Saturday, December 31, 2016

Johanna's Christmas: A Festive Coloring Book

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You didn't think I was done with coloring books for the year, did you? Before the year is out— and while it is still somewhat relevant— I wanted to share Johanna Basford's newest coloring book with you: Johanna's Christmas. Unlike A Christmas Carol coloring book, this one is definitely more my speed. The focus in this one is more on festive imagery: wreaths, ornaments, candy canes and gingerbread houses, deer, wrapped gifts, and tons of other stuff. There are beautiful trees to color, wreaths made of ornaments and tiny deer, and even a sleigh full of presents!

If you've read my reviews on other Johanna Basford coloring books, you are probably not surprised that I'm a fan of this. The artwork is still fantastically fun to color. If you've liked any of her other books and you like Christmas, you will like this book. A couple of other things to keep in mind about Johanna's Christmas are: the pages are single-sided— sort of. Behind every major image there is a grayed-out wallpaper image. Could you color? Absolutely. Would I count it as an actual image? No. These include wallpapers of ornaments, vines of holly, and presents. That's about it. The pages themselves are also pretty thick, and so I would consider this a perfect opportunity to go crazy with your markers. And if you're one of those people who agonizes over what colors you'll use with a given image, fear not! There is even a blank page in back specifically designated as your "color palette test page."

Overall, if you got this in your stocking this year: Congratulations! If not, go order it. It's worth it!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Christmas Carol (The Coloring Book)

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Oh damn! Christmas is over, and now I show up with something holiday themed? I just can't seem to get my act together this year... Sorry guys!

Actually... HA!— joke's on you, because I'm Puerto Rican! And to us, Christmas lasts through the first week of January and then some! So prepare yourselves for: Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol: A Coloring Classic.

First things first: I realize I've reviewed many coloring books this past year. With so many available and being marketed to adults, my childhood passion for hoarding these was rekindled. As a kid, I had tons of coloring books, but I rarely colored. Instead, I copied the pages and used them as references. I was terrified of messing up the artwork. As an adult, I have so many hobbies that I rarely have time to actually color the artwork. Let's face it, there are plenty of other things that need to get done— like the laundry. Sometimes, I consider coloring and end up drawing and painting instead. But I still love these books, so my hoard continues to grow.

Most recently, I acquired A Christmas Carol: A Coloring Classic from a friend who is not a fan of it and wanted to re-gift it. I feel a little bad for this book because it seems to me that it would have a pretty small, potential fan-base. Really, who thought this was a good idea? In order to enjoy this book to the fullest, I imagine you have to be a fan of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, coloring books, and coloring in people. I have a preference for coloring animals, patterns, and anime characters, so this doesn't totally suit my tastes.

However, the illustrations are done well and detailed. The pages are double-sided, but fairly thick. You can probably get away with using markers, assuming you don't color over the same spot repeatedly. I think colored pencils would be a better option, though, to be safe. Surprisingly, what this book contains the most of are pictures of people— generally in the form of scenes from the story with accompanying quotes— and images of food. Prepare to be hungry after coloring this in. Also, while it does contain some abstract-ish images (food floating in space, for example), there are no repetitious "wallpaper" pattern images. Overall, I think it's a good variety of images to keep your interest. Assuming, of course, that you're interested in coloring A Christmas Carol.

I think what might draw people to this book initially is the beautiful cover: a profusion of flowers, holly, bells, and candles on a red foil background— and Scrooge on the top left corner. Honestly, the cover has caught my attention on more than one occasion in stores. But then I see A Christmas Carol and move on with nary more than a "meh" towards it. Ultimately, not my kind of coloring book. But if you're really into A Christmas Carol, coloring, and great artwork, you'll definitely enjoy this book!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Guitar Zero: The Science of Becoming Musical at Any Age

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I don't know if I mentioned recently that I started teaching myself to play guitar and ukulele. I am hardly musical and have never played a stringed instrument before. However, that didn't stop me from borrowing my dad-in-law's guitar, picking up a few books on the subject, and pretending like I could be a guitar hero. That's actually where this book came in. Since I was at the library anyway, I browsed through everything with the word "guitar" in it, and this sounded like something that might help a complete novice get started.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. The book isn't written to help the complete novice learn how to play the guitar. It's actually partly anecdotal pep-talk by author Gary Marcus— on how after years of sucking at all things musical he finally learned how to play guitar— and partly about the neuroscience that allows any of us to be musical at all. Since I am a fan of neuroscience, I was not completely disappointed by the lack of instruction in this book. It runs long for a pep-talk, and the gist of the brain science is this: There is no music-specific region of the brain, and practice makes perfect. That's pretty much it. I'd love to give more explicit details, but unfortunately it's been several months since I read it and I've already returned the book to the library. ... Oops. On the bright side, I can't really spoil it for you!

So this may seem pretty obvious, but you may be interested in this book if you are passionate about music and brains. I know a couple of people like that, and I'm sure that more exist. Personally, I just wanted an instructional book.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Pics or It Didn't Happen

So I blinked out of existence for a while there, I know. One day, I was saying, "Ha, that's funny. I'm a little late for Halloween..." Next thing you know, over a month goes by and you passingly think to yourself, "I wonder if this girl's dead..." Or maybe you didn't care that much. I won't put words in your mouth.

For now.

Since I've had nothing else for you for weeks, let me just show you what I've been up to!

To your left, you will see progress shots of a t-shirt I sacrificed to make yarn. I had a stack of about 10 shirts that I ultimately knit/upcycled into a small rug. Let me just tell you right now: Trying to knit denim is a pain in the ass. But the rug came out okay! While the process I used to make the yarn used up a great big chunk of the shirt, there is still a good amount of fabric left over. My next project with those scraps is to make a shag rug. We'll see how that goes with the material I have left!

 I recently moved and had to find a new job. Go figure, I found a job at my local crack store— I mean, craft store. So I've been getting paid in yarn and other art supplies...
Okay, so I've been getting paid money and then just spending it on art supplies. Stop judging me. Anyway! This was some of the yarn that I purchased. I used Red Heart Unforgettable yarn in the color "parrot" and one of the patterns from my Crocodile Stitch book for this beauty. It was a fun pattern, though I guess I mostly like it for being something different to make. And of course, I love the colors of this yarn. If you ever decide to make anything with this particular yarn, please be aware that it is difficult to take it out of whatever you crocheted. It snags like crazy if you try taking it apart.

Progress shots of snowman Totoro in 16X20
 In addition to all this crochet, I've been trying to get myself excited about the winter festivities, so I've been obsessively drawing and coloring snowman Totoro. My hope is that if I get good enough at it, people will like it enough to perhaps buy a print or button of it at SacAnime. That is, of course, if I can get a table this winter. We're on the waitlist right now for one, but apparently it's still a possibility! So these are a few of the things (along with a some commissions) that have kept me busy and away from the blog this past month and a half. I hope to return us to our irregularly scheduled programming soon. Hope you're all doing well!
I got roped into making a wreath at work, then
wasn't allowed to keep it. So I had to make
another one for home.

