Dungeons, Dragons and the (not so) new art of Story Telling

As many of you who follow me on Instagram or Twitter know, I absolutely love a bit of Dungeon and Dragons. I grew up around my parents and their friends playing the game but didn’t play until the fourth edition of the game and its ruleset was released in 2008 when I was nineteen. I completely fell in love with the game which is a mix of roleplay, dice rolling, maths (groan, I’m still bad at this part), using your imagination, puzzle solving skills, battle tactics and so much more. I’ve always had, what I consider to be quite a vivid imagination and the game helped to feed into it more and to rediscover my love of medieval era fantasy, especially in regards to reading which I hadn’t done since over reading the Hobbit as a child.

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For a long while, playing games like Dungeons and Dragons was something only stereotypical “nerds” did, made fun of for years in film and literature you could almost always bet that the token uncool or “nerdy” character would be a pasty white male who lived in their mothers basement and played Dungeons and Dragons.  Now, in 2019 the role-playing game is finally having its time! Millions of players across the world and gender spectrum and from all walks of life and it feels blooming fantastic if you ask me. Not only does Dungeons and Dragons bring people together and help them to explore outside of themselves and for some, from their comfort zones, I feel it’s brought a different kind of storytelling than the conventional novel  back into the spotlight thanks to shows like Critical Role, High Rollers and Dice Friends as well as the magic of social media and Wizards of the Coast knowing how to use it, not to mention services like DnD Beyond that take away the, sometimes daunting, task of the paper character sheet and delivered a digital system where you can cast spells, check stats and more with a touch of your finger so it’s so much more accessible to more people.

With Dungeons and Dragons, you can be a player and let your Dungeon Master weave a story around you where the actions of you and your party will determine the story. Feel like playing a Dragonborn Barbarian from a gnome run orphanage who’s searching for the secret to immortality? Or an argumentative hill dwarf paladin who sold everything they own to attend adventuring academy? Go for it.  I’ve got a few reviews of some “Choose your own adventure” style books etc coming up soon and if you enjoy those trust me this is a whole new level. Your group gets attacked by a party of goblins? Want to fight them? Great! Want to try and talk them round peacefully? Also great! Want to deceive them then shoot them in the back and steal their loot? Brilliant. This interactive storytelling that reacts to you and your choices is the reason I play video games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age but nothing beats a few friends (or even complete strangers!) sitting around a table (IRL or digital as that is an option as well now!) and going on a damned adventure. Books are great, I love them but now I’ve dabbled I know that I need my weekly dose of Dungeons and Dragons to placate my story needs.

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Want a bit more control? Have great ideas for stories but have a bit more trouble executing them or physically getting them down on paper? How are you with improvisation and on the fly storytelling? Sound fun? Thrilling and terrifying perhaps? Then the role of the Dungeon Master could be the one for you! This past weekend I came up with a three and a half hour session in an afternoon purely based on a loose premise and player interaction, when asked about the layout of the keep we were in I suddenly found myself sketching this place I could see in my minds eye but would have trouble perhaps describing it in words on a page but here I was with my players interacting in it. I was blown away and those moments where you can surprise yourself as well as your players is one of my favourite things about being a DM.  It’s such a freeing feeling and as someone who likes to consider those of super detailed ins and outs but tends to be unable to make a choice half of the time this forces me to make a choice on the spot and stick with it and make it good.

There is so much more to discuss about D&D but I really just wanted to focus on the storytelling aspect of it and how it brings another dimension to the entire experience and can nurture the storyteller in all of us. Do you play Dungeons and Dragons or a similar role-playing game? Do you find that kind of storytelling exciting and liberating or daunting? Let’s discuss!

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A Boy Made of Blocks Spoiler Free Review

36487851A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart

Rating: XXXXX

Published August 9th by Hachette

“Life is an adventure, not a walk. That’s why it’s difficult”

Meet thirtysomething dad, Alex

He loves his wife Jody, but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son Sam, but doesn’t understand him. Something has to change. And he needs to start with himself.

Meet eight-year-old Sam. Beautiful, surprising, autistic. To him the world is a puzzle he can’t solve on his own.

When Sam starts to play Minecraft, it opens up a place where Alex and Sam begin to rediscover both themselves and each other . . . When life starts to tear one family apart, can they put themselves back together, one piece at a time?

