Posts Tagged ‘gaming’

March/April Media

01
May
2018

Collage of covers of books described in blog post

[Image shows clipped covers of books listed below]

I neglected to post at the end of March (I was a little distracted by my NEW BOOK DEAL) but here is some of the media I consumed in the past two months.

BOOKS
The Defiant Heir by Melissa Caruso (Adult Fantasy, trade paperback)
I actually read an earlier draft of this last year, but it just came out at the end of April and I know the final version is even better than what I read (which was, already full of adventure and magic and cool outfits and witchlords and friendship and my favorite new character) so I am including it here. I loved it so much I gave myself a TDH inspired manicure, pictured in the image above. Sadly my skills with freehand nail art as not as good as Melissa’s writing! But if you read the first in this series, do check out book 2. And if you haven’t read book 1, give that a go if you like fantasy adventure with a dollop of political intrigue,

Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor (Adult SFF Novella, ebook)
Last (that I know of) in a series of novellas full of wild and imaginative speculative elements, like space ships that are giant fish with lungs full of plants to create oxygen, and deadly jellyfish aliens, and a super cool protagonist whose journey has finally come full circle. Also math!

Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers (Adult Mystery, ebook)
I really like Harriet Vane and I was intrigued by the mystery (about a body that she finds along a deserted English shore, only to have it be washed out to see before anyone can properly investigate), but I was disappointed in the pervasive use of ethnic slurs. It is, perhaps, a product of its times (published in 1932) but that doesn’t make it more tolerable. I still may read the next in the series (Gaudy Nights) because I bought it already and I know it is a favorite of fans of the series, but right now I am not in a rush.

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole (Adult Romance, ebook)
An adorable and wonderful romance featuring a scientist main character who is romanced by an incognito African prince. I read this when I was in the mood for something fast and warm and sweet and funny and it was all those things and more.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (YA Fantasy, ebook)
Secondary world fantasy inspired by West African history/legend. I loved this and read it super-fast because I JUST HAD TO KNOW what would happen. I love the intense emotion, the visuals, the complicated character interactions, and the fascinating magic system. But augh, what a cliffhanger of an ending! Still, I highly recommend. This one definitely lives up to the hype for me. It’s also especially fun to read it knowing the author is an Avatar: The Last Airbender fan and see some of the echoes of that here.

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (YA Fantasy, ebook)
Luscious and grotesque all at once, and rich with atmosphere. I found this a little challenging to get into but once I was in I sank deep. There is so much going on here, so many interesting questions here, and an interrogation of our society’s relationship with beauty and identity. I think this book may be both the most beautiful and the ugliest (in terms of what people do to each other and the twisted nature of the world portrayed) that I’ve read lately.

As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman (YAish Graphic Novel)
A religious girl who also happens to be black and not straight (but also not out) goes to a Christian outdoors camp and grapples with her place there, her faith, and her identity. I was drawn to this mostly due to the sweet, engaging artwork, but the story inside kept me reading. I am still not entirely sure I understand the ending of this volume (there are more on the way, I think?) though!

The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani Dasgupta (MG Fantasy, ebook)
A wonderfully funny and delightful middle grade fantasy featuring a contemporary girl from New Jersey discovering her connection to a fantastical realm inspired by Hindu mythology. I loved the main character Kiranmala! Such a great voice, and she felt really honest and true. I can imagine fans of Percy Jackson would love this.

I also read the drafts of two different fantasy novels for writer-friends that won’t be out until next year so I am not going to comment on them here, except to say I am lucky lucky lucky and have incredibly talented friends!

MOVIES
Pacific Rim Uprising
I enjoyed the spectacle and getting to see John Boyega do this thing as a Jaeger pilot, and the crop of new younger teen pilots in training, but I was sorely disappointed by how they handled Mako’s plotline. I am so curious whether it was because of limitations on the actresses’ time, or whether they seriously thought it was a good idea.

A Quiet Place
I loved this movie about a family surviving in the aftermath of what appears to be an alien invasion by monsters that are blind and hunt by sound. Amazing acting, incredible tension, gripping story. I did have to look away/cover my eyes a couple times because I couldn’t bear the suspense but it was worth it.

Avengers Infinity War
No spoilers: I enjoyed it quite a lot, particularly seeing the interactions between characters who had never met before. I was impressed by how they kept the story flowing even with that many different elements. Because of (spoilery) things that happened, though, I feel like until I see next years conclusion, I really can’t tell if I will ultimately love, hate, or something-in-between it. I suspect a certain thing will happen in next year’s movie, and if it does, I will be happy, but if it doesn’t (or is done in the wrong way) I may be very unhappy. That said, I am really excited to see Captain Marvel finally make her appearance in the universe!

