Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Favorite Books of 2019

Queen's Shadow, E.K. Johnston
It's no secret I love Star Wars. (This is a fact that doesn't need to be continuously reiterated, and yet I do.) It's also no secret that my favorite character from the prequel trilogy is Padmé. I was pretty ecstatic when I heard this book was coming out, especially since I've enjoyed what I've read by E.K. Johnston in the past. This book did not disappoint. It's kind of everything I wanted from a Star Wars universe book. I especially loved that it focused on the bonds Padmé formed with her handmaidens and friends. Getting to see Sabé have a larger, more defined role was a treat. This is definitely not as action-packed as the movies, but I really appreciated the focus on the characters, and I'm really excited that Johnston is writing a prequel, Queen's Peril, to be released this summer.

Rule, Ellen Goodlett
This book was quite the surprise! I downloaded it as an audiobook from my library because it was available and it had been on my list for a while, but at the time, I didn't know that much about the story line. What I appreciated about this book was that it featured three different point-of-view characters: Ren, Zofi, and Akeylah. They're half-sisters vying for their father's throne, but they each have secrets to keep about their pasts. Even though they start out suspicious of one another, by the end of the book, they've learned to trust each other as sisters and friends. I liked this so much and wanted to get to the end so badly that I actually just lay in bed after getting home from work and listened. That's not something I usually do! And although book two wasn't quite as good (and had one aspect I really didn't like), book one was a breath of fresh air.

The Protector of the Small series, Tamora Pierce
I only recently began reading Tamora Pierce. I think I would've devoured these books as a kid, but I'm making up for lost time! The Protector of the Small series is a four-book series featuring Keladry of Mindalen, who quickly became my favorite Pierce heroine. A generation before Kel, Alanna successfully trained as a knight, although at the time, no one knew she was a girl. After the king decides to let girls train as pages, Kel becomes the first. In the first book of the series, she has to deal with a lot of sexism, but by the second book, most of the characters have come to like and trust her. Lady Knight is the final book in the series. In it, Keladry is a full-fledged knight, and she's tasked with guarding a refugee camp. I found Kel as a character to be stubborn and charming, and I found her story to be fun, adventurous, and uplifting.

Fly Girls:  How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History, Keith O'Brien
Fly Girls tells the story of female pilots in America in the '20s and '30s, focusing mostly on Amelia Earhart, Florence Klingensmith, Ruth Elder, Ruth Nichols, and Louise Thaden. O'Brien gives a lot of background on the planes, what flying was like for men at the time, and what the sexism the women were up against. He tells their stories with empathy, and I often found myself reacting out loud to the audiobook as I drove. I was elated and inspired when one of the women triumphed, and I was dismayed and nervous when pilots were crashing or close to crashing. I was also struck by the fact that O'Brien included information about what happened to these women after the heyday of flying. For a lot of them, the answer wasn't glamorous. By turns exciting and emotional, this is definitely my favorite non-fiction book of the year.

Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie
This series blows me away. I listened to the first book in 2018 on a road trip and loved it but wanted to give myself some time to savor it. Also, the narrator changed between books one and two, and that was surprisingly disappointing. I ended up not listening to this one, book two, until 2019. (And yes, I got used to the new narrator.) Book one was pretty sprawling with back-and-forth timelines that could get confusing. Book two narrows the focus on Breq, who was once the ship the Justice of Toren, who had thousands of ancillary bodies but now has just the one. Here, she goes to Athoek Station, where she takes it upon herself to protect the family of Lieutenant Awn, whose fate was revealed in book one. There's also lots of tea, and the preoccupation with it made me chuckle. One of my favorite things about this series is that Breq's language doesn't recognize gender, so she's constantly referring to everyone as "she." Leckie leaves it up to you to decide what gender everyone is, basically. Even though I found book three on the bargain table at Barnes & Noble and have easy access to the audiobook through my library, I've been putting off reading it. I think it's because I don't want the series to end. 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Favorite TV of 2019


Runaways/Cloak and Dagger
I know what you're thinking. I'm cheating on the very first one! Yes, you're right. I try to keep these lists to five items, but these two shows are interconnected enough that hey, I do not feel bad about this decision! Runaways was one of my favorite shows last year, and I was eagerly anticipating this season, although I'm sad that it's the last. The show was really finding its groove, and there's so much potential for a few more seasons. But what I liked about this season was that the kids know who they are now. They know their powers, they know their strengths and weaknesses, and they know they have to stick together. And found family is one of my favorite tropes!

