Review: THROUGH A VALLEY OF WHITE MIST By Anela Deen

Disclaimer: I was given Through a Valley of White Mist for free through the author, Anela Deen, in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. Through a Valley of White Mist is one of many stories in Forgotten Magic (Magic Underground Anthologies, #3).


Cover of FORGOTTEN MAGIC, the final book of the Magic Underground Anthologies.

Title: Through a Valley of White Mist
Author: Anela Deen
Genre: Fantasy, Anthology
Publication date: May 2020
Average rating: 4.67/5 stars
My rating: 4.5/5 stars
Read my review of part 2 here.

My Thoughts:
The final installment of a story is always bittersweet. I tend to read these slower, wanting to stay in the world with the characters I’ve grown to love for as long as I can. I’m curious, how do you read finales?

Through a Valley of White Mist picks up where the sequel left off. Simith has to face his family, his demons, and his feelings for a certain Pooka… Whereas Jessa struggles with her past, finding closure from the deaths of her loved ones, and her purpose in life if she can no longer be a poet.

Jessa and Simith are also still dealing with the side effects of their magical bond: sharing memories in their sleep. They use what they learn from those memories to heal and guide each other throughout their adventures and it is the most heartwarming thing to read!

Coming out of one of Anela Deen’s stories is always a jarring experience because her worlds are so immersive that “real life” and any concept of time passing kind of slip away. Suddenly it’s 2 A.M., my eyes are all misty, and I have to figure out how to say goodbye to fictional characters.

And I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

Do I recommend this book? Yes.

Review: TO THE BOYS WHO WEAR PINK by Revan Badingham III

Disclaimer: I was given an ARC of To the Boys Who Wear Pink for free through the author in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

Book CWs: drug abuse, alcohol abuse, child abuse, sexual assault, transphobia, homophobia, incest, domestic violence, weight talk, intrusive thoughts, self harm


Cover of TO THE BOYS WHO WEAR PINK by Revan Badingham III.

Title: To the Boys Who Wear Pink
Author: Revan Badingham III
Genre: New Adult, LGBTQ+
Publication date: April 17, 2020
Average rating: 4.08/5 stars
My rating: 3.6/5 stars

Goodreads Description:
“‘We are the boys who wear pink. We eat trauma for breakfast, we puke it out to fit into our skinny jeans and leather jackets.’

High school reunions were always a bitch. Especially if you’re one of the boys invited to Ryan’s party. Do you live it up with King and the Trouble Twins? Are you still cool enough to chug beer with basketball jocks Si and Badger? Or do you cower in the corner with mild-mannered Reyes and Angelo, the social outcast?

Also, who hired the stripper?

The night is endless. Watch twenty-four stories tangle as the boys reconnect, fight, reminisce, fall in love, fall out of love, get drunk, get high, get laid, and deal with a shared tragedy in their past.”

My Thoughts:
This book and I went on a journey. I loved it, I hated it, I loved it some more… I suppose it wasn’t the book itself I was ever put off by, but the POV of certain characters. Timmy is the first to come to mind, in that regard. Ugh, the Trouble Twins! They certainly live up to their nickname.

As you can tell from the trigger warnings above, To the Boys Who Wear Pink deals with some truly heavy stuff. Every character has a unique backstory and each one is more heartbreaking than the last. It got pretty dark, which I was not mentally prepared for. There were times where I had to set down my screen and simply…sit with my feelings.

Sugar was by far my favourite, but it’s impossible to dislike Sugar. Ryan, Drew, Long, and Vyn are up there, too! With such a big cast and a wide range of personalities, there are going to be some you love and some you can’t stand. Yet they all attended the party, regardless of their personal reasons, and came together in the end.

Without spoiling it, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the ending. However, when I compare it with the rest of the book, I can’t think of any reasons why it shouldn’t have ended the way it did. The entire book made me uncomfortable, but maybe that was the point. The characters were unapologetically themselves, even those who didn’t like who they saw in the mirror. So I think I was supposed to be uncomfortable. I was supposed to take a step back and examine my own reflection. When a story does that, when a story shakes you to your core, it’s powerful and raw and beautiful and messy. Which is exactly how I’d describe To the Boys Who Wear Pink.

Do I recommend this book? Yes, but read the content warnings above.

