Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review: Brass Giant by Brooke Johnson



Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I have such mixed feelings about this book. There was a lot I enjoyed. The setting, the steampunk gears-and-machines geekery, the main character's gumption (sometimes--she completely lacked gumption in some parts), the fairy tale strange path to your dreams feel. I even liked the Dickensian "orphan is more than she seems" fun. I was definitely pulled into the story and wanted to see Petra make her engineering dreams come true and find true love and change the world. I was cheering for our heroes, so that's a win.

But there was also a lot that disappointed. An unnecessary plot thread involving a rejected suitor turned potential rapist. It seems like we could have come up with a more natural sort of peril rather than giving a character who was presented as innocuous such a vicious turn.

The amount of the book spent on mooning over chocolate hair and copper eyes. I have limited stomach for swooning romance and at times the romance overwhelmed the elements that interested me more.

Interesting small characters that completely disappeared never to be thought of even for a moment when they weren't actively participating in the scene (Solomon? Matron? Mr. Stricket?) Other small characters that seemed to have gone to the Snidely Whiplash school of villainy.

Emmerich, our stalwart hero, was one-note in the way he protected Petra by seeming to betray her. Twice in such a short piece is at least once too often.

In the end, I can say I enjoyed it, but I wanted it to be more than it ended up being, to push a little deeper, reach a little higher. There was unreached potential in this book.

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Review by Samantha Bryant, another bookish fangirl. You can learn more about her and her work at http://samanthabryant.com

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

✈️ liquids in carry-on bags are limited to 3oz per TSA regulations, but nobody ever said anything about the amount of books one could bring… ๐Ÿ˜… ๐Ÿ’Œ I've gotten some amazing bookmail in the past few weeks from @PenguinTeen and @theauthorscurse ๐Ÿ˜ป๐Ÿ˜ป I'll feature some photos on these books individually in the coming weeks. for now I'm in #vacationmode and I'm bringing @maggie_stiefvater's ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS along for the journey. ✈️QOTD: what's on your list of must-haves when traveling? My wireless headphones are a personal must because I love to zone out and listen to podcasts!


My Cheese Problem


I have a metaphorical cholesterol problem. I just can't get enough cheese!

No, I don't mean cheddar or muenster or gouda (though all of those are also good-ah).

I mean so bad they're good, groan-fests: cheesy movies.

Call them what you will. B movies. Cult Classics. Guilty pleasures. Misunderstood genius. Mistakes. Train wrecks. Disasters. Silly. Fun.

The "it factor" that defines them for me seems to be that in popular, general terms, these movies are not regarded as good. They wouldn't win Oscars for anything, not
even set design or soundtrack. They're melodramatic and overwrought. The plots are weak and require serious suspension of disbelief. Characters are drawn in broad strokes, not with subtlety or nuance. They don't grow or change. The journey is just surviving the adventure.

But they have heart.

I'm not as fond of the ones that are doing it on purpose, stuff like Sharknado or Snakes on a Plane. A truly cheesy movie has to be sincere, so it can't know that it's a cheesy movie. It has to believe in itself or the magic doesn't work. Sure, the costumes may be bad, the acting even worse, but there's something about the very lack of professionalism and controlled artistry that is a siren call for me. There's no distance. They *mean* it.

Especially in the summertime, when I'm in recovery from nine months of relentless, demanding classroom work and I want my escape, I turn to cheesy movies. Candy for my brain. Wonderful, possibly hallucinogenic candy.

I blame my father.

We used to watch the worst movies together after cartoons on Saturdays, so besides the attraction of the high drama and unbridled imagination or the allure of no-holds-barred who-cares-if-you're-offended transgressiveness, there's also a nostalgic comfort like Chef Boyardee and Ovaltine. Maybe it's not good for me, but it's cozy.

So, whenever I'm not busy this summer (and I'm awfully busy, considering it's summer: teaching, going to conventions, meeting deadlines, etc.), you can find me trolling the bowels of Netflix looking for the best cheese. (Or at the Carolina, where sometimes they play it for me on the big screen!).


