Hungry Ghosts by Anthony Bourdain | Blabber

Anthony Bourdain's Hungry GhostsAnthony Bourdain’s Hungry Ghosts by Anthony Bourdain, Joel Rose, Alberto Ponticelli, Vanesa Del Rey, Mateus Santolouco, Leonardo Manco

Graphic Novel/Cookbook
Read March 1st, 2019
Hardback
Spoiler-free blabber

Hungry Ghosts is not what I expected it to be, then again, going into it I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. I had never read a graphic novel cookbook combination before.

This book came out October of last year, and it had been on my radar ever since. I really like Anthony Bourdain’s work, and with recent events, it made me want to read it even more. So, when I saw it in the store, sitting there going ‘Emily here I am!’ I had to pick it up.

The basic premise of this book is a group of people are having a fancy dinner when they begin an ancient samurai game of nerves – light a bunch of candles, tell a scary story, and then blow out a candle. Each person in the group does this until all the candles are extinguished. Samurai would do this feat of nerve with the expectation that speaking about the spirits and demons would draw them near, and the darker it got, the more likely it would be for the speaker to become possessed.

Each story that a person tells plays out as a chapter, so you get a bunch of mini stories with the overarching popping in and out around it. The art in this was really neat – the illustrators did a really good job. It’s a much darker, heavier style than I’m used to, but it fit for the content of the thing and I really enjoyed it. Each story was illustrated in a different way too, which was really cool. It was also really neat getting to see all of these monsters and myths of Japanese folklore played out. Some of them I had heard of, others I had not. Each story surrounded hunger somehow (hence the title) which lent to a sense of cohesiveness.

Overall I really liked the structure and the content of the book. I think the one thing that kept me from loving it was lack of depth. And I know that it might not be fair, judging a graphic novel for depth, but at the same time, there are definitely other graphics I’ve read that do have that depth within a single trade issue. This one felt like we were only scratching the surface of what could have been really thorough looks at all these monsters, and because of that I had a hard time getting really invested. The ending was also rather abrupt and I finished the story with a feeling of ‘Wait, that’s it?’. At the same time though, the abruptness and the quick stories of each creature was probably what was desired by the authors and artists – scary stories are scary stories, and a lot of them originated from small snippets of tales like these ones. The structure was probably set up that way to feel like it was going back to the roots.

The recipes at the end are fun too, though I think I’d only be able to feasibly make one of them, the risotto. All of the others are way above my cooking skills. I liked them though and if anyone wants to come over and make them for me, be my guest.

So, do I recommend this? That depends. If you’re looking for something to become totally invested in, probably not. But! If you’re interested in Japanese myth, don’t mind a quick-paced campfire-esque telling of stories, and really want to see some neat art, then definitely. This book was a really neat thing, and I enjoyed it.

3/5 stars

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo | Blabber

King of Scars (Nikolai Duology, #1)King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

Hardback
546 pages
YA Fantasy
Nikolai duology, book 1
Read Jan 29 โ€“ Feb 18
Spoiler-free blabber

Pacing.

My kingdom for some consistent pacing. Parts of this book, I really liked. Parts of it I wasn’t a huge fan of, but overall, the pacing was the major factor that kept me from rating this book more highly.

This book follows Nikolai, and takes place after the both the Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology. It delves into the political unease culminating between Ravka and its neighbors, the imposing threat of parem, and the growing movement of those who worship the legacy and memory of the Starless Saint. Guess who.

We’ll start with the negatives and end with the positives. Overall I did like this book, I just didn’t love it.

So, the negatives:

As mentioned, pacing. The pacing of this book was all over the place. The beginning of the book starts out decent, the middle drags, and the end goes very very quickly. There were multiple story lines going on in this – one following Zoya and Nikolai, one following Nina, and various smaller others that meandered in and out of the two of them.

My major issue with the pacing was due to how these two major timelines interwove, or didn’t, rather. I’ve read a few reviews on this book at this point, and one of the major points that people tend to make and that I agree with is that some of the perspectives seemed pointless at times. It jars the reader, jumping from the “main” plot line to the side ones, because the paces of them are so different, particularly towards the end of the book.

Speaking of the end (and as mentioned, no spoilers) a lot of things happen very quickly in the last hundred pages or so of the book. Things that I wanted to know more about, that should have been delved into, were skimmed over. Particularly what Zoya is up to during that time wasn’t given the attention it needed and deserved. Because of this, future chapters in the next book could have her feeling a bit unevenly developed. It’ll be like ‘suddenly she’s this way, because remember those 10 pages they talked about it in the last book?’. I hope very much that Zoya gets more focus in the next book – some internal strife, some monologuing, something that will give more attention to the development she went through so very quickly.