Like in Runaways, in Cloak and Dagger, my favorite aspect is the relationship between the main characters, Tandy and Tyrone. I thought that really grew in season 2, and I absolutely loved the cross-over episode between these shows. Tandy and Tyrone brought a different vibe to the Runaways group, and for such a heavy episode, it was also pretty funny. I'm sad both of these got canceled because they both deserved bigger audiences.

Batwoman
I didn't expect to like this as much as I do, but one of the reasons for that is the support cast. Camrus Johnson as Luke, Meagan Tandy as Sophie, and Nicole Kang as Mary are all great in different ways. The story focuses on a Gotham that hasn't seen Batman (or Bruce Wayne, but no one connects the two because comics!) for three years. Kate Kane rolls back into town and back into her complicated family when her ex-girlfriend is kidnapped by a villain named Alice. In her efforts to save Sophie, she accidentally gives Gotham hope that Batman has returned. Only he hasn't, so who is going to step up to walk in his shoes? Kate can only do it with Luke's help, and I'm looking forward to seeing whether she lets other people in on the secret during the second part of the season. For a show that's just getting started, I think this has a lot of potential.

Schitt's Creek
Okay, I had to split up the superhero shows a bit. This was an unexpected find for me. I have a few friends who were raving about it, so I finally decided to check it out. I'm really glad I did even if it took me until about season 2 to really get a feel for the show and the characters. It follows the Rose family, who lose everything and are forced to move to a town they bought as a joke years ago--Schitt's Creek. They end up living in the motel, where they befriend the proprietor, Stevie, who is probably my favorite character. The Roses have a hard time adjusting to their new lifestyle, but eventually they learn to appreciate the town and its interesting characters. The townspeople learn to appreciate the Roses' eccentricities, too, like Moira's wig collection, every item of which she has named. There are five seasons of 13 episodes available on Netflix (and a sixth currently airing on Pop TV), and the episodes are short enough that I can fit one in when I just need a little break to laugh.

Legends of Tomorrow
The only one of my hold-overs from last year, and no one is surprised because it's one of my favorite shows ever. First of all, time travel! Second of all, as already discussed, I love the found family trope, and this show really leans into that. Sometimes that means characters I love decide their path lies elsewhere and they leave. And a lot of times, that means new characters I will come to love jump onto the ship. Although I didn't like season 4 as much as I liked season 3, this remains one of my favorite shows, and I'm looking forward to season 5 starting later this month.

Gentleman Jack
A friend and I watched the first episode together, and then I liked it enough that I watched the rest without her! Suranne Jones plays the main character, Anne Lister, a real historical figure who lived in Halifax, England, in the 1800s. And she's a marvel in the role. Anne is a force to be reckoned with, refusing to live within society's rules by loving who she loves and taking care of her own property and controlling her estate's coal business. Sophie Rundle plays Ann Walker, who is the polar opposite of Anne Lister--shy, not confident, and thought of as unable to make her own decisions. As they fall in love, they also grow as people. And let me be clear--this period drama is lush. Intricate costumes, gorgeous landscapes, soaring music. This is simply a wonderful show all-around.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Favorite Movies of 2019


Terminator: Dark Fate
I've never seen a Terminator movie, and yet the trailer for this had me anticipating this one. I loved it for its action sequences and the fact that the heart of the film is three very different women: Sarah, Dani, and Grace. You can hear me squeal about it on episode 9 of my podcast, Positively Pop Culture, with my friend and fellow author C.S. Lytal.