Any other cheesy movie fans out there? 

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Review by Samantha Bryant, another bookish fangirl. You can learn more about her and her work at http://samanthabryant.com

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Review: Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley



Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This is a brave and wonderful book, tackling race and class in the context of political intrigue and a murder mystery through the eyes of a 17-year-old steeplejack. If you like historical fiction coupled with suspense and thriller elements, this story is for you.

The world building for Bar-Selehm (a fantasy version of South Africa) is deep and fascinating, and deftly interwoven into the story so naturally and organically that you don't notice it as you read, but find yourself immersed. This post colonial historical fantasy never becomes pedantic or lingers too long in exposition, but still really paints a fascinating world.

The three main kinds of people we encounter are the white colonial Feldish people, Lani immigrants descended from indentured servants (like the main character), and indigenous black Mahweni people, both city-dwelling and unassimilated. We see a variety of characters of all three groups and get a good cross section of the city.

Anglet or Ang, the main character, is pretty amazing. Not only is she physically adept enough to make her living as a steeplejack, which involves climbing to dizzying heights and repairing masonry, she's also smart, independent but still connected to others, and insightful. She's physically strong, and making it as a young woman in what is essentially a job for boys (not even men, because most don't live that long).

I quickly found myself on her side and cheering for her, which is a good thing, since the novel is entirely in her perspective. If I have one complaint about her, it's that she's a little too perfect, stopping just this side of being more properly named Mary Sue. But there were enough times that she needed to rely on others, that I was able to forgive the slightly implausible range of her skill set.

For most of the book, the pacing is beautiful, giving us hints of what to come at the right time, but not giving things away too soon or manipulating too broadly with red herrings.

Unfortunately, the ending felt rushed, to the point that several lingering plot points were resolved by looking into a single carriage at the end of the climactic scene and finding that not only were situations we worried about resolved, but the people involved were all in the carriage. My suspension of disbelief was also stretched thin by the number of things one of Ang's friends was able to resolve for her so quickly, the one time that the difficulties a person of his race might have in being heard by the right people was ignored. I was glad he succeeded, but part of me doubted he could have.

If not for these few flaws, which are small in the scheme of things, and didn't really interfere much with my enjoyment as I read, I would be able to call this a perfect book. The language is beautiful and I marked several passages for their poetic nature or spot-on insights into larger philosophies. Bravo!


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Review by Samantha Bryant, another bookish fangirl. You can learn more about her and her work at http://samanthabryant.com

Monday, July 10, 2017

Review: Tokoyo Tarareba Girls Vol. 1 by Akiko Higashimura



Published: 14 February 2017

Publisher: Kodansha

Category: Manga (Josei)/Slice of Life/Romance

"I spent all my time wondering 'what if,' then one day I woke up and I was 33." She's not that bad-looking, but before she knew it, Rinko was thirty-something and single. She wants to be married by the time the Tokyo Olympics roll around in six years, but...that might be easier said than done! The new series by Akiko Higashimura erupts with sharp opinions on girls and tons of laughs!!

Rating: 4 Stars

I'll admit, the first thing that caught my eye about this manga was the tag line:

"I spent all my time wondering 'what if,' then one day I woke up and I was 33."

I'm approaching my 32nd birthday this November and that line really resonated with me. Sometimes you don't realize how much time is passing while you're getting by in your day to day life, talking about all these plans for someday or maybe. Rinko, the main character of Tokyo Tarareba Girls, has just that shock one day after a manicure from her best friend, realizing it's been ten years since the first one and what's changed while so much has remained the same.

The art style has a nice touch for a modern story. I didn't realize when I bought the first volume that this is the same manga-ka that wrote/drew Princess Jellyfish, another series that's on my TBR. I'm not very familiar with it, but I noticed that Higashimura-san included at least one nod to her other series (a web series that Rinko wrote the script for it called Jellyfish Princess, for example). I love it when authors include Easter eggs like that for their fans. Further to the art style, there are moments of overreaction from the characters, such as when Rinko was given a ring as a birthday gift on a first date, and I liked that while the emotion was evident, it was too over the top, as some manga can be.

