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Zachary Ying doesn’t want to stand out, a difficult task when he’s usually the only Asian kid in his school. He wants to finish summer classes and play Mythrealm, an augmented reality game that blends elements of Pokémon GO and trading card games like Yu-Gi-Oh! with classic mythology. Zack never learned a lot about Chinese myths and history from his mother, who had complicated feelings regarding their homeland. It comes as quite a shock when a Chinese transfer student, Simon Li, introduces himself and explains that Zack’s likely a direct descendent of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. Before he knows what’s happening, the spirit of his ancestor has possessed him, or rather, his portal-lens, the AR headset he wears to play Mythrealm.

Qin Shi Huang is on a mission, and he needs Zack’s body to do it. The long-dead emperor has to seal a portal to the Chinese underworld to prevent all manner of demons and spirits from flooding out into the human world, and the clock is ticking. Zack needs to get to Qin Shi Huang’s tomb in China, and he needs to strengthen the bond between himself and the emperor’s spirit, or his mother’s soul may be devoured. Zack has to learn as much as he can about the Dragon Emperor and his exploits so that he can channel the magic necessary to close the gap between the realms.

Qin Shi Huang isn’t the only dead emperor setting out to save China. Simon is possessed by the spirit of his own ancestor, Tang Taizong, and he’s partnered with Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor, hosted by her own descendent, Melissa Wu. Together, the three kids and their spirit partners navigate an escalating series of heists and battles with mythological figures and monsters. If they fail, China—and the rest of the world—are doomed.

Xiran Jay Zhao has crafted a most excellent middle grade adventure here. They’ve taken some of the best bits of Yu-Gi-Oh! (which I’ve loved since seeing the first episodes land in English back in 2001) and wrapped it in an intense love of Chinese history and myth, with an end result that will satisfy readers of all ages and make the folks at Disney jealous that they didn’t pick this one up for a Rick Riordan Presents title. Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is fun, fast-paced, and clever. It’s out tomorrow, May 10th.

My thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

And my additional thanks to Xiran for their signature on a copy of Iron Widow and a selfie with them back in April!

Selfie of me, Philip (he/they), standing in front of Xiran Jay Zhao (they/them), the author of Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor as well as Iron Widow.

“For MJ”

We said our farewells to you
Over the weekend
Listened to elegant words
About you
And by you
The subtle jazz tones of a saxophone
Blown across the mountainside
Where we gathered
Wind rustling your favorite
Trees while a caterpillar
Slowly made the long journey
Past my feet
And a white butterfly
Caught the sun
Just right on its wings
And a honey bee
Sought some of the sweetness
Lost in your passing
Nothing to mar the blue
Sky above but our
Fading tears

I’m late to the party, I know.

I saw so many of my twitter friends talking up a new fantasy novel earlier this year. Something outside the traditional realm of sword and sorcery, but embracing the roots of the genre and crafting it into a drastically different form.

I’m talking, of course, about Travis Baldree’s debut novel, Legends & Lattes. I don’t remember which author I saw first promoting it, but it caught my attention almost immediately. What’s not to love about the premise? An orc adventurer finally tires of the life she’s led and decides to cash out after one final score, wherein she claims a legendary artifact that’s believed to bring great luck to the one who owns it. Viv leaves her old group of companions (let’s not pretend that they’re all friends) and settles down in the city of Thune to found a business the likes of which no one in the area has ever seen: a coffee shop.

Putting years of earnings from monster hunting to use, Viv transforms an old livery into a bustling café. She befriends numerous locals, especially the succubus Tandri, who quickly learns the trade as Viv’s first official hired barista. Not everyone is thrilled with her success, however, and Viv’s past has a way of catching up with her at the least opportune times. Between jealous former partners, a local protection racket, and the fact that literally no one in Thune knows what coffee is, she’s got her work cut out for her. Still, she might just have found exactly the place and the people to help her leave her old life behind once and for all.

Legends & Lattes is ridiculously cute, y’all. It’s a fantasy adventure with a great heart, and without the fate of the world at stake. It’s a wonderful reminder that, as Viv herself says, “Things don’t have to stay as what they started out as.” Take a chance on it. You’ll be glad you did.

