Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto

★★★★★

I was so honored to be placed on the street team for this book and the following books (TWO MORE BOOKS, BECAUSE ITS A TRILOGY NOW). 

I sped through this book, the world building is so in-depth, you can feel your surroundings and know the history of it. The world building isn’t cataloged and explained through it, but is woven throughout the story, with little excerpts of history books, explanations by characters, and dialogue.

I feel for these characters and am so glad that Nicki Pau Preto is taking her time with the story development and with character arcs. These characters have a journey to go on and it’s not rushed.

I can’t wait to see what happens in the following books and to be on this journey!

Here is an excerpt of the sequel Heart of Flames!

Street Teams!

This year I have had the absolute honor of being a part of three street teams! I never expected to be chosen for the teams, I just signed up and gave it my all and got in!

If you don’t know what a street team is: Street teams are marketing campaigns between authors and their avid readers. There’s usually a group page where the author can share exclusive content with the readers in preparation for their upcoming release. The participants can receive points for sharing information on social media pages in time for marketing campaigns and can be rewarded with ARCs (advanced reader copies), bookmarks, art prints, etc relating to the book, by the author.

Street teams that I’m in: I’m currently in three active street teams!

First Riders

The First Riders Street Team is for both Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto and for her upcoming sequel Heart of Flames. Crown of Feathers is about two sisters who are trying to hatch a pheonix egg to become pheonix riders.

Sandhya’s Sweethearts

The Sandhya’s Sweethearts Street Team is for all current books by Sandhya Menon: When Dimple Met Rishi, From Twinkle with Love, and There’s Something About Sweetie. It is also for her upcoming release Of Curses and Kisses, which is a beauty and the beast retelling in a contemporary setting.

Keel Haul’s Sea Crew

Keel Haul’s Sea Crew is for the debut release All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace. All the Stars and Teeth is about Amora, a princess training to be the master of souls, the most dangerous form of magic. When Amora’s training goes awry, she flees with a mysterious pirate.

How do you get on a street team? More and more authors are starting street teams, to join you usually just need to fill out a survey, describing yourself and your platform. Make sure to follow all your favorite authors and publishing companies on their social media platforms and be on the lookout for when they post about an upcoming street team. It never hurts to apply and to give it a shot. I’ve been extremely lucky to be chosen for these amazing street teams, and I definitely recommend you try one out!

June Wrap-up

I haven’t done a wrap-up in a while, and therefore I am very behind on sharing what books I have recently read. Here’s just a list of what I read in June to give you an idea. I won’t be sharing a video with my thoughts and the star ratings of what I read in June, however, I will be sharing a July wrap-up soon with thoughts and star ratings.

June:

A book stack of The Lightning Thief, Radio Silence, Crown of Feathers, and Red, White & Royal Blue.
A book stack of The Lightning Thief, Radio Silence, Crown of Feathers, and Red, White & Royal Blue.

Radio Silence

Crown of Feathers

The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief Graphic Novel

Haytham, une jeunesse syrienne / A Childhood in Syria (Haytham)

Red, White, & Royal Blue

Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu

The paperback of Check Please! by Ngozi Ukazu lies against a fuzzy blanket, surrounded by string lights.
The paperback of Check Please! by Ngozi Ukazu lies against a fuzzy blanket, surrounded by string lights. // Soleil de Zwart

★★★★★

I love these boys so much, it’s difficult to put into words. But since I have been nonstop messaging my reading friends about this comic series, I’m going to move it to my blog (so that I can still have reading friends).

I thought this graphic novel looked cute so I got a hold of it from Libby (the app that lets you borrow e-books from your state library system). I didn’t have very high expectations. First off, I know nothing about hockey — correction I knew nothing about hockey. Second, I hadn’t heard very much about this book so I wasn’t sure how to feel about it going in.

When I opened those first pages on my tablet, oh was I in for a journey. This first collection covers Bitty’s first two years in college and first two years on the hockey team. Bitty’s real name is actually Eric Bittle, but hockey nicknames function in a way that his name is Bitty for the entirety of the series.

THIS SERIES! As I said earlier, I love these boys so much, with everything in my heart and soul. Ngozi Ukazu just makes them come alive on the page and the art style just matches them all so well. I wish I had my own squad of hockey bros. The story is so simple but dynamic, these characters feel real, there are minute mundane things going on and bigger picture events and it’s just so good.

The webcomic is available online: https://checkpleasecomic.com

I recently bought the book because I want to support the author/illustrator and I immediately re-read it, in physical form. The panels are much larger on the physical page and it’s so satisfying to read it physically.