GAMING
No full games completed, lately! My brother and I are thisclose to finishing Borderlands in coop mode, but not quite… Otherwise I’m still just wallowing in my love of Dragon Age Inquisition by continuing my replay. I did do the Descent DLC for the first time. I loved some of the imagery and a few of the side quests (Nug King!!!!) and the lore you learn and questions that are raised regarding the titans. But otherwise it was mostly just running around in tunnels and fighting a lot, which isn’t my favorite. I’ve moved on to the Jaws of Hakkon DLC and trying to trigger the Adoribull romance, before I finish the final encounter of the main campaign and Trespasser. After that I will start something new! (Unless I start a Mass Effect 1-3 replay, oops).

February Media

03
March
2018

[Image showing covers for the books/games/tv shows listed below]

I didn’t read or play as much in February as I would have liked, mostly because I got distracted planning our big 2018 vacation. We’re going to the UK at the end of July/beginning of August, spending time in Bath and the Cotswolds and finishing with a day in London dedicated primarily to seeing Hamilton (eee!).

Ghost by Jason Reynolds (MG contemporary, ebook)
First in a series of novels about kids who are on a competitive middle school track team. Really amazing voice, and I was impressed by how so much stuff was woven so seamlessly into a relatively short (but powerful) novel.

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (Adult SF, ebook)
Third and final book in the intricate and nuanced Imperial Radch series. This story has more of the amazing world building and characterization, along with a surprising amount of humor and an unsurprising (given the previous books) amount of thoughtful discussion of humanity.

The Runaways (TV, Hulu)
I really loved this series about a band of teens with various skills and abilities who discover their parents are supervillains. There are some significant changes from the original comic (which I also read and enjoyed) but for the most part I think the changes strengthened this version (in particular, the deeper focus on the parents, and the addition of Nico’s sister). There were a couple of times I wanted to shake certain characters, and I’m not entirely happy with some of the portrayals, but overall I really enjoyed this and am excited to see where they will go in Season 2.

The Good Place Season 2 (TV, Hulu)
Weird, unpredictable, heart-wrenching, ridiculous (in a good way), I don’t think there’s any way I can do this show justice in a short blurb. Also, spoilers! But if you enjoyed the first season I think it is likely you will love the second as much or more.

Queer Eye (TV, Netflix)
Heartwarming, emotional and fun. It follows a similar premise to the original show: five gay men who specialize in different areas (grooming, food, etc) who provide a sort of lifestyle makeover to someone else nominated by friends and family to be on the show. I love how how the five seem to really, truly care about their clients and want the best for them.

Dragon Age: Awakening (Videogame, PS3)
I am not entirely sure why I skipped playing this DLC when I first played Dragon Age Origins. I actually had no idea how substantial it was– a full game in its own, practically! I’m so glad my friend Chris encouraged me to try it because I did truly enjoy returning to this world, even though it took me a couple hours to remember how to use the controls. I did find it a bit buggy and the slowness (compared to more recent games) got to me, but overall I had fun and am glad to have filled in this gap in my Dragon Age experience. Though it did make me even more sad about what they did with Anders in DA2!

January Media

01
February
2018

[Image showing covers for several of the books/games/tv shows listed below]

I’m trying to stay more on top of tracking and sharing what I read/play/watch each month, so here’s a quick summary of what I finished in January.

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 8: Mecca by G. Willow Wilson (Comic)
The continued adventures of Ms. Marvel, the teenaged Muslim Pakistani-American superhero. I absolutely adore Kamala Khan, and I especially love how this volume delves into what exactly that heroism means when not everyone likes what you are doing. I highly recommend this series.

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee (YA Historical, ebook)
Detailed and riveting historical fiction about a Chinese-American girl in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake. I loved Mercy’s guts, compassion and gumption, and I had a really hard time putting this one down once the quake started.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab (Adult Fantasy, audiobook)
I found this very compelling, particularly the world-building, with a set of four different linked worlds and the handful of people who can pass between them. And I particularly loved Lila, the thief who wants to be a pirate and yearns to be free. Also, even though this is the first in a trilogy, it was entirely satisfying as a single volume.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler (Adult Speculative, ebook)
Octavia Butler is a luminary in speculative fiction and I’ve long wanted to read more of her work. Kindred is one of her most famous, though the only speculative element here is time-travel: a black woman from the 70s slips back in time to the pre-Civil War South. It’s brutal and very challenging to read in places, but really thought-provoking.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey (Memoir, ebook)
The memoir of a year or so in the life of the author, as she’s dealing with debilitating illness, and takes solace in observing the small snail that is living in a pot of violets given to her by a friend. I really enjoyed learning more about snails, and also appreciated the meditations on chronic illness.

