2020 Monthly Wrap-Up: April

We’re at this point again, and I can’t tell if it went by ridiculously fast or not. With the pandemic, it’s been tricky keeping track of passing time. But I did get a decent amount of reading done even if – once again – I didn’t get to all of the books on my planned TBR.

What I did read included:

Of this list, three of them were review copies from NetGalley and I didn’t get to review two of the manga novels in individual posts as I like having an Instagram photo for my reviews and it’s tricky to get nice ones on a Kobo. But I can review them in this post!


HELL’S PARADISE #1 by Kaku Yuji

This was a prime example of a flawless manga.

Having read a lot of first volumes of new series lately, it feels like something is always missing. Either the story is lacking or the emotional connection isn’t there or the artwork is rough. However, this first volume of Hell’s Paradise is perfection. The story had me right from the beginning with how it got right down to the gritty details, and the artwork is so gorgeous I’ll be thinking about it for a long time.

I already can’t wait for volume two and for those who are long time manga readers, this has major Big 3 energy. The potential in this story is huge and I can’t wait to read more.

BEASTARS #1 by Itagaki Paru

I enjoyed this volume well enough. It was a solid introduction volume and the world is solidly fleshed out through both dialogue and narration script so it made for a fast read. As a fan of animal stories like this (or furry stories I guess would be more useful of a term), I enjoyed the way the plot is layering itself and seeing how the different species interact with each other. That being said, I wasn’t a huge fan of the rough art style but it is definitely a stylistic choice rather than a “quality” thing. I’m unsure if I’ll be continuing the series but I’m glad I gave it a shot. Maybe the anime would be more my speed.


There was another book from NetGalley that I only got half-way through before I had to mark it as DNF, and that was We Are The Wildcats by Siobhan Vivian. I was really excited about the book and the idea of the girls getting back at their gross coach was a theme that I was hyped for. However the six POVs and the fact that the books “technically” takes place over 24 hours – despite repetitive flashbacks that never seem to end – just makes the book feel really jagged. Unimportant things seem drawn out and important things don’t seem to be present. I also found the switching back and forth between past and present tense was distracting. Sadly this book was not for me.

I’ve got fun plans on Instagram for May with my good friend, Sophie (of Outer Rim Reviews), hosting a Star Wars themed photo challenge and I’ve got a blog tour post coming at you next week for a current read. Here’s to May getting a little easier for all of us.

 

Facing the Mind Killer: a review of DUNE

As I previously wrote, this month I decided to tackle a book that I’ve been afraid of reading for as long as I can remember, Frank Herbert’s DUNE.

It took me a week to get through it and I reveled in every page. It’s taken me longer to get to this review because I wasn’t sure how to go about it. There is so much to this book that I haven’t been able to find in any other book I’ve read or loved. It has set a new standard for epic fiction and I don’t think I’ll be able to find in anything else what I found in DUNE.

The story is Paul’s, though it strongly features the goings on that surround him and dictate his every action. The long and short of it is that the Great Houses are warring over the spice planet known as Arrakis. Spice is highly addictive and mind-altering natural drug that can only be found on this one planet, making it worth more than worth it’s weight in profits. Along with this political turmoil, there is religious turmoil as a group of women known as the Bene Gesserit see a male of legend capable of the “witchery” that they are. But in their search, the Freeman of Arrakis have their own legend of this same person. Paul is believed to be this man of legend by more than one group of people and he needs to fight not only in this war for the planet, but the war inside of him as he discovers what his true destiny is… or if he even wants it.

The way the book is written, third person narrative, we get to see inside of everyone’s head. We know what Paul is thinking at the exact same time we learn what his mother is thinking in the same moment. For too long the “single character” POV, as made popular by George R.R. Martin in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, has been the way of writing genre fiction and I’m going to be honest: I hate it. It adds nothing to the stories and creates moments of boredom if there’s an unlikeable character. Herbert’s way of putting all of the cards on the table makes the chess match of the politics game within the book not only more manageable, but creates some incredible tension. We, as the readers, know who is double crossing who, but the characters themselves do not. The screaming match I had with this book over Duke Leto is laughable because of how invested this way of story telling got me. 

The ideas behind tackling the mind and conquering emotions through strict mental training were fascinating and I really got a lot of insight into myself because of it. Fear is the mind killer, as Jessica says. 

As thrilled as I am at how much I loved this story, I will be honest and say that my fears are now directed at the new movie. I’ll keep my opinions to myself on that matter until we have a trailer, so stay tuned, but I do also plan on reading the rest of the series within the coming months, so stay tuned.

