2015 Rewind and 2016 Goals

I would love to start this post by saying I read over 40 books in 2015, but that isn’t going to happen. Initially, I was a bit disappointed that I only managed to read 13 books this year (including graphic novels), but I’m not counting it as a loss. This year, my work life got pretty busy, which is great, but it also meant I put a lot of my passion projects on the back burner.

Of everything I read this year, a few titles really stood out for me. Here are my top three and why I loved them:

Twisted Dark Vol. 1-4 (5) by Neil Gibson

These graphic novels were amazing and jarring in ways few books are these days. What a testament to the genre and what it can accomplish. My review for Volume 5 will be out soon on Word of the Nerd.

The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling #1) by Ericka Johansen

While this book isn’t without it’s flaws, The Queen of the Tearling demanded my attention. I felt like I could not accomplish anything else unit I finished the book. It’s whimsical, dark, full of fantasy and is a great introduction to the genre. Amanda Hocking fans would love this book. I’m pumped to read book 2 (and 3!).

Fortune 69 by David Heath

Ever since I discovered transgressive fiction in college, I’ve been hooked on it. While I do love Chuck Palahniuk and other popular transgressive authors, I thrive on finding the lesser known transgressive works and seeing how they shine. Fortune 69 provides everything I want in a transgressive fiction novel — gritty and uncomfortable characters and scenarios with just enough realism to make everything seem realistic. Heath pulls you in from page one and when you’re done, it’s like getting off a roller coaster, you’re still able to feel the experience long after it’s ended. While my faith in reading never truly wavered, this book got me out of an awful reading funk.

While I didn’t finish as many books this year as I would have liked to, I learned an important lesson: it’s okay to be choosy about what I read. Life isn’t going to slow down, and I’m not going to stop reading books, so I need to be willing to say no to a book sometimes when I am just not feeling it. I often feel like I have to finish a book if I start it or have invested a lot of time into it, but these days, if something isn’t holding my attention, I’ll put it down for a while (or forever).

2016 Goals

Looking ahead, I’m really excited for 2016. I am hoping to at least double what I read in 2015, but I also want to play around with having strict months with set TBR piles and others where I play a little bookshelf roulette. A friend turned me onto this 12 book challenge from Modern Mrs. Darcy that I defiantly want to incorporate into my reading goals for the new year (plus, what could be a cuter book blog title than Modern Mrs. Darcy?).

In addition to reading more books and expanding what I read, I also really need to work on chopping down my kindle TBR pile. I’ve had a kindle since 2009 and have acquired countless books thanks to sales, freebies and those late night “must buy now” impulses, and I’m ready to start reading them. There’s a healthy mix of YA, Horror/Suspense, Literary Fiction and SciFi in my Kindle library, so things should stay interesting. I also NEED to catch up on the Lunar Chronicles. I have all the currently released books, and want to catch up before Stars Above comes out in early February.

I’d love to hear about how your reading challenge went this year. Did you reach your goal? Quit? Something in the middle? What was your favorite (and least favorite) book you read this year? Tell me all the things!

 

Why Everyone Deserves to Be a Nerd

Everyone should be a nerd in their own right. Not to fit in with the latest trend or to please someone else, but to allow them the pure bliss that comes with immersing yourself in something you truly love. While nerd culture continues to expand and flood the mainstream market through films, television shows, video games, and all other aspects of the entertainment world, at times I worry that people are missing the point of what these experiences have to offer. If you’re only seeing Batman through a corporate money making lens or you only enjoy a video game for it’s graphics and popularity, you’re only exposing yourself to the tip of the iceberg. I’ve noticed that people (myself included) get stuck in this limbo land of really enjoying something and wanting to delve more into the topic, but feeling that they can’t because of what others will think about them as a result. While it’s natural to be concerned with how we are perceived by others, we’re so sensitive to how we are perceived by the outside world that we restrict ourselves in how enthusiastic we can be about our interests.

It frustrates me endlessly to see people tiptoeing around their potential passions to avoid criticism.

If someone is not willing to proclaim being a complete nerd, they’ve got to be careful that they’re not too invested in any storyline, film, video game, TCG or any other aspect of entertainment that might be deemed “too nerdy” and thus make them some sort of outcast. This is where nerds just don’t care, we take pride in the things we enjoy and we aren’t afraid to say it. Perhaps, this unwavering commitment to ourselves is why we’re so often labeled as antisocial, awkward or ___________. As John Green said in a Vlogbrothers video from 2009:

“Nerds like us are able to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff.”