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin (YA Nonfiction, audiobook)
I found this absolutely riveting and impossible to put down in places. I had forgotten (or never learned) so much about the Vietnam War and the Pentagon Papers and Watergate: this book truly made history come alive and felt sadly topical to the current political situation. I’m especially glad I read it just before watching the movie The Post which covers some of the same events.

Old Man’s Journey (Android Game)
A lovely and wistful game with a fairly simple mechanic (you have to move elements of the environment around to allow the titular Old Man to complete his journey) and a bittersweet story. I think what made me buy this in the first place was the gorgeous art. The game didn’t hold my attention quite as strongly as I’d have hoped, but I’m glad I played it.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (PS4 Game)
This was one of the most visceral (figuratively and literally, ew) games I’ve played. Harrowing and brutal, but also beautiful and expansive (especially the finale). The premise is that you are Senua, a young Celtic warrior woman with depression/psychosis who is seeking to save the soul of her lover from the Norse Hell after he was slaughtered by Norsemen. I have never played a game that made me so tense, and even on easy mode I found the fighting grueling. I actually almost gave up on the game after about the first third because it was so relentlessly dark and the fights were so frustrating, but I’m very glad I kept going. I felt very strongly for the character of Senua by the end, and the puzzle elements of the game were clever and the atmosphere was incredible.

Travelers Season 2 (TV series)
I’m continuing to enjoy this series about time-travelers who get their minds sent back to inhabit the bodies of contemporary people who were about to die. While some elements don’t work for me (the plot this season was kind of… odd and I am still not convinced it made sense) I love the characters and their relationships.

Killjoys Season 2 (TV series)
As above, I’m watching this series more for the characters and world-building than the plot. This blog post pretty much sums up everything I would say about it so I will point you there for more: http://www.thebooksmugglers.com/2017/12/reasons-love-killjoys-arent-spoilers.html

2017 Gaming Report

02
January
2018

The more I play, the more I love videogames. I was worried when I got back into gaming a few years ago (after a 20+ year hiatus) that it would consume my life and keep me from writing/reading. But for the most part, it hasn’t. I still read and write about the same amount, and in fact there are things I’m learning from videogames that I believe are making me a better storyteller. If anything, I am watching less television and movies, but honestly I think the storytelling in some of these games is more compelling than a lot of tv, so I’m okay with that! Here’s what I played (and didn’t play) in 2017, and what I’m looking forward to.

Games completed (PlayStation):
Horizon Zero Dawn + Frozen Wilds DLC: LOVELOVELOVE everything about this: the amazing world, the mystery of the premise, the ROBOT DINOSAURS, Aloy in all her wounded snarky glory, the sidequests that all felt organic and meaningful, and the ending made me cry

Mass Effect Andromeda: I enjoyed this, but ?don’t feel a desire to replay. It was a fine game, but just not what I was hoping for based on the first trilogy. I did love many of the characters though! Especially Peebee and Jaal)

?What Remains of Edith Finch: Whoa. That Cannery scene is going to haunt me for a looong time. Really innovative and heart-wrenching overall.

Firewatch: So immersive! I loved the walkie-talkie mechanic, in particular, and the sense of isolation when I was out in the woods on my own. I was disappointed by the ending but loved everything else about it.

Uncharted: Like an action adventure movie in game form! I played this with Bob, trading off the controller. Ugh, that jetski section though! Most frustrated I’ve ever been in a game!

Uncharted 2: Ditto, but without the jetskis, yay!

Trine: Played this with my brother, and really enjoyed it! Fun, gorgeous magical setting, cool puzzles! There’s a plot too but I will admit I didn’t pay much attention to that element! I was too distracted by the giant glowing flowers and goblins…

?Games completed (Phone)?:
Oxenfree: I wish I’d played this on a larger screen– it’s available on console too– but it was still amazingly atmospheric and evocative and downright spooky. The soundtrack is amazing, and the sense of choices impacting the game is very satisfying.

Monument Valley 2: I love all the Escher-like puzzles, and the visuals are as gorgeous as in the first game. I especially love the color palettes.

A Normal Lost Phone: Intriguing storytelling, more like a novella than a game in some ways)

Another Lost Phone: Ditto, but I preferred the first one.



Games in progress:
Trine 2: Playing this with my brother; we are stuck at the final boss fight! But it’s just as cool and gorgeous as the first one.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice: I love so much about this one but it is so dark thematically, and makes me super-tense to play so I can only do it in small bits.

Dragon Age Inquisition: Third play, and I have no shame!

Dragon Age Origins: Second play, and I have no shame!

Divinity Original Sin: Occasionally playing with Bob; the tactics are fun and the world is vivid and intriguing. I’m very interested to see what the second game is like once it comes to PS4.

