Double Reviews: The Guildmaster and All the World Between Us – Water-themed Romances

One book has pirates. The other has swimming. Both involve water. (And I’m a sucker for themes)

Let’s get to it.

 

The Guildmaster (Vanguards of Viridor 3) by T.S. Cleveland

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Having helped foil the attempt to kill Viridor’s queen, Merric’s return to the Guardians’ Guild should have been celebrated. Instead, his support of elementals has earned him nothing but scorn. With the man he loves presumed dead, and fearing his injuries may prevent him from ever becoming a full guardian, Merric believes his life may as well be over. But when a series of mysterious attacks puts the fate of all Viridor in jeopardy, Quinn, a handsome and dangerous pirate, may be just the man to help save the kingdom – and Merric.

Genre(s): Fantasy, LGBTQIA+ Romance
Publisher: Self-published

Rating: 7.0/10

 

Do you like charming pirates?

Do you like charming pirates who are openly kind, respect boundaries, and engage in hurt/comfort?

Well, do I have a book for you.

The Guildmaster is the third book in the Vanguards of Viridor series set in a loosely constructed fantasy world where magic users called “elementals” are feared and discriminated by the general public (it’s always the mages, isn’t it?) Reading the previous books would probably add to your enjoyment of the story, but I don’t think it’s necessary.

I thought it was a fun, romantic read with a good balance of action and intimate character moments. Merric’s struggles to establish himself outside of his father’s shadow are compelling, as is Quinn’s efforts to help him heal, both physically and emotionally.

I did have issues with the second half of the story. At one point, there’s a lot of deliberate vagueness and lack of communication from the love interest (which didn’t really make sense considering how open he is about everything) and that contributed to a lot of unnecessary angst on the MC’s part. I also wish the worldbuilding was more robust than “*shrugs* It’s high fantasy. Half its characters run around waving swords. The other half runs around shooting fire from their fingers.”

Overall, I really enjoyed it. Also, bonus points for a completely unexpected reference to Dragon Age: Origins–“And swooping was bad.” Actually the first time I’ve seen that line in a book. Delightful.

 

 

All the World Between Us by Morgan Lee Miller

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Seventeen-year-old Quinn Hughes needs to be in top shape if she wants to medal at the swimming World Championships in ten months. This means no easy distractions, no matter how pretty they are.

She’s still piecing her confidence back together after not qualifying for the Olympics, her relationship with her twin brother is getting worse the more he hangs out with the popular kids, and then Kennedy Reed suddenly squeezes herself back into Quinn’s life. The girl who was her best friend. The girl who gave Quinn her first kiss. The girl who hasn’t spoken to her since.

Soon, Quinn finds herself juggling her new girlfriend, training for the biggest competition of her life, and discovering she’s not the only Hughes twin with a crush on Kennedy Reed. All these distractions are getting to her, and if she wants that medal she needs to find a way to stop drowning on dry land.

Genre(s): YA Contemporary, LGBTQIA+ Romance, Sports
Publisher: Bold Stroke Books

Rating: 6.0/10

I’m a girl of simple tastes. I see “swimming” and “gay” in the same sentence and I glomp onto it like an overattached koala. All the Worlds Between Us is an ownvoices second-chance story about two friends navigating the rocky paths of first love. It was quick and light and fine but didn’t really scratch my swimmer romance itch. Most of the story revolves around highschool drama and less of Quinn’s experiences as an aspiring Olympic swimmer, which was kind of disappointing. When a romance story is set against the backdrop of a sports world, I want the sports side to be as well-developed as the relationship aspect. That’s not always the case, though.

The narration also felt more juvenile than Quinn’s age warranted, and combined with a few explicit scenes, it got a bit jarring. I did find Kennedy’s experiences of being a closeted teen portrayed pretty well, however, and I enjoyed the mix of sweet and heartbreaking moments.

Overall, it’s not a bad sports f/f (especially if you’re new to the subgenre) but definitely not the best I’ve read either.

 

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Review copies provided by the author and the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Review: Deposing Nathan – Heartwrenching, Raw, and So Very Important

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Title:
Deposing Nathan
Author: Zack Smedley
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Release Date: May 7th, 2019
Genre(s): YA Contemporary
Subjects and Themes: LGBTQIAP+, Religion, Abuse
Page Count: 400 (hardback)

Rating: 9.0/10

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For sixteen years, Nate was the perfect son—the product of a no-nonsense upbringing and deep spiritual faith. Then he met Cam, who pushed him to break rules, dream, and accept himself. Conflicted, Nate began to push back. With each push, the boys became more entangled in each others’ worlds…but they also spiraled closer to their breaking points. And now all of it has fallen apart after a fistfight-turned-near-fatal-incident—one that’s left Nate with a stab wound and Cam in jail.