Holding on and Letting Go

Growing up, I spent a lot of time in casts, especially after the crush injury. So I’ve accumulated a lot of crutches — those metal ones the ER gives you, with the painful rubber grips. We got rid of most of them a long time ago, but there’s one pair left, and it’s been gathering dust in my bedroom for years. Though I have an unobstructed view of them from my bed, I forgot they were there.

It’s funny, because my dad used to tell me it was bad luck to keep a pair of crutches in my room when I didn’t need them. But I was in one cast or another for so many years that, by the time I stowed them in the garage, I’d injure myself and need them again. It made the most sense to keep them close.

I can’t remember the day I set them down for the last time. It wasn’t after an injury; possibly chronic pain?

My dad used to say it’s bad luck, but I’ve come to think of this particular pair of crutches as good luck. I’ve had injuries since, don’t get me wrong. Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, remember? However, I haven’t needed the crutches.

I’ve thought about getting rid of them. Especially now, in the process of decluttering the room in which I spend all of my time. But how do you let go of your good luck charm? I imagine it like a sports enthusiast’s lucky jersey. Do I really want to risk breaking this winning streak?

More than that, I’d be saying goodbye to another piece of my childhood. Which seems silly, now that I’ve typed it out, but true nonetheless. I have fond memories of swinging my body down sidewalks, conquering stairs, and racing my brother. And I know I don’t need a physical reminder. I know I could simply take a picture of them and look at said picture when I’m feeling nostalgic. The fact still remains: letting go is hard.

Of course, now I have an image of me, fifty years from now, with the same pair of crutches staring me in the face. I can only hope I’m not still living in my childhood bedroom… Yikes, maybe I should get rid of these things!


toa-heftiba-274947

via Unsplash. [Image Description: A flatlay in what I presume is a cafe. Two bright yellow mugs of coffee sit on matching yellow plates. A pair of sunglasses sits, folded up, to their left. A small, white picture frame with a quote inside sits below. The quote reads, “Inhale the future, exhale the past,” in all caps.]

Review: WHEN DAY FADES INTO NIGHT by Anela Deen

Disclaimer: I was given an ARC of When Day Fades into Night through the author, Anela Deen, in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. When Day Fades into Night is one of many stories in Wayward Magic (Magic Underground Anthologies, #2).


Cover of WAYWARD MAGIC.

Title: When Day Fades into Night
Author: Anela Deen
Genre: Fantasy, Anthology
Release date: April 14, 2020
My rating: 5/5 stars
Read my review of part 1 here.

My Thoughts:
In When Day Fades into Night, Jessa and Simith are tethered by a unique sort of magic that, among other things, allows them to glimpse each other’s memories in their sleep. Yes, it is exactly as cool as it sounds!

I can’t get enough of these two. And this underground world?? chef’s kiss Amazing. I finished When Day Fades into Night in less than three days and eagerly await part three!

Do I recommend this novella? Yes.
Will I be reading part 3? Yes.

Review: A VEIL IS PARTED by Anela Deen

Disclaimer: I was given an ARC of A Veil is Parted through the author, Anela Deen, in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. A Veil is Parted is one of many stories in Hidden Magic (Magic Underground Anthologies, #1).


Cover of HIDDEN MAGIC.

Title: A Veil is Parted
Author: Anela Deen
Genre: Fantasy, Anthology
Publication date: March 10, 2020
My rating: 5/5 stars

My Thoughts:
I don’t often read anthologies, I can think of only one other in my library off the top of my head, but Anela Deen’s contribution to Hidden Magic has convinced me to remedy that. Pixies, trolls, and sentient trees, all wrapped up in a portal fantasy? Yes, please!

Jessa is a small-town woman grieving the death of her parents. On the night of her best friend’s costume party, Jessa catches a strange man climbing out of a hole in the earth. An unplanned pregnancy is the least of her worries when Simith, a pixie knight running from trolls, mistakes her for the enemy.

Thrust in the middle of a war between creatures she’d only read about in fairytales, A Veil is Parted is a fast-paced, heart-warming read you don’t want to miss!

Do I recommend this story? Yes.
Will I continue reading the next installment? Yes.

We Can Wait (But We Can Feel, Too)

Sideways photo of budding yellow flowers against a partly cloudy sky.

Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash. [Image Description: Sideways photo of budding yellow flowers against a partly cloudy, blue sky.]

I have a lot of feelings.

My family’s busy prepping the house to ride out this pandemic. Stocking the kitchen. Disinfecting handles, knobs, and switches. Refilling gas containers. Refilling meds early, where possible. So we’ve been busy, and I have a lot of feelings, but I haven’t slowed down enough to feel them.

