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Review: A Gathering of Shadows

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

V.E. Schwab kills it again with A Gathering of Shadows, book two in the Shades of Magic series.

This book messed with my emotions in so many ways, which–let’s be real–was in large part what made me pick up book two.

In A Gathering of Shadows, Schwab further explores Red London and the place of the Arnesian Empire amidst its neighbors. She explores this world through the Essen Tasch, a magical tournament that allows mages from around the world to test themselves against one another and represent their kingdoms. The event is a chance for political dealings and and peacekeeping.

As Rhy is coming into his own as heir to the Arnesian throne, Kell continues to rail against the boundaries imposed upon him by his adoptive parents and the self-imposed boundary of his life tie to his brother. Kell is desperate to be somewhere else. To be someone else. To be more than the shame of what he has done. Schwab does a great job with Kell, as while at times I’m quite annoyed with him, I also really feel for him. Ultimately, Kell’s resolve to maintain the boundary between worlds and not submit to the deeper impulses of magic is tested once again.

Lila’s boundaries are only increasing. She is living her best life as a pirate and aspiring magician. Lila finds herself shore bound once more in Red London, as her captain, Alucard Emery, is to compete in the Essen Tasch. Being a a new, dangerous experience that could take her even further away from the life as Grey London street thief, Bard decides that she must compete in the tournament. So she does it, posing as someone else. And she advances to almost the final round. Lila is such a badass. Like her crew mates, I’m not sure if I admire her or am terrified of her. But that’s probably as it should be.

Brilliant work. 5 stars, but damn that ending.

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Review(s): Adventure Time Vols. 7-8

Adventure Time Vol. 7 by Ryan North

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Still insane. Still funny. Still really colorful.

I have given up on the bright green text over white commentary at the bottom of the pages, as it’s been pretty low comedic pay off for a lot of work on the eyes.

Otherwise I still love all of the people of Ooo. PB and Marcelline are life.

Adventure Time Vol. 8 by Ryan North

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This first non-Ryan North Adventure Time arc wasn’t my favorite, but it was still entertaining. The premise was fun and somehow terrifying (welcome to Adventure Time). The peoples of Ooo have forgotten how to prepare food for themselves. Chaos ensues! Turns out the solution was inside Jake the whole time.

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Review: Watchmen

Watchmen by Alan Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alan Moore’s Watchmen is iconic and a modern-day classic, finding itself on “greatest books” and the like. It’s difficult to approach reviewing it considering its status as one of the most popular works in its medium. That being said, I enjoyed reading it, even and perhaps especially as I was so disturbed by its events and cast of characters.

Watchmen helped open up a new subversive sub-genre within comic books. It’s dark and gritty, yes. But most noticeably it lacks a central character to guide readers morally and emotionally. I’m reminded of Millar’s Kick-Ass, featuring a young man who dons colorful tights and exposes the ludicrousness and brutality of the caped-crusader lifestyle.

Tied as it is to the Cold War, Watchmen did feel dated to me at times. The lack of moral clarity regarding sex and consent didn’t land well either. The moral ambiguity and lack of totally-sympathetic characters were both intriguing and frustrating. I was left unsure the degree to which certain characters were right or wrong.

However, I think Watchmen is a brilliant take on the superhero mythos of our time and the problem of nostalgia. Veering toward nihilo, it is above all concerned with the real and the here and now.

Four stars.

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Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has been on my TBR for some time. It was nice to not be disappointed.

I loved this book.

A Darker Shade of Magic is primarily driven by its characters and their desire to live beyond their station. Kell, apparently a pampered Prince of Red London, longs for the unattached freedom of normal life as he illicitly trafficks items between worlds. Lila Bard, street thief of Grey London, longs for more than what life has given her, for a real adventure.

While Kell and Lila desire freedom, the villains of White London desire power. It’s vile monarchs, Athos and Astrid Dane, are the stuff of nightmares, especially in the way Athos controls Holland. The later is perhaps the most complicated character of the bunch. It’s unclear to me whether Holland would been a “good person” without Athos’s control. Or if he would have simply been a free bad person.

