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

So um. A thing happened several months ago.

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

 

☀️ Number one! ☀️

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

 

☀️ Number two! ☀️

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

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

 

☀️ Number three! ☀️

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

 

☀️ Number four! ☀️

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

…….Eh? Cover??

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

Ahem. Yes! Hi! Hello!

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

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

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

 


 

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

Rating: 10/10*

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

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

 

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

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

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

And yet. And yet.

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

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


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

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

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

 

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


Find me (and my art) @aildreda on:

Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr

 

The Hanged Man (Tarot Sequence 2) Promotion Extravaganza

Happy Samhain, New Atlanteans!!

The hotly anticipated sequel to K.D. Edwards’ The Last Sun is arriving on December 17th, and KD, Sia, and I want to make the next two months a fun, exciting, and involved affair for everyone.

We have some seriously cool events planned–for current fans of the series and readers who aren’t familiar with it but would like to be–and today we’ll be giving you an overview of what’s to come (we’ll get into the heavier details of specific events on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday).

But first, if you want to know how #HangedManPromo got started…

 

ORIGIN STORY

I had the chance to read The Hanged Man in September, and predictably I was obsessed with it. And when I get really obsessed about something, like a-dog-trembling-with-a-bone-in-its-mouth obsessed, I try to funnel that energy into activities. Which often means writing, gaming, drawing, dancing, making a playlist and going for a hike…Or, as in this case, creating an extensive project. Because otherwise the excitement settles into a cloying, negative thing–a kind of congealed anxiety with no outlet–which doesn’t rate super high on my Fun Scale. And as anyone who’s read The Tarot Sequence knows, it’s got a +100 to “Obsession Inducer”, which equals to a lot of anxiety.

So that’s the selfish reason.

The not-quite-as-selfish reason is that my grandmother had passed away from cancer in July, and I’d spent most of the summer months thinking about–well, life, to sound cliche. About pushing past doubt and just doing things because you may not have another chance.

And after finishing THM, there was this sense of “I’m feeling everything and I need more people to read this so they can feel it with me.” And, “I can do that, so what’s stopping me?” That would normally mean writing a review and making fanart (which I still plan to do!) But I also wanted to do something bigger, more wide reaching, something that could be accessible to newcomers of the series. The publication date for THM got delayed again, and no one was very happy, and I wanted the months leading up to its release to be as festive as I could make it.

And…here we are.

I asked two of my favourite people in the world to join me, Sia and KD–well, we obviously can’t do it without the damn author–who I’m convinced are actual superheroes and/or angels (I mean, they’re not even hiding it very well *rolls eyes*). Together we polished this into something AWESOME. And do you know the best/scary part? We’re not done brainstorming.

This event is a love letter to a series that celebrates the families we make for ourselves.

It’s a love letter to four people–two fictional, two very real–who have become bright stars in my orbit.

And it’s a love letter to you–the fans, both present and future.

We’re going to have so much fun with this.

 


So here’s what’s definitively on the schedule. MARK. YOUR. CALENDARS.

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Nov 2nd – January 1st:
Creative Tarot Sequence Project

What it says on the tin. I wanted to do a contest to celebrate creativity and specifically, Tarot Sequence creativity. We’ll be talking more about it on November 2nd, and revealing the VERY cool prizes involved.

 

Nov 3rd – Dec 17: Giveaway (INTL)

Giveaway of what, you ask? Well, you’ll just have to see on November 3rd!

 

Nov 16 – Dec 16th: Last Sun Readalong

Perfect for those who haven’t read The Last Sun yet, and for those who want to refresh their memories and get reacquainted with the characters before Book 2 drops. We’ll be doing weekly discussions and K.D. will answer any questions you have regarding the text. More info to come tomorrow! (#LastSunReadalong)

 

Nov 6th – January 1st: Street Team (#ScionsOfAtlantis)

This is our biggest event, and also my favourite (just barely passing Creative Tarot Project), as it allows for roleplay–for us and for you. Do you like roleplay? Quests? Competitions? Letters that may or may not hide clues to special secret content? Then come pledge your allegiance.

As a Scion-with-amnesia, you’ll align with one of four courts (Sun, Justice, Tower, Death) and complete quests and collect points along with your teammates in preparation for the Hanged Man’s arrival. Glory will be heaped on the winning court, along with some very cool rewards.

By joining you also get a chance to participate in The Convocation of the Traveling Last Sun. The idea is that we send a physical copy of The Last Sun to North American and European members, and you get to scribble, doodle, and highlight the book to your heart’s content. Leave messages to your team members! Point out a favourite passage! Then you take pictures and post them on social media, and pass the book to the next person.

(You can read more about the Sun and Justice courts HERE, and Tower and Death courts HERE) Also, we would LOVE it if a couple of more people joined Sun and Justice!

 

☀️ SIGN UP HERE ☀️

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DATES TBA:

We also have a challenging quiz for The Last Sun planned (plus a raffle), blog posts, including a discussion about the series’ worldbuilding, and MORE.

If you have an idea that you think would be a good fit for the campaign, or if you want to pitch in some prizes (we would love you forever), contact us on Twitter or email us at hangedmanpromo@gmail.com.

 

Join The Hanged Man Street Team (#ScionsOfAtlantis) | A Tarot Sequence Promo Event

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☀️ SIGN UP HERE ☀️

 

Welcome to New Atlantis. An island once known as Nantucket, now a happily stitched-up landscape of skyscrapers and historical buildings stolen borrowed from all over the globe. A place where modern capitalism walks hand-in-hand with old world sensibilities. It’s also home to a kitchen sink of magical beings (if you imagine a kitchen sink the size of five football fields), including the most powerful and deadly entities on the planet: the Arcana.

Now, let’s zoom in on this map.

We come to an unremarkable little district at the heart of the city, and within that, an apartment nestled between a bookstore and a coffee shop. It’s a cute place, really. The perfect marriage of self-assured bohemia and “I have anxiety and decimal figures in my bank account.” Dilapidation with a wary, crooked charm.

Zoom in a bit more, a couple of floors up, to a painfully generic bedroom–and that, my friend, is where our story begins. That’s where you woke up this morning not knowing who you are.

No, not in an existential sense (though that will probably come later), but rather in the sense that you can’t recall one damn thing about yourself. Your name. Your age. Your past. Your lot in life. Nothing. If blankness had a shape, it’d look exactly like you.

So you did what any amnesiac in a fake RPG intro would do: hit the streets and start asking invasive questions to strangers.

Now here you are, going through the “Please Tell Me Your Life Story So I Can Figure Out Mine” routine–and it doesn’t take long for you to realize that something is very, very off. I mean, other than your memory situation.

New Atlantis is not unlike most big cities in the world, so there’s no shortage of billboards and posters and graffiti plastered across your view every dozen steps. That in itself isn’t strange. What is strange, however, is how those billboards and posters and graffiti are all saying the exact same thing:

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Yeah. Not creepy at all.

The words also come with a little symbol at the corner: sometimes it’s a SUN, other times a SCALE, a TOWER, or a SKULL.

And the strangest bit? It seems that you’re the only one who can see them. You confirm this when you grab a flyer and thrust it at a person nearby, asking, “Are you seeing this?” To which they reply, “Uh. Fifty percent off on large pizza?” before sidestepping away.

