Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Wednesday Watching (1) - Favourite Recent Shows

I'd like to talk about films and shows every now and then because I'm a huge fan of those as well, not just books.

TV is a weakness of mine, and I love far too many shows and love far too many of those precious characters. And I think I invest far too much time...but they're stories as well, aren't they?

In this post, I'd like to talk about a few shows that I've watched in the last twelve months, and that I think are worth mentioning.

I could probably go on and on and on and for hours and list four dozen shows and not stop there.

I'll keep it at ten for now, and might make a second favourite recent shows in a few weeks. 
The ten shows I liked most in 2018.
Grace and Frankie - This is a wonderful show about getting older with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. Their husbands come out to them, after having had an affair for twenty years, and suddenly they find themselves alone, and they don't particularly like each other, at least at first. It's got a lot of heart and is well worth everyone's time. I love the characters a lot and can't wait for the next season. Netflix Original.

Sex Education - Another Netflix Original. This one has Gillian Anderson. Spoiler Alert: I love Gillian Anderson. It just dropped last week, but already I think it's well worth a watch. It's about teenagers, but those teenagers are lovable.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend - A musical comedy drama that tackles mental health in a wonderful, wonderful way. Feminist, diverse and uplifting. In the UK on Netflix and in the US on CW.

Transparent - About a transgender parent and her family. This one is an Amazon Original.

The Good Place - NBC, but on Netflix in the UK. A wonderful comedy about four people who died and find themselves in heaven. Tackles philosophy, morals and ethics in a heartwarming way. Have rarely seen anything so innovative.

Bojack Horseman - This is animated, but it tackles mental health, depression and anxiety in a heartbreaking way. It's very dark and sad, but also such an important piece of art. Netflix Original.

Glow - Netflix Original. Women wrestling in the 80's. It's amazing, believe me.

Dark - A German series about time travel that simply blew my mind. Possibly the most entertaining and mind-fucking experience of 2018. It's on Netflix. It's worth watching in German with subtitles.

Bodyguard - BBC. A UK minister and her bodyguard with politics, terrorism and quite a bit of intrigue.

Killing Eve - BBC America/BBC. An assassin and the woman who hunts her. Funny, dark, wonderful. A treat to watch.

I'm always looking for recommendations. What TV shows do you love the most? To give you an idea of some of my all-time favourites, these are the four shows I'd take on a deserted island that happens to have electricity.
  • Parks and Recreation (if you're into comedy, this is gold)
  • Mad Men (possibly the best show I've ever seen)
  • Battlestar Galactica (my favourite sci-fi show, but I've not yet seen Babylon 5)
  • Cold Case (crime, but so so so good!)

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

The Pendant Path by Jane Barlow Funk and Steven Boivie

Book Title: The Pendant Path
Author: Jane Barlow Funk, Steve Boivie
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: E-book copy provided by the authors

Plot Summary: Kenji Okado has a secret. Trained since birth to be the ultimate weapon against a threat that might not even exist, he is struggling to navigate high school. His world changes for the better when popular student Hyrum Decker becomes his lab partner, but little does Kenji realize how his newfound friendship will be tested when he and Hyrum discover the hidden potential of a family heirloom.
Elsie, an apprentice clockmaker, is struggling to achieve Journeyman status in a place where being half British isn’t an asset. Recently, she can’t shake the feeling that someone is watching her. But that’s the least of her problems, now that her brother Xan has stolen a priceless artifact from the local crime lord.
Two teenagers. Two parallel worlds. Destined never to meet until they stumble upon the secret of the pendant path.
Thank you to the authors for providing me with a review copy of this book. Also a big thank you goes to Esme over at the Weatherwaxreport for setting up TBRindr.

What did I think?

While it sounds absolutely great on paper, it never really fully grabbed me.

The first thing I noticed was the stunning cover. I would love to own that pendant, even though I rarely wear jewellery. The second thing I noticed was how impeccably this book is edited. The prose is straightforward and very pleasant to read and the plot moves along with a good pace.

However, there's a lot of exposition and quite a bit of telling. The opening pages describe Kenji's bedroom and morning routine in detail, and that's not something that will hook me.

While I didn't think the characters were particularly well developed throughout the story, they did start out strong and distinct. I enjoyed the friendship between Kenji and Hyrum a lot. I'd love to see more friendships like this between young adults and teenagers.

The world building is interesting, and I appreciate diversity a lot, but at times it felt like Kenji's Japanese culture was shoved into the reader's face so to speak. Diversity should be a natural aspect of any setting and every story but not something that stands out like a sore thumb, at least in my opinion.

I think this a solid debut and am excited to see what else these authors will come up with.

The Pendant Path is a light and easy read that will definitely appeal to younger readers. Recommended to any YA fantasy fan who is intrigued by the synopsis and likes portal fantasy.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Book Title: Rosewater
Author: Tade Thompson
Genre: Science Fiction
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: I own a copy
Goodreads, Amazon UK 
Plot: Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless—people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumored healing powers.
Kaaro is a government agent with a criminal past. He has seen inside the biodome, and doesn't care to again—but when something begins killing off others like himself, Kaaro must defy his masters to search for an answer, facing his dark history and coming to a realization about a horrifying future.
What did I think?

