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RenTheWriter

Tea, Cats, and Books

A book is best read with tea in your hand and a cat on your lap. 

24-year-old English Major that currently works in an indie bookshop and at a local publishing house. Reviews and other bookish things. 

Breaking my crooked heart...

Crooked Kingdom: A Sequel to Six of Crows - Leigh Bardugo

*sobs uncontrollably for a minute*

 

Okay, better.

 

So, I read Six of Crows and loved it. And then I moved to NZ for a year and books were expensive so I haven't read Crooked Kingdom until just now and oh my god. What everyone (and by that I mean my co-workers) were telling me was totally true! And of course it didn't make it any easier to handle when I actually read it.

 

Soooo, this had all the stuff I loved about Six of Crows in it. Diverse, complex characters, deception, scheming, action, emotions. Each character got a sort of "deep dive" chapter about their past, which I ate up. And they happened so seamlessly with what was currently going on I sometimes found myself thinking, "What were we talking about? Oh right, screwing someone over." It also occurred to me, during these intimate looks into these characters' lives, how attached I'd gotten to them even though this is only a two book series.

 

I could go on more about how the subject matter in this book is rather topical, how Ketterdam could be seen as a hyperbolic representation of our own world where money and the market rule and people are the last things to be concerned about. But I don't want to ruin the book for myself. I want to just focus on the characters and how, even though they do terrible things that does not make them terrible people (not entirely anyway).

 

If you have not read Six of Crows, read it. And then read Crooked Kingdom and prepare to be sad.

 

~Ren

Nature is fekking weird and really cool

The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar: Evolution's Most Unbelievable Solutions to Life's Biggest Problems - Matt Simon

Okay, the title alone is great, come on. And I'm a big biology/zoology buff so this was a great book for me. 

 

If you're someone who is interested in the many creatures that live in the world around you but you fall asleep when things get to technical and "science-y" this is the book for you! Matt Simon writes in a very accessible voice the is peppered with sarcastic jokes (and some bad jokes) and has the undercurrent of a smartass telling you something you don't know (but not in an annoying way, at least to me).

 

The book is broken into sections and within those sections are short chapters on each different animal. This made it easy to pick up, read for a bit, and then go off to do something else. It was a very amusing and informative read that I would recommend to any animal/nature/science lover in your life. 

 

~Ren

Funny title, sad book

Men Explain Things To Me - Rebecca Solnit

While this book is short, it took me a while to get through because the content is very heavy. 

 

The human race seems to have a lot of issues we just can't seem to get over no matter how much they are talked about, studied, and fought against. The oppression of women is certainly one of those. Don't get me wrong, we've come a long way, but we still can't seem to shake this skewed dichotomy. 

 

I appreciated Rebecca Solnit's book because she did a very good job of not being accusatory. She wasn't just going on a tirade about how men are bad and they treat women poorly and they are all just awful. She addressed the larger scope of the problem. She didn't compartmentalize each issue (rape, murder, what have you) as it's own separate problem. She acknowledge those things as symptoms of an over arching disease. 

 

There are a lot of things to consider, lots of variables when looking at a topic like this, and Solnit tries to consider more, if not all of them, in this collection of essays instead of just a few. Sometimes it may seem like a topic is being talked to death, being pushed in our faces over and over again. But if we don't talk about it and we don't keep fighting against the problem, it will never go away. We can't afford to become complacent. 

 

~Ren

A horrible match made in chaos

This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity) - Victoria Schwab

Victoria Schwab never fails to impress me. Her characters, her worlds, her imagination. Uh, just, I love all of it. 

 

So the quick way to sort of sum up This Savage Song is Romeo and Juliet with monsters and no romance. And without the ridiculous ending where the two main characters kill themselves. What's up with that? Kate Harker and August Flynn are the two least likely people to meet and get along. They live in the same city but it is divided down the middle, with Kate's father running one half and August's running the other. And they don't play too nice together. 

 

Kate is a total badass, kind of what I imagine my own kickass alter ego would be, but that version of me only exists in my head. She's sassy, smart, tough, but she has a soft sentimental side in there somewhere. She's just gone through a lot of shit and I can understand why she's chosen to suppress that side. August is the exact opposite. He is soft, sweet, caring. So of course he and Kate were gonna get together, right? 

