The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang | Blabber

The Poppy War (The Poppy War, #1)The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang
The Poppy War – Book 1
Fantasy
530 pages
Read May 2 – June 1, 2019
Spoiler-free blabber

The Poppy War had a reputation that preceded it.

I had heard more than once before going into this book that it was going to be brutal, graphic, and full of triggering themes. And it was. But honestly, I feel like it wasn’t nearly as intense as I had been expecting. There were definitely difficult situations in the book, and there were descriptions that kinda curdled my stomach, but I feel like I was lead to believe that there would be more than there was, considering the events the book is based off of.

Alternatively, I could just be so desensitized to today’s society and world events that I read all the awful stuff and went, ‘huh’. Either way, I’m not saying this as a good thing or a bad thing about the book, but to me at least, the warnings of graphic content were a bit overblown. It’s definitely there, but it’s more sprinkled than I expected. So take that as you will.

Okay so, this book.

This book follows Rin, a war orphan who takes an exam to enter a prestigious military academy in a country at the brink of war. The book itself is inspired by the events of The Rape of Nanjing, which happened during the second Sino-Japanese War that occurred 1937-1945, where Japanese troops invaded the Chinese capital of Nanjing and mass murdered and raped the citizens there. The plot of this book follows those events closely – you can see how each culture was mirrored into the fictional cultures making up the different nations in the story.

The book itself is well written – the descriptions of military tactics and troop movements and strategy are well thought out and easy to imagine as you read. The main character Rin is multi-faceted, which I was really happy to see. Her morals are all over the place, and there was no clear ‘good’ or ‘bad’. There was just war and necessity. It felt realistic, her actions, her thoughts, and her reactions, considering her age, how she was raised, trained, and how she interprets the world.

The side characters also have multiple layers to them. The brave commander that has no concept of how to lose and cannot process it, the cocky classmate that mentally adjusts when faced with actual warfare, the oddball teacher with eccentric tendencies and whose bravery or lack thereof could be interpreted many ways. It was really cool, seeing all these characters introduced and developed within the first book alone.

The magic system itself is also pretty awesome, and it was really cool that depending on the person’s perspective, that it could be used in different ways. Some characters used the magic by force, and others let it flow through them. The differences caused an interesting conflict in points of the story, and it was really fascinating to read, almost like two different flavors of the same religion battling with each other.

I think the only thing that kept me from loving it was that I couldn’t read it for long periods of time. And that might be an unfair judgement, but I did find myself only being able to pick it up for a chapter or a few pages at a time. I don’t know what it was about it that caused it, but there you go.

Overall though, I really enjoyed this book, and I’m excitedly awaiting book two, which should be out this summer.

4/5 stars

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden | Blabber

The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy, #1)The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Fantasy
333 pages
Released Jan 10, 2017
Read April 6-17th, 2019
Spoiler-free blabber

This book felt cold.

Overall I liked it, but it definitely took me some time to get into.

Because I’ve decided that giving synopses is not my strong point, here is the Goodreads Synopsis:

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind–she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed–this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

The Bear and the Nightingale feels cold. It takes place during winter, and reading it feels like you’re there, laying across the top of the oven with Vasilisa and her family while the snow blusters outside. Like you have found the one spot of warmness in a world of ice.

This book sets a very atmospheric tone, and I think that was my favorite part about it. The world was so rich and lush, and the creatures of Russian folklore were integrated in a way that felt natural. The writing was whimsical, and it felt like reading a fairy tale at times.

I also really liked the characters, whether I actually liked them or not. Each character was made the way they were for a reason, and even though some of them I grew to dislike, it made sense that they were there, and why they acted the way they did. Vasilisa, the main character, was my favorite. She was so headstrong and determined, and resisted the pulls of the local traditional values that would have limited her lot in life. At the same time, she acts this way, especially in the later part of the book, because she values her family. It’s a neat dynamic and I liked it.

The plot also is pretty neat – the slow introductions of organized religion into an area permeated by folklore and superstitious belief was interesting to read about, and seeing characters whose main belief systems on either side of the spectrum come to terms with those who believed the opposite was compelling. And while aspects of organized religion were shown in an unflattering way at times, the book never actually bashed the religion itself. I feel it was handled really well. Often when religion is essentially an antagonist in the story, the religion itself is portrayed as this thing that corrupts and those who believe it are silly. But not in this one. In this book, it’s shown that the people and their human error are the cause of misfortune. That their interpretations of what they believe to be right are the cause of strife, not the religious system itself. I found that really refreshing, and I really appreciated that it was portrayed that way.