On to the story: I LOVE Rinko's friends that are there for her no matter one. One is Kaori, the friend that is a nail stylist, and the other is Koyuki, the daughter of parents who own the pub the girls consider the best in Japan. Whenever one of them is in need, they have a girls night at the pub and hash out their problems, dissecting the problem and talking it over alongside a good beer.

Another fun character is Rinko's co-worker Mami, a younger woman who dresses in outrageous styles and funky jewelry. I think the first time we saw her, her outfit consisted of a monster print top and an eyeball ring. While she's bit more freewheeling than Rinko, they really do mesh well together in the small office they share (it's just the two of them in Rinko's office/writing studio). There's some conflict, of course, but nothing that ruins their working relationship.

Key is an aggravating character because he acts as a counterpoint and a real-life version of what, I think, Rinko is feeling deep down. He constantly criticizes the girls when they're drinking at the pub and Rinko when they meet through work. I'm not sure what he will be in the future. Will he turn into a romantic interest? Will he lead Rinko, Koyuki, or Kaori toward a new path? The cliffhanger of an ending certainly complicates things and makes me wonder who is sincere and who is being played. What's going on with this guy? I'm going to have to read more to find out!

The comedic moments were well spread out. There were some moments when suffering a disappointment, her mind's eye had lightning striking her office building and demolishing everything; also, Rinko's food talked to her (she'd been drinking) and afterwards these food-shaped characters become her conscious. Those foods, apparently, are the favorite snacks of the author AND make up the name tarareba: codfish ("tara") milt and liver ("reba") which means "what-if" when put together. It makes sense because in the Japanese translation, at the end of their sentences they say their individual characters, positing the question to Rinko: what if?

These were funny moments among a steady contemporary story that was a quick read that left me wanting to read more about Rinko, her what-ifs, and what the future will be like before the next Tokyo Olympics.



All pictures, quotes, and videos belong to their respective owners. I use them here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.



Friday, July 7, 2017

Review: Classic Reads: We Have Always Lived in the Castle






First Published: 1962

I've been a bit of a re-reading kick. 

Partly, this is because I'm in a classics book club at my library, and about half the time the book club selection is something I've already read. I was, after all, a high school English teacher for a decade or so, and have been a reader all my life, so I've read a fair amount of classic literature. Up till now, I've not really been a re-reader. There are so many books out there I haven't yet read yet that it's hard to decide to go back for something instead of taking something out of my endless TBR pile. 

But re-reading is a different kind of experience, especially if many years have passed between reads and you are now a different person in a different phase of life than you were when you first read it. Some books don't hold up, and you wonder what your younger self was thinking. Some books are improved because you are in a place your life that connects with that story better now. Some books are deepened by revisiting them. 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is one of those books for me. 

Shirley Jackson was a writer I read at a very impressionable time of life, middle school to early high school. Like many students, I encountered her short story The Lottery, which is probably the most well known thing that Jackson ever wrote. That story raised the hairs on the back of my neck and shocked me. So, I sought out everything else of hers I could find and read it. I realize now that Shirley Jackson is probably responsible for a lot of my own aesthetic as an author: that attraction to the strange, gothic, frightening, and psychological story, full of murky motivations. 

When I decided to re-read it, I didn't remember a lot of detail about the book, though it was surrounded with a fondness and a sureness that it would be good. I think I mostly remembered the atmosphere, and that there was a creepy child. I adore creepy children in literature. 

I got the audiobook this time from Audible. Bernadette Dunne, the narrator, has a very young sounding voice that is still dark, which was perfect for narrating as Mary Kat, the sociopathic girl at the heart of this story. It was one of those cases where the narration truly enhanced the book. 

What I hadn't remembered was the suspense. The slow reveal of what had happened, and how Shirley Jackson was able to surprise me at so many turns by going a different direction than I expected and still thrilling me. Because I didn't remember the plot well, I wasn't sure how the story would end. 

