, to invest himself, to commit.

Plus, the fall of Rune’s court affected his supply of magical instruments. It limits his ability to be a constant bad ass – there are constraints on him, and it forces him to be very clever and resourceful. One of the things I like best as a writer is honoring those restraints, and forcing Rune to come up with different ways of extracting himself from a bad situation when his sigils have run dry.

5) Rune and Brand. Their bond forms the heart of the story. Did you have any specific inspirations for their relationship or did it just kind of write itself? 

It writes itself. It just does. I love writing their dialog. I love how much they mean to each other, and how they express that love – caring, caustic, and clever. I am so lucky they’re in my head.

6) One of things I love about The Last Sun is the way it showcases so many different shades of masculinity. Your characters are everything from sarcastic and grumpy, to gentle and virtuous, to awkward and whimsical, and more. And it’s wonderful to see this variety in a genre that often veers toward a testosterone-laden brand of masculinity. Was this a conscious decision on your part? And why do you think it’s important to explore these avenues in fantasy stories? 

It was a very conscious decision. I set out to make a modern fantasy with a main character who just happens to be gay, and I think gay men are fortunate to operate without a lot of hang-ups that are coded into straight men. Not to make generalizations, I say, generalizing.

7) In recent years we’ve seen a surge of diverse books in the YA scene, and it’s also slowly starting to catch on in adult SFF, with awards like the Hugos reflecting that. But to see an ownvoices adult fantasy with a full queer cast and a m/m romance plot is truly inspiring and exciting, not to mention groundbreaking. At what point did you decide, “These are the kinds of stories I want to write”? 

Back when I committed to really producing a finished, marketable novel, I had a tough conversation with myself about what type of characters I wanted to create. In the end, I realized that I had a certain luxury most writers don’t: I have a good day job. I’m not struggling. If I don’t become a commercial success, it won’t affect my ability to put food in my fridge. That decision gave me even more latitude to be true to myself and take chances.

I want to write mainstream fiction, and urban fantasy, and high fantasy, and YA, and zombie stories, and post-apocalyptic stories….. And I want it all to center around a queer main character, or at least with strong queer representation among a cast of main characters. That is my goal. To give certain young people a better reflection of who they are – something I didn’t have growing up.

8) Now for something refreshingly short! What was your favourite part about writing the book? 

The research. I loved researching abandoned human ruins, which were used to create the patchwork city of New Atlantis.

And I also love going back to my notes — I’m a HUGE outliner – and finding a one-liner that Brand is going to say that I’d forgotten about. I love making myself laugh with something I forgot I wanted him to say.

9) Do you have any recommendations for books and authors? Especially for those who have read your book and are now experiencing severe withdrawal? 

Robin Hobb is a master. No author has ever dug under my skin like her. I once sobbed so hard reading one of her novels that the collar of my sweater was soaked.

Graphic novels are a HUGE influence for me. Gaiman, Ellis, Ennis, Carey. And I like the early days of urban fantasy – Hamilton, Briggs, Harris, Butcher, Armstrong, Caine. I’m reading JK Rawlings’ (as Kenneth Galbraith) mystery series right now, and LOVING IT. Later in life, I started reading the really, really, really excellent YA SFF that was coming out – Armstrong, Black, Marr, Clare, Brennan. Oh, Brennan – IN OTHER LANDS is a riot. I just re-read that.

I could go on forever. Reading every day is important to me – I can’t imagine ending a day without it. I need to start a review column on my website; I keep meaning to….

10) If you could have any three people–real, fictional, historical and deceased or otherwise–in your adventuring party, who would you pick? And what would your classes be? 

Hah! I like balance. Definitely a glass cannon mage; a holy fighter who can tank and heal; and a ranged/melee rogue-assassin.

But if I were being creative…. Three people…. Oh, man, I’d definitely want Rune and Brand – there’s your combo of mage, rogue, fighter. And I suppose I’d want someone like Fitz’s Nighteyes. Perfect scout, good in a fight….

11) Thank you so much for your time, K.D! I can’t say enough good things about The Last Sun. If you have any last words you’d like to say to my readers, the bookish world, or the universe in general, you’re welcome to do so!

 

Am I allowed to tell people about the fan art you did for me? If so, I’d tell people that if they work hard & get published, I hope they have readers like you waiting on the other side of the door. People like you have made this experience of getting published a true joy.

And I suppose I’d say thank you to all my future readers. Above all else, I want to share this series with people. I hope I get the chance to write as much TAROT as everyone is willing to read – and that I entertain the hell out of you along the way.

Thank you so much for asking these questions! I’ve enjoyed answering them.

 

flourish

In all seriousness, this book is the best piece of fiction I’ve read this year and it deserves all the success in the world. I can’t begin to express what it means to see bisexuality, and queerness in general, depicted in such a casual yet heartfelt manner in my favourite genre.

So take a chance and go check it out. You won’t be disappointed. (You can see my 1200-word gushfest of a review here.)