My family is a family that games together. Among other things when we got married me and my husband had Minecraft props and world of warcraft decorations etc. Years later our now three-year-old son shares our passion for Minecraft and has become utterly obsessed. Our little man is bright (I may be slightly biased okay?!) but he has some trouble communicating and expressing himself, since playing Minecraft he has opened up so much and we love to play together as a family, he showed me how to make a potion last week because apparently, I’d been doing it wrong! So when our son’s childminder recommended a book to me about a little boy who plays Minecraft with his Dad I was eager to check it out myself!

A Boy Made of Blocks, I discovered is much more than a boy playing Minecraft with his Dad. Alex said Dad starts off as a very difficult character to like and it wasn’t until over halfway through, maybe even three quarters that I had even considered that maybe I wouldn’t really dislike him by the end of the book. It felt hard to read in places because of the way Alex acts and reacts to events that happen but as a parent I felt totally hypocritical because none of us are perfect and raising a child, autistic or not, is damned hard work and it’s tiring. We make mistakes, we say and do things in the heat of the moment that are not great and we know it, we beat ourselves up for it but as this book shows it’s not just about those things it’s about what we do after and how we never stop learning and growing as we encourage our children to do. Once I grasped this concept I saw Alex for what he really was, a parent who was scared and unsure and that was something I could utterly relate to the more I read. Alex, for all his faults, in-fact maybe because of them actually is one of the most real characters I have ever read and that really helps to bring home the entire story for me.

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Alex goes through a lot of bad stuff that comes his way and so this book addresses that as well because let’s face it bad stuff almost always likes company and it added to the feeling of total overwhelming and crushing misery that drives him to a point where he realises he has to change. There are a great cast of supporting characters, Alex’s sister and mother, his best friend, his wife and of course their son Sam who are all written wonderfully, each with their own quirks, stories and baggage. I loved that they didn’t feel just shoved in to bloat out the story, they were all integral and important parts as well as each being likeable in their own way, even when they, like Alex, were doing some pretty unlikeable things.

I will admit, this isn’t my usual kind of read at all and I did find it a little slow to start, “When do we get to the Minecraft parts?” I kept thinking to myself and I was ecstatic when they finally did happen and it was an absolute joy to read the way Sam began to enjoy the game and open up more, especially when I recognised a lot of the responses and reactions as the same way my son interacts with the game, how he loves to commentate what we’re doing, how he teaches us and loves to show us things he’s made and more. It was at that point I knew I was hooked.

As the story progressed I got more and more addicted, unable to put the book down I finished the last third in one long sitting because I just had to know what happened and I was in no way disappointed. I was completely blown away, I literally gasped out loud a few times, my son even got out of bed to come and sit with me while I read and I’m so glad he fell back to sleep so I didn’t have to explain why I was sobbing at my book. This book is an absolute gem and I’m so grateful to have read it, I genuinely think it’s helped me to take a better perspective of my life and it’s really helped me to understand my son a little better, to be more patient and I think (I hope!) it’s made me a better parent for reading it. One thing I will say is that they totally missed out on a better cover for this edition, the cover for the initial hardback release and kindle edition covers are lovely but I love the Bulgarian one!

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Regardless of the cover though, A Boy Made of Blocks has been a joy to read and an inspiring roller coaster of emotions. A great read for parents or any other guardian, especially those who have children that do play Minecraft and maybe don’t understand much about the game or what about it appeals to their children. Thank you so much, Jo, if you’re reading for recommending it to me!

 

 

S4S – Bookish Wishes

I’ve been trying to work on a blog post about what my three “bookish wishes” would be for almost a year now, I keep looking at the draft for a little while then giving up and closing it. Today I not only have to come up with just three wishes BUT SIX! I must stay strong and get this post finally finished so here goes nothing!

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Digging through a dusty old library (as opposed to the very awesome, much less dusty libraries you usually find today, this one is an exception) you find a heavy old book with worn but unmistakable gold sprayed pages and a simple foiled lamp printed on the cover. Upon opening the book there’s a huge puff of smoke (or maybe that’s dust, it’s very hard to tell). When your vision clears, you see a figure with messy hair tied back in a hasty ponytail with dark smudges under their eyes, desperately clutching a no longer hot cup of coffee. You recognise the fabled spirit of an author on a deadline.

“Six bookish wishes, they’re yours but be quick about it! I’m on my third round of edits, I’ve only allotted ten minutes to procrastinating and wish granting and I’ve already spent five of those looking at gifs of Adam Driver’s hair.”