 

Victoria Schwab once again puts a fresh, interesting spin on something that is common place in our own world. These monsters of Verity are created through horrible acts. Murder, violence. These acts leave things in their wake, but in the world of Verity they become very very real. But there is a dynamic to them. While Malchai and Corsai are vicious, the Sunai are the sort of embodiment of retribution and justice. Once again, a physical presence of the different responses people have to terrible acts of violence. 

 

Victoria Schwab has a way of exploring deep, complex themes without getting too philosophical about it. It makes her writing interesting and compelling while also being immensely entertaining and fun. Can't wait for the last book!

 

~Ren  

Magnus is my fav...but Blackwood's pretty cool too...

A Shadow Bright and Burning - Jessica Cluess

My coworker pushed this book on me (I think she's glad I'm back so she can start manipulating my reading list again). But it was totally fine that she did because it was awesome! 

 

I always love a good, strong, female lead. And add a bit of fantasy, magic and heart-wrenching flirtation and I'm sold. All of the characters in this book had great personalities that complimented each other (and sometimes clashed with each other) in the best ways. There was witty dialogue, epic fight scenes, and I already mentioned the flirting. 

 

Sometimes, whilst enjoying a good fantasy novel, I have moments where I wonder how authors are going to keep coming up with new, fantastic worlds of magic and awful baddies. But I'm almost always pleasantly surprised by what I come across. Jessica Cluess is no exception. The Ancients sound freaking terrifying and I can't wait to see more of them. And the distinctions made between witches, magicians and sorcerers was a new twist. 

 

All in all, this is a great debut novel that is an exciting, funny, with totally badass characters. Looking forward to the next book!

 

~Ren

Oh Zuzu...

Avatar: The Last Airbender-Smoke and Shadow Part Three - Gurihiru, Gene Luen Yang

She's crazy and she needs to go down! And Zuko, you let her get away! Talk about a freaking sibling rivalry. 

 

Sorry, getting ahead of myself. So I finally got my hands on the last book in the Smoke and Shadow story. I was a little sad at the end because, while it wrapped everything up that had been going on, there was still so much I wanted to know! Which I'm sure is the point, but I'm just so impatient! The good news is, we do get to see Sokka and Katara again in the next set of books to come out!

 

They hinted at a few things in the book. A bit of dialogue between Zuko and Azula make me wonder if things wont turn out mostly okay for the insane ex-princess of the Fire Nation. And Ursa finally worked things out with Kiyi, thank goodness. Oh! and what is gonna happen with the New Ozai Society? The former Fire Lord isn't totally out of the picture yet. Anything could happen.

 

Who knows! I will continue to wait with bated breath and will continue to devour these stories. I miss the Gaang. *sigh*

 

~Ren

Holmes and Watson back at it

The Last of August (Charlotte Holmes Novel) - Brittany Cavallaro

Oh gosh. What do I say about this book now? Umm, it was awesome? And funny? And was so gosh darn clever and cryptic and Sherlockian that it nearly left me behind on the way to the big reveal. Seriously, I might have to re-read just to make sure I got everything.

 

We pick up with Watson and Holmes pretty much where we left them in A Study in Charlotte. The two are enjoying their holiday break (or trying to) before they get swept up in another mystery and are lead all over Europe in search of Holmes's uncle and the notorious Moriarty family.

 

I feel about the relationship between Holmes and Watson the way I do about the relationship between the characters in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (can't think of their names right now). From the outside it all seems rather dysfunctional and overly complicated and like it just inherently wont work. But really, I think it might be one of the more honest relationship out there, one that isn't trying to squeeze into the mold that's been widely adopted in society. Lord knows Charlotte isn't holding anything back.

 

Cavallaro has once again created a web of complex characters with dark and mysterious back stories and sent them on an ever intriguing adventure to discover the truth.

 

~Ren

Bless you, JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts I and II (English)(Hardcover) - John Tiffany & J K Rowling Jack Thorne

This book hit me in the feels a little bit (okay, kind of a lot). It played on my nostalgia and my thirst to know more of the HP universe and what happened to our Golden Trio when they were all grown up.