The genius is in how Jackson can play on your sympathies. The main character is an unreliable narrator and a frightening person, and yet she has my sympathy. I'm on her side. Hopefully that doesn't mean I'm a secret sociopath. 

Having revisited this book, I am renewed as a Shirley Jackson fan and will be rereading all her works, this time with a writer's eye to figure out the keys to her magic so I can steal them for myself. 

If you haven't read this or other Shirley Jackson, you should definitely check her out. She's one of those quietly influential writers that many others have imitated, consciously or unconsciously. She took the old fashioned gothic sensibility and intermixed it with psychological horror and domesticity to create a suspenseful and fascinating blend. An under-appreciated genius. 

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Review by Samantha Bryant, another bookish fangirl. You can learn more about her and her work at http://samanthabryant.com

Monday, July 3, 2017

Review: Reenu-You by Michele Tracy Berger



Published: 2 May 2017 

Publisher: Book Smugglers Publishing

Category: Post-Apocalyptic, Women's Fiction, African American

"New York City, August 1998. On a muggy summer day, five women wake up to discover purple scab-like lesions on their faces—a rash that pulses, oozes, and spreads in spiral patterns. City clinic doctors dismiss the women’s fears as common dermatitis, a regular skin rash. But as more women show up with the symptoms, one clear correlation emerges: an all-natural, first-of-its-kind hair relaxer called Reenu-You.

As the outbreak spreads, and cases of new rashes pop up in black and latino communities throughout New York, panic and anger also grows. When the malady begins to kill, medical providers and the corporation behind the so-called hair tonic face charges of conspiracy and coercion from outraged minority communities and leaders across the country.

At the heart of the epidemic are these five original women; each from different walks of life. As the world crumbles around them, they will discover more about each other, about themselves, and draw strength to face the future together."


Rating: 4 Stars


Hair is a complicated topic, especially if your hair isn't naturally long and straight and pliable. You know: white.

That's why the women in this story relax their hair, with the newest wonder-product on the market: Reenu-You. The product is touted as all natural, so pure you could even eat it. Of course, it's not all it's made out to be.

Pulling from a wide range of tropes of science fiction, Berger has written a compelling story full of conspiracy and danger.

Five women who all used the product and had horrifying side effects are drawn together in ways they themselves don't fully understand. The story was political commentary, a cautionary tale, an exploration of women's friendship, and an apocalyptic infection story, among other things.

Berger uses the playground of this speculative tale to explore and consider issues of race, gender, age, class, urbanity, and so much more, yet it doesn't feel preachy or pedantic. You just find yourself thinking and considering while you're quickly turning the pages to find out what will happen next.

The novella read very quickly, pulling me along with my curiosity to understand what was going on with this product and its effects on the group of women the story follows. I was left feeling a little lost at the end, when the mystery is not fully resolved. I did wish for at least a little more resolution, even while part of me felt that an open ending might be the right one for the story. There's definitely room for the story to go further.

This novella is part of Book Smugglers' Novella Initiative, which will include several other novellas running the gamut of speculative fiction. After reading this one, I'm excited to try out some of the others. 
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Review by Samantha Bryant, another bookish fangirl. You can learn more about her and her work at http://samanthabryant.com

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ten Reasons I'm looking forward to Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo written by Jennifer Rummel

 

I'm happy to be talking about this book because I'm really excited to read it. I never thought I'd be into superheroes until I watched the Avengers. But they never have enough Black Widow and other female heroines in it. So I'm more than just a little excited for books with female superheroes and here are just a few reasons why:

1. That cover!
2. It's Wonder Woman and she rocks
3. Strong female character kicking butt
4. Actually make that 2 of them
5. Helen of Troy descendant
6. Sisterhood
7. Feminism
8. Action and danger
9. Saving the world
10. The start of a new series with lady superheroes

August seems SO far away right now...