1. I wish I could read for long periods of time without falling asleep. This annoys me so much, I’m loving a book and want to keep reading but the moment I get too comfortable I start to nod off. I adore reading in bed but can only manage about twenty to thirty minutes at a time before my eyelids start to droop and it drives me nuts. So let’s fix that, please.

2. I wish for more time to read. This wish is kind of two-fold, obviously I wish for the actual time to be able to read but also I wish that I would allow myself allotted time for reading, especially for books that aren’t review copies or that I’m deadline for, these books I often manage to explain away to myself as “for work” but then I begin to resent them because instead of reading them I could be reading something more of my own choosing which is sometimes silly because I only review books I choose to read but I then feel obligated to them and it’s a vicious cycle. I pretty much need Bernard’s watch.

3. I wish for an Aurora Rising ARC. I know y’all probably sick about me going on about this book by now and it’s not even out yet but I’m so crazy excited for it and they’re starting to be sent out around now I think so these bookish wishes couldn’t have come at a better time really.

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4. I wish for a satisfying and well cast TV or Film adaptions of The Illuminae Files books. What with the Grisha/SOC books by Leigh Bardugo being picked up a lot of people are wondering what the end result will be like and if it will, in turn, present an opportunity for more YA books being adapted. It’s happening a lot right now and it’s both brilliant and a little terrifying although I’d like to think I’m pretty good at separating the books from their adaptations in case of things going south. I’m aware that Plan B and Warner Bros were interested in purchasing the rights to Illuminae back in 2015 but not sure where things stand four years later so fingers crossed and we’ll see.

5. I wish for a Killjoys tie in/prequel or continuation novel of some kind. I’ll probably look back at this in a year and think “Whaa?” I tend to go through phases and at the moment I’m bingeing the SyFy show Killjoys about a group of reclamation agents (a kind of bounty hunter) in a far-flung dystopian future with a corrupt agency and government etc to boot. The dynamic of the crew and bending of the rules they love to indulge in, as well as the interesting characters they meet along the way has me completely hooked and I’ve been watching it at every opportunity (which with a three-year-old and three games of dungeons and dragons a week is not a lot) but I would really love for this kind of series in a book. I would be all over a tie in or prequel of some kind but I’m also happy for more books in the same vein, especially with a kick-ass, morally confused female character like Dutch.

6. I wish for more New Adult books. There are definitely a few books out there that could be classed as New Adult but it still hasn’t become what I could class as a proper or marketable genre yet. There’s nothing wrong at all with older readers reading YA (I wrote a whole post about it here) but, and I’m fairly certain I’m not alone here I love reading YA books, maybe it’s the way they’re written, the themes or the content but I almost always imagine the characters as older than they are which can make some parts confusing, not to mention the time of your life when you’re in your 20’s is in some ways just as pivotal as when you’re a teenager but in different ways. I’m terrible at explaining this but I hope you’ll understand what I mean?

You look back at the spirit but they are nowhere to be found. Where they ever here to begin with? Had you perhaps just inhaled a bit too much dust from the stacks? Perhaps a rather large book (probably Kingdom of Ash or Queen of Air and Darkness to be honest) fell and gave you a hefty bump to the head? Or maybe she had to get back to her writing, you had been warbling on for a bit. Ah well, you sigh, there’s no way to know for certain so you may as well carry on with your day and maybe…just maybe some of your bookish wishes will come true!

 

 

December NPC Crate Unboxing – Festive Grinch

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“We hope you like these festive treats. Candles for all and pins to share, spread the Christmas cheer everywhere!”

The festive season may be over but I’m determined to keep it alive while burning the amazing candles from this Decembers NPC Crate! I’m not a huge Dr Seuss fan but I did really like the Jim Carrey version of The Grinch so hoped I would enjoy this months crate still. I was not disappointed, in fact, I discovered one of my favourite, if not slightly strange, candle!

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Our first candle for this Decembers box was Topple the Tree, a lovely green Christmas Tree and Pine scented candle that captures that great pine smell without being too overpouring.

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Next was the red Pomegranate Noir scented candle, Ugly Knitted Jumper, a nice deep scent that reminds me of really nice cologne.

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Last but by no means least was one of my no go to candles for when I’m feeling sick and that is the Festive Flu. It has a beautiful blue gradient through it and it’s been an absolute lifesaver while I and the family had a horrid cold over Christmas as it is vapour rub scented! It sounds strange I know and when I saw it on the label I honestly thought there was no way it would work but it smelt surprisingly good and I can’t believe how much it helped us all to feel better!