In addition, while Zoya developed fairly well throughout the book (and then… very fast, which makes me nervous) the other characters kinda fell flat. The series is called the Nikolai duology, but he didn’t feel quite as uh… vivid, as he did in the Grisha trilogy. I’m hoping it was because the author wanted to focus on Zoya, but this first book didn’t really feel like his book, if that makes sense. Nina as well seemed a bit less vibrant. But at the same time, that could be due to grief and I’m just being unsympathetic.

Speaking of, the positives:

(Spoilers for Crooked Kingdom) Nina’s grief. I think it was handled very well at the beginning of the book. It actually had me tearing up a bit, which… isn’t something I usually do when reading books, honestly. But I think it was the situation, the way Nina spoke about Matthias, the way she finally let him go, Nina’s sorrow felt very real to me, and very possible. It wasn’t overly dramatic or played out. It was a girl mourning the death of her love, and I felt it.

The characters, though they felt a bit flat, were generally still decent. While some of Nina’s bits were boring (aka moved at a glacial pace) I did enjoy seeing her. She was probably one of my favorites from the Six of Crows duology. That series I liked a tad less than the norm. It was a solid 3.5-4 star thing for me, which is a bit lower than you see on Goodreads. This King of Scars book I think is juuuuust above Six of Crows and juuuuust below Crooked Kingdom for me as far as rating goes.

Anyway, Nina’s plot line, while I still cannot fathom why it was drawn out so much, has me curious what will happen. It, more than Nikolai’s in my opinion, hints at a looming threat that I’m sure will come to fruition in the second book.

Nikolai, while uh… dampened, was still fun to read from. I particularly enjoyed his banter with Zoya, and enjoyed getting a bit of his inner monologue during the trials he was going through. Zoya as well, I really grew to like. Aside from the weird punch-in-the-face of stuff she went through at the end of the book, I really liked how we got her backstory. I think she is my favorite character.

The plot of this book I liked, but as mentioned, it felt stilted. It bumbled around for four hundred pages, but then really got on track at the end. Did it feel super rushed? Yes. But was it a good plot development? …I think so, yes. So I like the direction it’s going, I just hope the feeling I felt at the end of the book will stick throughout the second one, whenever it comes out. Speaking of, the ending. The very ending. Unfortunately I predicted what would happen two hundred pages before it did. It kinda took the wind out of it for me.

Despite that though, I’m still kinda pumped for it. I like the ‘what happened’, I’m just not sure if I’m totally on board with the ‘why and how’. hm hm.

So many things about this book gave me so many positive and negative feelings. That might be good though. It gives the second book so much more chance to shine. I’m excited for book two and definitely think it has the potential to be a five star book for me.

Just needs pacing.

3.75/5 stars

 

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo | Blabber

Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows, #2)Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Hardback
546 pages
YA Fantasy
Six of Crows duology, book 2
Read Jan 11 โ€“ Jan 23
Spoiler-free blabber

I picked this book up right after having finished Six of Crows. The first book suffered from over-hype, and having read it and been a bit disappointed, I went into this one with a much more realistic mindset. Because of that, I enjoyed it more than the first one.

This book picks up immediately after the finale of book one, and the characters have to deal with the new situation they find themselves in. The plot set-up for this book I think is more realistic than the first one was, and the ways the characters go about completing their objectives are much more believable. I stated in my blabber for the first one that one of my biggest problems with the book was that I found it hard to suspend my disbelief. It was easier this time around, as the motivations and actual skill sets of the characters had been more developed, and those of the enemy were less all-encompassing. It made the idea that the bad guy could potentially be overthrown feel more possible.

In addition to the plot, the characterization in this book was much more fleshed out. I griped in Six of Crows that Kaz was built up to be this ruthless, cold, vicious person, that he had this huge reputation for it, but we didn’t get to see it. Well, in this one, I was expecting more of the same, but thirty pages in, I went ‘Oh there it is’. The characters acted more how they’ve been described in this one, and it was nice to see a bit of cohesion there instead of ‘say one thing do another’. The other characters developed nicely as well. I particularly liked how Wylan grew – he became more sure of himself and his abilities, and ended up being one of my favorite characters by the end of the book. This book was funnier than the first one too. The humor wasn’t all over in-your-face, but there were a few times were I laughed. This book was fun to read.

Just like in the previous book, the main issue I had with this book was the pacing. The pacing, while a bit better than in Six of Crows, was still stilted and awkward. The beginning part of the book zooms, comes to a mini-climax, and then stagnates. It’s slow then, for about a hundred pages, and then it zooms again until the end of the book. The middle of the book isn’t supposed to make the reader want to put it down. And that’s what almost happened – I almost set it aside for a different book. I wasn’t going to stop reading it all together, but the way the plot progression was going, I was losing interest big time. That’s uh, that’s not a good thing when you’re building up to the finale of a series.