Oh, and did I mention my foray into learning a musical instrument? Me and my happy lil' ukulele!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Bram Stoker's Dracula (THE MOVIE!)

I thought this blog was about books!

HA! Joke's on you guys! I write 'bout what I want! Also when I want, since this was supposed to be my Halloween post, but I only started writing it 10 minutes before midnight on Halloween. I think I win the procrastination award tonight. Anyway! Dracula... I think we're all pretty familiar with the premise of the story. There's a guy with fangs who refuses to die and he goes around biting people, sucking their blood. Somehow, losing a great deal of blood turns them into nymphomaniacs— because apparently anemia is nature's most effective aphrodisiac. Sound about right? ... No? But that's what this movie is leading up to!

Didn't this movie come out in the 90s? How is the nymphomaniac thing surprising?
Artemis cleverly conceals herself on my gray sweater.
The nymphomaniac thing is not surprising. I'll give you that one. But it has been years since I've seen this movie. Furthermore, I don't think I ever gave it the attention that it was due! I have a tendency to keep the TV on as background noise, or only listen to it while I crochet— as though movies and shows were actually radio dramas. I don't watch TV. Today, however, something remarkable happened. Today I looked up, and actually watched the shenanigans. Artemis helped this process along by settling herself on my lap and making crochet impossible, of course. It was then that I realized just what I had been missing, by only listening to the poorly delivered dialogue (whether spoken in Neo's monotone or Hannibal's insane outbursts). The visuals are stunning— often stunningly good, though sometimes stunningly bad. However, it's nothing so captivating that I would've sat and watched in fascination (twice). Nope. The thing that really caught me was Anthony Hopkins' bizarre performance of Hannibal Lecter Abraham Van Helsing.

Van Helsing was nothing like Hannibal!
You're right, of course, but I had just "watched" Silence of the Lambs as well, and it was fresh in my mind. Still, his performance was fascinatingly weird! I guess it'd have to be, given some of his lines:
"She is a bitch of the devil! Yeehee!— a whore of darkness![...] She is the devil's concubine!" All of this, gleefully delivered, and followed shortly by, "I'm famished! Feed me!" Whatever the hell that old coot had to drink prior to shooting that scene, I want two.

My favorite part, however, happened shortly after Lucy's death. During the wake, Van Helsing approaches Jack, the doctor who initially summoned him to examine Lucy. Van Helsing requests that Jack meet him at Lucy's grave before sunset with a set of "post-mortem knives." Assuming that the old psycho wishes to autopsy his beloved Lucy, Jack responds with: "An autopsy! On poor Lucy?"
Van Helsing: "Not exactly. I just want to cut off her head and rip out her heart."
At which point even Artemis, who had until that point been dozing on my lap, suddenly looked up in astonishment. Her eyes wide, she stared at me in bewilderment; her gaze clearly stating: "Mommy, what the fuck are we watching?!"

What the fuck indeed. There are many other ridiculous things I could share with you about this movie, if you haven't already experienced it for yourself. The silly effects, the ill-disguised "blood orgasms," or the inexplicable Harker-Mina-Dracula triangle are easy targets to share. Honestly, I really just wanted to tell you about my cat's reaction. 

If you read this before you go to bed: Happy Halloween 2016!

...If, however, you read this after you wake up...
Don't contradict Batman. Bad things will happen.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Food Lovers Make it Paleo Cookbook

You see? I'm not the only one who thinks so!
Is there any word in the English language more frightening than "Diet?" Especially at this time of the year, when one of our greatest pleasures as Americans is to dress up in costumes all month long and stuff our faces full of delicious sugar? Perhaps. But "diet" remains one of my least favorite words, capable of causing haunting nightmares.

Privileged much?
Yes, but that's not what this post is about. It's about a cookbook that doesn't even make mention of the word "diet," which is one of the reasons I like it so much.

That was an unexpected turnaround!
Yes, thank you. Before we move on to the actual book review, you should know something about me: I don't really cook. I know a few recipes by heart— they're simple, straightforward, and will feed me for the better part of a week with only thirty to forty minutes of effort on my part. I like these recipes because I am a lazy cook. I've also already practiced eating Paleo(ish) before. It is also fairly straightforward, but even a lazy cook gets tired of eating the exact same thing on a daily basis.

Find me on Amazon!
The Food Lovers Make it Paleo cookbook contains "over 200 grain-free recipes for any occasion." Not all of them are made with the lazy cook in mind, but I'm happy to report that not one of the recipes made me think I needed to be an accomplished chef to make them. The recipes are formatted so that— at a glance— you can see: the ingredients you need, the process to make them, difficulty, estimated prep and cook time, and how many people it serves.

As with many cookbooks, the recipes are separated into different meals (breakfasts, appetizers, entrées), as well as side dishes, sauces, and treats. This makes figuring out what you want to eat the following day especially simple. Feel like changing up your breakfast routine? Go to the breakfast section! Is your favorite thing in the world chicken but you want to change up the side dishes for dinner? Go to the side dishes section! What if you tried one of the recipes, and maybe you weren't a fan of most of it, but hot DAMN! That sauce that you had on it was the best thing ever and you could drink it by the gallon? The sauces are in a separate section. You can find most things quickly in this book.

What if nothing in my kitchen is set up for eating like a caveman?
That's okay! If you think you'll be making many of these recipes, it may be a good idea to rethink what you stock in your cabinets. None of the ingredients needed are necessarily difficult to find, and there is a chapter devoted to "the Paleo Kitchen." Therein you will find what authors Staley and Mason recommend as key ingredients to keep handy in your kitchen, tools to make your life easier, and "basic cooking tips" (for people like me who know only the most basic anatomy of the stove).

But how will I know what's good to eat? Isn't that what REALLY matters?!
Generally we're not supposed to eat with our eyes, but since I cannot know what a recipe tastes like until I make it, I go by the pictures. Make it Paleo is beautifully illustrated, and everything looks delicious. And if you're not sure what to pair together for an amazing meal, well they've got you covered there also with some suggested menus for special occasions!

You might like this book if:

  1. You're already a fan of the paleo lifestyle and you want additional recipes
  2. You're looking to improve your health by cutting out some common processed ingredients.
  3. You like food.
Sorry guys, I really can't think of a reason you might not like this book. Unless you're completely vegetarian or vegan, in which case half of it might not apply to you.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Halloween Freebies!

I'm currently working at a Halloween City. I could've started blogging about Halloween in August.
Hey guys! I just wanted to point you towards some books I found free on Amazon. No particular reason other than "people like free stuff, right?" Some of these books I have read before, and others I'm going to try out this month. Care to read with me?

