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So, Chris Kluwe wrote a novel. And you know something? It was pretty damn good.

I picked up an eARC of Otaku a while back, courtesy of the fine folks at NetGalley, and I was very impressed by Kluwe’s fiction debut. While it wasn’t the first time he’d published a book, Otaku was a bold step in a new creative direction.

In a world ravaged by the Water Wars (or the Dubs), only one thing keeps the general public entertained: Infinite Game. Infinite Game is the ultimate virtual reality experience, fully immersive, played in a full-body haptic feedback suit. Players strive for physical fitness because real world skills transfer one-to-one into gameplay. And in the world of Infinite Game, one guild stands above the rest: the Sunjewel Warriors. Their leader, Ashura the Terrible, is one of the top-ranked players in the world, and people in-game and out are willing to do whatever they can to stop her. Threats of death and sexual violence follow her everywhere.

Ashura, aka Ashley or Ash, lives in Ditchtown, a series of massive towers that soar above the raging waters where Miami used to be. Her dad hasn’t been in the picture for years, and her mom was never the same after her time fighting in the Dubs. Most of Ash’s income goes to paying for her mother’s treatment. Then there’s Kiro, Ash’s younger brother. A newbie in Infinite Game, Kiro is struggling to find his own place, outside of his sister’s long shadow. She’s doing well enough in Infinite Game, with her streams bringing in viewers (and revenue) like never before, but things are still hard. So, to supplement her game income, Ash occasionally engages in real-world operations. Working through some members of her mom’s old unit, she puts her Infinite Game skills to the test, flying drones, conducting recon missions, and so on. No one needs to know.

Things take a drastic turn when one of Ash’s guildmates, Brand, vanishes, only to reappear on the opposing side of one of Ash’s less-than-public missions. Sent to infiltrate a supply shipment, Ash finds haptic suit components that override the gamer’s own control, leading them out into the real world while still believing themselves to be immersed in Infinite Game. Soon, people are dying, and Ash and the rest of the Sunjewel Warriors are “recruited” to find out who is trying to turn gamers into their own private army.

Reminiscent of Ready Player One and Snow CrashOtaku is a great debut novel, full of clever technology, intense action, and badass women setting out to save the world. While Kluwe’s prose is not as strong as it has the potential to be, he’s off to a good start. His own experiences in online gaming (in World of Warcraft, League of Legends, etc.) and social media definitely shine through. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

My thanks to NetGalley for providing me with the eARC in exchange for a fair review.

Steel Crow Saga is brilliant, y’all. I had the phenomenal happenstance of meeting Paul Krueger in person back at Denver Pop Culture Con, and knew almost instantly that I was going to love his newest book. I thought that Seven Blades in Black was going to be the most anime-esque fantasy novel that I read in 2019, and I was happily wrong. Steel Crow Saga hits on a lot of classic anime tropes while still managing to be wholly original.

Jimuro is the Iron Prince, heir to the throne of Tomoda. He’s a steelpacter, like many of his fellow Tomodanese. By bonding his soul with metal, he can sharpen/harden/heat the blade of a sword he wields, and fire bullets with unerring accuracy. He is, however, a peaceful man at heart, and longs to return from his exile in Sanbuna, even if it means serving as a puppet king in his late father’s place.

Tala is a Sanbuna soldier, a sergeant assigned to ensure Jimuro’s safe return to the capital of Tomoda. Through the Sanbuna tradition of shadepacting, she has an animal soul bonded to her own. Her companion, Beaky, can be summoned to fight alongside her, or to provide aerial reconnaissance. Tala harbors a deep grudge against Tomoda for the deaths of her parents and her brother, Dimangan.

Xiulan, like Jimuro, is royalty. As the 28th princess of Shang, however, she is nowhere near the top of the line of succession. With her own shade, a white rat named Kou, she operates as a detective of the Li-Quan. She hopes to find Iron Prince Jimuro and deliver him to her father, the Emperor of Shang, in order to raise her own standing.

