Review: The Story of Mina Lee – The Monotony of the Great American Dream


Title: The Last Story of Mina Lee
Author:
Nancy Jooyoun Kim
Publisher:
Park Row Books

Genre(s): Fiction, Historical Fiction
Subject(s)/Themes(s): Asian-American immigrants
Representation: Korean MCs (ownvoices)

Release Date: September 1st, 2020
Page Count: 384 (hardback)
Rating: 4.0/10

addtogoodreads-script_26_orig



Margot Lee’s mother, Mina, isn’t returning her calls. It’s a mystery to twenty-six-year-old Margot, until she visits her childhood apartment in Koreatown, LA, and finds that her mother has suspiciously died. The discovery sends Margot digging through the past, unraveling the tenuous invisible strings that held together her single mother’s life as a Korean War orphan and an undocumented immigrant, only to realize how little she truly knew about her mother.

Interwoven with Margot’s present-day search is Mina’s story of her first year in Los Angeles as she navigates the promises and perils of the American myth of reinvention. While she’s barely earning a living by stocking shelves at a Korean grocery store, the last thing Mina ever expects is to fall in love. But that love story sets in motion a series of events that have consequences for years to come, leading up to the truth of what happened the night of her death.

871822294f7f1eb7105c1e31dd9e8866_page-divider-clipart-line-dividers-clipart-superb-decorative-_1268-362


What traits do we inherit from our culture’s history?

That’s something I think about on occasion. Like, how a good chunk of our personality might be determined by something that some random person in our country did decades or centuries before we were born. One action that branched into another and another, until an entire cataclysmic event sprouted and fell with a ricochet that would be felt generations later.

Maybe it’s pride that we inherited. Maybe it’s something more sinister – bitterness, fear, hate, a defensiveness that comes from trying to squash down the knee-jerk bitterness, fear, and hate. Maybe such cultural traumas are always inevitably passed down, zero chance of escape, and the best we can do is understand and navigate them.

That’s more or less the lane of thought The Last Story of Mina Lee ventures into. And when it comes to the topic of personal traumas wrapped in cultural traumas and one’s disassociative response to them, this book nails it. Does it so well, in fact, that I felt disassociated from the narrative itself.

Boredom, meet book. The only reason I didn’t scribble it down as a DNF was because I wanted to know the real reason behind Mina’s death. Surely all this slow burn was leading up to some sort of payoff? Disappointment, meet Kathy.

The prose is a head-scratcher. The writing is technically good, descriptive and occasionally florid, and yet so dry that you can scrape splinters with it. The book is meant to be a slow-paced slice-of-life story strung together by small and intimate moments, but everything felt so strangely devoid of real emotions and it was like I was seeing things happen through multiple sheets of glass. Any emotional connection I formed with these characters were annoyingly casual and brief.

I found Margot’s chapters especially trying. A lot of dull spoon-feeding of exposition and musings and an endless list of questions. That last one drove me insane. Asking rhetorical questions every other paragraph doesn’t make a scene any more poignant or mysterious, and at some point it just becomes silly and reads like a weird third-person diary.

Still, Margot does offer some memorable moments of clarity and reflections regarding immigrant life and culture (if not a better insight into her own personality beyond “young Asian-American woman who has a prickly relationship with her mom”):

“How much language itself was a home, a shelter, as well as a way of navigating the larger world. And perhaps that was why Margot never put much effort into learning Korean. She hadn’t been able to stand to be under the same roof as her mom.”

Mina’s chapters are slightly better. They follow her as she tries to adjust to a new life in L.A. Koreatown in the wake of her family’s death. It’s a look into the life of an immigrant who arrived with nothing but the clothes on her back, hoping to escape into a better future – or, at the very least, a different one. It’s utterly, distinctly unromantic, which is both a positive and a negative. Mina’s day-to-day drudgery at her supermarket job is only punctuated by the occasional conversations with her neighbour and coworker, and it’s clear that this is a woman who’s stuck in a rut, going through the motions of life.

Is it a realistic portrayal of someone who’s in her position? Whittled down by recent tragedies, compounded by her memories of the Korean War, further compounded by her struggles as an undocumented immigrant? Absolutely. Does it make for an engaging read? No. Especially not when her conclusion feels so rushed and empty, like a book with the endpages ripped out.

And, at the end of it, I’m not quite sure what audience the book is meant to satisfy. Is it a mystery? If you squint really hard, yes. Is it a mother-daughter family drama? In a very one-sided, perfunctory way, sure. Are there other Asian-American stories that handle this theme of cultural displacement with more conviction? Definitely.

See – I too can ask many questions and give not-quite-satisfying answers.

871822294f7f1eb7105c1e31dd9e8866_page-divider-clipart-line-dividers-clipart-superb-decorative-_1268-362

Thank you to the publisher for having me on the blog tour!

I’m now off to knock on the WordPress gates and have some words with whoever designed this new interface and grumble at the fact that we’re being forced to use it. WHY.

Meanwhile, you can also find me on:

Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr

Joint Rainbow Review: Felix Ever After | Return of the Kathy (Again)

Hello everyone!

I come out of hiding once again like an anxious little mole. The thing I learned about staying home during this darkest timeline is that “extra free time” comes with a HUGE disclaimer that’s deviously written in tiny scrawl, and in Papyrus to boot. As free time goes up, productivity plummets. Hard. So my schedule has been thus: waking up all pumped up and wanting to be productive, getting heavily distracted, staring off into space, remembering I have things to do, rinse and repeat. Everyone who’s been able to tackle dozens and dozens of books during quarantine, my hat goes off to you and I very much want to steal the secrets to your superpower, because I’ve barely been able to read four books per month since April.