The underlying pain and desire that suffuse this book have lodged the Londons in my mind, and I can’t let go. When I finished this book, I could not wait to jump into A Gathering of Shadows. Five stars.

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Review: The Hero of Ages

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Hero of Ages is about how the end of the world might not be a bad thing.

Vin and Elend are given an end to their story as the power couple, having searched their own depths, are able to turn toward saving the world.

Spook finally comes into his own yet finds that his success is wrapped up in Ruin’s plans. His shame is instrumental in the world’s salvation.

But it’s Sazed the depressed Terrisman and his cynical yet desperate-for-hope takes on religion whose story Brandon is really here to tell.

This novel is Sanderson at his most Sanderson. The interplay if gods and humans. The existential, religious crisis. The emotionally insecure heroes. Lore that the reader somehow cares about that two books ago wouldn’t have made any sense.

The Hero of Ages is key to the unfolding story of the Cosmere and an excellent novel in its own right.

Five stars.

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Review: No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference

No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is a collection of speeches that Greta Thunberg has given from 2018-2019 at various summits and gatherings in the West.

Her primary aim is to castigate the leaders of today for bit doing nearly enough, if anything, to address the climate crisis. She also defends and addresses concerns over her school strikes.

She ultimately makes the case that world leaders shouldn’t have to be woken from their political sleep by he and other teenagers. If there were any room in the politics of today to simply heed and act upon the words qualified scientific authorities, perhaps we could be on the way toward doing something rather than nothing about the current predicament

Five stars.

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Review: The Grownup

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First read from Gillian Flynn, and damn, what I have been missing!

The Grownup is a short read that won’t let go, starting with the opening line: “I didn’t stop giving hand jobs because I wasn’t good at it. I stopped giving hand jobs because I was the best at it.”

The narrator is confident and apparently trustworthy, until things start to fall apart. And ultimately, readers are left unsure whom to trust by the end. Seriously, though, I cannot forgive Flynn for the ending, and I will be filing a formal complaint. It was frustrating in all of the right ways and left me unsettled as a Thriller should.

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Comic Reviews: Blackbird, Trees, and Kick-Ass 1

Blackbird, Vol. 1 by Sam Humphries

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nina Rodriguez always seems out of the loop on why her life sucks and why her family just can’t get it together. She’s always been sure that magic is real, but no one believes her. Nina is desperate for answers, but she is really desperate for some control over her own life.Blackbird is a delightful book from co-creators Sam Humphries and Jen Bartel. Bartel’s artwork makes it. The pages are just consistently beautiful.

This series is apparently on hiatus, which sucks considering all of the open-ended questions from book one. The Beacon and the Jackal? That cop who knows what’s up with the cabals?

Four stars for magical romp through Los Angeles with hopefully more coming soon!

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Trees Volume 1 by Warren Ellis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think the world is ending, and it has something to do with aliens and some huge metal “trees” they left at various locations around Earth. There were so many times while reading Trees that I was unsure what was happening. The art style isn’t my favorite either, but…I want to read the second volume, so I felt I couldn’t give it less than three stars

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Kick-Ass by Mark Millar

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Certain aspects of Kick-Ass have perhaps not aged well. The main character’s incel-ish-ness as a part of his whole tragic background story feels dated. Not to minimize his issues, but the whole horny, lonely, can’t-talk-to-a-girl trope is just overdone, to say the least. And then there’s pretending to be gay so that he can get closer to said girl. Yeah.

Now that that’s out of the way, though, Kick-Ass is fast-paced and action-packed. And while I was pretty over the titular character by the end of it, I was left definitely needing to read more Hit-Girl. This book is very violent. But the juxtaposition of said violence with the fact that the heroes in this book are freaking children, disturbing as it was, was very engrossing. Three stars for a…you know…kick-ass, rockin’ story with hopes for more Hit-Girl in the future.

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Review(s): Adventure Time and Captain America

My wife and I got to have a weekend away recently, featuring Indian food, time to read, free perusal of Barnes and Noble, and time not spent focused on a two-year-old. I made it through some comics from the library that have been sitting on the shelf for a bit: Adventure Time vols. 5 and 6 (Ryan North), and Captain America, vol. 2: Captain of Nothing by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Not sure how large the overlap is between Adventure Time and Captain America readers, but it’s a great place to be!