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review: Kingyo Used Books Vol. 1 by Seimu Yoshizaki


Amazon  -  Barnes & Noble  -  Goodreads

Published: 20 April 2010 (English translation)

Publisher: Viz Media LLC

Category: Sequential Art/Fiction/Books About Books

"Every bookstore has a thousand stories to tell. Every bookstore has a thousand stories to tell. An art student finds inspiration. An archer hits a bull's-eye. A homemaker rediscovers romance. A teenager discovers his true self in the pages of a manga magazine. All this and more at Kingyo Used Books, a place that helps people find their dreams."

Rating: 4 Stars

This series hearkens back to my love of books that are set and/or centered around bookshops or libraries, etc. There's just something about them, those collections of books whether for fun, knowledge, or a mix of the two, that brings me happiness. I've had the four English volumes for Kingyo Used Books sitting on my shelves for ages now, since back in high school I started cultivating something of a manga collection. Starting today, and with Volume 1 of this series, I'm going to read my way through my back catalog and review them all, something I never did before because at the time I didn't know what Goodreads was.

Kingyo Used Books is separated into chapters, so I'll present my reviews of those stories first and an overview at the end.

The Components of Memory: the first story in this volume features Tazawa, a career man who wants to sell his collection of manga to the bookstore. It's implied that he wants to do this because he views manga as something read once and then only by children. Now that he's grown up, he doesn't have time for them anymore and the volumes have taken up too much room for too long. This reflections upon something that once made him happy made me sad because how often do we treasure things so wholeheartedly as children and young adults only to lose them as we get older and the pressures of society and real life tell us that they're irrelevant now? The societal nature of Japan has something to play in this story, I'm sure, as the pressure to do well and in business is much different than what we face in America, so bearing that in mind and with my American perspective, I understood it, but I also felt profoundly sad.

Tazawa, while boxing up his manga, finds an invitation among junk mail to an elementary school class reunion. Deciding to attend, he reunites with old friends and the topic of manga comes up when one of the old friends returns a volume he'd lent her long ago. The discussion over favorite series, over how these series impacted their real lives (one of the men was in the baseball club, even, and loved a series called  Akutare Kyojin [a weekly serialized baseball manga from 1976]), brings back the fond memories had of reading volume after volume. These "components of memory" inspire him to share Kingyo Used Books with his old friends and they adjourn to the store. The shopkeeper, Natsuki-san, doesn't seem surprised to see him and tells him that customers are always welcome, even noting that he has with him the current week's serialized manga, a little thing that notes his return to the illustrated world.

The joy that these people get from finding their old favorites on the shelves and being introduced to new favorites reminds me somewhat of what I love about manga. It's always going to be there, even if you take a few years detour before coming back. Maybe it is like that for a lot of what we loved. Those things will always be there for us, waiting.

Hokusai Manga: Misaki, the main character of this story, is a student at Hamagasaki Art School. She has the passion to be an artist, but due to self doubt, her skill has been lacking of late. It doesn't help that her friend, Murano, is the darling of the school. His work wins prizes and it always gets compliments. Hoping to help her, Murano lends Misaki a manga by and about Katsushika Hokusai, but it hits a little too close to home for Misaki.

Misaki is involved in an accident on her way home one day and is "rescued" by Natsuki-san, the shopkeeper of Kingyo Used Books, who takes her back to the store to patch her up. While sitting down to recover, Misaki is surrounded by the vast manga inventory and gets to thinking about all of the people who strove toward their passion, despite not being what Misaki thought of as perfect art, the category she put Murano in at school. This time to think, to meditate almost, gives Misaki the courage to not only return to school and her art, but to buy the manga Murano had lent her and complete a project based on imitating an established artist.

It is while on the way home, walking along the beach the borders the school, that Misaki encounters Murano and we learn what is, I think, the lesson of this story. Murano is found burning all of his award winning work and he explains that it's because he doesn't have the art like Misaki does, that doing this forever isn't worthwhile if you don't have the heart for it, which he admits he doesn't. He enjoys art, but only so much as it is temporary, which he shares when he and Misaki pick up sticks and draw a wave in the sand, only for it to be washed out moments after completion.

Being able to find and hold onto your passion must be incredibly difficult, especially when in a field where you're being compared to others all the time, but Misaki finding the courage to continue despite not being considered on the level of Murano, and Murano living his life enjoying temporary art depsite the opinion of others, is an incredible feat.