REVIEW: Megabat does a Zoom launch party

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada, Tundra Books, and NetGalley for providing both an eARC and a finished copy of this book.


To say things have been rough over the last few weeks is to put it mildly, but one thing that truly cheered me up was receiving a package from the wonderful staff at Penguin and Tundra that contained the third book in my favourite middle-grade series, Megabat! At almost 26-years-old, I am definitely not the target audience, but as the one person in my family that people come to for book recs for readers of all ages, I do enjoy digging into junior readers every now and again, and Megabat is incredible. (You can read my reviews of the first two books in the series here)

In Megabat Is A Fraidybat, Megabat and Daniel learn to conquer their fears as they head off to sleepaway camp. Daniel, who has only ever heard of how horrible sleepaway camp is, is far from excited about going. Megabat, on the other hand, is thrilled at the idea of an adventure and new friends. Once they reach camp, Daniel slowly begins to loosen up as he meets new friends in his cabin and learns that his fears weren’t based on how camp actually is. But after a councillor tells a ghost story, Megabat isn’t feeling so confident anymore…

As usual, I loved this little book from top to bottom. The illustrations are as adorable as ever, and the story tackles fear in a very relatable way for children reading the book to understand. I can see it being a good book to explain sleepaway camp to children who may be afraid of going for the first time, or even just using it to talk about fear in general. Sometimes the things that scare us aren’t always as bad as we think they are. All I know is that if I could find an Ewok bobble-head that looked like Kass Reich’s illustration, I would have a hoarding problem with them, haha!

Now, this installment of the Megabat series was released April 7th, and for obvious reasons, that meant a different kind of launch party. Held over Zoom, Anna Humphrey and Kass Reich talked with the Junior Library Guild about all things Megabat and it was delightful. I will say, it wasn’t the smoothest discussion, but what can you really say when the majority of the meeting is attended by children under the age of 10 who are bored with their parents’ laptops, phones, or tablets? If nothing else, it was funny towards the beginning of the discussion to see little faces popping up to wave hello to Anna and Kass.

Anna opened the meeting with a reading of the new book, followed by a detailed drawing tutorial by Kass, both of which were fun. Following that, a Q&A began that was moderated by a member of the Junior Library Guild (whose name I, unfortunately, didn’t catch). Questions focused mostly on fun little things, like a game of “Would You Rather” and what missaid word of Megabat’s is your favourite, but a few of them went most into publishing.

When asked more about how to go about the illustrations, Kass said that she gets the manuscript and has ideas for what moments should be illustrated, but that it is mostly up to the editor, Samantha Swenson, on picking out the scenes. She went on to say that it’s important to be aware of the spacing of illustrations in a book like this, since the book shouldn’t be overcrowded by pictures nor should there be inconsistent gaps between them. The best question Anna got was about the inspiration for Megabat. She mentioned that after a big move, she and her family were feeling particularly homesick and one night, she discovered an out of place leak on the main floor of her three-story home. Anna continued, saying that she let her fiction-writer brain run and came up with the theory that the leak was a sad fruitbat, crying over his own homesickness.

All in all, a fun way to spend a lunch hour, and a wonderful book for readers of all ages. All three Megabat books are available everywhere, and book four is set for a Spring 2021 release!

 

REVIEW: The Love Song of Sawyer Bell

Given the state of the world right now, I wanted to do what I could when I was still working to support small businesses. Seeing that The Ripped Bodice was putting together care packages of books and goodies for customers even in Canada, I jumped on it (and you can see my full unboxing here) immediately.

One of the books in the box was a queer f/f romance by Avon Gale called The Love Song of Sawyer Bell. It followed Vix and Sawyer as they toured cross-country with Vix’s band and navigated the complexity of being in the professional music business while being in a relationship. Not to mention Sawyer has only recently put the pieces together that she’s a lesbian. Jealousy, queer educating, and more ensue in this incredible love story.

I devoured this book in 24 hours (less if you subtract the breaks I took to like…eat) and have never loved a romance novel more while also feeling so personally attacked by one. Sawyer is a senior in Julliard and is miserable there. The stress and the pressure is too much, hence her desire to “run away” with Vix’s band for the summer. Her feelings about school are so close to my own experiences in college that I wish that I had read this in my first year. It may have given me the courage to walk away. For me, film school was great in the sense that it made me a better writer and a better photographer, but it destroyed my mental health and general self-worth, and even now I wonder if what I gained is worth how much I lost. I stuck to it though and graduated, but not for me. I stuck to it to try and prove I hadn’t let the pressure or the drama get to me, and that’s not a reason to fork over $30k in tuition fees.

