Monday Chatter: Portal Fantasies and the Best Game of 2019 (So Far)

Happy Victoria Day to all you Canadian readers! I meant to go for a bike ride around the coastal beach trail in “celebration,” but it’s pouring rain so I’m writing this post instead.

 

Last Week – Books

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All the Worlds Between Us by Morgan Lee Miller:
A YA F/F contemporary featuring a swimmer protagonist. I liked parts of it but I think it’ll hold more appeal to teenage readers. [Review here]

 
Dedicated (Rhythm of Love 1) by Neve Wilder:
A M/M contemporary featuring two bandmates. I liked reading about the creative process of song writing more than the relationship aspect, but it was an enjoyable read overall.

 
Last Bus to Everland by Sophie Cameron:
I came into this book expecting one thing (a quirky portal fantasy) and got something completely different (a quiet and profound look at the hardships of life) and I can’t say that I’m disappointed. Really, I’m the furthest thing from disappointed. This was a lovely read and I’ll need to check out Sophie Cameron’s other book because she writes in a style–sad and wistful–that I’m very much into.

 

This Week – Books

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The City of Lost Fortunes (A Crescent City Novel) by Bryan Camp:
This was one of the top books I meant to get to in 2018 but didn’t have the time for. But the publisher kindly offered a review copy for the Gather the Fortunes (book 2) blog tour and I couldn’t say no. It’s an urban fantasy set in New Orleans featuring a biracial protagonist with an ability to find lost things. I started it yesterday and I’m already enamoured by the setting.

A Crescent City Novel (A Crescent City Novel) by Bryan Camp:
This is the second book in the series featuring a different protagonist. Characters from Lost Fortunes pop up but the story’s not directly related to the first so I could probably get away with reading this before book 1. And it might come to that if I run out of time.

Jade War by Fonda Lee:
STILL reading this! Don’t get me wrong, I’m loving it, but I keep getting distracted by other books.

 

Last Week – Games

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I’m currently in the latter half of A Plague Tale: Innocence, a linear narrative (mostly) stealth game set in France during the Middle Ages. It follows Amicia and Hugo de Rune, children of minor nobles, as they try to navigate through a land devastated by a strange rat plague.

And I can safely say that it’s the best game I’ve played so far this year.

Everything about it–from sound and environmental design to gameplay mechanics–is super polished and satisfying, and the balance between the brutality of the setting and the tenderness of the siblings’ relationship is heartstoppingly beautiful. And it does so many things with its characters I can’t get enough of (that I need to ramble about in a separate discussion/review post): a female protagonist who is openly vulnerable and loving, female friendships, small heartwarming moments that have nothing to do with the plot and everything to do with the characters.

And if that doesn’t convince you, here’s a video trailer with Sean Bean being super dramatic:

Trigger warning: This is a bleak, horrific story. There are scenes of rats devouring humans, mounds and mounds of corpses strewn around, and just a whole spectrum of human depravity. So take care if you’re sensitive to that.

 

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Holler at me about your plans for the week!

Review: The Binding – Sweetly Flawed and Somewhat Forgettable

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Title: The Binding
Author: Bridget Collins
Publisher: HarperCollins UK
Release Date: January 7th, 2019
Genre(s): Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Romance
Subjects and Themes: LGBTQIAP+, Memories
Page Count: 448 (hardback)

Rating: 7.0/10

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Emmett Farmer is working in the fields when a letter arrives summoning him to begin an apprenticeship. He will work for a Bookbinder, a vocation that arouses fear, superstition and prejudice – but one neither he nor his parents can afford to refuse.

He will learn to hand-craft beautiful volumes, and within each he will capture something unique and extraordinary: a memory. If there’s something you want to forget, he can help. If there’s something you need to erase, he can assist. Your past will be stored safely in a book and you will never remember your secret, however terrible.

In a vault under his mentor’s workshop, row upon row of books – and memories – are meticulously stored and recorded.

Then one day Emmett makes an astonishing discovery: one of them has his name on it.

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“Don’t think of it as a fantasy. Think of it as a romance” was the mantra I repeated to myself when I started this book because I’d heard it was less of a fantasy and more of a relationship-focused story with a tinge of magic, and I was determined to do whatever it took to love it.

