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ARC Review – The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Lexicon of Life Hacks for the Modern Lady Geek

22926684Title: The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Lexicon of Life Hacks for the Modern Lady Geek

Author: Sam Maggs

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Fanfic, cosplay, cons, books, memes, podcasts, vlogs, OTPs and RPGs and MMOs and more—it’s never been a better time to be a girl geek. The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy is the ultimate handbook for ladies living the nerdy life, a fun and feminist take on the often male-dominated world of geekdom. With delightful illustrations and an unabashed love for all the in(ternet)s and outs of geek culture, this book is packed with tips, playthroughs, and cheat codes for everything from starting an online fan community to planning a convention visit to supporting fellow female geeks in the wild.

Huge thank you to Random House Canada and Quirk Books for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

You know what I love about Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy? All of it. Okay, that’s an overstatement, but I really did love this book cover to cover. There’s a little self-help, a lot of strategies for those who struggle to embrace their lady geek, and the message throughout the book is wonderfully positive.

I love that Sam Maggs gives a large overview of the geek lexicon and the way in which geeks interact with fandom and other geeks. She doesn’t shy away from the complicated aspects of what it means to be a lady geek in a male dominated, boys club called ‘fandom’. I totally found myself nodding along when she discussed what it meant to have her geek prowess ‘tested’ just because people didn’t want her to feel included — I know exactly how that feels like.

I also loved her promotion of what it means to be a feminist and how women need to stop competing with one another and instead attempt to work together. I used to struggle a lot with that myself being a woman in the game’s industry, but now, as I’ve gotten older, I’m finding myself embracing the idea of letting other women into my life. The Fangirl’s Litany is inspiring and truthful, because really, who wants to be a companion, when you can be the doctor? It’s so true!

Honestly, there’s so much to this very compact guide that I could go on forever about how wonderful and inspiring it is. It will make you feel like you can combat and overcome issues that stand in your way, but it also offers a lot of common sense that often is forgotten by those in fandom. Like be awesome to each other — why is that one so damn hard to remember? In any case,Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy is personable, humorous and charming to the geeky core. There’s so much fun to be had in this book, and Sam Maggs really is a wonderful guide through the complexities of what it means to be a modern day fangirl.

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ARC Review – The Prom Goer’s Interstellar Excursion by Chris McCoy

21494581Title: The Prom Goer’s Interstellar Excursion

Author:  Chris McCopy

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Just a few days before prom, Bennett pulls off something he never imagined possible: his dream girl, Sophie, agrees to be his date. Moments afterward, however, he watches Sophie get abducted by aliens in the middle of the New Mexico desert.

Faced with a dateless prom (and likely kidnapping charges), Bennett does the only thing he can think of: he catches a ride into outer space with a band of extraterrestrial musicians to bring her back.

Huge thank you to Random House Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This book. This book will break your brain. With a title like The Prom Goer’s Interstellar Excursion there’s bound to be crazy, right? Absolutely. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into when I started reading this book, but it was a surprising amount of fun.

In fact, the book is downright insane. Bennett’s prom date is abducted by aliens, he also gets taken, he’s forced into a rock band, and it just goes from there. I mean, the characters live near Roswell, New Mexico, so everyone is insanely in some way in this story (loved the red neck who wanted to get abducted to the point where he’d just put himself out there, begging to be taken). Everyone is a little quirky, and rightful so given Roswell’s history. Bennett has no prospects in life, was lucky enough to get the girl of his dreams to go out with him and then those gosh darn aliens took her away.

And that’s just it. This book is crack, but it’s the kind of crack you have to be in the right mood for. This book runs on the appeal that you can throw your cares away and just accept Bennett’s reality for what it is. At times in the story it works really well, and other times it comes across a bit too easy (which sadly, is true of the ending). However, given the ending of the novel, I appreciated how McCoy ends the story, one which I won’t spoil, but I was pleasantly surprised by.

I don’t know why, but I loved the aliens and I thought they were a ton of fun. Call me strange, but I feel like hanging out with them would have been entertaining. That being said, I had a hard time with both Bennett and Sophie. I found Sophie a bit one dimensional at times, which made her hard to connect with, and Bennett was a bit too emo for my tastes. The story itself is insanely fun, but I struggled to make connections with the characters because the story was so extraordinary.