Rosewater came with high praise, and when I attended a comic convention in London last November, I just had to buy a copy and get it signed by the author, Tade Thompson. What a lovely, kind man. It was a pleasure to meet him.

I highly recommend Rosewater, though I do not think it will be for everyone. It's speculative science-fiction, plays with flashbacks, is confusing at times, and the narrator is a very peculiar character. Personally, I never felt lost, but I totally understand if others struggle with the different timelines and the constant flipping between years.

Rosewater is a town in Nigeria, built around an alien biodome which opens once a year and heals everybody nearby. Some people have started developing powers, and one of those individuals is Kaaro, our protagonist.

The story is told in the present tense from the point of view of Kaaro. He's an unreliable narrator and a bit of a jerk, but still I found myself rooting for him and wanted him to succeed. He's an incredibly well written character.

The prose is interesting, and I can picture Kaaro talking just like this, but it took me some getting used to it. The world building is intriguing and innovative, and I loved finding out about Kaaro's power and the alien that has surfaced or landed on our world. I've got a ton of question still, as do all the character and therefore can't wait for the sequel.

I am extremely curious to find out where Thompson takes this story in the next few instalments of the series.

Recommend to all sci-fi fans who like their stories placed on earth and don't mind complex timelines and mysterious aliens.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Jade City by Fonda Lee

Book Title: Jade City
Author: Fonda Lee
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: I own a copy

Plot: Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.
Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon's bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.
When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.
Jade City begins an epic tale of family, honor, and those who live and die by the ancient laws of jade and blood.
What did I think?

Jade City sounds great on paper, and the entire fantasy community seems to love it. I was very much looking forward to reading it, especially after seeing it got the World Fantasy Award.

Perhaps my expectations were too high. It's never fair to a book to go in with such high expectations.

And, unfortunately, I didn't quite connect with this book as much as I would have liked. Or as much as I...expected to.

Let's talk about the positive things first. Because at no point did I ever think it's a bad book. On the contrary. I think most fantasy fans will love it.

The setting is inspired by Asia, and it REALLY shines. In fact, this reads a bit like the Godfather with magic happening in the middle of Hong Kong. In this world Jade gives you power. Jade is what makes you strong. But not everyone can wear Jade.

Fonda Lee created a captivating setting for her novel. It takes place in an alternate world, but is similar to ours when it comes to technology, which gives this almost an Urban Fantasy feel.The world building is intricate, fascinating and a joy to discover.

The plot is very complex and based on various conflicts between dynastic families. At times it feels like watching a martial arts movie. It's quite gory, and there's a lot of violence, but at no point did it feel like too much.

The characters are varied, interesting and three dimensional.

Sounds fantastic, right? If you think so, please give this one a try. So many people loved it. Don't listen to me.

The main problem I had was getting into the story. It took me the entire first half of the book to get invested. I thought it would be a quick read that I wouldn't be able to put down, but I kept putting it down and not picking it back up.

The writing is very detailed and almost clinical at times. It felt like we were told too much about the characters instead of shown. Every time the author mentions something new the reader gets paragraphs of info about that something new, explaining in detail what it is, where it comes from and what everyone thinks of it.

Because of this, I never really emotionally connected with the characters or the book, and while I highly enjoyed the various twists and turns and the complex plot, I failed to really care.

Since I'm in the minority, I suggest anyone who likes Asian settings, the Godfather and martial art movies give this one a shot.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Novella: Rise of a Sky Pirate by L.L. McNeil

Title: Rise of a Sky Pirate
Author: L.L. McNeil
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Digital copy provided by the author

Amazon UK, Goodreads
This is a novella in the World of Linaria series. I've reviewed the first book, Moroda, here. And the second book, Palom, here.

Plot Summary: At fifteen, Amarah ran away from the mage city of Berel, her birthplace.
Unable to use magic and unable to read, she flees to the other side of the world to forge a new life for herself. But all she manages to do is serve Goldstone nobility and sweat in kitchens—hardly an improvement.
When an opportunity to escape servitude presents itself, Amarah cannot resist the temptation to take it. Yet there is no reward without risk, and the Varkain lurking in the city's shadows are sure to make her aware of her folly.
Amarah will have to use all her cunning just to survive, and bravado is not enough when it comes to thwarting the sky pirates who are trying to steal from the most sacred—and dangerous—place of all: the dragons.
Discover Amarah's journey from street urchin to sky pirate set twenty years before the events of World of Linaria Book 1: Moroda.
I received a digital version of this novella (102 pages) from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Find the author's website here.

What did I think?

Six months after the release of Palom, the heart-wrenching second instalment in the World of Linaria series, L.L. McNeil released a novella about Amarah, the main protagonist of the next book, which isn't out yet.

