Review: The Prince and the Dressmaker

The Prince and the DressmakerThe Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I knew I wanted to read this one the moment I saw the cover. The artwork is just wonderful, with expressive characters and gorgeous costume design that really make the story Jen Wang is telling come to life on the page. The Prince and the Dressmaker is about growing up and coming into one’s own, about discovering who you are and being comfortable in your own skin. It’s about striving for your dreams and supporting those around you in their endeavors even when you can’t say you understand the “why” behind it.

It is a charming book. Sebastian and Frances are likable and relatable, their problems and wants something I think most readers can connect with. It was good to see things work out well in the end. That bit of self-affirmation, that the choices you’ve made so far and the things you want aren’t wrong, just maybe unexpected at first, was a wonderful wrap up to this graphic novel. It’s so refreshing to read something light and supportive every once in a while.

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Bookish Recommendation: Reading Glasses Podcast

Happy weekend! I’ve got another Bookish Recommendation for you, and today I’m pitching another podcast, this time one that aims to “solve all your bookish problems:” Reading Glasses. One of the many shows on the MaximumFun.org network of podcasts, Reading Glasses is what rekindled my love of reading (and, coincidentally, my love for talking about books).

Here’s the summary from Maximum Fun’s website:

Do you love books? Want to learn how to make the most of your reading life? Join hosts Brea Grant and Mallory O’Meara every week as they discuss tips and tricks for reading better on Reading Glasses, a podcast designed to help you get more out of your literary experiences.

As professional creatives and mega-readers, Mallory and Brea are experts on integrating a love of reading into a busy lifestyle. Listeners will get help for bookish problems, like how to vanquish that To-Be-Read pile and organize those bookshelves. Brea and Mallory also offer advice on reader dilemmas. How do you climb out of a reading slump? How do you support authors while still getting books on the cheap? Where do you hide the bodies of the people who won’t stop talking while you’re trying to read? No matter what you read or how you read it, Reading Glasses will help you do it better.

Each episode follows a standard format: first, Mallory and Brea talk about the books they’re currently reading, then they discuss a major topic. They follow that with an interview of someone relevant to the bookish community before wrapping things up with a bit where they solve a listener’s bookish problems.

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It’s an incredibly fun show. The topics range from serious to silly and the interviews bring some interesting insights into the range of book podcasts that I hadn’t stumbled upon before. There’s an episode where they interview a librarian who discusses how they cataloged books in reverse alphabetical order and it’s possibly one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever heard.

You don’t have to listen to the show in order, but I recommend it, because each episode is great in its own way. You’ll get book rec’s, hear some bookish advice, and maybe learn something new from their interviews. If going through a podcast backlog isn’t your cup of tea, here’s some of my favorites you can start with:

Reading Glasses Episode 1: Book Slumps with Sara Benincasa

Ep 6 – Wipe Your Hands and Other Book Event Advice with IDW’s Chris Ryall

Ep. 14 – Book Shame and How to Deal with It plus Confessions from Daniel H. Wilson

What kinds of podcasts are you listening to? Got any good book-centric ones I should check out? Let me know, and until next time, read on~

Throwback Thursday: The Masked City

This week’s Throwback Thursday is kind of more a F… Forgotten Friday? In that I forgot to post this post on Thursday, so here it is on Friday.

Okay, so that doesn’t work as well, but you get what I’m going for here. ANYWAY.

I’m all hyped up on Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series right now as I work my way through book #4, The Lost Plot, so I think we’ll take a look at The Masked City. Two weeks ago I talked about The Invisible Library and you can check out my thoughts on the beginning of the series here.

The Masked City (The Invisible Library, #2)The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I left a lot of books unfinished in 2017, so with 2018 and a new challenge upon me, I’m trying to knock some of those out. This was one of those books. It wasn’t that I wasn’t enjoying it, I don’t think, but I sat it down one day, got distracted the next, and found I didn’t have much interest in picking it back up again. My interest in reading in general comes and goes in spurts, and I think this book was an unfortunate casualty to that indifference.