There was also the niggling anxiety of feeling like I’ll be erased from the blogsphere if I don’t post consistently during this time when everyone is home, which led to more anxiety, and…. well–that’s a topic for another day.

But I hope you’ve been well and keeping safe, and I’m looking forward to catching up with you all! ❤

Today I have a special buddy read collab review (collabview?) with the darling Pei of Pei Reads, who is sunshine and starlight stirred into a pot and poured into an adorable mold.

We hope you enjoy!



Yahoo, gentlefriends and gentleenemies and gentleenemies-soon-to-be-lovers (we see you). On this fine post-Pride day we have double the reviews and double the fun. Peikat (Pei + Kathy = delicious chocolatey wafery goodness) here with our first ever buddy read and review! 

We’d planned for June to be an entire month of Pride buddy reading and reviewing, but plans are for people with a better grasp on reality and time than either of us, so we’re extending it to a full summer of rainbow goodness and joy. 

Our first book is Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, released May 5th, 2020 by Balzer + Bray.




What starts out as a revenge story, an anger-fueled story, becomes an introspective, heart-forward narrative about experiencing love and life to the fullest, and flipping the lens to see where you fit in this world. Felix Ever After isn’t a romcom fairy tale where the hero collects all the friends, defeats the baddies, and rides off with the love of their life. Mistakes get made. Bridges get burned. Life offers its slivers of heartbreak and casual pain on a platter because that’s typical behaviour for life and no one’s going to convince it otherwise. But the dark moments make the eventual triumphs burn all the brighter, and the interplay of the two makes Felix my favourite YA contemporary of the year so far

Callendar’s approach to the narration is a beautiful example of what first person can achieve, especially in YA. It’s raw. It’s winding. It’s messy to its bones. And with a story that tackles so many of the nuances of queer adolescence, and the confusion and wild joy that comes with it, messy is the minimum of what it needs to be, and the author fully delivers on that. Felix is layers of flaws and wonder, all of which Callendar portrays vividly, holding the latter up to the sky without downplaying any of the ugliness. He’s a teenager sitting in the middle of a trifecta of personal markers – trans, demi, black – that he tries to get comfortable with. He’s the soul of every artist with dye-stained fingers and sleep-deprived poets who talk about love like it’s something you need in order to breathe. He’s a hurt kid who lashes out in anger because that’s the one thing he can control in that moment, and because anger is preferable in the face of helplessness. When it comes to her lead–and any of the characters, really–Callendar never takes the shallow route. It’s gorgeous, heartfelt stuff. 

The notion of art is so entwined with the narrative, of the self-portraits that we all paint in our minds, and the way Felix explores it makes my heart soar. Whether it’s his love for a particular piece, or doubts regarding his own work, or him trying to reconcile with the thought that he’s surrounded by peers who seem to be naturals, whereas he has to work so hard to match a fraction of their talent, there’s passion and longing wedged into every word. My boy is so relatable that it hurts to read at times. 

And quite often I was reminded of Keating’s lines from Dead Poet’s Society. This one in particular: 

To quote from Whitman, ‘O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?’ Answer. That you are here — that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

This story is Felix’s journey in trying to figure out what that verse could be, in all facets of his life. Of wanting to feel secure in his skin, but challenged with walls of bigotry and confusion; to create art but getting tangled up in his insecurities; to experience love but fearing ghosts present and future. And what I loved especially is that for every cut he receives–every blind ignorance and hatred that’s thrown at him–there’s a counterbalance of warm support, casual acceptance, and acknowledgments that while this is not a world they’re familiar with, they’re still willing to learn more about it and grow. 

My one gripe is that the last stretch of the book feels abridged in terms of character work compared to the rest. It’s probably the slow-burn maniac in me shaking fists, but it could have easily been longer to better highlight some of the relationship transitions, because for someone who ruminates on everything Felix moves on from certain events without much of a thought. 

In the end, Felix Ever After is a fierce reminder of love existing in all shape and form, and that your identity, cast in stone or not, questioning or not, is a thing to hold to your chest and nurture and let loose into the world with pride. 

Rating: 8.5/10 (Excellent)

Felix Ever After is a beautiful celebration of trans identity and discovery. The writing is engaging and poignant, with emotional and deeply personal scenes that tug at your heart and make you feel. The story follows Felix Love as he sets out to get revenge on the anonymous student who’s been trolling him online with transphobic messages and a gallery displaying Felix’s deadname with pictures of him before his transition, and along the way, ends up developing feelings he has to sort out while trying to figure himself out. 

Felix’s character is wonderfully nuanced, with layers of confusion and confidence and yearning interwoven, and the side characters, each with their own secrets and motivations, balance out the cast well. There is Ezra, his best friend, fiercely loyal and protective, and Marisol, complicated and haughty. Their relationships aren’t always perfect in the way they sometimes are in fiction. There are fights and betrayals and tears, and that resonated painfully with me, making this story hit even closer to home. It was a jagged reminder of the growing pains that comes with discovering yourself, in shedding toxic friendships and entering new chapters in your life.

Callender’s writing is engaging and honest, and one of my favorite parts of the book were the text conversations Felix has, where his longing to be loved and as his fierce pride for his identity are laid out in a beautifully poetic way. The book walks the reader through Felix’s quest to understand himself as well as develop his identity as an artist while he navigates complicated friendships. I loved the depth in which these relationships were explored, but when the book comes to a climax in the latter pages, the resolution of certain relationships seemed a little bit rushed. 