So you do a little digging–you’re getting to be quite good at that–and you begin to find out some things. You find out that the Arcana are the de facto rulers of New Atlantis. You find out that “Scions” are the children of such Arcana, all with varying degrees of entitlement and magical powers. You find out that those four symbols represent four of the major Arcana Thrones: Sun, Justice, Tower, and Death. You find out that what you’re seeing is essentially a recruitment call.

And this is what you find out about the Thrones:

 


(The following are overviews of Sun and Justice. To read about Tower and Death, hop on over to SIA’S BLOG! Tarot Meanings written by Sia; Court Details written by K.D.)

The Sun Throne

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Image source: biddytarot.com

Modern Family Name: Saint John
Notable Members: Rune, Brand

Tarot Meaning:

In a tarot deck, the Sun card represents strength and fierce, bright joy. It is a sign that things are about to change for the better, and a reminder that you contain immense light and power within you. In fact, it often appears in a reading as a message that it is time for you to share your light with others—to step up to the plate and let the whole world see you blaze bright.

 

Court Details:

The former Lord Sun rose to power in the golden era of Atlantis, well before Atlantean society was revealed to the human world. His was a court of artists and musicians, scientists and philosophers. The Sun Throne has always been invested in research and discovery, in the exciting evolution of culture and civilization. To a certain extent, though, this was a facade. The Tower speaks of Lord Sun as an ally–which has always indicated to Rune that his father had a much deeper connection to the running of New Atlantis.

 

The Crusader Throne (Justice)

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Modern Family Name: Saint Nicholas
Notable Members: Addam, Quinn

Tarot Meaning:

If you are currently seeking justice, the Justice card appearing in a reading means it will be served. But it can also mean that you must face justice—for your wrongdoings against others, or against yourself. Justice is fair and unbiased, and if you have worked for the greater good, the judgement will reflect that. If you haven’t, however, you will have to own up to your actions and face the consequences. Justice seeks out the truth, and that isn’t always an easy path—or one with simple and obvious answers. Bear that in mind if you are to walk Justice’s road.

 

Court Details:

Four major Arcana—sometimes called the Moral Certainties or Moral Virtues—have always formed a power bloc in Atlantean society, including Justice, Strength, Temperance and the Hermit. Justice is the traditional patron of judges; the others are patrons of religious leaders and the guarda. They are the Arcana who broker peace talks and ceasefires, and are heavily represented in the elected Convocation. Their carefully-constructed neutrality and piety translate well into the larger Corporate world; they are also among the most globally wealthy courts.

 


As you learn more and more, there’s a steady feeling rising in your bones-a primal radar we’re all born with–screaming that yes, this is what you are. Scion.

You can, of course, ignore it. That is absolutely a choice you can make. Life isn’t a reel of heroic action scenes, no matter what the stories say, and we’re not obligated to charge headfirst into every firefight that comes our way.

However.

There’s a rumbling along the fault lines of New Atlantean society, and it tells you of a storm brewing on the horizon. You don’t know when it’ll arrive, or how big it’ll be, but you know it will test everything you have.

And the glory? The glory will be monumental.

 

Sun. Justice. Tower. Death. They’re ready for you, Scion.

Are you?

 

flourish

Hello, hello, everyone!

Thank you so much for indulging that intro. I’ve been in a major RPG mood lately (well, more so than usual) and you can blame Disco Elysium for the inspiration (an incredible game, go play it). And you can thank Sia and K.D. for writing those wonderful Tarot and Court descriptions!

So. Street team.

The street team is part of The Hanged Man Promo Event that Sia, K.D, and I will be running from November to December. We’ll be officially announcing the whole affair on October 31st. I’ll explain then what inspired me to create the event and what I’d hoped to get out of it, and give you an overview of what you can expect in the next two months.

Now, the goal of any street team is to promote something through virtual and/or physical means. As a member, you’ll help spread the word about K.D. Edwards’ The Hanged Man, and the Tarot Sequence series in general, through reviews, word-of-mouth, social media posts, distribution of physical swag to friends and acquaintances, and whatever else you can think of.

It’ll be a small but firm commitment on your part, and there are going to be awesome rewards for your efforts, including:

  • special access to deleted scenes & behind-the-scenes content from the series
  • stickers of your Court emblem
  • a special letter of welcome from your Court’s head
  • AND MORE

You’ll “align” with one of four courts–Sun, Justice, Tower, and Death–and we’re hoping to make this into a fun competitive affair, where each team can earn points by completing tasks (which we’ll send and explain via email), with the winning team getting something special.

And I KNOW you all want to join the Sun Court and become a Saint John–I totally get that–but for the competition system to work, the team distribution has to be fairly equal (or at the very least, not overly skewed). So please consider Justice, Tower, and Death as well! They’re all exciting Courts, and each come with interesting, lovable characters.

Sign-up form will be open until November 5th, and the street team campaign will officially close in January 2020.

I’m so ridiculously excited for this, and for everything that’s to come later this week, and I hope you can join us!

 

☀️ SIGN UP HERE ☀️

 

Best Reads of 2018 (“Let’s Time Travel Back 6 Months, Shall We?” Edition) – Awards Feat. Art, Balloons, and Some Very Special Guests

[Note: This is a LONG intro, so feel free to scroll down to the actual list portion! But if you’ve snuck a peek and are wondering why there are photos of janky art underneath the gorgeous book covers, then read on]

Yup, I see you squinting at the title! And I’m here to tell you that you read it right.

So you might be thinking, “But Kathy, we’re over halfway through 2019. People are posting lists of their favourite 2019 books already! There’s late and there’s fashionably late and then there’s THIS. Why didn’t you post it back in January like all the normal people did? What the heck have you been doing?

Well, I’d love to give a really cool answer to that. Like, “I’m a secret agent for a society that seeks out artifacts that cause temporal rifts and I spent 6 months in Peru doing reconnaissance.”

Or “I was kayaking out in the ocean and a freak storm blew me off course, but I was rescued by pod of killer whales who then whisked me away to their cavern lair. I spent the last 6 months trying to convince them that I am not, in fact, their great whale goddess reincarnated into human form.”

But my actual, not-so-cool answer? Anxiety.

So for those who don’t know or remember, I started getting into art–specifically watercolour–11ish months ago (you can read about my art angst here). And in January, while I was compiling my Best of 2018 list, I got this brilliant idea: I should paint the characters from the books posing with the awards, but instead of giving them fancy trophies, I can pretend that I only had a $20 budget, so I had to raid the dollar store for cheap badges, balloons, and flowers instead. That’ll be fun, right?!

 

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Mm. Yeah.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about watercolour, it’s that it’s a lot like what I imagine babysitting monkeys would be. The idea is super attractive–they’re spontaneous and independent and kind of unpredictable, which is what makes them so charming and fun. This will be EASY.

And then a week later the monkeys have completely taken over your house. There’s one swinging from the ceiling lights, another one’s chucking produce out of the refrigerator, and you’ve locked yourself in the car, as they swarm around you, wondering how your life took such a turn.

 

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Which is to say…it’s not easy.

And it didn’t take me long to convince myself that this award idea was the worst ever. I was getting tired of drawing balloons, I wasn’t happy with some of the paintings but I also didn’t want to redo them, and the thought of showing these to authors whose works I admire made me want to stick a chopstick in my eye. So I ended up burying the post deep in my draft folder.

And today I’m digging it out of the ashes.