The Masked City is, like the first book, a fun, entertaining romp through a fantasy world that I really adore. It’s quick and snappy, and Cogman’s writing does a great job backing up that general tone. This time around, however, I was finding it hard to keep pushing through when it felt Irene wasn’t making much progress. I wasn’t as interested with the other Fae from the Train as I could’ve been, and by the time Irene had gone to Silver and stumbled into her plan of attack, I’d already fallen off. Picking it back up, it rushed through to the end after that point, so perhaps I just needed to stick it through for another 20 or so pages to get back into the groove.

Vale’s bit made me raise an eyebrow because of how convenient it all was, but this isn’t the sort of book that takes its plot very seriously, I don’t think, so I’m okay with letting it slide. Overall it’s still a fun and thrilling read, so I’ll be picking up the next two sometime this year.

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Unlike the first novel, I wasn’t really into The Masked City. The premise was fine, but Irene doesn’t work as well as a lone agent, and her time away from both Vale and Kai really worked against this book’s favor. Silver’s an interesting character with a lot more complexities than we’re initially led to expect, but even he gets little page-time in the grand scheme of things. It’s not that Irene is a bad character, per se, but she really shines when she’s being bounced off the characters around her. Flying solo, she’s a little flatter than usual, and I struggled to stay focused during the center of this one as a result.

On the plus side, this book introduces us to the intricacies of both Fae and Dragon politics and lifestyle, which I was all about. We get introduced to an interesting Fae character we’ll see again later in the series and we get to see Irene taking matters into her own hands and kicking some butt while she’s at it, which I’m always a fan of.

It was a good read, but it was undeniably weaker than The Invisible Library. Don’t worry, though, because things pick back up with The Burning Page, and so far, The Lost Plot is shaping up to be just as engaging.

To top off the Library excitement, book #5 has a lovely cover and release date announcement up on Amazon:

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Isn’t that gorgeous? The colors, the little black cat, the somewhat ominous title… I’m super, duper excited to see where Cogman takes us next.

That’s it for this week’s post! Thanks for stopping by and, as always, read on~

Book Haul

Books! Vacations! These two things go extremely well together, and next week, I get them both!

In preparation for my staycation next week, I snagged a few reads off my Amazon wish-list (alongside a new video game), and have so far planned out a full week of reading and exploring the Nordic setting of Santa Monica Studio’s God of War. I am /so incredibly excited./ Since starting my new job in December, I feel like I’ve been stuck in a constantly moving whirlwind, so the week to relax and focus on some things around the house is so, so welcomed.

We’re here to talk about the books, though, so here’s my new purchases:

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade final for Irene

Summary:
Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

My thoughts:
I /adore/ this cover. It’s so stylish and the red cape makes such a stark impact against the ivory background that it kept drawing my eye whenever I’d scroll past it on my Goodreads timeline. Plus, magic! Alternate realities! Thieves and magicians! Yeah, I’m pretty hyped about this one. It checks a lot of boxes for me and I’m looking forward to digging into it next week.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

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Summary:
Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

My thoughts:
I’ve seen this comic floating around Twitter since it released a few weeks ago and the premise is just so sweet. It’s been on my wishlist since then, so when I decided I wanted to get a few new books for my vacation, I knew this had to be one of them. I love anything that plays with traditional concepts of gender and the pleasant art and lovely cover really drew me in. Definitely excited to read this one.

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries #1) by Martha Wells

32758901Summary:
In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

My thoughts:
Tor.com has had a lot to say about All Systems Red (and its soon-to-be-released sequel), and from what I’ve seen, it’s all been favorable. To be honest, the name of the main character – the Murderbot – really put me off for a good long while, but then people kept talking about it, and a sequel got announced, and my curiosity became too strong to ignore. It should be a short read, if nothing else, which is just what I need during my staycation.


What new books have y’all picked up recently? Got a favorite you go back to when you have your own “staycation?” Let me know about it in the comments, and until next time, try to relax.

Review: Hyperion

Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, #1)Hyperion by Dan Simmons

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has sat on my Kindle for something like four years now, completely untouched. Every once in a while, my SO pokes me to read it, and I sort of hand-wave it and say I’ll get around to it eventually. After putting it off for years, and deciding that I wanted to read some sci-fi next, I finally picked this one up – and I’ve got to say, I’m extremely proud of how well he has my tastes in books completely figured out.