Now Nate is being ordered to give a statement, under oath, that will send his best friend to prison. The problem is, the real story of what happened between them isn’t as simple as anyone thinks. With all eyes on him, Nate must make his confessions about what led up to that night with Cam…and in doing so, risk tearing both of their lives apart.

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Sometimes I read books and love them, and then days or weeks or months later I’d think back and go, “This wasn’t as good as I thought it was.” Well, this book is the opposite of that because I seem to love it more and more with each passing week.

Deposing Nathan is good. Like, award-winning good. Like, why the hell are you reading this when you could be pre-ordering the book RIGHT NOW good.

It’s a propulsive debut that covers a myriad of complex topics from religion and sexuality, to parental abuse, to a friendship gone terribly wrong, and nails all of them with stunning clarity and a rawness that makes your heart weep.

Its two main characters are very flawed and very real, and while Nate’s struggles broke my heart, it was Cam that captured it. Really, I was a goner from the moment he said, “A thousand merry fucks to the MCAT.” He’s one of those people who talk like they’re reading from a movie script–charming and sarcastic and wit dripping down the tail end of every sentence. You’re not sure if they’re arrogant or just too smart for their own good, but either way you’re drawn to them because they’re like walking motes of light and just being with them makes you feel alive.

So there’s Cam on one side, who is able to reconcile Christianity with his sexuality, and then there’s Nathan on the other, who just cannot. And there lies the heart of the story’s conflict.

“If you’re wondering why I’m not designing my sexual identity around a few sentences from a twelve hundred-page book that was last fact-checked two thousand years ago, I don’t have an answer for you. Christianity is about love, and acceptance, and I’m as much a part of it as you are.”

I’m always going on and on about messy characters and how they’re so important–especially teenage ones–and Nathan and Cam are two of the best examples I’ve come across in recent years. The book doesn’t pull punches with these two. They say and do terrible things to each other with nothing spared. Every grievance, frustration, and anger are hashed out in scenes that twisted my stomach into knots.

And what I loved and appreciated most is just how much they communicate together. If they have a problem, they say it outright, regardless of how harsh it is. Sometimes because of how harsh it is, because they want to hurt each other in the worst ways. And that might be a weird compliment to give to a book–that the argument scenes are done incredibly well. But I think verbal fight scenes in books are so hard to pull off, and Smedley pulls it off well enough to make me grimace and forget that this is fiction.

I realize these scenes might be triggering for a lot of people–this being with someone who’s unable to acknowledge a part of their identity, but still refusing to give up on them because you love them and you believe love will pull through in the end. And on the flip side, being stretched out so thin between parental pressure and the feeling of not knowing who you are.

But I think the payoff is absolutely worth it, because the ending is immensely satisfying, painful yet healing. In between bouts of heavy crying, I was filled with so much pride for both characters.

As for criticisms…If I had reviewed this a month ago, immediately after finishing it, I would have said that Aunt Lori crosses over into evil Disney stepmother territory at times. And that some of her actions feel unrealistic next to the organic nature of Nathan and Cam’s relationship. But I’ve sat on it for a month and I’m going to cancel that out. Because the world is wide and there’s a wide variety of shitty people out there, many absolutely falling into the cartoonish category, and some even holding offices of high power. So who am I to state what is and isn’t realistic when it comes to abusive adult figures?

“I just don’t think it’s possible to love someone and be afraid of them at the same time.”

Deposing Nathan is a beautiful and stark love letter to teens (and adults) who have their faith in one hand and sexuality in the other and are wondering if they can walk their lives carrying both.

A hard read but an absolute must-read.

 

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Playlist

Zack has an official playlist up here, which is longer and better, but have a gander at my version HERE! (Or down below)

1. Gravity by Vienna Teng
2. Ashes of Eden by Breaking Benjamin
3. How to Save a Life by The Fray
4. Alibi by Thirty Seconds to Mars
5. Saturn by Sleeping at Last (the main song for the book)

(WordPress lets me add the Spotify playlist in editing mode but it’s completely invisible in preview mode, so I have no idea what’s going on there.)

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Zack Smedley was born and raised in southern Maryland, in an endearing county almost no one has heard of. He has a degree in Chemical Engineering from UMBC and currently works within the field. As a member of the LGBT community, his goal is to give a voice to marginalized young adults through gritty, morally complex narratives. He spends his free time building furniture, baking, tinkering with electronics, and managing his obsession with the works of Aaron Sorkin. DEPOSING NATHAN is his first novel.