I mentioned How to be Dead to you last year on Halloween, then I went on to read it. You know what? It was hilarious, and I loved it. The first book is still free on Amazon, and the second book— Paper Cuts— is well worth the $2.99. They're short, horror comedies and you really can't go wrong with them. I'll probably review these two sooner rather than later. The only thing that bugs me is that there is a third book in the works, and it isn't finished yet. So I'm bummed about that, but these two are still so worth your time.
Did you know that a metric butt-ton of classics are available for free on Amazon, if you're getting them on Kindle? I mention it because I forget all the time. Since Kindle is my digital platform of choice, I started loading it up with all kinds of stuff for the season, including: FrankensteinDraculaThe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeThe Picture of Dorian Gray, and War of the Worlds. If you've read them before: good for you! I read Frankenstein in high school, and Dracula during college. Though they both started slow, they got much better. I was even able to get over having to read in the dreaded first person perspective during Dracula. Before the month is done, I hope to get around to The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I'm one of those people that likes getting around to the classics. It gives me more meme material.

I hope this will keep you all satisfied for a couple of days at least. Enjoy! And if you have a minute, leave me a comment with what your reading list looks like for this month. I like getting recommendations too, you know!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Art of Coloring Disney Villains

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How do you like your Disney villains? Do you like them devious? Cunning? How about hipster-y, self-centered, and covered in patterns? Then have I got a treat for you!

I see you found a Disney coloring book more suited to your tastes.
Yes, though I only had a chance to flip through it. Art of Coloring Disney Villains is a little thank-you gift I bought for one of my friends. It's weird at times, but thankfully still entertaining. Unlike in the Disney Princess coloring book, the characters in Disney Villains are allowed to express a wide range of emotions while reenacting scenes from their movies or otherwise posing with new, "updated" material. Probably one of the funniest examples of this are the several images of Gaston from Beauty & the Beast as he takes an endless stream of selfies on a smart phone. Yeah. Wrap your head around that one. You'll see it makes complete sense— if he had a smart phone. One of the repeating "wallpaper" images is multiple villain faces wearing hipster glasses. Weird? Yes. Entertaining? YES.

The book is split into several different sections: animal kingdom, strictly human, and witches/creatures. As an unexpected bonus, most of the villains in the book also have a small, card-size portrait with information regarding: their movie, when it was released, and who voiced them. As with Art of Coloring Disney Princesses, this book is also that strange kind of hard cover (where it's a soft cover book with cardboard on the front and back). I still don't get it, but since the images were so much more fun for the villains, I really didn't mind so much. My favorite thing about this book, though, is that each of the villains has at least one image that include the movie's heroes as well. In each of these, the villain looks (appropriately) menacing— or looms over— the heroes/heroines; especially Izma from Emperor's New Groove. So what if they drew her with a piece of spinach stuck in her teeth? She's still a badass!

If you're interested in purely classic villains doing only what they do in their movies, I recommend you move along now. As previously mentioned, they took some liberties with these characters. However, since they are still "in character" for the most part, I forgave the artists and would be happy to have this book for my very own. I recommend you get one for yourself as well!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Inkheart: A Reminder Not to Judge Books by their Cover

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As you may recall from another post, I unintentionally read three different versions of Taken recently. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke was the second one I read, but the first "reverse Taken" that I'd ever encountered.

Oh, so the dad gets kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery in this too? I thought this was a young adult book!
I think this is actually a children's book, and yes the dad gets kidnapped in the beginning. Luckily, neither he or his daughter are sexually molested. The father's kidnapping at the beginning of the book and the daughter's desire to run off and find him are actually the furthest Inkheart makes it into the Taken plotline. In reality, the plot is equal parts "be careful what you wish for," "don't judge a book by its cover," and missed opportunities. I felt the "don't judge a book by its cover" part most keenly since based on the cover and description on the back, I was expecting a more exciting, magical adventure with our little girl protagonist. Based on the description, our 12-year-old heroine— Meggie— is thrust into a book-like adventure where only she "can rewrite the story" and ultimately give it a happy ending. Based on the cover, I expected that adventure to include at least one minotaur, one unicorn, and a troop of flying monkeys. There were no minotaurs, unicorns, or flying monkeys. There was barely even any adventure. Instead, we had a series of kidnappings: first the dad, then the girl, then they escape, then Meggie gets kidnapped again, etc.

That sounds frustrating.
It really was! The sad part is that Cornelia Funke set up some legitimately good hooks at the beginning of the story, which were then resolved in a lackluster sort of way. For the first 300 or so pages, I was convinced that the story would get better! "Wait until I get to the part where they reveal this, and that, and the other thing!"

The way things start out is that 12-year-old bibliophile Meggie wakes up in the middle of the night to see that there is a strange man standing outside of her home. In a fit of panic, she rushes to inform her equally bibliophilic father so that he might send the stranger away. Her father is actually acquainted with the man: Dustfinger the fire-eater, who has searched for them in order to warn them that someone is on their trail. Meggie's father, Mo, possesses a certain book that our story's villain desires, and they must keep it from him at all costs... Thus, our beginning hooks: What could Capricorn, our villain, want from our book-binding papa (Mo)? What's so special about this book he wants? Why is Dustfinger warning them? Is he ally, or foe?

Who the hell names their kid "Capricorn," or "Dustfinger?"
Authors, of course. You see, Dustfinger and Capricorn do not belong in Meggie's world. They are actually characters from a book titled Inkheart, written by some guy in Italy (inside of Cornelia Funke's Inkheart).

It's just a book... No harm ever came from reading a book.
Meggie's father possesses a strange power: whenever he reads a book out loud, something ends up popping out of the book. Sometimes, it may be a bird, or a gold coin. However, for everything that comes out of the book, something else must go into it (presumably to maintain some sort of balance). In the instance of Inkheart, various characters— including Dustfinger, Capricorn, and several of Capricorn's henchmen— make it into Meggie's world, and her mother disappeared into the world of the book. Now, nine years after their appearance in Meggie's world, Capricorn has gathered and destroyed all copies of the story he came from. He needs only the one Mo owns to bring forward more of his evil cronies...

You wrote a book in a book that was better than the book you wrote...
Oooh... Book-ception!
It really did take approximately half of the book to get that all set up, and by then there had already been a kidnapping or two in progress. After that, it all went downhill. Unfortunately, the characters just weren't compelling. For example, as a reader I was told that Dustfinger was really an affable character in his book! However, in the actual book that I was reading, he was pathetic. He was desperately unhappy to be out of his story and wanted nothing more than to return home. Dustfinger gives Mo and Meggie up to Capricorn thinking that somehow— despite all of Mo's previous attempts to read him back— being under Capricorn's scrutiny will force Mo to control his power and send Dustfinger home! Meanwhile, Capricorn was repeatedly described as being a terrifying villain in his own book, with dead eyes devoid of pity. To encounter him in the book I read was to read about a man who wanted gold, and weapons to frighten people with. Color me unimpressed with his goals to be the douchiest douche-nozzle that ever douched. Capricorn is the sort of character one would call the police about, because they can handle him. He didn't have any particularly special powers, so I don't understand why the cops in the book were such pushovers that they didn't just go out and do their jobs.