This book made me laugh and cry and cycle through thousands of emotions in between, and I absolutely loved it. The story is messy and complex, punctuated by lost friendships and pain, but the end result is heartachingly lovely. It’s the story I wish I could have read as a queer teenager struggling to understand herself, and the story I hope everybody can come across because it still reaches into your chest and touches you in a way that is so wonderful and special. It’s a celebration and such an absolute joy to read. I cannot recommend this book enough to all readers in all its raw, unfiltered queer glory.

Rating: 9/10



Overall, we both really enjoyed this book and had a lot of fun reading it together. First buddy review was a success! Please stay tuned for part 2 of our review where we ask each other invasive questions regarding how the themes of the book relates back to our own experiences! Peace out, sleep well.

Review + Giveaway (US): They Went Left – Beautifully Written But Incomplete

f0xw0JsQ

 

B13x4Euw
Title:
They Went Left
Author:
Monica Hesse
Publisher:
Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Genre(s): YA Historical Fiction
Subject(s): WW2, Holocaust, Mental Health, Siblings

Release Date:
April 7th, 2020
Page Count: 384 (hardback)

Rating: 6.0/10

 

 


 

I admit, I’m not exactly in the right mood for Holocaust fiction at this point in 2020, but I went into this book for a specific reason: I wanted something hopeful. Something about finding light at the end of a tunnel and holding onto it, despite how much easier it might be to turn and walk right back in. Nothing blindingly happy. Just reaffirming.

And that’s what I got. A story set right after the end of WW2, during its first few months of tentative chaos, with people trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. It’s not a healing story, exactly, but it is a story about healing and the complications that come with such a journey. Zofia’s mental state–her looping thoughts and fears, her gaps in memory, her disassociation– are presented with such great care and lyricism. There just aren’t a lot of WW2 stories out there that focus on camp survivors who were just recently liberated, and I really appreciate Hesse for shining a light on the topic. Because while there’s strength in surviving, I think there’s even greater strength in living. In moving forward with your life, carrying all the horrors you’ve experienced, and choosing to embrace love and laughter in spite of the pain. It’s a kind of courage that deserves to be highlighted more in narratives.

 

“Today I am choosing to love the person in front of me. Do you understand? Because he’s here, I’m here, and we’re ready to not be lonely together.”

 

I was also anticipating a good mystery, though (I mean, the blurbs and synopsis lean heavily on it) but that I didn’t get at all. What little mystery there is predictable and rushed and its conclusion left me feeling underwhelmed. And “rushed” is more or less my biggest complaint about the whole thing. The story throws a handful of plot threads at you–a slice-of-life angle focusing on the refugees in the displaced person camp; a romantic subplot between Zofia and Josef; a search for Zofia’s brother–and while their skeletal structure is interesting, the execution needs a lot more fleshing out. More development of the characters at the camp, better exploration of the romance.

Right now it feels more like an abridged book, and while I really liked the prose and the themes presented, I can only dream longingly for the unabridged version that never existed.

 

 

871822294f7f1eb7105c1e31dd9e8866_page-divider-clipart-line-dividers-clipart-superb-decorative-_1268-362

Synopsis

Germany, 1945. The soldiers who liberated the Gross-Rosen concentration camp said the war was over, but nothing feels over to eighteen-year-old Zofia Lederman. Her body has barely begun to heal; her mind feels broken. And her life is completely shattered: Three years ago, she and her younger brother, Abek, were the only members of their family to be sent to the right, away from the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Everyone else–her parents, her grandmother, radiant Aunt Maja–they went left.

Zofia’s last words to her brother were a promise: Abek to Zofia, A to Z. When I find you again, we will fill our alphabet. Now her journey to fulfill that vow takes her through Poland and Germany, and into a displaced persons camp where everyone she meets is trying to piece together a future from a painful past: Miriam, desperately searching for the twin she was separated from after they survived medical experimentation. Breine, a former heiress, who now longs only for a simple wedding with her new fiancé. And Josef, who guards his past behind a wall of secrets, and is beautiful and strange and magnetic all at once.

But the deeper Zofia digs, the more impossible her search seems. How can she find one boy in a sea of the missing? In the rubble of a broken continent, Zofia must delve into a mystery whose answers could break her–or help her rebuild her world.

 

 

About the Author

t9S1WklA.jpeg
Monica Hesse is the New York Times bestselling author of Girl in the Blue Coat, American Fire, and The War Outside, as well as a columnist at The Washington Post writing about gender and its impact on society. She lives outside Washington, D.C. with her husband and their dog.

 

Tour Schedule

You can check out all the other stops on the tour HERE!

 

Giveaway (U.S.)

Two lucky U.S. residents have a chance to win a physical copy of They Went Left! ENTER HERE.

 

871822294f7f1eb7105c1e31dd9e8866_page-divider-clipart-line-dividers-clipart-superb-decorative-_1268-362

Review copy provided by the publisher for an honest review

Find me (and my art) @aildreda on:

Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr

Mini Reviews: Untamed Shore & Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing – A Shark and a Wolf Walk(?) into a Bar

9781947993921_6f004

Publisher: Agora Books
Genre(s):
Historical Fiction, Crime
Release Date: February 21st, 2020
Page Count: 339 (hardback)

Rating: 6.5/10

This is an odd one. One of those books that send your brain into a bit of a lull. And I enjoyed it (with a faint question mark attached). But I think I enjoyed it as I’d enjoy sitting on a boat in the middle of a lake for five hours, fishing line cast out, the sun dipping in and out, and catching a single minnow at the end of it all. I can’t decide whether it was meditative or just plain dull, but then I remember that it was a nice day and the birds were singing, so I decide on the former. I probably wouldn’t try it again, but I appreciate the one experience.