So that’s my biggest complaint. All the other complaints I had in book one have either solved themselves or they were improved on at least a little bit. If I remember, I think the Grisha trilogy had some pacing issues as well, so I’m hoping it doesn’t continue into the next series set in the same world.

So overall: This book was better than the first one. The characterization was improved, the plot was more believable, the humor was better, the characters were more likeable. It was all just better. If you read the first book and loved it, you’ll love this too. If you were luke-warm to it like me, I suggest picking this one up. Odds are, you’ll like it more.

4/5 stars

Silver Spoon (vol 1) by Hiromu Arawaka | Blabber

Silver Spoon, Vol. 1Silver Spoon by Hiromu Arakawa
192 pages
Released Feb 27, 2018
Read Jan 7, 2019
Manga – Slice of life
Spoiler-free blabber

Who knew I’d like reading about cows so much?

Silver Spoon volume one is a new series from the same author that wrote Fullmetal Alchemist. Anyone remotely familiar with manga or anime has likely at least heard of that series, and since it’s one of my all-time favorites, the author has become a bit of an auto-buy for me. So when I saw this one, I picked up the first volume to try it out.

Very much unlike the high action, high stakes plot of Fullmetal, Silver Spoon is instead a slice of life manga with a much more sedated pace. It follows the main character Yuugo Hachiken, a student who enrolls in an agricultural high school, as he learns the ins and outs of managing a farm and farm animals. The author herself grew up on a farm, so the knowledge put into the story is first hand.

The series alters between a light, humorous tone and a grimmer one. The story does not shy away from the grit required with handling farm animals. The main character, having no farming background himself. learns what that means quickly. The narrative explores the main character’s discomfort with seeing exactly where his food comes from, but it does it in a way that is neither cruel or really makes fun of him or the other students who are doing the work required. It was interesting to see, as someone who was very much raised in a city and has been around a full sized cow only in petting zoos.

The character design in the manga is very similar to that of Fullmetal Alchemist, and it was almost a nostalgic experience, seeing characters who look close to ones I know already. The humoristic art style is also the same, and I enjoyed it just as much as I did last time.

In addition to the raising of farm animals, this manga, within the first volume, also starts to cover various other important topics, such what it’s like to experience a lack of motivation. The main character finds himself surrounded by highly driven people, all with their own goals and aspirations, and finds himself feeling inadequate. It talks about what it’s like when you’re expected to feel all these things, but you just… don’t. It’s not a topic often discussed, as ‘go-getters’ tend to be the center of story lines.

Another thing I really liked about this manga was one of the female characters: Tamako Inada. She’s introduced right near the beginning of the series and is very overweight. Her classmates make comments in passing about her, ranging from concern to outright meanness. My favorite thing about her though, is that she doesn’t seem to care – everything said about her just bounces off her, she ignores it or she proves them wrong purely by who she is. She’s just so resilient, and she has a really great sense of humor to boot. She’s by far, in my book at least, the funniest character. I think she’s one of the hidden gems in this series, and will become one of my favorites.

So overall, the humor in this combined with the seriousness made me really like this first volume. Hiromu Arakawa has exceeded expectations once again, and I plan on getting more of this series soon!

4.25/5 stars

 

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo | Blabber

Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Hardback
465 pages
YA Fantasy
Read Jan 5 – Jan 11
Spoiler-free blabber

Hype is a dangerous thing.

I had heard many, many good things about this book before I picked it up, and with King of Scars coming out at the end of this month, I figured I should get to it beforehand in case events within are mentioned in passing in the next series. I am a fan of the Grisha trilogy – all the books in there hover around 4 stars, give or take – and the majority of people seem to actually like this book more than that series. So going in, I was pretty pumped.

Unfortunately, I guess I was too pumped. I ended up liking the book, but that thing, that ‘oomph’ that everyone felt that made them absolutely adore it.. I didn’t feel it. As stated, the book was good. I liked it. I didn’t love it, though.

I liked the plot. I loved the world. I liked the pacing. I liked the characters… mostly. The biggest thing that killed this book for me though was the characters’ ages. I knew going into the book that it was young adult and therefore I would be reading about seventeen year olds. But even going in with that mindset, I still couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough to get passed that, well, a bunch of seventeen year olds were breaking into a military stronghold deemed impenetrable. The method they used to get in as well, seemed a bit farfetched to me. I just kept sitting there thinking ‘Someone at some point in time must have tried that method. Like, how long has this place been around and nobody tried this?‘ But apparently, this group of people in particular, these teenagers, were way, way smarter than any military strategist or security personnel with decades of experience. Who knew.