Their families were being threatened?
Boo-fucking-hoo. You know what would help? Arresting the bad guys! The worst part, though, is that Inkheart spent a lot of time telling me how great Inkheart was. If the story these awful characters came from was so great, how come I'm not reading that instead?! Overall, the writing wasn't bad, though things did get tedious toward the end. I could have done without the repeated kidnappings, for example. Mo and Meggie's curse/ability to read characters out of their stories was an intriguing concept that got me to start the book, but only sheer determination on my part could make me finish it. Funke missed so many opportunities to make this a better story. I think she got lost in the cleverness of having a great book tucked away in a mediocre one.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Hello, Bicycle: A love letter on two wheels

Mango and I went to the e-cycle place in town to get rid of an old scanner,
then treated ourselves with a trip to the library!
My husband spoils me: for my birthday he bought me a shiny new bike. Though I originally intended to get a folding bike (for easy storing and getting around town), the folks at our local bike shop pointed out this beauty and I fell in love with it. I call her "Mango," and I take her out for rides as often as possible. Though Mango and I are probably in the honeymoon phase of our relationship, it is clear that Anna Brones and her bike are not. She obviously has a deep, abiding love for her two-wheeled conveyance. Hello Bicycle is clearly her love letter to bicycles with added useful information to their riders.

Find me on Amazon!
You are a woman of strange passions...
I am a woman of varied passions, that's all. And bicycling is now one of them! I requested Hello Bicycle from Blogging for Books— in exchange for an honest and fair review, of course— because it promised a "practical guide to the bike life with real-world advice" which I hoped included how to fix a flat tire. Honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect beyond that, and I was happy that I got it! I suspect Anna Brones is a woman of varied passions as well, since she includes more than just bike history, maintenance, and various reasons you should dust off your bike and get pedaling. Were you wondering what you could do with a bicycle beyond going for a joy ride? Ultimately we ride because we want to and it's enjoyable, but had you considered other possible biking adventures like camping, touring, or just commuting? And how will you remain fueled? Brones includes snack recipes to keep you pedaling, gear that might make your life easier if you want your two-wheeled steed to be as utilitarian as possible (or you want to go touring), and even up-cycle projects you can do when you inevitably get a flat tire (or two) and can no longer patch the tubes in your tires. All of that and more in a short book that you could read in an afternoon!

Overall, I would classify this book as a good, beginner "bike info sampler." You can tell with every sentence that Brones loves her cycling. She gives compelling reasons to add cycling to our everyday lives, as well as points out how easy it would be. If you haven't been on a bike since you were a kid, but you want to get back into it: this would be a good book for you. You'll get help figuring out what you need in a bike and additional resources to check out. If you're looking for something with more technical jargon, move along.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Art of Coloring Disney Princess: 100 Images to Lull You into a Catatonic State

Find me on Amazon, I guess.
This book was not made for me. When I see the title Art of Coloring Disney Princesses, certain expectations and standards come to mind. I expect a certain amount of froufrou nonsense and hoity-toityness featuring a pack of damsels in distress. Then I remind myself that "Disney Princess" refers to more than the classic damsels like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. My hopes rise, knowing that bad-asses like Mulan and Merida might be present. Let's not forget that Jasmine, Tiana, Rapunzel, and Belle are also intelligent, quirky, and brave. So I bought this Disney Princess coloring book with the expectation of seeing a variety of "princesses" doing and being more than decorative damsels in distress. Further, I expected the artwork would meet the high Disney Standards: interesting, dynamic, and beautiful. What I got amounts to little more than a Barbie-like coloring book with some characters standing or sitting around, looking pretty, with vacuous smiles plastered on their faces.

How do you know they're vacuous?
Because their eyes are glazed and unfocused, and they're staring at nothing in particular! The whole book is generic, discount, knock-off Disney at best! I find it insulting— to me as much as to these princesses— that they should take some genuinely interesting characters and have them only stand or sit, and smile at the camera. These ladies have better things to do! Tiana has work to do. Mulan has villains to outwit! For fucks' sake, Belle has a giant library to read, and Aurora could be taking a nap, and these artists interrupt their busy ass schedule to have them stand against a backdrop and smile?! Or they got a Disney Princess stunt double to sit/stand against a backdrop with infrequent wig and wardrobe changes.

You got a problem with looking pretty and having a rich husband?
Not at all! If you're pretty, have a rich husband, and that makes you happy? Good on you! I simply find it dull. My high school yearbooks were more interesting than that! Which leads me to my biggest problem with this book: It is mundane, uninspired, and mediocre. You're more likely to be lulled into a catatonic state while coloring these pages than be creatively inspired. But prepare yourself. There's a kicker. ... Are you prepared?

You're the Diet Coke of Disney. Just one calorie: not Disney enough.
I think so...
Of the approximately 120 pages to color, 98 are dedicated to generic, repeating wallpapers. I know. I counted. For the purposes of this math, I want you to understand that if the image was a mandala with a princess silhouette or a repeating pattern, I counted it as "wallpaper." Therefore, not really a princess. Just patterns. There were only 23 images of princesses (with vapid smile facial details), and even some of those pages were more patterns than princess.

Overall, I found this book terribly disappointing and misleading. It is monotonous at best, and I don't recommend it at all. In addition to all the problems with content, the book itself is odd in that it is a hardcover coloring book—

That's kinda cool!
—but the covers are actually just cardboard pieces stuck on the outside of a soft-cover book. It makes little sense, and it looks weird. It doesn't really bother me. I'm just annoyed at the book in general. But that does bring me back to my first point: This book wasn't made for me. I gave it to my friend, and he loved it. Know your audience, I guess. I bet my audience loves narwhals.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Cruelty: Red-headed stepchild of the YA genre

I will find you... And I will read you. On 2/17/17
People who read my blog, take note: I am a bibliophile. You probably gathered as much from the fact that I have a book review blog that I post in on a mostly regular basis. Still, I wanted to preface the following review with that statement, so you would understand just how I came to possess a copy of Scott Bergstrom's The Cruelty. I love books, and if a print copy of something should be offered to me for free, well... How could I say "no"? It had everything to do with wanting a new book, and nothing with the fact that it's "young adult" fiction or that the plot is essentially reverse-Taken.

It's "reverse Taken"...?
Yes: a loved one is kidnapped by terrorists/mobsters/criminals that are involved with human trafficking and our heroic protagonist must save them. It just so happens that this time, the daughter has to go save her kidnapped father instead of the other way around. Dad's been damseled, but everything else is very similar.