Adventure Time Vol. 5 by Ryan North

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m not sure what specifically keeps me coming back to Adventure Time. The weirdness and creativity are surely important, but it might just be the colors.

In Volume Five, Princess Bubblegum and Marceline need to save the Candy Kingdom from the bubblegum that has overtaken the brains of its people. The semi-sentient bubblegum was PB’s fault to begin with of course, in all of her mad scientists-ness. PB finally discover the acidic solution to their problems as they employ the help of the um…delightful Lemongrab.

These Adventure Time stories continue to use Finn & Jake as starting points for adventures, but are delightfully exploring other characters. I am specifically enjoying the backstory and development of Bubblegum’s and Marceline’s friendships.

Five stars for another fast-paced, quirky Adventure!

Adventure Time Vol. 6 by Ryan North

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For me the pacing of this book was off, especially in the first few issues. Things finally got rolling though, and overall I found Adventure Time Volume Six to be another delightful Princess Bubblegum-focused story.

Three stars for a decent AT book. Four starts for BMO and Ice King.

Captain America, Vol. 2: Captain of Nothing by Ta-Nehisi Coates

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to live in a time in which Ta-Nehisi Coates writes comic books.

His Captain America run remains very engaging as Coates tackles the political and the personal. Steve Rogers is no longer sure what it means to be Captain America. What does that represent? Could the name–the persona–be doing more harm than good?

Steve must navigate the complex dynamics of those out to cheat the system in order to make it and those who are truly evil. People may exist along a moral continuum. Rogers himself may be morally ambiguous, as he is so often opposed to the government that he has perennially served. Though as Sharon Carter points out, Cap doesn’t serve a government but a country.

Steve Rogers may even be discovering a new future not in rogue libertarianism but in mutuality and support as he asks for help from the Daughters of Liberty.

Five stars for another great Marvel book from Coates!

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Review: The Future of Another Timeline

Tor, 2019

The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Five stars for an excellent sophomore novel from Annalee Newitz that is truly “speculative fiction” that deals with some moral and philosophical ramifications of time travel technology while dealing with two satisfying character arcs. I picked up Newitz’s debut, Autonomous, on a whim, and I loved it. As I was excited to read more from them, this book did not disappoint!

I’m not sure it’s fair to say that this book was “about” one thing, as it dealt in many motifs and larger themes. For me, the book was ultimately a look at the way in which the universal and the individual (or perhaps the political and the particular) play with and against one another in the grand scheme of the timeline in which we live.

Tess and Beth, the novel’s two main characters, each consider the Great Man vs. corporate action theories of timeline edits. Great Man theories see key people and places as fundamental to the progress or regress of society and culture. Conversely, corporate action would argue that for instance, if one traveled back in time and killed the infant Adolf Hitler, it would alter the circumstance of the timeline, but not create lasting change. A true edit that erased the Holocaust would consist of influencing groups of people across time altering the waves of white nationalism in many small ways that add up.

In The Future of Another Timeline, the patriarchy of the future teams of with the patriarchy of the past in order to…you know…be the patriarchy. Tess and her feminist geoscientist cohorts discover that certain deplorables are attempting to not only edit the past to maintain the oppression of women, transgender, and non-binary people but also sabotage the ur-time machine in order to inhibit others from reverting their edits.

Though Newitz’s novel is an alternative history to our own, by being only shades different in some ways, it is able to point an accusing figure at elements of our own culture. At one point, Tess thinks about women in the West: “Our place in this nation was still fragile. It was far too easy to edit us out.”

Tess discovers how truly contingent social change is and that while history does not depend on the role of specific people and places, each individual is crucial to the change that collective action brings.

I am not at all qualified to speak to the quality of the science in this book, but the time travel and geoscience were very engaging and I didn’t question it. So…

Overall in this novel that I would truly call science fiction, Newitz brilliantly tackles social and political questions and how they might interact with the advent of new technology in our world.

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