Amarah is the sky-pirate from Moroda, that so many readers fell in love with. She swears, kicks ass, is confident and flies her own airship, Khanna. She's an extremely well developed character, and I was overjoyed to learn that she was the one the novella would be about.

In this short tale she's only fifteen years old and not yet quite so confident. She struggles as a maid looking for an opportunity to make something of her life when she runs into some trouble and consequently meets Traego. Thrown into a ragtag group of pirates and thieves she's presented with the opportunity to make friends for life and escape her own circumstances.

LL McNeil's prose is immensely readable and flows beautifully, making this a short, pleasurable read. Rise of a Sky Pirate offers non-stop action and will be a treat for all fans of the series.

Moroda, the first book, has been entered into Mark Lawrence's SPFBO contest this year and made the semi-finals. It's the start to the series, and I highly recommend it to any fans of epic fantasy who are looking for something hopeful and uplifting with air-ships, dragons and sky-pirates. The series tackles themes that will appeal to both adults and older teenagers making this a perfect introduction to fantasy for fans new to the genre.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Sunday Post (33) - A New Year (Again)

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer.

Consider participating, even if you're new to blogging. The community is amazing and supportive, and this is a great way to get to know your fellow book bloggers. Don't forget to link up and if you leave me a comment, I will definitely check out your blog.

The Rules can be found here. And this week's post can be found here.

New year, new resolutions. I've been pretty good with my writing, reading and fitness goals lately, so I hope to keep that up. A lot has happened for us in the last few months: we've moved house after our landlord unexpectedly sold the one we were living in, and I spent weeks in the middle of cardboard boxes. I found that extremely stressful, but now I'm good. I think. The dogs have settled.

The girlfriend is starting a new job soon, and I've just finished working on the second issue of Three Crows Magazine, which just came out. (With a story from Anna Smith Spark, check it out!) I've also sent out the first short story of the year (to a market that has a 99.27% rejection rate haha) and plan to send them out regularly.

I've reached over a hundred subscribers over on Bloglovin' and hope to increase that. And if you'd like to become friends on Goodreads: here is my profile.

Oh, and Twitter.

I hope everyone is having a good start to the new year.

My Own Writing

I posted a new flash fiction on Friday. Read it here: One Last Meal. It's about a death row inmate's last day in a futuristic setting. Let me know if you like it.

Lately On My Blog

Self-published fantasy reviews: I love supporting indie authors. Devin Madson's We Ride The Storm is a finalist in the SPFBO4 organised by Mark Lawrence. Read my review here. And if you're into Middle Grade, I reviewed Travis M. Riddle's Wondrous here.

Some of the top female authors I've discovered in 2018 can be found here. Yes, it's on the fantasy side of things.

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay is a wonderful fantasy standalone.

Resources for Writers (aka how to write books) can be found here.

And last but not least: a truly weird, bizarre, dark, mind-blowing book (that I think Greg would love) is The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins.

I hope everyone is having a good week, and I can't wait to connect with you 2019.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Fiction Friday (3) - One Last Meal

One Last Meal

by Olivia Hofer

Note: A small piece. An idea I've been meaning to explore but haven't yet.

I stare at the display before me and rub my hands on my orange trousers. Dark patches stain them along the seam. My heartbeat echoes in my ears. I swallow a painful lump.

I’d woken up for the last time.

I’d gone to bed for the last time.

How much had I already done for the last time without noticing? They really ought to warn you about this sort of thing.

“Make your choice, inmate.” The guard scowls at me.

Back when times were simpler, we’d be able to request one last meal. Bacon, eggs, maybe some pulled pork, or a steak topped with garlic butter. Those times are in the past, though.

We still get one last meal, of course, but it’s a virtual one—our physical bodies cross into the afterlife with grumbling, empty stomachs. Much cheaper for the government, and, they'd concluded, not a violation of human rights because we aren’t actually aware of it.

Our minds are plugged into the perfect last day. We get to choose a time, a place, and who we wish to take along.

One last day filled with wonder and joy before it’s all over.

Death is painless. No syringe, no deadly cocktail, no electric shocks. We are simply terminated while our minds are distracted, having a good time. Definitely preferable to facing the mother of the man I killed while I die.

Would it make her feel better to watch me squirm in a chair? Would seeing the terror and regret in my eyes soothe her pain? I doubt it.

I shift, scroll, squint.

What do I want to do with my final hours? Be an astronaut and fly a spaceship? Ride a unicorn? Join a band of dwarves and slay a dragon?

I trace the covers of the virtual realities available to my prison. They own a surprisingly varied selection. I could climb Mount Everest or dive to the bottom of the ocean. I could visit Paris or Hong Kong.

I could do so much more than my old life ever offered.

The guard smacks the back of my head, and I flinch. “I’m not missing my coffee break for you, asshole.”

I keep it simple and tap the screen, selecting a restaurant with a cow logo before picking my family as companions.

One last meal in the company of my loved ones. Steak topped with garlic butter.

Slaying dragons will have to wait for another life.