Part Canterbury Tales, part time-traveling sci-fi, Hyperion is a collection of stories from a group of pilgrims on their way to visit the mysterious Time Tombs and the even more mysterious creature known as the Shrike. There’s horror, time-travel, monsters, and a whole heap of literary references. This might sound like a pretty random spread, but Simmons does a very good job of tossing it all in together and making a enjoyable, engaging read out of it.

This is a book that focuses very much on the histories of the characters within while they make their way across Hyperion in what each of them suspects will be their last journey. Although it has its fair share of sci-fi standard story building – an Old Earth that’s long dead, complicated space travel logistics and scientific terminology – the world of Hyperion is presented with just enough detail to intrigue but not inundate. I was never overwhelmed with the world of Hyperion and it never overpowered the story and characters.

Each tale has a distinctive voice that tells its own self-contained story which furthers to build up the mythos of the mysterious Shrike, the creature (or god) that plagues Hyperion. I found them to be extremely interesting, from the priest’s tale with its existential horror to the scholar’s tale and the heart-wrenching sadness at his daughter’s plight. There wasn’t a single tale that I disliked, though I heavily preferred some over others. The way Simmons plays with literary devices and genre fiction in these short tales is very interesting, as well.

The ending is incredibly disappointing, leaving the reader with no solid conclusions to any of the major plot points. However, I found this wasn’t a huge problem, and it wouldn’t stop me from recommending it to others – the journey to get to the end is so good that it’s definitely worth it.

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Reading Wheelhouse

One of the first things that drew me to the Reading Glasses podcast was their conversation about their “reading wheelhouse” in the first episode. I loved the concept of sitting down and putting into words what really clicks for you when it comes to books. It’s a nifty, visual way of answering the question of what themes, tropes, or plot points will guarantee that you read a book.

I’ve been wanting to do it forever, so here we go, my wheelhouse.

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Fantasy
– urban setting but way weirder – Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
– dragons — dragons disguised as humans – The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
– unique magic systems – Uprooted by Naomi Novik
– Weres – Moon Called by Thompson

Sci-fi
– set today but way weirder – The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
– AI gaining sentience – Diaspora by Greg Egan
– dystopian (but no zombies) – Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
– time travel — time paradox – Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Horror
– set in a normal place but way weirder – House of Leaves by Mark
– ghosts – Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite
– atmospheric horror/subtle horror – The Shining by Stephen King
– body horror/transformation – A God in the Shed by J-F. Dubeau

Review: The Merry Spinster

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday HorrorThe Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Merry Spinster by Daniel Mallory Ortberg is a collection of retold fairy-tales with a horror spin, each more unsettling and bloody than the last. With a strong grasp of fairy-tale storytelling and a snappy writing style, Ortberg gives the reader bite-sized horror stories that are easily read in one sitting each. With 11 total stories in this collection, there’s a variety of settings and topics to chose from, and for the sake of this review I’ll be talking about my favorite stories individually. There’s no real common theme here or connecting piece, outside of being “creepy fairy-tales,” so there’s no need to discuss them as a whole.

“The Daughter Cells” is the first story in The Merry Spinster, and it is a pretty standard “Little Mermaid but way darker” retelling. Ortberg does an excellent job obscuring the details just enough to make the reader uneasy; there’s a particular moment where they describe the mermaid’s sense of movement and limbs that adds some extra creepiness not otherwise found in your average retelling.

“Six Boys’ Coffins” is a tale I’m not familiar with, but loved none the less. It follows the construction of a traditional fairy-tale exceptionally well, with it’s prophetic dreams and arduous tasks for the heroine, but with a considerably darker twist. I liked this about it; it really highlights how truly shitty a lot of the fairy tale stories are.

“The Wedding Party” had this surreal horror to it, where you’re left wondering what sort of place the groom has ended up in, and although it was a story with an unclear conclusion, I did like it. It almost gives me a Silent Hill vibe.

While these might be my highlights in terms of individual story, there’s a lot here that’s just great. Ortberg does some clever things with gender and pronouns that I just really loved – primarily that son/daughter/wife/husband are roles and can by played by anyone of any gender, based on need or circumstance. Each story is suitably eerie in at least some way, and while it’s certainly not a favorite, I liked it well enough.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes creepy fairy-tale retellings, unique takes on gender and gender roles, and witty writing.

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