Sawyer is such a real character and I fell for her instantly. Vix, as well. Vix’s demeanour, her temperament, and her drive are all so magically dimensional. Her struggles with commitment and the fear of failure are real and wonderfully described. Even when the tension comes between her and Sawyer, the issues feel like more than “mandatory romance novel plot points”.

I can’t thank the team at The Ripped Bodice enough for this book and I am desperate for the sequel to be re-released by Carina Press. Because to say I need the second book now is an understatement.

If you’re looking for a wonderful, sexy, beautiful book featuring queer ladies and rock music, I implore you to pick this one up. You won’t be sorry.

REVIEW: The Last Wish

I’m sure everyone has heard of The Witcher series from the Netflix adaptation that came out recently, or else you know it from the video games. While more and more people tell me they love the books, I fell into the category of knowing it from the video games and being only vaguely aware of the books.

Given the Netflix series, the first book was on sale a while back so I figured, what the hell. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

The Last Wish is a collection of short stories and a novella, originally publishing in Poland as all separate stories, before being collected and spliced together to form this book. I really appreciated this set up as the stories were stand-alone while also flowing nicely into one another. Given that so many fantasy novels are 400 – 800+ page epics, I really liked how not-intimidating this book was. There was no major commitment to remembering everyone or trying to learn maps, and the stories were all at a length where things kept moving. A handful of them are vague fairytale retellings, and the Beauty and the Beast short was by far my favourite, taking things in a direction that was so new for a retelling of this kind and then breaking my heart.

For those who want a little more context about The Witcher, the series follows Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher, as he travels across the world fighting monsters and helping people who have the coin. However, he isn’t a cold-blooded person and will do what is right if he feels it is truly the right thing to do. Geralt isn’t always a welcome sight, though, as a Witcher is someone who has undergone rigorous training, poisoning, and mutation to become more than human. Many see him as a ruthless demon and others lock themselves away in fear, thinking their children will be taken to go through what Geralt has been through.

I’m sure there will be more information regarding that in the other books (my knowledge of it comes from playing Witcher 3 on Switch and they don’t go into much depth about the transformation process) and I look forward to reading more in the second collection of short stories.


The reading order was screwed up in translation so for those who are interested in reading the books, here is a guide:

  1. The Last Wish
  2. Sword of Destiny
  3. Season of Storms
  4. Blood of the Elves
  5. Time of Contempt
  6. Baptism of Fire
  7. The Tower of the Swallow
  8. The Lady of the Lake

Why I’m Afraid of DUNE

One of the greatest science fiction series of all times is Frank Herbert’s, Dune. Six books in the saga and they’re still timeless through the intense political and religious commentary as well as the unforgettable world building.

Everything about Dune has my name written all over it.

So why am I afraid of it?

As a kid, there was a “rule” in my house, and that rule was “There is no such thing as a Dune movie”. It was a running joke as I got older that included an irrational dislike of David Lynch (who I’m still not a fan of) and legitimately telling people I didn’t believe them when they mentioned the 1984 adaptation that featured Sting (yes, the singer) in one of the main roles. That alone made it pretty easy to say I didn’t believe people.

What did exist were the first six books by Frank Herbert and the 2000 miniseries (that starred Alec Newman as Paul), nothing more. I have the vaguest of memories of watching the miniseries and having a huge crush on Paul, but I’ve never read the books, and if you asked me the plot I couldn’t tell you.

To this day I can give you three facts about the series. 1) Paul is the main character, 2) There are giant, phallic-looking sandworms that eat people, and 3) there’s something going on with spice.

So again, you’re probably still wondering why I’m afraid of reading this series.

If I didn’t make it clear enough, this series has been a huge part of my childhood even if I know little about it. My mom is a huge Dune fan and I admire the original books so much and how they shaped my mom’s love of science-fiction, therefore shaping my love of science-fiction. Because of all of that, I’ve always been afraid I’ll miss something, that the allegories and metaphors will go over my head, or – even worse – that I won’t like it.

Is all of this completely silly? Absolutely. But this is the struggle of an avid reader with high expectations and crippling anxiety.

Either way I’m going in. Stay tuned to more thoughts.

MANGA MONDAY: The Ways of the Househusband #1

Thank you to NetGalley and VIZ Media for providing me with a review copy.


Oono Kousuke’s series The Ways of the Househusband is one that I’ve been hearing a lot about, and considering I don’t actually read much straight-up comedy manga, I figured I would give it a go once I saw the first volume on NetGalley.