Because guys. I adore stories about memories. I mean, I adore memories, period. I love the nitty-gritty cellular study of it, and as a wannabe armchair philosopher, I love musing about it in the wee hours of the morning. And I especially love it when the sciences and humanities decide to join hands and create masterpieces like The Endless Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Now, The Binding isn’t science fiction. But it is historical fantasy holding hands with queer romance–which I figured was the next best thing.

So I was ready to overlook a lot of stuff, and I did.

I could overlook the vague details surrounding the process of binding and the history of how it came to be, because a lot romance stories tend to be light on worldbuilding. I could also overlook the very convenient series of events leading up to the ending, because this isn’t trying to be a masterfully plotted story. And I could overlook the ending feeling a little unfinished because, hey, satisfying endings are hard to pull off.

But I could not overlook the main character. More specifically, I couldn’t overlook the main character being bland and shallow and more or less a blank slate from beginning to end.

Emmett’s narration (totaling about 2/3 of the book) is a frustrating example of first person PoV being used like a third person. With his ailments and memory loss he would have been the perfect character to deep dive into–which first person should allow and entourage us to do–but we never end up getting past the surface layer. And his surface layer presents him as farmer’s son who becomes a bookbinder who’s also kind of judgemental of the people he meets. And…that’s about it.

Lucian, his love interest, is a far more interesting character and once his narration takes over last 1/3 of the story, things really kick off for the better. We get a little more insight into binding and how it can abused in the hands of wrong people, and the suffocating atmosphere of Lucian’s household is portrayed very well. I also quite enjoyed seeing the changing developments in their relationship from his perspective.

But at the end of the day, a love story isn’t a one-person show. If I can’t connect with one of the involved parties, I can’t fully connect with the story as a whole.

So while I didn’t dislike the book–it was a pleasant read for the most part, with some genuinely beautiful and thought-provoking moments–I’m still fiercely disappointed because it could have been so much more. A deeper love story and a deeper look into the erasure of memories and whether the loss of pain is an acceptable trade-off for the loss of yourself. And I’m having a hard time getting over that.

 

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

Monday Chatter: A Birthday of a Sort (And Books)

I missed posting last Monday because I got super sick during the weekend and didn’t really have the energy to blog for the rest of the week. Luckily I had multiple (*gasp*) posts scheduled that week, which was a first for me. So that was pretty heady. I don’t know how you people have posts scheduled weeks ahead of time and not collapse from the rush it gives you.

In other news, Saturday was my birthday.

And birthdays after age 18 or so have been traditionally…strange for me (which is a polite substitute for more grim words). The best description I can come up with is that it’s a day where I tried so hard to be happy (because my loved ones were and the last thing I wanted was to add another tally for why I didn’t deserve their love) that I ended up falling deeper into sadness. And attending parties and dinners felt like being trapped in the body of someone I didn’t recognize. Someone who smiled and said all the right things and was very good at seeming happy. My dreams of being an actress only lasted from age 7 to age 7, but I did become quite good at pretending to be that someone.

Feeling guilty about feeling sad is a really hard thing to get over, especially when people are telling you you should be happy.

Oof. Sorry for the downer intro, guys! It’s just been a weird week. And I’m not trying to make you feel guilty about wishing me a happy birthday or anything. Go right ahead! This is just me writing to process complicated feelings.

So, yeah. Happy Birthday. I’m sad and trying to learn to be okay with that.

 

 

LAST WEEK – BOOKS

βš”οΈ= Fantasy; πŸš€= Scifi; πŸ‘»= Paranormal; πŸ”= Mystery; 🌺= Contemporary; πŸ—οΈ= Historical; 🌈= LGBTQIAP+

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A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher:
Review to come tomorrow. Spoiler: I really, really liked it.

The Guildmaster (The Vanguards of Viridor 3) by T.S. Cleveland βš”οΈπŸŒˆ:
A fun fantasy romance feat. a kind pirate captain and an MC with father issues.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness πŸ—οΈβš”οΈπŸŒˆ:
This was a reread for a post I’m currently drafting. When it first came out I thought it was a weird departure from his previous books (tonally, at least), but I actually found myself appreciating it a lot more this time around.

