A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, #2)

Chantel – 1/5 stars and DNFed at 50%
Caidyn – 1/5 stars and DNFed at 80%

Review for the first book can be found here.

What can be nicely said about this book? Because there are many things that we both talked about while reading this book that weren’t so kindly phrased.

In sum: The issues both of us had for this book weren’t corrected. In fact, they got worse.

The first book had a problem with characters. Both of us thought that Kell and Lila were incredibly dull and boring. They had a backstory, but it was being kept all *~mysterious~* rather than telling it to the reader so we could understand them more. Lila was just straight up annoying and not at all what she’s being marketed as (aka, a very strong female character) when she has incredible flaws and uses her strength as a mask only for that to fall through. Which makes her do idiotic things. Kell is just dull and brooding and the typical YA male. (Not good since this isn’t a YA book, but the threads of stereotypical YA characters run deeply in Schwab’s main characters.)

How did it get worse? Lila didn’t change and got stupider. Kell got even more brooding, if that was a possibility. Not only that, but the side characters weren’t that good anymore. We loved Rhy (Chantel’s favorite character) and he was even off, although understandable from his brush with death in the last book. Then, there was Alucard, a new character for this book that, again, couldn’t save it.

There is something wrong with a book when secondary characters more life and a better backstory than the main characters do. Both of us commented that we wanted a book about Rhy and/or Alucard. We couldn’t care less about Lila and Kell just because how annoying they were.

Our second issue with the first book was the plot. All told, it was a nice plot. Super interesting and fast paced. However, it was all quickly summed up so it could have just been a novel rather than a series. (And why they put “a novel” on the cover of the book when it’s not a novel severely bothers Caidyn.)

While we had a big issue with that and discuss it in length in our review of the first book, we could both probably sum it up and make it sound super interesting with the ending as a caveat. This book? Couldn’t tell you what the point was because there was no plot. Plots have to bring the story forward and add tension. They draw the reader in and keep them worrying about the characters. This book didn’t have it. There was some sort of magical game, a baddie was doing stuff every 100+ pages or so, and that was it. Nothing happened. So, it got worse, basically.

We were left with thinking this should have been a novel, not a trilogy. There was no reason for it if this is what we get.

Then, Chantel found more typos in the book. (Note: Caidyn did not find typos in either of the books. Chantel had to send the pictures of the pages to him so he could find them.) Which reflects on the writing and the lack of editing. We get it. Typos and grammatical errors slide through the cracks all the time. But if you’re getting it professionally published, it better be polished so simple issues don’t happen.

What we’re left with from these two books is that we’re not going to finish the series as the plan was. After this disappointment, it’s best to leave this series where we have and not press on.

aint-nobody-got-time-for-that

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20th Anniversary of Harry Potter

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The Boy Who Lived. A first chapter that changed so many lives by opening up the doors to a world that feels real and expands as the time goes by. Each time it’s read, you see a new detail that you didn’t catch before. You notice a new connection. Certainly, it changed the two bloggers here.

(Caidyn)

I was one when the book came out so, obviously, I wasn’t really conscious of its presence. That happened when the first movie came out. My mom probably took me to see it. Sadly, I don’t have a memory of seeing it for the first time, but I have a stark memory of telling my sister-in-law asking me if the Basilisk scared me after the second movie. I answered matter of factly: “No. It reminded me of my mom when she shouts.”

After that, my mom read the first and second books, decided they were close enough to the films and started on the third book. She read to me in the mornings when I was waking up, then I would run onto the bus and retell the story to my friends. Fourth grade came and I told her to stop reading to me, so I picked up the first and second books then read them to myself. Had a stutter on the fifth book (because I mean, I was nine) and I remember reading the end of the sixth book on a night train hurtling through Japan, curtains drawn with one light while I read about Dumbledore and Inferni.

My childhood was filled with magic. I loved playing pretend with my mom. Every day, I would ask her, “Who do you want to be, Mom? Who do you want to be?” I would play as Harry and Hermione, mainly. She would be whoever I needed her to be. When I was a teenager, I picked up RPing, starting with Harry Potter as a comfort zone. I wrote fanfiction as well and, yes, all of the ones I wrote are still somewhere on the internet.