Uncharted 3: Playing with Bob, similar experience to the first two!

Old Man’s Journey: Another one that feels more like a visual story than a game. I am intrigued to see where it goes.

Games on hold:
Borderlands: Playing this with my brother, but we got sick of hunting skags.


Star Wars: KOTOR: I was enjoying it, but find it really hard to motivate myself to play on the PC upstairs at a desk when there’s a much more comfortable couch and console in the living room.

Games abandoned:
Life is Strange: It seemed like a perfect game for me but I just didn’t click with the characters and the gameplay was too slow for my taste.

Fallout 3: Too much busywork for me and the world doesn’t appeal.

Games on my to-play list for 2018:
Shadow of the Colossus: I never played the original version but the world looks like my sort of aesthetic.

Detroit Become Human: I’m a sucker for android rights stories.

Witcher 3: Based on reviews from folks I trust I think I will like this!

Wolfenstein 2: Bob is playing this now; I’ve heard such good things I’d like to try it myself.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins: I’ve never played AC but this one looks amazing– ancient Egypt!!!– and I’ve heard good things about the characters.

Tacoma: I loved Gone Home and this is by the same folks. But in space!

Final Fantasy XV: I’ve never played FF but would like to give it a try, and I’ve heard it rips your heart out, which I enjoy in a game…

I am ambivalent about Anthem. Much as I love Bioware in general, this new game hasn’t grabbed me yet based on the (admittedly few) glimpses I’ve had, and it feels like they are going in a direction that’s less interesting with the mechanics and story. But maybe as more information comes out it will appeal more!

April, May, June

02
July
2016

Honestly, April and May were rough. There is a reason I’m not posting this until July. The short version is: I was in a lot of physical pain due to ongoing back issues, there were scary medical things affecting people I love, while various other less-serious-but-stressful things were also all happening at once. Happily, much of that is now all better or tending-to-better.

So here I am now, trying to catch up!

GAMING
When I was deep in the throes of pain and stress, there was pretty much one thing I could do that distracted me. It was hard to read, hard to write, hard to watch television. But I could play video games. Specifically, I played Dragon Age Inquisition. Twice.

I am a huge fan of the Mass Effect trilogy, also by BioWare, and enjoyed the first Dragon Age game a lot (in fact, I think the Alistair romance in that game is my current all-time favorite video-game romance). But I didn’t love Dragon Age 2, so I’d been a little leery of Inquisition, the third in the series. I’d heard it was a bigger, more sprawling game with a lot of side-quests and I was afraid my completionist nature would drive me up the wall. And I did have to fight the urge to do everything. But I had SO MUCH FUN. I loved all the different new regions of the world: running through an endless moonlit desert, tramping through a sorrowful, beautiful enchanted forest, chasing after cute big-eared foxes on my way to adventure. And I loved the characters and the story, the funny moments that made me laugh out loud and the stirring, passionate moments of bravery and loss.

I’m just so grateful I found this game when I needed it. (And I really REALLY hope there is going to be a Dragon Age 4 now.)

Here’s my canonical elven mage Inquisitor (who romanced Solas, for those who understand what that means…)

Screenshot from Dragon Age Inquisition of a white-haired, brown-skinned elven woman.

READING
Archie, Vol. 1: The New Riverdale by Mark Waid, Fiona Staples, Annie Wu, Veronica Fish [YA Comic]
Archie was the first comic I read as a kid, and I can still remember several of the stories vividly. So I was excited to hear that a new version was being produced, with some updated backstories and new spins on several of the main characters. In general I really loved this (especially the art by Fiona Staples in the first few issues). I loved how Archie and Betty had a complicated backstory, and how Jughead’s character finally made sense to me. I’m not sure I love it so much I’m going to keep reading, but this was a fun and nostalgic read.

The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. Lee [YA Historical Mystery]
I’ve been working my way through this ongoing YA historical mystery series with great enjoyment. My favorite part is Mary Quinn herself, the Victorian-era teenage spy who goes undercover as a maid, who struggles with her own complicated origins and history, who is so capable and clear-sighted.

The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks [Adult Graphic Novel]
I’d heard a podcast about the Harlem Hellfighters on Stuff You Missed in History Class that intrigued me, so I ended up taking this somewhat fictionalized graphic novel out of the library to learn more about these Black soldiers fighting overseas during WWI, fighting fiercely, earning medals and acclaim, in spite of racism and discrimination. Sobering, informative, inspiring, and infuriating.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng [Adult Mystery]
The premise of this hooked me: the slow unraveling of the mystery behind a teen girl’s death, seen through the eyes of her family. I am not entirely satisfied by the ending, but I think perhaps I’m not supposed to be…

The Secret Place by Tana French [Adult Mystery]
I’ve loved the other two Tana French novels I’ve read (The Likeness and Faithful Place) and this one was in some ways my favorite of all. The writing is absolutely brilliant and gorgeous, and the structure unfolds in a tremendously compelling way: alternating chapters in the present, from the point of view of the detective investigating the murder of a young man on the grounds of a fancy girl’s boarding school, and chapters in the past, from the points of view of four girls at the school, leading up to the murder itself.