 

This Week – BOOKS

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The Binding by Bridget Collins πŸ—οΈβš”οΈπŸŒˆ:
Finally started on this one! Half the people I know seem to think it’s amazing and the other half is very “meh” about it, so this should be interesting…

Jade War by Fonda Lee βš”οΈ:
I nearly fell out of my chair when I got this. I probably should read some other ARCs that are closer to publication date (or overdue), but screw it.

Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg πŸ—οΈπŸŒˆ:
This is a reimagining of two historical figures. Two historical criminal figures, to be exact–one Jack Sheppard and Edgeworth Bess, who were apparently the Bonnie and Clyde of 18th century England. In this version, Bess is a Asian woman and Jack is a trans man. It promises capers and sexy times. And what more can I ask for??

 

Games

I’m still whacking away at Sekiro (and really, really enjoying it). I’m also playing through Inkle‘s latest title, Heaven’s Vault, which is a sci-fi archaeological narrative game that has you exploring the nebula and piecing together clues about lost empires and their hidden mysteries. Inkle has yet to disappoint me with their games and this is no exception. I love it. A LOT. It triggers wanderlust and curiosity like nothing else I’ve played so far this year.

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How was your long weekend? Holler at me all your reading and gaming plans for this week!

Monday Books & Games – Broken Hearts and a Romp Through Sengoku Japan

I’ve seen Sionna (Books in Her Eyes) and Lisa (Way Too Fantasy) doing Monday updates forever now, talking the books they have lined up for the current week, and I was always on the sidelines going, “Huh, I should join them someday.”

Well, someday is now, apparently, and as my creatively-lacking title suggests, I’m expanding the concept to include video games!

I’ve also smooshed it with the Sunday Post (instead of doing a separate Sunday Post, because I have something else planned for Sundays), so I’ll also be talking about stuff I read and played in the previous week.

 

βš”οΈ= Fantasy; πŸš€= Scifi; πŸ‘»= Paranormal; πŸ”= Mystery; 🌺= Contemporary; πŸ—οΈ= Historical; 🌈= LGBTQIAP+

 

Last Week – Books

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Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver: πŸ”πŸ—οΈ
I loved Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series when I was a teen but never tried her adult books, so I thought “why not?” Well, I went into this expecting gothic chills and witchcraft and got a really boring coming-of-age story instead, so I guess that’s why not.

Deposing Nathan by Zack Smedley: 🌺🌈
This one trampled all over my heart and hung me up like wet laundry. It’s a queer YA in the vein of Adam Silvera with grey characters and exploration of religion and sexuality, all of which are handled beautifully.

The Mortal Sleep (Hollow Folk 4) by Gregory Ashe: πŸ‘»πŸ”πŸŒˆ
*hysterical laughter*
*uncontrollable sobbing*
(Full review to come)

 

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Ancestral Night (White Space 1) by Elizabeth Bear: πŸš€
(DNF @ ~30%)
I like Bear’s fantasy stuff but her first foray into space opera just…didn’t work out for me.

Upon a Burning Throne by Ashok K. Banker: βš”οΈ
(DNF @ ~20%) It’s criminal how gorgeous that cover is, and it’s even more criminal just how awful the content is in comparison. So, so disappointed by this, but I’m glad I DNFed early because from the reviews I’ve read, it apparently gets worse.

 

Last Week – Games

Between hating on Epic Games exclusives and being busy with a dozen other things, I didn’t have time to play much last week. I did get a chance to finish Eastshade, though!

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Developed by Eastshade Studios, Eastshade is a RPG/walking sim/artist sim where you play as a painter exploring a fantastical island full of anthropomorphic animals. You meet people, help them with their troubles, and paint whatever you want of the world.

It’s got its share of issues and some parts definitely feel unpolished, but overall it’s…wholesome. And strangely charming and beautiful. Most importantly, I can’t stop thinking about it. And that’s a win in my book. Full review possibly to come!

 

 

This Week – Books

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We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett: βš”οΈ
This has been blurbed as a fantasy Code Name Verity, with a focus on female friendships, so of course I’ll be checking it out. Look out for the blog tour post on Thursday!

Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett: βš”οΈπŸŒˆ
A queer pseudo-sequel to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Enough said.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine: πŸš€
I’m having a hard time with this one. I love, LOVE the setting but I just…can’t get into the writing style. Hopefully it’ll grow on me by the end.