So, we moved.

Sold our old house and bought a new one across town (and it took a minute, too, because the housing market here is fucking ridiculous). Got more room for me, V, and the kids. Commutes are still well within workable times/distances. We’re in the process of unpacking, and it’s probably going to be a bit, but that’s okay. We’re planning to stay put for a while now.

It’s a little weird, honestly. I have a tendency to be very much a stereotypical Taurus and get very set in a place or a set of behaviors, and in the last couple of months I’ve been upending a lot of that. Now that I’m not in the same house I was in for the last five years, a lot is starting to change for the better. Granted, I’ve been doing new things in old ways, so there’s that. Old habits, etc. But I’ve been trying to get myself into some new rhythms. A new work schedule, more time at home with the kids. Time to get some yard work and other home improvement tasks done on the weekends.

Right now, it’s a lot of figuring out what goes where, and with my and V’s combined book collection, that takes quite a bit of doing. Not going to lie, this was the worst move I’ve gone through in the last fifteen years. This was mostly because we had two weeks of limbo between vacating the old house and getting access to the new house. I couldn’t just load one box of books, move it, unload it, and then reuse it. Stuff had to get moved into storage, then out again later in the month. It was a lot more logistically difficult, and quite frankly, I burned myself out really hard by doing 90% of the lifting/hauling by myself (my many thanks to my father-in-law and my friends who helped with some of the boxing of stuff and the lifting of my desk). V and the kids helped as much as possible too, but the timing made it difficult for V to take off of work when I was able to. I’m done doing the self-moving, though. Next time, whenever that may be, I’m hiring pros. Insisting on doing as much as I can by myself is another one of those habits I need to kick.

But hey, the house is coming together really well, and we’re all feeling much better about the whole thing. I’m getting some more reading and writing done, and looking forward to the years we have to come. It’s going to take some time to get decorations and whatnot in place, but it’s great to be building a new home for me and my family.

I was in middle school the first time I saw the word “kaiju” in print. I was on a Godzilla kick, because I was in middle school, and Godzilla books had been readily available for a few years at that point, thanks mostly (I guess) to Roland Emmerich’s 1998 film. I had been to my parents’ bookstore and found a couple of mass market paperbacks of other Godzilla titles, and started to learn my way around the other residents of Monster Island. A love of the giant creatures was born that has persisted to this day, across films like Pacific Rim and the films and comics within the Godzilla franchise. Now imagine my joy when one of my favorite sci-fi writers announced an upcoming novel titled The Kaiju Preservation Society.

John Scalzi is a remarkably fun writer to read, and since it’s been a while since the last time I read one of his books, I’d forgotten that. TKPS is a ridiculously fun ride. When Jamie Gray loses his job in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, he turns to delivering food around New York in an attempt to keep up with his bills. This brings him into contact with Tom, an old college friend who tells Jamie that he has a job opportunity for him with a group that does preservation work for large animals. What Jamie was not expecting was for that job to be on the other side of a dimensional barrier separating our Earth from an alternate one populated by nuclear-powered creatures the size of apartment buildings.

Jamie emerges on the other side of the barrier to find a small scientific research base, where he will serve as a gofer for the numerous scientists studying the kaiju that inhabit this parallel world. He quickly makes friends and becomes acclimated to the bizarre biology of the local populace, learning what a threat virtually everything on that side of the barrier is (in short, everything will either kill you or try really hard to do so). Rapidly changing circumstances lead Jamie to understand, however, that not everyone associated with The Kaiju Preservation Society is as well-intentioned as he is, as an impending disaster threatens everyone and everything on both sides of the rift.

This was a fast-paced, very fun novel, that reads like a mashup of Pacific Rim and Jurassic Park. My only complaint is that we don’t get to spend a lot of time in the world, and I would love to see Scalzi release a sequel at some point down the line. The Kaiju Preservation Society is out in stores tomorrow, March 15th. Go get yourself a copy asap. My utmost thanks to Macmillan/Tor and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Gallant is the tale of a young orphan girl named Olivia Prior, and the ghouls that she can see. Olivia lives at Merilance School for Independent Girls in London, and she has no idea who her parents were, or why she was left there. Her only connection to her heritage is a journal that once belonged to her mother, filled with notes that seem to slowly veer into madness as they go on. “I’m so sorry I don’t know what else to do…you will be safe as long as you stay away from Gallant.”