John goes on to explain that unlike non-nerds who all too often have to temper their excitement or risk being questioned for how passionate they are about any given interest, nerds celebrate their interests with deep, unyielding excitement. This is something everyone should be able to do without question or fear of judgement. While this level of excitement can also exist in interests that aren’t particularly nerdy, like sports, if an interest doesn’t meet up to society’s preconceived notions of what makes someone attractive/strong/interesting, it’s a mark against you on the social scale which is unfortunate to say the least. Some of the most creative, thoughtful and brilliant people I have ever met are nerds who greet the world with an open mind.

In the past few years, I’ve really worked to distance myself from what everyone expects me to be and just focus on who I am, which happens to be pretty nerdy. While it’s great to shed that bullshit baggage of irrelevant societal norms, it still causes me to consider my actions and interests regularly. Thankfully, my writing and reading habits have always allowed me to stay tapped into the worlds and themes I love. Through this portal of awesomeness that has continued to grow since I was a child, I’ve come to realize how important the realms of fantasy and horror are in making me a more empathetic and compassionate human being (though I’m totally open to adapting the ability to shape-shift, just sayin’).

While there are certainly examples of people who dive a little too deep into nerd culture (or ANY culture) and lose touch with other important parts of the world, those issues are more rooted in the individual and not the culture itself (though some games do lend themselves to unhealthy habits, see Internet Gaming Addiction in the DSM V for more on that topic). I just don’t understand why these extreme experiences are still considered the norm? Nerds come in every shape, size, ethnicity, and socioeconomic class. Everyone deserves to be nerdy about whatever it is they love without fear of judgement.

Are nerds perfect? No. Are nerds better than non-nerds? Nope. But we’re people. We have interests that we are endlessly passionate about because they not only give us a break from the ups and downs of the most mundane parts of our lives, but because they help us to realize the collective current that connects all of us. An author can write a story that is both entertaining and significant to readers 100 years later, even if that story exists in a realm that only exists in our minds. If you don’t think that “nerdy things” like Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, comic books, or video games don’t hold any value to the lives of their fans, I challenge you to find the biggest nerd you know and ask them what it is they love about their favorite franchise/nerdy thing. You may just be surprised at what you learn.

For my fellow the nerds out there, do you ever feel like you have to scale down your excitement about something just to avoid criticism from people around you who don’t understand your excitement? Or do you feel that people are more accepting of your interests because you’re so passionate about it?

Image Credit: Yashodhan Talwar on Flickr

Why Fantasy isn’t an Escape, it’s Reality

I am a firm believer that the worlds we explore through the fantasy genre help make us better people in our “real lives”. Contrary to the idea that fantasy only promotes being detached from the real world, my experience has been that fantasy helps me to evolve in all aspects of my life. While I’ve always enjoy the standard fantasy worlds presented in childhood stories, movies, and video games, it wasn’t until I was in the fourth grade that I really fell hard for the fantasy genre. In that school year, I was fortunate enough to have a teacher who read us the entire Chronicles of Narnia series throughout the year. He would do voices and was animated throughout each chapter. Not only did these books cause me to really think about the dilemmas and triumphs of these characters, but it got me excited about how the fantasy genre shifts our way of thinking about the “real” world.

Fantasy allows us to not only see the problems of our world through an alternate lens, it allows us to experience our own problems through a more detached and convenient host. Through seeing these characters struggle and prevail, finally arriving at what Tolkien called the “good catastrophe”, we realize that we too can overcome our own trials.

Whether we feel connected to a character or are utterly repulsed by them, the world of fantasy allows us to walk in the shoes of another person, to see their flaws and take every ounce of their being to heart. While all (good) fiction accomplishes this empathetic world view, it is through fantasy that we are able to truly push beyond the realm of what is comfortable. In the fantasy world, we can experience and imagine circumstances, strengths, and weaknesses that strip away the constant veils we layer ourselves with. When we encounter characters that find a new world or are exposed to powers they didn’t know they possessed, we subconsciously examine ourselves in new ways. We find new ways to see the world and learn that our abilities are often far more diverse than we had perviously imagined.