 

This Week – Games

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Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Developed by FromSoftware, the brains behind Dark Souls and Bloodborne, Sekiro is a brutal action game set in 1500s Japan. I’ve heard mostly good things about this one which is awesome. And it’s apparently different from the Souls series which is even better because I want something new and fresh from the studio, not another Souls game dressed up in a different outfit.

 

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What do you have planned for this week?

 

Top 5 WedTuesday – Disappointing Books of 2018 That I Still Appreciate

“Kathy. I think it’s time for an intervention.”

“Uh, I have no idea what you’re talking about. As usual.”

“‘Top 5 WedTuesday‘? Published one day before the next Top 5 Wednesday?”

“Oh, get off my back. You make it sound like I do this every other week. This is literally the first–”

“And speaking of skirting deadlines, you still haven’t put up this month’s Discworld announcement post yet. Or your Best Books of 2018. Or your Best Indie Games of 2018. Or the reviews for books you read two months ago.”

“Listen, I’m running on a sleep schedule of my own devising right now. You know the Aussie Open started last week and you know their night matches go past 3 AM. What am I supposed to do, not watch them because I have blog-running responsibilities now?”

“Here’s a novel idea: you could do your blogging and watch the Open at the same time. I know, crazy!”

“Yeaaah, about that…”

*Looks over to the TV screen which shows tennis. Then at the the desktop screen which shows more tennis. Then at the tablet screen which shows, you guessed it, tennis.*

“…”

“Maybe a rich oil prince will get me another screen for my birthday. :)”

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So while the other half of my brain is having a breakdown, I’d like to clarify that yes, this was supposed to go live last week, but due to reasons that uh, may or may not have to do with tennis-induced sleep deprivation, it’s going live now! Because this is a topic that I actually really wanted to tackle.

The original prompt was “Disappointing Books of 2018” but I put a bit of a spin on it. These are books that didn’t quite live up to the expectations I set for them, but ones that I still appreciate for x, y, z reasons.

(And I’m hoping to get all (er, most) of those overdue posts up before the end of this month. Knock on wood!)

 

Temper by Nicky Drayden

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I loved Nicky Drayden’s debut Prey of Gods–a rollicking scifi-fantasy mashup featuring angry gods, drugs, and dik-diks (which belong alongside narwhals and quokkas in the “I can’t believe this isn’t a made-up animal” category). I could never really get a good foothold on Temper, unfortunately; I couldn’t connect with the main character and the rampant worldbuilding that I fell in love with in PoG I felt overwhelmed by this time around.

What I appreciate: I freaking adore Nicky’s imagination and her willingness to take the genre to batshit crazy places. Temper is even more weird and unconventional than Prey of Gods (which is saying a lot) and even though I couldn’t get into it, I still love the fact that it exists.

 

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

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This is one of those overdue reviews that I still have to finish. The TL;DR version is that I wanted to love this book so, so hard but it ended up being rather…underwhelming. The worldbuilding felt underdeveloped and Lei is one of those very reactive, blank slate protagonists that I’m not the biggest fan of. And the emperor, while a terrible person, kind of just starts and ends at “He’s a terrible person.”

What I appreciate: The heart and foundation behind this book is everything–an unapologetically Asian setting (the food descriptions are to die for), and love and friendship between two girls prevailing in the face of brutality.

 

Grey Sister (Book of the Ancestor 2) by Mark Lawrence

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An unpopular opinion: I thought Grey Sister was a step down from Red Sister, mostly due to character reasons. I felt that Nona’s development had stagnated and secondary characters that I adored in the first book took a backseat in this one.Β  [Full review]

What I appreciate: I love Mark’s writing style and his ability to move from poignancy to snappy action with fluid ease. Also, this is one of the most female-centric adult fantasy I’ve read in recent years–women loving women, women befriending women, women betraying women. Books like this are the reason I created a Goodreads shelf called “Boom goes the Bechdel test.”

 

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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I think this is one of those stories I would have enjoyed more as a TV show. I mean, I watched a quite a few scifi anime that deal with similar themes of alien evolution and ended up liking them all, but apparently if you stick it in book-form my brain just laughs and says “Nope.” (Maybe it’s flashbacks to all the evolution textbooks/articles I had to read in undergrad–by far not my favourite biology topic). It didn’t help that I wasn’t much invested in the human half of the story.