Lee Yeon-Ji is a thief from the streets of Jeongson. Her chief rule of looking out for herself has gotten her through until now, but she’s on the verge of being executed before Xiulan arrives. The princess needs her help to track Jimuro. At the promise of a shade of her own, something no other Jeongsonese has ever had, she leaps to the detective’s aid.

En route to Tomoda, Sergeant Tala is forced to take drastic action to ensure Jimuro’s survival when a splintersoul attacks her. This man has done what was believed to be impossible, and bonded to more than one shade. Now a walking army unto himself, he seems set upon destroying Jimuro’s guard, and Tala and her team are quickly overwhelmed. Soon, she and Jimuro are left to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, Xiulan and Lee are attempting to intercept Jimuro so that they can turn him over to Shang.

This book was an utter joy to read. Brilliant action sequences, a Pokémon-esque summoning system, and heartbreakingly beautiful characters make Steel Crow Saga an absolute treasure. I can’t wait to see what Paul writes next, even if he never returns to the blend of Asian cultures that is this world. Check it out.

Hey y’all. It’s been a while since my last book review, so I’m going to talk to you for a minute about Neal Shusterman’s Thunderhead. Minor spoilers for Scythe will likely occur throughout, given that this is book #2 in trilogy.

Thunderhead is set in a future world of plenty, where death and poverty and illness and war have been eliminated by the Thunderhead, an artificial intelligence developed from what we currently call “the cloud.” Every human has nanites in their blood that reduce pain from any injury, and slowly repair any damage. And if by some unfortunate accident, you happen to die, a drone will recover your body and take you to the nearest facility where you can be revived (your first one’s free!).

However, in order to curb overpopulation, the Thunderhead allows for the Scythes. Scythes are an order of highly skilled assassins (of sorts) who exist to keep humanity’s numbers in check. They maintain a quota of gleanings, permanent deaths for a chosen few to remind people of the mortality that the entire race once faced. Anyone who is gleaned by a Scythe earns immunity for their family for a year.

Book one in the series, Scythe, follows Rowan and Citra, two young teens who are chosen as apprentices to Scythe Faraday, who intends for one of them to become his successor. Their training leads to the widening of schisms within the Scythedom, and soon they find themselves pitted against each other over the right and wrong ways to go about their duties of gleaning.

Thunderhead picks up several months after the events of Scythe, with Citra now serving as Scythe Anastasia, and Rowan operating in the shadows, gleaning other Scythes who he deems to be immoral and corrupt. Dubbed Scythe Lucifer, he lives a life on the run while Anastasia is honored for her rather benevolent take on gleaning (giving her victims a month’s warning, and allowing them to choose the means by which they will die).

This book introduces more perspectives from the Thunderhead itself, giving the reader powerful insight into the all-powerful AI’s thoughts and concerns. We also meet Greyson Tolliver, a young man who has devoted his entire life to serving the Thunderhead, and has his loyalty tested to the extreme. While this can feel like it’s drawing attention away from Rowan and Citra, it contributes to the worldbuilding. And while Scythe had a phenomenal dystopian feeling, there were many questions left unanswered that are picked up in these chapters and monologues.

Now Anastasia and her current mentor, Scythe Curie, have been targeted by a mysterious attacker who seems intent on ending them both permanently, while Rowan grapples with the consequences of his actions as Scythe Lucifer. The Thunderhead muses on the Separation of Scythe and State, lamenting its decision to refrain from interfering with the actions taken by members of the Scythedom, finding clever ways to work around the various safeguards that it has installed in society (and maybe finding out more than it was ever meant to know).

All in all, Thunderhead is a powerful followup to Scythe, a worthy companion and, to my simultaneous joy and rage, the second book in a trilogy. Book three is due in 2019, and I can’t wait to see how this all wraps up.

