May Rewind (Yes, I’m Still Here)

While I didn’t fall off the face of the earth (exactly), I have been pretty noticeably absent from the internet. Not on purpose. I just had such a busy month that it made April (see Aprilpocalypse) look, bland.

An accurate representation of me and May

Not only was I traveling up and down the country in the first week, I have a lot going on. And no internet at home (I’ve mentioned this), which makes blogging tricky if you also have extremely limited spare time. For the record, I had all kinds of ideas for posts – which I didn’t write – and planned to do some tags – which I didn’t finish (does starting count?) – and you’re getting the picture.

So while I wasn’t online, I actually have a lot of things to recap in the Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up, hosted and originated by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction. Click through to check out her lovely book blog and join the link-up/read some more monthly wrap-ups.

May started off with a bang – as I had to go on TV. I’m not a TV person. But hey, what can you do *shrugs*. But here it is, if you’re interested 😛

The books I picked/discussed were Jakob’s Colors, The Residence, Thorn, Haymaker, and Finding Winnie. I thought it was a nice, diverse little group – and I didn’t forget what any of them were about!! (I was seriously worried about this – it’s a bookseller’s nightmare)

After I survived the TV – I immediately flew down to Pensacola, FL. Enroute (okay, at O’Hare Airport), my phone crashed and died and was no more (no idea why). So I had no way to contact my family, who had planned on picking me up later in Pensacola, to then drive us to Gulf Shores, Alabama, to meet up with the rest of my mom’s family. This was annoying, but providentially, my sister was just pulling a loop around the Pensacola airport (in my parent’s 15 passenger van, which is unmistakable due to the Oatmeal Savage bumper sticker – see below).

Before we made the 45 min drive to Gulf Shores, we stopped at a magical place – Joe Patti’s World Famous Seafood Market (I’d never heard of it . . .).

Not that kind of magical place!

It’s full of fresh fish, but you can hardly even smell them, which means it’s incredibly clean. Fyi, if I lived within an hour or two of this place, I would shop there at least twice a week. The fish was gorgeous, fresh, and profuse. They also have a sushi bar and a bunch of cool and/or local ingredients. My sister and I purchased everything we needed for sushi (including a beautiful pound of tuna). We packed it on ice, and headed to the gulf.

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I don’t know about you, but the sight/smell of the ocean immediately relaxes me. It’s the real vacation part (Having a dead phone and being <1,000 mi from work/home helps too).

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Of course, there was a “dangerous sea creatures advisory” the whole time I was there (one guy saw a seven-foot shark – thankfully, I just saw a large stingray. Well. Two.) But this didn’t stop me from swimming. Fortunately, I never saw a shark. I’d love to see a shark – as long as I was nowhere near the water. But not in the water with me. No thank you.

At any rate, I ate my fill of fresh fish. And I made sushi! That tuna was so good, guys – velvety smooth and with the lightest taste and texture you can imagine. And now I’m hungry . . .

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SUSHI

Other than my phone debacle (I wasted a couple of hours trying to fix it), everything was pretty good – until my ENTIRE family got really sick. My grandma and I were the only ones who didn’t get it, even though we were exposed to everyone. Because of the sick people, we were put behind schedule, and I ended up driving most of my family to Tennessee. They were all sickly and weak, but we made it. A good music playlist helped 🙂 (And it was hilarious to hear my littlest sister singing along to Bigbang’s If You – which is almost completely in Korean – and I had no idea she knew the song . . .). But my younger sisters’ favorite non-Disney song to listen to is the catchy, feel-good Just Right by GOT7:

Err, yes . . . anyhow – we survived the trip and made it to Nashville. I got to see my precious niece for a couple of hours (but she was sick too), and my brother and sister-in-law. It was still worth it, though. After this, I had my airport—->BEA 2016/Chicago Adventure, which I actually wrote a post about:

After I got back, it was an immediate plunge back into work – with a few too many 12-15 hr work days (if you combine both job shifts) and far too little sleep.