Our heroine, Gwendolyn Bloom, is the seventeen-year-old daughter of a kidnapped diplomat, and she has tough choices ahead of her. Terrorists rarely pick the best time to kidnap one's family, and for Gwendolyn they chose the day after the tenth anniversary of her mother's murder. With one parent already brutally slain, Gwendolyn won't let the other go. The choices she faces begin benignly enough: will she go meekly to live with a distant relative she doesn't know and accept that the authorities are doing everything in their power to rescue her father— the only family she's ever really known? Or will she wrest control of the situation and do everything she can to get him back? I don't think we'd get much of a book if she'd done the former— "well-behaved women seldom make history" (L.T. Ulrich) and all that jazz. From that point forward, Bergstrom sets the narrative on cruise control in the "action packed novel" lane, complete with training sessions (where Gwendolyn emerges as a teenage badass capable of defending herself against anything after a month of intense training), breaking and entering, murder, even picking up on a cold trail in a missing person's case through Europe (which is where her dad disappeared).

That sounds intense!
It's predictable, yet satisfying. Except for a slow start— potentially a case of "first novel syndrome"— the writing was interesting and well-paced. I only wish that I'd actually been in the mood to read it, and that it weren't in the first person point of view because I find that irritating— both of which are personal problems and not the book's fault. It also didn't help that this was the third version of the Taken-plot I've read in the past month. (That was purely accidental, by the way.) But if you don't share my personal problems and you're a fan of action-packed, young adult thrillers drizzled with murder, you'll probably like this book.

There were a few things that pulled me out of the action. They mainly had to do with the aforementioned "first person perspective." That and I find it hard to believe any normal, "soft" 17-year-old could do this kind of stuff: leave the comforts of home only to get her ass handed to her repeatedly until she learns to destroy everything in her path. Still, it made for a good story.

Wait, how is this the red-headed stepchild of the YA genre?
Ah, that... Apparently the author made some disparaging remarks regarding young adult fiction, its writers, and audience in general. Or at least, he made remarks and they were taken very personally by the audience. If you google his name and the name of the book, it's practically the first thing that pops up. I mention this because I think the negative reaction is exaggerated— especially when people are rating the book like crap even if they haven't even read it purely because Bergstrom made some ignorant remarks.

I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

A is for Adventure: Part Coloring Book, Monster Manual, Campaign Guide. ALL Fun

Buy me! BUY ME NOW!
The other day, I went on a little shopping spree for my friends. I am not allowing myself to spend much on myself lately, but I wanted to get a few little thank you gifts for my D&D group so... I bought coloring books. Of the three that I bought, my absolute favorite is A is for Adventure, by Scott Aleric. I want this book for myself and I want it now.

So the artwork is good?
Yes, but that's not all. This book is fantastic! I appreciate Aleric's style and the attention to detail. All the monsters are displayed in dynamic poses— typically in the process of mauling some foolish adventurer. The illustrations are worked in ink with full backgrounds and— Okay, you may find this a little bit strange, but...

I've read your other reviews. How could this be any stranger?
—what really does it for me is the hatch and cross-hatch shading. I love the texture it creates on the page. It's something that I just don't see all that much anymore, especially as more artists do digital art. And I haven't even told you about my absolute favorite part!

There's more?!
Yes! Included with each letter/monster is a mini campaign scenario featuring the monster, a small map, and even some plot twists to kick things up a notch. What I particularly love about these adventures is that they act almost as adventure-Legos: you could play with them on their own, put them together, or drop it in to your bigger campaign set. Tweak the scenarios to taste! Overall, I highly recommend this book! You'll like it too if you're into: 
  1. Coloring! The pages are thin, but single-sided. No worries about markers bleeding through to the next page.
  2. Role-playing! Mini campaigns need little customization if you're a lazy dungeon master or you just want to sample playing with friends.
  3. Monster art! Most of the illustrations look like the monsters are winning. That's typically a plus in my book!
Have fun!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

What Alice Forgot (Spoilers: It was a lot)

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Alice forgot an entire decade: the birth and lives of her three children, divorce proceedings, and the existence of her best friend. Meanwhile, I was beating myself up because I forgot when, exactly, I picked up this book; I'm fairly certain it was within the last two weeks. I read it over the course of two days, and I daresay they were two days well spent.

The story begins with Alice dreaming of cream cheese. Why not? Dreams are typically pretty weird. Alice Love is 29 years old, completely enamored with her husband, and pregnant with their first child. Or at least, so she believes when she wakes up from the cream cheese dream. But the reality is that Alice is 39 years old. She is on the floor of the gym wearing clothes she would swear are not hers. And what is she doing at the gym anyway? She hates exercising!

Oh no...
Oh Yes: It's an amnesia book.

Gasp of Horror!
As luck would have it, it isn't as cheesy as a soap opera; we can all rest a little easier. The story actually reads a bit like a detective novel: a heart-squishing kind of detective novel. Even my little black heart was momentarily touched as Alice tries to find the truth: if she and her husband were so happy, how could they be getting a divorce now? Did ten years turn her into an unlovable bitch where the most important people are concerned? Did he cheat on her? Why is her sister, who was always her best friend, so distant now? What did a decade do? As previously mentioned: it did a lot. The story goes back and forth primarily between Alice's perspective and her sister Elizabeth's journal/letters to her therapist. Alice's amnesia is a sort of catalyst for everyone to examine their relationships and who they've lost touch with over the years.

This may have been silly of me, but I read this as a horror novel for a while.

You ARE silly.
I know, but it was scary, because I can relate to the younger version of the characters. I was telling my husband how horrifying it is that in ten years we might have accrued all these little hurts and resentments that might make us hate each other, which is basically what was happening to these characters. And then he said something that made it all better. "Clearly, they never had the poop talk." Because if you can discuss your bowel movements with your partner, you can talk your way through anything. And those petty hurts you're bent out of shape over? You gotta let that shit go. In summary, the characters in this book are emotionally constipated, and Alice's amnesia is the laxative they needed. Once she gets in touch with her younger self, she remembers that some of the stuff she's wound up in really isn't so important after all. And she lets it go. So far, this book may seem like a bit of a downer. For those of you who cannot read something unless it has a happy ending, you can add this book to your list of things to read. You're safe.

Overall, I enjoyed this story and would recommend it to most people. Since much of it centers around what it means to be a wife, a mother, and reproductive issues, I don't expect men would care too much for it, but they might gain some insights anyway. The only thing that I found particularly weird about it didn't even have anything to do with the story, but with the book itself. Right after you're finished reading, there is a page toward the end that includes a list of discussion questions. I found the story compelling enough that I asked myself questions as we went along: What my life was like 10 years ago versus what I think it will be like 10 years from now, what relationships I lost to distance or pettiness, how the different character perspectives added to the story, etc. Well, I'm not sure if Liane Moriarty expects her book to be taught in college, or discussed in book clubs and she just has no faith in her readers' ability to think critically, because I found the inclusion of discussion questions to be unnecessary and even pretentious. Other than that, I don't think you'll regret reading What Alice Forgot.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

StocktonCon is coming!