So, the thing that kept me from loving this book was the pacing. For the first two hundred pages or so, the plot progression was really slow, and I had a hard time latching onto the story. Considering the book is just over 300 pages long, being lukewarm to it for the first two thirds isn’t great. After those 200 pages though, I finished it really quickly and really liked it.

Really other than the pacing, I had no complaints. This book was solidly good, and I’m glad I made the effort to get to a part where I could fall into the story more easily. The second book is out, and I feel like once my buying ban is over, it’ll be up there at the top of my list of books to get. Now that I know what to expect as far as pacing, I’m thinking I’ll like it even more.

3.75/5 stars

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch | Mini-blabber

Dark MatterDark Matter by Blake Crouch
Science Fiction
342 pages
Released July 26, 2016
Read April 1-11th, 2019
Spoiler-free mini-blabber

What if your life was different?

Dark Matter follows a man named Jason, who is married to his wife Daniella and has a son. He works as a professor at the local college and is pretty satisfied with his life, but can’t help wondering, what if. What if he’d made different choices, what if he hadn’t quit his research to pursuit raising a family. Everyone has these kinds of thoughts now and again.

How do your choices lead you to where you are?

Then one day, Jason, when walking home at night, is attacked and the last thing he hears before he loses consciousness is ‘Are you happy with your life?‘. When he wakes up, he goes home to find his wife isn’t his wife, his house isn’t how he left it, and his son was never born.


And that’s all I’m going to tell you of the synopsis. Anything more I think would take away from your enjoyment of the book.

This book was really addictive. The writing was compelling enough to keep the plot moving at a rather fast pace, and the plot progression itself was pretty neat. The main character Jason, I came to feel for, as he navigated through the events that unfolded. I also really liked Daniella, and how intuitive she was when it came to her husband.

The thing that kept the book from being five stars is that it was a bit predictable. Sure I didn’t predict the exact ending, but I kind of had an inkling that something like it might happen mid-way through the book, and that inkling only grew stronger as the book continued. Even with guessing it though, it was played out really well, and the ending, well… I feel like writing a book like this, having the events happen that happened, and following the laws you set up within the story itself, it’s hard to write a perfect ending. But Blake Crouch I think picked one that suited the story well. Was it perfect? No, but like I said, I don’t know how you could make it perfect, considering.

I’m finding it really hard to talk more in-depth about what I liked. I feel like anything more I say about the plot will be a spoiler, and it’s best to go into it with as little information as possible.

Just know that I did really enjoy this, and I feel like it would make an excellent movie. A movie, mind you. Usually when I read a book I’m more of an advocate for a miniseries or something, but I think the thrilling pace and plot of this one would definitely be more suited for a movie. Do you hear me Hollywood? Get on it. I’ll be the first in line to buy a ticket.

Very good book.

4/5 stars

 

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James |Blabber

Black Leopard, Red Wolf (The Dark Star Trilogy, #1)

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Dark Star Trilogy, Book 1
Read Feb 18 – March 19
Released Feb 5th, 2019
Spoiler-free blabber
This is one of the most divisive books I’ve ever read.

Every review I’ve seen on it has either been 4/5 stars or 1/2 stars. I have seen maybe one or two 3 star, middle of the road kind of reviews.

Unfortunately I was in the 1/2 star camp. I didn’t like this book.

I buddy read this book with Katy @BookbinderWay and she ended up really enjoying it, I think she gave it 4 stars. Whatever she saw in it though, I obviously didn’t see, which is a shame. I wanted to like this book, I did. This was an anticipated release and I bought very quickly after it came out. And if you’ve been following my blog at all, I wrote a post recently about DNFing books, discussing time wasted versus money wasted. In the post I didn’t name what book I was talking about. Take a guess, though. Guess.

I didn’t end up DNFing this book, I finished it, but honestly I don’t know if it was worth it. In retrospect, the money I spent on the book was basically paying for the unpleasant time I had reading it, so there’s another point to my discussion in that post. Anyways, onto my thoughts:

The first thing I noticed about the book was the writing. It was written like you were sitting around a campfire, listening to someone tell you an ancient tale. And it worked for me… for a bit. But soon it became difficult to tell who was saying what, what was a side thought and what was spoken aloud, what was important and what wasn’t. There was no emphasis on things over other things. I couldn’t tell if a tangent a character went on would be important information for later, or if it was just, well, them going on a tangent.

The plot meandered and while I typically don’t mind a meandering plot, the whole synopsis of the book, the ‘find the boy, big mystery’ plot, took a backseat. The stakes were supposedly high but because the earlier mentioned lack of emphasis, I couldn’t gather why. It’s like the author was like ‘this is the big thing that’s gonna happen but we’ll just make it of equal focus to everything else that’s going on’. It made the reading experience difficult and muddled. I also didn’t end up caring about any of the characters. I hated Tracker, the main character. I didn’t like The Leopard, I didn’t like really anyone except Sadogo.