In the meantime, I cram-read some books – here are a few thoughts on them:

Just My Luck by Cammie McGovern – 4.5 stars (MG fiction)

Synopsis: “Fourth grade is not going at all how Benny Barrows hoped. He hasn’t found a new best friend. He’s still not a great bike rider—even though his brother George, who’s autistic, can do tricks. And worst of all, he worries his dad’s recent accident might be all his fault. Benny tries to take his mom’s advice and focus on helping others, and to take things one step at a time. But when his dad ends up in the hospital again, Benny doesn’t know how he and his family will overcome all the bad luck that life has thrown their way.”

Thoughts: Just My Luck was a sweet, touching, and relatable little novel. The tone and writing were fabulous, and Benny’s voice was pitch-perfect. To be honest, I related more to him than I do to most YA/Adult protagonists! It made me laugh aloud, and I really was rooting for the Barrows family to overcome all their “bad luck.”As a bookseller, this is one of my favorite summer picks for MG readers (and their parents).
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi – 3.75/4 stars

Synopsis: “Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself.”

Thoughts: I loved the setting and the lush descriptions, but I’ve read so many Cupid & Psyche/Hades & Persephone/Bluebeard type novels that I have trouble keeping them straight. I was far more invested in the mythology and world than the story or romance, but that was to be expected. So I’m not sure if it was the book, or just me. Maya was a wonderful, strong heroine though!!
In Defense of the Princess by Jerramy Fine – 4-ish stars (adult nonfiction/memoir/essay)

Synopsis-It’s no secret that most girls, at some point, love all things princess: the poofy dresses, the plastic tiaras, the color pink. Even grown-up women can’t get enough of royal weddings and royal gossip. Yet critics claim the princess dream sets little girls up to be weak and submissive, and allows grown women to indulge in fantasies of rescue rather than hard work and self-reliance.
Enter Jerramy Fine – an unabashed feminist who is proud of her life-long princess obsession and more than happy to defend it. Through her amusing life story and in-depth research, Fine makes it clear that feminine doesn’t mean weak, pink doesn’t mean inferior, and girliness is not incompatible with ambition. From 9th century Cinderella to modern-day Frozen, from Princess Diana to Kate Middleton, from Wonder Woman to Princess Leia, Fine valiantly assures us that princesses have always been about power, not passivity. And those who love them can still be confident, intelligent women.

Thoughts: While I never really disagreed with Fine in the essentials, I thought her take on things would be interesting. Regardless, this was a really fun read, and it was so hilarious that I kept stopping to read lines to my sister. I had definite ambitions to be a princess (specifically Princess Jasmine) when I was little too, and I completely understand the “longing to find the place where you belong, or your ‘people,’ so to speak” that Fine describes so authentically. The most interesting part was her bio list (at the end) of real world princesses. These women don’t sit around on their hands and look pretty!! In other words, this is my pick for a beach read 😛
A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavalaero – 2.75/3 stars (YA Contemporary/Mystery)

Synopsis: The last thing Jamie Watson wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. From everything Jamie has heard about Charlotte, it seems safer to admire her from afar.

From the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else. But when a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Jamie and Charlotte are being framed for murder, and only Charlotte can clear their names. But danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.

Thoughts: I really wanted to like this book. And to be honest, the mystery and setting were kind of interesting, so I finished it. But it didn’t work for me on any other level. Jamie was ok, but I found his admiration of Charlotte to be a bit more slavish than sympathetic . . . Granted, I love the original stories (and the show Sherlock), so I’m a tough customer. To be honest, just read Cait @ Paper Fury‘s review here. She’s 100% right about this book.
Memories of Ash (Sunbolt #2) by Intisar Khanani – 5 stars (YA Fantasy)

Synopsis: In the year since she cast her sunbolt, Hitomi has recovered only a handful of memories. But the truths of the past have a tendency to come calling, and an isolated mountain fastness can offer only so much shelter. When the High Council of Mages summons Brigit Stormwind to stand trial for treason, Hitomi knows her mentor won’t return—not with Arch Mage Blackflame behind the charges.

Armed only with her magic and her wits, Hitomi vows to free her mentor from unjust imprisonment. She must traverse spell-cursed lands and barren deserts, facing powerful ancient enchantments and navigating bitter enmities, as she races to reach the High Council. There, she reunites with old friends, planning a rescue equal parts magic and trickery.