Just piles of stuff and things to do, as far as the eye can see. My
Jaded Internal Monologue (JIM) is having a field day.
Hello my dear internet people! (I can say that, because I'm too small fry to have trolls yet.)

The biggest troll is in your head.
Shut up, JIM, nobody asked you.

So StocktonCon is coming up this Saturday which is exciting stuff! I've given you guys a couple of random updates regarding it with pictures of half-finished projects, empty-box goals, and yarn.

Would anyone like to take a wild guess as to how many projects I actually finished?! Go on! Guess! It's more than zero, but less than everything.

Nope! But almost! I am officially in "last minute, crazy crochet lady" mode! Eek! Happily, Saturday's new review is already written and scheduled, so I won't have to worry about that this weekend. Unfortunately, that stack of books pictured above is not going to read itself, and I have to return them eventually, so I don't think I have any time left to slack off. Anyway! Just wanted to give you guys a little update! Hope you're having a great week!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Pop Manga Coloring Book: Made of Manga & WIN

Made of Manga and WIN. Find it on Amazon! I'm sure you could find
it in other places as well, but I like giving you a link to these!
Holy crapsicles, Batman! Another coloring book!
You guys, I'm so excited! My copy of Pop Manga Coloring Book arrived and I'm thrilled beyond belief! At first I wanted it because it was another coloring book, but now that I've had a chance to experience the artwork— I'm in love. Not bad for having picked this up for free from Blogging For Books (in exchange for an honest and fair review, of course). This is officially my new favorite coloring book! Camilla d'Errico perfectly summarizes the book in her title caption: "A surreal journey through a cute, curious, bizarre, and beautiful world."

So half of this review is done for you!
Not necessarily— I do have other things to say about it! Pop Manga Coloring Book includes a mix of clean-line, inked images and other sketchier, "fancy pencil drawings" images. d'Errico also supplies a little color buddy/blob throughout the book named Ayako to provide commentary and moral support. Mostly it says fun, silly reminders about how you're allowed to color outside of the lines if you want, and that you can use any coloring implement you'd like to color in this book. I think Camilla d'Errico understands that sometimes, when an image is beautiful, people might get anxious about coloring it in and "messing it up." She even goes so far as to say that you're allowed to photocopy the pages and practice beforehand if that's you're kind of thing. I know people who do that, but this is the first time I've seen an artist actually suggest it. All the pages are double-sided, and thick enough that markers might not bleed through to the other side; I haven't been able to test that out yet, though.

The surrealism also varies widely, ranging from an image that looks like a melting blob of would-be colors with a face to illustrations from potential comics, stories, or fairy tales. I say "potential stories" because I don't think they are pulled from any coherent manga, but my imagination certainly supplied a few story ideas for the illustrations. Speaking of "manga," it should be fairly obvious that if you're not into the Japanese comic book illustration style, this book is probably not for you. With a name like "Pop Manga," I hope that didn't come as a surprise.

Overall, this is a beautiful book. If you're into the manga style of art and you like coloring, I highly recommend it! I love it so much, I would happily pay money for it!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Dragons of Spring Dawning: The Forgettable One

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Have you ever read a book and come out of it feeling as though you've fought with a friend?

Uh oh... What happened?
Unfortunately, not much. That's the problem. I think it's likely that Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman heard what was being said about their previous books and took actions to "remedy the problems," resulting in a bland and anticlimactic third installment. This series has been around since the 80s, but many of the things that I mentioned in my previous reviews have been said before. And I noticed a progression of changes from the first book to the second, and from the second to this one.

In Dragons of Autumn Twilight, I felt as though I were reading the annotations of an actual Dungeons and Dragons game. It was silly, but fun overall. Every time the characters camped for an evening, we knew about it, and that's actually how I imagined we were keeping track of their sessions. Granted, that really slowed things down, but not so much that I didn't enjoy the book. So I picked up Dragons of Winter Night, and again thought, "Silly, but fun!" My favorite parts were the most ridiculous, involving Fizban the Wizard's shenanigans and gnomes that had to cram whole paragraphs in the breath most people use for a single sentence. I enjoyed telling everyone who would listen about the dragon balls and how they worked more like defective dragon siren/whistles. Weiss and Hickman fixed some of the major problems slowing the story down, reduced the amount of Deus ex Machinas used, and kept the silly fun stuff. The second book reached an unpolished sweet spot I believed would terminate in a great third book.

Because third time's the charm, right?
Not quite... Not this time. I suppose the writers intended their story to be more serious, or dramatic. Again, in Dragons of Winter Night, I thought they'd achieved a balance between silly and serious. They even went so far as to kill a main party member and not bring him back! I was proud of them for that! But then, in Dragons of Spring Dawning they took it a step further— they took the fun out of it. All the silly humor is gone— no gnomes, barely any Fizban, and no moments or plotlines so ridiculous I laughed out loud. The writing was never that strong or engaging, and the characters were uninspired. Yet, nothing about the series was ever so bad as to make it stand out, either. It wasn't terrible or great. With all the silly removed, it's vanilla. Actually, at times it was downright irritating. For the better part of the series, the main party leader — Tanis Half-Elven— acted like a moody teenager. Instead of a competent, mature leader able to make split-second decisions that might save the world (or at least his companions), Tanis spends the majority of the book mooning over the villain. Yes, you read that correctly. Tanis, who harbors a major boner for a mercenary named Kitiara, discovers that Kit is a dragon highlord in service to the Queen of Darkness. That makes her the villain of the story.

Does this also make her off-limits?
Hell no! He taps that as soon as he gets a chance! Do I begrudge him this momentary sexual weakness? Maybe a little, but I could totally get over that. My issue with this is that afterwards, when he "escapes" Kitiara's sex-lure and returns to his friends, all he can feel is extreme guilt about his little adventure.

Naturally, he tells his friends where he's been and what he's learned! Right?
HAHAHA—! Wait, you're serious? Of course not! He can't just tell his companions— two of which are Kitiara's younger brothers, by the way— that he's been carousing/boning with the enemy! Never mind the fact that he learned valuable intel that could have helped them in their journey, or that keeping the experience to himself gnawed at his conscience until he was practically useless as a leader. Can you imagine how that conversation would've gone?

Tanis: Hey guys, I learned about this thing the Queen of Darkness really wants! And I know where it is, so we have to get it away from her!
brothers: Really? Tanis, where did you get this information?!
Tanis: From boning your sister. Let's go!
brothers: ... We're going to have a serious conversation about this later, but let's take care of the thing that's likelier to save the world first.

For crying out loud, how hard is it?!
Have you noticed that I have zero patience for whiners and liars? Seriously, how difficult is it to just tell the damn truth?! And the lie and guilt just drag on for so long. God forbid they should excise all the brooding and replace it with something more interesting, or hasten the end of the story.