 

I don't even feel like I can really write an honest review of this because by default I'm gonna say I love it. I mean, the biggest thing I would complain about is that there isn't MORE about what happened with Harry, Ron, and Hermione and their families.

 

Also, I have to rant about this again. How in the name of Dumbledore's beard did Hank Green predict ANOTHER thing about the Harry Potter world? Seriously, Accio Deathly Hallows should just be taken as prophecy, and it's alllll coming true. Hank Green is a wizard.

 

If you're a Potterhead, or even just someone who really liked Harry Potter, you should probably read this. It will probably hurt your heart a little bit like it did mine, but ultimately it will be worth it. so just do it, trust me.

 

~Ren

Please excuse me while I fangirl...

Kill the Boy Band - Goldy Moldavsky

Goldy Moldavsky's debut novel Kill the Boy Band is a book for any girl that ever was a fangirl or ever will be a fangirl (so basically all of us). Or really, it is just a good book for anyone who understands crazy, passionate, slightly scary fandom love. But especially boy band love.

 

So it's pretty much what it sounds like based on the title. The book follows four friends all obsessed with the same band (The Ruperts, so named because all the boys are named Rupert) and they've decided they are taking matters into their own hands. They want and up close and personal look at the boys, and it is exactly what they get. But nowhere close tot he way they were imagining.

 

The narrator is super relatable, and she's also fairly self-aware. Which is a nice balance for the reader because then it's not just trying to cope with crazy fangirl screaming. And the story becomes not just about all these shenanigans these four teenage girls get into while trying to meet their favorite boy banders. It becomes a bit of a social commentary on the fandom life, in whatever shape it might take.

 

Being crazy about a boy band or a TV show or a book series to the point of total life consumption is not, itself, a bad thing. Especially when you're young and you kind of don't have a lot of other things to occupy your time with. But it is sometimes wise to have a voice of reason come in and remind you there are other things in life. In addition to making some good observations about fandom this book is also just a hilarious, ridiculous fun read.

 

~Ren

Mehgirl

Weregirl - C. D. Bell

*This review has a minor spoiler.* This was one of the more disappointing books I've read in a while. I'm a big wolf lover, and I'd take werewolves over vampires any day. And even though it is written for middle grade readers, I went into this book have moderate expectations. The book summary sounded interesting enough. Girl gets turned into werewolf, starts exploring suspicious things going on in town. Alright, let's see how we go.

 

It started off well but soon started to slip. I felt things were reiterated too often, things the reader surely would have remembered after the first mention. The shaman character, who is supposed to help Nessa understand her abilities and guide her, is exceedingly absent. Which, I get is probably the point, but he just felt too absent. And Nessa never really even seems to figure out her powers on her own. Or she does in a really passive way, like she wasn't even trying, just kind of went with it.

 

The writing was alright, a little clunky and oddly structured for my taste. If someone in the target age range was reading, they probably wouldn't have minded as much, but it just didn't grab me. Also, and this bit is gonna be a bit spoiler-y so...***SKIP THIS BIT IF YOU PLAN ON READING AND DON'T WANT SOMETHING SPOILED*** Luc so should've been the gray wolf Nessa kept tooling around with! Like, it even felt like that's what the author was going for, but no! Maybe there is gonna be another book and it will just be revealed then but still! That should've been a thing.

 

Anywho, yeah. Not terrible but definitely not very good. If you have a young wolf lover in your life they will probably enjoy it some. But best to make it a library read just in case.

 

~Ren

The game is afoot! Again!

A Study in Charlotte - Brittany Cavallaro

I'm not afraid to admit that it was the new BBC Sherlock series that got me amped up about all things Sherlock. So when I came across Brittany Cavallaro's book A Study in Charlotte I was pretty darn excited.

 

Cavallaro's book follows Charlotte Holmes and James Watson. They are descendants of the great Sherlock Holmes and John Watson respectively. The two finally meet at a boarding school in Connecticut and are immediately shoved into solving a murder together, of which they are prime suspects.

 

The fear with books like this, for me anyway, is that the author will try too much to recreate the original but with a modern spin. I think Cavallaro finds the perfect balance between telling her own story, creating her own characters while keeping the well-known habits and quirks of the beloved originals present but not overbearing.