And for those curious, this is the first fanart I made for K.D.:

Rune Collage 6(7)

 

Review: A Trail of Lightning – Delightful Worldbuilding and Emo Villains

Trail of Lightning

Title: Trail of Lightning
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Publisher: Saga Press
Release Date: June 26th, 2018
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic
Page Count: 304 (hardback)
Goodreads

Rating: 7.0/10

 

 

 

I had an incredibly hard time sorting out my feelings on this book and I don’t know if I can say that I succeeded. There are many aspects of it that I absolutely loved, but also ones that I really disliked. And the two overlap one another, leaving me conflicted and with a frown line that’s about to become permanent.

Let’s just begin with all the things that I loved. A Trail of Lighting is a post-apocalyptic fantasy that revolves around Native American culture and history, written by a Native American author, and for that alone it deserves recognition. Roanhorse deftly weaves Navajo mythology into a Mad Max-esque world and the result is unique and exciting.

The characters that inhabit this world are strange and vibrant. From mercenaries and medicine men, to a woman who manifests as a cat-person (and I don’t mean that she really loves cats; I mean that she has facial features and mannerisms of a cat), the story occasionally dips into a Wonderland-level of creepy and weird and I adored it to bits. And what I always look forward to in Aboriginal speculative fiction is the depiction of Coyote, the trickster figure. Because he varies from one culture to the next, no two authors write him quite the same way, and Roanhorse’s version doesn’t disappoint. With appearance and mannerisms reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Anansi in American Gods–irreverent and dressed as a dandy–he’s probably my favourite side character.

The best urban fantasies have strong, distinctive narrative voices and this one has that in spades. Maggie’s narration is introspective, a little anti-social, and a little smoky–a-lone-ranger-staring-across-the-desert-as-the-sun-sets kind of vibe. The author uses a lot of fragmentation, which can sometimes make for choppy action sequences, but all in all, it’s highly readable and engaging.

Maggie herself is a fascinating and rather unconventional urban fantasy protagonist. She’s a monster hunter gifted–or cursed, in her opinion–with the power of speed and the ability to kill. This makes her feared and disliked by many. The entirety of the story (and probably the rest of the series) is her struggling to rein in her clan power, known as “K’aahanaánii”, and keep its bloodlust from consuming her. And the thing that I especially love is that Maggie, to some level, enjoys the killing. She loves the adrenaline and the control of it, and that comes with the baggage of guilt and self-hatred. And that’s one of my favourite kinds of stories–those of powerful men and women whose power is a double edged sword, one that comes with the risk of being devoured from the inside out. It adds extra layers of internal conflict that can potentially be catalysts for interesting character growth.

“Wow, that all sounds fantastic,” you might say. And you’re right–it is pretty fantastic!

And now here come the criticisms to rain all over this parade.

Let’s talk about the plot–or rather, the lack of one. While there’s a vague overarching goal that gets introduced at the beginning of the story, Maggie and her companion Kai spend most of their time doing the literary equivalent of accidental side quests. They travel from point A to point B, at which point something happens and they’re forced to deal with it before moving on. They end up having to constantly react to the things that happen in the world, as opposed to proactively moving the plot forward. And while some of the diversions are fun, it’s all very meandering and lacks cohesion.

Secondly, the antagonist. At the foundation of the story is Maggie’s relationship with her former mentor Neizgháni, who Maggie is kind-of-sort-of-maybe in love with. He’s built up to be this mysterious presence looming above our MC, and so much of her thought process and behaviour are rooted in this relationship that they’d had. Needless to say, I was very much looking forward to meeting the man.

So imagine my bafflement when Neizgháni finally makes his entrance and he turns out to be the embodiment of the worst of the “bad boy antagonist” trope, complete with cockiness, possessiveness, no sense of personal boundary, and long, flowing dark hair. He falls under the Kylo Ren column of character archetypes–the ones who strut around with their capes (or hair) billowing and saying things like, “Join me and we will set our thrones atop the corpses of our enemies and bathe in their blood,” with zero hint of irony. For someone who’s had so much impact on the protagonist’s life, he felt incredibly shallow and campy. Picture a very pretty, very vapid Final Fantasy villain and you won’t be far off from Neizgháni.

Caius
Like Caius from Final Fantasy XIII-2, but minus the cultural appropriation.

The thing is, I don’t mind these types of characters too much in popcorn paranormal fantasy. With those, I enjoy the campiness for what it is. But a story with worldbuilding and a protagonist of this caliber deserves someone a lot better.

The ending also adds another bewildering layer to the story. Its big reveal is underwhelming and the motivations of the villain rather nonsensical, and moreover, it ends incredibly abruptly and on a not-insignificant cliffhanger.

And here’s the most confusing part of all this: I don’t dislike the book. While I did dislike so many of its individual parts, as a whole I kind of enjoyed it and actually find myself looking forward to the sequel.

Is it the most polished, exciting fantasy I’ve read this year? No.

Is it something I would recommend to people? Hell yes.