Until now.

We’ve been prepping our house, but also our lives. Cancelling plans. Deciding which doctor appointments can be pushed. Making the choice to press pause on my IV saline appointments. Pushing off an important consult that—fingers crossed—could get me functioning again. This, combined with enlightening gastro test results, gave me hope.

Before the global pandemic, anyway.

So I’m grieving. Again. For a life just beyond my reach. I’ve been waiting this long, right? A few more months can’t hurt. If it means the safety of millions of people, I can wait. But I can grieve, too.

And so can you.

Review: A CONJURING OF ASSASSINS by Cate Glass

Disclaimer: I was given an ARC of A Conjuring of Assassins for free through NetGalley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.


Cover of A CONJURING OF ASSASSINS by Cate Glass. The back of a man scaling the rooftops of their city, bathed in the orange-yellow light of a sunset. The man is holding a sword in one hand and a dagger in the other, whisps of magic swirling around him.

Title: A Conjuring of Assassins (Chimera, #2)
Author: Cate Glass
Genre: High Fantasy
Release date: Feb. 4, 2020
Average rating: 4.22/5 stars
My rating: 3/5 stars
Read my review of book 1 here.

Goodreads Description:
A Conjuring of Assassins is Cate Class’s second adventure with the Chimera team, a ragtag crew who use their forbidden magic for the good of the kingdom.

Romy and her three partners in crime—a sword master, a silversmith, and her thieving brother—have embraced their roles as the Shadow Lord’s agents, using their forbidden magic to accomplish tasks his other spies cannot.

Now, they’ve been tasked with locating a list of powerful men and women pledged to assassinate the tyrant Protector of Mercediare, Cantagna’s most dangerous enemy. Then, they must destroy the list before it falls into the Protector’s hands, where it could plunge the entire Costa Drago into a rampage of murderous vengeance.

But when Placidio and Romy infiltrate the ambassador’s household by impersonating a cloth merchant and an aspiring diviner, they discover that the ambassador’s oddities and the prisoner’s identity signal dangers far more explosive than exposing the Assassins List.”

My Thoughts:
I’ve been sitting on this review since January. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t know. I would open this draft, stare at it, look back at my notes, stare at the draft some more, and the words never came.

I enjoyed A Conjuring of Assassins, much like I enjoyed its predecessor. In both books, the middles were slow, but every small detail came together in strong, kick-ass, fast-paced endings. Despite my poor excuse for an attention span during the middles of these Chimera books, this ragtag group of strangers-turned-family has wormed its way into my heart.

Besides Romy’s close relationship with her brother, which was the center of much of An Illusion of Thieves, I most admire her relationship with Placidio. There’s a growing bond there, with mutual respect, and I’m interested in finding out where that road leads. We still don’t know much about Placidio’s past, or his connection to the grander plot at play.

As for Romy’s past, we watch her revisit the place that shaped her into the Shadow Lord’s courtesan. Unfortunately, this was one of the scenes that dragged on, causing my mind to wander, and I found myself having to reread a page or two to make up for it. Of course, there was information revealed in this scene that would serve the ending of the story, but my eyes glazed over nonetheless.

Which leads me to believe that this particular series is not for me. I like the characters, their dynamic as a team, and how careful and methodical they are when planning their Chimera missions. So the characters are great, Romy’s a force of nature not to be messed with, and the magic system is intriguing… But I don’t think I’m invested in the overall plot of the series. Political fantasy, I’ve come to learn, is not my favourite subgenre.

Do I recommend this book? Yes.
Will I be reading the next one in the series? TBD.

Living vs. Surviving

A close shot of a brown, wooden bookshelf. An assortment of books fill the shelves There's a pair of folded up reading glasses on the top shelf.

Photo by Mari Potter on Unsplash. [Image Description: A close shot of a brown, wooden bookshelf. An assortment of books fill the shelves There’s a pair of folded up reading glasses on the top shelf.]

I often write about balance. My eternal struggle to find it. Today, for what feels like the first time, I caught a glimpse at what my version of balance looks like.

My day started at a hospital, aggravating my orthostatic intolerance in the name of gastro testing. My mom and I had been staying in a nearby hotel for two nights already, knowing I wouldn’t have been able to travel after fasting (no food, water, or medication). That morning, we decided to check out a day early, missing our dog and the comfort of our own home.