It’s an atmosphere-driven book first, character second, and plot third. Moreno-Garcia shows why she’s one of the best when it comes to immersive settings. Baja California is a slow and stifling shoreside town and you can practically feel the heat emanating through the pages as you read. It’s no big city offering glitzy displays of culture, but small places can have just as much character and magnetism, and this story shows that. And Viridiana is a realistic, if unlikable, product of such a place: a little impulsive, a little adventurous, and teeth-grindingly naive. The book definitely works better as her coming-of-age story than a thrilling crime novel because the latter aspects, with the American tourists and their secret troubles, rather underwhelming and a side attraction to the Viridiana Show.

Overall, it’s a lazy immersive sprawl of a story that was worth the read but nothing that really stayed with me afterwards. A brief, quiet fling.

 

871822294f7f1eb7105c1e31dd9e8866_page-divider-clipart-line-dividers-clipart-superb-decorative-_1268-362

901139650

Series: Big Bad Wolf 4
Publisher:
Carina Press
Genre(s):
Paranormal, LGBTQ Romance
Release Date: March 2nd, 2020
Page Count: 268 (paperback)

Rating: 7.5/10

Two of my most pressing questions in the last few years (pre-COVIDapocalypse): 1) When will Blackpink get the respect they’re due from their company? and 2) When will Charlie Adhara release a mediocre book?

The answer is probably the same for both.

We are sitting at book 4 in the Big Bad Wolf series, and I continue to be impressed and delighted by Adhara’s ability to write consistently at the top of the game. She dives into the shapeshifter trope with fresh eyes, creating characters who feel like real people navigating traumas and insecurities, not cardboard cutouts doling out conflict for conflict’s sake, and each book adds new lines and shading to the image that is Park and Cooper. And that continues here. An undercover mission to a couples resort. Murder upon murders. Cooper figuring out that there are so many layers to a relationship, and huh, isn’t that a scary thing, but also a massively wonderful thing?

It wasn’t the strongest of the series in terms of plot and secondary characters, but “not my favourite” for a BBW story equals “really friggin good” for most other paranormal romances. Overall, a solid, solid entry to the next chapter of Cooper’s life.

Expect an overdue Why You Need to Read this Series post in the next week or so!

 

871822294f7f1eb7105c1e31dd9e8866_page-divider-clipart-line-dividers-clipart-superb-decorative-_1268-362

Find me (and my art) @aildreda on:

Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr

Review: Dragon Age Tevinter Nights – Burn, Thedas, Burn

9780765337221_2ed78

Title: Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights
Author(s):
Patrick Weekes, Sylvia Fektekuty, John Epler, Lukas Kristjanson, Brianne Battye, Caitlin Sullivan Kelly, Courtney Woods, Ryan Cormier, Arone LaBray

Publisher: Tor Books
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy, Game-to-Novel
Subject(s): Gods, LGBTQ+

Release Date:
March 10th, 2020
Page Count: 496 (paperback)

Rating: 8.0/10

 

 

The Dragon Age games are dark, heroic, epic fantasy role playing games that have won legions of devoted fans. The first game went triple platinum (over three millions units sold) worldwide, and the second game was released in March of 2011 to solid reviews. This sixth book in the series is an anthology put together by the game’s writing staff and specifically follows the fates of various characters and events from the previous three games and the newly announced fourth game.

 

871822294f7f1eb7105c1e31dd9e8866_page-divider-clipart-line-dividers-clipart-superb-decorative-_1268-362

So you thought your patience meter was pretty high with regards to DA4’s release? Thought “Yeah, sure, I can wait another few years for it”? Well, you can kiss that serenity goodbye, my friends, because that bar’s going to be bottomed out by the time you finish this.

Tevinter Nights just displaced The Last Flight as my favourite Dragon Age novel. Not so much in terms of prose and character work, but in terms of the breadth of content –walking you through the northern regions of Thedas, throwing you hints and speculation fodder, teasing you with storylines that will most definitely reappear in the next game (I’ll eat my stuffed nug if they don’t), and just re-immersing you and setting up the stage for everything that’s to come–Tevinter Nights is fantastic and a must-read for all fans of the series.

And here’s what the stage looks like: the Qunari invasion is well underway; Tevinter is being eaten up bit by bit even as the Magisters and the Venatori scheme from within; Nevarra is standing on a fracture line that cuts between the Mortalitasi and the royal family; Antiva is being forced to rely on the Crows as their main defense against the Qunari; and a bald overpowered heartbreaker idiot thinks he knows what’s best for the world and will stop at seemingly nothing to achieve it. And that’s just what’s on the surface and on this side of the Veil.

Things aren’t looking too great right now–and as this is THEDAS we’re talking about, that’s saying something.

A few general criticisms, though. Some of these stories are obviously a lead-in to side quests or the main quest in DA4, so their conclusions aren’t super satisfying; they serve more as teasers (though they’re pretty good teasers). Also, a lot of them follow the same plot formula: “x is killing y” or “x wants to kill y”, followed by “z has to step in to find out who and why.” It gets a bit repetitive, especially if you’re reading the book all in one go. And as with all anthologies, you’re going to get a mix of stories that you like and stories that just don’t work.