Fantasy realms allow us to explore the wide spectrum of emotions that we go through in life without restriction. The laws, customs, relationships, and environments are familiar enough to be relatable, yet they are foreign enough that they (gently) force us to view this new realm of existence with the open minded nature of a child. We are eager to be proven wrong when we dislike a character or their actions, we want to see our heroes complete their quest or uncover a mystery so that we too can find new ways to overcome our challenges. These are just a few of the reasons why I am so thankful to the fantasy genre for constantly inspiring me to not only be a more creative and imaginative person, but to be a more empathetic and open minded person as well.

What is your favorite fantasy story? What do you love about the genre? If you’re not a fan, what turns you off from it?

Image Credit: Luis Alejandro Bernal Romero on Flickr

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Book Review – The Orb of Wrath (The Merchant’s Destiny Book 1)

Author: Nic Weissman

Publisher: Self Published

Release Date: June 17th, 2015

Pages: 318

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The Orb of Wrath strives to combine classic fantasy elements with popular storytelling styles and unique fantasy creatures. The story follows Erion, a looter who is masterful at creeping quietly through most any area and also has the foresight to understand when he is in the company of friends or foes. Early on, Erion is contracted to complete work for a somewhat regular customer, a dark elf named Phoroz. As Erion and his assumed brother Mirthir travel, readers are introduced to Samar, an elf who is a skilled archer and as wise as an elf is expected to be. The cleric Ithelas and his father, a knight named Thost are all summed by Phoroz to create a team and retrieve the Orb of Wrath from a distant land.

While Phoroz does not tell the newly formed team what the orb is for or why he wants them to retrieve it, he promises them a handsome monetary reward in addition to whatever rewards they may find in the castle where the orb is hidden. Going into the mission, the group knows they will likely face a powerful Vampire who’s lair houses the orb.

As the team travels together and meets various creatures and obstacles on their way to retrieve the orb, another group of men, Urlabus, Vargarr and Sathudel have their own mission involving the orb. While these men are much more military oriented, it is clear that they too make up a team that is not as familiar with working together as a team and must rely on trust to push through to their objective.

While The Orb of Wrath makes good use of standard fantasy elements like orcs, elves, vampires, and other fantastic creatures, the story suffers from some odd phrasing and gramatical errors that can quickly take the story from engaging to distant and confusing. While this story is a great example of constructing a fantasy arc, there are moments where the plot connections are all too obvious. Spell descriptions and some explanations were overly generic or even unnecessary, further breaking the immersive qualities of the story itself.

Where this story shines is in it’s generous character descriptions. While the character development (and overall writing) could be more polished, Weissman takes the time to give readers a fair amount of back story for each of the main five characters in the team. Most of the action heavy scenes are also well paced and balanced in there descriptions. While Weissman introduces some interesting new creatures (like the Tugrins) and clearly has a good understanding of standard fantasy roles, the story is more generic than it is unique. The Orb of Wrath could be a good read for someone who is new to fantasy and therefore may not understand some of the terminology, however the inconsistently in the plot speed and the overuse of excessively descriptive language could be a turn off for those who prefer characters show how something works rather than describe it word for word.

The Orb of Wrath is currently free on Amazon for the Kindle ereader/Kindle app and on Smashwords. You can learn more about Weissman’s work on his website.

Review Note: This review was originally published on Word of the Nerd, republished with permission.

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Review – Joe Golem Occult Detective #1

Writers: Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden

Illustrator: Patric Reynolds

Colors: Dave Stewart

Cover: Dave Palumbo

Letters: Clem Robins

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Release Date: 11/4/15

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Joe Golem Occult Detective #1 opens with an introduction to the drowning city (lower Manhattan) in April 1955. We are introduced to Private Detective Simon Church though his journal writings. Church is plagued by guilt over the death of fellow associates while he remains alive and somewhat healthy. The panoramic and wide views of these early panels is a wise choice, allowing readers to take in the eerie visuals of the city and Church’s office while he describes his concerns. Images of Chuch at his desk while contemplating his actions are eerie, not to mention the large, upright coffin that sits open and occupied behind him. In these early panels, Reynolds makes great use of the page giving just enough detail to portray the dark-lit scenes while maintaing that hazy visual that poorly lit situations require. Stewart’s colors are a beautiful compliment to Reynolds compositions, the wide range of shading in these black and white images make for great shadows while also helping to keep the reflective, past-tense vibe going strong.