What I appreciate: This is probably the best example (textbook, if you will) of evolutionary scifi that I’ve ever read and my scientist heart will root for the success of any SFF book that explores biology to this degree. It’s also pretty dang cool that the author shares a name with one of my favourite composers.

 

Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton

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Okay, overall I wouldn’t really call this one “disappointing,” but considering the sheer amount of potential it showed in the first half, the second half proved to be a bit of a letdown in terms of character development and pacing (and now I’d give it a slightly lower score than what I originally gave). [Full review]

What I appreciate: Polyamory. In YA. Plus creepy forests and pagan rituals. Enough said.

Review: The Gutter Prayer – A Dark, Imaginative Debut

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Title: The Gutter Prayer (The Black Iron Legacy 1)
Author: Gareth Hanrahan
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: January 17th, 2018
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy, Steampunk
Subjects and Themes: Deities
Page Count: 544

Rating: 8.0/10

Add to goodreads

 

 

The city of Guerdon stands eternal. A refuge from the war that rages beyond its borders. But in the ancient tunnels deep beneath its streets, a malevolent power has begun to stir.

The fate of the city rests in the hands of three thieves. They alone stand against the coming darkness. As conspiracies unfold and secrets are revealed, their friendship will be tested to the limit. If they fail, all will be lost and the streets of Guerdon will run with blood.

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There has been a great buzz about The Gutter Prayer and the slew of blurbs from well-respected authors and reviewers praising its name should tell you that this is, in many ways, a pretty damn great debut.

And I can tell you the same thing…with some caveats.

Let’s talk about the worldbuilding first, because that’s hands-down the book’s biggest strength.

I wrote in my notes that the way that Hanrahan presents his world–like the origin of the Ghouls and Stone Plague–reminds me a lot of video games. As in, they’re presented in succinct and easily digestible chunks while still being interesting and attention-grabbing (and later I found out that the author writes gaming books, so that was an “Aha” moment). This has the downside of being a little info-dumpy in places, but considering how interesting the world is, I didn’t really mind it.

Comparisons to China Mieville has been made and for good reason. He’s one of the best when it comes to city building and transforming locations into living, breathing characters. And The Gutter Prayer has that in spades.

But I think this world is a little more…Lovecraftian than Mieville’s work (and not just because of the tentacles). And for that reason, it really, really reminds me of the Gothic browser game known as Fallen London.

And you have no idea how ecstatic that makes me.

I won’t get into the details of the game (that’s for another day), but one of the million things I adore about Fallen London (and its spinoffs) is its total embrace of the weird, the foreign, and the terrifying. Various creatures roam the streets and underbellies of its city and while some might see you as their noonday snack, others just want to go about their lives in peace.Β There’s something new and exciting waiting for you around every corner and the city is just begging you to explore it all.

The same thing applies here. We have the Tallowmen, humanoid wax creations made from the remnants of condemned criminals that are now used as hunting dogs for criminals (and yes, they have a wick running through them–that’s how they come “alive”); worm-colonies that hire themselves out as sorcerer mercenaries; and on and on.

And we get all these different, colourful districts and their rich history and colourful inhabitants–some friendly, others distinctly murdery, and nearly all of them strange and fascinating.

I fucking adore the imagination of it all.

As for the plot, the main one takes a while to materialize (which can be frustrating) but when it does, it begins to resemble the best of Robert Bennett Jackson’s Divine Cities trilogy–warring gods, trapped gods, and mortals who would kill or free them to further their own agenda.

Now, here comes the caveats. My problem with loud and rich worldbuilding is when the characters aren’t quite as loud and rich enough, so the former ends up drowning them out. This is fine in the early stages of a story–everything is new and shiny and we’re gawking at everything like overexcited tourists–but after a certain point it starts to resemble a lonely stroll through an art museum.

This isn’t to say the characters aren’t interesting–quite the opposite, really!

There are three main characters the story revolves around:

Spar is the leader of the trio and the son of the man who’s founded the Brotherhood–a group of thieves who were meant to be the Robin Hoods of the city, a beacon of hope for the common folk–and also a victim of the Stone Plague, an incurable disease that slowly turns the infected into stone. And he just happens to be my favourite (“The idealistic character with an unbending sense of loyalty who’s also tragically dying is your favourite? Why am I not surprised?”)

Rat is a young ghoul who feeds on the carcasses of the dead.