Because here’s the second thing I learned about watercolour: it demands that you be brave. It pushes you to try things without not really knowing what will happen, and knowing it could very well mess up the entire piece. It forces you to look at your mistakes and just shrug.

So this is me shrugging.

And I’m going to start by taking you all on a little trip!

Where, you ask?

Through space and time, my friends. WE’RE TRAVELING BACK TO JANUARY.

Pick your poison!

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Hop in! Strap up! Brace against the railings or walls or whatever safety mechanisms are inside the TARDIS (I’ve watched a grand total of 3/4 episode of Doctor Who in my life. I have no idea what the inside of a TARDIS looks like). And if you chose the time turner, tuck your elbows in and take ten deep breaths.

Okay. You ready?

Here we go!!!!!!!

*Runs around waving my arms and making swooshing noises for 15 minutes*

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[15 minutes later]

Oh hey there! I’m so glad you could join me on this glorious January day to go through my Best Reads of 2018 list.

So here, in no particular order, are my favourite books of 2018 and paintings of characters from said books posing with the balloons and flowers I’ve “awarded” them (you can click on the titles to see the full reviews).

(Two of the books are missing art, which I feel super bad about, but I’d messed up those pieces badly the first time and I just didn’t have the energy to redo them.)

 

Fire Dance by Ilana C. Myer

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Fire Dance, the continuation to Last Song Before Night, is proof of what I already know: 1) Ilana Myer writes like her soul is on fire, and 2) I can’t talk about this series without reverting to vague pieces of imagery and too many comparisons to Damien Rice.

And those are my favourite kinds of stories–the ones that make me feel like I’m doing a disservice by breaking them down to plot, characters, and worldbuilding (but FYI, Fire Dance nails all three to perfection).

I think what I love most about this book is that it’s not afraid to be sad and that’s not something I often find in epic fantasy. And I’m not talking about the unbearable, soul-crushing kind.

It’s like when you’re watching March of the Penguins and you see the penguins huddled together to stave off the cold and some of them inevitability freeze to death and it’s terrible and sad to watch, but you also know that’s just the way of nature. And there’s raw beauty in that. There’s beauty in the resilience of these animals and characters, and there’s sadness in the penguins’ deaths, as there’s sadness in the way these characters long for things that lie just beyond their reach, because that’s what people do.

It’s the kind of sad that, after all the tears are shed, makes the world seem a notch brighter.

Ilana writes some of the most complex and real characters in modern fantasy, and Fire Dance weaves together music, magic, and the foibles of humans into a symphony that leaves the edges of my heart tattered. I sometimes do a double take when I remember she’s only published two books because it feels like I’ve been reading her stories forever.

 

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This is a six-coloured cloak and I swear the six colours are all in there somewhere!

 

The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

The Light Between Worlds

I’ve never read a book that so perfectly describes the feeling of drifting. Of feeling so removed from your life that you’re floating above it and the weight of nothing becomes heavy enough to suffocate. And that contradiction–of being free but still so trapped–threatens to break you.

While that might seem like a strange praise–“This takes me back to some of the worst moments of my life and that’s why I love it”–this is one of those books that made me feel seen, and I will forever be grateful for that.

The Light Between Worlds is portal fantasy stripped bare–a story about sisterhood and strength and belonging. And it’s a ray of light for all of us who are lost and trying to find a way home.

 

Light3

…I should definitely redo this one at some point using better paper because this was a nightmare to work with.

 

Mr. Big Empty (Hollow Folk Series) by Gregory Ashe

Hollow-Folk

Yes, I’m cheating and lumping the series into one. Think X-Men: Queer Rural Town edition with addictive plotting, stunning–absolutely stunning–mental health rep and character work that makes you shake your head and go, “This can’t be real. I’m having a fever dream. No one writes this well.” I swear, Gregory Ashe takes character writing to a level I rarely see. It might be on par with, dare I say–

Brain: “Oh, no. Nonononononono. I know what you’re going to say and you can’t just say that.”

“I’m gonna say it.”

“No, Kathy–”

“Robin Hobb.”

Collective gasps sound from my mini-me’s manning control center. One drops a stack of papers. One shuffles to a corner and starts crying softly. Another swoons with a plaintive “Catch me!” (No one does).

…So you know I wouldn’t say that lightly.

There are books that are hard-hitting and emotionally resonant.

And then there are books that opens veins.

Guess where this falls into?

 

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This piece is a LOT darker than the other ones because I didn’t actually paint it with this post in mind; it was just meant to be fanart. But it features a flower (an orchid), so I thought why not include it. Definitely doesn’t look like he’s here to collect an award, though. 😅

 

The Last Sun by K.D. Edwards

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“Kathy, is this list just going to be a sad tear-fest?”

Okay. Fine. You want a happy book? Here’s a fucking happy book.

The Last Sun is exquisite. If I put on my Very Serious and Professional Content Creator voice, I can say that it’s got textbook-perfect pacing that never relents but doesn’t sacrifice worldbuilding or character work in the process. Its world is at once familiar and new, merging modern day societies with mythos from various cultures, all wrapped up in a dynamic tarot-based system of governance and magic. The story drags you up through adrenaline-pumping action and brings you down to quiet, vulnerable moments. It explores the fluidity of human connections and the idea that love between two or more people doesn’t start and end at “Wanna bang?”

My Professional? Who Am I Kidding voice:

ARRRRRRGHHHHHAAHHHHHHHHHGOREADIT

I think I’ve done almost all I can to promote this book, so really there’s only one thing left for me to do….

Ahem. Pyr, here’s my proposition to you. I am willing to do video promotions for this series in the form of interpretive dance and poetry. My credentials? Four months of ballroom lessons I took with a friend when I was 17 because he was convinced there would be waltzing at the prom and wanted to be ready (spoiler: as we weren’t in the 19th century or Hogwarts, there was no waltzing) and on-and-off years of spoken poetry.

Please. Call me.

In all seriousness, though, this is one of those stories that quietly creeps into your heart and decide they’re going to stay indefinitely. And you wake up one morning to find them pattering in the kitchen, setting out coffee (and just how the hell did they know exactly how you take it?) and then sitting across from you and chattering away like you’re old friends until you do become old friends.

And if you say, “You know, I haven’t had the best relationship with urban fantasies in the past. I just don’t think we’re compatible,” this book gives you a molten smile, reaches out a hand and says, “Let me show you something.”

And you nod and smile back like an idiot because it’s had you seduced from the first word.

 

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(Rune on the left, Brand on the right. Rune is supposed to have black hair but he somehow ended up with weird bleached highlights)

 

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

The Book of M

As someone who studies memories it’s so incredibly gratifying to come across a book that highlights their beauty in a way that’s as off-the-walls fantastical as this.

Peng Shepherd draws on the horror of memory loss and juxtaposes it with the beauty of human connections, and the result is unlike anything I’ve read before. “Genre-bending” doesn’t even begin to cover what this book does.

The Book of M has raised the bar for post-apocalypse stories and now I expect them all to include magical shadows and shifting realities.

 

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Smoke City by Keith Rosson

Smoke City

I’m a girl of simple tastes. You say, “A story about the reincarnation of Joan of Arc’s executioner who goes on a road trip to seek redemption from a possibly reincarnated Joan of Arc,” and I say, “Well, I was born to read this.”