I think the thing I disliked the most about this book – what really kept me from getting invested, is how unnecessarily sexually violent everything was. Rapes here, rapes there, threatened rapes, actual rapes, people literally dying from rapes. Comments about penises doing penis things left and right, people assaulting each other sexually and nobody finding it abnormal. I mean… it was gross. I was uncomfortable, and it kept me from like.. enjoying the story because every other page someone would threaten to ravage someone else’s ass or something. None of it was even relevant to the plot – I felt like it was just in there to be shocking for its own sake.

So, about half way through the book, I wrote the post I mentioned earlier, and I decided to pick the book up on audio. That did help. Hearing this book that felt like an oral tale told, well, orally, helped. The narrator did a fantastic job – he actually put emphasis into things and spoke side-thoughts so they sounded like side thoughts. I could actually tell what was important and what wasn’t. So at that point, I could somewhat get passed all the problems I had been having and actually focus on the plot of the story. Unfortunately though, while everything was more clear, the plot still fell flat for me.

So – while I very much didn’t like this book over all, there were some good things about it. The world that James crafted is really neat. The creatures he mentions are fascinating, the cultures are really neat, the lore he based everything off of is fascinating, and I wanna read more things inspired by it. And just experiencing the world and its various magical elements was really, really cool.

But unfortunately, the setting wasn’t enough to save the book for me. The premise was good, the world was great… but the characters, violence, and meandering really ruined it for me.

If you’re in the mindset to read something containing all that, I can see how you’d love the book. It felt like I was reading an epic like Gilgamesh or something at points. But, for me, it did not click. I did not like it, which is such a bummer.

I haven’t decided if I’m gonna unhaul the book or if I’m gonna wait a few years and reread it. We’ll see.

1.5/5 stars

Goblin Slayer vol 1 by Kumo Kagyu

Goblin Slayer, Vol. 1 (Goblin Slayer Manga, #1)Goblin Slayer volume 1 by Kumo Kagyu
Art by Kousuke Kurose
Character Design by Noboru Kannatuki

Manga
Read March 15
Rated M
Fantasy
176 pages
Spoiler-free Blabber

Goblin Slayer is visceral and vicious.

And I loved it.

Goblin Slayer is one of a trend I’ve seen recently: manga and anime that basically seem like a D&D campaign. Not that I’m complaining, mind you – I’m digging quite a few of them right now. This one in particular though is the most intense, the most violent. Trigger warning for blood, gore, and rape.

Goblin Slayer follows the story of a young priestess who is set on becoming an adventurer – one who fulfills jobs, usually hunting and killing various creatures or finding various artifacts for money. The story opens with her getting her first job – hunting a band of goblins that have stolen some young women from the nearby town. She goes in with a band adventurers, also brand new. What she experiences in the goblin cave is far worse than she had anticipated, and then Goblin Slayer shows up. That’s his name, the guy in the armor on the cover. He, unlike the priestess, is not a rookie.

So as mentioned above, multiple trigger warnings for this – even moreso for the anime (which is also really good and I really recommend. But the anime is even more visceral than the manga, believe it or not). This manga does not shy away from the danger these characters are putting themselves in, nor does it hand wave any of the brutality the goblins are capable of. This first volume is a good set up of the world the characters are living in, and even starts to touch into the back story of the enigma known as Goblin Slayer. Having seen farther in the anime than I’ve read in the manga at this point, I know the character development and world building is only going to get better from here.

There were a few things in the manga that were a welcome surprise though – insights into goblin thought patterns, background info on characters. I really liked it all. While an overarching plot has not really taken hold in this first volume, the ending of it hints at one, and it makes me want to buy the second volume yesterday. I really like the art in this too – the characters are well-designed and I never had an issue remembering who someone was.

I think my only complaint about this is it gets a bit fan-servicey at times. Boobs when they’re not relevant, butts when they’re not relevant. You get the gist. It didn’t occur often enough though to really take away from my enjoyment of the manga, but it did happen often enough that I noticed it. So hopefully it’ll stay at the level it’s currently at or decrease. I feel like an increase in meaningless boobs wouldn’t really benefit anything.

And to reiterate what I listed at the top: this manga is rated M, so be prepared for M rated content, because man, it does not shy away from it. If you’re willing to go into it knowing this though, and you tend to like fantasy and d&d, you’ll probably like this. I really did.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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 – 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 – 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