This book is unique, and if you love cracktastic books that will take you to a far off journey, this is a great one. However, it’s not some of those books that will reinvent wheel as it still features a lot of the YA tropes out there. Still, sometimes you just want a book that is cheeky and likeable, and The Prom Goes Interstellar Excursion fits the bill nicely.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

16085457Title: Shadow Scale

Author:  Rachel Hartman

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways.

As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?

Huge thank you to Random House Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Shadow Scale was one of my most anticipated reads of 2015. Colour me surprised when I had the chance to meet Rachel Hartman back at OLA and was given this ARC. There was a lot of running around the convention centre squealing like a madwoman, but let’s face it — it’s not every day you get to meet a favourite author and have them sign your book.

ANY WAYS… Shadow Scale took me over a month to read. Why? Because for a sequel, it’s a very slow and dense burn. Although a lot of the world and it’s rules have been established in Seraphina, there was still a lot of political conflict and strife that took centre stage, needing a lot of time to develop. Reading Shadow Scale you get a strong sense of how well crafted the world and the characters are, and how every instance of the novel feels so deliberate and well paced. Seraphina also faces difficult hardships in her travels, though can I just say her and Lucian are that darn cute? ’cause they are that darn cute.

Plus the politics between the humans and the half-dragons was just such a fascinating read. I thought Jannoula was such a fantastic and well-developed villain. I loved her motives, how methodical she was, she has a lot of depth within the narrative, and the more you learn about her, the more depth Hartman gives her. She surprised me, because in her introduction I didn’t think she’d be as interesting of a villain, so I was so shocked that I enjoyed her development.

Shadow Scale is a wonderful sequel to Seraphina and it was completely worth the wait. If you haven’t readSeraphina — do it. You can tell Rachel Hartman pays homage to a lot of the classic fantasy writers, but her writing has its own unique twist that really keeps it fresh. Beautiful descriptions, well developed characters, I was s sad when I hit the ending of this book because admittedly, I just didn’t want the story to end. For me, that’s the testament of an amazing story — when everything lingers even well after I’ve read the last page.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

15704459Title: Firefight

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: They told David it was impossible–that even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic. Yet, Steelheart–invincible, immortal, unconquerable–is dead. And he died by David’s hand.

Eliminating Steelheart was supposed to make life more simple. Instead, it only made David realize he has questions. Big ones. And there’s no one in Newcago who can give him the answers he needs.

Babylon Restored, the old borough of Manhattan, has possibilities, though. Ruled by the mysterious High Epic, Regalia, David is sure Babylon Restored will lead him to what he needs to find. And while entering another city oppressed by a High Epic despot is a gamble, David’s willing to risk it. Because killing Steelheart left a hole in David’s heart. A hole where his thirst for vengeance once lived. Somehow, he filled that hole with another Epic–Firefight. And he’s willing to go on a quest darker, and more dangerous even, than the fight against Steelheart to find her, and to get his answers.

Huge thank you to Random House Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have to admit something: I wasn’t huge on Steelheart. Parts of that novel felt so clumsy put together (especially considering how rad the opening was) and I had a hard time enjoying the cast and the world-building. Something felt off, and I couldn’t entirely put it on my finger what was rubbing me the wrong way.

Thankfully, Firefight actually worked for me this time around.

David finally stopped being a tool in this book. He finally became a protagonist I didn’t find myself wanting to smack around due to poor decisions. He still makes some precious decisions in this book, but I found him and the cast of this novel to be so much more well developed. Hell, I even loved the secondary cast. I loved Val and Mizzy, and I always enjoyed their back and forth, along with their treatment of David. I thought David’s self revelations in this story worked well to develop the plot and push his character further. I even loved Megan in this book! I loved how challenging her decisions were and how it wasn’t that simple for her. I also love that she shatters David’s visions of her and that’s she’s not as she appears.

The action and drama in this book work well too in Firefight. The world is crumbling around everyone and yet there’s a sense of determination instead of hopeless. The Reckoners are in rough shape, but by damn do they attempt to keep it together. I have to give the characters in this book credit considering the Epics they faced and encountered were pretty one-dimensional, but they were the scary kind of one-dimensional.

Oh and that ending? Actually pretty fantastic and it makes me sad how long I’m going to have to wait for Calamity to hit. In typical Sanderson fashion, this book ends with him getting ready to knock down the house of cards. Curse you, Brandon Sanderson!

Ten Comics & Graphic Novels You Should Check Out

I find I binge on comics and graphic novels. I can’t help it! I have always been one of those people who loves images and words as a combination. Graphic novels are my comfort food, something I devour the moment I start reading. Today, I thought I’d share ten of my recent favourites. I’m going to exclude capes (Batman, etc) and focus on them in another blog post, at another time. Shall we get started?