 

James has a love of writing and a bit of a temper, but is tolerant of Holmes' unorthodox behavior. Charlotte is calculated and emotional stunted much like her great-great-great grandfather, but has a better ability to express her more human side than he ever did (though she's still rather stubborn about it).

 

The plot continued to thicken as the book went on, the relationship between Watson and Holmes grew and by the end I loved them as much as I loved Freeman and Cumberbatch's pairing, or Law and Downey's. I also absolutely loved the last chapter, but I don't think I'll say why so as not to spoil it.

 

~Ren

No one ever asks for it

Asking for it - Louise T. O'Neill

Oh boy. This review makes me a bit anxious. This is such a hot button issue, I believe the term is. That fact alone hurts my heart. And this book hurt me more. But it is an issue that we cannot afford to ignore.

 

I have never experienced anything like the main character in O'Neill's book, and haven't talked much with anyone who has. But I don't doubt the accuracy that O'Neill has captured in her book. I've seen news stories to confirm it. It blows my mind to think we live in a society where we preach "innocent until proven guilty" and in the same breath can turn around and condemn a woman for speaking out, brushing it off a "looking for attention."

 

Okay, not gonna go any further with that. Spewing words in a book review is the wrong place to have a discussion about this. The book is a rough ride. There is not even a semblance of a happy moment anywhere. Not only is what happens to Emma disgusting, from the very beginning it is clear she lives in a toxic environment. Her relationships with her friends are toxic, and with her parents. I felt so down every time I thought about picking up the book.

 

I know it seems counterintuitive to pick up a book that will just depress you and anger you, but I think it's important to try and gain as much understanding as possible. To continue to remind ourselves that this is a problem that needs to change, and that we can help make that happen, even in the smallest of ways.

 

~Ren

Mortals should wake up and read Vonnegut

While Mortals Sleep: Unpublished Short Fiction - Kurt Vonnegut

I don't read a lot of short stories, but I do really like Vonnegut and am on some sort of poorly planned out mission to read all of his works. Of all the Vonnegut books at the Nelson Library, this is one I hadn't read and was sure I could finish on time (on time meaning before I left the country).

 

Something I think many people tend to do is get caught up with trying to identify the moral of a story. Every story has to have a message, a purpose and a lesson they are trying to impart to the reader. And in some cases that is the truth, and in some cases it is more obvious than others. What I decided while reading While Mortals Sleep is that stories don't have to have a moral. Sometimes they are just funny, sad, or perplexing stories and they exist simply because the author felt like writing it.

 

There is nothing wrong with writing a story, or reading one for that matter, that serves no other purpose than to entertain us. Stories that teach us things or make us think more critically about things and see familiar things from a different perspective are good, too. But like in all aspects of life, there should be a balance in reading. Happy and sad, funny and dark, practical and just down right silly. They all have a place in the literary canon.

 

The stories collected in While Mortals Sleep have all the elements you would expect from Vonnegut. Bizarre character names, undertones of satire and social commentary. And in some cases, a feeling of whimsy, in the least whimsical of ways. I do believe I have gone on long enough.

 

~Ren

Getting struck by lighting gives you magic! (not really)

Shatterglass - Tamora Pierce

One more book brining me one step closer to reading all of Tamora Pierce's books! This is the last installment in The Circle Opens quartet, and it focuses on Tris's journey with her teacher Niko. You might know from a previous review that I'm not the biggest fan of Tris (she was a bit too whiny and stubborn for me in her Circle of Magic book) but I didn't mind her so much in Shatterglass.

Like her foster-sisters and brother in the past books, Tris finds herself the teacher of a mage. There is a different dynamic to this paring though because her student is a grown man. Tension and a butting of heads ensues of course. But I enjoyed this particular pairing because it serves as a reminder that kids are not always to be dismissed. They have a wisdom and insight of their own that adults tend to forget or overlook.

Class structure is a big theme in this book. The city of Tharios, where the novel takes place, is strictly divided by its different classes of people, the lowest being those who clean up rubbish and dispose of the dead. The rulers of the city of course insist this division is what allows the city to thrive, but Tris and her friends don't agree, and it causes many frustrations for them. It begs the question, is a society really perfect if some of it citizens are treated so poorly?