 

My favourites in order:

“The Wigmaker” by Courtney Woods
“The Horror of Hormok” by John Epler
“Eight Little Talons” by Courtney Woods
“Half Up Front” by John Epler
“The Dread Wolf Take You” by Patrick Weekes

(Courtney Woods and John Epler are really the MVPs of this anthology. Their stories are stuffed with interesting lore, they nail the balance of teaser and substance, and character-wise, they’re just more solidly crafted than the others)

As far as anthologies go, this was one of the best I’ve read in recent memory. And my furious obsession with the series has no bearing on that assessment. None whatsoever!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go play Inquisition for the 50th time.

 

871822294f7f1eb7105c1e31dd9e8866_page-divider-clipart-line-dividers-clipart-superb-decorative-_1268-362

Review copy provided by the publisher for an honest review

 

Find me (and my art) @aildreda on:

Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr

Review: Docile – Important and Poignant Enough to Write a Poem For (Which I Did)

9781250216151_6de34

Title: Docile
Author:
K.M. Szpara
Publisher:
Tor Books

Genre(s): Speculative Fiction
Subject(s): Consent, BDSM, LGBTQ+ (main and secondary)

Release Date:
March 3rd, 2020
Page Count: 464 (hardback)

Rating: 9.0/10

 

 

 

To be a Docile is to be kept, body and soul, for the uses of the owner of your contract. To be a Docile is to forget, to disappear, to hide inside your body from the horrors of your service. To be a Docile is to sell yourself to pay your parents’ debts and buy your childrens’ future.

Elisha Wilder’s family has been ruined by debt, handed down to them from previous generations. His mother never recovered from the Dociline she took during her term as a Docile, so when Elisha decides to try and erase the family’s debt himself, he swears he will never take the drug that took his mother from him. Too bad his contract has been purchased by Alexander Bishop III, whose ultra-rich family is the brains (and money) behind Dociline and the entire Office of Debt Resolution. When Elisha refuses Dociline, Alex refuses to believe that his family’s crowning achievement could have any negative side effects—and is determined to turn Elisha into the perfect Docile without it.

 

871822294f7f1eb7105c1e31dd9e8866_page-divider-clipart-line-dividers-clipart-superb-decorative-_1268-362

I tried writing a long review for this. I really did. On my first attempt I stared at the screen for a few hours and wrote a poem about it instead. On my second attempt I wrote a rambly essay that got way too personal and I figured I should just save that for therapy.

This is a book I feel deserves a long review, but well–sometimes my brain says, “I don’t think so.” And who knows? Maybe it’s right.

My favourite formula for storytelling is “Present it big, but tell it small.” As in, I love stories that offer a grand concept, but instead of focusing on the big pieces, it goes through the intimate details–the minutiae of everyday life. That’s one of the main reasons why I love this book so much. Because Docile commentates on a broken system that feels too-adjacent to our own–a Black Mirror-ish look at class divides and capitalism–but it does it through a story about healing and self-discovery, and a relationship that was built terribly wrong and brittle but nonetheless became real.

The other reason is Elisha.

It’s funny, because I don’t really know who Elisha as a person. He’s not as present or as bold as Alex is on the page. Which is, to be fair, kind of the point, as he spends most of the book getting scrubbed away, and the rest trying to figure out who he is as an individual. But a blank slate is a blank slate, so there’s really no reason for me to be attached to him, or relate to him. Except I am and I do. It’s his journey that I looked at and said, “Oh, this rings a bell.” Not the rape and the mindfuck, thankfully, but the aftermath and the healing process. The pain of being lost and looking over your emotions and feeling like you can’t trust any of them. And the use of bondage and power play to help reclaim his sense of control and autonomy (seeing BDSM in a therapeutic context in fiction makes me a happy otter). This was a case of the journey shaping the character, rather than the character shaping the character. If that makes sense.

I broke for him. And I was proud for him.

“I’m still in here.” I curl my finger against my sternum. “I need help. I need someone to love me and be patient with me.”

The thing with stories about sexual servitude is that there’s a very fine line that you need to toe, otherwise the whole thing devolves into an uncomfortable cousin of torture porn, and the point you’re trying to raise about consent–if that was even a point you set out to make–becomes moot (Bliss by Lisa Henry and Heidi Belleau is one example).

Docile toes that line decked out in Wes Anderson pastels and vintage floral prints.

It heats things up, but never condones. It presents you with kindness and care and love, and then asks how much they’re worth when, at the end of the day, your body isn’t yours and your mouth is sewn and there is never an option to say “No.”

 

871822294f7f1eb7105c1e31dd9e8866_page-divider-clipart-line-dividers-clipart-superb-decorative-_1268-362

Review copy provided by the publisher for an honest review

 

Find me (and my art) @aildreda on:

Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr

January & February 2020 Wrap-Up: Begone, Cursed Months! (Feat. Pretty Lights)

Happy March, everyone!

These past two months felt overly short and dragged out at the same time. And I’m torn between wanting to re-do them or wanting to stuff them into a burlap sack filled with rocks and hurl them into the nearest lake.

I ended up re-reading a lot of old comfort books, partly because of a two-month reading slump I was still shaking off, and partly because I’ve been in and out of a really bad mental place and trying to do my best to stay afloat.

And kind of jumping from that, here’s a little PSA for anyone with depression and suicidal thoughts: don’t wait until you reach the lowest of the lowest breaking point before calling hotline numbers or checking yourself in. I used to think those were things you only do when you’re in a really fucked-up mindspace, and it took me a while to learn otherwise. Do it before you start playing roulette with yourself. Sure, they’re not one-shot fixes; no one comes to you with a platter of solutions and a magic wand to neatly sprinkle them into your brain. But they do try their best, and they give you a safe place when you’re not in a position to trust yourself. Sometimes that’s enough, sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, but it’s always better than nothing.