Night Witches: The Amazing Story of Russia’s Women Pilots in WWII by Bruce Myles [Adult Non Fiction]
This was another read inspired by Stuff You Missed in History Class, and I’m so glad I sought it out. A fascinating, if dense and occasionally hard-to-follow account of the Soviet women who served as fighter pilots and bombers during WW2. I found the topic so fascinating I’ve already started reading another book about these women. Some of my favorite parts were the small details about the lives of these women, like how they would dye the white silk caps they wore under their helmet pretty colors, or how they pooled their rations to bake cakes for one girl’s birthday (or, in another case, carved a watermelon when there were no supplies for cake). This was one of those books that really made history come vividly alive for me.

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person
by Shonda Rhimes [Adult Non Fiction/Memoir]
Inspiring and thought-provoking. Also, it made me start watching Grey’s Anatomy!

WRITING
I’m revising my most recent project again. It’s hard, but I feel like I’m making it better. Onward!

RAMBLES
Once the glorious Maine weather started to feel more summery, I got out on some escapades:

To the Coastal Botanical Garden to see the rhododendrons:
Photo of Deva standing by a pink rhododendron

To Rockport Harbor, where I took lots of photos of boats with funny names (there was another small red boat I called The Red Herring!):
Photo of a boat called For Pete's Sake moored in a sunny harbor

And to Camden Harbor, to sit in the beautiful waterside park:
Photo of a harbor on a sunny day, taken by Deva as she's laying in the grassy park along the shore, with her feet in the foreground

February Diversions

19
March
2016

What I was up to last month:

READING
The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan [MG Fantasy]
I quite enjoyed this. It was exactly what I was in the mood for when I read it: a humorous middle-grade adventure that made me laugh and kept me turning pages.
How I found it: I was in the mood for a middle-grade adventure and it was available via the library ebook lending program, and then the first chapter hooked me!

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas [YA Fantasy]
I will admit I was dubious about this, especially as I was reading the first several chapters. And I am sure there are other readers who find the main character unlikable, particularly at the start. But that’s actually one of the reasons I enjoyed this and am already on the library wait-list for book 2. I kind of love that Celaena is unapologetically selfish and vain and proud (she’s also loyal and kind and brave in turns). In any case, this was, for me, a fun and fast read.
How I found it: It’s a hugely popular YA fantasy series…

Death at Victoria Dock by Kerry Greenwood [Adult Mystery]
I continue to enjoy the Miss Fisher novels very much! I am taking a break so I don’t inhale them all at once, which I might otherwise be tempted to do.
How I found it: Ongoing series…

WRITING
I got back some really helpful feedback from my amazing and generous critique partners, then dove into a revision that consumed most of my spare energy this month (thus the comparatively small size of my reading list for February — and the fact that they were all read at the beginning of the month).

I tend to find revision more mentally all-consuming than drafting (except in the end-stages of drafting when I want to just write all the time to get the book finished). When drafting I will usually do my work for the day and stop and feel satisfied, whereas with revision I generally feel twitchy and guilty if I am not working on the revision ALL THE TIME. But now it’s done, and off, and I’m dedicating a good chunk of time to reading and gaming and letting myself brainstorm and muse and mull and research for new projects!

GAMING
Lara Croft GO: I played this on my tablet and found it both visually beautiful and addictive. The puzzles were just hard enough to make my brain twist, but rewarding enough to keep me coming back.

Monument Valley: Another tablet game! This one was also amazingly beautiful. It has a sort of mystical, surreal quality that I love; I think if you (like me) are a fan of the aesthetics of the game JOURNEY you might enjoy Monument Valley purely for the visuals. The puzzle aspect was also engaging, though not brain-twistingly challenging. But I think my favorite part of this game is that it gave me the feeling that I was walking around in an M. C. Escher painting.

Here’s the trailer, which gives a good overview of the amazing art:

WATCHING
UnREAL: I have never been interested in watching any of the “dating” reality shows (I prefer Project Runway, Face Off and The Great British Baking Show. And my late, lamented The Quest!). But this isn’t an actual reality show. It’s a drama about the people producing and competing in a fictional reality show. I found it incredibly compelling (and also kind of horrifying). The characters do terrible, terrible, hurtful, and outright evil things, and yet I understood why they did them, and the show manages to confront and examine so many interesting and important issues, particularly those related to the experiences of women working in a male-dominated industry. I’m eager for season 2, especially having heard that they’re going to be having a black bachelor on the show-within-the-show (something that the actual real-world Bachelor has never done in 20 seasons).