Harry Potter helped me through very hard times in my life. When I questioned my sexuality and gender identity, I turned to these books. Luna helped me realize that, no matter what, I’m still normal. Lupin helped me know that my true friends wouldn’t care about things as trivial as that. Harry helped me know that being courageous doesn’t mean that you can’t be afraid; in fact, you’re usually terrified while doing it. This helped me through depression and anxiety and the loss of friends as I came out to them.

JK Rowling definitely gave me my childhood. No matter what she does that annoys me — *cough* Cursed child and random decisions to tweet out things to toss away fan theories that she should have addressed in the seven books she had *cough* — these books hold a special place in my heart.

 

(Chantel)

I cannot believe it’s been twenty years since Harry Potter was first published.

My first memory of Harry Potter was a trip to the movie theater. I vividly remember (which means it may or may not have happened) going to see Monsters Inc. at a theater. It was around the time the first movie came out and I remember seeing on one of the theaters that a movie called Harry Potte was playing. I thought it was hilarious. I pronounced it “Harry Potty” because I was young and even now I’m chuckling at twenty-five.

Anyway, I remember reading the books with my mom. I grew up with a single mom who liked moving, a lot. But we were very close and still are to this day. We both read the first few books together and then listened to them on tape. It was only then that we finally learned how to pronounce Hermione. I don’t think I can phonetically spell out how we pronounced it, but it was pretty absurd looking back on it.

As I got older and the other books kept coming out, I read them and it wasn’t until I got to the fifth book that I hit a brick wall. Then I read Half-Blood Prince in a week. I’ve never actually reread the sixth or seventh books. I’ve seen the movies countless times. I really enjoy movies more than books (says a person with a book blog), but I know I’m missing out on a lot by not reading the books multiple times. One day I’d like to read the sixth and seventh books again because I feel the sixth movie, in particular, didn’t do justice to the book.

Now that the series is over, Harry Potter certainly hasn’t diminished in my mind. Harry, Ron, and Hermione will always feel like long lost friends of mine because they are so ingrained in my childhood. I love the series and I grew up with it. It started as something I shared with my mom and even though the series was over, and goddamn it JK it’s over, it’s one that I’ve revisited countless times. Which doesn’t happen for me. I rarely reread books, but I’ve read the first three books more than any others in the series. Maybe any other books ever.

The books and movies will live on and if I ever have children you bet your ass they are going to know the world of Harry Potter and will shun Cursed Child like the dumpster fire it is.

I feel like writers especially aspire to influence and inspire so many people with their writing. I know I do, and I doubt JK could’ve anticipated what Harry Potter would become when she first started writing the first draft or the second, or even when the book was published, but in 50 years, 100 years, and beyond, people will still remember Harry Potter and it’s influence. You can count on that.

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Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community

Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community

(Caidyn)

4/5

First, let me give my bias to you. I am a very nontraditional religious person and, at times, a pagan. When I was a teenager, I looked into Wicca as an option for myself and while I decided it wasn’t for me, I do love the principles behind it. As I said, I’m nontraditional. While I have a quick answer for my religious beliefs since most people will understand a single religion as an answer, I’m very integrative. If I like a concept or a belief, I’ll likely incorporate it into my personal theology. That means I’m a lot like neopagans, so I sympathize and understand them in a way many won’t.

That out of the way, I’ll start in.

I read this for my New Religious Movements class as the last big topic of ours after covering who knows how many religious movements now. We focused on the topics of self-identity and cultural appropriation, so I likely won’t discuss them but more of the book itself.

I thought that Pike tackled the topic of neopaganism in a unique way. Instead of trying to categorize or create lines in this incredibly diverse group of people, she looked at a single concept that they all have in common: Festivals. They all have festivals and go to them. There are ones that are more specific, but all of them incorporate everyone. It’s an individual religion but also extremely collective. It doesn’t matter who or what you worship. Any god/goddess/fairy/etc can be included.

Then Pike shows the lines that they draw. Between shrines and altars. Between religious groups, namely Christianity. Between themselves against Satanists (which is not what you think, and if you want to know more I’d be happy to discuss). Within themselves for what is appropriate behavior during festivals, which is largely seen as a hedonistic event where everything goes.

It’s an impressive job that Pike took on for herself, then finding the research to back up her claims and to reinterpret what they said. I definitely want to reread this to further understand this group that I, at least somewhat, belong to. It’s a very interesting and easy to read book, even with the dense topics that are covered.

Read for: New Religious Movements

Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet by Lyndal Roper

Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet

(Caidyn)

4/5

I know that I should be drinking a nice glass of lukewarm beer while I write this but, sorry, I’m not.

My first real brush with Luther’s theology was this past semester when I took a course at my college called Christianity II: Development. It covered Christianity from after 500AD to modern times. So, that included Luther and the Protestant revolution. I like to think that I won my professor over by my reactions in class to Luther’s writings. I was sitting in my corner seat, silently laughing to myself at his comments because, man, Luther can slay. I don’t know if any of you are familiar with him, but he’s hilarious. (If you want to, check this link out for some of his writings.) He throws shade left and right at people, bringing up bowel movements and farting. All in his theological writings.

Not only that, but Luther was extremely anxious. It shows in his theology and his writing. He was constantly worried that he wasn’t good enough, something I think that people can really connect with no matter the time period.

Roper sets out to create a psychological profile of him, relating to the above examples and his theology. Everyone puts something of themselves into their religious beliefs and their religious beliefs affect their personality. It’s a pattern you can consistently see throughout different biographies. Get to the heart of their thoughts and you’ll understand their actions, or if you look at their history then you can decide how they could have thought.

Since I’m largely unfamiliar with Luther’s life, I learned a lot about his family and how that impacted him. It was interesting to see the root of his anxieties then how they translated into his anxieties with religion, and further into his choice to reject the idea that we have a hand in being saved by God.

I wish that I could have paid more attention to the analysis (hence the four stars) because I was so busy absorbing the historical timeline. That fault is entirely mine. There was only so much I could absorb at a time and I was more focused on keeping events straight and who people were in relation to Luther.

This really is a great book. A great historical biography of Luther and one that I would recommend to anyone who wants to know more about the man behind what I would call the greatest schism in Christianity.

The Edge of the Abyss by Emily Skrutskie

The Edge of the Abyss cover

(Chantel)

Here’s my link to The Abyss Surrounds Us the first book in this duology.

3/5 – When I finished The Abyss Surrounds Us, I was so excited to read the sequel and it felt like it took forever until the book came into my possession. I needed to figure out where Cas’s journey was going to take her next after the end of the last book. There was some moral ambiguity that I couldn’t get enough of in the first book and I wasn’t disappointed when it continued on in this book. In fact, they go more in depth and addressed something that didn’t come up in the first book. How her decisions in the first book affected her family. I really liked seeing that paid off and the contrast between her and Swift was even more obvious in this book.

For those who haven’t read the first book, and looking back on my review I didn’t actually give a summary of the book, here was the general premise: Cassandra Leung is a reckoner trainer who ends up kidnapped by pirates on her first solo mission. When Cas is forced to train an illegal reckoner pup for Santa Elena, the Captain who kidnapped her, she’s put in a compromising position of loyalty. This was her arc in the first book, and it continues on in the second book.

This was probably the most compelling part of the book. I cared more about her struggle with morality and loyalty than I did with the actual plot or the romance (we’ll get to that), but I also thought it was something that was a huge part of her character and I felt like it needed to be explored and I wasn’t disappointed there.

What I was disappointed with was the relationship with Cas and Swift. I praised the first book for not allowing the two to enter into a relationship with a clear power imbalance. This is eliminated, but the second book did the wonderful trope of will they/won’t they. Actually, it was more of a tug-of-war where they would have a scene together where they were kissing or sleeping next to each other and then wouldn’t speak for two chapters because one of them was upset with the other. It got to the point where I was annoyed. I liked where their relationship ended up at the end, it wasn’t happily ever after but I felt it fit with their relationship and how up in the air it had been for two books now.

The ending, however, was frustrating. It was clear where the book was heading and I wasn’t sure how things were going to wrap up. My issue was it wrapped up too neatly for my tastes. It was disappointing for a duology that had explored different arcs than ones I was used to in YA. The end just felt like everything was neatly wrapped up with a bow like it only is in movies and books. I’m not saying I would’ve liked an ending where everyone died, but a more realistic ending or at least one that wasn’t so predictable and neat.

The first book was far more superior and while I enjoyed parts of this one, it’s not a five-star book by any means and I felt the ending was beneath the duology as a whole.

 

Ghost Hunt, Volume 11 by Shiho Inada and Fuyumi Ono

Ghost Hunt, Volume 11

(Caidyn)

3.5/5

All right, story time.

When I read scary things, I like to set the mood for it. I like being creeped out. I enjoy being a little scared. So, for this book, I got a station on Pandora playing (Spooky Symphonies for those who care) and I turned out the lights in my room so I could only use the flashlight on my phone for light. Quickly, I settled into the rhythm the last volume left off with, finding my heart beating faster and faster. And then some bodies fell out of the attic in the book and I remembered that my closet has a passage into the attic and I was moving to turn that light on.

After that, it was easy sailing. I can’t say much more since this volume picks up at the end of the last one, so saying too much of the plot would spoil things. Let’s just say that the scary momentum wasn’t carried forward. It changed itself in a way that was more unsettling than scary. Because you had to take a step back and question, “Wait, I don’t remember these characters? Where did they come from?” all while the characters in the story are acting like it’s completely normal.

However, to buffer that change, you have more discoveries about Naru’s and Mai’s abilities. Which throws everything from the past volumes into circumspect since you have to rethink all that you learned thus far.

It makes me really excited for the last book. Which I can read any time now since they never translated it into English, but I found a translation done by someone online for it.

No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America by Ron Powers

No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America

(Caidyn)

3/5

Ron Powers’ story is such a compelling one. In this book, he tackles explaining the current state of mental health in America and showing us his own experiences with his sons. Both of his sons, Kevin and Dean, have battled against schizophrenia from the time they were young adults.

Schizophrenia manifests in young adults, and some people see that as a part of synaptic pruning. Sorry to get all technical, but synaptic pruning occurs in neural development when our brains are still developing, but also when they’re adults. We’re born with more neurons than we actually will need, so when we become young adults, our brains start getting rid of (aka pruning) the neurons where connections were never formed. Some think that this pruning causes the brains to add in extra things, which are the positive symptoms of schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia can be a devastating disorder for people, although there is some hope. If you have more positive symptoms, which means it’s likely a dopamine imbalance, it’s easier to treat. The earlier it’s caught, the better treatment outcomes can be. Involving the family is great and teaching them is even better.

However, how can we have treatment if there’s no one to provide treatment? It’s a difficult disorder to work with, then add in the stigma of it and the preconceived notions and it’s even harder.

Ron Powers tries to tackle these problems by explaining how we got here. And, really, that we’re no different than earlier generations. However, I think it was out of place to try and address them as a whole. His story about his sons was far more compelling than that of the history of schizophrenia and the treatment of any mental disorder in America. At times, it felt awkwardly placed, this history. It would have been more compelling to have contemporary views, with minimal historical explanations, integrated into his sons’ stories.

It’s a very good and compelling book. There were times when I had to take a deep breath because it was so sad. One survived his battle, the other did not. And that by itself says a lot. If you read it, try the audiobook. Powers narrates it, and he also reads essays or plays music that his sons made, which makes the story even more touching. It’s one thing to abstractly read articles (scholarly or not) and another to really realize these stories are realities.

The Accidental Cannibal by Dale Rutter

The Accidental Cannibal

(Caidyn)

1/5

DNF at 20% and I received this book from the author for an honest review.

I think it says something that I DNFed the same book at the same spot. To sum it up, my original issues were to do with pacing, writing, and setting. The pacing was off because it felt so rushed with no build to the story. Then, the writing was awkward on many levels. The original I read was set back in 1000CE England, after William the Conquerer. But it was in the vernacular. And also had a lot of grammatical issues.

Dale came back to me after doing a major rehaul of this book and so I agreed to read it again.

Sadly, I have the same issues as before.

The pacing was so awkward. Instead of a slow build of the story and discovery, the discovery happened by about 15%. Then, it was all random stuff. I don’t get why half the things happened that did and the whole plot of the book — aka the discovery of the fact that he was a cannibal — should take longer. Far longer. He changed things, but not very much. The same things happened as in the first version I read, so it felt like I was reading basically the same book.

Dale changed the setting from England to a dystopian. Yet it was still in 1071CE, which means that the writing should still be not in the modern vernacular. I wanted it to feel like I was in the past, albeit a dystopian past. But it didn’t. It was just like a contemporary novel.

The writing was the only improvement. He changed a lot of the grammatical issues that bothered me, so I was pretty happy about that. It read so much easier, despite the issues I had. There’s a good story buried in here, I know, but it just didn’t show through for me. Pacing and setting still needed revision.

Blue is the Warmest Color

(Chantel)

Quick Note: I couldn’t talk about the graphic novel without talking about the film, so I’m considering this a review of both. 

Another quick note: In the film, the character known as Clementine in the graphic novel is called Adele. If I use the name Adele I’ll be referring to the film version of the character only just as Clementine will refer to the graphic novel version only. 

Graphic Novel – 4.5/5

Film – 5/5

A little less than a month ago I watched Blue is the Warmest Color on Netflix and I’ve been dying to talk about it. If you’ve never heard of the film or graphic novel, I’ll give you a brief overview before diving into my behemoth of a review.

The story follows a 15-year-old girl named Clementine and after a moment where she makes eye contact with a blue haired girl in the street, she suddenly starts to question her sexuality and the two eventually start a relationship.

That’s the bare bones of the story and if that one sentence summary interested you at all, then this is for you. If you would prefer a three-hour movie where not one word of English is spoken, then I’d suggest the film. If not, the graphic novel is for you. Or both! I went with both.

I saw the film first, and after finishing it I knew I had to get my hands on the graphic novel because these characters were absolutely compelling to me. I was sucked into their relationship from the moment they cross the street and make eye contact, a scene that is basically taken shot for shot from the graphic novel.

At first, I was hesitant to watch the movie because I’d heard about the multiple explicit sex scenes and the idea of that made me uncomfortable. When I watched the movie, the only thing that bothered me was that the first scene went on far too long. To the point where it was comical. If this is your hang up as well, don’t let it stop you, because the movie is really well done. The graphic novel has an explicit sex scene as well, but it feels right and the relationship between Clementine and Emma has been building. It doesn’t feel inauthentic or pornographic which is a huge criticism of the film. I understand that criticism of the film. For me, I found the sex scenes to be the least interesting parts of the film. The film holds up well on its own and would be just as good without them.

The relationship between these two characters is a huge part of both the graphic novel and the film, and their relationship spans quite a long time. Several years in fact. In the graphic novel, it’s explicitly stated that their relationship starts when Clementine is 16-17 years old and continues until she is 30 years old. In the film, it’s not as clear. However, their entire relationship isn’t covered. We only get bits and pieces, the highlight reel if you will. The graphic novel is about 150 pages, and while the film is three hours long, that’s right three hours. The two don’t meet or speak until about an hour into the film.

In the graphic novel, I found them to be quite immature. I get the feeling this might have been intentional. Young love is exciting and you don’t really think about the consequences of your actions. Even though you are incredibly happy and in love, you might not have any clue what you are doing. When their relationship starts out, Emma has a girlfriend. This is a plot point in the book and ignored in the film. It was very interesting to see how their relationship changed as we went through 13 years of their relationship. They changed as people and as a result, they discovered they were two very different people. I think this story is an excellent examination of a relationship and it’s definitely one that I encourage others to read.

The story isn’t just about their relationship, however, it’s about Clementine discovering her sexuality. This happens very similarly in the book and film. She sees Emma when crossing a street, makes eye contact with her, and then starts having dreams of this mysterious blue-haired girl. From that moment on, she struggles with her identity and sexuality. There are a lot of things that don’t work out for her and there’s a lot of homophobia. More than I was expecting. As an American, I always see Europe (the story takes place in France) as more open than our country is. Unfortunately, nobody escapes homophobia and it’s unfortunate. Nobody is alone in their struggle for belonging. In addition to the homophobia, there’s a lot of self-loathing which was hard to read about, but again it’s not a struggle anyone goes through alone.

All-in-all, I’d definitely recommend the graphic novel and the film. The graphic novel has gorgeous art in it and a compelling story of a young love. The film takes the same story and tweaks things a bit, but in the end, it’s an examination of two young women who enter a relationship and while they are in love aren’t prepared for how difficult it can be.


 

Now, there’s one last thing that I’d like to talk about and this is getting into MAJOR SPOILERS for both the film and the graphic novel. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

 


There is one distinct difference between the graphic novel and the film, honestly, I was taken aback by it.

At the beginning of the graphic novel, we find out Clementine has died. This doesn’t happen in the film and I honestly prefer the film version. In the film, Adele cheats on Emma (this happens in the graphic novel as well) and their relationship is over. Emma ends up in a relationship with another woman and moves on with her life while Adele struggles to move on. They have one last conversation where they both admit they still are attracted to each other and have feelings for each other, but nothing happens, and they have one last encounter at Emma’s art exhibit and then Adele walks away. With the implication that she’s finally ready to move on with her life.

Here’s the thing, when I finished watching the film, I got the sense that these two were incompatible. They had an exciting romance when they were young, and as they got older they realized how truly different they were and that they needed different things from a partner. That happens in life. Finding one person to spend your life with isn’t always a reality. Sometimes relationships end because things aren’t working out. It’s not a happy ending or a story we like watching, but it happens. I think the graphic novel’s biggest flaw was Clementine dying. At the end of the film, the relationship might not have worked out, but Adele has a future ahead of her and a chance at love. That’s taken away in the graphic novel through self-destruction. I felt the film had a more positive message and that’s ultimately why I preferred it.

This doesn’t diminish how much I enjoyed the graphic novel by any means, but the film impacted me more by the time the credits rolled. Which is why I rate it higher, despite its flaws. Perhaps it’s because films are the medium closer to my heart, but either way, the story of these two young women is powerful. Whether you watch the movie or read the graphic novel, I highly recommend both to anyone.

Tony and Susan by Austin Wright

Tony & Susan

(Caidyn)

1.5/5

DNF at pg. 33

Usually, I don’t review books that I don’t get at least 15% into. If I put them on my currently reading shelf, I’ll quietly take it off. The only time I rate or review is when I have a severe problem with something about the book. And, the thing is, the problem I have with this book isn’t that severe.

I saw the movie first. When I watched the Oscar’s and saw the clips they used for Nocturnal Animals, I had to watch it. I’m a bit of a glutton for horror. What impressed me most about the movie was how quiet it was and how it kept my attention the whole time. There was an undercurrent of tension the whole time where I wanted to know what would happen. How would things be resolved? Yet, nothing happened at the same time. Things didn’t change or happen and, in the end, it was a decent movie with a great director who knew how to spin a tale.

So, I decided to read the book the movie was based on.

It’s told from two very different perspectives. Susan gets a manuscript from her ex-husband, Edward. He wants her to read it before he has it published. Then, the other point of view is that of Tony, the father in the story Susan’s reading.

Let’s just say, if you like The Road, you’ll probably like this. Sadly, I didn’t like that book. I found it boring and I hated the writing style to it. There was no connection to the characters. That’s how I felt with this book. Not only does Wright just not use commas, quotations, etc when he writes in Susan’s perspective, but he doesn’t explain anything. Who’s Martha? Oh, a chapter later you find out that she’s a cat. Who’s Henry and Dorothy? Maybe her kids? I don’t know still. Names are thrown out, concepts thrown out, without being fully explored. You get the sense that Susan’s unhappy with her life and thinks her second husband could be cheating on her, but it’s never followed up.

I found Tony’s story, both in the book and the movie, far more compelling. (The movie also used the same actor for Tony and Edward, which was a great choice.) However, having seen the movie and realizing how close the book stuck to the movie, I knew it wasn’t going to end with me happy.

In the end, I was left feeling completely disconnected from a story that, given the subject matter I know it tackles, should have drawn me in. At least with the movie there was music and great acting to bring it to life.