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This pin!! I thought it was funny, appropriate and a genuinely nice looking pin, especially to wear around the festive period, my husband actually wore his on Christmas Day and I wore mine Boxing day and our family that saw them thought they were great. It feels like the pins in these monthly boxes just get better and better every time!

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The bookmark in Decembers box was absolutely perfect, the art of Santa with his long beard was lovely and the beautiful rhyming quote was a great choice! “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

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A great last box of the year, I’ve loved opening these boxes every month and finding some brilliant new candles! NerdPouredCandles are taking a break for the month of January while they catch up after the Christmas rush so sadly there will be no new box for a little while yet.

 

 

Overlord Spoiler Free Review

dfkqw_miOverlord by SianJefferson

Rating: XXXXX

Published December 2018 by Sian Jefferson

“Bring in the Evil Gauntlet!”
“The what? Look I don’t want to be rude or anything, but if you’re going to eat me then maybe we can skip the “torture by Evil Gauntlet” thing?”

Kit Thornwood does not fit in.

Not only is he the least heroic person in Heroestown, but he’s also a secret magic user. And now he has punched the mayor in the face.
On the run, Kit finds himself the unwitting new master of the Dark Tower, Stronghold of the infamous Overlord. 
Delighted to finally fit in, things quickly escalate when Kit discovers that balancing between being an evil overlord and not actually doing anything evil is a lot harder than he thinks, especially now there’s a whole town of heroes out to get him too!
Heroes! Minions! Swords! Dragons! Magic! Romance! Sarcasm!
Get ready for an epic clash between good and kind-of-sort-of-evil!

You may remember back in September last year I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak at a sampler of the newest book by Sian Jefferson, Overlord just before the Kickstarter went live. Now five months later, the project was sucsessfully backed and books recieved! I’ve been pretty excited about this for a while and I was overjoyed when it turned up, not to mention the extra goodies it came with! Four exclusive prints from various guest artists (including some of my favourites!) a “Bastion of Evil” sticker (which was the name of my backer tier) and a super cute and shiny “Dark Tower Tour with Gibbet” badge! After marveling over the gorgeous extras I dove straight in and read the whole thing in one glorious sitting!

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The brilliantly timed wit and humour I mentioned in my review of the sampler is still ever present throughout and there’s a great balance between that and some of the more serious parts of the book which I enjoyed, I literally laughed out loud at some of the little extra bits here and there like the old lady hanging from the castle ramparts yelling “SNORE” and making dollies or the minions in general because they are fantastic. Kit was a great character, he knew he didn’t fit in with the others in Heroestown and I really felt for him, I think the appeal of the minon characters for me comes from their no nonsense acceptance of him and the moment he finally feels like he’s somewhere he could belong. Kit is an absolute precious, soft boy and I just want to hug him but he stands up for what he believes in and defends those he loves or are under his care.

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Once again the art is fantastic, Sian’s style is defintley suited to this kind of story, it’s not too over fluffy, ‘cartoony’ or a little weird without being too gritty which is a perfect middle ground for me too after being put off of a lot of great sounding stories by their “adventure time” style art that’s a little too much for me. Sian’s use of colour adds a whole other level to the story and it’s scenes, especially the opposing blues and reds, not to mention the use of ‘sound effects’ which I feel really added to the action scenes especially, the art in this book is a complete feast for the eyes!

My only critisicm is that I found it a little short, I would have loved more devlopment on both sides from Kit and the heroes, but honestly this is probably just because I’ve been spoilt and read a lot of multiple issue books at the moment giving them a lot more room for more content. Overlord is still a well rounded, enjoyable book I think I maybe enjoyed it a little too much and was a little gutted when it was over, can we please have an entire minion book next please? I adore them! The story was great with some pleasing twists and turns which I always love and I highly reccomend checking it out, you can buy your own copy now from Sian’s Etsy here. I would absoloutely back a sequel if that was something the creator wanted to do as well (PLEASE).

Sincerley,

A very happy Kickstarter backer who may be just a little in love with Kit and would like to adopt some minions.

 

S4S – New Year, New Books!

Still not really quite over the fact it’s 2019 and half the time I don’t actually know what day it is but my phone calendar insists today is Sunday which means time for the very first of this years #SixForSunday posts! This weeks prompt is New Year, New Books and being that it’s only coming to the end of the first week of the new year and I’m still pretty broke I’ve decided to list my six newest books as I was lucky enough to get some Christmas money with which to buy most of said books.