Born without a voice, Olivia communicates via sign language (and occasionally writing, but she rightly refused to wear a chalkboard around her neck). Her inability to speak and the refusal of others to learn to sign has caused her more than a few conflicts with the other students and the matrons at school. Her only real companions at Merilance are the ghouls, partial shades of the dead who linger in our world. While she’s the only one at the school who seems to realize they’re there, they do not speak to her, and vanish from her view when told to go away.

Then one day, everything changes when a letter from an unknown uncle arrives for Olivia. “You are wanted. You are needed. You belong with us,” it reads. She is whisked away from Merilance by a driver who was sent to take her to the family home, Gallant, far from London. There, she meets her cousin, Matthew, and finds that her new home is also filled with ghouls. Ghouls that look like the family portraits hanging in the hallway. And there’s the issue of the mysterious, crumbling wall at the back of the garden, and the iron door that is set in the middle of it. There are many secrets held by Gallant, and Olivia’s mother’s journal ended with warning her to stay away.

The far side of the wall has more in store for her than she ever could have imagined, for there, Olivia finds a dark echo of the grand house. This shadow of Gallant is crumbling, and the master of the house is hungry for something only a Prior can provide. “Do you know what you are, Olivia Prior? You are amends. You are a tithe, a gift, and you belong to me.”

Gallant is an absolutely phenomenal Gothic fantasy, showcasing Schwab’s talents at writing for younger audiences. I loved every minute of it, and I’m very grateful to NetGalley and HarperCollins for the eARC in exchange for an honest review. It’s out in the world as of March 1st, so go grab a copy!

Wow.

I mean.

Where do you start a review for a book like Manhunt? I’m going to have to say it starts like this, because I’ve literally never read a book like Manhunt before.

The world has ended, at least for cis men. A virulent plague has torn through humanity, attacking people with higher levels of testosterone and turning them into violent, feral monsters. The survivors do what they can to get by, rebuilding where they can. Beth and Fran navigate through the New England wilderness, tracking and killing the men and harvesting their testicles and kidneys to bring back to their friend Indi. She processes hormones for the two trans women so that they can prevent the disease from transforming them into mindless beasts as well. Together, they might be able to hold on.

However, the wild men aren’t the only threat to Beth and Fran in this remade world. Militant TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) are sweeping the eastern seaboard, killing anyone who isn’t a cis woman. Their leader, Teach, is out to leave her own mark, and she’ll destroy anything or anyone who might even consider helping trans folks.

Gretchen Felker-Martin has crafted a horrifying, violent apocalypse that skillfully wraps its way around gender and sexuality. She blends beautifully erotic scenes with the grotesque, and leaves you terrified, but somehow still wanting more. Manhunt showcases the power of found family, even in the face of utter destruction. “Community is when you never let go of each other. Not even after you’re gone.”

This book is definitely not for the faint of heart or the delicate of stomach, but it was an absolute blast. It’s out now. My thanks to Tor Nightfire and NetGalley for an eARC of the book in exchange for an honest review.

It’s my WordPress Anniversary! I usually forget the exact day I started this whole project, and so it was a pleasant surprise to see the notification that I’d made it back on time when I signed in today.

I’ve been writing here for eleven years, as of today. In the last year, I finished my master’s degree and welcomed another child to my and V’s family. I’m looking forward to having some time to dedicate to writing things for myself (and all of you lovely readers) during the next year. I’ll be catching up on some media that I’ve missed thanks to school, so stand by for some upcoming reviews. First up is going to be Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin, shortly followed by John Scalzi’s The Kaiju Preservation Society.