Smoke City was the first ARC I ever read and reviewed which might suggest a wee bit of bias, but really, this is one of those “very me” books that I’m unerringly drawn to. Reincarnated historical figures (and Joan of Arc, at that, who I happen to adore)? Check. Road trips? Buckle up. Fantasy bleeding into reality? Affirmative.

Keith Rosson takes a premise that has no business of working and creates a beautiful, imaginative, soulful piece of narrative that ruminates on pasts and mistakes and the forgiveness that we deserve but can never offer to ourselves.

 

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

the poppy war

So this is an interesting one because I can’t exactly say I had a good time reading it and there were issues I had with some parts.

But here’s the thing: I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And eventually I called up a friend (who’s Japanese-Chinese and hasn’t even read the book but is blessed with a brain that actively craves–and I mean really cravesspoilers) and bullied her into a three-hour discussion on our countries’ histories and the slippery slope between loyalty and nationalism, and whether the pursuit of justice is worth it if in the process you lose all sense of who you are.

For me, that’s the mark of a book that deserves a spot on this list. It may not have been the most perfect book I read in 2018, but it was one of the most unforgettable.

 

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A Lite Too Bright by Samuel Miller

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So, by the end of November I was pretty confident in my best of 2018 choices. I didn’t think it likely that I’d come across another incredible book within the next month.

And then this book came along.

And one day I found it leaning on my doorway with its 70’s sweater and smiling eyes and the words of angels falling from its lips and, to take a page from Angelica Schuyler, I forgot my dang name.

A Lite Too Bright is the one non-speculative sheep of the group which should make it easy to describe but I actually find it harder because it’s, well…it’s a little bit of everything. Legacy, mental illness, 60’s/70’s protest culture, the relationship we have with our grandparents, life and the winding route it takes, and love and its ability to burrow so deep inside us that it’s what remains when everything else fades.

And poetry. Heartstopping poetry.

Miller writes with the insight of someone far older than his years and so, in turn, does Arthur Louis Pullman, the fictional author who’s at the focus of this story. Pullman is one of those people who seem to possess an inherent understanding of the world, but with that understanding comes neither cynicism or apathy but a desire to feel more keenly. His writing brims with aching amounts of passion and love–of life and the people that inhabit it–and it kills me that he’s not an actual person.

There’s a universe nestled in just a handful of his words. And I would need a universe’s worth of words to explain what this book makes me feel.

 

Jade City by Fonda Lee

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I can talk about how incredibly rich the world of Jade City is. I can talk about its vibrant characters and a plot that seamlessly mixes politics with action. But my most favourite thing about it is that it nails the Asian family dynamic to the core. And it made me miss my own extended family badly–my roudy tight-knit family of eight cousins, four aunts and uncles, and grandparents who, despite their years, still try to look after us all.

Now, the Kaul family had to take a raincheck on this ceremony–they kind of have their hands full, what with a war and all–but they were gracious enough to send an underling to receive the awards on their behalf (Translation: I couldn’t remember what the Kauls looked like and I was too lazy to draw multiple people)

And he looks truly ecstatic to be here. I mean, look at him!

 

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(Be a Finger, they said. Prestige and honour, they said.)

The shades are there to save you from getting blinded by the sheer joy that’s emanating from his eyes.

And the flowers on his head are gladioli–derived from gladius, which is a sword–and they represent strength and integrity. I thought that was pretty fitting for the Kauls.

 

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Whew! Applause to you and me both for surviving that!

Same time next year? 😀

(Also, Happy Canada Day to all my fellow Canadians!)

Fantasy Books & Games for Mental Health Awareness Month (Why I Need More Mental Health Rep in Adult Fantasy)

 

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May is Wyrd & Wonder and mental health awareness month, so it only makes sense to celebrate the 31st by smooshing them together into one post.

I meant to write this on Wednesday for Top 5 Wednesday, but I’ve been zonked out on allergy meds all week (one day the pharmaceuticals will develop a formula that doesn’t hit me like a freight train) and going to sleep at 6 and waking up at 3 AM.

So apologies in advance if I sound scattered and tired (however tired sounds like in a blog post).

But before we get started, I want to address something.

Hey, mainstream adult fantasy–epic fantasy, if we’re being particular–can we sit down and have a quick chat? It’ll only take a sec.

This is a topic that’s been a growing source of frustration for me in the last handful of years, and I’m going to bring it up again in another post soonish (hopefully) so I’ll keep it short and blunt today: why don’t more of your characters deal with mental health issues? 

Why aren’t your Chosen Ones having panic attacks and breakdowns? Why isn’t your merry band of misfits dealing with the mental fallout from battles and murders and facing monstrosities and just the general “holy fuck” factor that comes with trying to save the world? It seems to be an unspoken rule that therapists can’t exist in fantasy worlds, so how are these people getting out of bed every morning holding determination in one hand and eagerness in the other?

Why is trauma a temporary roadblock that you can gently remove and set aside so that the heroes can go on with doing hero things?

I’m sorry if I seem frustrated and/or bitter but I’m tired and mental health is a topic that means everything to me, and when paired with fantasy, the resulting story can be powerful and validating. And while that isn’t to say I don’t love seeing mental health reps in contemporary and horror and thriller and scifi–because I do, I love it a lot–fantasy can explore mental health from angles that other genres can’t.

And I just–I don’t understand why that isn’t taken advantage of more often.

Writing multi-volume fantasy epics has never really been an aspiration for me when I was younger. I adore reading them, sure, but my projects always leaned more towards…Guillermo del Toro crossed with Markus Zusak.

I wouldn’t have guessed that the one thing that’ll push me into drafting an epic fantasy would be the lack of depressed protagonists in these stories.

Because at the end of the day, you try to create the things you want to see more of in the world and hope that by doing so you’ll help foster an ecosystem where more such creations can take root and grow and maybe become the norm.

So yeah…good chat, adult fantasy! Same time next week? 😀

 

The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

The Light Between Worlds

Rep: PTSD, Depression

The Light Between Worlds is the portal fantasy I always wanted and finally got–a spiritual continuation of Narnia and every portal fantasy that has ever ended with the protagonists returning to the real world. The author doesn’t hold back on showing the ugliness of depression and the mental toll it takes on the people who have to watch you go through it.

One of the hardest and most rewarding books I’ve ever read.

 

 

The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller

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Rep: Eating disorder

This book is important for several reasons:

1) It talks about eating disorders and body image from the perspective of a teenage boy, which is super rare in fiction.

2) It made me acknowledge things about myself that I never really wanted to acknowledge. You can read about the details in the review here, if you want. It’s a post I’m glad I’d written because the process was…cathartic, in a clobbered-with-a-sledgehammer sort of way. But occasionally I think back on it and get the urge to trash it because, holy hell, it’s so awfully personal. (Some good news, though: I’m 6 pounds up from last year. That doesn’t sound like much but considering where I started from, I’ll take it).

Also, I’ve seen complaints that Miller’s narrative romanticizes the act of starving. But I can’t imagine anyone who’s ever had an eating disorder to read this and be like, “Yeah, this is the handbook for getting skinny.” I think readers can recognize the mental gymnastics we go through to convince ourselves into self-harming (which starving ultimately is) and Miller makes it crystal clear that Matt’s actions aren’t ideal.