1. Mass Effect: Annihilation by Catherynne M. Valente
Set around the same time as the game Mass Effect Andromeda, this book follows what happens to the, as far as we’re aware in game, missing Quarian Arc. I’ve read the first of the three novels that tie in with Andromeda, the second focused on a character that I had almost no interest in so I’m yet to read that one but after being fascinated by the Quarian race in the original Mass Effect games and an intriguing story line of deadly pathogens and murders in space I found myself completley unable to resist.

2. Lumberjanes Volume One by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis and Brooke Allen
I’ve been looking at the first volume in this graphic novel series for a while now. I fell in love with Noelle’s art style and I’ve heard great things about the series as a whole but finally gave in after me and Chris read Romeo and/or Juliet together on Christmas eve for Jolabokaflod, it’s hillariously funny and has a lot of brilliant art, some of which done by Noelle which really got be interested in Lumberjanes again so I finally decided to give it a go.

3. Nix Chapter Two by Katherine Ellis
Another graphic novel but self published this time, about an elf who gets turned into a cat and taken in by someone who tried to kill him a few hours earlier, something fishy is going on and he’s detirmined to find out what it is and how he can be turned back into his elf form! It’s hillarious and the writing is so quick witted and funny I instantly fell in love after I picked up issue one of Nix by this Devon based artist who goes by the name of Katworks Creations online (check out her Etsy!) at a London MCM Comic Con last year and after not being able to find her at one of this years conventions I finally checked her out online and when I realised chapter two was available I ordered right away! I forgot to mention it in my TBR post earlier in the week but this is defnitley one I’ll be getting round to reading in the very very near future.

4. Star Wars: Women of The Galaxy
This was a treat to myself a little while ago with what was probably my last pay check but I wanted to mention it because I’ve been looking forward to this since I saw it advertised back at YALC last year. I’ve had a quick look through it so far and the art is absoloutley gorgeous, I can’t wait to have a proper sit down with it and read it from cover to cover.

5. Dungeons and Dragons: The Players Handbook 
An essential guide to everything you need to play Dungeons and Dragons 5th edtion (which I currently play), I’ve gotten by so far using a PDF version and the DnD Beyond website to reference things I need but after looking through my old fourth edtion books (I still have no idea how I managed to afford all four of them…) I realised that it wasn’t the same without the physical book, I missed looking at all the art and appreciating it properly as well as just being able to look through the book generally instead of just heading to the pages I needed and that being that. This isn’t a book I’m going to sit and read cover to cover but I am looking forward to having a closer look at some of the classes and/or races I have played so far and learning more about them.

6. The Dungeons and Dragons Endless Quest Books
In case you hadn’t guessed, I do quite like Dungeons and Dragons and another thing I like almost just as much are Choose your Own Adventure, games, apps and books etc, now smoosh these two together and I’m in heaven. Me and my little family were lucky enough to get the whole set of four for Christmas along with a beautiful Dungeonology book. I’ve already read the Rouge themed one and survived and I plan to read another one this week, probably before our first Dungeons and Dragons session of the new year infact!

Ahhh it feels nice to get back in the swing of the Six for Sunday posts already! Did you get any new books for Christmas? Have you brought any since the New Year begun? Let me know in the comments! Have a great weekend and I’ll see you back here Tuesday for a new review!

TBR Thursday – Janurary

The very first Thursday of the year has arrived and thus the first of January, this means it’s time for my monthly (when I remember) TBR post! I’ve had so much to read lately and there are still so many great books coming out this year that I’ve upped my Goodreads reading challenge goal from fifty to sixty for 2019 and I’m feeling pretty confident I’ll easily smash that. As for this month, I’ve got a couple of my highly anticipated books to read, a future release and a recommended title before I start to dig into my ever mounting physical TBR pile that I’ve been meaning to get to for the whole of last year! Let’s take it easy and just start with January for now though shall we?

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A Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare
This is my current read and I’m having to listen to most of it via Audiobook because it’s just so huge and heavy it feels impossible to read physically. James Masters is a brilliant narrator and there have been some absolutely brilliant scenes but so far there is A LOT of filler and I can’t believe I’m saying it but I’m so done with the over the top teen angst right now and I literally live for books full of it normally, not to mention the crazy amount of sexual tension but it just feels so overdone in this book that I’ve already had to take a couple of breaks from it. I would really like to get it finished this month if possible.