Speaking of story...?
Yes, moving on! The companions' main quest throughout the book is to find someone known as the "Green Gemstone Man," so called because he has a green gemstone embedded in his chest. I have a different name for this character: Dragonlance Jesus. But not just any dragonlance Jesus! This is Tanis Half-Elven's own, personal dragonlance Jesus, who died and was resurrected to free Tanis from the burden of his lies and guilt. Sound like bullshit? That's because it is. Dragonlance Jesus has spent hundreds of years running from the Queen of Darkness because he is the key she needs in order to enter the world and completely take it over. For hundreds of years and on hundreds of occasions, dragonlance Jesus has died only to come back to life in the same body.

He's a lich! Burn the lich!
Not quite! He's actually blood-cursed after accidentally killing his sister. I believe the gemstone embedded in his chest binds him to the curse, and the only way to break it is to break the gem against the column where his sister died. Then, he is free to stay dead. But until then: Don't worry, Tanis! Go right on ahead and stab green gemstone man through the gut with your sword! Feel better? Oh, good. Because that was totally like stabbing the pimple of your own guilt and squeezing until the pus is gone. Now the throbbing ache of your weakness and lies can subside. You have been redeemed, thanks to an unwilling dragonlance Jesus. How fortuitous!

Oh, come on!
You're right. That's horse shit!
Of course it's horse shit! It was the weirdest, most nonsensical, unenjoyable bit of ridiculousness in the entire book. At that point, I could only be grateful that I borrowed the thing from the library and didn't actually pay money to read it. But I read on, hoping that the final fight with the Queen of Darkness, her dragons, and Kitiara would be epic enough to make up for the sophomoric brooding and whining I'd been subjected to thus far. Our adventurers were down one more character, having lost their useless but lovable grandfather dwarf to a heart attack. That left six fighters against an evil goddess and her armies. What will happen next?! They get caught, obviously. They walked straight into the enemy encampment in an effort to save their elf-maiden general, and they get caught. Sure, they donned disguises first, pretending to be officers of the enemy army with prisoners. But they weren't very good disguises, and all of them but Tanis get tossed into jail and eventually have to break free.

How did they escape?
Honestly? I don't entirely remember; I did mention this was the forgettable one of the series. Not exactly the best way to end things. I believe they escaped using a combination of Deus Ex Machina, misdirection, and tons of dumb luck. They had the green gemstone man with them in prison, and when they break out, so does he. He immediately runs for the place his dead sister is calling him from, finds the column at which he killed her, and flings himself upon it! Thus, dragonlance Jesus finally dies, and the Queen of Darkness has the door of the world slammed in her face. She never even made it into the world, mind you, so the companions never actually had to fight a goddess; only her influence. After that, it was all chaos and shenanigans. I think at that point, the writers stopped caring, and so did I. They built up this antagonist for the entire series, and dumb luck defeats her. We didn't even get an epilogue of some sort about what the characters did afterward.

Overall, I was disappointed with this book. It was less fun than the previous two, more brooding, irritating, and anticlimactic. Weiss and Hickman did leave a few scattered hooks for later books regarding Raistlin and his powers, and I'm curious to find out more about the only truly interesting character in the series. However, after this last installment, I can't say that I'm in a rush to read the other books. I wouldn't recommend this book, unless you really want to find out how the series ends. Or, if you're not a book completionist, let me just tell you that they win. Make up whatever scenario you like for how they do it, and it'll probably be more satisfying than this was.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Rooftop Growing Guide

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Another gardening book?
Yep! I'm pretending to be a Sim, in the hopes that reading enough books about a subject will transform me into a master gardener before I ever touch dirt. Remember, I'm also working from a disadvantage: ignorance in gardening presents itself first as a black thumb. At least I'm hoping it's my ignorance of proper gardening techniques that murders the plants, and not a genetic predisposition to screwing up green spaces. 

Originally, I ordered this book to help me with my container garden, because obviously a rooftop garden means a container garden on the roof. At least, that's what I thought. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that is not always the case! It should've been obvious to me from the title and picture on the cover, but Annie Novak meant nothing so small as a container when she wrote this book. After all, look at the flat roof on that building and the size of the plants atop it!

I think this book is aimed primarily at people living in dense urban zones where there aren't many green spaces. Basically, since real estate is scarce and high cost, they instead turn to their roofs. It makes sense, really. On the roof of a building, you don't have to worry as much about whether your building or the next is perpetually casting shade over your plants, or if you have enough space in your tiny backyard to plant all you want. What if you want to plant something in particular, but the soil conditions in your area are not optimal for your new green darling? Rooftop gardening is the perfect opportunity to create your own optimal growing settings.

If only it were as easy as seeds + dirt + water. My strawberries
refuse to grow, and it makes me sad!
Before you get to thinking that it's as easy as throwing some dirt on your roof and some seeds on top of that, let me just tell you: No, not quite. It is still gardening, but with a few twists! These include whether or not your roof can even properly support a garden! Let's face it, buildings are made to sustain a certain amount of weight. Soil, plants with their roots, and especially the water intended to make everything grow, is likely to add weight the building may not support. That issue is fairly straightforward, but also stop to think about how you'll irrigate your rooftop garden, or how the roof microclimate will affect your plants! Yeah, I went there: I said "microclimate." No, rooftop gardening is decidedly not as straightforward as tossing some dirt and seeds up there and hoping for the best.

At this point, you're probably wishing I'd just get to the point and tell you how it would benefit you to get this book. First and foremost: Do you have a flat roof to grow things on? If you do, you will find this book interesting and helpful, whether you intend to have a small herb garden or a full-blown farm. The writing is engaging, and Novak has anecdotes from other rooftop gardeners to augment her own knowledge. Chances are that if you have a question, she will likely address it or has some other resource to offer. She covers topics ranging from assessing your rooftop —can I even grow here?— and pests, to choosing whether to grow in containers or greenhouses, or green roofs. And of course, there is also the ever present chapter on planning your garden. Yes, if I've learned anything from all these gardening books, it's that besides remembering to actually water your plants, the most important thing you can do is to plan your garden.

However, since I do not have a flat roof on which to grow things, I found The Rooftop Growing Guide to be theoretically interesting, but ultimately impractical. A more general gardening book would have suited me better, but that is not Annie Novak's fault. So if you have a flat roof, I absolutely recommend this book. And if you don't, you might still find it interesting to read.

I received a complimentary copy of The Rooftop Growing Guide from Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Kushiel's Chosen a.k.a The One Where True Love is an Ass

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So, did you guys run out and read or listen to Kushiel's Dart after my review? I mean, the story was only amazing, so I guess I understand if you didn't prioritize that this week...