I guess my point is that, after the build-up of the stakes and the danger and whatnot, the actual exhibition kinda… fell flat, which leads me into my other issue with the book. Whether it was the writing or the fact that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief, I just couldn’t feel the intensity of the situation. The stakes are basically life and death, in the long term. You’d think that would have me going ‘oh no oh no oh no are they gonna make it ugh ugh’, but it really didn’t. The situation, which should have had me on the edge of my seat, lacked any sort of feeling of urgency. And I think this reason specifically is why I rated it lower than people tend to. I wasn’t able to get myself to feel for the characters or the situation. There was no sense of impending doom, no anxiety build up about what would happen should they fail. It just.. wasn’t there.

Also, I don’t like Kaz. He reminds me too much of Kvothe from the Kingkiller Chronicles and I hate Kvothe. Kaz had the vibe of ‘I’m good at this stuff just because’, and it drove me bonkers. The second I realized the similarities, I actually said, “Oh nooooooo,” out loud. Kaz has this reputation for doing the gritty stuff, for doing any job, for being nefarious and cruel and yada yada. You don’t really get to see that, though. Sure it’s alluded to, but it really felt like ‘I’m telling you this stuff so I don’t actually have to write it and do the character development’. He had development during the story, which was ok, but his background didn’t really show through. I knew he was supposed to be this tough guy but like.. it didn’t really seem like it.

But! Like I said, I did like this book. What lacked for me in immersion, intensity and Kaz was made up for by just being back in the Grisha universe again. As stated, I like the world this novel takes place in. The world building for the city, the island, and the other countries mentioned are pretty neat. The magic system is super interesting and its use in this book had a different dynamic than in the Grisha trilogy, so it was nice seeing it from another perspective. I feel like so much more could take place here, and going by the new series that’s coming out soon, I’m gonna get my wish.

The side characters as well – basically everyone except Kaz, I really liked. I liked Nina in particular, because she had the same feelings towards Kaz as I do. Because of that, it makes me question him – maybe he was supposed to be written as an insufferable butt on purpose and will get called out on it in book two? Who knows. If that happens though, then you can bet your butt I’ll be singing its praises. The other side characters too were rather entertaining. I really like the character dynamics between Nina and Matthias, though I think the reason for the strife between them is a bit farfetched. The reason the author used to get them not quite liking each other is, well, ridiculous. The reasoning given for Nina doing what she did was that she had no other choice. She totally had another choice. There were so many other choices. It’s a minor issue though, I guess. I guess. The interactions between Jesper and Wylan too, I really enjoyed. I think those two characters are my favorite overall, and I hope to see them grow and develop in the next book.

And I think the best part about this book was the pacing. While I didn’t really feel the intensity of the situation, the pace of the writing kept me reading at a steady rate. Nothing felt slow or unnecessary, nothing felt rushed. The pacing saved this book for me. I really appreciate it when an author can keep a steady sense of ‘keep reading’ in me throughout the book, whether or not it’s during an action scene. It doesn’t happen super often, so it was so nice that it did.

Overall, this book was good. It wasn’t great, as I had been led to believe, but it was good. I liked it.

3.75/5 stars

 

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins | Blabber

The Library at Mount CharThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
Fantasy/Horror
388 pages
Hardback
Read Oct 1 – Oct 12
Spoiler-free blabber

This book is a bit unlike anything I’ve ever read before. The closest I can think of is 14 by Peter Clines, but even then, it’s more. I buddy-read this book with Katy @TheBibliobibuliOnBookbinderWay and we both really liked it.

The book opens on the main character, Carolyn, walking down the side of a highway, coated in blood. While the scene itself ends up not being super duper significant in the overall plot, it definitely sets the tone. It feels weird and unsettling and when a good samaritan pulls over to ask if she’s okay, my brain went ‘Nope leave her there’ immediately, already on alert that she was not someone you wanted to be around.

From there, the plot starts to slowly unfold – Carolyn and her ‘siblings’ are being blocked from entering their dwelling, the mysterious library, and their Father has disappeared. The library and what exactly Father is largely remains a mystery until the end of the book, and it creates a feel of uncertainty as you read. Too, the catalogues that each of the siblings studies as librarians are a bit outside the norm of what a normal library would hold.

All of this, together with the intense writing and out-there plot developments makes this book a very gritty, dark read. This isn’t a book you’d want to let your ten year old into, as it contains scenes of violence against children. I won’t go into what, for spoilers, but reading those scenes was difficult for me. The book is written in a way that doesn’t glorify the events, and they are relevant to the plot. But just so you know, they’re in there. So head’s up.