Monsters by Sharon Dogar
This is a Young Adult fictionalising of the early life of sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein from Anderson Press. I was lucky enough to receive a proof for this book due out in February 2019 and have just started to read this book that I think sounds very promising and from what I’ve read so far I’m sure will keep me enthralled. 

The Wicked King by Holly Black
I’m so excited to be back with my favourite trash ship Jude and Cardan this year despite feeling like one of the only people to have not already read the sequel to The Cruel Prince. The first folk of the air book completely blew me away and I have high hopes for its successor, with less than a week to go however I’m cursing the fact that I forgot to preorder it though so this may end up being a kindle read until I can afford to get to a town with a bookshop or it comes back online at Waterstones or Amazon!

A Good Girls Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson
I’ve technically read almost the whole of this book already after I devoured my beautiful advanced reading copy I was lucky enough to win at YALC. Electronic Monkey were super clever and tore the last few chapters out of the ARCS so we had to contact them to have access to those last few chapters which I’ve done and although I received them last year and promised myself I would read them as a reward for finishing NaNoWriMo things have just been too hectic but this month I’m determined to finish it ready to read the finished copy when it releases May 2nd!

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A Boy made of Blocks by Keith Stuart
This book was actually a gift from Nate’s childminder and although at first glance it is nowhere near my kind of book she recommended it to me after reading it herself and it turns out it’s about a little autistic boy who loves to play Minecraft. As me and Chris have always enjoyed Minecraft and now Nate is rather obsessed with it I knew this was something I had to read and like with Monsters I have started it already although I’ve only made a small amount of progress as I feel like I need to be in the right frame of mind to read it as it can feel a little emotionally heavy and perhaps a little close to home for me and I’m sure it’ll rip my heart out so I’m taking it slowly between my other reads for the time being.

As you can see there’s a nice bit of variety mixed in but sadly no Sci-Fi unless I get stupid lucky and Rock The Boat accept a blood sacrifice for an advanced copy of Aurora Rising then of course all of these other books get thrown out of the (not literal) window until that’s done, I’m actually thinking of focusing purely on some science fiction reads next month so I’ve kept it out of my TBR this month before I become utterly obsessed in spaceships again next month. Let me know if you’ve read any of the books on my TBR and if you liked them? What are you most excited to read this month?

The Turnaway Girls – Spoiler Free Review

43232587The Turnaway Girls by Hayley Chewins

Rating: XXXX

Published January 3rd 2019 by Walker Books Ltd

On the strange, stormy island of Blightsend, twelve-year-old Delphernia Undersea has spent her whole life in the cloister of turnaway girls, hidden from sea and sky by a dome of stone and the laws of the island. Outside, the Masters play their music. Inside, the turnaway girls silently make that music into gold. Making shimmer, Mother Nine calls it. But Delphernia can’t make shimmer. She would rather sing than stay silent. When a Master who doesn’t act like a Master comes to the skydoor, it’s a chance for Delphernia to leave the cloister. Outside the stone dome, the sea breathes like a wild beast, the sky watches with stars like eyes, and even the gardens have claws. Outside, secrets fall silent in halls without sound. And outside, Delphernia is caught –between the island’s sinister Custodian and its mysterious Childer-Queen. Between a poem-speaking prince and a girl who feels like freedom. And in a debut that glimmers with hope and beauty, freedom – to sing, to change, to live – is precisely what’s at stake.

I’ve always loved to sing and being totally unable to imagine a world in which that was allowed had me totally intrigued, even more so when I read up a little on the author of The Turnaway Girls, Hayley Chewins. Hayley grew up in South Africa, in a household full of books. She’s studied Classical voice as well as doing degrees in English Literature and Italian. I’ve always loved when a song or a piece of music tells a story and I feel that Hayley’s particular expertise are this a perfect debut for her and gives her writing such a beautifully distinct style that I look forward to reading more of in the future.

The Turnaway Girls is by no means a long book at just shy of three hundred pages it is a pretty standard size for middle grade reads as far as I can tell and it is perfect for the story inside. The Turnaway Girls feels a little confusing to begin with as the main character talks about a world that is presumably not our own although with some similarities. Having not been able to experience much of said world or any kind of life outside of her cloister Delpherina’s knowledge is limited to what she has been told by Mother Nine, a woman charged with the care and education of The Turnaway Girls. These girls, although forbidden to sing or make any music or their own can create a substance called shimmer which is coveted by The Masters of The the city of Blightsend and as per the last kings ruling each Master may take their own Turnaway Girl from the cloister when they are twelve years old. This is the only way they can leave the cloister and as she can’t make shimmer Delpherina assumes she will have no hope of being chosen and she will be trapped with Mother Nine and her punishments forever.