Oh my gods, this series is hysterical.

It follows Tatsu, an ex-yakuza boss (and a fierce one at that), who has given up his life as a killer to be a househusband with his career-focused wife, Miku. Now, despite Tatsu’s hardest attempts, he is still terrifying to most of the people he interacts with, his disposition unintentionally threatening and intimidating as he is still really only accustomed to talking about everything as if he was still in the yakuza.

There is a story arc of sorts in this volume, but each chapter is essentially a stand-alone short about the mishaps Tatsu gets himself into (my favourite of which is him fighting with the Roomba and the cat). It was a fast read and I can’t stress how hilarious this manga is. Tatsu is gorgeous and Miku is adorable, and I look forward to seeing how Tatsu’s old underling gets more involved in things.

I will definitely be picking up this series because I want more Tatsu in my life.

2020 TBR: April Edition

March lasted two-hundred years, but we are finally in April and with a new month comes a new beginning for those who need it. I know I do after the insanity of March.

So for April, I’ve got another short-stack TBR of a all different genres that I’m looking forward to.

Pastel Vintage Bike Facebook Cover

I’m also hoping to finish reading The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski and get through some ARCs I’ve got from NetGalley, so we’ll see how much I’m able to get through!

What are you hoping to read this month?

A Different Kind of Wrap-Up

March 2020 has been a rough one for all of us. The isolation required has left some of us productive, some of us stir-crazy, and some of us struggling with major depression and anxiety. If you’re like me, you’re all of the above.

I had big plans for March, but have not successfully managed to get to them all for a number of reasons. I had another cold in the middle of the month that knocked me flat, and then the anxiety of COVID-19 took a major hold on me. My day job in customer service set me on edge and I was having a hard enough time holding it together enough to function let alone get reading or writing done.

However, I still read a decent number of books towards the beginning of the month and I am very pleased about that, even if it still means I didn’t read all of my TBR books.

There was only one book I marked as DNF and it was Cries from the Lost Island by Kathleen O’Neal Gear. It was so boring and stiff that I just couldn’t make myself read it. It was an eARC from NetGalley and I thank the publishing company for sending it to me, even if it definitely wasn’t my cup of tea.

While I haven’t finished it yet, I’ve been making slow and steady progress through The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski, the “first” book in his famous Witcher series. In all honesty, I have done my best to take deep breaths and focus on reading, a lot of my time has been spent playing Animal Crossing New Horizons. I’ve been a huge fan of the Animal Crossing franchise since I was about 8 or 9 and the new game has been a huge help at being a distraction from the rest of the world (as I’m sure the majority of you are aware).

Given the pandemic, I’m currently out of work so I am hoping to spend the provincial quarantine reading and doing more articles for this blog as well as maybe some short stories. I have tried in the past to post shorts here but have not had much success in people reading them, so we’ll see about that.

I know everyone is getting annoyed with hearing this but I do sincerely hope that everyone is staying safe in these uncertain times.

Take care of yourselves.

REVIEW: The Memory Police

Completely out of character for me, I read yet another dystopian novel this month and while I enjoyed it enough, it was definitely an unsettling story.

Ogawa Yoko’s latest novel, The Memory Police, is about a small, unnamed island that is controlled by a strange regime from nowhere called the Memory Police. The police control what is and isn’t allowed the exist on the island, meaning when something has been “disappeared” not only does the thing itself vanish from the island but all memories and emotional attaches to said thing vanish too. Anyone who is capable of remembering what has vanished is taken away by the police, and as more and more things begin to disappear, the nameless narrator struggles with a terrifying thought: what if things never stop disappearing?

This novel takes it’s time, the slow and easy pace really making you feel like things are okay. It is very much a false sense of security that shows how oppressive and yet normalized high-surveillance states are – everyone on the island is nervous around the Memory Police, but everyone also has a firm “I’m not doing anything wrong, so there is nothing to worry about” mentality. The concept of things just vanishing is also terrifying. It isn’t just little things, but it includes food and animals as well. As the story progresses and the stakes rise while our narrator is hiding her friend, R, the horrific concept really gets dark: what if words disappear? The censorship in media that’s heavily implied through that idea is horrifying and I love how intense the metaphor is.

Much like some of my favourite Japanese horror films, this book is quiet until the last few chapters when everything is happening to an overwhelming degree. It’s an ending that can’t be described without huge spoilers, but it gets really twisted really quickly. I got very uncomfortable and finishing it was a struggle but I do plan on re-reading it when the world isn’t entirely on fire. Do I recommend reading this book? Absolutely. But maybe wait a few months.