Now I’m going to go disappear to read it for a third time!

Romanov by Nadine Brandes

★ ★ ★

I’ve been reading this book on and off for a few months, and it has taken me just about as long to figure out how I feel about it.

First off, I would like to praise Nadine for all of the research she put into this book, because it definitely has a lot of historical accuracy. Aside from that, it’s good to remember that this is a historical fiction retelling with a fantasy twist of the Romanov story.

I have been studying Russian for the past year and have had a fascination with Russian culture, the Russian language, and the family of the Romanovs. But that fascination does not make me an expert in any of these topics, my review of this book is based off my own knowledge and opinions, none of which are concrete facts.

***** SPOILERS *****

I really enjoyed the beginning of the book, up until the halfway point, where the fantasy elements weren’t too prevalent in the story and it was all based on the historical events. But after Nastya used the “ajnin” spell it began to unravel a bit. While I do believe this book managed to combine the history with the fantasy of spellmasters and spellink, I would have enjoyed the story without magic. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the concept of spellmasters and the ink and how that all combined with the already existing storylines and characters. However, I think the energy spent on making the magic believable could have been better spent on character development and plot. How Nastya and Alexei managed to escape the firing squad and certain death, with a simple spell… That is reaching a little far for me. Clearly, if Nastya had used the spell sooner she might have been able to save her whole family, but she didn’t know any better — which is understandable. But the spells in this story don’t seem to have a clear set of rules in their own magic system.

While Dochkin later says that he cannot create a spell to go back in time to save their whole family, there are spells that will pause death and make them into ethereal ghosts?

I just think that the story would have been better off without the magic elements thrown into the middle of it.

Meanwhile the relationship between Zash and Nastya is a whole sticky situation. Something I will go into further depth with in my Booktube review coming soon.

On a last note, I really did appreciate the attention to Russian history and the inclusion of Russian phrases and words into this book. I did not appreciate the lack of warning to the eye trauma towards the end of the book. That would have sent me into an anxiety spiral, if I hadn’t seen it coming.

Fence Vol. #1 by C. S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad

★★★★

Something you should know about me is, I absolutely love fencing. LOVE fencing! One of the reasons I chose my university is because they have a fencing team. And although I wasn’t able to dedicate to being on the team full-time, at the beginning of the year I enjoy spending time on the team.
So naturally, I loved this graphic novel! I’ve been wanting to read it for months and the other day I was in the bookstore and just thought, today is the day! I read it in one sitting, because it’s so gosh darn short!
I can’t go into depth about the characterizations or much of the plot because the story is so short and there are three more installments in the series. I really look forward to reading more about the characters and getting to know the story.
So far I’m really enjoying the art style and the way the story is being set up, but I just really wish the chapters and volumes were longer. I believe that the third volume is the last in the series, which really disappoints me because I feel like there is so much that can be told in a fencing story.
I’ll have to wait until the next installment to see!

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker

★★★★★

This was a magical story, for so many fantastic reasons. I’ve been wanting to read this since my friends brought it to my attention and I’m so glad I got early access to it through NetGalley. 
The representation in this book is amazing and it adds so much depth to the story. I’m so glad we’re moving more rapidly into a time where representation is more present in our literature, we still have a long way to go, but this is start. The art and illustration is so cute and makes my heart warm, it’s a perfectly contained story but I would love to see more in this world. I love all the different characters present, the grandmas are loving and kind and parental relationships are complicated but there’s growth throughout the story. The relationships and friendships in here are a beautiful example for youth to look at, healthy relationships that may inspire them. 
I truly loved this book!

The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities by Paul Anthony Jones

★★★★

I’m a linguistics minor so this work is particularly interesting to me. It’s not the type of book I would personally read cover-to-cover although I know fellow classmates who certainly would, but I really enjoyed flipping through it to certain sections and pages and learning more about some linguistics curiosities. I can’t wait to give it a more in-depth look over with colleagues, classmates, and professors. Definitely one I would recommend to others. The excerpts were neat and unique and perfect for a slow rainy day with a cup of tea by the window. I think the best way to enjoy this book is by reading it as it advices on the first page, one story a day for a year, slowly sipping the enjoyment. Another interesting thing about this book is how much I feel like I have learned for my own writing, these little unique words are what can truly elevate and make a story.

I received an advanced reader’s copy from NetGalley for an honest review.