I think one of my favorite things about this book was the author’s ability to make me say ‘what the hell’ after the end of almost every chapter. The events of the book, as stated, are a bit out there. Things happen that are so bizarre and it takes a bit to get used to, but they’re bizarre in a consistent manner. There’s an order to how weird everything is, and I think that’s what made me love this book. I’m ok with suspending my disbelief if the author can paint a picture and make it all-encompassing, and that’s what Scott Hawkins does.

Character-wise, I didn’t like any of them except Dresden and Erwin. But when I say I didn’t like them, I don’t mean they were badly written. I mean they’re well written, but just awful people. Don’t go into this expecting to root for people, they’ll all leave a foul taste in your mouth. It kept me reading – watching these characters be who they were, and part of me hoped they all would just fail at everything. So not hate-reading, but reading while hating the characters as people, not as single-dimensional tropes. See the difference? I loved this book.

Finally, the ending of a book is make or break for me. I could absolutely adore the first 5/6ths of a book but if the ending is shit, the book will drop a star rating, sometimes two. But the ending of this, while just as totally insane as the rest of the book, was a solid ending in my opinion. I didn’t like the outcome of a lot of the characters, but it also fit really well with how Carolyn and the others were colored to act. It wasn’t outside their normal range of behavior. So while I wasn’t overly fond of how some seemed to just get away with awful deeds and others paid dearly for minor ones, it still fit the story.

So. Loved this book. Can definitely see me rereading it. Going on favorites list.

5/5 stars

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb

Dragon Keeper (The Rain Wild Chronicles, #1)Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb
Fantasy
494 pages
Read Sept 2 – Sept 29, 2018
Rain Wild Chronicles, Book 1
Realm of the Elderlings, Book 10

Spoiler-free blabber

I buddy-read this book with Zezee! This is what feels like our millionth Robin Hobb buddy-read, and it was just as enjoyable as all it’s predecessors. ๐Ÿ˜€

I think that I would have enjoyed this book more if the previous Hobb books in the Realm of the Elderlings series weren’t The Tawny Man trilogy. I say this because to me, Tawny Man is her best works so far. I loved that series. So coming down off that and going into this one, I think my expectations were a bit too high, or I was still not over the previous one.

Overall, I did rather like this book. It was very enjoyable, and I feel like it’s a strong set-up to what could be a really, really good quartet. But, with my mindset still partially on The Fool and Fitz, my heart was still a bit distracted, so I feel like I couldn’t give as much affection to this one because Fitz and The Fool weren’t in it.

The characters that were in it though, were nice and gray and complicated, just how Hobb loves to write and them and I love to read them. Each one within the first book developed distinct personalities and motivations. Some of them I very much like, others I started with disliking and ended up liking and some I started with liking and ended up disliking.

Alise. Probably my favorite character in the series at this point. In the beginning of the book, she enters into a marriage contract with Hest, a prominent trader in Bingtown, which would allow her to pursue her study of dragons in earnest. Alise starts as a character that has never really been the center of attention but by the end of the novel, becomes more confident in herself and her skills and what attention she does receive from the other characters, she revels in. There’s a gray area with her in this though, but saying what it is would be a spoiler, I think. Overall, her character growth in this first book was good to read, and while she is my favorite character, she’s toying a very fine line in morals. It’ll be interesting to see which way she ultimately slides.

Hest. Easily my most hated character. Alise’s husband, he’s a bit of a jerk. I think his character arc was the most easily predictable for me. I was able to guess ahead of time why he acts the way he was acting, and to have to play out almost exactly as I predicted kinda let out some of the steam I had had going for this book. There was only a small detail about it that I had not predicted, but man, that detail is coloring other characters more complicated and makes interactions between others more hypocritical. AUGH I LOVE IT. I don’t like Hest, but as far as his part to play in the story, his actions are going to cause a lot of waves, man.

Sedric. This is the character I started with liking and ended up disliking. In the beginning, I saw him more as a pure and innocent and overall good influence in Alise’s life. But as the story progressed and we got to read from his point of view, we get to see that all is not well in Oz. He’s gray man, his moral compass is all over the place. He’s righteous in some areas and a hypocrite in others. He’s a very interesting one to read from for sure. I feel like his character arc has a lot of room for growth. I hope he becomes even more complicated.

Leftrin. This is the one that I started with disliking and ended up liking. Leftrin original struck me as a sly, manipulative individual, with his actions in the beginning of the book. And he might still be and is just good at hiding it, but seeing him interact with Alise and others, he’s warmed to me. He seems like he genuinely wants to be better, despite wanting to gain a profit along the way. I feel like this character is another one that could surprise me with his growth.