The literary world is rejoicing today at the announcement that Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, will be releasing a sequel this year. The new novel, Go Set a Watchman, was actually the first novel written by Lee, but was not initially published. Her editor advised her against the publication of the book, which focused on To Kill a Mockingbird‘s heroine, Scout Finch, as an adult. Instead, flashback scenes of Scout’s childhood were reworked into the classic novel we know. According to initial press, the sequel will follow a now-grown Scout returning home to visit her father, Atticus. July 14th is the current planned release date for Go Set a Watchman, and frankly, I can’t wait to see it.

I haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird since I was in junior high, in Mrs. Crocker’s English class. It’s been far too long since I watched Gregory Peck star in the film adaptation as Atticus. I need to make another trip to Maycomb, Alabama, because it’s tragically clear that the prejudices Lee wrote about in 1960 are just as present today.

In keeping with some of the themes from last week, I decided to share this with you. This infographic comes from the amazing people over at goodreads. Here’s there “What’s Your Love Story?” flowchart. Find the original here.

Pretty damn thorough...

Pretty damn thorough…

This week’s Trifextra Challenge gave us this photo. We were told to write 33 words inspired by the image. My piece, The Café, can be read below. It’s flash fiction from photography, for those of you who love alliteration as much as I do.

Creative Commons License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Photo by Thomas Leuthard. Found here. http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomasleuthard/5678203035/

“The Café”

Evie could be found at her favorite café table with a stack of books every day at three.

Every day at three, Marcia walked past the café, gazing longingly at the reading girl.

Just thought I’d share this little beauty from Daily Infographic. The original can be found here.

Required reading. It’s a phrase that strikes fear in the hearts of lesser men and women. Despite the delays that my undergraduate career caused for my reading list, I encountered some of my favorite works of literature during those years. I had numerous lists of required material for my classes in college, and I can honestly say that my tastes have changed for the better because of it.

Some of my favorite pieces of required reading from my college courses are listed here.

Beowulf (translated by Seamus Heaney). My medieval literature professor had us read this one. I knew the story prior to taking the course, but I’d never read Heaney’s translation. Heaney maintains the verse form of the original text, but makes the legendary tale accessible to modern readers. Follow the adventures of Beowulf, mighty warrior, as he does battle with monsters and becomes a king. Side note: kennings are awesome.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Bechdel’s art recreates memories of her childhood in the family-run funeral home. Along the way, she reflects on her coming out as a lesbian and explores her recently-deceased father’s reasons for hiding his own homosexuality from his family. This graphic novel and its follow-up, Are You My Mother? are fantastic. Solid writing, honest prose, and intricate drawing make Bechdel’s works must-reads. My many thanks to my American Literature professor for introducing me to her writing.

The Giver by Lois Lowry. This was one I’d read a couple of times since first encountering it in audio book format on a family camping trip as a kid. When I learned that it was on the list for a sociology class I was taking, I wanted to thank the professor for picking something that so beautifully described a small, isolated community. Jonas’ selection as his village’s new Receiver of Memory is the first step in his realization that life in his home is not as ideal as he believes.

That’s it for now, folks, but I may make another post or two along these lines. Remember, literacy is our friend, even if it’s forced on us.

I recently finished Chuck Wendig’s first novel for young adults, Under the Empyrean Sky. As a fan of Chuck’s blog over at Terrible Minds, I felt I owed it to myself to give one of his full-length books a read, and I’m damn glad that I did.

Under the Empyrean Sky introduces us to our intrepid young hero, Cael McAvoy, captain of a teenage scavenger crew in the Heartland. Cael and his friends sail a land boat across the seemingly endless fields of corn to salvage anything they might be able to sell in their home town of Boxelder, because any extra money they can bring in helps provide for their families.