 

Realm of the Elderlings series by Robin Hobb

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Rep: Depression, PTSD, and more

If you want a prime example of how mental health can and should be addressed in high/epic fantasy, look no further. Depression, PTSD, self-esteem issues, suicide ideation–Hobb tackles all with absolute mastery (and I’m shocked and disappointed that the series didn’t spawn more high/epic fantasy books with similar themes). The series also has the best depiction of chronic loneliness I’ve come across in fiction. The kind that has no rhyme or reason and shadows you for years and years and years, waiting for moments when you’re most vulnerable. That’s a very hard thing get across in any story, and the fact that she does it in a fantasy one (across nine volumes) is remarkable.

 

The Hollow Folk series by Gregory Ashe

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Rep: Depression

I er, think I’ve actually run out of words to describe these books.

If you’ve read any of my dissertations reviews, you know how much the series means to me. Gregory Ashe draws on his own experiences with depression and slips them into his main character and the result is painful but so, so spot-on.

 

Arcadia Project Trilogy by Mishell Baker

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Rep: Bipolar Disorder and more

Ninety percent of the characters in this series is a mess and that’s what makes them so great.

Arcadia Project is an ownvoices urban fantasy, and the author does a wonderful job of explaining BPD through her MC while also crafting a unique and entertaining story about faes and Hollywood and the messiness of relationships.

 

The Memory Trees by Kali Wallace

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Rep: Depression (I think)

I just realized I’ve never talked about this book before on the blog which is crazy because it’s one of my favourite YA books released in the last two years. Memory Trees is all about female relationships–mothers and daughters, sisters, best friends, girlfriends–and the story puts a spotlight the MC’s mother and her mental illness and the events surrounding her hospitalization, which I thought was explored really well.

And okay, calling it a fantasy book is kind of an eyebrow-raising move because for most of it the only fantasy is in the way that Wallace approaches the story–as a dreamy inter-generational fable. The rest of it is a mix of contemporary, mystery, and historical fiction. But I swear, the magical stuff does rear its head at the end; you just have to squint to catch it.

 

Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher

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Rep: The entirety of DSM-5

I’m uh, actually not too sure if this belongs here?

On one hand, I’m not kidding with the DSM-5 thing. Fletcher’s series has the most comprehensive exploration of mental illnesses–from kleptomania to schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder–I’ve ever seen in speculative fiction.

But I don’t know if I would call them representations, per se. In the Manifest Delusions world, your delusions give you power–so the more ill you are, the greater your control over reality. It’s similar to The Art of Starving in that sense, except this doesn’t address those issues from a positive, “This is how you can heal” perspective.

 

Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire

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Rep: PTSD and more

I’m two books behind on the series, but Wayward Children is another portal fantasy story that deals with the trauma of being sent back to the real world, and just the general hardships that come with…well, living, and being different.

 

Last Bus to Everland by Sophie Cameron

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Rep: Agoraphobia, Anxiety, and more

Oh look, another portal fantasy! Says something about the subgenre, doesn’t it?

What I really loved about this story is that it features a father who is dealing with severe mental health issues (agoraphobia) and that’s not something I often find in fiction; it’s usually the mother figures who are depressed and ill and on medication. And Sophie Cameron talks about his illness in a really empathetic light, which is even rarer, so massive kudos to her for that.

 

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Now for the video games!

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

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Rep: Psychosis, Depression

Hellblade is many things.

It’s the most candid look at psychosis (with auditory and visual hallucinations) I’ve seen in any fictional media.

It’s an example of how to go about representing mental disorders you don’t have personal experience with–doing thorough research and consulting mental health professionals and people who do have experiences with them.

It’s the story of a woman who makes her descent into Hel (literally and figuratively) at a time in her life when darkness is all that is seemingly left.

It’s one of my favourite games of all time, and it’s the one game that made me cry from beginning to end. (I cried so, so much)

I can’t begin tell you how grateful I am that Hellblade exists and that I had the opportunity to experience it. Senua’s story is one I’ll carry around for the rest of my life and I 100% would have gotten this quote tattooed if it’d been a bit shorter:

Never forget what it is like to see the world as a child, Senua: where every autumn leaf is a work of art; every rolling cloud, a moving picture; every day a new story. We too emerge from this magic, like a wave from the ocean, only to return back to the sea. Do not mourn the waves, the leaves and the clouds. Because even in darkness the wonder and beauty of the world never leaves. It’s always there, just waiting to be seen again.

 

Night in the Woods

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Rep: Depression, disassociation

(Or as like to call it, Millenials: The Game)

I think there are three different lenses with which you can look at Night in the Woods:

1) A mystery/horror/fantasy story with cute (and queer) anthropomorphic animal characters getting caught up in strange happenings around town, all the while trying to navigate the murky waters of friendship, family, and romance.

2) A very pointed commentary on the state of capitalism suffocating small towns and older generations who would sacrifice their youth to maintain status quo and save their town from a broken economy that they helped dismantle in the first place.

3) A stark yet empathetic exploration of depression and existential crises from the PoV of young adults in their early 20’s.

…Or all three at the same time. That works too!

 

The Missing: J. J Macfield and the Field of Dreams

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Here’s a crazy rundown of the first 15-ish minutes of this game:

You’re a college girl named J.J. and you and your best friend/maybe-girlfriend Emily are camping out on an island having a great time. But things black out and the next thing you know Emily has disappeared and you’re running through the island desperately searching for her. Then you get struck by lightning and die, but a moose doctor comes and resurrects you, so all’s good. Then you start getting text messages from the stuffed toy you’ve been carrying around (the stuffed toy that got destroyed in the lightning–so presumably it’s sending you messages from whatever afterlife toys get sent to). Meanwhile, Emily is still nowhere to be found.

…I’ll give you a second to soak that in.

Would it then surprise you to know that it offers one of most beautiful explorations of identity and self-acceptance I’ve come across in gaming?

The Missing is made by SWERY (aka Hidetaka Suehiro), and his games tend to be on the…trippy side. Bizarre and peppered with pop-culture references and off-beat humour, you love them or hate them.

I’m firmly in the former category. They’re not technical marvels, the controls can be wonky, the story dives into the nonsensical, but they’re never boring and there’s something incredibly endearing about them. (It helps that he’s an absolute sweetheart on social media)

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Yes, that is SWERY. Yes, he is amazing.

Well, this jumps over “endearing” into “empowering” and “validating.”

The problem I have with media that explores mental health and LGBTQ+ issues is that they sometimes explore the pain side and kind of leave it at that. No closure. What stories like The Missing offer is that end piece–the sorely-needed ray of hope that yes, you can find peace and healing and come out on the other side stronger.

While I can’t personally speak for one of the representations that SWERY dives into (spoiler: transgender rep), other players can vouch that yes, he gets it right.

Please. Go play it. Or watch a playthrough/walkthrough of it.

 

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Monday Chatter: Urban Gods and the Hard (and Creepy) Life of an A.I.

Happy Monday, all! We’re back to summer weather here, which has been great for hiking and kayaking but doesn’t bode well for the actual summer months. And to the joy of all you tennis enthusiasts (*crickets chirping*), Roland Garros has started! Now, half the fun of watching grand slams is making fun of the outfits that sports brands design for their players, and I just want to highlight the ones for Nike, which includes skeletons playing tennis and a goth roses-and-tulips pattern. For both the shirt and the shorts. I just…

 

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Anywho, onto the books!