When Church realizes things may not be as he suspected, everything shifts into color. While still muted, this shift is quite effective and breaths life into the scenes that you didn’t realize were purposely absent in the previous panels.

Here, Mignola and Golden jumps ahead ten years to 1965 where the Drowning City is in color, but Stewart still makes wise choices for shadows and muted tones (with pops of color here and there). In the city below Church’s office, a young thief Eddie lifts a purse from a woman before jumping off the bridge to his boat of a getaway car that is just passing under the bridge at the perfect time. At times, Robins letters are a bit obtrusive here, but they aren’t too detracting from the imagery. After the young men make away with the purse, the thief Eddie soon finds out how quickly karma can catch up with you when he is suddenly pulled off the boat by what looks to be a swamp-like creature.

The story then cuts to new scene where some flying, deranged looking creature takes a baby from a woman in a rural Slovenia (as noted by translated text). From here things escalate quickly. Towns people are attempting to flee from this creature while other various monster-like beings attack towns people and local priests alike. The violence here is tempered well. Reynolds presents enough impact, gore, and blood to give the impression that these attackers are fierce, but it isn’t so intense that it detracts from the details of the people’s faces or scenery.

Mr. Church still alive thanks to his various methods of maintaining his life. His companion Joe is sent to investigate the disappearance of three young children in town. Joe goes to investigate at the Hudson Home for Children and meets the attractive Lori Noonan who introduces Joe to the boys who were with Eddie when he went missing. The issue concludes with Joe taking the boys out to retrace their steps where Eddie went missing, only to make himself look like a rookie at keeping others safe. While the cliffhanger ending is a bit predictable, the consistent tone throughout the story, strange paranormal activity and beautifully muted tones make up for the slightly stalled plot.

While Dark Horse notes on their website that this series is a tie in to the  graphic novel Joe Golem and the Drowning City, it works well as a stand alone. Crime and horror fans alike can appreciate the nods to classic crime novels and television with an intriguing yet unforgettable streak of horror based creates abound. While the story seems to end somewhat predictably, Joe Golem Occult Detective #1 is a promising first issue.

Book Review — The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling #1)

The Queen of the Tearling

Author: Erika Johansen

Published: July 2014

Length: 448 pages

Publisher: Harper Collins

Rating:

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I first mentioned my excitement at finding The Queen of the Tearling in this post. I have been on a big fantasy kick lately and was excited by the premise of this book despite my recent desire to distance myself from Young Adult a bit.

The first novel in a new YA fantasy series, The Queen of the Tearling follows 19 year old Kelsea, a girl who is heir a throne she’s only known through her studies. For her protection, Kelsea has been raised by foster parents since she was a baby and has never had any interaction with other people. When her 19th birthday comes, her time in hiding is at an end and Kelsea must travel back to her rightful kingdom (Tear) with a Queens Guard she’s never met. Along the way, Kelsea finds herself in plenty of trouble and learns that her problems are much greater than just regaining the throne from her greedy and misguided uncle of a reagent. Along her journey, Kelsea meets Mace, a formidable warrior and devoted member of the Queen’s Guard. Mace is helpful yet guarded. Kelsea isn’t sure what to make of Mace, but she knows he is irreplaceable. The Fetch is a mysterious man who has a legendary reputation but who’s identity is constantly concealed. Early on in her journey to the kingdom, Kelsea is rescued by the Fetch and finds herself instantly intrigued by his mysterious nature.

One of Kelsea’s greatest challenges is dealing with the Mort Queen—an almost mythical Queen from the neighboring kingdom. The Mort Queen is known for her lack of kindness and stern expectations. Kelsea must carefully negotiate how her kingdom interacts with the Mort Queen in order to ensure the safety of her people. Within her own kingdom, Kelsea learns that she must battle with religious leaders, corrupt members of the upper class and the overwhelming weight of her people who have grown fearful and restless with the current affairs of the reagent.

What sets Kelsea apart and makes her the rightful heir of the kingdom is a unique scar on her arm and two beautiful sapphire jewels. While the jewelry initially appears to be a formality, Kelsea quickly learns that the jewels have a more direct purpose.

