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.