If she succeeds, Hitomi will be hunted the rest of her life. If she fails, she’ll face the ultimate punishment: enslavement to the High Council, her magic slowly drained until she dies.

Thoughts: You can read my full review here – but I loved it! If you haven’t read these books, you need to. Memories of Ash was basically everything I was wanting (only it wasn’t about 600 pages longer). And I’m not complaining about length here, because it was already novel sized, which fulfilled my wish from Sunbolt.
Noragami, Stray God Volume #1 – Manga – 3-ish stars

Synopsis: Yato is a stray god. He doesn’t even have a shrine, not to mention worshipers! Hoping he’ll eventually raise enough money to build himself the lavish temple of his dreams, Yato accepts all kinds of jobs. Of course, he can’t afford to be picky; from finding lost kittens to helping a student overcome bullies, no job is too small for Yato, the god-for-hire! An eccentric story with a charming cast of characters!

Thoughts: Meh. It was funny and the art was good, but I just didn’t care. But that seems to be the case with a lot of first volumes in manga. I might read the second one, but I won’t go out of my way to try . . .

The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan – DNF

Urgh. Cutesy, kitschy, trite, twee, tepid – I could go on with the adjectives, but there’s a reason I didn’t finish this one. Adult Contemporary is the new YA – unrelatable characters, randomness, and everyone is stupidly attractive. And we’re supposed to swallow all of this with heaping tables of sugar. No. Thank. You.

Currently Reading:

The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye – I’m finally getting into it after several misfires. Once I got over the angsting and being-beautifulness of the first few chapters (and the magical duels started), the story really took off.

Your Lie in April, Volume #1 by Naoshi Arakawa – I got this for free, so I’m reading it. I don’t know how I feel about it yet. The art is cute though. And I’m extremely confused by the title.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – I just started this, so I don’t have any opinions. The first chapter is good! Regardless, I’m extremely excited about this one.

My novels:

I’ve been tapping away (a bit) at Red as Blood, and I featured secondary protagonist Mollie in May’s Beautiful People. I plan on using another one of the Seven Sisters for June’s BP, so I’m looking forward to that.

I’ve been reading through The Last Coffee Shop, and been pleasantly surprised – for a NaNoWriMo project, it isn’t nearly as terrible as I thought it would be!! That’s always awesome. At any rate, if I can get my act together, I might be ready for a few betas sooner than I thought – maybe this fall :0 I still love the world, story, and characters, and I want other people to make me more rational about it . . .

Other than that, I haven’t had much time to write (as my lack of blog posts will attest to).

Movies, Music, and More:

I saw Captain America: Civil War twice, and loved it both times. I think it did a great job of incorporating all the characters, the previous movies, and paying tribute to the comics. The acting was spot-on, Black Panther was epic, Bucky and Falcon as rivals/friends/enemies, and I love how the Russos write Black Widow. Now if we could just get that Black Widow movie . . .

I also saw X-Men: Apocalypse, which was a lot better than I was expecting. It wasn’t as good as the animated comic arc from the 90’s, but it was entertaining. And I loved Storm. Professor X and Magneto’s bromance was good as usual, and Cyclops was probably the least annoying he’s ever been, and Quicksilver was the best part of the movie. Period.

At the end of May, my sister and I went to see the touring production of The Phantom of the Opera. I’ve loved the musical since I was little, but I’ve never had the chance to see it live. It was incredible!! The staging and effects, in particular, blew my mind. There wasn’t a weak link in the cast, and everyone did a great job putting their own spin on these familiar songs and characters. FIVE STARS.

As usual, I’ve listened to a bunch of music, and while I didn’t discover much new stuff, I remembered why I loved 90’s Celine Dion so much (on that long car ride). OH, THE DRAMA!

But in all seriousness, her slower songs are so perfectly crafted for her voice. She’s a master of emotion, that is for sure.