Cari is the only human/non-infected of the group. She’s left Guerdon many years ago and never looked back. But now she is back and some…disconcerting things are happening with her.

So these are characters with diverse backstories and I enjoyed getting to know them and the lore they bring with them, but I feel like they never developed beyond the surface-level of interesting. Spar in particular never quite reached the potential that I think he has.

And I think the following two points contribute to that:

  1. The three characters spend half of the story separated from each other (and Spar spends a good chunk of that stuck alone in a cell), so we never really get a good sense of their dynamic.
  2. Hanrahan doesn’t have the same knack for emotional character-driven scenes as he does with city building. There are moments, especially near the end of the story, that could have been rousing and vindicating but are curiously glossed over. Tragedies come and go in a blink, leaving you feeling detached and going, “Wait, what?”

All in all, though, Guerdon is a joy to experience and the problems with meandering plot and characters are things that can definitely be ironed out in the sequel. Gareth Hanrahan has stormed into the genre with a deceptively complex debut that’s chock full of imagination, and it sets up a strong foundation for what I hope will be an equally strong trilogy.

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

Top 5 Wednesday – 2019 Releases that I Didn’t Care About But Am Now Tentatively Anticipating

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

Oh boy oh boy. It feels like I haven’t done one of these in forever.

So, this week’s prompt was “2019 releases that I don’t care about.” But apathy is something that I actively try to fight off on a regular basis (thanks, depression), so dedicating an entire post to talking about things I don’t care about felt…I don’t know, counter-productive.

So I’m doing what I do best, which is complicating simple things, and changing it to “2019 releases that I didn’t care about but am now tentatively anticipating.” Now it starts off negative but ends on a sort-of positive note. πŸ˜€

 

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

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This one has been hyped to hell and back and for good reason. It’s thick, it’s got dragons and intrigue and possibly-interesting female characters, all wrapped up in a stupidly good-looking cover.

All of which made me shrug and think, “Yeah, this is too good to be true.”

But. It’s a door-stopper epic fantasy written by a female author with feminist themes, and I could stand outside my local mall all day holding up a sign that says “WE NEED MORE OF THOSE.” Plus I feel like it’d be a crime not to try out any book with that as a cover.

 

The Wicked King by Holly Black

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Okay, to be fair, this one had the “I don’t care” stamp before I’d read The Cruel Prince. And now that I have read it, while I’m not bouncing-off-the-walls excited (my anticipation levels for this book are about as lukewarm and kind-of-there-kind-of-not as Cardan), I am mildy curious to see how things pan out for Cardan and Jude.

 

Sherwood by Meagan Spooner

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I adore the original Robin Hood legend. My love hasn’t really been reciprocated in the past decade or so, however (not until recently with a certain series which I will most definitely ramble about in a separate post). Every adaptation that comes along swearing that it’s giving RH a fresh and interesting look is 1) neither of those things, or 2) something so weird and outlandish that it shouldn’t even have the “Robin Hood” title (looking at you, 2018 film).

While Sherwood isn’t the “gender-bent Robin Hood falls in love with Maid Marian” story that I was hoping for–it’s got Maid Marian taking the Robin Hood mantle while Robin’s off doing God knows what–I’m willing to give it a try.

 

Seven Blades in Black by Sam Sykes

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While I do love Sam Sykes as a person, I just couldn’t get into his Bring Down the Heaven series. There’s something about his writing that didn’t click with me. So Seven Blades in Black initially went in the “maybe I’ll try it one day” pile.Β 

I don’t remember why I moved it to the “anticipated” stack (probably because I caved into Sam’s Twitter charms), but it’s there now and hopefully I’ll take to it better than his previous books.

 

The Familiars by Stacey Halls

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I turned my nose at this one because the cover made me think it was a fable-y, magical realism story featuring witches and their familiars, but then I found out it’s actually about a woman dealing with pregnancy in the 17th century (with a witch hunt backdrop), which was decidedly less interesting to me.

But I do enjoy historical feminist stories, and there’s something super magnetic about that cover, so I’ll give it a shot!

 

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Are there any 2019 books that you’ve had a change of heart about?