Website | Goodreads | Twitter | Instagram

 

GIVEAWAY (US Only)

Win a physical copy of Deposing Nathan! Starts May 1st and ends May 15th. ENTER HERE.

 

TOUR SCHEDULE

May 1st

The Unofficial Addiction Book Fan Club – Welcome Post

May 2nd

Musings of a (Book) Girl – Review + Official Book Playlist
The Bent Bookworm – Review + Favourite Quotes

May 3rd

Book-Keeping – Review
Pages Below the Vaulted Sky – Review + Playlist

May 4th

Reads Like Supernovae – Review + Official Dream Cast
Young Adult Media Consumer – Review

May 5th

Bookish_Kali – Review
The YA Obsessed – Review

May 6th

Cheyenne Reads – Story Behind The Cover
The Layaway Dragon – Review + Favourite Quotes

May 7th

everywhere and nowhere – Is “Natural Talent” All You Need?
Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile – Review

 

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

⚔️= Fantasy; 🚀= Scifi; 👻= Paranormal; 🔍= Mystery; 🌺= Contemporary; 🗝️= 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 ⚔️🌈:
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 🗝️⚔️🌈:
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 🗝️⚔️🌈:
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 ⚔️:
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 🗝️🌈:
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!

Author Interview (+ Giveaway): Starworld by Audrey Coulthurst & Paula Garner

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Today I’m very excited to present an interview with Audrey Coulthurst and Paula Garner, authors of STARWORLD–an emotional YA contemporary that explores themes of friendship, sexuality, and the battles we face in our everyday lives.

Spoiler: Their answers are FUN.

 

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Sam Jones and Zoe Miller have one thing in common: they both want an escape from reality. Loner Sam flies under the radar at school and walks on eggshells at home to manage her mom’s obsessive-compulsive disorder, wondering how she can ever leave to pursue her dream of studying aerospace engineering. Popular, people-pleasing Zoe puts up walls so no one can see her true self: the girl who was abandoned as an infant, whose adoptive mother has cancer, and whose disabled brother is being sent away to live in a facility. When an unexpected encounter results in the girls’ exchanging phone numbers, they forge a connection through text messages that expands into a private universe they call Starworld. In Starworld, they find hilarious adventures, kindness and understanding, and the magic of being seen for who they really are. But when Sam’s feelings for Zoe turn into something more, will the universe they’ve built survive the inevitable explosion?

In a novel in two voices, a popular teen and an artistic loner forge an unlikely bond — and create an entire universe — via texts. But how long before the real world invades Starworld?
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1. Hi, Audrey and Paula! Thank you so much for being here today! To start off, how did this collaboration come about?

(Audrey) Starworld was born at the intersection of two concepts: the question of what might have happened if our high school selves had met, and Paula’s insistence that we write a book “in the stars” (e.g., *writes a terrible first draft*) despite a lack of any plot or characters at the outset. Between revisions on our debuts we started exchanging chapters back and forth, having way too much fun sneaking in inside jokes while also exposing some painful pieces of our pasts and ourselves.

 

2. What were some difficulties you encountered during the collaboration and what were some of your favourite moments?

(Paula) We had a really easy time co-writing. I think one of the most difficult times was when beta readers pointed out things that might come off as insensitive for various reasons. That was the last thing we ever intended, and it did hurt to hear—but ultimately it made for a better book, seeing some of those issues and having the chance to change them.

Favorite moments: the excitement and joy of reading a new chapter from the other, and all our hilarious shenanigans in Google docs trying to write startalk or dialogue on the same page at the same time.

(Audrey) We spent a rather unhealthy amount of time trolling each other throughout the drafting process.

 

3. Both Zoe and Sam deal with a lot of things in their family lives: divorced parents, parents with OCD and cancer, and a brother with special needs. And it amazed me just how real the emotions involved are–the worry, the guilt, the helpless anger. Did that come from personal experience or extensive research?

Both. We each drew on difficult things from our own lives/pasts, but we also did a lot of research to be as accurate and true as possible.

 

4. I don’t know how you got a hold of my messaging histories, but some of Zoe and Sam’s asterisk talk is straight out of my own conversation with friends. Are you both big asterisk users?

(Paula) *does not know what you’re talking about* *never talks in stars* *especially not to Audrey* *huffs* Okay the truth is we always have talked in stars and we have a hard time NOT doing it.

(Audrey) *startles awake* *stares into space attempting to look like a sage author type but actually trying to remember one of Ruby Rose’s tattoos*

 

5. I think, at one point or another, we all need a Starworld of our own–a place that we can escape to and call our own. Zoe and Sam’s world comes with kingdoms and dragons and mysterious quests. What does your perfect Starworld look like? And who would you take with you?