Far Away: This story, ostensibly about an archer having trouble letting go of the pressure to do well and just doing, was more of an introductory chapter that brought out Shiba, the reclusive worker of Kingyo Used Books that is a die hard manga fan, and Seitaro Kaburagi (aka the Boss), Natsuki's grandfather and the owner of the store. When Sawaguchi, the archer, stumbles upon Shiba and the Boss on the beach, they get to talking about how sad he appears, why they try to force him to read a gag manga, and then an offer of a practice space at Boss's store.

While he follows them back and ultimately doesn't take Boss up on the offer, we're able to see through Sawaguchi's eyes how important the Boss is to Kingyo. Having recently been released to the hospital following, presumably, a lengthy illness, he wants nothing more than to enjoy manga and help others, including Sawaguchi himself. Other customers appear at the store, pleased to welcome the Boss back, and while Shiba reveals that you can find almost any manga at Kingyo, Sawaguchi makes the observation that the real heart of the place is the Boss. Not only is he a repository of knowledge, but he's a kind soul that welcomes in any person he meets and gets the what they need, whether advice or a book.

The Boy Detective Arrives: This was the first story in this collection that really struck me as sad. The titular boy detective refers to Ichiro, a cousin of Natsuki, who calls himself Billy after the main character of a treasured childhood manga. Like the main character of the manga, Ichiro grew up in the US despite being born in Japan, and found himself at odds with the culture. After being gifted the first volume of the Billy Puck manga, however, he found a purpose for his life and went on to become a detective, just like the boy in the manga.

Ichiro, now calling himself Billy after his idol, returns to Japan to meet not only his penpal (Shiba, Natsuki's coworker) but also the author of the Billy Puck manga. It's a true tragedy for him to discover, after speaking to Natsuki, that the man actually passed away long ago. It reminded me that someday, the authors of my favorite works will pass and how sad it will be to learn that there will never be new works to enjoy. Shiba knows the power of manga, though, and dresses as one of the famous villains from the manga in a LARPing attempt to cheer Ichiro/Billy up. There are other customers in the store that, inspired by the passionate demonstration of love for the Billy Puck manga, that immediately want to purchase and read the series.

What I take from this is that, even after the creators of our favorite books are gone, as long as we cherish their works and pass them along to new readers, they won't ever really be gone from this world.

A Country Without Manga: This vignette was my least favorite of the bunch because it didn't feel as powerful as the others; it didn't convey a message as strongly as any of the previous stories. In this one, we are introduced to a bit more of Natsuki's family (her father) and we come to understand that Shiba has feelings for her, though whether they can outweigh those of his love for manga has yet to be determined.

Through the interaction between Shiba and Natsuki's father, we learn the differences between father and son (this man is the Boss's son and does not like manga, with one exception). Will this familial difference come up in a future volume? Will it lead to a future story? It was unclear at the end and left A Country Without Manga feeling like a mere stepping stone, unlike the other vignettes that felt like they had purpose.

Fujiomi-kun: a story about a harried mother, this one resonated with me because as a mum to a six year old, I understood the feeling of trying to take care of a family and not always being able to attend to myself. The mother in this story is so busy trying to figure out her growing girl and, in the midst of planning a festival at her daughter's school, is called home to pick up some stored things. Among them is a manga that reminds her of some simpler times, joy before the busyness of adult life occurred, and it's this manga that actually enables her to finally make friends with another mother at the school festival. While she lends the book and it then gets lost in the shuffle of the festival, the experience of reconnecting and remembering proved that the happiness we have in childhood can be had again and is there for us in hard times, if we can only remember them.

The Sedori Business: A character that's flitted through our periphery before, Ayu is a sedori, a person who buys books cheaply from one used bookstore and resells them to other used bookstores for higher prices. The beginning of her story shows her coming up against a sexist bookseller, who she stands up to, even if she doubts her pride in some of the following panels. Her courage, however, does come back when a friend who owns a lending library reveals that they intend to retire due to a heart condition. Facing the loss of a childhood retreat, Ayu supports her friend despite that, especially when the woman gives her the books, telling her to sell them.