The Fall: I will admit I started watching this for pretty much one reason: Gillian Anderson. And it’s worth watching for her portrayal of a cool, capable Irish detective with a seemingly-endless supply of beautiful silk blouses, who is tracking a serial killer. But it’s also got a compelling story, and an intriguing setup in which we start off the very first episode knowing who the killer is; the tension is in watching his story and the detective’s story weave back and forth, closer and closer. If you are looking for a more eloquent review that delves into some of the feminist aspects of the show, you can also read this article over at the Atlantic.

January Diversions

04
February
2016

What I’ve been up to in the last month:

READING
Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo [YA Fantasy]
This is the final book in the Grisha trilogy, set in a fantasy land inspired by Russia. I actually read the second book in this series in December but missed it in my summary last month. I read them almost back-to-back because book two ends in a very unsettled place and I was eager to know how it would all turn out. Overall I really enjoyed both! I was particularly impressed by how the plot twists actually surprised me, and yet felt utterly believable. Ultimately I really just loved the world and the way everything came together so compellingly and perfectly in the end — so often a trilogy falls apart in the end, but this one only got stronger and stronger!

How I found it: I had read the first book in this series a while ago, then got distracted by other books and never kept going. But I’ve been hearing such good things about the author’s new series that I decided to go back and finish the earlier one (they take place in the same world). Also, the new book, SIX OF CROWS, had a loooooooong wait list at the library whereas the second and third books in this first series were available right away as ebooks. Also, I love these covers. A superficial motivation, but there it is!

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 4: Last Days by G. Willow Wilson [YA Comics]
This series just keeps digging deeper and getting more rich and rewarding. I love Kamala!

How I found it: Ongoing series…

Bitch Planet, Vol 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick [Adult Comics]
The bound edition of the first several issues of an adult science fiction comic about a harsh and terrifying future Earth ruled by a literal patriarchy, where women can be convicted and sent to an off-world prison for being too loud, fat, queer, angry, feminist, or otherwise “non-compliant.” It made me both rage, and also punch the air in triumph. I loved the characters, especially Penny Rolle and Kamau Kogo. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

How I found it: I think the first place I heard about this was on The Mary Sue blog, in an article about people getting “non compliant” tattoos inspired by the comic. Once I heard the premise, I knew I had to check it out.

Flying Too High by Kerry Greenwood [Adult Mystery]

and

Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood [Adult Mystery]

Reading a Miss Fisher book is like sitting down in a beautiful palm-fringed parlour with a cup of tea and a cake and lounging around chatting with a delightful friend. They are quite short, and I am sure if I let myself I would inhale them all in one go, but I am trying to space them out, for when I really need a comforting, dependable sort of book. I will say, though, that there are a few problematic elements related to exoticism and a few other narrative choices I found questionable — I can’t ignore them, and I am hoping that maybe future books will not go in that direction.

How I found it: Ongoing series…

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley [Adult Historical]
I enjoyed this, though I think perhaps I wasn’t in quite the right mood for it and so it seemed to take me a long time to get through. I appreciate Kearsley’s ability to weave together a modern and a historical storyline, and engage me in both.

How I found it: I’ve read most of Kearsley’s other books and enjoyed them (especially with the lovely Sourcebooks covers).

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates [Nonfiction]
Illuminating and distressing, written as a set of letters to Coates’ son, in large part about the experience of being black in America (and oversees, too). Every time I think I am starting to understand my own privilege, I read something like this and realize just how much I don’t understand. The stories about the murder of Coates’ college friend (by cops) was particularly wrenching. This was a dense read that took some attention and effort, but I am glad to have read it.

How I found it: I’ve read numerous articles by Coates and appreciated his insights, so when I started hearing all the positive buzz about this book I wanted to make a point to read it.

WRITING
I finished my first revision pass on my new book!

(Image of manuscript in progress, blurred to protect you all from first-draft prose and lots of all-caps notes to myself. Also, that’s my silly little map that I finally drew after I figured out the geography I needed for the story to make sense…)

CRAFTING
My excellent aunt sent me more yarn, similar to the stuff I used to make my last hat. I am already making a second hat for my mom, and now apparently I can make SIX MORE. Knitting has been a nice form of meditation for me lately so this is a good thing. As long as I can find people to give all these hats to.