Her

Directed by Spike Jonze

    What makes the movie Her timeless is it’s deeper message about life and connections. It’s true it’s a movie about artificial intelligence and the emergence of AI’s in modern society, and following the social implications. However, it transcends time. There are constant moments of old fusing with new, making it difficult to distinguish the exact moment in time this might be happening. Based off of setting and surroundings, the tall buildings, curved line of the modern era, and thick screened technology, retro colors, and old fashioned furniture of the 70’s it’s hard to tell.

    Her is like a Rorschach test, more commonly known as an inkblot test. Everyone sees the same set of inkblot imagery, but what they perceive and what they get out of it is entirely up to the individual, what they experienced in their lives that leads them to see different images. Although many problems have been found with the Rorschach test, the metaphor still stands. There are many angles of interpretation for Her, every person will latch on to a different aspect and theme for the film. It’s about the complexities of life, relationships, love, technology, and connection. Although the tech in the movie is new, a high performance processing system equipped with a female (or male) voice to organize your life, the thinking is still relatively the same to what we have today. Theodore ends up in a kind of long distance relationship, spending long periods of time on his phone, talking to his lover’s voice.

    This kind of embodiment of a character through purely voice adds to the connection Theodore feels toward Samantha. She’s always in his pocket, never absent, able to be called upon at any moment. Feminists will look at this idea as vaguely sexist, the idea of the perfect woman ready at a moment’s notice to do the man’s bidding. Samantha is there to organize Theodore’s files and get his life together. But she also functions as more. By connecting with Samantha, Theodore is able to move past the difficulties of his divorce from his now ex-wife Catherine. She acts as the stable person in his life who helps him realize where he went wrong with his past relationship, his molding of his partners to be something they aren’t.

    Even though Samantha is truly a mold made from him, learning from his speech patterns and his topics of conversation, she eventually evolves into someone/something else. Later in the film she speaks to other AI’s and interacts with thousands of other humans. Through this she learns to be more than what Theodore originally planned her to be, and his original mold of her. She gains insight that eventually aids Theodore, by pointing out why his relationships always fail. His high expectations and fantasies of his partners always fall in his way.

    This film offers a snapshot into the human psyche, embodying what we do wrong as humans, our flaws, in the eyes of an AI. In the picnic scene with the other couple, Samantha has a moment of clarity. She says she used to be resentful of not having a body, but then she realized she doesn’t need one. She is so much more by not having a physical form, she can be in many places at once, she never ages, she isn’t fragile like humanity. The camera angles in this scene add to her words by emphasizing the empty space beside Theodore, while the other couple sits side by side. There’s a void where Samantha should be, overlayed by diegetic non synchronous sound. The source of Samantha’s voice is not shown. In this scene Samantha uncovers what humans fear about AI’s, the sheer power they would have over us as flawed humans, how they would control us and our lives, while we’re stuck in our meat sac human forms. Through this moment of self actualization Samantha manages to separate herself from the picnic scene and from her human connection. Before her small speech the scene felt almost natural, a double date in the countryside. But after, her connection to humanity feels severed, the characters realize the difference between them. The human experience cannot be fathomed by an AI.

    By the end of the movie it’s not the connection with Samantha that’s left. Along his journey to knowing Samantha and living his life with the presence of an AI, Theodore has found the connection he lost. He’s parted from the idea of his ex-wife, signed his divorce papers and departed on stable terms. He’s realized what had brought about the destruction of his marriage. Himself. And he formed a true human connection. Him and his long time friend Amy bound over their relationships with AIs, and find each other over their mutual loss of connection with them. They feel abandoned, together, by their AI’s who left the human servers to go on to bigger and better things. This scenario is a new and futuristic idea, while still holding true to an age old struggle of abandonment. Amy and Theodore have both lost what was at the time very near and dear to them, without realizing that what they learned from these relationships is the benefits of humanity.

    Even though they aren’t immortal or able to transcend their physical space, they hold the flaws of humanity in their hands. Their mortality makes their relationships worth so much more, their connections so much more valuable because of the singular physical space they can occupy at any one moment.

    The movie Her is able to portray such a timeless message of connection and the human experience by using the carefully interwoven old and new. Through seeing this story of AI technology in an ambiguous setting of future and retro, the viewer gets a glimpse of modern society. What will and won’t change. Different connections, but humans will always be connecting, through whatever means they find. As stated in Film Theory An Introduction Through the Senses by Thomas Elsaesser and Malte Hagener, “Screens are in effect something that stands between us and the world, something that simultaneously protects and opens up access” (43). The screens through which the humans in Her interacted with their AI’s acted as a screen that protected them from the rejection of real human connection, but also blocked them from true experiences with others of their own. Both negatively and positively changing their life’s experiences. The AI’s are coming for us.