Thymara. I know this character got a lot of screen time, but she is one I’m still the least connected to. I like her overall, but I feel like I haven’t really gotten to read deep enough into her yet. I know her motivations, and I know her personality, but nothing has really struck me about her character yet, if that makes sense. I hope in the next book that she gets more POV time so I can read more from her and hopefully grow to like her as much as I like Alise.


Plot-wise, this book was rather slow. The reading wasn’t slow, I blew through it, but the speed at which things were happening was slow. This book, about half way through it, Zezee and I realized was just set up for the next books. Not saying that it was bad, but nothing really happened until towards the end of the book.

Most of the book was taken up by world-building and character development, both of which were really neat. I feel like Robin Hobb’s ability to build her world in the book with so much depth and distinction without it feeling like an info-dump is one of her best talents. At no point did I feel overwhelmed with trivia, nor did I get bored reading. Everything flowed really nicely and I found myself being able to open the book and read 100 or 200 pages in a single sitting. Her writing was compelling even though, as I said, I felt like nothing super major happened plot-wise. I think it was the anticipation of the next book that kept me going – with everything that was built up in this book, the next book sounds like it’s going to be even more wonderful.

So overall – I liked this book. The character development was good, the world-building was good. I just was hoping for a bit more plot, I guess. Plus, Fitz and the Fool – I want them back, man. MY HEART, IT YEARNS.

3.75/5 stars

Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft | Blabber

Senlin Ascends (The Books of Babel, #1)Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft
Fantasy
383 pages
The Books of Babel, Book 1
Read July 21 – Sept 8, 2018
Spoiler-free blabber

Reading Senlin Ascends felt like reading an epic poem without the poem.

It had the lone ‘hero’ going on a huge journey to achieve a goal, it had lands of intrigue, it had allegory, it had beliefs held dear by the main character shattered over and over, it had everything, man.

I adored this book.

Back in March of this year, I completed the r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge, and was lucky enough to win an ebook of my choosing as a prize, given to me by one of the sponsors of the bingo game. I chose this one, having heard about it briefly, just enough to pique my interest. And man, I’m glad I chose it – I had never really read an ebook with so much gusto before. And I admit – I was definitely reading it at times I probably shouldn’t: During restroom breaks at work, during car rides when I was the passenger even though reading in the car makes me sick, during down time at restaurants, whenever I could. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The writing was beautiful, the main character had me rooting for him, and the world that Josiah Bancroft created is absolutely fascinating.

The book, if you haven’t heard of it, follows a man named Thomas Senlin, who upon arriving at the foot of The Tower of Babel loses his wife in the crowd, and has to ascend the tower to find her before she’s lost forever. The premise is quite simple, but the world created within the confines of the tower is quite rich. The tower itself is a feat of imagination. So high that only rumor tells if there is a top and what is there – each level, called a ringdom, is quite different from the one below it. Whether it be The Parlor, a level full of actors and performances and you can’t tell who’s playing a role and who’s not, or The Baths, a level rich in soap and hotels and conspiracy, each one feels as real and gritty as sand in your fingernails. I really enjoyed the depth of setting each ringdom had. Each felt like its own fully developed world with lore attached to it, even though they were connected by stairways and tunnels. Everytime Senlin arrived at a new one, it was like reading about a brand new place. The book also had a light steampunk feel to it – airships carried passengers from level to level, using air currents as their only source of movement, which I thought was pretty neat.

Senlin himself was a good character to follow. His development arc was nice and complicated. At the beginning, he was so full of awe for the tower. Coming with his new wife to the base of the tower on honeymoon, his story begins with him full of whimsical tales and beliefs about how wonderful the tower is and how splendid each level must be. Like all great tales though, he finds his beliefs called into question over and over again, each revelation of truth like a slap to the face. Characters he meets on each level only add to the complexity of the story – why they’re there, how they got there, why they stopped in that ringdom specifically. Each character gave Senlin added depth through the way they interacted and how each of their meetings came to an end. All of it felt like I was reading a giant metaphor. The allegory was strong in this book – it felt like a book I would read for a literature class in college. I could fill the margins with notes if I wanted. Heck, I want a physical copy now to do just that. When I continue this series (which I will be doing) I want to switch to physical copies so I can love on them without needing to worry about a battery charge.