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Once I was over the initial opening confusion I very quickly got into this book. I had been a little lost but things made more sense the longer I read for and as I adjusted to the authors distinct and lyrical tone. I found the writing moved well, it never dwindled too long and kept a good rhythm and pace up throughout. The plot itself is reasonably simple when you take it down to brass tacks but there are twists and turns along the way with little nuggets of information broadening the story as it goes and shedding more light on the town of Blightsend and it’s strange, short history.

I found parts of the plot a little predictable but none the less enjoyable for it as for me it was really the way the characters reacted to these goings-on. A couple of characters I felt were a little flat but this might honestly be because for me a couple of them absolutely outshined the others and became fast favourites. Although we didn’t get a huge amount of detail about characters I think this only helped to enhance feeling that this is a tale just as much as it is a book which is a lovely, refreshing take that reminds me of a Pocketful of Crows and The Blue Salt Road by Joanne Harris.

The Turnaway Girls is a humourless book but certainly not one without light or hope much like the place where it is set, Blightsend is, dark, cold, grey and harsh but looking in the right places with the right eyes you can find beauty, life, magic and rebellion and in my opinion that describes this stunning debut perfectly. The Turnaway Girls is due out very soon! January 3rd is only two days away so if you enjoy lyrical reads, a little mystery and the magic of a song keep an eye out for this particularly gorgeous cover in your local bookstore this Thursday!

My Top Ten Reads of 2018

I know we still have a little bit left to go of 2018 but my current read will almost certainly take me to the end of the year and unless something spectacular is pulled out in the last third (and maybe not even then), this last book is definitely not going to be making the cut so I feel I can pretty safely say at this point in time, in pretty much no particular order  that the following books are the top ones for me, that I’ve read this year. This was a super hard list to make because I’ve read some absolutely brilliant books this year but I thought long and hard about not only the ones that I liked or thought were good but the ones that left an impression on me and/or stayed with me.

Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kauffman
Obviously, I mean the whole trilogy here, I refuse to split them because I can’t choose and favorite. This series utterly captivated me and reminded me of just how much I can truly fall in love with sci-fi, even when it’s full or tropes or storylines that would usually be considered overdone in the genre. The Illuminae Files books just breath back life and emotion into these and give them a brilliant and unique flair and quality that I am yet to find anywhere else. Most of the others have no particular order but these have unquestionably become my all time favorite books in general, not even just this year although it took me this long to read them, thank you, Jessica, for making sure I finally did!
Illuminae Review
Gemina Review
Obsidio Review

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The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven
I’ve read quite a few contemporary books this year that I wouldn’t have normally even looked at but this is one of the ones I’m glad I was persuaded to read because it really spoke to me on a personal level and highlighted a lot of problems with society and how we treat young girls and their bodies. It also felt like it lit a spark in me that had only been embers before and really helped to change me and the way I view my own actions and those of the people around me.
Review available here.

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
This book was an incredibly important read for me and a lot of others this year. Akemi’s incredible writing feels like it plucks out those hurting parts of your soul that you maybe don’t understand and helps you to look at them and maybe find some kind of comfort or understanding there. The story itself is one of both sadness and fullfilment, a fantastic read and certainly one I recommend to anyone who suffers from anxiety.
Review available here.

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The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli
A book I had been meaning to read for a while and finally gotten around to then loved the heck out of it! Asha has become one of my favourite bookish main characters and although I didn’t enjoy the sequel quite as much The Last Namsara easily found its way into my top spot of books I’ve read this year.
Review available here.

Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson
This book was a total surprise to me! I read it on an utter whim and it was such a great, funny and twisty book! Certainly one I’ll remember and continue to recommend to others. I love the witchy vibe to it and my girl Mila is brilliant.
Review available here

The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green
I was drawn to this by the pretty cover and was again a great find on NetGalley that I immediately brought when it came out. Put quite simply The Smoke Theives very much feels like a YA Game of Thrones. The various POV’s are interesting and interweaving as the story continues and it envokes that now almost trademark genre of court politics with a dash of magic that I do so love and this book was no exception, I eagerly await the sequel.
Review available here.