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El Deafo by Cece Bell

This is one of the most honest portrayals of living with disability that I’ve ever read about. Cece’s story is thoughtful and incredibly genuine from start to finish. I love the way she wishes to become a superhero (like Batman!), but I equally adored reading about how she overcame so many obstacles! It’s such a charming read, and one that I feel deserves a bit more attention because subject matters, like disability often go completely overlooked and are often not written in such an uplifting or humorous manner.

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Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

I have gushed on the blog previously about this book, but I feel this gushing needs to be reiterated. Through the Woods is an uncomfortable, dark, and unnerving read. Each story within this collection is fantastically plotted, creepy to the bone, and will leave chills down your spine. The artwork is absolutely amazing, if very graphic, and definitely not for those who make get squicked easily. That being said, I loved how haunting each story is, and I plan to reread it again come Halloween, just so I can scare myself silly.

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Saga by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

While Brian K. Vaughan has tons of amazing works (The Runaways, Y: The Last Man, so so good), Saga somewhat beats out all his other works for me. If you haven’t read Saga, I question what rock you’ve been hiding under. This series has amazing characters, a fantastic plot, and some of the most stunning artwork I’ve seen in comics. This world is scary, yet you gotta love a star-crossed lover’s storyline that also in turn makes fun of the classics (In your face, Romeo & Juliet!). Here’s the other thing: I love ALL the characters. Very seldom when I read books or graphic novels can I say that I love the whole cast, but Saga makes me love the cast so damn hard.

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Smile by Raina Telgemeier

I have read all of Raina Telgemeier’s work in the span of a year, but of all the books she’s done, Smile seems to be the story I look back at the fondest. There’s something about getting braces for the first time that I think a lot of us can relate to, and all the stigmas that we dream up in having them. Smile is a very honest portrayal of wanting to fit in without feeling like your a freak because you’ve got metal on your teeth. I think all of Telgemeier’s stories are fantastic, and yet this is the one I recommend because Raina’s journey is one I could relate to. Admittedly, I equally love her adaptations of the Babysitter’s Club, which I totes recommend clearly for nostalgia purposes!

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In Real Life
by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang

Outside of reading, my other major hobby is gaming. I’ve worked in the games industry as a journalist for over five years and the issues that this book tackles completely breaks my heart. It saddens me that gold farming is still a thing and that people have to suffer in the name of video games. This book has a wonderful portrayal of friendship, identity, while also looking at socio-economical issues within the virtual world. Plus, Anda is an amazing protagonist and I love her crusade against issues of gold farming. This book is incredibly smart and very well done. Plus the art? Amazing.

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The Shadow Hero
by Gene Luen Yang  & Sonny Liew 

I said no capes at the beginning of this post, but I will make the exception for The Shadow Hero because it’s a bit different from a lot of the cape comics out there. First off, it’s an origin story for a superhero many may not be familiar with: The Green Turtle. It’s the story of a man who doesn’t want to become a superhero, but his mother *demands* that he must (for reason which I will not spoil, but there’s some humour in it). Gene Luen Yang writes amazing graphic novels (and his artwork is pretty rad too). I always find myself strongly connecting to his work because of how he writes people and makes social issues accessible to all audiences. While I LOVE The Shadow Hero, Boxers & Saints and American Born Chinese are equally worth your attention.

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Seconds by Brian Lee O’Malley

I am going to cheat a little on this one and suggest you listen to this podcast where I discuss this book with my husband, Scott Wachter and the amazing Kiki. Let’s just say we super hearted this book and even if you didn’t like Scott Pilgrim, this one is still worth checking out. Beautiful artwork, hilarious characters, awesome GIRL FRIENDSHIPS. The book has it all in spades.

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Zita the Spacegirl 
by Ben Hatke

Hello, graphic novel fans out there? You really should get on it and read Zita the Space Girl. There’s something insanely magical about Ben Hatke’s writing, his characters, and the world that Zita finds herself in. He made me care about a rock monster and a giant rat! Also, this series is too short and when I finished the last volume, I may have screamed a little bit about wanting more. Seriously, Zita is fun and she needs to be read. GO DO IT.

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Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

Yes, the title seems super inappropriate. No, it’s actually not as inappropriate as one would think (though there are sexy timez so you have been warned). So Sex Criminals,, is a wonderful series with some really messed up people. There’s a lot of dark humour afoot in this series, and it’s definitely not for everyone. This series is colourful, crazy, and wonderfully messed up. It’s like your brain is on a euphoric trip that doesn’t let up until it’s over. Now if only volume 2 would come out faster, that’d be great.

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Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe  & Roc Upchurch 

I admit, this is the series I’m having the hardest time waiting for trades for. Rat Queens instantly hooked it’s claws into me, and I was completely addicted to reading it. I admit, I do not like reading single issues of comics, and I’d rather read them when they are bound up. The characters in this series are sexy, sassy and absolutely bonkers. How can you not love a group called “The Rat Queens” and how can you not enjoy their antics? This series is girl power all the way, and the women are bad ass. Rat Queens takes elements of Dungeons & Dragons and mashes it up with sass and class. I seriously cannot wait for volume 2, and I can’t wait to see what adventures are in store for the Queens!

Have some graphic novels or comics you want to share? Let me know in the comments — I love recommendations!

ARC Review- All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (Second Opinion)

23350066Title: All the Bright Places

Author: Jennifer Niven

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

Huge thank you to Random House Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

First off: Ouch. This book is very ouch. I am still recovering from the big, blubbery cry I had from reading this book.

All the Bright Places is a book that needs to be read, regardless of what age you are. It’s a book that focuses on love, mental illness, and the stigmas that surround it. When someone suffers from mental illness, they struggle to love themselves and see self-worth, something Niven captures so perfectly in this beautiful story. Finch and Violet have hardships, both with each other and within themselves. They struggle to love who they are, yet can see the beauty in each other. Their relationship was darling, yet so damn heartbreaking.

Identity plays a huge role in this story. Both Finch and Violet take baby steps to growth, and due to their emotional issues, they also take steps backwards as well. The reader really gets a sense of how trapped and constrained the protagonists are, and yet when they are together, there’s this beautiful sense of freedom — like they can do anything. They both need help, and although they have in their own saved each other, there’s this sense that until others recognize their suffering, that it isn’t enough. The message in this book is beautiful, strong, and it leaves you thinking… or sobbing into a hot cup of tea (in my case).

Jennifer Niven writes an emotionally charged novel that will punch you straight in the feels. Interestingly, you never feel ready for that punch, but when it happens, it happens hard and fast, and I felt like there was no recovery time. The mystery, the emotions, the beautiful prose, there is so much wonderful in All the Bright Places, and it will be one of those books that will completely linger with you, even after you’ve completed it.

If you wish to read River’s thoughts on ‘All the Bright Places’, check it out here.

ARC Review – The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

23164922Title: The Strange Library

Author: Haruki Murakami

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: From internationally acclaimed author Haruki Murakami–a fantastical illustrated short novel about a boy imprisoned in a nightmarish library. A lonely boy, a mysterious girl, and a tormented sheep man plot their escape from the nightmarish library of internationally acclaimed, bestselling Haruki Murakami’s wild imagination.

Huge thank you for Random House Canada for this ARC!

The Strange Library is certainly one of Murakami’s more unique reads, but I’d argue for such a short book there’s a lot going on, a many mysterious left to the imagination. Actually, this book is insanely imaginative and kind of disturbing, but that’s ultimately what kept me turning the pages.

A kid goes into a library and is essentially taken hostage and forced to read books about taxes in the Ottoman Empire. Of course, he has an ill mother at home and a strong will to escape the hellish library so that he can make it home to her. He meets a voiceless girl and a sheep man, both with a desire to help him escape, and it’s a pretty fast journey.

The translation was one of my favourite aspects of this book, if only because it has this whimsy, creepy sort of tone to it. I mean, being trapped in a library should be a book lover’s dream, but for our nameless hero, it’s an absolute nightmare knowing that his capture is a man who wants to suck the knowledge from his brain. Yeah, disturbing.

This is a really fast read, and a fun one for the most part. It definitely not Murakami’s best work, but it has such a unique presentation with half the book filled with artwork and the other half text. Plus reading it requires the reader to play around with it for a bit. It’s surprising nifty! The ending, however, I admit, it was completely unsatisfying, though that may be because the story is so darn short.

While I don’t think The Strange Library will be for every Murakami fan, I do think it offers a fun, morbid take on libraries and it’s staff. There’s definitely some quirkiness here, and for the right Murakami fan, this book is sure to delight.