Last Week – Books

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Gather the Fortunes (A Crescent City Novel 2) by Bryan Camp:
An urban fantasy set in New Orleans starring Renaissance Raines who collects and escorts souls to the Underworld. I compared Camp’s style to Neil Gaiman’s and I don’t regret it one bit; his interpretation of afterlife and all the different mythologies is just so intelligent. [Review here]

 

The City of Lost Fortunes (A Crescent City Novel 1) by Bryan Camp:
I liked this better than the second book and I’m chalking that up to the pacing, which was a lot tighter, but it also might have something to do with the fact that I read this after Book 2, so I was more familiar with the characters.

 

Hazel and Holly by Sara C. Snider (DNF):
I loved the premise (and the cover) for this–a New Adult book featuring two sisters in a fairy tale setting is a dream come true–but everything about the execution was a disaster. The plot is chaotic nonsense (things happened and I had no idea why they were happening) and the main characters are unbearably immature. I don’t know about you, but there’s just something not right about using “mewled/mewling” to describe a 17 year-old girl.

 

This Week – Books

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Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey:
Twin sisters. A magical boarding school. A noir-esque murder investigation. I’m SOOOO excited!

Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky:
A novella about an astronaut stranded out on an alien rock! I’ve had trouble connecting with Tchaikovksy’s characters in the past, so maybe a story with first-person PoV would help.

The Chain by Adrian McKinty:
I’ve never heard of this author before and I mostly picked it up because Don Winslow and Stephen King blurbed it. And also this synopsis:

YOUR PHONE RINGS.

A STRANGER HAS KIDNAPPED YOUR CHILD.

TO FREE THEM YOU MUST ABDUCT SOMEONE ELSE’S CHILD.

YOUR CHILD WILL BE RELEASED WHEN YOUR VICTIM’S PARENTS KIDNAP ANOTHER CHILD.

IF ANY OF THESE THINGS DON’T HAPPEN:
YOUR CHILD WILL BE KILLED.

YOU ARE NOW PART OF THE CHAIN

I’m 20% into it and it’s uh…quite the thing.

 

 

Last Week – Games

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Observation (developed by No Code) is a sci-fi thriller/mystery that has you playing as S.A.M, the artificial intelligence of a space station. Your job is to assist Dr. Emma Fisher in figuring out what the hell has happened to the ship, where the rest of the crew is, and where they go from here.

Two things I learned from playing this:

1) Being an A.I. is HARD. Constant busywork and humans complaining when you don’t complete something on time.

2) There should be more scifi games that are set from the PoV of an A.I. It adds the extra dilemma of “Am I the villain in this story?” that I find really compelling.

There are some wonderfully tense, hair-raising moments in the story and I loved mostly everything about it until the ending which was…open-ended, to say the least. I’m crossing my fingers for a sequel.

And mad kudos to Emma’s voice actor who conveys everything from “Fire! Fire! There’s fire!” panic to weary resignation to absolute perfection.

(Available on Epic Games (PC) & PS4)

Review + Giveaway (INTL): Gather the Fortunes – The Most Neil Gaiman Thing I Read Since I Last Read Neil Gaiman

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Title:
Gather the Fortunes (A Crescent City Novel Book 2)
Author: Bryan Camp
Publisher: John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date: May 21st, 2019
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Gods, Mythology
Page Count: 384 (hardback)

Rating: 8.0/10

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Renaissance Raines has found her place among the psychopomps—the guides who lead the souls of the recently departed through the Seven Gates of the Underworld—and done her best to avoid the notice of gods and mortals alike. But when a young boy named Ramses St. Cyr manages to escape his foretold death, Renai finds herself at the center of a deity-thick plot unfolding in New Orleans. Someone helped Ramses slip free of his destined end—someone willing to risk everything to steal a little slice of power for themselves.

Is it one of the storm gods that’s descended on the city? The death god who’s locked the Gates of the Underworld? Or the manipulative sorcerer who also cheated Death? When she finds the schemer, there’s gonna be all kinds of hell to pay, because there are scarier things than death in the Crescent City. Renaissance Raines is one of them.

 

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(Note: I got to Gather the Fortunes after reading about 1/4 of the first book–I ran out of time!–and while having some prior knowledge of some of the characters might be beneficial, it can absolutely be read as a standalone.)

That title isn’t hyperbole. Not in the slightest. Because holy shit, I am in love with Bryan Camp’s imagination.

Gather the Fortunes is set in an alternate world of gods and demigods and spirits and other supernatural beings, and the result is a beautiful, rich conglomerate of various mythologies–Greek, Norse, Native American, Haitian, you name it, he has it–each carefully constructed and all woven seamlessly into the narrative.

It’s not just the premise and the complexity of the story that reminds me of Gaiman’s work; it’s the utter confidence with which he crafts it. As if this isn’t some fictional world he pulled from his imagination but a reality that actually exists in some alternate dimension. Bryan Camp understands his world inside-out and he has the talent to manipulate it in ways that are not only exciting but also thought-provoking. I love the way he interprets death and afterlife and posits the idea that there are always, always two sides to every coin.

And what astounds me is how polished and detailed everything is. Nothing is done half-assed–from the process of soul-taking (which involves unbraiding and distilling a part of the soul and then turning it into a piece of fruit, eating it, and escorting the remaining spirit through the Underworld. Camp lends grim reapering a sense of craftsmanship, turns it into an art form. It’s fantastic) to the various gates of the Underworld (in the last gate, your life in the form of a coin gets weighed on a scale and that decides whether you’re sent off to a good afterlife or tossed into oblivion).

The prose is just as rich and hard-hitting. There are passages that have this internal rhythm, so that when you read them out loud, they play out like spoken poetry. It’s stylish as hell. Of course not all of it is written that poetically–that’d be exhausting–but Camp knows exactly when to turn it on and off, and that in itself is praiseworthy. And the opening paragraphs that you find in some of the chapters are tiny art pieces in and of themselves–brief narrations about topics like death and luck and premonitions as they apply to different mythologies.

And the last two paragraphs? Chills down my spine. Gave me hard, hard vibes of the Dream vs. Choronzon scene from Sandman. I had to read them aloud multiple times, once to a friend.

Here’s a snippet:

Everywhere Death walks, Life follows. Everything Death takes, Life gives to another. She is Asase Yaa. Onuava. Demeter. Coatlicue. Phra Mae Thorani. He is Kokopelli. Makemake. Geb. Lono. They plant the seeds in the earth and children in the womb. They gave birth to the gods and to the first mortals and to the cosmos and to the sea. They gave their lives to water the earth, to bring plentiful game to hunt, to keep the sun in the sky. They are the sky. They are the sun. They are the buds of new growth in spring, and after a fire, and after a flood, and in the shadow of a failed nuclear reactor. They are everywhere we swore they couldn’t be, in the exothermic vents of the deep ocean, in the ones and zeroes of information, in the fossil records of Mars. Death can end a life, or lives, or this life, or very life.

But not Life.

Our heroine is Renai, a young black woman who, five years previous, had been dead and subsequently resurrected with very few memories of when she was alive. Now she works as a psychopomp, someone who guides the dead to the Underworld. I really quite liked her. She’s a great mix of fierceness and vulnerability, with sass running through it all.