I’ve been on the nostalgia train a lot lately, with mid 2000’s pop/rock and a lot of 80’s stuff on my current playlists. Here’s one of my favorite songs as a kid (my dad had a cassette tape with it that I would always request)

It’s still a favorite of mine <3

But because I am a complete and utter goofball, I will leave you with another frequent song on my playlists – Look at me, Gwisun by Daesung (a.k.a D-Lite) from Bigbang. It’s in Japanese, but if you look at a translation, you’ll see that the (hilarious) MV is basically interpreting the lyrics – literally. And be warned, this video is really, really, goofy (don’t blame me if it scars you for life, lol).

This is basically something you watch if you’re having a really bad day. (And what’s with the X-Men suit? Okay, not really X-Men, but that’s what it looks like . . . And GD’s cameo is my favorite thing)

I’ll stop with the videos so you can actually load this post, but there are lots more where those came from. They’re much better than cat videos, trust me.

Looking Ahead:

I’m probably going to be a sporadic poster for the near future. I found out that my sister and I have to move out of our rental by the end of June, and we aren’t sure where we are going. So this has definitely upped my distraction and stress levels. Also, the summer tourist season is upon us at both jobs, so I have no idea how much blogging or blog reading I can do. We’ll have to see.

In the meantime, thanks to everyone who reads these wandering posts and tolerates my erratic attention! I love you guys and hope you are having a wonderful and productive June so far!

<3 R

Book Review – Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl (No spoilers)

Because I have not had time* to do a BEA review post, and now it would be sort of pointless, I’m going to review the first ARC (that I have finished) from my BEA haul:

DRUMROLL PLEASE

Margaret Stohl’s Black Widow: Forever Red 

it’s so (appropriately) mysterious that the Goodreads blurb is only this:

“This novel features all the thrilling adventure readers will expect from the Marvel brand, backed up by the young-adult cred of #1 New York Times bestselling author Margaret Stohl. Uncover a new side of the Marvel Universe, accessible to old fans and new readers alike, as Stohl weaves an unforgettable story through the world of the Black Widow.” 

First: This cover is GORGEOUS. My cover is sort of boring (still cool though), without this fabulous artwork ——->

<——–But more importantly, it’s a signed copy 😉 I can forgive it for lacking the awesome art.

  And yes, this ARC was generously given to me by the lovely people at Disney and Marvel press in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Gifs are from Tumblr.com and belong to respective copyright holders.
When I first heard this was happening, I was so excited. Natasha Romanov a.k.a. Natalia Romanova a.k.a Natasha Romanoff a.k.a you get the picture, is one of my favorite Marvel characters (comics and movies) in both the classic and modern Marvel storylines. Her no-nonsense efficiency, her awesome skills, and her troubled past make for a fabulous character in the right hands.
Which leads in to the next part: I read three chapters of Beautiful Creatures once. Suffice it to say that I am not a fan.
I don’t do sappy, drippy, really drippy witch/teenage-angst novels. Period. So I was all, Marvel, really
But then I met Margaret Stohl at BEA. She was fabulous – humble – and filled with trepidation about the general populace reading her take on Black Widow. That made me feel a little better. And she geeked out with us about how awesome Black Widow is in the comics, and then she signed my book.

And honestly, I shouldn’t have worried so much, because I really liked the book.

So people of the world, here is a brief, spoiler free summary of Black Widow: Forever Red

Forever Red starts in Ukraine, 8 years in the past (you can actually read the beginning online). The Black Widow is hunting down her old mentor/trainer, Ivan Somodorov. The mission goes south, but not before Natasha rescues the girl that Ivan was experimenting on, turns the girl over to S.H.I.E.L.D., promises she’ll come if the girl needs her, and leaves.
8 years later, we are introduced to the primary characters (other than Natasha): teenagers Alex Manor and Ava Orlova. Ava is, of course, the little girl that Natasha rescued eight years earlier. Ava had been living in a (dreadful sounding) secure S.H.I.E.L.D. facility before she escaped, and she currently lives in the bottom of a Brooklyn YWCA. Both of them have strange dreams, but Ava’s are about Alex (she’s never met him). Ava has also nurtured hatred against the woman who saved her life, and then left her to fend for herself in a strange world.
But children are disappearing again, and the Black Widow suspects that Ivan survived their confrontation. That means he is after her, and after Ava, so Natasha heads back into the field, and back into Ava’s life. However, things are far more tangled than Natasha realized: her memories are leaking into Ava’s head, thanks to Ivan’s experiments in “quantum entanglement.” Ava absorbs Natasha’s skills, and the Black Widow can’t feel it. As frustrating as this is, it’s also incredibly dangerous. They aren’t the only Entangled pair that Ivan left behind.
To disentangle themselves, Ava and Natasha must find Ivan, face their childhoods, and go back to where it all began. And what does Alex Manor have to do with everything?