(Paula) I think if grown-up Audrey and I had a Starworld, it would have a lot of spicy food, good cocktails, amazing settings, LOTS of hilarium, and of course, each other.

(Audrey) Spoiler: it’s a bar. But a classy bar.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS

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Paula Garner spends most of her time writing, reading, or making good things to eat and drink. She is the author of YA contemporary novels Starworld, Relative Strangers, and Phantom Limbs, which was a 2017 Illinois Reads selection for grades 9-12. Follow her on Twitter at @paulajgarner.

Audrey Coulthurst writes YA books that tend to involve magic, horses, and kissing the wrong people. When she’s not dreaming up new stories, she can usually be found painting, singing, or on the back of a horse.

Audrey has a Master’s in Writing from Portland State University and studied with Malinda Lo as a 2013 Lambda Literary Foundation Fellow. She lives in Santa Monica, California.

 

Giveaway

ENTER HERE to win one of three copies of Starworld! Open Internationally (Age 13+).

 

Tour Schedule

Go check out the rest of the tour stops HERE.

Review: Starworld – Girl Friendships, Family Drama, and Roleplaying via Text

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Title: Starworld
Author: Audrey Coulthurst & Paula Garner
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: April 16th, 2019
Genre(s): YA Contemporary
Subjects and Themes: LGBTQIAP+, Female Friendships, Family
Page Count: 352 (hardback)

Rating: 6.5/10

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Sam Jones and Zoe Miller have one thing in common: they both want an escape from reality. Loner Sam flies under the radar at school and walks on eggshells at home to manage her mom’s obsessive-compulsive disorder, wondering how she can ever leave to pursue her dream of studying aerospace engineering. Popular, people-pleasing Zoe puts up walls so no one can see her true self: the girl who was abandoned as an infant, whose adoptive mother has cancer, and whose disabled brother is being sent away to live in a facility. When an unexpected encounter results in the girls’ exchanging phone numbers, they forge a connection through text messages that expands into a private universe they call Starworld. In Starworld, they find hilarious adventures, kindness and understanding, and the magic of being seen for who they really are. But when Sam’s feelings for Zoe turn into something more, will the universe they’ve built survive the inevitable explosion?

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*Tries to write review*

*Remembers that I read this two months ago and that I have the memory of a goldfish when it comes to books* 

*Clutches head and swears profusely at the procrastination gods* 

There’s a lot of that kind of dialogue in this book, and sometimes it’s cute and other times it’s cringey, so if you’re super sensitive to secondhand embarrassment, you…might have a hard time with it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself!

Starworld is a slow-burn contemporary story about an awkward artsy girl and a popular girl who navigate the murky waters of family and friendship together. Both girls have difficult family lives–one has with a mother with OCD and the other a mother with cancer and a brother with special needs–and the emotions surrounding these everyday battles are shown so incredibly well. Guilt, resentment, anger, and love connecting all of it–it’s messy and complex and the book gives no definite answers on how they should be reacting to these problems, which I thought was beautifully realistic.

And to see Sam and Zoe come together and realize they have so much in common, and that their personalities mesh so well, was a treat to read. Believable chemistry is so hard to pull off in stories and these girls have it in spades.

Now for the not-so-great parts:

The story doesn’t really come with an overarching plot and so the pacing moves from slow to near-glacial (so much that it felt a lot longer than 352 pages). There’s a lot of extraneous dialogue and scenes with people eating and doing other mundane activities; which isn’t necessarily a bad thing–just not for everyone.

And I did find some of the text dialogue overbearing. I think there’s a limit to how much asterisk talk (or “startalk”) I can handle and there’s a LOT of it in this book. And I’m speaking as someone who uses asterisks all the time. Doesn’t mean I want to read through a hundred pages of it.

My biggest problem, though, is with the ending. I appreciate the authors sticking to the theme of life being messy and unpredictable, but the execution just made me super annoyed.

[Spoilers: highlight to read] Everything leading up to the ending made me believe that this was a strangers-to-friends-to-lovers story. Turns out I was horribly wrong because Zoe ends up rejecting Sam, and Sam goes into ghost mode and ignores her for the rest of the school year. The end.

Compared to the care that was put into their relationship for 300+ pages, everything about this ending was abrupt and underdeveloped. The open communication that was such a key part of the friendship straight-up vanishes in this final act and I couldn’t help but feel cheated.

So my feelings on it are mixed. But I would still recommend it just for Zoe and Sam’s friendship (sans the ending), because they are very, very good together and we always need more stories about girls helping each other to find themselves.