I did have issues with the plot and characters. The story goes through a lot of moving from point A to point B, doing one thing, and then moving to point C, and then doing something else and moving on again. And while parts of it were interesting, others…weren’t. They often felt disconnected from each other and I wasn’t sure what the point of some of them were.

I was also disappointed that Ramses didn’t play a bigger role in the story (at least, not directly) because the synopsis had me anticipating a sibling relationship forming between Renai and Ramses. But sadly, no.

Overall, though, this was a very impressive read and Camp’s New Orleans is one you absolutely need to experience for yourself.

 

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GIVEAWAY

10 people can win finished copies of Gather the Fortune. Open internationally!

ENTER HERE

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Bryan Camp is a graduate of the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop and the University of New Orleans’ Low-Residency MFA program. He started his first novel, The City of Lost Fortunes, in the backseat of his parents’ car as they evacuated for Hurricane Katrina. He has been, at various points in his life: a security guard at a stockcar race track, a printer in a flag factory, an office worker in an oil refinery, and a high school English teacher. He can be found on twitter @bryancamp and at bryancamp.com. He lives in New Orleans with his wife and their three cats, one of whom is named after a superhero.

      

TOUR SCHEDULE

WEEK ONE
MAY 20th MONDAY JeanBookNerd INTERVIEW
MAY 21st TUESDAY BookHounds INTERVIEW
MAY 22nd WEDNESDAY TTC Books and More TENS LIST
MAY 23rd THURSDAY Movies, Shows, & Books EXCERPT
MAY 24th FRIDAY Insane About Books REVIEW
MAY 24th FRIDAY Pages Below the Vaulted Sky REVIEW

WEEK TWO
MAY 27th MONDAY A Dream Within A Dream REVIEW
MAY 28th TUESDAY Nay’s Pink Bookshelf REVIEW
MAY 29th TUESDAY Sabrina’s Paranormal Palace REVIEW
MAY 29th WEDNESDAY Port Jericho REVIEW
MAY 29th WEDNESDAY Book Briefs REVIEW
MAY 30th THURSDAY Two Points of Interest REVIEW
MAY 30th THURSDAY Gwendalyn Books REVIEW
MAY 31st FRIDAY Crossroad Reviews REVIEW

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

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

 

Last Week – Books

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

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

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

 

This Week – Books

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

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

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

 

Last Week – Games

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Holler at me about your plans for the week!

Top 5 Wednedsay – BFFs in Fantasy (plus musings about intimacy, societal expectations, and friendships in western vs eastern media)

The prompt for this week is actually BFFs in SFF, but since this is Wyrd and Wonder month, I figured I’d just stick to fantasy. Also, a special shout-out to Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen who totally would have made the list, but things were turning into a bit of a sausage fest so I ended up replacing them with a female duo.

This post is brought to you by Wyrd and Wonder, a month of fantasy-loving for fantasy lovers by fantasy lovers.

Join us, friends. There’s plenty of love to go around.

(This sounds like I’m advertising a cult and I’m okay with that)

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Fitz & Fool & Nighteyes – Realm of the Elderlings:

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“I set no limits on that love.”

There are many reasons why RotE is my favourite series of all time, but Fitz/Fool/Nighteyes stands at the top of the list. I. Just. I don’t know how to explain how much this OT3 means to me without coming across like a crazy person. They have been the subject of too many poems scribbled out in the fury of 2 AM writing sessions. When the series ended, I had to sit my friend down to blubber about them for an entire afternoon because they were haunting my waking hours and it felt like my heart was imploding. It sometimes scares me how deeply I feel about these characters, because hell, they’re fictional. But then I think, “So what?”

And here’s an unpopular opinion for the RotE fandom: I’m perfectly fine with Fitz and Fool’s relationship being a platonic one, because their relationship is as romantic as you can get without actually being romantic and we need more examples of those in mainstream media (more on that later). Also, I don’t believe your soulmate has to be someone you’re romantically involved with. I just think it’s someone–anyone–who gets you right down to your marrow, and spending two days with them is equivalent to two lifetimes’ worth of connections. We’d all be very fortunate to experience that once in our life, and Fitz has had two of them. One with a wolf, the other with a prophet.

I’ve never come across a group of characters who throws so much of themselves into loving each other as these three, and I don’t think I ever will.

 

Agniezska and Kasia – Uprooted

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I don’t think I realized how desperate I was to see good female friendships in adult fantasy until Uprooted came along. The romance with the Dragon wasn’t the highlight of the book for me (male love interest who’s broody for the sake of being broody  = been there, done that); it was Niezska and Kasia’s relationship that captured my heart. Their friendship is built on a foundation of mutual love and support, but also acknowledgement of some of the more negative feelings (jealousy in particular) that stand between them.

 

Felicity and Johanna – The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

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I enjoyed Lady’s Guide far more than I did Gentleman’s Guide and I can thank Felicity and Johanna for that. What I love about their relationship is that it’s not all smiles and matching friendship bracelets. There’s several suitcases worth of resentment and misunderstandings that they need to sort out before they get anywhere, and I love that. I love seeing girls with vastly different personalities learn from each other, admit when they’re wrong, and come out of the whole kerfuffle with a more open mind.

 

Rune and Brand – The Tarot Sequence

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I rambled on about intimacy and the rigid preconceptions of romance versus friendship in my review for this a year ago, and I’m going to ramble about it again now, because this is something I feel very, very strongly about.

It so often feels to me that society draws a line in the sand when it comes to relationships and gives us a list of acceptable behaviours for each respective side–one for friendship, one for a romantic/sexual relationship. So two friends can kiss each other on the cheek, but kissing on the mouth is, like, a sexual territory, so watch out for that! And et cetera.

At best it’s annoying (in my experience, super invasive questions from family and acquaintances). At worst it contributes to toxic behaviours and insecurities about intimacy and affection, along with a horde of other mental health issues.

So I think it’s incredibly important for fictional media to portray the kinds of relationships that blur this line. Relationships that can’t be shoved into boxes and stuck with a big, fat label. This means friendships with the kind of emotional depth and physical intimacy that you find with romantic pairings.

And that’s exactly the kind of relationship that Rune and Brand has. Romantic without the romance. Intimacy without the sex. Snark without the underlying cruelty. Their friendship is by far the best one I’ve found since finishing Realm of the Elderlings, and if you read what I wrote above, you know I don’t say that lightly.

 

Frodo and Sam – The Lord of the Rings

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No explanations needed, really. They’re Frodo and Sam. They’re the OG ride or die male duo. Their love and loyalty to one another kept the world from descending into darkness, and if that’s not friendship goals, I don’t know what is.

 

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EXTRAS (Anime) | Western vs. Eastern?

So, I wanted to talk about these two anime series as a bonus because their friendship storylines are off-the-walls phenomenal and I couldn’t not include them. And then I got a bit sidetracked thinking about friendships in western versus eastern SFF media.

I always enjoy comparing North American and East Asian narrative works (Korean and Japanese, primarily) because I grew up on the latter and then partially migrated to the former, and while I adore both, there are some things that one offers that the other often doesn’t. And while the reasons for some of them are obvious, like the lack of non-fetishized LGBTQ+ and mental health rep in East Asia, others aren’t (for me, anyway). And that includes intense, no holds barred, I’ll-walk-into-the-depths-of-hell-for-you types of friendships–which I always found that Japanese and Korean media does a better job of than NA.

