Review: Where Oblivion Lives (Los Nefilim) – A Nephil’s Quest for a Missing Violin

51m3taqn4-l._sy346_Title: Where Oblivion Lives (Los Nefilim)
Author: T. Frohock
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: February 19th, 2019
Genre(s): Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Subjects and Themes: Angels/Demons, European History, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 368 (paperback)

Rating: 7.5/10

Add to goodreads

 

 

Born of daimon and angel, Diago Alvarez is a being unlike all others. The embodiment of dark and light, he has witnessed the good and the horror of this world and those beyond. In the supernatural war between angels and daimons that will determine humankind’s future, Diago has chosen Los Nefilim, the sons and daughters of angels who possess the power to harness music and light.

As the forces of evil gather, Diago must locate the Key, the special chord that will unite the nefilim’s voices, giving them the power to avert the coming civil war between the Republicans and Franco’s Nationalists. Finding the Key will save Spain from plunging into darkness.

And for Diago, it will resurrect the anguish caused by a tragedy he experienced in a past life.

But someone—or something—is determined to stop Diago in his quest and will use his history to destroy him and the nefilim. Hearing his stolen Stradivarius played through the night, Diago is tormented by nightmares about his past life. Each incarnation strengthens the ties shared by the nefilim, whether those bonds are of love or hate . . . or even betrayal.

To retrieve the violin, Diago must journey into enemy territory . . . and face an old nemesis and a fallen angel bent on revenge.

flourish

For those who are new to the series, Los Nefilim presents an early 1930’s Europe in which nefilim, the children of angels and daimons, live hidden amidst mortal kind and serve the angels as earthly soldiers in the angel-daimon war. We follow the activity of the Spanish nephilim branch, Los Nefilim, particularly one Diago Alvarez–a half-angel, half-daimon being who’s recently been inducted into the organization.

While I’d enjoyed the novellas (the characters in particular), I did feel like I was getting held back on the worldbuilding and nefilim lore. This full-length novel firmly addresses those problems. So now we get the heart-tugging family dynamic of the novellas plus a deeper exploration into the nefilim’s magic and their history. The story also widens its field of view to include Germany, introducing a new kind of tension relating to growing Aryan supremacy and too-curious Nazi officers.

While we don’t see a lot of interaction between Diago and his companions (and thus not a lot of development), what we do see of the characters individually I really liked.

Diago’s existence continues to spit in the face of toxic masculinity. Besides being a badass half-angel, half-daimon being who can harness musical energy, he’s also a loving husband, doting father, and a battler of PTSD, full of insecurities and fears but also a willingness (however reluctant) to voice them, which frankly makes him all the more badass.

Rafael continues to be the best kid character I’ve encountered in adult fantasy in the past year. So sweet. So adorable. So authentically child-like–not an adult’s skewed vision of what a child should be. And so incredibly bad for my heart because it melts every time he shows up on page.

“Don’t come home beat up. Every time you go away without us, you come home beat up.”

Disappointingly, Diago’s husband Miquel takes a backseat in this story, but on the upside, we do see a lot of Guillermo, the leader of Los Nefilim, and through his eyes we get more deeply entrenched into the political side of the war which I wholly enjoyed.

The espionage section of the story is the really interesting bit. The blurb dresses it up in this flashy action-adventure garb, but the reality is something more intimate and ordinary and creepy:

One house, two brothers, strange happenings, and suspense threatening to spill through the edges.

When you lay out such a seemingly mundane setting and plop down a character who’s as powerful as Diago is and still manage to make the readers fearful for him, you’ll hear me applauding in the background because that’s such a hard thing to pull off.

While reading the novellas beforehand would be helpful, I don’t think it’s necessary for the enjoyment of the story. I heartily recommend this to anyone who likes angel/demon stories, music magic, fantasy mixing with pre-WW2 history, and male protagonists who embrace vulnerability.

flourish

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

Mini Review: Sadie (Audiobook) – Invisible Girls, Gone Girls, Dead Girls

sadie

Title: Sadie
Author: Courtney Summers
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: September 4th, 2018
Genre(s): Mystery, Thriller
Subjects and Themes: Abuse
Page Count: 320 (hardback)

Rating: 7/10

Add to goodreads

 

 

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray―a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America―overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

flourish

Giving a rating for this book feels…strange.

It’s like listening to someone sing a heartfelt ballad at a funeral and afterwards turning to your neighbour and saying, “Oof, it got a bit sharp at the end there, eh? What a shame.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t exactly want the infamy of being the person who went all Simon Cowell on a group of mourners–however novel it may be.

But here we are.

First of all, massive, massive kudos to all the voice actors who worked on the audiobook. Their performances made me forget I was listening to a book and not a fiction podcast. Sadie’s VA, especially, was phenomenal. I mean, I would have loved the character regardless; she’s an incredible mix of affection and awkwardness and rage (so much rage–I will never stop waxing poetic about authors who give their young female characters leeway to be angry and vengeful, and not in a pretty, Hollywood-approved way) and it’s impossible to not fall for her, but the performance lends her an extra layer of complexity. There are scenes near the end that are dizzingly raw and had me breathless in turn.

As much I loved Sadie’s narrative voice, I did find her chapters inconsistently paced and that had my attention drifting in places. I actually enjoyed West’s podcast chapters more. They’re more tightly structured and they give us an outside perspective of Sadie, through the side characters’ interpretation of her, and her relationship with her family.

In terms of the plot, one might also complain that it turned out to be a straightforward revenge story rather than a thriller with twists and turns.

But….child abuse is straightforward. Missing girls are straightforward. They are painfully straightforward things that occur every day in real life.

Doesn’t make them any less important.

Sadie is a harrowing account of a young woman who will grab you by the heart and twist it into knots. I may not have loved it as much as I thought I would, but there’s no doubt that this is an important piece of work worthy of all the attention and future awards.

flourish

If you’re looking for stories of similar subject matter (but in a different media), I highly recommend Netflix’s docuseries The Keepers. Just keep some pillows nearby because it’ll make you want to scream into something.

September 2018 Wrap-Up & October TBR Update

Yes, we’re now in the latter half of October. Yes, these are getting later and later. I’m starting to suspect that a part of me likes posting these late. The contrary part, that is. The responsible part has packed its bags, donned a Hawaiian shirt, and put up a sign saying “Gone on (Indefinite) Vacation.”

It’s been a down week and I don’t really have the energy to ramble on, so I’m going to keep both the Wrap-Up and the TBR shorter than usual.

 

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

The Excellent

o1.gif

Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee 🗝️⚔️🌈:
Loved pretty much everything about it. Felicity is a wonderful, wonderful character. Review here.

The Wolf at Bay (Big Bad Wolf 2) by Charlie Adhara 👻🔍🌈:
Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching a lot of This is Us lately, but I just couldn’t get enough of the family dynamics in this book. I’ll probably do a full review of the first two books sometime soon.

 

The Great

o9.gif

Bloody Rose (The Band 2) by Nicholas Eames ⚔️🌈: Review

Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton ⚔️🌈: Review

Los Nefilim by T. Frohock 🗝️⚔️🌈: Review

 

The Good

o10.gif

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett ⚔️: Review

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson 🚀🌈: Review

 

The Meh

o11.gif

The Deepest Roots by Miranda Asebedo 🌺👻⚔️🌈:
I went into it expecting fantasy and female friendships and got the latter but not so much of the former. Review here.

Nightingale by Amy Lukavics:

To quote my own Goodreads review, “it’s like an acid-induced fever dream directed by David Lynch.” And I realize that will appeal to a lot of people. Just…not me.

flourish

 

Now for October! I really liked the “Just finished/Currently Reading/To Be Read” format I stumbled upon with the September TBR post, so I’ll do that again here.

 

Recently Finished

o6.gif

➽ A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland:
Loved this one. It’s got stories and politics and a grumpy protagonist who tries hard to pretend he doesn’t care when he actually does. Review here

➽ Sadie by Courtney Summers:
Amanda at MetalPhantasmReads wrote a glowing review for the audiobook version of Sadie and I couldn’t not give it a try. And she was absolutely right. It’s by far the best audiobook I’ve listened to in recent memory. The voice actors do a phenomenal job and I had to keep reminding myself that this a book and not a fiction podcast. Review to come.

➽ Time’s Children by D.B. Jackson:
A mashup of high fantasy and scifi (time travel) that was pleasant to read but lacked depth in terms of plot and characterization.

 

READING NOW

o7.gif

The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth:
The author jokingly called it Narnia fanfiction, which is actually kind of spot-on. It less of a retelling and more of a continuation, though. I’m enjoying it so far!

Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink:
From the brain behind Welcome to Nightvale, this is a novelization of the Alice Isn’t Dead podcast (which I utterly adore). Thus far the book is a somewhat different from the podcast. Same story. Still bizarre. Still creepy. But just… different in style. Curious to see how the rest pans out.

Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds by Brandon Sanderson:
It’s weird reading a Sanderson book that’s not an epic fantasy but Legion is proving to me that the man can write in any genre. I absolute adore the mesh of mental health and sci-fi elements.

 

YET TO READ

o8.gif

Mage Against the Machine by Shaun Barger:
It’s been described as a mix of Harry Potter and Terminator which sounds like a lot of fun. Also, that cover!

The Nine by Tracy Townsend:
I’d planned on reading this last month but that didn’t really pan out, so here’s take 2!

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak:
*Laughs* Right. This book. Zusak is one of my top two creative inspirations and this book is my most anticipated read of the year. Which is why I spent half of this past week psyching myself up for it and the other half furiously telling myself I need to lower my expectations. Now I’m in a state of “Should I read this now or save it until I’m finished with all my October ARCs?” I’m leaning toward the latter. I mean, I’ve waited 10 years for it, what’s another few weeks?

 

flourish

That’s all from me! How is your October going?

 

Review: A Conspiracy of Truths – Dazzling Blend of Politics and the Power of Storytelling

A Conspiracy of Truths

Title: A Conspiracy of Truths
Author: Alexandra Rowland
Publisher: Saga Press
Release Date: October 23rd, 2018
Genre(s): Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Stories, Politics
Page Count: 464 (hardback)

Rating: 8.5/10

Add to goodreads

 

 

 

 

A Conspiracy of Truths is a story about people and what makes them tick. And it’s a story about stories. And it’s a story about stories that tell you what makes people tick. And if you love stories (I mean, you’re reading this, aren’t you?) Rowland’s debut is one you should not miss out on.

Admittedly, the book wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I went into it anticipating something similar to 1001 Nights and In the Night Garden–something whimsical and fantastical–and it took me a while to adjust to the fact that A Conspiracy of Truths is an entirely different beast.

That’s not to say there aren’t stories within stories in this book (or that they’re not fantastical). We get more than a dozen of them and they serve many purposes: they’re used to educate a person on a subject, to deceive and coerce, or to simply pass the time. But the book is less about the stories themselves and more about their…anatomy. The shape of them. While the content of the stories are important, they’re not quite as important as what they say about the storyteller and the storyreceiver. How they’re told, how they’re interpreted, how they’re reacted to–all of that can tell you so much of a person and that’s the beauty of stories.

A Conspiracy of Truths is the ultimate love letter to stories and the idea that people–all people–are pattern finders. The way we look for meaning in chaos, draw through random dots, seeing pictures and creating stories out of them. And sometimes such stories have the power to upturn nations.

It takes a stronger soul than me to not fall headlong in love with a message like that.

Okay, enough vague gushing. Let’s get to the meat of it.

Our story begins when Chant–our illustrious, elderly, cantankerous storyteller–gets arrested and charged with witchcraft, espionage, and brazen impertinence while passing through Nuryevet, a country where polyamory is the norm, the government divided into five Queens and Kings, and nearly everything requires the signing of paperwork (including visits to the brothel).

Chant soon discovers that Nureyviet is rotten to the core with all manner of corruption–assassinations, nepotism, bribery. Things he normally wouldn’t give a toss about, but with his neck on the line and his execution date drawing near, he realizes that to save himself he must first save this country from itself. What can a 70-year old man do from the confines of a cell, you may ask? Well, Chant isn’t without allies. In his corner he’s got one very reluctant but talented advocate; one kindhearted, though a tad naive, apprentice; said apprentice’s boyfriend (who has very beautiful handwriting); and of course, the greatest weapon at his disposal–his stories.

Chant isn’t an easy character to like and he knows it. While undoubtedly entertaining, I found his fiery personality somewhat exhausting in the beginning. But then he started growing on me, and at some point he went from grating on my nerves to pulling at my heartstrings and plastering a grin on my face. I don’t know when it happened, but I do know why. It’s his love of stories and understanding of the human heart that ultimately won me over, and by the end I would have happily fought Ylfing for the apprentice position.

Speaking of which, his relationship with Ylfing was hands-down my favourite part of the book. The teenager’s sweet and unassuming personality contrasts so wonderfully with Chant’s grumpy cynicism, and despite all of Chant’s “I don’t care” attitude, the love shared between them is palpable. Their scenes range from hilarious to intellectually provocative to tear-jerking and I would gladly read five more books about their adventures.

Aside from Ylfing, most of the side characters in the story are women. Diverse women. Women who are flawed and decidedly not nice. Women who stand up for what they believe is right even if it means losing everything else. Soldiers, lawyers, politicians, mothers–Rowland gives a platform for all, which is so gratifying to see in a fantasy novel.

The side characters also serve as Chant’s eyes and ears. A story has no right to be this entertaining when its narrator spends most of his time locked up in cells, but at no point does it feel claustrophobic. These characters constantly come and go carrying news and stories and just the sheer magnetism of their personalities, and you soon forget that you barely know what this country even looks like.

Plot-wise, it’s a lot more politics-heavy than I’d expected. You get thrown a lot of names and info from the get-go and it took me a good 1/3 of the book to get settled into it. But from then on I was fully hooked. I’m pretty sure my initial disengagement has to do with my shoddy memory and lack of note-taking, so a word of advice: write notes on the key political players as they come up.

There are books that make you ponder the nature of humans. There are books that have you on the edge of your seat, brows furrowed and biting your nails. And there are books that leaves you smiling and feeling good about the world. And this book? This book manages all three.

flourish

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Review: The Phoenix Empress (Their Bright Ascendancy 2) – Toppling into the Ashes

Pheonix Empress

Title: The Phoenix Empress (Their Bright Ascendancy 2)
Author: K. Arsenault Rivera
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: October 9th, 2018
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy, Romance
Subjects and Themes: LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 544 (paperback)

Rating: 3.5/10

Add to goodreads

 

 

 

The Phoenix Empress picks up where The Tiger’s Daughter left off, with Shizuka and Shefali reunited after eight years apart. Shefali returns to find Shizuka crowned empress and drowning herself in alcohol, while Shefali herself is dealing with demons of her own (quite literally) and the fact that she is dying.

So, despite some issues with The Tiger’s Daughter, I did quite like the relationship between the two main characters; while over-dramatic at times, I’d found it romantic and addictive for the most part. The Phoenix Empress, however…well, I think the best thing I can say about it is that it’s prettily written.

First of all, much of its first half is devoted to telling the readers what will happen later on in the story–a lot of coy promises that fall along the lines of “this and such exciting things happened to these two characters during the eight years…but we’re not there yet, so you’ll just have to wait for the details!” It took much of the anticipation out of the story and I found myself penduluming between frustration and boredom.

The other problem I had was with the structure. Whereas book 1 was a straightforward epistolary with brief interludes in between, this one goes back and forth between the present, with Shefali and Shizuka reunited, and the past, which recounts Shizuka joining a temple and becoming the general of an army. This all sounds fine on paper, but then you quickly realize that the structure doesn’t allow for any kind of meaningful and continuous character development.

Eight years is a very long gap in a relationship and it’s a long time for friction to build up–friction that doesn’t really get explored in this book. Just when I thought something interesting was building between the two women–something more than “You’re the love of my life”–the narrative jumped back into the past, and when it moved into the present again, all the previous tension dissipated. They love each other, which is great, but the relationship doesn’t move beyond that. I can shrug and overlook that in a 200-page romance novel, but in a 500+ epic fantasy–one in a four-part series, no less–I want something more complex and substantial.

Also, about a third of the way through, I finally figured out what’s been nagging at me about the tone of the writing: it feels culturally arrogant. The empire uses 32 honorifics; the brushstrokes of your calligraphy must be crisp and the scent of the paper perfect; the colour of the cord that you use to tie the scrolls must vary from recipient to recipient. It’s all so overly grandiose. I don’t want to say “fetishize”, but it is a level of glorification that goes into weirdly zealous depths. It’s like reading about a college exchange student who spent three months in East Asia, came back, and anointed themselves an expert on the cultures. And it’s not unlike the feeling I get when I’m being lectured to by a guy on a subject I’m already familiar with. Or listening to someone who feels the need to explain, in painstaking (and sometimes false) detail, the ins-and-outs of Korean culture just because they’re a fan of K-pop and K-dramas.

Moreover, the rest of the story felt very shallow. The side characters are present but underdeveloped;  Shefali and Shizuka get touted as gods but the story doesn’t really go into the details of how or why; and the ending I can only describe as underwhelming. Small spoiler (but not really because the book spoils it for you at the beginning): the latter part of the book sees Shizuka dethroning her uncle and ascending as Empress, but it occurs with such ridiculous ease and any political ramifications and–most infuriatingly–any lasting effects of Hokkaro’s imperialism are brushed over. And setting a story in an imperialist nation (based on a real-life imperialist nation) without addressing the deplorable nature of imperialism itself feels like a highly irresponsible decision.

Really, I’m beginning to realize that this series is very much Shefali and Shizuka Versus the World. At the core of the tale is their all-consuming love and every other story element–side characters, magic system, worldbuilding, cultural representation–gets sacrificed at the altar of it. Which makes for a validating F/F story, but not much of anything else.

flourish

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

Review: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy – Brilliantly Feminist and a Shipload of Fun

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

Title: The Lady’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: October 2nd, 2018
Genre(s): YA Historical, Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Feminism, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 464 (hardback)

Rating: 9.0/10

Add to goodreads

 

 

I’m probably one of the few people who thought Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue was just a fun, cute story. Good but not great–one that I felt lacked substance in a few places. I came into Lady’s Guide expecting more of the same.

Well colour me surprised, because I didn’t quite expect this. I didn’t expect to be up at 3 AM eyes glued to my tablet screen, grinning and furiously highlighting passages. Because Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy blows the first book out of the water and then some.

Felicity was undoubtedly my favourite character of Book 1 (sorry, Monty). She stole many scenes with her practical, no-nonsense attitude. But here? Here Lee makes sure that she burns wild and piercing like the star that she is. And this is clearly Mackenzi Lee in her element–exploring feminist values within a historical setting through the eyes of a stubborn, brilliant, beautiful young woman who refuses to take “No” for an answer.

Since the events of Book 1, Felicity has been sequestered in Edinburgh where she’s been working at a bakery and petitioning various medical schools to allow her entry (it hasn’t been very successful). When she hears that the renowned surgeon Alexander Platt, her idol, will soon be marrying her childhood friend, Felicity teams up with a mysterious sailor girl named Sim to travel to Stuttgart and meet the good doctor.

Felicity’s narrative voice is a glorious thing. It’s full of dry wit, intelligence, passion, and a whole lot of vulnerability that we didn’t really get a chance to see in Gentleman’s Guide. Even in scenes where there’s not a whole lot going on, Felicity kept me engaged; I didn’t even care about the lack of piracy in the first half because Felicity oozes enough charisma to make up for a whole fleet of pirates. She swings from being relatably, adorably awkward to fire-in-the-eyes confident and sharp-tongued and I don’t know which I loved more.

And my god, her passion. You know when you’re watching someone talk about something they truly, truly love and you swear you can see them light up from the inside out? Like the force of their love is creating thousands of billions of little nuclear fusion reactions all at once in their body?

That’s what it’s like when Felicity talks about medicine. Her passion burns molten hot and you can’t help but be pulled into it. And as Felicity shines, the prose shines with her. I mean, the writing wasn’t shabby in Book 1, but Lee takes it up a few notches with this one:

“I want to know all of it. I want to look at my own hands and know everything about the way they move beneath the skin, the fine strings that tie them to the rest of me and all the other intricate components that fuse together to make a complete person. The mysteries of how a system as delicate and precise as the human body not only exists, but exists in infinite variables. I want to know how things go wrong. How we break each other and the best way to put ourselves back together…I want to know everything about my own self, and never to have to rely on someone else to tell me the way I work.”

The other thing I absolutely loved is the estranged relationship between Felicity and her old friend, Johanna, which I found both wonderful and heartbreaking–wonderful, because their dynamic is so charming and fun and witty and you imagine them riding off into the sunset together; and heartbreaking because there are so many unaddressed hurts standing between them and neither seem to know quite how to navigate through that. Monty and Percy I found cute and sweet. But these two? These two I would die for. They are a beautiful, complimentary pair, with Johanna softening out Felicity’s blunt edges. Add Sim, our mysterious Muslim pirate girl, and we have a group that will satisfy all you readers who are dying to see more female friendships in books (though I did find myself wanting a bit more exploration into Sim’s character).

The book also addresses the way that women look down on other women–the “not like the other girls” mindset–because regardless of how fantastic she is, Felicity isn’t without faults; her intelligence and practicality doesn’t change the fact that she’s still a teenage girl who’s trying to figure things out. And while she likes to believe she’s an advocate of female independence, she’s still, in some ways, parroting the rules that men set for women. Because “Frilly dresses are ridiculous and you won’t be taken seriously in it” isn’t a enlightened statement nor a feminist one. It’s playing right into the belief that there’s something inherently wrong with femininity and objects associated with femininity. And part of her character development is coming to understand that there are so many ways a girl can be a girl. And that being a girl has nothing to do with rebelling against male expectations or conforming to them, but about carving out a place in the world that you’re happy with–whether that involves frilly dresses or science textbooks or both. Seeing her go through that journey is such a rewarding experience.

Everyone has heard stories of women like us–cautionary tales, morality plays, warnings of what will befall you if you are a girl too wild for the world, a girl who asks too many questions or wants too much. If you set off into the world alone.

Everyone has heard stories of women like us, and we intend to make more of them.

The pacing is much improved from Book 1 which had the plot halting and starting in fits. It’s smoother sailing this time around, with tension and mystery building in the middle and more action in the second half.

The only big complaint I have is the fantasy aspect which, like the first book, kind of drops out of nowhere. I’d have much preferred it if the story were a straightforward historical adventure, or if the fantasy elements were woven more evenly. And the fact that none of the characters bat their eyes at the existence of these fantastical things just makes them feel all the more removed from the rest of the worldbuilding.

So to all you librarians, teachers, and parents: this is a book you should be shoving into the hands of every teenage girl in your life. Or everyone, really. Because this is a book for every one of us who have been told, for one reason or another, that we can’t.

You’re Asian, you don’t have the height, you can’t last in competitive tennis.

You’re fat, you don’t have the right body, you can’t dance on stage.

You’re a woman, you’re too emotional, you can’t lead a country.

Well, Felicity Montague says otherwise.

They tell you your dreams are too big, too lofty? Then lift it higher, she says.

All those sneers and laughter thrown at your back make you want to curl up, scream, cry?

Then scream. Cry. And then get back up. And show them how you’re made of steel.

You are not a fool, you are a fighter, and you deserve to be here. You deserve to take up space in this world.

The ending of Lady’s Guide isn’t the end of a journey, but a beginning. And I hope the journey Lee has planned for these characters is a long, winding one that’ll last for years to come.

flourish

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

Interview with Gregory Ashe (Author of Hollow Folk) + GIVEAWAY!

Gregory Ashe’s Hollow Folk series has not only stormed its way into my Best of 2018 list, it’s currently lounging on the extra-cushy VIP sofa reserved for the top three and getting fed grapes. There are also nymphs and satyrs giving it full-body massages. It’s having time of its life, really, and I’m pretty sure it’s not budging anytime soon. You can read my review here but, honestly, no words can do these books justice. So please, please go check them out. They’re only $3 (USD) each on kindle!

In the meantime, I’m so excited to be presenting my interview with Mr. Gregory Ashe himself! There’s also a giveaway for an ebook of MR. BIG EMPTY (HOLLOW FOLK 1) at the end!

flourish

Gregory-Ashe_Author.jpg

1. Thank you so much for agreeing to the interview, Greg! To start off, can you tell us a little about yourself and the books you’ve written? 

Thank you for having me. This is a huge honor, and I really appreciate that you’ve invited me to be here. Like most writers, I’ve been writing on and off for most of my life, but I didn’t start working on it seriously until about ten years ago. Since then, I’ve been pretty dedicated to improving my craft and writing the best stories I know how. By day, I teach high school, and the rest of my time goes to reading and writing! It’s a pretty great life.

I’ve written across a variety of genres, but more and more I find myself drawn to writing stories with strong gay protagonists–I’ll say more about that below.

 

2. How did the idea for the Hollow Folk series come about? What made you want to write about a gay psychic teenager solving crimes in a small town? 

The Hollow Folk series actually came about from a very real tragedy. After a bad divorce, a friend moved her family to a very small town in Wyoming. Soon after that, one of her sons tried to die by suicide. Although there were a lot of underlying issues (and that friend is nothing like Vie’s mom!), one of the causes for her son’s attempt was the move. That got me thinking about a boy stuck in Wyoming. And the more I started thinking about that boy, the more he started to take shape!

I mentioned above the focus on gay protagonists in my recent writing; a lot of that has to do with the fact that, growing up gay, I had very few strong gay role models. That has changed to some degree, but it’s something that I want to explore. I love mysteries (most of what I write is structurally a mystery, even if it has other genre elements). And I love sci-fi, fantasy, and paranormal fiction. The more I thought about Vie, the more those elements coalesced.

 

3. Vie is a character with a lot of demons. And I can only the imagine the emotional toll that comes with being in his head. I hope I’m not prying, but can you share with us the mental process of writing a character who forces you to draw on so many personal experiences?

I’m lucky that I can say I share relatively little with Vie. Although I’ve struggled with depression and suicidal ideation, I have had a very happy life (and a relatively sheltered one). I tried to work backward from the authenticity of my feelings so that the story would be as ‘true’ as possible; for me, another underrepresented group is people struggling with mental health, and so I wanted Vie to be someone who is flawed but who is honestly trying his best. The reality, though, is that writing this character was hard precisely because of how powerful those emotions are. That’s one reason I had to take a break from the series. The final book, which should be out by the end of this year, will see Vie struggling to find healthy ways of coping with mental health issues (and, since he’s Vie, you can probably imagine that he’s going to be hard-headed about the whole thing).

 

4. One of the things I love about Hollow Folk is how complex and messy all the teenage characters are. With your experience as a high school teacher, is that something you specifically wanted to explore?  

What a great question! I feel very self-conscious writing about high school as a teacher because I don’t want that to dominate my work (or, for that matter, my life). But the reality is that I see so many interesting kids every day, and their stories are funny and sad and powerful. I’m careful not to take anything directly from what I see, but it definitely provides a lot of fodder. High school is a fun age to write about because everything is, as you said, complex and messy! Teenagers still don’t know who they are, no matter how much they tell you otherwise. And that’s a good thing–that’s one of the things that should give everyone (including Vie and his friends) a lot of hope!

Another reason that I chose to set Hollow Folk in a high school age group was the rising suicide rates among LGBT youths, especially in Utah. YA literature has a growing amount of LGBT characters, but very few of those characters are heroes in genre fiction. Much more frequently they are in literary or ‘realistic’ fiction (whatever that means). So I saw this as another opportunity to explore!

 

5. From what I’ve seen, your books genre-hop quite a bit. The Hollow Folk books have elements of paranormal, romance, and mystery (all of which you nail!) and you’ve also written historical, thriller, and fantasy. What makes you experiment with all these different genres?

Thank you so much for saying that! A lot of my experimentation, as you call it, was exactly that: experimenting. I was trying to figure out what I could do well, what I wanted to do well, and what I needed a lot more work at! For me, an important part of improving as a writer has been to challenge myself with different genres, different narrative structures, different points of view, etc. Over time, I started to realize that genre was a less helpful way for me to think about my writing than about the emotional experience that I wanted to create for myself and for the reader. That’s why my writing has begun to converge around mystery, romance, and the paranormal. I really find myself drawn to the emotions that those elements raise, and I feel like those are the stories I want to tell right now.

 

6. Over the course of the series Vie and his friends get mixed up in all sorts of criminal activities–drug and sex trafficking to name a few. What was the research process for that like?

Oh dear. Well, to be honest, when I got to the sex trafficking, I paid for a VPN subscription. I was (still am) worried about a government agency seeing a pattern in my research and assuming I’m a serial killer / Unabomber / drug trafficker / etc. The research also took me down a lot of rabbit holes! I found that I finally had to draw a line in the sand and make myself start writing rather than keep researching. When possible, I’ve also tried to use people as sources–a few friends have been willing to provide insight into their areas of expertise, and some of that includes law enforcement!

 

7. What are some of the benefits and challenges you’ve encountered with self-publishing?

Great question. Benefits? The freedom to publish stories that I want to tell; access to niche audiences that traditional publishing has underserved; and higher royalty rates. Challenges? Sigh. A lot. Learning to do everything. Not doing it well. Trying again. Doing it slightly better. Lots of time invested that way! I have sold a few rights to my work when I wasn’t sure how to move forward (my first audiobooks came about this way), but more and more I think self-publishing is the way to go (although I’m always researching and trying to stay up with the industry).

 

8. Can you share with us any soon-to-be published stories or WIPs you have on the horizon?

criminal Pasts.jpg
Yay! So exciting! In November, book six of the Hazard and Somerset Mysteries is coming out. I hesitate to call Criminal Past the last book in that series; it’s definitely the last book in this arc, but I’m so invested in those characters that I have a feeling I’ll be back to tell more stories about them.

Then, in December (fingers crossed!!!!), the final Hollow Folk book will come out. I don’t have a title for it yet, but tentatively I’m calling it The Mortal Sleep (could change; might change; no guarantees!). After that, I’m starting a new mystery series, but I’m keeping that one under wraps for now!

For people who enjoy the Hollow Folk series (or any of my books), I give away a free short story through my mailing list with every new release. So there will be another H & S short story in November, and a Hollow Folk short story in December!

 

9. What are some books–of any genre–you can recommend? 

So, so many. This is hard! I’ll limit myself to three:

recs.png

Stephen King, The Shining (I know, it’s old; I know, it’s horror; those are automatic turn-offs to some people, but it’s just so dang good. If you’ve already read it, pick up It)

Jordan L. Hawk, Widdershins (great m/m Lovecraftian horror + mystery!)

Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways (nonfiction; one of the best prose writers alive, in my opinion, plus he always chooses fascinating topics)

 

10. And lastly, if you could form an adventuring party with any three people–fictional or real–who would you pick?

I love this question. I would want to be the wizard, so I’m going to leave out Gandalf and Raistlin and all the Weis and Hickman / Sanderson magic-users I love! For a rogue, I would want Han Solo. For the cleric/priest, I would want either Reverend Lovejoy or Father Brown (I know, that’s a cheat; I guess I’ll pick Father Brown!). And for our fighter, I would want Jack Reacher.

Thank you so much for inviting me to do this interview. I had a ton of fun, and it challenged me to think about my work from some new angles! I really appreciate this opportunity!

flourish

(This is the second interview I’ve done and it’s the second time I’ve asked that adventuring party question and I’ll probably continue asking it in future interviews :D)

Giveaway for Mr. Big Empty – Enter Here!

 

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

Summer Bird

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

Rating: 8.0/10

 

 

 

 

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

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

flourish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Brilliant

a1

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

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

 

The Great

a2.png

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

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

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

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

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

 

THE (Kind of) GOOD

a3.png

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

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

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

 

THE OKAY

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

The Bad and DNF

a4.png

Temper by Nicky Drayden 🚀⚔️: DNF 40%

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

Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio 🚀: DNF 20%

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

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

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

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

 

Posts-Made-title

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY

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

REVIEWS

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

TAGS

The Weather in Books Tag

flourish

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

Review: Past Imperfect – I Never Asked For This

Past Imperfect

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

Rating: 3.5/10

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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