Captain Marvel
First, I was really excited that this was coming out because it's the first Marvel movie focused on a female superhero. Then I watched it and really connected with Carol because what can I say? I love angry heroines! This is no longer surprising about myself. I really loved that Carol's strongest relationship is the one she shares with Maria, her best friend. I loved the story line of Carol learning about her true past and fixing the mistakes she participated in. But most of all, I loved the message of empowerment in how Carol always, always gets back up when she's knocked down.

The Rise of Skywalker
I could go on and on about how influential Star Wars was to my childhood and my writing career, but the main point is I'm a big fan and was both worried and excited about the sequel trilogy. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked The Force Awakens. It was my favorite film of 2015, and, actually, now I consider it my favorite Star Wars film of all time. When The Last Jedi disappointed me, I wasn't sure how I would feel about The Rise of Skywalker. Like in 2015, though, I was pleasantly surprised. Rey is my favorite character in the Star Wars universe, so I really enjoyed this exploration of her anger, her powers, and her past. I also thought it was a nice little wrap-up to the trilogy in particular and to the series as a whole.

Charlie’s Angels
I wasn't sure what to expect from this. I never watched the show, and I barely remember the early 2000s movies. This turned out to be a lot of fun! I appreciated that it was written and directed by Elizabeth Banks, who also starred as Bosley, and that all three main characters were diverse and interesting and given their own issues and strengths. A solid adventure story that I'll be sure to revisit sometime soon.


Aladdin
In general, I'm not very interested in the live-action remakes of Disney movies. My sister and I went to see this together, and I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would! Like most of the other movies on this list, this was a lot of fun, and more and more, I'm just appreciating movies that I can genuinely have a good time at. What I liked most about this was that it expanded Jasmine's role--and gave her a new kick-butt song. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Announcing PosPop: Positively Pop Culture!

https://open.spotify.com/show/5N6gFJnIGYKVtKkXm0G3ad


My friend and fellow author K.W. Taylor and I have embarked on a new project! PosPop: Positively Pop Culture is a podcast where we talk about the things we love, like music, movies, TV, books, and more.

Click on the picture above to listen to it on Spotify. You can also find it on iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you don't see it on the app you use, let us know and we'll get it there.

New episodes drop every Wednesday!

Be sure to check out more about K.W. at her website and on Twitter, and follow PosPop on Twitter, too.


Monday, September 2, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc, David Elliott

  ★★★★

I found this unexpectedly in a sale at B&N, and I picked it up because I've been interested in Joan of Arc since high school. I'm really glad I did. It was a wonderful reading experience. The language is lovely and the story inspiring, so much so that I had to force myself to slow down so I could savor the read.

Some poems are from Joan's perspective, some are from people she knows like her mother and father, and some are from the perspective of inanimate objects that become important in her life--her sword, her banner, the tower she's confined in, even her hair. It was a really unique way to look at and tell a well-known story.

It's also very visual. Some of the poems are set in designs that resemble the object that's "speaking," like a sword or a crown. Kudos to both the author and the book designer, Sharismar Rodriguez. It really is a beautiful book.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: The Mists of the Dead, Travis Adkins

★★★★

Travis and I are both indie fantasy authors who, coincidentally, live in the same city. We decided to exchange books, but this review is all my own thoughts.

As I do with all novels nowadays, I'm very much approaching this from a writer's perspective. I think of plot, characters, and world as the major components of speculative fiction, and sometimes, one aspect outshines the others. I tend to be a character-first writer, but there's nothing wrong with any approach. The different approaches are just that--different, and they make for interesting variances. In this case, it feels like Adkins started with his world, which is rich and fully realized, and built from there.