My thoughts – without spoilers

5 things that worked:

1. I loved the book’s format. Each present-day chapter is followed by a S.H.I.E.L.D. Line-Of-Duty Death (L.O.D.D.) case document. They are interviews (often with Natasha) and other files that tie into several plot threads. I love how these were worked in to the story
2. Margaret Stohl does a great job with Natasha’s character. She’s the hard edged, sensible, and capable assassin/spy we all love, but she’s also human (but with a very messed up past).
3. Ava and Alex were both likable (surprisingly so), and I was interested in their character arcs. Ava as Natasha’s “mini-me” provided some humor and insight into the Black Widow.
4. The plot. It was old-school spy stuff with gadgets, disguises, mad scientists, and chase scenes, but with an awesome heroine instead of a suave, suit wearing James Bond type.
5. The covert peeks into Natasha’s classified past. Black Widow is mysterious, and that’s one of the things I always liked. I was worried that a novelization would take away too much of that mystery, but it didn’t. Natasha is given just enough history, just enough name-dropping (I didn’t grin stupidly at everyone in the airport when I read a certain case note**), to both reconcile her comic/cinematic character, and leave a lot of interesting openings. Oh, and Coulson is in there a bit 🙂
BONUS: The Russian. I never forgot that I was reading about Russian characters, and it gave both realism and grounding to a book with a crazy mind-meld plot.

5 things that didn’t work as well:

Image Credit

1. While I liked Ava and Alex, and was rooting for them, but they weren’t why I was reading the book. I just didn’t care as much, and I was far more engaged when Natasha was on the scene.

2. This was a minor part of the book, but the predictable Alex/Ava romance (while believable) didn’t do anything for me. Sure, they were cute and not annoying, but (see above), I didn’t really care. But hey, they’re kids.

3. I felt like it occasionally suffered from trying to be too cryptic and mysterious. There were a few details that needed further explanation/examination for the plot’s sake. The only major example of this was all the disappearing children.***

4. Ivan. He had a bit of Marvel Movie Villain Syndrome: Ivan was evil, sadistic, and had quite the past, and yet he felt a little flat. But again, only Loki and Wilson Fisk (Daredevil) have truly escaped this.****

5. This one is 50/50 for me (because sometimes it worked better than others): the constant reminders that we are in a very normal, modern, but alternate Earth where superheroes are an acknowledged thing and Avengers destroyed/saved New York once.

Overall:

4 out of 5 Spiders. 

I’m just one of those annoying people who wanted more Black Widow. Maybe a novel that takes place in the past now? With Winter Soldier or Daredevil cameos?<—YES

Footnotes:
*I know that having time and making time are directly related.
**(not really a spoiler but just to be safe) Black Widow’s file has her age redacted. And there is a footnote that says to reference the files of Rogers, Steve and Barnes, James. Which means that they haven’t thrown out her backstory from the comics. There is still a chance that Natasha will be more like her real age (just rewritten every time) and has trained under the Winter Soldier. So I grinned at strangers ( I was reading in a busy airport, people).
***Seriously, where did all those kids go? If this was really addressed in the book, I must have missed it. I think it was just mentioned in passing toward the end.
****If you count the Winter Soldier as a villain [which in CA:TWS he technically is), then that makes three.

So, have you read this? Will my review be whisked away into secret S.H.I.E.L.D. files even though I avoided spoilers? 

Do you love Black Widow, or think she was less deserving of a novel than other Marvel ladies? 

How do you feel about her treatment in the movies? Would you like to see a Black Widow and Daredevil or Winter Soldier team up in the cinematic/novel/TV universe?