Good? Okay, onto more fun things!

I did manage to get to a few new/upcoming releases, so here are some of the highlights:

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

 

The Best

best1.png

The Poet King (The Harp and Ring Sequence 3) by Ilana C. Myer ⚔️🌈:

I adore this series and sometimes I have a hard time explaining why except to say that it just speaks to me. The characters. The aesthetics. The texture of the world and how music shapes it. The Poet King is the end to a saga that started with Last Song Before Night and I loved it. I mean, it’s got some glaring conclusion issues, but I still loved it.

The “Sequence” part makes me wonder if there’s going to be more stories set in the world. It confuses me (and gives me false hope) when authors don’t come right out and say “trilogy” or “duology.”

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow (Watchmaker 2) by Natasha Pulley 🗝️🌈:

I was nervous about this because Watchmaker on Filigree Street was kind of a disappointment, especially after reading Bedlam Stacks, but Pepperharrow shows how much Pulley is growing as a writer. It’s got everything I adore about her stories–the whimsical seeping into the everyday normal, love that’s portrayed by its negative spaces–plus a lot of the issues in the first book addressed.

 

The Great

great(1).png

Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus 👻🌺:

The worst and also the best alien abduction story I’ve read in a while. Daniel Kraus has no chill. [Review]

Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights ⚔️:

Tevinter Nights is the first Dragon Age novel since 2014 and the first major romp through Thedas since 2015, and my god, I was stupidly excited. It’s an anthology, and while I’m not the biggest reader of anthologies and definitely not someone who finishes them in one go, make it Dragon Age and I’ll read dozens of them in one month. DA has been my number one game world obsession for the past 10 years. By far. And there’s a running joke–which isn’t really a joke–that when my friends and I play through the series we spend half the time playing the game and the other half combing through pixels trying to catch every bit of information about the world and compiling dossiers. Save the world? Sorry, that’s gotta wait; I have to stare at some statues for the next two hours and cross-reference them with these texts. And sometimes the sleuthing is even more fun than the actual gameplay.

Okay, I’m being told I need to stop before I diverge into full tumblr mode.

But yeah, the stories? *chef’s kiss* They were (mostly) a joy to read through, and I’m back with my tinfoil hat on. The review is going to be horrendously biased and I don’t even care.

 

The Good & Fine

fine

Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore 🗝️🌺⚔️:

My first venture into Anna-Marie McLemore and I wasn’t disappointed. Story-wise it’s nothing amazing, but I love McLemore’s style of writing and the way she approaches certain details. I’ll be working my way through her other books this year. [Review]

Untamed Shore by Silvia Moreno-Garcia 🌺:

This was, uh…..fine? Pleasant? More of a quiet experience than a story that I want to shout from the rooftops about. Review to come!

 

The Could Be Better, Could Be Worse

9781250238900_f3a76

The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood ⚔️:

This wasn’t really up to the hype and expectations, but I do like the protagonist–a lesbian orc fighter/merc who tries her best–and I’m hoping the sequel irons out some of the problems. [Review]

 

 


Life Things

I sprained my neck during a hike a few weeks ago which meant little to no drawing or painting (another reason to chuck February to the bottom-most depths), but it’s mostly healed now and I’m eagerly getting back into it.

Also, we got our first winter snow in January! There’s a lake-that’s-more-of-a-large-pond outside my apartment complex and it’s host to a lights festival during winter–creative light sculptures and light-strewn trees winding all around, everything from Christmas themes to Canadian-centric stuff (lots of beavers and maple leaves).

They look gorgeous on any normal night. But when it snows? It’s like you’re moving through these little pockets of magical worlds. Kind of ethereal. Kind of eerie. And super, super neat.

lights.png

 

871822294f7f1eb7105c1e31dd9e8866_page-divider-clipart-line-dividers-clipart-superb-decorative-_1268-362

Tell me how your winter months went and what you’re looking forward to in spring!

Review: Bent Heavens – Horrific, Depressing, and Super Compelling

81Gjr-amxwL.jpg

Title: Bent Heavens
Author:
Daniel Kraus
Publisher:
Henry Holt and Co.

Genre(s): “YA” Horror, Contemporary
Subject(s): Alien abduction, torture

Release Date:
Feb 25th, 2020
Page Count: 304 (hardback)

Rating: 8.0/10

 

 

 

 

Liv Fleming’s father went missing more than two years ago, not long after he claimed to have been abducted by aliens. Liv has long accepted that he’s dead, though that doesn’t mean she has given up their traditions. Every Sunday, she and her lifelong friend Doug Monk trudge through the woods to check the traps Lee left behind, traps he set to catch the aliens he so desperately believed were after him.

But Liv is done with childhood fantasies. Done pretending she believes her father’s absurd theories. Done going through the motions for Doug’s sake. However, on the very day she chooses to destroy the traps, she discovers in one of them a creature so inhuman it can only be one thing. In that moment, she’s faced with a painful realization: her dad was telling the truth. And no one believed him.

Now, she and Doug have a choice to make. They can turn the alien over to the authorities…or they can take matters into their own hands.

CW: Depictions of physical torture, mutilation, (spoiler: human experimentation, body horror)

 

871822294f7f1eb7105c1e31dd9e8866_page-divider-clipart-line-dividers-clipart-superb-decorative-_1268-362

Okay, listen.

This isn’t a nice book.

In fact, it’s a pretty damn depressing book.

It’s a book that roams the dark and shadowy place that Mufasa warns about. Nothing good can come of chasing it but death and singing hyenas.