Skyward by Brendon Sanderson
I absolutely devoured this book in a day or two. I was lucky enough to read it a little early for a blog tour and I’ve barely been able to stop talking about it since. Skyward has a bit of everything and contains a great mix of wit, humor and sass with serious moments, worry and loss. Not to mention M-Bot is pretty much the best thing in a book this year – other than AIDAN maybe and he doesn’t count because the first Illuminae book didn’t come out this year.
Review available here.

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Adrift by Rob Boffard
A twisty interesting SciFi read I discovered on NetGalley this year and I’m so glad I decided to try it out. Another great read with various points of view that reach far and yet twine back together at important points, a great character study which reminds me of The Loneliest Girl in the Universe with some big differences but there’s certainly the same vibe there.
Review Available here.

Christmas at the Beach Hut by Veronica Henry
Absolutely not one of my usual favorite picks I found myself completely immersed in Christmas at the Beach Hut by Veronica Henry and have decided next year to read the others in the Beach Hut series. A beautifully heartbreaking and heartwarming tale that completely touched me and found it’s way easily into my heart and my top ten favorite books this year.
Review available here.

Vengeful by V.E Schwab
Reading Vengeful felt like reading an absolute work of art. V.E Schwab spent a long time working on this book to get it a level she was happy to publish it at and you can absolutely tell. This is a beautiful gem of a book that I am unable to fault in almost any way. The characters are interesting and you find yourself rooting for everyone and no one at times. This book is definitely the best-written book I’ve read this year.
Review available here.

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NPC Tea Issues 1-5 Spoiler Free Review

NPC_Tea-236x360NPC Tea (Issues 1-5) Written and illustrated by Sarah Milman

Rating: XXXXX

Published: 2016 onwards (Still ongoing)

“Oh, is it a secret?”
“A badly kept one, but still: if you breathe one word about this to anybody –”
“You’ll what? Kill me?”
“With my bare hands”

NPC Tea is about Cardiff’s least popular tea shop, Y Ddraig, run by a perfectionist elf and a disgruntled fire summon. When a magicless human discovers Y Ddraig’s secret and a type of banned magic rears its ugly head, caddies upon caddies of rotting tea become the least of their worries as the entire city of Cardiff is threatened with destruction!

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I’m STILL reading/listening to A Queen of Air and Darkness and I needed a break, I hadn’t been feeling well recently so I gathered up all my indie/self-published comics I’ve been trying to get around to reading or rereading and I’ve spent the past week catching up. It has been GLORIOUS and over the next couple of weeks, I’m planning on reviewing my favourites and a couple of new ones that are on their way thanks to some amazing Kickstarters I backed earlier in the year.

First up is a comic that kind of sucked me back into this style of book and that is NPC Tea by Sarah Milman. The premise alone pitched to me by Sarah back at MCM Expo a few years back had me intrigued! I’ve always loved worlds where high fantasy and contemporary can mix with a nice dollop of magic stirred in and NPC Tea is all that and more! These books capture that perfect balance where this is still fantasy but set in a modern world which just gets me far too excited when thinking about all the Dungeons and Dragons stories I’d love to see in this world!

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Other than the synopsis one of the first things that drew me to these was the art style and I apologise to anyone who is even remotely artistically inclined for my ineloquence here but not only do I love the style in which these comics are drawn but the use of colours throughout the pages absolutely enthrals me, they are a pure joy to look at and not only do they help establish to whom and when events are happening they convey SO much more and honestly I’m so here for it. Not to mention the illustrations themselves are fantastic and Sarah’s work has this brilliant comedic timing where the written words and the illustrations join in such a way as to really enhance each other.

Even with the art aside the story moves along nicely and we get a bit of info, to begin with, to set us up and then as the characters learn and uncover more we, the reader do as well which I find especially satisfying. The characters of NPC Tea are beautifully diverse, they all have their own individual look, style and feel established very early on and the staff at Y Ddraig are honestly my favourite little dysfunctional family. As the issues move along we get closer looks at a good few of them and learn more about how they became the people they are without taking away from the main story too much. Personally Hannah the human is my favourite character and I love to see how she reacts to all the different situations cropping up around her, she’s kind but sassy and firey too!

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Overall I’ve found this series an absolute delight and the wait for the next issues are slowly eating away at me. Originally slated for eight issues I’m also really hoping we get more, perhaps a second story arc? I can’t imagine letting them go!

The first issue was released in 2016 with the second following in 2017 and issues three, four and five successfully kickstarted in 2017 and 2018 with rumours of six and seven not being too far off in the distance now! You can check out Sarah’s shop here where you can buy issues one to five now!