This book was pleasantly surprising for me. I hadn’t read any of the reviews prior to reading the book myself, though I instantly saw where people would compare this novel to George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. I enjoyed that the world was a unique blend of medieval style living with a post apocalyptic sort of world. All we know is that the world Kelsea lives in is that her world was shaped by a revolutionary named William Tearling who abandoned what we would consider modern day America/European society for a utopian setting. For a Young Adult title, this book had a fair amount of violence, sex and crude characters. While this strays a bit from the norm, it was refreshing to read a YA title that pushed the boundaries of the genre. While the writing style and plot are quite different from Martin’s GoT, I can see where this could be marketed to readers who are curious about GoT but don’t want as violent or massive of a read. Johansen writing skill is not as masterful as Martin’s (few writers are), but the story moves along quite well.

My one major criticism of the story is that Kelsea seems to adapt to being around other people rather quickly for someone who has grown up in seclusion. She does struggle to make decisions, but it seems unlikely that someone would take on such a huge responsibility as regaining a throne without some sense of anxiety or fear. Still, I appreciated that Kelsea has a take charge attitude and that she isn’t afraid to take on responsibilities.

The next installment in the Queen of the Tearling series continues with The Invasion of the Tearling due out in July 2015.

Seven Last Minute Finds of 2014

Like me, I’m sure you’ve seen all the top lists of 2014 floating around the inter webs in celebration of the last week of 2014. I’m a big fan of lists, so I thought it would be fun to make a list of the top seven last minute book finds I’ve added to my TBR list thanks to these end of the year lists (and other book recommendations I haven’t mentioned yet this year). I know fourteen books would be a more fitting number of books to list, but we don’t have time for that. Much of the inspiration for this list are thanks to these Top Lists from Buzzfeed: The 22 Most Exciting Literary Debuts of 2014, and 24 Best Fiction Books of 2014, so thanks for filling my list-loving needs, Buzzfeed! More information on each book can be found by clicking the novel’s title.

7. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing Cover

Via Goodreads

Brutal honesty, existentialism and a story of triumph over one’s own demons? This one instantly reminded me of my college philosophy buff years, so I had to put it on the list.

6. All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

All My Puny Sorrows Cover

via Goodreads

Sisters. Depression. Despration and hope are what tie sisters Elf and Yoli together in this novel. Thoughtful, well plotted stories examining mental illness are always intriguing to me, as there are so many misconceptions on the subject. I’m interested to see how this novel pulls off the issue of (hopefully) trumping over mental illness without being cheesy.

5. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell 

Bone Clocks Cover

via Goodreads

I found out about this one from Book Riot and the plot instantly intrigued me. A girl with a blossoming psychic ability, who hears what she calls “the radio people”, and a boy who has a prestigious education and reports on the war of the Middle East come together in this highly acclaimed story.

4. I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

via Goodreads

via Goodreads

This title I found through Booktube hype. While I tend to be wary of books that have a lot of hype, this emotionally charged book seems worth the read. The story discusses the lives of twin siblings Noah and Jude. Life pulls them in unexpected directions, where the truth can only be seen when they can see the other sibling’s side of the story.

3. The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Magician's Cover

via Goodreads

I discovered this trilogy through Booktube and Goodreads earlier this year. A fantasy trilogy about an epic journey that coasts along with the help of magic, this book is high on my to-read list. The third and final installment to the trilogy, titled The Magician’s Land was released late this year and has promising reviews thus far.

2. The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling Cover

via Goodreads

I’ll admit that as much as I love a good YA read, I’ve been shying away from the genre a bit. That being said, this book easily made my To-read list because really, who can resist a kick-ass princess who’s willing to take charge of her life? I won’t lie, the promise of a film adaptation with a lead role filled by Emma Watson sold me on this one.

1. Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter

Ugly Girls Cover

via Goodreads

A debut novel about friendship between young women dealing with the perils of living a less than luxurious suburban life with alcoholic parents and internet troubles, this book’s synopsis brought to mind an updated version of The Virgin Suicides. A brooding, dark and honest novel is always up my alley.

That’s it for my Top 6 TBR finds in late 2014. Have you read any of these books? If so, tell me what you thought of it in the comments. What books have you recently discovered that you want to read in 2015? I wish you all a very happy (and safe) New Years Eve!