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.


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 ( ) 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. ( ) 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 is a portal to everything I do, plus you can check out, and my recent book is available on Amazon: I also have a patreon where I create art every week and sent out monthly stickers and other fun stuff to my patrons:

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
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

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

Beginning with Ph├Ędre 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

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

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?



The Better to Kiss You With

Monday, June 12, 2017

Review of No Country For Old Men by Conor Walsh

I recently finished Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men and have since found it difficult to stop thinking about. Generally it takes a lot for a story to have such a lasting effect on me, but McCarthy’s novel is anything but a regular story.
The premise is fairly simple, but charged with intrigue: a lone man, hunting in the desert, stumbles upon a deserted house surrounded by bullet hole-strewn vehicles and corpses. Before long the hunter stumbles upon a satchel containing two million dollars. Throwing caution to the wind, the hunter steals the satchel and runs, prompting a long, bloody chase involving the Mexican mob, a brutal, calculating murderer, and a mysterious hitman.
To call McCarthy’s book “bloody” may be an understatement - No Country For Old Men is one of the more violent novels I’ve read. McCarthy’s unadorned style intensifies the impact of many of the book’s action scenes - due to the lack of flowery description and unnecessary brush strokes, it is much more difficult to tell when a gunfight might start. It could happen when a character is walking down the street, or shaving in the mirror - it’s almost impossible to predict. As such, many scenes gain a certain kind of tense excitement that they wouldn’t normally have, which adds to the rapid-fire pace of the novel.
Of the novel’s many strengths, one of the most notable can be found in the book’s characters and how their actions relate to the overarching themes. For example, Llewelyn Moss, the aforementioned hunter and the protagonist, is compelling in the way he reacts to danger. Despite the adversity he faces, Moss prepares for confrontations with forethought beyond what any normal capacity, suggesting he has dealt with some kind of similar situation in the past. McCarthy tells the reader very little about Moss himself - it is eventually revealed that he fought in Vietnam, but beyond this not much can be discerned except through his actions. Moss stands somewhere between good and evil, harkening back to the cowboys of old. He is not purely good; he kills some, abandons others, and destroys property. Moss’ outlook on life is a harsh one, but he remains faithful to his beliefs even in the face of death.
On a personal note, the novel’s ending was actually such a surprise that I stayed up much longer than I should have and finished the book. Though it was initially an unpleasant shock, I realized it tied into the themes throughout the book, and even the title. Over the course of the story events are trailed by an old Texan sheriff, with between-chapter asides written from his perspective. At the book’s beginning I didn’t understand why McCarthy did this - or, more specifically, why this sheriff is considered to be the book’s protagonist. As it stands, I will deign to state the conclusions I made involving him, the main antagonist, and what eventually becomes of Moss; it would be more rewarding for other would-be readers to come to their own conclusions.
Normally I don’t find myself gravitated to crime dramas, but No Country for Old Men ascends beyond its genre to become something more. It is captivating and violent and bleak, but thought-provoking as well, with poignant themes wrapped in smooth prose. I would heartily recommend it.

Pride Month and Self Care by Taylor Brooke

It’s June! It’s Pride! For a lot of us, it’s warm, finally, and it’s time to celebrate. My name is Taylor Brooke. I write Queer books for teens and adults, and I’m happy again. That’s a weird way to start this, I know, but it’s the only way I know how to. I try my best to take care of my mental health throughout the year – June is no different despite it being the start of summer and my upswing – and I try my best to navigate the excitement this month brings. But what happens when June turns into July, the Pride festivals come to an end and we move into our normal business-as-usual day to day routines?
Well, for starters, we stay proud.
I know it sounds like something that shouldn’t have to be said, but after an entire month filled with rainbow stacked books, Pride literary discussions at local libraries and Pride displays in windows at our favorite stores, watching the spotlight suddenly dim can be jarring. We need to remember that even after June ends, Pride doesn’t.
And for me, and anyone else who struggles with seasonal mood cycles, even when summer comes to a close, it’s important to remember that happiness is still available.
Here are some tips that I use to combat seasonal depression and after-Pride blues:
Recognize the change. It’s okay to welcome a shifting mood before it presents itself. It’s not the same for everyone, but I can feel myself coming down from an upswing and the recognition gives me time to slow it. I can ready myself for it if I accept it, and once I’m ready, I know that a lot of self-care and reflection will come next. Everyone has different coping mechanisms. Do what’s best for you.
What happens if you’re not ready, though? No one is exactly alike and everyone handles their mental health differently. If you aren’t ready, and a seasonal shift happens too quickly for you to grab onto or you’re feeling a little lost after Pride excitement dwindles, consider writing down the simple things that motivate your or make you happy. Self-care, rest and routine can help regulate a sudden shift in mood.
Stay active in your community – network with your Queer friends, plan readathons, re-watch your favorite shows, re-read your favorite book and discuss it with friends. Reach out to your online buddies and don’t hesitate to ask for help if you’re feeling down.
There are tons of self-care methods – cooking, bath bombs, books, yoga, tea, a new hobby, exercise – but there’s no exact formula that works for everyone. Pride is such a fun month. It’s brimming with everything we hope to see throughout the rest of the year, acceptance, positivity, progress, Queer book recommendations, festivals celebrating our community and everything in-between. The only way to keep the spirit of Pride alive is to take it with us.
Don’t be scared to get loud about Pride even after June ends. Yes, this month is our month to celebrate, but it isn’t the only time allotted to us. Celebrate yourself, your friends, the community, the authors and artists. Even though it can seem daunting, and even though a seasonal shift can bring storm clouds, we’ll still power through.

June isn’t your only time to speak. We still need your voice in July and August and September and the rest of the year. Mental health can be a tricky beast to manage and sometimes it feels like it’s unfair to speak out, to ask for help, to implement self-care, but it is 100% necessary. Pride is exciting, summer is lovely – it’s okay to take them with us into the next season. We should stay proud, we should stay warm and soft, and we should take care of ourselves and each other.
Pride is wonderful. Saying Happy Pride feels good for a lot of us. But remember to take care of yourself. We put a lot into one month out of the year and it can result in feeling a little lost after.  
Keep reading Queer books. Keep being proud. Keep lifting each other up in the community.
Be gentle with yourself this month and every other month – June is Pride month, but that doesn’t make your personal pride any less important during the rest of the year.