This shocks Ayu and makes her hesitant, particularly when the older woman enters the hospital following an accident. Rushing to the lending library to save the book from a leaking roof, Ayu and another sedori discover they were safely packed away, waiting for her to pick them up. Thinking about how many people loved the manga and how much Ayu loves them, however, her friend and fellow sedori Okadome encourages her to find someone that can carry on the legacy that her old friend began. A collection of manga that brings joy to so many, remaining for more generations to enjoy rather than being sold off for mere profit.

The messages of nostalgia, pride, and the importance of passing something along were strong in this story. I appreciated Ayu being brought back after a brief introduction earlier in the collection as a passing character and finding out more about her. I'd have liked to see her take over the lending library, but the fact that she was able to save the legacy of the place is enough for now, I think.

Extras: There are a few extras at the end of Volume One, one of which is Billy and Grandpa's Travel Log, a brief adventure of these two characters that was cute, but not particularly substantial. Following that were a few pages of in-depth information on the manga mentioned within Volume One. That, while not particularly exciting, would be very useful to anyone that wants to investigate some of the older titles and possibly procure them for their own collection.

Summary

The art was a good match for the realistic story telling. It never felt like it was straying into a different genre.

The stories, for the most part, has a clear message and I liked that. I thought that there wasn't enough of a connection to the main bookstore Kingyo, though. While the first stories took place in them and helped introduce us to some of the characters that work there, and there were appearances in further stories, I had hoped that we'd see more in-depth tales of Natsuki, her grandfather, and her co-worker. Maybe in later volumes this will happen? For now, though, I did like the customers that passed through and wonder what sort of people we'll encounter next time around.



All pictures, quotes, and videos belong to their respective owners. I use them here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

Interview with Amy Davis Roth


1. Can you share a little about what you do? 

I am a multimedia artist who runs a handmade ceramic jewelry business called Surly-Ramics ( https://www.etsy.com/shop/surly ) I am also a painter, illustrator and photographer. I am co-host of the podcast Makers' Hustle that talks about the business of being a maker. ( http://makershustlepodcast.com ) I just published the illustrated book called The Feel Good Bar and Grill - A Book About Robots You can Color.

2. What made you choose this career?

 I grew up in a family of women artists and was raised from a young age to be creative. I started out as a painter and graphic designer and at one point opened and ran my own art gallery. That business failed so I went on to try to find other ways to make money making art and that is when I started making jewelry. It has just been in the past few years that I returned to illustration and painting. I find those talents a bit harder to make money off of particularly because women are taken a bit less seriously as artists, We can be crafters, that is considered socially acceptable and respectable, one of the reasons my jewelry business does well, but breaking into 2D imagery for profit can be daunting as our work is often looked at like a hobby or not legitimate work.

3. How long have you been doing it? 

I have run my Jewelry business for ten years, I do illustrations and then make molds to create my jewelry but as I mentioned I was a painter before that so I have been creating art for about 20 years now.

4. Do you do your own illustrations or do you have help with them? 

I do all my own illustrations. I don't have any help with that.

5. If people wanted to purchase your work where can they do so? 

I'm everywhere on social media as @SurlyAmy and my website Surlyramics.com is a portal to everything I do, plus you can check out, https://www.redbubble.com/people/surlyamyhttps://www.etsy.com/shop/surly and my recent book is available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2qWZnK2 I also have a patreon where I create art every week and sent out monthly stickers and other fun stuff to my patrons: https://www.patreon.com/SurlyAmy

6. Do you have anything new in the works?

 Yes! I am currently working on a short story about birds who live in a post apocalyptic future and make art out of the objects left behind by the humans. You can follow the progress of that book and get all the illustrations as free downloads by pledging to my patreon.