GAMING
In my quest to play all the BioWare games ever, I started in on Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, playing a Scout named Vala Jast (I think I spent like a half hour in the name generator). It’s definitely a little clunky compared to Mass Effect and Dragon Age, but I’m enjoying it! Meeting Twi’leks and Wookies and thwarting Sith and gaining Light Side points. Except that then I hit the part where I have to shoot enemy fighters and sadly I am no Finn. So right now I am stuck dying over and over again, because of my bad aim and/or inability to manipulate my mouse. Hopefully I can figure it out (or find a friend who can come get through this fight for me) so that Vala can achieve her Jedi potential!

May Reading (and other Diversions)

09
June
2015

My reading was limited last month, in spite of my writing hiatus, because I became thoroughly addicted to the Mass Effect video game trilogy. And really, it’s been as immersive and thought-provoking and compelling as my favorite written stories. And it’s making me think in new and interesting ways about the nature of story-telling, what makes us invested in a character, and what I most *enjoy* about engaging in a story. Hopefully I can put those thoughts together in a more cohesive way after I actually finish! In any case, I don’t regret spending my time with an alternate storytelling format, but it does mean this list is a little shorter than other months!

And for fellow fans of ME: FemShep. Paragon. Vanguard. Garrus. Hated the ME3 ending (though the “red” option was the least reprehensible, IMO) and loved everything else more than enough to make up for it! I’ve already bought two of the soundtracks and listening to certain songs will make me tear up…

Also, there has been considerable energy spent tending to this green monster:

From Gardens

And now, on to the books! As usual, links go to Goodreads for actual plot summaries. My comments are very informal reactions. I’m also trying to start keeping track of where I first hear about books and what leads me to read them… I am curious how other people find books and figured it would be useful to track my own!

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens
(titled Murder is Bad Manners in the US, but I read a UK edition)

I adored this. It was one of those times when you find exactly what you want to read, when you want to read it. Cozy and charming and full of complicated female friendship and humor and mystery.

How Did I Find It?: I saw it popping up on several “Anticipated Reads” lists around the kidlit-blogosphere and it looked like exactly my sort of thing. After reading an e-sample I was convinced it was indeed, exactly my sort of thing, and ordered both this book and the sequel from The Book Depository in the UK (Book 2 isn’t available in the US yet, and I prefer paperbacks). I am thrilled to see there is a third book coming too!

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

This was a very rich and immersive book for me, though I found I had to take a break part way through because it was getting too overwhelmingly grim and also a bit slow-paced for my tastes. It might have been different if I were reading rather than listening to the audiobook (which goes slower). But the writing and characterizations were wonderful, and I was ultimately satisfied by the resolution. I am interested in trying another Sarah Waters book — possibly The Paying Guests? Anyone out there a fan who has a favorite?

How Did I Find It?: Ana at the wonderful blog Things Mean A Lot has posted several glowing reviews of Sarah Waters, and since everything else her blog has led me to has been wonderful, I decided to give Fingersmith a try when I was able to get the audiobook from my library.

Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia
One of the most stunning things about this entire series is how so much is packed into them (especially the many different explorations of racism and race relations in the US) and yet never lose the characters and family connections at their heart. I love Delphine and am grateful to have been able to see her grow and thrive throughout this series.

How Did I Find It?: I loved the first two, so picking up the third in the series was a given! I am pretty sure the review that really made me want to read the series to begin with was from The Book Smugglers.

The Apple Throne by Tessa Gratton
The perfect ending to a series I’ve truly enjoyed. Astrid has been one of my favorite characters from the start, and this one gives her a chance to shine!

How did I find it?: As above, I loved the first two, so picking up the third in the series was a given!

Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso
A short but powerful meditation on memory and the power and perils of living an examined life. Reading this gave me a lot to think about regarding the moments that compose my life, what gives them meaning. It also reminded me a lot of the song the Baker’s Wife sings in Into the Woods. “If life were made of moments, then you’d never know you had one.”

How Did I Find It?: I read a post on Brainpickings that piqued my interest. In truth, I think most of my favorite quotes are in that post!

February Updates

04
March
2014

I can tell that I am having a relatively good winter because I have not needed to go out and buy myself consolation tulips to remind myself that Spring is Coming. Though of course now that I’ve written that, I am consumed with the need to have tulips in the house. [Edit: And now I do. Lovely pink-and-white striped ones.]

But even so, I am really looking forward to April, when the first crocuses and squill start to push up through the snow!

In the meantime, here’s what I’ve been up to in February:

~Writing~
I finished a draft of a NEW BOOK! NEW! Not a revision or a rewrite. NEW!

I am blissfully overusing caps because it feels SO GOOD! The last time I finished a first draft of a brand new book was in 2011 — since then I’ve been rewriting and revising that book (which does not have a home yet, alas) and working on various false starts.