I’m in the middle of buying a house right now. It’s not a fun process, per se, but it does have its own sort of charm. We’ve been in our current place for almost five years, but with the arrival of additional children since moving in, we’re out of space. Thanks to buying our current home, we’re in a decent place financially to be upgrading, despite the volatility of the housing market right now. This does add somewhat to the general disorder of life, but that’s part of things, isn’t it? Wouldn’t change it for the world. Hello, sweet chaos…

Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for sticking around for the last eleven years. Let’s grow and change and improve ourselves together, shall we?

Final papers are submitted, and grades are in.

With a 4.0 GPA for my last semester, I’ve completed my graduate school career with a 3.83 cumulative average. My status has moved from “Graduation Pending” to “Degree Awarded,” and my actual physical diploma will be mailed out within the next few weeks. Now, I can rest.

You know. Sort of.

You see, yesterday was my first day back at work in almost three months. My parental leave/FMLA time has come to an end, and so I’ve begun the long process of getting back into the rhythm of the outside world. My Tiniest Child arrived in October, and I’m already missing being at home with all of the kids. It’s almost a month since the last school paper was turned in, and I’m still trying to make peace with the fact that I didn’t really do a lot other than take care of them during the last few weeks. I didn’t really need to do anything beyond just being Dad. It was peaceful.

So, what’s next?

I mean, ideally I’ll keep working in my current position in Young Adult Services until a titled “Librarian” position opens, and throw applications at them for the next year or two. I have no plans to leave the area within the next decade, so I’m perfectly content to keep working where I am. The shift in position would be nice, of course, and include a pay raise, so I’m not going to say no to an opportunity to move up.

This is the end of the Dispatches From Library School, but I’ll be able to return the blog to more of my standard content of book reviews and original fiction/poetry. I’m pretty excited about not having to spend every spare moment trying to carve out concentration time for school. Thanks to all of you for sticking around.

It’s November 30th, and I’ll be finishing my last projects for grad school within the next week. My final research project is due on December 8th, and that will be that. I’m conditionally approved for graduation, with the condition being that I pass my two remaining courses for the semester. As I’m currently sitting at a 96% or better in both, I think I’m going to be okay.

This is kind of surreal. Two years ago, I threw myself into this program with a heavier course load than I needed. I did it because I wanted to test myself and see if I could handle the full-time schedule on top of full-time work and a new baby at home. I made it, but it’s not been easy for me or for my family. I’m ready to see the end of that extra stress.

I’ve not written a lot about school this semester. I’ve been struggling a lot on my final research project. While I got approval from the library to poll my teen patrons, I didn’t get approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) until a few weeks ago. As soon as I did, I got my surveys printed out and set out in the teen area at my library, but it was almost a month after I’d hoped to be done collecting data. While I have had access to other data sources, the core idea behind my research was to see how COVID had impacted my teen patrons. Without their input, I felt like I was missing the entire point. I got pretty heavily depressed for a few weeks while I emailed updates back and forth, trying to get everything that the IRB requested. I was starting to feel like this whole thing had been a waste of time.

When I finally got the email containing my official IRB approval, the relief in the house was palpable. It was amazing how much better I felt, and I realized just how wrapped up in it I’d been. I hadn’t been able to focus properly on anything, and suddenly that block was just gone. I feel like I’ve been a different person for most of the last two years, and I’m finally going to get to be me again.

I’m still on parental leave, since Tiniest Child is almost two months old. I’m looking forward to a few weeks of vacation time to just hang out and enjoy the holidays with my family before diving back into work in January. Some day soon, I might start remembering what free time feels like.

Now I haven’t just been doing school work this semester. I’ve been doing guest work on the second season of The Sudden But Inevitable podcast discussing the classic anime series Cowboy Bebop (and I’ll be back soon to talk about Netflix’s live-action adaptation thereof). I’ve been working at my library (up until the beginning of October, when Tiniest Child arrived). I’ve been playing Metroid: Dread (two complete playthroughs at 100%, now learning some of the speedrunning quirks). I’ve not been attempting NaNoWriMo, because I do still have some semblance of sanity. I worked through a bunch of classic slasher movies (Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Children of the Corn, Scream, Candyman, etc.) during October. I got my COVID-19 booster shot. I spent time with my kids, just playing with Duplos. It’s been pretty damn good, but it’ll be better once school’s done. Stay tuned.