 

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

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.

 

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

 

Last Week – Books

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Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver: 🔍🗝️
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: 👻🔍🌈
*hysterical laughter*
*uncontrollable sobbing*
(Full review to come)

 

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Ancestral Night (White Space 1) by Elizabeth Bear: 🚀
(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: ⚔️
(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: ⚔️
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: ⚔️🌈
A queer pseudo-sequel to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Enough said.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine: 🚀
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?

 

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

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

Rating: 8.0/10

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 5 Wednesday – Favourite Friend Groups #Squadgoals

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

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

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

Me: …….I will not–

Me #2: C’mon. Just do one.

Me: ….

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

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1. The Raven Cycle Kids

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

 

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

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

 

3. Kings of the Wyld – Saga

Kings of the Wyld

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

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

 

4. The Gentleman Bastards

Lies of Locke

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

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

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

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

“… is Locke …”

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

“… and fifty thousand cheering spectators.”

 

5. Dragon Age 2 – Hawke and Co.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Brilliant

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

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

 

The Great

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

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

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

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

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

 

THE (Kind of) GOOD

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

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

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

 

THE OKAY

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

The Bad and DNF

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Temper by Nicky Drayden 🚀⚔️: DNF 40%

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

Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio 🚀: DNF 20%

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

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

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

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

 

Posts-Made-title

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY

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

REVIEWS

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

TAGS

The Weather in Books Tag

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

Top 5 Wednesday – Book List for a Class On Developmental Psychology

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes, where you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This week’s topic is: Book list for a class on (Genre/Trope/etc). After a panicky, “Oh god, it’s 12 AM and I haven’t chosen a topic yet,” I ended up taking the “class” part literally and choosing developmental psychology.

So, you can find examples of developmental psychology in pretty much all books. But I tried to pick (fiction) books that focus on children and how the actions of adults affect their developmental process–for better or worse, but in the case of this list, for the worse. 

Does that make senses? I don’t know. It’s late, I’m tired, and I’m writing the post at the very last minute, so I may find this is all gibberish when I re-read it in the morning. Oh, the joys of not doing proper planning!

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1. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Fifth Season

Jemisin’s brilliant award-winning fantasy series explores prejudice and subjugation and the ways that they mold children into ugly, jagged shapes. We see how the hatred and fear of orogenes have driven Essun, our main character, to cynicism and ruthless pragmatism, which she then later passes onto her own daughter. There are no good parents in the world–we get parents who are trying their best with a script that was written for them, and parents who are just plain terrible. Either way, it’s the children who bear the brunt of their hatreds and various other demons.

 

2. Warchild by Karin Lowachee

Warchild

Grief and memories of abuse are the main things that our main character Jos Musey carries with him as he grows up from a traumatized young orphan to a slightly-better-but-still-traumatized teenage soldier. The adults around him range from brutal and exploitative to cold and distant, so it’s no wonder he develops massive issues with trust and emotional vulnerability, both of which Lowachee depicts with incredible care and deftness. Warchild offers one of the best examinations PTSD I’ve ever read in sci-fi/fantasy.

 

3. Animorphs Series by Christina Applegate

animorphs

Don’t let the perky synopses (and the god-awful covers) fool you. Animorphs isn’t an epic scifi adventure about a group of shapeshifting kids who band together to fight aliens. Well…I mean, it is, but it’s also about war and its many psychological horrors–you get scenes of kids getting tortured and murdered in gruesome ways, kids being forced to kill, and kids suffering from PTSD among other things. It’s incredible how well these books tackle the long-term developmental effects such trials have on these characters. (And I still can’t believe it managed to get published as a children’s series.)

 

4. A List of Cages by Robin Roe

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A List of Cages is a beautiful story that explores child abuse and the way that abusers manipulate their victims into believing they deserve this treatment. Roe’s portrayal of Julian and his struggles is at once heartbreaking and skin-crawling.

 

5. The Farseer Books by Robin Hobb

Assassin's Apprentice

Am I ever going to pass up an opportunity to talk about this series? Nope!

Hobb is not only a master of character development, she’s a master of long-term character development. With her Farseer books, we see how abandonment and rejection can permanently hinder a child’s emotional growth. With pretty much everything that FitzChivalry does as an adult, you can trace the origins right back to his tumultuous childhood. (Fun fact: I wrote an extra credit paper for a 4th year psychology class analyzing the development process of this very character. My grade didn’t need to be bumped up so it was completely unnecessary, but I had a blast writing it.)

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Note to self: Make the next T5W just a tad less gloomy.