Discworld Readathon Month 5 – Sourcery

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

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

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

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

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I have a love-hate relationship with these covers

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

Top 5 Wednesday – Books Featuring Werewolves & Vampires

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

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

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

 

1. Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

3. The Silvered by Tanya Huff

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This book pushes all the right buttons for me:

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

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

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

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

 

4. The Wolf’s Hour by Rober McCammon

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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What are some of your favourite werewolf/vampire books?

Top 5 Wednesday – Favourite Magic Systems

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

“Kathy, why do you have like a thousand shelves on your Goodreads?”

Well, readers, I have them for moments like this. Because god knows I can barely remember the names of characters from books I read a week ago, let alone the ins-and-outs of their magic systems. So I had to go through my “interesting magic system” shelf to joggle my memory.

 

1. Unsounded – Pymary

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There are many reasons why Ashley Cope’s Unsounded is currently my favourite western comic series (and one of my favourite fantasy series–of any media). Aside from complex characters and insanely rich worldbuilding, it also boasts a fascinating, dynamic magic system that’ll have you waving your hands and squinting real hard at some random object on the off chance that maybe–maybe–the magic’s a real thing (no luck yet).

Here’s a quick rundown of how pymary works: the story’s continent, Kasslyn, rests on top of a spectral plane called the “khert” which governs every material and non-material thing that exists in this world. Pymary is the art of “speaking” to the khert to manipulate–condense, reassign, switch, isolate–physical properties of objects which include density, colour, pressure, temperature, contour, and so forth.

So wrights (pymary-users) can take the heat of a campfire and use it to incinerate an enemy. Or condense all the pressure of a waterfall to create the biggest KABOOM. People also use it for cosmetic purposes–like taking the scent of a rose and assigning it to their pet pooch.

It’s super exciting, the possibilities are endless, and I freaking love the balance of it. Do yourself a favour and go check out this webcomic.

 

2. Mistborn – Allomancy

Mistborn - Kelsier vs Inquisitors

While I adore the complexity of the Stormlight Archives magic system, there’s something about Mistborn’s Allomancy that’s incredibly attractive, addictive, and…marketable (kind of like the Maria Sharapova of fantasy). Maybe it’s the idea of using coins to fling yourself through the air. Maybe it’s the romanticism of quaffing down vials of metals to prepare for a big battle. Maybe it’s just my bird-brain seeing the list of Allomantic metals and going, “Ooh shiny!” Whatever the reason, there’s no denying that this is one hell of a magic system.

 

3. Manifest Delusions Series – Geisteskranken

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I love magic systems that reflect and feed off of the characters’ psychological state, and Michael Fletcher’s Manifest Delusions series is the prime example of this. In this world, mental disorders shape reality. If you believe there are doubles of you running amok in the world, then there really are doubles out there. If you believe that the figure you see in the mirror is a whole other person with their own personality, then yes, they actually are.

The stronger your delusions, the more powerful your abilities; the more you slip away from reality, the more you can shape it. It’s twisted, dark, and the sheer imagination of it floors me.

 

4. Realm of the Elderlings Series – Skill and Wit

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The magic in Hobb’s series is predicated on the idea that there’s this massive, powerful life-force that flows through, over, or beneath the world. It allows the living people to use its energy to perform various “magics” using the Skill or the Wit or some bastardized form of both. With the Skill you can do things like heal and communicate over long distances via thought. With the Wit you can communicate and form bonds with animals. It’s much more complicated than this but I’ll avoid spoilers and just say that there’s a lot you can do with these two magics.

This is the least flashy system on the list, but it’s one that feels the most natural to me–like, I can very easily see it existing in real life. It’s also the only magic system on the list that plays such a huge role in character development. And I find that absolutely incredible.

 

5. The Chanters of Tremaris Series – Music Magic

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This is probably one that none of you have heard of. It doesn’t have the most exciting magic system (at least, not by today’s standards) and I’m not sure how the series holds up as an adult, but it was the first fantasy series I read that introduced the idea of music magic, and I loved that. You never quite forget your firsts.

If you happen to be one of the rare creatures who have read these books, come find me. Close your eyes and turn thrice widdershins under the light of a full moon. And when you find yourself in an unmarked stretch of forest, walk around and lose yourself for a while. Eventually we’ll convene at the roots of the ancient white oak where we’ll spend the night drinking the nectar of gods and singing praises of this series.

Or I can yell-gush about it with you over the internet. I’m good either way!

 

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And that’s it from me! What are some of your favourite magic systems?