Five Books about Queer and Chosen Families By Michelle Osgood


Five Books about Queer and Chosen Families
By Michelle Osgood

Many of my favourite books growing up, and to this day, are those about chosen families. It’s maybe no wonder that I’m drawn to stories about characters who create their own families, who are bound together not by blood or legal ties but through a shared sense of understanding, experiences, and worldviews.
Though I'm sure we all wish for like-minded folks to share our lives with, queer people in particular often struggle to find those folks within their biological or legal families. Most of us grow up with straight parents and siblings, and so rarely have access to queer histories or cultures. As we grow up and embrace our queerness, it’s usually with friends or mentors in the queer community that we find a sense of belonging, of family.
So here are some of my favourite books that feature chosen families!  Some are queer, some are not, but all are warm and loving and true.  

The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3.Harry_Potter_and_the_Sorcerer_s_Stone
Harry, Ron, and Hermione make up the Golden Trio, and the heart of this series—though let’s not forget the Silver Trio of Luna, Ginny, and Neville, or the entire DA if I’m being honest. In the very first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, we see Harry make the first choice about his newfound family when he befriends Ron Weasley over Draco Malfoy. Hermoine joins the boys soon after, and the trio remain nearly inseparable over the course of the seven books. While their relationships aren’t always harmonious, the three have each other’s back through Death Eaters and Cornish pixies alike.

Into the Blue by Pene Henson
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28764284-into-the-blue

Set against the sun-drenched surfer world of Hawaii, Into the Blue introduces us to Tai, Ollie, Jamie, Sunny, and Hannah. The gaggle of young adults, with Ollie’s younger brother Jamie, live in the Blue House and have very intentionally created their family. Ollie’s fear is that his growing attraction to Tai will disrupt the dynamic of the Blue House, and it is so refreshing to read a romance story that treats its platonic relationships with the same respect and care as its romantic ones!


Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jaqueline Carey
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/153008.Kushiel_s_Dart

Beginning with Phรจdre and her best friend Hyacinthe in Kushiel’s Dart, this sweeping series of politics and sex and fantasy is about characters who come together to save their homeland. Extremely sex- and kink-positive, the lines between friend and lover and family blur in a way that feels very familiar to anyone involved in queer communities. I first started reading these books as a teenager, and re-reading this series now I’m delighted to discover how queer it actually is.  

The Forbidden Game by LJ Smith
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7100490-the-forbidden-game

Jenny and her six friends, Tom, Dee, Audrey, Michael, Summer, and Zach, are unwittingly sucked into a board game, where they have to win against the Shadow Man or Jenny will be trapped forever. The Shadow Man happens to be a very dreamy boy named Julian, who has the ability to make the game players face their worst nightmares. The gang of friends has to work together to help each other fight their greatest fears. When the shadow world spills over into the real world and none of the adults believe the danger, Jenny and her friends have only each other to rely on.


The In Death series by JD Robb
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/479309.Naked_in_Death

Nora Robert’s futuristic mystery series, beginning with Naked in Death, introduces us to Lieutenant Eve Dallas with the NYPD. After a horrific childhood and raised in the foster system, Eve begins the series with only one real friend, Mavis, a young woman she catches grifting, and her cop mentor, Feeney. Over the course of the series Eve meets Roarke, a handsome billionaire who might or might not be on the right side of the law; Delia Peabody, her trusty sidekick; Ian McNabb, a colourful e-geek; Nadine Furst, a TV news reporter; Summerset, Roarke’s majordomo and closest companion; and various other characters who Eve learns to let in. Like Eve, Roarke grew up bereft of family ties, and one of the most enjoyable parts of these books is watching the two of them expand and embrace their idea of what makes a family.


Given my love of these sorts of untraditional families, it’s unsurprising that a chosen family—or pack—is at the heart of the books I write. Werewolf fiction, delightfully, lends itself easily to this trope! In my newest book, Huntsmen, the wolves and humans we meet in The Better to Kiss You With, as well as a new addition in the form of a lone-wolf ex-lover, have to tackle the question of what, and who, family is. Is it the one you were born into, the one you choose, or can it sometimes be both?


Links

Huntsmen
https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B06XV8Z69R

The Better to Kiss You With
https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B01E30E896