See, only one thing grows in the Heartland. The Empyrean makes sure of it. Hiram’s Golden Prolific is a modified strain of corn that spreads anywhere it pleases, choking out any other potentially competitive life (and it’s not fond of people walking near it, either). It’s the only seed that the Empyrean distributes to the farmers in the Heartland, and the returns for working for the Empyrean machine are enough to barely survive.

So Cael McAvoy scavenges, but he and his friends are not the only crew at work. The mayor’s son has a crew, number one in salvage recovery in Boxelder, and Boyland Barnes Jr. brings daddy’s money to the fight to ensure that Cael’s crew remains in second place. With tensions running high as the Harvest Home festival approaches, Cael takes his ship out for a prime target, only to be shipwrecked in the corn by Boyland Jr. It’s then that he finds something out in the middle of the field, something no one in the Heartland could have predicted. Vegetables. Fruits. Things that have no right growing in the midst of Hiram’s Golden Prolific. The discovery could make them all rich enough to buy passage to one of the flotillas, massive hovering cities of the Empyrean, where the wealthy live in splendor floating over the Heartland like Cael’s boat over the corn. Or it could get them and everyone they’ve ever loved killed.

Wendig packs one hell of a punch into the pages of this book. Deep characters and rich world building blend seamlessly with gritty violence and some of the most honest dialogue to hit the pages of a young adult novel. While some things might come across as a bit heavy-handed (like Empyrean agent Simone Agrasanto‘s name), most of the novel is quick and sharp, like the leaves of the plant that lends its name to Wendig’s self-dubbed “cornpunk” genre. Under the Empyrean Sky weaves teenage love, sex, violence, and intrigue into a wild land boat ride that will leave you counting the days until the release of volume two.

I woke up at five AM on Tuesday. This is something I would not normally do, as many of you know. As a general rule, the only time I see five AM is when I have stayed up all night. This was a happy exception, however. You see, Tuesday was Book Day.

Way back when I worked for Borders, I learned that new releases came out on Tuesdays. For whatever reason, your favorite author’s new book, that awesome band’s new CD, and that DVD you’ve been waiting for since you saw the film on opening night at the theatre all come out on Tuesdays. I would show up to my Tuesday morning shift to help with the unboxing and shelving of all of the latest titles that people had been asking for the for month prior. Despite the early hour, it was one of my most enjoyable shifts at that job. There was something wonderful about opening a box full of new books, knowing that in a few hours they would be in the hands of elated readers. Ever since then, there’s been a bit of a thrill surrounding Tuesdays for me, even though I’m not as connected to the retail world as I once was. Like I said, this was a special occasion. This Tuesday was the street date for Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. 

I’m not entirely certain about how I first encountered Neil’s writing for the first time. At some point within the last seven years, though, I was introduced to the Sandman comics. I devoured them. Neil’s scripts and the absolutely gorgeous artwork drew me in, and within a month I’d read the entirety of his Sandman run. I wanted more, and I found it. Works like Coraline, American Gods, The Graveyard Book, and Neverwhere would be completed in days, if not hours after I started reading them. I told all of my friends that they needed to read his work. Any of it. All of it. To this day, I have not been disappointed by Neil Gaiman’s writing, whether it comes in graphic novels, children’s books, brilliant pieces of literature, or Doctor Who episodes. 

All of which brings me back to why I was awake at five AM on Tuesday. New Book Tuesday. The Ocean at the End of the Lane. There are lots of bookstores in Colorado Springs, but I didn’t want to buy my copy here in town, even though under any other circumstances I will shop locally first. I decided almost two months ago that I was going to be driving to Denver on June 18th so that I could buy a copy of Neil’s latest book from the Tattered Cover. This is because his upcoming book signing is going to be held at the Tattered Cover’s LoDo location, and purchase of the book from any one of their locations included a numbered ticket for the autograph line on the 25th. I’m number 53. I’d say that certainly merits being awake at five on my day off. There’s nothing quite like meeting other people who are willing to get up at a ridiculous hour in order to wait in line for a book. Many thanks to V for going on an adventure with me.