Which is why I’m here, on my knees, asking you to chase read it.

Contradiction, thy name is Bent Heavens.

This is my third Daniel Kraus read (well, two and three-quarters–I still have to finish Zebulon Finch) and here’s what I’ve gathered about the guy so far: when you leaf through the pages of Dictionary: Daniel Kraus Edition, you’d find burnt holes under the entries “comfortable,” “pleasant,” and “simple.” Kraus doesn’t do soft. He doesn’t do pretty. Interpersonal horrors and intimate darkness–darkness made almost beautiful by its closeness–are spaces in which he thrives (which is why he works well with Guillermo del Toro, I suppose). He has a knack for taking discomfort and instinctual revulsion and turning them into compelling art.

Calling this book “art” might be an arguable point for some, but it is definitely compelling.

The first half is pretty slow, focused on the psychological ramifications of having a father who went missing and returned, telling everyone he’d been taken and experimented on by aliens, and then promptly disappeared again. It’s a stripped-down, realistic take of your typical abduction plotline; less of flashing lights and crop circles, and more of the abductee’s obsessions and fears and the toll they have on his family. It sets up the lonely and insulated environment for the main character quite well.

The second half is where things get truly heavy.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: this story has alien torture. Not as graphic as I’d thought it would be, but still pretty graphic. One of the characters quotes and takes inspiration from George W. Bush’s policies on torture of al Qaeda prisoners, and they become the springboard for everything that follows. And there’s a lot that follows: an exploration of prisoner/prison guard psychology; the ease with which people dehumanize and justify their dehumanization. What happens when tragedy meets anger in an echo chamber, Kraus asks, and then proceeds to muddy waters by slipping weariness into the mix. And more so than the anger, the latter is what really stuck with me. Atrocities you commit because you’ve been ground down and you’re exhausted and it’s easier to let someone else’s rage fuel you than to scrounge up your own and realize you’re not that angry–at least, not enough to brutalize. No. Much easier to give someone else the reins and follow.

I think passivity is a difficult trait to portray, as you’re fighting against reader expectations of what a protagonist should be, with popular media teaching us to love active characters and scoff at the inactive ones, but the author does a brilliant job of it. There are scenes that ride the edge of suffocation and frustration, and I would’ve hated them if they weren’t written so honestly. At the same time, I hated them because they were written so honestly.

The prose is the biggest complaint I have. I wish Kraus had used the first-person POV; it’s where he works best, and it would fits the narrative better, making the introspective scenes more, well, introspective. But maybe that’s exactly why he didn’t use it. Because he wanted a buffer between the readers and everything that happens with the characters. A deep dive into Liv’s emotions might have been too raw. Regardless, the third person POV combined with Kraus’ style–surplus descriptions and use of adjectives–has the unfortunate side effect of making things comically overdramatic at the wrong moments. And while the dialogue is mostly fine, sometimes it gets a little cringey:

“You’re a barrel of monkeys today.”
“I didn’t ask for this ride.”
“Will you take ten chill pills?”

My second complaint isn’t really a complaint, just another rendition of Why the Hell Is This Marketed As YA. I’ve looked at Kraus’s books in the past and thought, “I’m not sure what age group this belongs to,” and that feeling is doubled here. It’s very mature, despite the high school characters, and the themes would feel more at home in an adult horror/thriller.

If nothing else, though, I recommend it for the ending because it’s probably the most bonkers thing I’ve read in a while. I’d call it entertaining if I didn’t feel bad about finding it entertaining. Horrifically delightful? Delightfully horrific? It’s like watching a train plummet straight into a ravine, and then seeing a land kraken erupt out of nowhere and bash the locomotive to pieces. And you can only laugh at the chaos inbetween whispers of “What the fuck.”

So yeah. Not a nice book.

It’s twisted and claustrophobic and heartbreaking and–

And I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

So, come on, Simba. Take a walk on the dark side.

 

(Review copy provided by the publisher for an honest review)

871822294f7f1eb7105c1e31dd9e8866_page-divider-clipart-line-dividers-clipart-superb-decorative-_1268-362

Find me (and my art) @aildreda on:

Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr

News & Review: The Hanged Man (Tarot Sequence 2) – I Got Blurbed On a Book Cover

So um. A thing happened several months ago.

Well, okay, a bunch of things happened. And they’re all interconnected and relevant to THE thing I want to talk about, so let’s just go through them in chronological order. Imagine the countdown from Hamilton‘s “Ten Duel Commandments.”

 

☀️ Number one! ☀️

I got to read one of my top two most anticipated books of the year–AKA K.D. Edwards’ The Hanged Man (yes, The Hanged Man that I’ve been blathering about on Twitter and doing promo for)–and I wrote a review for it on Goodreads.

 

☀️ Number two! ☀️

My brain tried to coerce me. “Listen. I know have your hands full with a day job and volunteer work and art studies and a blog and, like, social obligations–whatever those are–but don’t you think doing a release promo for this book would be fun? And sexy?”

And friends, I’m a sucker. I fell for it.

 

☀️ Number three! ☀️

I was asked if I wanted to be featured on the book as a blurb, and once I gathered my jaw off the floor, I immediately said yes. Elation was closely followed by “Oh shit, I only spent 20 minutes writing that review.” But my thought was that it was going to be inside the book, within the first few pages, and squashed between a handful of blurbs from other bloggers. So no biggie if it’s not super polished, right?

 

☀️ Number four! ☀️

I got an email with the final proof of the cover.

…….Eh? Cover??

blurb.JPG

Scott Reintgen! T. Frohock! And… *squints* this other person?