~
ARC provided by Saga Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Join Our Discworld Read-a-thon!

discworld turtle

Last Wednesday in my Books On My TBR I’m Most Intimidated By” post, I expressed my reluctance at reading through Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series–because 41 books is rather daunting, no matter how short or light they are–and the lovely Nicole from The Bookworm Drinketh suggested that we set up a readathon and gather other bloggers who might also be interested. And since I’m terrible with solo commitments, that sounded like the PERFECT thing.

So here’s how this is going to work:

– We will read through one book per month, and every last Monday of each month we will all post our reviews/thoughts/rants on that book. We’ll also include the blog links of all the other participants so that we can all share and comment.

– At the start of each month, Nicole and I will make a post introducing the book we’ll be reading that month and do a headcount of everyone who’s interested (Nicole will contact you afterwards and give you the master list of all the participants). You’re in no way required to join in for every month, but if you do sign up, we ask that you commit to it or let us know immediately if you change your mind.

The Colour of Magic
We will start on July with THE COLOUR OF MAGIC, and the  review post date will be July 23rd. 

 

 

 

 

If you’d like to join us for July, comment below or just contact through Goodreads, Twitter, email, or my contact page. 

So spread the word! I think this will be a fun experience whether you’re new to Discworld or just want to chance to reread some of your favourites in the series and share your thoughts on them.

Review: A Big Ship At the Edge of the Universe – An Exciting Intragalactic Adventure

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe

Title: A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe
Author: Alex White
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: June 26th, 2018
Genre(s): Sci-Fi, Fantasy
Page Count: 480 (paperback)
Goodreads

Rating: 8.0/10

 

 

“You’re going to get killed.”
She looked across at him, stars in her eyes. “But what a grand way to die.”

A Big Ship At the Edge of the Universe had first caught my eye with its fantastic premise–a space opera featuring a treasure hunt, two women on the run, and a F/F romance. What’s not to like? And I’m pleased to say that the story lives up to my expectations. It combines high-octane action and charming characters to create a summer scifi that’s perfect for fans of Firefly and the Borderlands games.

Here’s the quick rundown: a cocky young woman crosses paths with a mouthy veteran. Both get kidnapped by the veteran’s former captain and are thrust into a hunt for a legendary ghost ship. Space battles ensue. Romances are had. Hand-to-hand combat is considered foreplay. And things get very, very dangerous.

Nilah is as privileged as they get. A bigshot racer with a rich father and utterly naive when it comes to the wider universe. Then, during one race, she bears witness to the murder of a fellow racer and she soon finds herself on the run with a hefty bounty on her head. Her life thus far has revolved solely around driving and trying to get her name inscribed in the racing history books. So this whole murdering and ship hunting business? Not a fan. At all.

In enters Elizabeth “Boots” Elsworth. An older veteran woman who now makes her paltry living as a treasure map maker and seller. Most of her maps are conjectures (i.e. junk), but every so often she happens on the real deal, which, unfortunately, turns out to be the case here.

Boots and Nilah are fantastic together. Nilah reminds me of a bratty princess (who can also throw a hell of a right hook), and Boots a world-weary gunslinger with a penchant for sass and sarcasm. We’ve seen this dynamic plenty of times with male characters in every genre of fiction, so it’s exciting to see it played out between two women. Boot’s sarcastic quips never failed to make me smile and Nilah’s reckless, daredevil spirit is nothing less than infectious. They’re both characters you can’t help but want to be best friends with.

The side characters are also varied and interesting–especially Orna, the hot-tempered quartermaster and Nilah’s love interest. Their romance will appeal to fans of the enemies-to-lovers trope; there’s enough friction between them to light up an entire city and I loved every bit of it.

What’s also impressive is the magic system. Yes, there’s magic in this story, and though it’s strange saying this about a space opera, it’s very cool. When most scifi stories try to incorporate magic into their world, they don’t call it “magic”, they give it scientific-sounding names, a la “Biotics” from Mass Effect. But we all know they’re just wizards in space. Here? No such coy winking. Alex White blatantly calls them “wizards” and “mages” and their abilities are literally just spellcasting. I love that. Magic and future tech seamlessly interact in ways that are inventive yet highly plausible, which, for fantasy and scifi lovers, is truly the best of both worlds.

What’s even more fascinating is that this is a world in which magic is the norm. The majority of people are all born with the ability, and being a non-caster is considered an incredibly rare defect. Thus “non-casters” are often treated with pity and distaste. It’s an interesting societal characteristic that I would love to see explored deeper in the sequels.

The story isn’t without a few problems. I couldn’t get a good sense of what some of these planets looked like beyond the basics, which was a little frustrating. And throughout the second half, I found myself craving a bit less action and a bit more character interaction. Nilah and Boots’ burgeoning friendship is put on hold in favour of moving the plot forward and we get less scenes of them together. Nilah and Orna’s relationship also seems to skip several steps in the middle–moving from “I’m going to bash your head in” to “I love you” a little too quickly for my liking.

All in all, though, A Big Ship is a lovable story–full of crazy action scenes, an eclectic cast of characters, and a myth to chase–and I had a ton of fun with it. Book two will be dropping later this year and I very much look forward to seeing what adventures these characters will face next.

~
ARC provided by Orbit in exchange for an honest review