From the characters to the settings, there are lots of good details. But because the world is so fleshed-out and Adkins sometimes stops to explain cool ideas, that means the book gets off to a slightly slow start. We're introduced to the main character, Warrel, in the first scene, but the plot takes a while to get going. Even when Warrel decides to follow Kogliastro the wizard on an adventure, he has loose ends to tie up around town, which means he, Kogliastro, and the third member of their party, the dwarf Gumgen, don't even leave the city until almost a quarter of the way into the book.

There are also a lot of good musings and thoughts packed into the story. One such moment is when Warrel, who grew up orphaned and fighting to survive, is looking for food but his companions are focused on other problems. "Hunger, he knew, was an enemy that could not be outlasted or reasoned or bartered with." There were lots of these small, poignant moments throughout. I very much like little tidbits of wisdom that give insight into the characters like this.

What I liked most, though, is Adkins's insistence on the importance of stories. Warrel is a bard, and he's interested in both stories and language. Once their adventure starts, he bases a lot of his decisions on his knowledge of stories--whether he's the hero or the sidekick, what traditionally happens at certain points in a story. As a writer and avid reader, this was pretty fun to read.

Because I tend to mostly read books with female protagonists, Mists of the Dead probably isn't something I'd pick up on my own. In some ways, the unexpectedness of it made the read more enjoyable in that I didn't have a lot of expectations and was just along for the ride. In other ways, it made it less so. There are really only two non-minor female characters, and they both take a while to appear. What threw me most, though, is that it's very sexualized, more so than books I'm used to reading. The very first scene is Warrel trying to get a girl to sleep with him, and the women are often described as wearing very little clothing. That's definitely a personal thing, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

Overall, I always love finding new, interesting indie fantasy, and Mists of the Dead certainly qualifies. While the world-building pulled me in, the story is what got me invested, and I thought the ending was particularly strong. I'll definitely read more from Travis in the future, and I'd recommend this to readers interested in indie fantasy, high fantasy, zombies, and world-building.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Book Spotlight: Ecosystem Trilogy by Joshua David Bellin


Joshua David Bellin's Ecosystem trilogy is now complete!
Read the synopses below and then head over to Amazon to snag them.
Now through May 6, each book is only $0.99 on Kindle.

In a far distant future, Earth's environment has mutated into the Ecosystem, a collective sentience that has pushed human beings to the brink of extinction. Only those individuals who are born with the psychic power known as the Sense can negotiate the Ecosystem's deadly maze in search of the food, water, and fuel their people need to survive. When Sarah, a seventeen-year-old Sensor with a grudge against the Ecosystem, sets out to avenge her mother's death, she learns more about the Ecosystem--and about herself--than she ever bargained for.

Book One: Ecosystem

Miriam, an apprentice Sensor, is lost in the Ecosystem, and Sarah sets out to rescue her. Joining Sarah is Isaac, a boy who claims to possess knowledge of the Ecosystem that will help their people survive. The harrowing journey to find the missing apprentice takes Sarah and Isaac into the Ecosystem's deadliest places. And it takes Sarah into the unexplored territory of her own heart, where she discovers feelings that threaten to tear her--and her society--apart.

Book Two: The Devouring Land

When Sarah’s village is overrun by monstrous creatures from the Ecosystem, she shepherds the survivors into the forest surrounding the village. Her own Sense badly damaged in an earlier attack, she must fight through a host of new threats in hopes of discovering the place where her mother was born, rumored to be home to a community of healers. But the City of the Queens is haunted by a dark secret of its own, and Sarah will have to learn the truth of her lineage in order to save the people she loves and protect the world she knows.

Book Three: House of Earth, House of Stone

The City of the Queens is under attack. Sarah is forced to flee into the treacherous mountains to the far north, where she hopes to gain allies to contest the power that assails the city. But to wage this final battle, Sarah will have to overcome an ancient curse that threatens not only the survival of her people but the existence of the Ecosystem itself. And she will have to decide whether to save Isaac, the boy she loves, at the cost of losing everything else she holds dear.