I've said before that I appreciate Pierce for not shying away from big topics like the one mentioned above. Often we give young people much less credit than they deserve, so it is nice to see an author who doesn't talk down to her readers simply because they are young. I did feel this book dragged on a bit too long, but I was still sufficiently engaged to get to the end without any major griping. I was curious to understand more about why Keth's globes showed images of the murder, but that's a very minor complaint.

~Ren

From the devilishly handsome, chiseled and debonair genius that is Simon Pegg

By Simon Pegg: Nerd Do Well - New Century Books

I have been a fan of Simon Pegg for many years now. I also enjoy the occasional memoir. So when I first came across Pegg’s autobiography, I knew I’d have to pick it up one day. That day has now come and passed! I now know more about Simon Pegg than I did before, and I loved every page of it.

A quick summary of the book would be, "Sincere, funny, self-aware and just a bit meta. And, of course, full of nerdy goodness." Pegg starts the reflection on his life when he was a young boy and explores all the events that had significant impact on where his life is today. Sounds like a memoir, right? Throughout the book are insights about the circularity life can have, how coincidence and the Chaos Theory seem to always have their hand in things, to some extent or another, and how following your passion can in fact pay off.

Interspersed between the chapters discussing Pegg's life is a fiction narrative that follows Pegg himself and his trusty android butler on a mission to track down the Scarlet Panther and is completed with a twist ending (spoilers!). This was a fun an unexpected addition to the book, which I enjoyed a lot, mostly due to the totally hyperbolic and ridiculous nature of the writing.

Personally speaking, it is sometimes difficult to read a book about someone you admire and envy a bit for their experiences and success. Sometimes while reading I'd catch myself think things like, "If only I liked horror movies more, if only I'd joined more clubs, if only I'd lived somewhere else, etc." Sometimes I'd even catch myself feeling like I wasn't actually that nerdy (to which I think certain people I know would scoff and say, "Yeah, right.").

If you ever have moments like this when reading books by your idols and heroes or watching special features of a movie you love or reading interviews with your favorite authors, try to remember this: you are taking your own path and you will have your own amazing experiences. Don't try to live someone else's life. Just live your own. Like the things you like, do the things you want to do, and let the biggest thing you try to emulate from your idols be their passion for what they love.

~Ren

Cassette tapes are still relevant!

Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher

I seem to be reading a lot of teen books about suicide lately. Which doesn't make me worry about myself but more about teenagers these days. Are you guys okay? Please be good to yourselves and each other. As much as I've enjoyed the books I've been reading, it has nothing to do with the suicide part. I'm in no way an expert on teen suicide rates or anything, but the arts tend to reflect events in society so...yeah. I'll move on from this now before I get myself into trouble. 

 

A lot of books involving teen suicide usually try to shed a light on mental illness and how we need to better handle it in our society. Obviously I don't know if Jay Asher wrote the character of Hannah Baker thinking she was suffering from mental illness (depression, anxiety, what have you), he may have, but the way it comes across in the books is that Hannah is really just the victim of people being shitty, which they often are. 

 

This opens the book up to make a much broader statement. It's not just saying we need to pay more attention to mental illness and the effects it can have on people, it also says, "Hey, think about how your words or actions could affect another person." A lesson many of us were probably taught in kindergarten. In other words, if you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all.

 

Several times throughout reading the book, I did worry it was leaning a bit too strongly on the blame game element. Hannah sends out these tapes to people she claims are the "reasons" she killed herself. Which is a totally acceptable way to feel, but it also set Hannah up to be a hypocrite. She was pushed down a bad road because people said or did terrible things to her, and now she is forcing these other people to listen to horrible things that might seriously mess them up and send them down a bad road, and the cycle continues. It's a very complex mess full of he-said/she-saids, pointed fingers, and hurt feelings. 

 

And that's just how life is sometimes. But in the end, Hannah does absolve herself a bit in my eyes. She acknowledges that the people she is talking about on the tapes aren't really to blame. But her message is one worth bearing in mind. Words have power. And even if you don't mean any harm when you say them, other people might interpret them and twist them to mean something entirely different. Now we can't consider every single possible outcome before we say something, but I think Thirteen Reasons Why is at least trying to remind us to try, and is a reminder that sticks and stones may break bones, but words can hurt forever. (I totally stole that from Scrubs, BTW.)

 

~Ren