Here is an example of the writing – a quote from near the beginning of the book. The context is Senlin is at the base of the tower, and has just witnessed the death of several people around him:

He especially delighted in the old tales, the epics in which heroes set out on some impossible and noble errand, confronting the dangers in their path with fatalistic bravery. Men often died along the way, killed in brutal and unnatural ways; they were gored by war machines, trampled by steeds, and dismembered by their heartless enemies. Their deaths were boastful and lyrical and always, always more romantic than real. Death was not an end. It was an ellipsis. There was no romance in the scene before him. There were no ellipses here. The bodies lay upon the ground like broken exclamation points.

I just. I love it. This is the first of many quotes I marked, and it’s the one that made me fall in love with Senlin Ascends. From this quote on, I was smitten. The whole book is littered with passages like this, and each one had my heart going ba-dump-ba-dump. Josiah Bancroft is a wordsmith and with just this one book, one of my favorite authors. He could publish his grocery list and I’d read it.

Another enjoyable aspect about this book is the tone it took – in addition to the characters and plot, the tone just made this world seem huge. Far bigger than a story set in one tower should feel. Repeated references to endless exploration of the tower, conversation and speculation on what and who is at the top, speculation of who built it and when, the way the people live their lives in each ringdom, almost in isolation of the others. It made each level feel like the size of a country instead of a city, and it gave the book a feeling of vastness that could allow for many, many more books set here to be written. When I said that it felt like I was reading an epic poem, I was not exaggerating. It just all feels so big.

I feel like there’s going to be a fantastic story told here, as Senlin continues his plight, and I’m here for it man. The next book is out and the third is expected next year. I’m hoping each lives up to this one, and improves on it (thought, that’ll be hard to do considering how good this one is already…).

I know I’ve done nothing but gush, but man, this book is so good. I. Loved. It. New all-time favorite, fan for life.

5/5 stars

Ps. I mentioned in a tweet that I was reading this book and Josiah Bancroft liked it. I may or may not have peed.

Happy reading!

 

Queen of Shadows by Sarah J Maas | Blabber

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, #4)Queen of Shadows by Sarah J Maas
YA Fantasy
Read Aug 23 – 27th
648 pages
Throne of Glass, Book 4
Spoiler-free blabber

I feel like these books are hard to review. Objectively, there are a lot of problems with them, but subjectively, I tend to adore them.

To prove my words, I wrote that top bit there and then I sat here for five minutes staring at my screen, trying to figure out how to start. Hm…

Queen of Shadows was a book on my 10 in 2018 list, the second year in a row it appeared there. I read the first three books rapid fire back in January of 2016 and then got distracted. This read was the second attempt. I picked it up once in 2017 and got a chapter into it before realizing I had forgotten character relations, major plots points, and all sorts of things from the first three. I ended up watching a spoilery in-depth review of Heir of Fire before jumping into it this time, and while my memory was spotty on it for a while, it definitely was a better experience.

Going into this one, I had heard it was a party-splitter, that some fans adored it and others really, really disliked it. I read it, waiting and waiting for this opinion-altering event to occur, and… I never really found one. Overall themes in the book could be off-putting I suppose, but I don’t think I quite understand why this book is so disliked by some when obviously they had liked the first three. I don’t really see how it was so different overall. So, if you are in the ‘didn’t like this’ party, enlighten me, because I am truly curious what I missed.

I think my favorite thing about this book and Maas’s books in general, is how easy they are to read. I tend to pick them up when I’m in a reading slump, because without fail I fly through them. I think I read this 650 page book in… four days? Maybe five? I really buzzed through it, and considering I’d only been reading manga beforehand because ofย  the slump, I’d say that’s pretty good.

I’ve mentioned in past reviews of the series that Celaena or Aelin or whatever her name is, is not my favorite character. She rubs me the wrong way. I feel like her abilities are too much for the amount of training she’s received compared to her enemies, some obviously much older and much more experienced. I guess she just comes across as a bit unbelievable to me. Though, she’s nowhere near as bad as my favorite Mary Sue. And honestly, I think I liked her more this book than I have in any of its predecessors. Originally in book one, she was very immature – threw tantrums, was vindictive. I think seeing her actually have interpersonal relations with people has helped. And I very much like ‘Aelin’ more than ‘Celaena’. Her character development has been going pretty well and maybe one day, I’ll actually like her. Maybe.

So, I mentioned there are problems with the book objectively, the main character being a bit over-inflated being one. Another is the age of many of the main players and leaders of factions. Everyone from the resistance to the assassins to the guards are in their late teens or early twenties, with the exception of the centuries-old fae who is somehow able to get along with everyone with no maturity or generational-gap issues. He just… fits right in, but you would think he’d have more problems adjusting. A third is the eventual almost-guaranteed attraction of every male character to Aelin. At one point or another, all of them decide they’re crushing on her or more, regardless of their age. Heck, even her cousin gets territorial over her (though not for romantic reasons, don’t worry, it’s not gross). A fourth is all the ‘alpha-male’ bull-doody that results from issue three. Aelin herself calls it out, but she does it in a way that says ‘Oh you guys. Quit fighting over little ol’ me’ and never actually addresses the root of the behavior or why it’s weird for them all to be posturing to each other over this 19-year-old woman.