Sarcasm? This early in the post?
It's never too early for sarcasm. Besides, I only ask because I somehow managed to not have a ton of spoilers for that book in its review. However, your spoiler-free reviews end now. I'll try to avoid major spoilers for Kushiel's Chosen— the second book in the series— but prepare for some new info from the previous book to crop up. It has to, because there is no way I could review this otherwise! I will do my best to keep it condensed. Oh, and one more thing: since I've been listening to these as audiobooks, I'm not really sure how to spell the characters' names. It'll probably be more weird for me than you, but I just wanted you to know what's going on.

Consider us warned. Carry on!
Very well, then! In Kushiel's Dart, we were introduced to the world of Terre d'Ange. Imagine that angels landed in France and bred with the populace. Due to their celestial ancestry, the d'Angelines (as they call themselves) are considered to be the most beautiful people ever, awash in talents, in a country overfull with richness. This is great for them, of course, but it does make them somewhat conceited. It also makes their country a target for threats, when others want all their beauty, science, and fancy ways. Their religion and culture are centered on the precepts of their main god, Elua, who bid them simply to love as they will. And they do. The d'Angelines have raised love-making to an art form, worthy of being taught, practiced, and used as a means of worship as well as pleasure. Much of what they do, they do for love.

What the hell does "loving as they will" mean?
It means, "you do you." Would you like a plethora of lovers who all know about each other? That's cool. You do you. Want to add some group sex to that? Go for it. Your preference is for monogamy? Or celibacy? To each their own. How about group bondage sex? No problem! Just remember the safe word. Above all: keep it consensual, and love as thou wilt. It makes for some interesting pairings.

I mentioned in the review for Kushiel's Dart that there was political intrigue, fights, monsters, and True Love. When Phaedré nó Delauney is sold into slavery in the previous book, she goes with her bodyguard: a young, celibate, warrior priest named Joslin Verai. Potentially due to the adrenaline-fueled nature of their time together, they fell in love as they escaped captivity. It's all very romantic, but let's stop for a moment and consider the spiritual and mental ramifications for Joslin: after 12 years of rigid, prudish education and training, he breaks every vow he made in order to protect and serve his ward (who just so happens to be the courtesan spy he now loves). There are metric butt-tons of guilt for him to work through, but he manages. He's surly about it sometimes, but he manages. Having given you the barest amount of background I can get away with, we can now move on!

Kushiel's Chosen picks up with the bait left at the end of the previous book. Phaedré is convinced there is a new plot against the queen of Terre d'Ange when she receives a package from Melisande Shahrizai— the woman who sold Phaedré and Joslin into slavery and escaped her death sentence for treason. In an effort to find the truth and locate this dangerous enemy of the state, Phaedré returns to the service of Naamah.

She what now?
Try to keep up. Naamah is the d'Angeline goddess of love. By returning to Naamah's service, Phaedré is practicing her trade as a courtesan. Her ulterior motive, of course, is to glean information from her patrons that could help her locate Melisande and stop her nefarious plots. This is where True Love starts to be an ass. Despite Phaedré's sound reasoning, Joslin disapproves of her plan vehemently. Her return to Naamah's service strains their relationship almost to the breaking point, as neither seems willing to come to a compromise. Actually, that isn't true... Phaedré is willing to compromise with Joslin on many things, and Joslin will compromise on nothing. Though he does not outright leave her, he is often absent and thereby negligent in his duty/vow to protect her.

But you can't expect someone who only believes in monogamy to be okay with having a prostitute for a girlfriend and stick around!
Yes you can. If Monogamy Bob falls in love with Polyamory Sally knowing full well that she's into multiple people, I expect him to suck it up and deal with it. Does he have to like it? No, of course not. He just has to find a way to deal with it. If it doesn't work out, leave. Hence, I totally side with Phaedré in this book. She was always honest with Joslin about who and what she is. She is also well aware of his vows, and how it would hurt him if she tried to solve this mystery Melisande baited her with. She laid everything out in front of him and told him why she had to do it. If he doesn't agree, so be it. But for fuck's sake, dude, pick a bloody side. Work something out, make an agreement of how long this can go on, and then revisit the agreement if you must. Or leave. Instead, Joslin is contantly sulking, and I spent a great deal of time wishing a fictional character were physically in front of me so I could punch him for being such a stubborn mule.

Sounds like you're kinda mad at this dude.
Yes! Because Joslin's vow to protect Phaedré is the reason he won't leave her, but then he is often missing when she needs protection! To make matters worse, he then blames her for going off without an escort. I want so badly to beat the crap out of him! For about two-thirds of the book, anyway. That's when shit hits the fan, Phaedré gets tossed in a foreign prison, and Joslin makes the most daring rescue attempt I've ever read. It might've worked, too, if she hadn't fallen off that cliff!

No way?!
Way! It does take approximately two-thirds of the book to set up, but when that domino effect gets going— it is an insanely satisfying experience. Phaedré hunts for traitors at court, and their trail eventually leads her and her companions to leave Terre d'Ange for the city state of La Serenissima (which is essentially Venice). There she finds her traitors in the last place she ever would have thought to look. That's when she gets tossed in jail and Joslin, finally realizing that he cannot live without her, goes to her rescue— only to have her fall off the side of a cliff. Again, I'm kinda mad at Joslin, but he so makes up for all the crap he pulled from that moment forward. From there on, you just get so excited for them to be reunited! Because she doesn't die, of course.

She doesn't die. I'm just telling you that because you looked scared.

I wasn't scared. I was just concerned.
Sure you were. Well, she doesn't die. She almost dies, having fallen off the side of a cliff and into the sea. Luckily, though, she gets picked up by pirates!

You lie!
No, I'm not making this shit up, I swear! Look, aren't you convinced yet that you just need to go read this book?! I'm afraid that if I were to go into every little detail that makes this such a great book, worthy of being read repeatedly, I would end up writing a series of essays. I haven't even told you guys about her best friend and how she's trying to break the curse he's under, or her men at arms, or the queen she loves enough to get herself into such a mess!

Yes, Kushiel's Chosen does take a little longer than the previous one to get going, but once it does the experience of it is phenomenal. And yes, I know I spent most of this review describing the story in terms of how the main guy is being such a jerk, but only because that's one of the main ways I remember it. I remember it because I love the characters, and I want them to work together and be happy, but then of course we wouldn't have a story. So instead, I'm listening to all of the shenanigans, the intrigue, the web of lies and sex thinking, "I love you guys. I can't wait for you to be happy again."

I'm just going to warn you right now to clear a day or two on your calendar, because it'll be tough to put this down once you get started. It made me laugh, and legitimately wrenched a tear or two from the depths of my little black heart. If you haven't read the previous one, that's actually okay. One of the things that slows the story down some is how it repeatedly touches on some of the things that happened in the previous book. So if you're okay with jumping around in the series and you want to start in the middle, that's okay! You won't be completely lost. And if you've already read the first book, then you're totally set to start on this one. So go on! Get reading! You can thank me later for recommending it.