Of course, the new book is by no means a perfect book. In fact, I suspect it needs a significant amount of work. Especially the parts where I left behind notes to myself like “Insert major turning point here that will explain why X happens later.”

So I spent the second half of the month working on a new outline, brainstorming, reading and re-reading craft articles and books on structure. One of my goals with this revision/rewrite is to really focus on staying true to my characters, and to ensure that the plot is driven by character choices and motivations.

And now that it’s March, I’m diving back in again. Wish me luck!

~Reading~
2014 continues to be an excellent reading year for me — not just the fact that I’ve been reading more, but the books have been awesome! I keep wanting to take pictures of my to-read pile because I am so excited about all the great books waiting for me.

Here’s what I read in February:

Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford
(Adult Biography) I found this fascinating, sad, inspiring, and disturbing. I have been a fan of Millay’s poetry for years, but I never knew much about her life. This is a dense book, but filled with excerpts from letters and diaries. I found it particularly interesting to read accounts of how much of a… glamour… Millay seemed to possess, almost literally enchanting the men and women she encountered. But it was also a bit hard to read in places — especially those where Millay was dealing with poverty, interpersonal drama, and addiction. Still, a fascinating and truly gifted person, who was fiercely dedicated to her art.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
(Adult Fiction) I loved several of these short stories (including the first two, which was what sucked me in!) and found the writing to be beautiful and evocative throughout. Several of them (the titular “Interpreter of Maladies”, “A Real Durwan”, “Mrs. Sen’s”) were a bit too bitter/unresolved for me to really *enjoy*, but they have continued to ripple through my thoughts, and I think perhaps I need a bit more time to fully decide how I feel about them. My overall favorites were “This Blessed House” and “The Third and Final Continent.”

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia
(MG Historical Fiction) I enjoyed this every bit as much as the first — I very much hope there will be a third book! I love the Gaither Sisters!

The Cabinet of Earths by Anne Nesbet
(MG Fantasy) Magical, charming, quirky, lovely, and *beautifully* written. I especially loved Maya, who makes mistakes and has faults, but is strong and funny and wonderful. I ached over her worries, especially the ones about her mother. And the vicarious trip to Paris! Both the story and the writing style reminded me a bit of Diana Wynne Jones (a Very Good Thing, for this reader).

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
(MG Fantasy) Deserving of all the accolades. One of my favorite Gaiman books so far. I loved the concept (an orphan being raised in a cemetery by ghosts), but I loved the characters even more.

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
(Adult Historical Fiction) This had the feeling of some of my favorite comfort reads, though the WWI and post-war trauma elements added some considerably more uncomfortable moments (as they should). I found it interesting that while Maisie had to deal with a lot of adversity of situation, she is one of those characters (like Anne Shirley) who seem to be almost universally loved by the other characters in her world. Some readers might find this “unrealistic” but I didn’t mind. I look forward to reading more in the series!

Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau
(YA Science Fiction) I enjoyed this even more than the first in the series– I have a soft spot for “school” books and protags with math/science/tech leanings, and I enjoyed learning more about the world and political structure (even if some of it doesn’t entirely make sense if I look at it too closely).

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
(YA Fiction) Amazing voice. The ending did not entirely work for me, but the rest of it made up for that and more.

Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro
(Nonfiction/Memoir/Writing Life)
This book worked best for me when I could nibble it off in small bits. There were many essays that I loved and felt instantly true, and others that I found less applicable to my experience of the writing life, as they felt a more oriented toward someone who writes for a living (and does not have a day job, as I do).

~Playing~
One of the best things I did in last month was to spend several hours sliding and flying across a beautiful desert landscape toward a mysterious shining mountain, piecing together the story of a lost civilization, accompanied by a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack.

Otherwise known as playing the game Journey.

It was just as amazing as promised by those who recommended it. I kind of want to bring everyone into my living room and sit them down and make them play it now, too.

Admittedly, I don’t play a lot of video games — the only one I’ve completed recently is Sword & Sworcery, which I also loved. In fact I had a stronger personal emotional reaction to S&S (for spoilery reasons) than Journey. But Journey was just plain beautiful to play — the music, the art, the atmosphere, the story. And in many places it evoked a sort of effervescent joy I never would have expected from a video game.

I don’t want to give too much away, but if you have a Playstation and haven’t tried Journey yet, or if you are just curious, there are some screenshots and movies on the website I linked above. And if you’ve already played Journey — I’d love to hear your thoughts. Did you play it in the online mode? Did you play it more than once? (I kind of want to go through a second time now).

(Special thanks to Gavin and Jenn, who both raved about Journey on Facebook, and convinced me to try it out. Jenn also blogged about it here and here, with some fascinating links to articles about the game, storytelling, and the concept of “flow”).