So yes, objectively, issues. None of these issues are particularly new, they’ve been in the series since book one and just growing broader with the addition of more characters. Do they bug me? Yes. Are they enough for me to dislike the series? Weirdly, no. But, I can see why they’d be too much for some people. I feel like if I wasn’t able to fly through the books as easily as I am, these issues would be much more of a factor for me. But I at least want to acknowledge them.

Plot-wise I rather liked this book. I liked the expansion of the world, I liked the subplots of the side characters. I like Chaol and I really like Manon. The witch subplot chapters were some of my favorites, and I really like how she’s been developing and how her thirteen are actually starting to get personalities. When she was introduced last book, I found her interesting but her chapters were kinda flat. Aside from Manon herself, none of the characters in them were really given any opportunity to show that they were more than cardboard cut-outs. This book allowed for that, and I think that Manon’s First is one of my favorite characters in the series now. She’s pretty great.

Another thing I liked seeing was the friendship that developed between Aelin and one of the female characters that was mentioned earlier in the series and then forgotten about. She reappears in this book and actually gets a good dose of character development. It’s always nice to see a movie or book pass the Bechdel test, man. Just because a book has a main female lead doesn’t mean it passes, and it’s a bit sad that fails are so common. I think this relationship in particular is what made me dislike Aelin less in this book than I have in the others. I feel like this friendship was a much needed dynamic, and I hope it lasts.

And finally, as mentioned above, I flew through it. The writing was compelling enough to keep me reading for over a hundred pages a day, and that is the main reason why I liked it so much. The book was fun. It was enjoyable to read, and I found myself unable to put it down. It made me wanna break my book buying ban so I could go get the fifth one (but I didn’t, I’m making myself wait).

So overall, despite the issues this book has, I did rather like it, and I’m looking forward to the fifth one.

4.25/5 stars

Fence (vol 1) by C. S. Pacat | Blabber

Fence Vol. 1Fence by C. S. Pacat
Graphic Novel
112 pages
Issues 1-4
Published July 31st, 2018
Read Aug 7th, 2018
Spoiler-free blabber

I feel like I suffered from overblown expectations for this one.

I read Pacat’s Captive Prince trilogy earlier this year and absolutely adored it, so going into this one, I guess I was expecting to immediately love it. Unfortunately, my feelings toward this first volume are more mild than I was hoping. Don’t get me wrong – I did like this and I feel like it has a lot of room to become a favorite, but the first trade alone didn’t quite do it for me. And that’s my own fault there.

Fence follows a young man as he enters a school and joins the fencing team with the hopes of winning internationally. The main character is written in a way that didn’t quite have me rooting for him. I tend not to like characters with egos and nothing to back it up, and in the beginning, this one did. It wasn’t huge, not like Kvothe-level or anything, but seeing him not immediately being the best fencer was super, super refreshing. I grew to like the character more as the story progressed and he learned a bit of humility.

The character on the cover of the issue is the main character’s rival, and I found him to be much more amusing. He’s written to be a bit of a jerk, though very skilled. He also has an ego, but it bothered me far less, as he had the years and years of training to back it up, as opposed to have just brazen over-confidence in himself. He could still use a bit of character development, but I’m gonna not say too much more on that, given it’s only been one trade volume.

The remaining cast of characters were all interesting in their own ways, but none of them have really developed too much so far, so I haven’t really decided if I like any of them over others. Reading this trade, with the cast of characters and the tone it set, reminded me a lot of Yuri!!! On Ice and Free!ย . It had a light-fluffiness to it that was enjoyable to read. So if you’re not into quasi-romance that will eventually end up being actual romance, then this series will likely not float your boat. Because I can see it coming a mile away – the graphic novel is listed as lgbt romance, so I know it’s coming. The hate-to-love trope is strong in this one, man. I feel it in my bones, and I’m looking forward to it. This trope, when written well, is wonderful. When it’s not, it’s really really not. But having read C. S. Pacat’s attempt at the trope before, I know she’ll do a decent job of it, so I’m excited.

So, this first volume was a solid beginning, and it definitely has a lot of potential to become a favorite as the series progresses. But, I think my high expectations made me not love this one as much as I thought I would. I’m still going to continue it, and will buy the second volume when my buying ban is over, so I hope it only gets better from here.

3.75/5 stars