…And I’m not quite sure why.

I have some vague hypotheses but it’s something I need more than a few nights to think about. It’ll be a future post, maybe. And if you have any ideas, leave them in the comments! I love love love discussing these things.

For now, onto the anime!

 

Gon and Killua – Hunter x Hunter

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Killua (left); Gon (right)

These two kids slay me. Watching Killua become best friends with Gon and go from an assassin-in-training with the social skills of a cactus to a kind-hearted, sensitive boy is honestly the best thing about this series.

And there’s this one scene where Killua breaks down into sobs in front of another character (in the middle of a friggin battle) and talks about how helpless he feels because his best friend is suffering and he doesn’t know how to fix that. It’s beautiful, heartwrenching, and startlingly vulnerable, and I would give my left arm to see more scenes like that in western fantasy.

 

Madoka and Homura – Puella Magi Madoka Magica

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Back in 2011, Madoka Magica grabbed the magical girl genre by the throat and shook it into something we’ve never seen before. There have been many copycats since then but none with the same kind of presence as the original, and that largely has to do with these two characters. There’s a reason why I own six figurines of them.

Get yourself a friend who would travel back through a timeline again and again to save you from a terrible fate, only to watch the same tragedy played out in increasingly worse ways, and then swallow that pain and do it all over again because she believes you’re worth sacrificing everything for.

I would, no question, die for Madoka and Homura. And then reset the timeline and do it again.

 

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Soooo this was meant for this to be a short and sweet post because I was on a mini break for the past week and a half and I wanted to write something that was easy.  I don’t know how it devolved into a rant about three different topics. 😂

Well, onto you! Who are you some of your favourite fantasy (or scifi) BFFs?

Review: The Mortal Sleep – Stripped Me Open and Healed Me Anew (Why I’m BEGGING You to Read this Series)

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Title: The Mortal Sleep (Hollow Folk 4)
Author: Gregory Ashe
Publisher: Independent
Release Date: April 5th, 2019
Genre(s): Paranormal, Mystery, Romance
Subjects and Themes: Mental Health, Abuse, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 491

Rating: ∞/10

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Brief overview of Books 1-3: A gay psychic teenager named Vie Elliot moves into a small rural town in Wyoming and gets himself involved in a series of murders, kidnappings, and paranormal activities. This is a story of found families, love, complicated relationships, and facing demons within and without.

(You can read my reviews of Book 1-3 HERE)

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 “Maybe it’s all of us, I thought in a flash. Maybe we all believe, deep down, that we don’t deserve love. Or— maybe not all of us, maybe not some lucky assholes— but most of us. Maybe most of us are just as uncertain, just as frightened, just as desperately hoping that we’re worth loving and that the person we love loves us back.”

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I’ve been writing reviews for over a year now. And within that period I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing a whole range of emotions–from hair-pulling anguish frustration to joy and nervousness and anxiety.

This is my first time being scared of writing a review.

Like, really fucking scared. Like, shaking in my chair scared. Because I could string together every language that has ever existed in this world, scrawl them into a 1000-page epic, recite it from dawn to dusk until my throat is torn, and still come up with nothing that could describe what this book means to me. And that kills me.

My brain tells me I need to spend several weeks on this review at the very least. But my heart tells me no, I need to do this right now. Because all those immediate emotions that I’m feeling? They’re the ones I need to seize. And because fears need to faced when they’re at their freshest.

So, okay.

This is a book that feels entirely too big to fit in this universe let alone my heart. One that I want to clutch so hard to myself that I become it, or it becomes me. And I would happily give up half of my consciousness, half of my soul, for it to live and grow inside me. But then I realize there’s no need because it’s already claimed it from Book 1.

And when I walk, it walks with me, anchoring my steps. When I look out into the morning light, it looks out with me, radiating hope. When I’m crumpled on the ground it’s there, pulling me up.

Which all sounds a little crazy. It sounds like the ramblings of a soon-to-be maybe-killer (“Well, that Kathy. I mean, she was pleasant. Polite. Never caused any trouble. Although…she did say all those things about that book that one time. Guess that should have been a warning bell, huh?”) But “crazy” just about defines this book. Because perfection doesn’t exist. Shouldn’t exist. And yet it’s sitting right here in my hand.

So what can I tell you about The Mortal Sleep?

I can tell you how heartstoppingly beautiful Ashe’s writing is. I can tell you how his characters aren’t characters; they’re people existing in some other reality, other dimension, projecting their lives into his brain, and now they live in these books like it’s where they always belonged–across ink and paper, instead of flesh and blood–and their relationships are so exquisitely developed that they become your relationships.

I can talk about how the buildup of tension, with regards to both plot and character development, is off-the-walls phenomenal. I can talk about how he’s raised the bar for storytelling from book to book and how he has surpassed it yet again. I can talk about how series finales are so, so incredibly hard to nail, and yet he does it (because of course).

But what makes this book a veritable masterpiece (and I don’t use that term lightly), what makes it stand shoulders every other book I’ve read in the past two years, is that it peers into every dark crevice of the characters’ pain and suffering–into the heart of what makes us us–and it Does. Not. Flinch.

The line between honesty and gratuitousness is a thin one when it comes to stories that try to tackle depression and suicidal behaviour. Gregory Ashe walks it while balancing four different genres and reciting poetry that would make the angels weep. Without condoning it, the book doesn’t shy away from the ugliness and the violence that comes with mental illness.

And it’s not pretty. It’s not sugar-coated.

But it’s true. It’s so, so fucking true.

Like, there’s a scene where Vie goes out his way to deliberately hurt his boyfriend (using words), and at first he tells himself that he’s doing it as a favour–he’s doing it to push him away, to save his life. But then it morphs into something uglier. Because sometimes you turn other’s words and actions (even the innocuous ones) into ammunition against yourself–reasons for why you’re unlovable and discardable. Because sometimes you’re hurting so much and you don’t know how to deal with it, so it overflows onto the people you love. Because sometimes you’re hurting so much that you want them to feel just an ounce of it, and you derive a kind of awful, aching almost-pleasure from that. And on the heels of that comes blackness and self-loathing.

All of that. And all the reasons why we might hurt ourselves (and, in turn, the ones we love). And hate ourselves. And try to end ourselves.

Just…How.

How do you put that mess of emotions into words that I can recognize?

This book gets so many things so right, so real, that it felt like I was experiencing them again for the first time. And I was shaking and crying so hard that I had to go take multiple walks to calm myself down (and this was past 12 AM).

And I honestly don’t know how he does it. Maybe it’s magic. Or pure talent. Or power sourced from earth’s core. I don’t know how he does it but he does it, and I’m thankful to the point of tears because I can look at Vie’s scars and look to my own and nod and say “Okay.” And that’s enough.

This book (and series) is a bulwark against the voices urging me in the middle of the night, whispering that surely this time I can get the dosage right. And I know it can be so much for so many of you too. For all of you who have been broken and ground down. Because in spite of how dark it gets, this is a series about hope. And love–so, so much love. Finding it. Losing it. And slowly, oh so slowly learning that maybe, just maybe, you’re worthy of it and every other goddamn thing that life has to offer.

The Mortal Sleep has taken the top of my Best of 2019 list (and my heart and my sleep and my every waking thought) and it won’t be moving for the rest of the year.

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Complimentary copy provided by the author. All opinions are my own.