Ahem. Yes! Hi! Hello!

Imposter Syndrome, meet the pointy end of my sword. (Named “This is so beyond what I was expecting that my brain didn’t even have a chance to freak out”)

The Tarot Sequence series has been a source of incredible opportunities and friendships, and the fact that my first blurb opportunity was for this book says something loud and precious. And I’ll be holding onto it for a while.

Also, did you know publishers allowed swearing on their full-release covers?? Because I didn’t, and this was a VERY cool way of finding out.

 


 

9781633884922_528c2

Author: K.D. Edwards
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy, LitRPG (lite)
Subject(s)/Theme(s): LGBTQ+ (everyone), Found Family
Publisher: Pyr
Release Date: December 17th, 2019
Page Count: 386 (paperback)

Rating: 10/10*

(*There’s a lot of bias with this rating. Like, a LOT. It’s a beautifully muddied water of personal relationships and life events…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.)

CW: talk and implications of sexual abuse, rape, and pedophilia

 

Hey, K.D? Sequel Syndrome just called. It wants you to send some pillows and blankets to the titanium coffin you just buried it in.

Clearly The Hanged Man is the product of a mortal man making deals with a high demon, because it has no business–none whatsoever–being this damn good. Disgusting, paradoxical levels of good.

I mean, we’ve seen New Atlantis before, we know these characters, so the honeymoon glow should have worn off at least a little, because that’s how sequels tend to go. The world shouldn’t feel just as heartpounding and unexpected as the first time I read The Last Sun–like the jolt of a first kiss experienced over and over again. There is ZERO logic to that.

And yet. And yet.

This book takes everything you loved about The Last Sun and takes it up a level. And another. And another. And then just when you think, “Well, that has to be the peak,” it smiles and takes you up into another building stacked on top of this one. Because the last 1/3 of the book? Fucking brace yourselves. It is an unending, head-spinning series of revelations and backs against the wall and consequent choices–choices that left me yelling and shaking with adrenaline–and Atlantean magic pushed beyond limits to mesmerizing results. It’s characters navigating their vulnerabilities and fears with one another, and I lost track of the number of times I cried.

Brand said, fiercely, in a breaking voice. “You’re my boy. You can do anything. Anything.”


Things get darker (more so than I’d expected). Stakes are much higher. The banter and the jokes are even better. And the worldbuilding is off the charts. We also get to see Rune and Brand interacting with small children, to hilarious and surprisingly good results, and that’s something I can’t get enough of.

Oh, and for those who felt that TLS was a bit of a white sausage fest (and I say that with affection)–rest assured! Several new major characters make their appearance in this book, many of them female and/or POC, and they’re all written with exquisite care.

This beautiful messy family just got a lot bigger and I cannot wait for everyone to experience it.

 

☀️ My Review of The Last Sun (Tarot Sequence 1)


Find me (and my art) @aildreda on:

Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr

 

Review & Paint: Dark and Deepest Red – Beautiful But Flawed

Dark-and-Deepest-Red-banner2.png

Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore


Genre(s):
YA Historical Fiction, Contemporary, Magical Realism
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date:
Jan 14th, 2020
Page Count: 320 (hardback)

Rating: 7/10

 

What I Liked

 

🌹  The subject of learning to navigate life with an identity that people might not accept or understand. That you might not fully accept or understand.

🌹  The Strausbourg storyline about the Romani and the dancing plague was something I wasn’t familiar with; it’s interesting and educational and I wanted more of it. And I seriously love the author’s decision to tell the 1518 chapters in present tense and the modern chapters in past tense.

🌹  The description of forests. And nature in general. Just…UGH, my heart. I’m convinced Anna-Marie was a magical woodland creature in a previous life. “They’re one body…Something can be one tree, and a whole wood.”

🌹  McLemore has a way of taking small moments–small, seemingly inconsequential moments–and giving them incredible significance and texture. Nothing is without meaning. Even when there’s not much happening with the plot, you still feel like you’re being pulled into the extraordinary.

I read the book a few weeks ago, and there are parts of it I don’t really remember, but I do have a very vivid memory of red shoes dancing along a reservoir edge; wolves slipping past trees; Alifair stripping off his shirt and daring Lala to deny who he is; and so forth. Flashes of images that burn into your mind. And that, my friends, is pure magic.

 

Dark-and-Deepest-Red1

“We’re aspen trees, you and I”

 

What I Didn’t Like

 

🌹  I was never super invested in Rosella and Emil’s storyline. Partly because the 1518 setting was more interesting, but mostly because I didn’t think too much of Rosella and Emil as characters. I loved some of their scenes, which are gorgeous and awash with colour and imagery, and I could appreciate and relate to a lot of their struggles (trying to fit in with your community, deliberately ignoring your family history). But as characters they felt kind of bland. And, I don’t know, I just wanted an entire book of Lala and Alifair.

🌹  The connection between the 1518 storyline and the modern day storyline felt clunky, especially at the end. And the last few legs of the story’s journey didn’t feel very satisfying.

🌹  Emil/Rosella’s chapters end up explaining the message of Lala’s story near the end, which veers too close to spoonfeeding and takes away some of the depth of the ending.

Overall, it’s a beautifully flawed story about self-acceptance and coming to terms with your cultural roots, and the special kind of freedom and power that they offer. It’s my first experience with Anna-Marie McLemore, and though I doubt this is the book that people would recommend from their bibliography, I got a good taste of their style and…I’m a big fan.

 

(Review copy provided by the publisher for an honest review)


 

Find me (and my art) @aildreda on:

Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr