October 2018 Wrap-Up – Book Things & Art as a Double-Edged Sword

It’s the middle of the month…and you know what that means! 😀

So, I was going to include mini reviews for some of the games I played in the past month because Nicole @ Thoughts Stained With Ink was like, “Heck yeah! You should totally do that!” But the post was getting kinda long and there’s this one game that I absolutely need to GUSH about, so I’m shuffling those to separate posts.

And that means I’ve finally decided to do semi-regular posts about video games (with a heavy focus on indies because while I love AAA titles, it’s the indies that make my heart sing). Will anyone read them? Who knows!

As for books, October was an okay month. I read 9 in total, most of which I enjoyed:

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

The Brilliant

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The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth ⚔️🗝️:
If I were a cat, this book would have killed me nine times over. Thank you for breaking me in the best way, Laura.  [Review]

A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland ⚔️🌈:
This was such a clever and entertaining story about, well, stories and their power to change the fabric of the world. And its protagonist is an elderly man in his 70’s which you don’t see everyday in fantasy. [Review]

 

The Great

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Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink 👁️🌈:
I really liked it. I think it works perfectly as a companion to the podcast. But I don’t know if it’s something that can hold up on its own? I’ll talk more about it in the actual review.

Sadie by Courtney Summers 🔍🌺:
Yet another review I have to finish writing! “Enjoyable” is probably the wrong word to describe the story, but it is a compelling one and I can’t say enough good things about the audiobook. Massive kudos to all the voice actors.

Mort by Terry Pratchett ⚔️:
Read this as part of our Discworld Readathon! I’ve heard people talk about it like it’s the second coming of Christ, and to my surprise, it was actually really good. [Review]

 

The Good/Okay

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The Better to Kiss You With by Michelle Osgood 👻🌈:
Gerry (Book Nook UK) remarked about the prevalence of male werewolves in stories, and this is one of the few books I’ve read with a female werewolf love interest! Overall, a fun, sexy F/F story about werewolves, MMORPGs, and harassment culture. Plus, the author’s a local!

Time’s Children by D.B. Jackson ⚔️🚀: A mashup of time travel and epic fantasy! I guess “pleasant” would be the best wor? Nothing amazing but I did enjoy it for the most part. [Review]

 

The Bad

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The Phoenix Empress (Their Bright Ascendancy 2) by K. Arsenault Rivera ⚔️🌈:
Yeah, this was not a good one. The cultural issues aside, I found the pacing to be glacial, the character development lacking, and worldbuilding more or less nonexistent. [Review]

Mage Against the Machine by Shaun Barger ⚔️🚀🌈: I noped out of this one halfway through and my tablet is so, so grateful. [Review]

 

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So in this second half of the wrap-up I’m going to ramble about art and my decision to return to it after so long.

And it begins with a little story, so gather around!

Once upon a time there was a little girl who had a bit of an eclectic family. In terms of profession, anyway. On one half there was a seafood restaurant owner, a spicy chicken restaurant owner, movie producer, teacher, pastor, dentist, investment banker….and the other half were just artists and writers.

So the girl grew up with a brilliantly artistic mother and a brilliantly artistic grandfather, and some years later she met a brilliantly artistic young girl who would become one of her best friends. And it was really, really hard for the girl not to feel dull and dim in comparison. Like a ragged baby bird that may grow up to be large and healthy and magnificent, but most likely won’t.

The girl loved photography, writing, and drawing, and it was this last one that she felt the most insecure about. Insecurity turned to shame and shame turned to cold dejection and she decided one day that she would quit–because she wasn’t any good, so what was the point? (And when the girl looks back on it years later, she’ll recognize that it was partly an act of self harm–this denying herself of something she so loved)

But then 8 years later, thanks to a book, the girl’s returned to the world of drawing (because books are amazing and can literally change lives), and she’s been loving it–absolutely loving it. But on the heels of that love came doubt and heartache.

(And here I switch back to first person because talking about myself in third person is getting on my nerves)

So it’s been four months since my “return” and I’ve been spiraling into that oh-so familiar mindset of “I’m fucking terrible at this,” with my brain constantly yapping in the background, “Hey, remember how you quit all those years ago? Yeah, this is why.”

It’s hard to look at a finished work and not see a road map of all my flaws. Not just flaws of the drawing–though they’re obviously the first ones I see–but all of my flaws. Like, as a person. Because that’s how my brain operates.

And it is exhausting.

Turns out comeback stories are more fun to read/watch/play than to actually experience.

But one thing’s for sure: I’m not quitting again. Because once was enough for me to realize that it’s a shitty, shitty place to be in–no wi-fi, no heating, 1/5 on Yelp.

It was like locking yourself out of your house, throwing the key down a drain, and then just standing there, peering through the window (and there’s a part of you that knows this is your home, it’s always been your home, it could have always been your home, and just what the hell have you done?) And this terrible, aching longing settles inside you, and the more you peer, the more it floods you until you’re no longer a person but just a vessel of regrets and self-inflicted hurt.

I run through my life via two extremes–exaggerated indecisiveness or blind impulsiveness–and I never really know which one I’ll pick in a given situation. With this, though, my brain chose the latter. So deciding to return to art after nearly 10 years of avoidance was like punching through the window (because that key’s lounging at the bottom of the Pacific by now), climbing in and declaring, “Okay, you and me? We have unfinished business.” And the sheer relief I feel in that moment? Indescribable.

But then I realize my hand is all bloody and crusted with glass and I end up hopping around muttering expletives which really just ruins the bravado of it all. (That’s generally how my life goes. I want to think of myself as a protagonist in a Chris Nolan epic, but in reality I’m probably more like the sidekick in an Adam Sandler film–awkward, sad, and the antithesis of good comedy).

I could rant for days and days about how unfair it is that your passion can be this nourishing, too-bright thing that fills up your entire world until it’s not.

Until your fears and insecurities take the reins and turns it into an ugly, shameful blot that you can’t bear looking at so you shove it into the deepest corner of your mind-closet, buried under every rejection and hurt you’ve been collecting since childhood.

Except, as it turns out, not looking at it is equally painful, just in a different flavour.

So that’s where I’m at right now. Fighting myself (which isn’t anything new), a lot of late-night crying (also nothing new) and saying “I’m not letting you take this away from me again,” and my brain–always eager to get in the last word–whispering with smugness and false concern, “I’m only trying to help you.”

On good days I can laugh and give it the finger because, hell, the floodgates are open and I can finally create everything that’s been crowding my brain for years and I’m having fun. On bad days–and those often eclipse the good–I sit down and listen like it’s a sermon worth giving a damn about.

And I just wish it were easy to find a healthy, balanced relationship with our creative endeavours. To be able to hold forgiveness in one hand and critique in the other and navigate the tightrope that life demands that we walk, and achieve a state of…well, not satisfaction–because no creator is ever completely satisfied with their work–but a comfortable awareness.

And this is all just a really dramatic explanation for why my reading/blogging pace has dropped, why I’ve not been blog-hopping as much, why it’s taking me forever to respond to your comments, etc, etc. Because I’m dedicating these last three months to aggressive, aggressive drawing–to try to meet my pains head-on instead of shying away as I’ve done in the past.

Because it’s you or me, brain.

And I plan on winning.

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On that note, I hope all your Octobers went super well! Happy reading!

Review: The Light Between Worlds – Stunning, Stunning, Stunning…

The Light Between Worlds

Title: The Light Between Worlds
Author: Laura E. Weymouth
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: October 23rd, 2018
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Subjects and Themes: Mental Health, Sisterhood
Page Count: 368 (hardback)

Rating: 9.5/10

Add to goodreads

 

 

 

Six years ago, sisters Evelyn and Philippa Hapwell were swept away to a strange and beautiful kingdom called the Woodlands, where they lived for years. But ever since they returned to their lives in post-WWII England, they have struggled to adjust.

Ev desperately wants to return to the Woodlands, and Philippa just wants to move on. When Ev goes missing, Philippa must confront the depth of her sister’s despair and the painful truths they’ve been running from. As the weeks unfold, Philippa wonders if Ev truly did find a way home, or if the weight of their worlds pulled her under.

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Right. Where do I even start with this?

How about here: there’s only one other book (or series, rather) I’ve read this year that’s made me cry as much as this one, and even now, days later, it’s got me aching and drenched with its characters and their pains.

I wondered if should take a month to sort out my feelings and write something that can be at least 10% of what this story is worth. Then I realized I could take the entire year and still have no “perfect” review to show at the end of it.

Because this is one of those stories that feels too large to fit inside me. One of those stories that crawls through my skin to rip open old wounds and heal them anew, leaving me raw and open. And how do you deconstruct such a thing?

Well, I know I can’t do it justice. But I’ll try anyway.

The Light Between Worlds is a portal fantasy unlike any I’ve ever read. A re-imagining of Narnia and the continuation of it. The continuation of all portal fantasies, as it explores what happens to these children, who are no longer children, when they get dropped back into a world they’ve been absent from for so long. It’s a bit like the Wayward Children series and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in that respect

But Light Between Worlds takes things deeper. Darker. It approaches portal fantasy with a brutal lens that refuses to sugarcoat the reality of war, depression, PTSD, and the kind, wise mythical creatures who would take oaths of service from the mouths of children. But most of all, it’s about the love between sisters and finding a place–a world–that you can rightly call “home.”

One of the most brilliant things about this book is that it show how portal fantasies are, in many ways, tragedies. And it does that by being very light-handed with the fantasy. We only see limited bits of the Woodlands from Evelyn’s flashbacks, and I don’t think additional details are necessary (though it would have been welcome) seeing as how it’s a world we’ve all seen before–if not in Chronicles of Narnia, then in some other fantasy tale. The real focus of the story is in present-day England, where we see all the ways that the Woodlands haunts these characters.

It’s been five years since the siblings came back from the other world and Evelyn hungers deeply for it. Every part of her bleeds Woodlands and she walks through each day like a ghost, keening for a home that’s lost to her.

You don’t need to be a character in a portal fantasy to relate to Evelyn’s struggles. If you’ve ever longed for a time you wished you could return to; if you’ve ever longed to be somewhere else–or if not somewhere else, then to at least find some kind of footing in the present because most days it feels like you’re drifting above it; if you’ve seen your loved ones break themselves to keep you here, keep you whole; if it ever felt like you’re watching your life through the mirror of a mirror, all distorted and foreign–and the suffocating loneliness that comes with it, and the sense of unbelonging, and the feeling that one day you’re just going to float up and up away into nothing–and all that is enough to make you want to stop being…you will see yourself in Evelyn.

I saw far, far too much of myself and when I wasn’t tearing up or outrightly sobbing, I was turning pages with my heart lodged in my throat. And still I couldn’t stop reading. Because while Weymouth doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of mental illness, her portrayal is so honest and in its honesty there’s validation.

And the prose, at once simple and beautifully melancholic, compliments the subject matter so well and helps blunt the harshness. There’s a thrum of sorrow that runs through the writing, but above it you can also find wonder and love–so much love–and the combination is breathtaking.

And then we have Phillippa who’s waging a different war of her own but finds herself just as lost as Evelyn. While I saw most of myself in Evelyn, it was the elder Hapwell sister who captured my heart.

Phillippa is the pillar of the family. The one who tries to remain steadfast and strong even when she’s crumbling inside. The one who has to hold Evelyn back from her darkness time and time again. And unlike Evelyn she’s determined to carve a new life in this world and forget the magic of the woods and its great Guardian stag. Determined to wear a confident smile because she refuses to become what Evelyn’s become, she cannot. I don’t want to make a lot of Narnia comparisons, but with Phillippa the book does right by Susan Pevensie, taking Lewis’ “lipsticks, nylons and invitations” line and turning it from a condemnation into a shield and a weapon. It’s brilliantly done.

The love shared between Evelyn and Phillippa is undeniable. But love can exist with razor-sharp edges; it can hurt as much as it nourishes. And sometimes love isn’t enough to keep you from breaking when things get hard, and things can get so, so damn hard. The sacrifices these two make for each another despite the hurt and the hardship is the very definition of courage and what makes this story such a masterful one.

All in all, The Light Between Worlds is a stunningly beautiful character-focused story about finding light amidst the grey. And I know, down to my bones, that it’s one I’ll treasure for a long, long time.

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

Note: the author has a paragraph of trigger warnings for the book on her website–including self-harm and suicide ideation–which I didn’t take seriously. Turns out I should have. And you should too. They’re there for a reason. I had to binge-watch The Haunting of Hill House to recover from it, because being too scared to go to the bathroom is better than being too sad to get out of bed. Take care. ❤

2-For-1 YA: The Deepest Roots & When Elephants Fly – Short Reviews Are My Bane

Confession: I have a problem with writing reviews that are less than 300 words, especially when it comes to ARCs. I feel like I’m not doing the story justice and I get anxious and guilty–the whole package–which is a little ridiculous because I like reading other people‘s less-than-300-word reviews. But sometimes there are only so many words I can say about a book–usually those run-of-the-mill 2/3 star books. Because I can do passionate love and passionate rage, but I have no idea how to go about doing passionate “meh.”

So as a compromise for my poor brain, I’ve decided to stuff two short reviews into one post.

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Title: The Deepest Roots
Author: Miranda Asebedo
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre: YA Contemporary, Fantasy
Release Date: September 25th, 2018
Page Count: 320 (hardback)
Rating: 5/10

Cottonwood Hollow, Kansas, is a strange place. For the past century, every girl has been born with a special talent, like the ability to Fix any object, Heal any wound, or Find what is missing.

To best friends Rome, Lux, and Mercy, their abilities often feel more like a curse. Rome may be able to Fix anything she touches, but that won’t help her mom pay rent. Lux’s ability to attract any man with a smile has always meant danger. And although Mercy can make Enough of whatever is needed, even that won’t help when her friendship with Rome and Lux is tested.

Booklist called The Deepest Roots “a must-read for fans of friendship based books like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”, which had my ears perked right up. I’m desperate for more female friendships in books and, to my surprise, the comparison to Traveling Pants isn’t too much of an exaggeration. The dynamic between the Rome, Lux, and Mercy is charming and touching, and though they don’t have same allure as the Traveling Pants group, I’ll take what I can get.

My biggest problem is that the story tries to be too many things all at once–contemporary, fantasy, paranormal, and mystery. We brief touch on the girls’ powers at the beginning of the story, but they’re not elaborated much further, which is frustrating and disappointing. There’s a ghost that occasionally comes and goes, but we get no explanation as to how a ghost can exist in this world. There’s also a treasure hunt subplot that kind of fizzled out by the end.

The contemporary element is the strongest of the bunch, with exploration of heavy subjects like poverty, abuse (though they weren’t as in-depth as I’d have liked), and lighter ones like romance and friendship.

Readers wanting YA contemporaries that emphasize female friendships might enjoy this one, but I personally found myself craving more magic and depth and a less disorienting plotline.

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

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When Elephants fly

Title: When Elephants Fly
Author: Nancy Richardson Fischer
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Genre: YA Contemporary
Subjects & Themes: Schizophrenia, Animal Abuse
Release Date: September 4th, 2018
Page Count: 400 (hardback)
Rating: 6/10

T. Lily Decker is a high school senior with a twelve-year plan: avoid stress, drugs, alcohol and boyfriends, and take regular psych quizzes administered by her best friend, Sawyer, to make sure she’s not developing schizophrenia.

Genetics are not on Lily’s side. When she was seven, her mother, who had paranoid schizophrenia, tried to kill her. And a secret has revealed that Lily’s odds are even worse than she thought. Still, there’s a chance to avoid triggering the mental health condition, if Lily can live a careful life from ages eighteen to thirty, when schizophrenia most commonly manifests.

But when a newspaper internship results in Lily witnessing a mother elephant try to kill her three-week-old calf, Swifty, Lily can’t abandon the story or the calf. With Swifty in danger of dying from grief, Lily must choose whether to risk everything, including her sanity and a first love, on a desperate road trip to save the calf’s life, perhaps finding her own version of freedom along the way.

When Elephants Fly is a book for those who love, love elephants and can grit through scenes of animal cruelty. Unfortunately for me, while I do adore those floppy-eared pachyderms, I have a hard time with the latter, which is partly why I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought I would.

The exploration of schizophrenia is done very well. It’s a topic that I rarely ever see portrayed in a respectful manner in fiction, let alone YA. At its heart the story is about taking chances in life and pushing through the fear of not knowing what’s ahead; the message is an inspirational one and I’m glad it’s out there in the YA sphere. It also debates the morals of keeping animals in zoos versus keeping them in a circus, which wasn’t something I was expecting but, again, is appreciated.

My biggest problem is that I couldn’t really connect with the characters–even the main one. There’s also a baffling romance subplot that just drops out of nowhere.

I also found the adult characters all so strangely irresponsible. Keeping a teenager locked up with an elephant overnight? Check. Sending said teenager off to Florida in the middle of the school year? Check. Slapping said teenager? Check. A 28-year old man seemingly flirting with said teenager? Check. Their actions felt caricature-y and overblown at times, which jarred with the realism of schizophrenia and animal abuse.

This is undoubtedly an important story–one that I’m sure many people will love and connect with–but I just never found myself truly invested in it.

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

Review: The Hollow Folk – Why You NEED To Read This Brilliant Series

Hollow-Folk

Series: Hollow Folk
Author: Gregory Ashe
Publisher: Self-published
Genre(s): Paranormal, Mystery
Themes: Mental Health, LGBTQIAP+
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 10/10

Before we begin, I’d just like to point out that this is a long review. So to prevent the post from being a giant wall of text, I’ve peppered it with pretty pictures. And not random pictures–ones actually relevant to the story and the characters!

So I’m BEGGING you to stick through it to the end, if not for my sappy writing, then for the aesthetics, because these books deserve it.

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The Hollow Folk books are about a queer psychic teenager investigating serial murders and criminal activities in a small rural town. There’s drugs, corruption, grisly corpses, and–

No no no, wait. That’s not right. I mean, all of that’s true, but it sounds…I don’t know, too flippant.

Let me try again:

The Hollow Folk books are about about a queer psychic teenager named Vie Elliot. Vie has been taken away from his abusive mother and sent to Wyoming to live with his father. His father who is marginally better than his mother–which is kind of like saying that tickling a grizzly bear is slightly less dangerous than pulling its tail. He’s juggling a lot of demons–like anger issues and mental health struggles–and his powers only add to his misery because whenever he touches or makes eye-contact with someone for the first time, he gets funneled into their worst memory. But he finds himself having to to rely on his ability to solve a series of murders in his new town.

Eh…Kind of. But still missing something.

C’mon brain, third time’s the charm:

The Hollow Folk books are about the monsters that we fight–both within and without. About going toe-to-toe with your darkness and emerging shaking and triumphant. About the pain and hardship that seep into our bones and shape us in ways that we can’t predict. A story about how power comes in all different forms and vulnerability is sometimes the greatest–hardest–form of courage. A story about finding love and acceptance even when you can’t find the will to love and accept yourself.

Yeah. That’s more like it.

Last month I wrote a post on the five topics I’d like to see explored more in fantasy, and mental health was one of them. These books show exactly how it should be done. The Hollow Folk series weaves paranormal, mystery, and romance alongside issues of self-harm, depression, and suicide to create a story that is as exciting and thrilling as it is heartwrenching and so, so important.

Let’s get to the plot first, shall we?

The series opens up with the disappearance of a high school girl and the realization that Vie isn’t the only “gifted” person in this town. Each sequel follows a new mystery that links back to the previous book and each are fresh and different and wholly engaging. This small town isn’t as innocent as it appears, and seeing our characters peel back layer by layer, all its strange, sordid, extraordinary secrets is such a treat to experience. And with each book, the paranormal stuff ramps up to exciting heights. Among other things we get telekinetics, pyros, ghosts, a Native American woman with the ability to create psychic pocket dimensions (at least, I think that’s what they are), and in Book 3, we get an all-out X-Men style battle with a bunch of superpowered people going to town on each other. It’s exhilarating, badass as hell, and the series is worth reading just to experience that scene.

Now for the characters.

Gregory Ashe writes his characters with an astounding degree of patience and poise. And Vie is without a doubt the most complex character I’ve encountered this year. I was this close to making a diagram to explain what makes him so phenomenal, but I figured that would make this already-too-long review into a 20-page essay.

Here’s the short version: every part of his character–from his past actions, his current actions, his physical appearance and so forth–says one thing about him, but it also says the opposite. Take his appearance: Vie’s built himself up to this big, tough, strong physique. Everything about it says, “Nothing can touch me. I’m invincible. I’m fearless.” But he’s not invincible. And he has fears. A lot of them. He’s given himself this tough outer shell because he is afraid–because of all the abused that’s been heaped on him over the years. And that’s what people do. We try to make ourselves into something more than what our brains tell us we are–weak, ugly, small, whatever–and the author portrays this so goddamn beautifully.

Ashe adds layers to Vie, and then layers to the layers. It’s just so absolutely masterful and my heart aches at the complexity of it.

Vie Collage

I think suicide and self-harm are minefield subjects to tackle in fiction. They’re very easy to romanticize and books sometimes have them just for the sake of adding an extra dollop of angst and conflict. But these books nail them. Like, really nail them. There are small details that knocked my breath flat with how real they are and I was a teary mess by the end of many chapters. These scenes aren’t easy to read through (understatement of the year); they’re heartbreaking and painful and they dredge up a lot of emotions that I’ve tried to bury in some dusty corner of my mind.

But I still couldn’t take my eyes away.

And a lot of that has to do with Vie’s narrative voice, which is sometimes funny, other times sad, and all-around gorgeous and stunningly raw. Reading it is like seeing the rest of the world drop away until there’s just you and him and this journey that you’re taking together, because make no mistake, you are experiencing the story with him– through every danger, every heartbreak, every faltered step, you will be right there feeling everything alongside Vie. It is utterly impossible to not love this character.

It was music like rain falling on lake water, like storms that had closed in and made sunshine a thing that was always just a little farther to the west. It was shaking free all the razored thoughts I kept packed away.

But guess what? There’s more to this story’s brilliance. Because Vie isn’t the only character with layers.

We also get Emmett, the rich kid with the razor-sharp attitude. The kid who has everything that Vie never had–money, designer clothes, food, a future, and a mostly-intact family. The kid who cloaks himself in arrogance to hide the fact that he’s actually a kid who’s drowning in self-hatred but cannot fathom saying the words, “Save me.”

There was a relentless drive in Emmett towards self-harm, and it masqueraded as self-protection. That a was nightmare combination.

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There’s Austin. Your typical jock with the blonde All-American Boy vibes. Your typical jock who’s really not a typical jock at all but just a boy whose anger and discontent masks a kind, insecure heart.

He was the boy next door, and seeing him made me think of those dumb horses River and Jimpson, and the way he held the steering wheel, and how he stood sometimes with his back straight, so cocky but not realizing it, and I thought of sunset and how the Wyoming sky became vertical instead of horizontal, a sheet of gold that ran straight up to the stars, and all of that was Austin.

Austin collage

There’s Becca, the computer whiz who just wants to help her friends. There’s Sara, who brims with so much love and compassion and becomes a maternal figure that Vie sorely needs. And on and on.

None of these characters are perfect. They hurt one another–sometimes by accident, other times on purpose. All of them carry scars that they try to etch onto others because bearing them alone is sometimes too impossible. Seeing them weave in and out of each other’s lives throughout the course of these three books is one of the most breathtaking things I’ve experienced this year.

I think what I love most of all, though, is how Ashe plays the long game with his characters. Personal problems don’t get neatly resolved in Book 1, or Book 2, or even Book 3. Or if they do get resolved, another quickly takes its place. Nothing is easy for these guys and these books portray, so exquisitely, the sheer messiness of relationships, being a teenager, and living in a world that seems hell bent on breaking you down.

Don’t think it’s all doom, gloom, and sadness, though; there’s also a lot of hope. The greatest message that the Hollow Folk books give you is that bruised, cracked, and battered doesn’t mean ruined, unsalvagable, unwanted. For every person who beats you down, there’s another to haul you up. Because while humans can be terrible, they can also be so incredibly beautiful, and human connections can be as potent as any superpower. So even though scars may not fully fade, you’re still here–alive, maybe a bit worse for wear, but still moving. And you’re gonna be okay.

And if you can kick some villain asses in the process? Well, that’s just the cherry on top.

Vie Elliot and his friends remind me why I read and write. There’s no feeling in the world like having a character stare into your heart and say, “I see you. I am you. Those wounds and fractures you have? They map my entire body. The darkness that presses into your every pore? We’re close acquaintances. So yeah, I’m with you. All the way.”

And you know what else? The books currently cost $2.90 (USD) each on Kindle.

That’s insane. That’s less than the cost of a morning coffee. That makes me want to buy 10 more copies just to even things out because surely some cosmic scale has become unbalanced. It makes me want to grab every passerby on the street and shake them while blubbering “You–book–3 bucks–” and get clapped in handcuffs for public harassment because these books are worth a night in a cell.

So what I’m saying is, go buy these damn books. Right now.

And if you find that they’re somehow less than amazing, then you’re to free direct all your angry complaints to me.

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.

 

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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?

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.

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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

Review: The Dark Beneath the Ice – Paranormal Black Swan (Sort of)

The Dark Beneath the Ice

Title: The Dark Beneath the Ice
Author: Amelinda Bèrubè
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date: August 7th, 2018
Genre(s) and Subject(s):
YA Paranormal, Mental Health, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 336 (hardcover)
Goodreads

Rating: 7.0/10

 

 

 

Marianne’s life is turning upside down. It all started when she decided to quit dancing, and now it’s come to a boil, with her parents divorced and her mother voluntarily hospitalized. To make matters worse, strange things are happening around her. She’s doing things that she doesn’t remember doing and having recurrent nightmares of herself drowning. Now she needs to figure out what it is that’s haunting her and put an end to it before it gets her first.

This was a bit of a mixed bag for me. The story has been called a paranormal Black Swan and I do kind of understand the comparison–both main characters are dancers who start doubting their sanity. But whereas the movie has a frenetic obsessive feel, The Dark Beneath the Ice has a more lonely, laid-back quality to it. It’s a story about Marianne’s insecurities, and other mental health issues, more so than dancing and the pursuit of perfection.

The author does a great job portraying all the little demons that crowd our minds–the voices that tell us we’re not talented enough, interesting enough, good enough. You get scenes that range from awkward and secondhand embarrassment-inducing (Is there an award for the most realistically awkward phone conversations? Because this book has them in spades) to wonderfully poignant ones that tug at your heartstrings. And there are some that really hit close to home–like the “Oh god, does this person really want to be my friend or are they just taking pity on me? It has to be the latter, no one likes me” train of thought that Marianne often falls prey to. Her struggles may not be as overtly dark as Nina’s in The Black Swan, but they’re common ones that many people face and Bèrubè shows them in such a heartfelt way.

“Sometimes I think I’m just not a very good person. You know? Sometimes it’s like any minute someone’s going to read my mind and find out how awful I am inside. Do you ever worry about that?”

All the time, I didn’t say. I’ve never stopped.

We also get a slow-burn romantic subplot between the MC and a girl named Rhiannon (“Ron”), which I thought was very sweet. It’s your “Goth girl with a I’m-tough-shit-but-pry-me-open-and-you’ll-find-a-soft-center attitude gets together with a shy, introverted girl” trope, and I ate it up like a sundae.

My biggest problem with the story was, surprisingly, the paranormal aspect. I went in expecting chills and scares and didn’t find much of either. And I think a large part of that was due to the sheer number of the “ghost” scenes. The first 1/4 of the book is saturated with these hazy hallucinatory sequences that I found myself getting bored of after a while. There were moments here and there where I thought, “Okay that’s nicely creepy” but, for the most part, I just couldn’t get invested in the ghostly happenings.

To sum up: I loved seeing the story weave together mental health elements with the speculative elements; plot-wise, I was left feeling somewhat disappointed.

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

Review: The Wicker King – Stifling and Mesmerizing

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Title:
The Wicker King
Author: Kayla Ancrum
Publisher: Imprint
Release Date: October 31st, 2017
Genre(s): Young Adult, Psychological Thriller
Page Count: 320 (hardback)
Goodreads

Rating: 9.0/10

 

This book is dedicated to all the kids whose arms are filled with too much for them to hold, but who are trying their best not to drop a single thing.

The Wicker King is a story about the dangers of codependency. But it’s also about the neglect and casual abuse that children face at the the hands of adults, which lead to such dangers in the first place. Most people would write this kind of story as a contemporary in normal prose.

Not Kayla Ancrum.

Ancrum tells this story through the eyes of two teenage boys. Jack, who believes he can see into a fantasy world that overlaps our own, in which he is the king of. And August, Jack’s best friend, who is also his one true knight. According to Jack, the two of them are tasked with a dangerous quest. And if they can fulfill this prophecy, the Wicker King and his Champion, then maybe–just maybe– this other world would disappear and Jack would be free. On top of all this, the story is told in microfiction and multimedia form; very short “chapters” are interspersed with various notes, documents, photos, and even recipes. Even the pages themselves add to the story–as Jack’s fantasy world becomes progressively more dominant, the pages become more and more stained, eventually turning into a solid black. The result is an astoundingly unique and psychologically immersive experience.

August and Jack’s relationship is as suffocating as it is heartbreaking. August wants to care for Jack like he (August) has never been. And Jack wants the love and devotion that was always missing from his own life. Both of their families have largely abandoned them and so they try to find the missing pieces in one another. It’s difficult stuff to read through but it helps explain so much of their unhealthy behaviour.

August and Jack start off acting like normal teenagers. Then, as Jack’s other world becomes clearer and more prevalent, their relationship begins to oscillate. From teenagers to medieval king and knight. And then back to teenagers again. It’s strange. It’s jarring. And a little frightening. But most of all, it’s compelling. Like a burning house whose destructive beauty you can’t take your eyes off of.

And the writing is just stunning. It’s as erratic as the boys’ relationship, alternating between casual teenager speech to formal, stylized dialogue that so often took my breath away.

“Do they still sing songs of my victory?” August choked.

“They do. And they’ll crescendo like beacons to the farthest reaches. With every new breath of life that forms in a world without darkness that came at the price of your hands and your mind.”

But the last 50 pages are what truly makes this book–filled with poetry and heartrending exploration of mental illness and the fine divide between love and obsession. And Ancrum gets the distinction of writing the only Author’s Note that has ever made me tear up.

The Wicker King is a book that defies genres. One that blurs the line between realism and fantasy to explore the story of two children who have taken on so much of life’s  burdens. And for those who worry that this is another one of those books where queer characters don’t get a happy ending, I assure you that isn’t the case here. While August and Jack’s journey isn’t an easy one by any means, Ancrum breathes life to the phrase, “It is always darkest just before dawn.”

 

Diversity Spotlight Thursday: Portal Fantasy

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

This week’s topic is: Portal Fantasy

Confession: portal fantasy isn’t one of my favourite subgenres. Eighty-percent of the time, I find myself disappointed by it. With many of them, I find the worldbuilding cliched and nowhere near as interesting as high fantasy. But I keep them reading them anyway. It’s probably a leftover desire from childhood to be whisked away from the mundane into somewhere new and magical. So reading these stories is like furiously scratching at an itch that just won’t go away.

These three books, however, put a bit of a spin on portal fantasy. They subvert tropes commonly associated with the subgenre and tackle important personal and social issues that you don’t find in typical Narnia-variants.

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In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

With In Other Lands, Brennan takes your stereotypical portal fantasy story, sticks it into a blender alongside themes of feminism, gender roles, sexuality, child soldiers, war, and growing up (just to name a few). The end product is a smart, hilarious, and unexpectedly heartwarming tale about a boy who finds himself in land of beautiful elves and mermaids. Elliot is one of the most entertaining narrators I’ve ever come across–irreverent, anti-social, and sarcastic. Moreover, he’s bisexual and the book actually says the word “bisexual” to describe him, which made me punch the air. It’s a small detail but it’s also a massive one. It’s angering and frustrating to see so much of media just gloss over the word–and all that it entails–like it doesn’t exist. So things like this are not-insignificant victories.

On both sides of the wall were stranger and weirder sights, terrible until you loved them. Our lands were always otherlands, to someone else.

Goodreads | Amazon (US) | Book Depository

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Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children 3) by Seanan McGuire

McGuire’s Wayward Children series not only takes a darker approach to portal fantasy, it’s chock full of diversity of all kinds. Since we have to wait until 2019 for the fourth book, I can safely take my time getting to this one.

Goodreads |Amazon (US) | Book Depository

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The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

Six years ago, sisters Evelyn and Philippa Hapwell were swept away to a strange and beautiful kingdom called the Woodlands, where they lived for years. But ever since they returned to their lives in post-WWII England, they have struggled to adjust.

Ev desperately wants to return to the Woodlands, and Philippa just wants to move on. When Ev goes missing, Philippa must confront the depth of her sister’s despair and the painful truths they’ve been running from. As the weeks unfold, Philippa wonders if Ev truly did find a way home, or if the weight of their worlds pulled her under.

This book isn’t exactly releasing soon, but it’s one of my top five anticipated releases of this fall so I’m going to grab every chance I get to talk about it. Diversity in media is most commonly thought of as LGBTQIAP+, cultural, and gender representation. But I believe mental health issues also belong under the umbrella, and The Light Between Worlds evidently has spades of them. According to the author’s website, the book explores depression, self-harm, PTSD, eating disorders, alongside grief and themes of war. It’s sounds haunting and mixing WW2 and fantasy is just asking me to smash the preorder button.

Releases October 23rd
Goodreads | Amazon (US) | Book Depository

May To-Read Pile & Mini Break (Health Update)

Boy, this week has not been a fun one. At all. To be vague, something has happened (or, rather, not happened), and while it very much could mean nothing, my brain has been working in overdrive to churn out the worst possible scenarios. And the looming possibility that I unwittingly did something terribly wrong has been knifing away at my heart and siphoning off energy like nothing else. So I’ve been oscillating between getting too little sleep and too much sleep–and feeling exhausted regardless of which–with panic attacks in between. And it’s gotten to the point where I just don’t have the willpower or focus to write anything substantial for the blog (which is why I ended up skipping Top 5 Wednesday and Diversity Spotlight Thursday).

Anxiety is a fucking bitch, guys.

So I’m going to step away for a week so to try to figure things out. A part of me thinks that taking any kind of break or hiatus is going to make my content obsolete and my audience vanish–which I know is a common fear for most content creators–but, really, I don’t see much choice. I do apologize for the comments that I haven’t gotten to yet and for not being very active on some of your blogs this week.

On a cheerier note, I did get a May TBR list ready before this week, so we can still go through those today! I also have a half-completed Most-Anticipated list in the draft, so I might just end up posting that sometime early next week.

May-To-read

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang:
I’ll be starting a buddy read of this tomorrow with Alice from Arisutocrat and I’m pretty excited. The story apparently descends into brutal, bloody stuff in the second half, so I’m not sure if it’s a right thing to dive into in my current state, but we’ll see. I’ll kick myself later if I have too.

Armistice (The Amberlough Dossier 2) by Lara Elena Donnelly:
Last year, Donnelly’s debut Amberlough took my heart in its beautiful art deco hands and crushed it to smithereens. The first book was unapologetically, gloriously queer and explored the creeping emergence of fascism–making it very, very topical–and I expect the good things to continue in the sequel.

 

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Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
Native American urban fantasy is not something you see everyday and I’ve been looking forward to digging my fingers into this debut for a while now.

The Rig by Roger Levy
When I first read the blurb for this book months ago, I knew I had to get my hands on it. I mean, just listen to this:

On a desert planet, two boys meet, sparking a friendship that will change human society forever.
On the windswept world of Bleak, a string of murders lead a writer to a story with unbelievable ramifications.
One man survives the vicious attacks, but is left with a morbid fascination with death; the perfect candidate for the perilous job of working on a rig.

Welcome to the System. Here the concept of a god has been abandoned, and a new faith pervades: AfterLife, a social media platform that allows subscribers a chance at resurrection, based on the votes of other users.

So many Lives, forever interlinked, and one structure at the centre of it all: the rig.

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A Lite Too Bright by Samuel Miller
I didn’t know this book even existed until several days ago when I saw it among the deals of the week on Chapters Indigo, but I couldn’t not preorder it. It’s a road-trip story in which a teenage boy embarks on a quest to uncover truths about his grandfather who had been a very famous writer. In other words, it’s right up my alley. I fell in love with the premise and the cover and hopefully the content will be as equally wonderful.

Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
This books has a similar premise to The Hate U Give and from what I’ve heard, it’s just as much of a gutpuncher. Give me all the books, contemporary or otherwise, that tackle matters of societal injustice and brim with righteous anger.

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I’ll definitely be checking out other books this month, but these are the definite ones.

I hope the rest of your week is much, much better than mine. See you all on the flip side.