My day started at a hospital, but they only needed me for a ten-minute scan. With so much extra time on our hands, and a fresh dose of Midodrine in my body, my mom and I thought we might do some sightseeing.

Then decided it was too damn cold, so we looked up a used bookstore instead.

This place was like a TARDIS: bigger on the inside. I was surrounded by stacks and stacks of books, covering every inch of wall space, and mazes of tables and carts in each room. My mom and I separated, aiming for different genres.

For that short hour, it was just me and a few other book lovers among thousands of fictional characters. Can you imagine a more perfect afternoon? I can’t. I hadn’t stepped foot in a proper bookstore in…years. I stepped foot in my local library, months ago, just to pick up the library card I’d electronically applied for, but other than that? Nope.

It was wonderful. I felt like a person, not a patient. If you’ve read my blog before, you know these moments don’t come often but I revel in them when they do. There’s rarely a moment in a day that goes by where I’m not managing one illness or another. Whether that means prepping for upcoming doctor appointments, or practicing self care after treatments, or researching the next scary thing my doctors want to try, or keeping up with my psoriasis regimen, or dealing with new symptoms that are always cropping up…

Well, you get it. My point is, for the entire hour in that bookstore, I barely thought about my illnesses. My cane was an extension of my body; a third leg that warranted no special attention. I was simply a twenty-three-year-old woman in a bookstore. And holy hell was it refreshing.

Balance. Two books closer. Will I be bedbound for the next few days because of this adventure? Yes. At least I’ll have books to read.

Review: FINAL GIRLS by Riley Sager

Disclaimer: I was given an ARC of Final Girls through NetGalley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. I didn’t get around to reading the book back in 2017, but I did recently borrow a copy from my local library!

CWs: drug abuse, alcohol abuse, gaslighting, ableist themes


Cover of FINAL GIRLS by Riley Sager. Blood red tones over a faded silhouette of a woman's headshot. All that's visible of this person is their hair.

Title: Final Girls
Author: Riley Sager
Genre: Thriller, Horror, Mystery
Publication date: July 11, 2017
Average rating: 3.82/5 stars
My rating: 3.5/5 stars

Goodreads Description:
“Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout’s knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media’s attempts, they never meet.
 
Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past.
 
That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy’s doorstep. Blowing through Quincy’s life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa’s death come to light, Quincy’s life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam’s truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.”

My Thoughts:
I don’t think there was a single character in Final Girls that I felt inclined to root for. Except Lisa. And the reporter, whose name I think was Jonah? I don’t know, whatever, but there was no character I loathed more than Jeff. The gaslighting, the narcissism, the “you’re not a victim, you’ve moved past it”, like surviving a massacre was supposed to be a blip on Quincy’s radar. I understand why Quincy put up with him for as long as she did, she had deep-rooted issues to tend to, but yikes. I was seriously rooting for the Pine Cottage killer to come back and kill Jeff.

Hating Jeff was fun because a lot of the other characters couldn’t stand him either. Glad we were all on the same page.

Final Girls surprised me. I mean, it was cliché in the ways that slasher films tend to be: psych ward escapees, cabin in the woods, college kids partying, mystery killer(s), sex on an ancient burial ground… The usual problematic storylines. But it still managed to surprise me. It was raw, showing the “after” that nobody really thinks about beyond crime scene tape and paramedics. It wasn’t a happy story about finding inner peace and moving on with all of your faculties in tact, it was about suppressing the horrific memories and dealing with survivor’s guilt and trying to survive the day without beating a random stranger into a coma one sleepless night in Central Park. It’s about finding a way to live, not just survive. It’s about owning your shit, not escaping it with one addiction or another.

What surprised me was Quincy.

I had gone into this book wanting to read a story about a badass young girl trying to live her life the best she can, post-massacre. In a way, that’s exactly what I got. It just took longer for her to get there.

Quincy wasn’t a likable character, most of the time; I don’t think she was supposed to be. I did appreciate how Sam called her out on her crap and woke her up a bit. Honestly, the thing getting me through the book was wanting to find out what happened at Pine Cottage. Does that make me any better than those “final girl” fanatics Quincy loathed so much? Probably not. Somewhere along the way, I grew to care about her. Granted, it was pretty far along the road, but hey.

Clearly, I have a lot of feelings about Final Girls. Are they all negative? No. I think this book was structured well. The story was what it needed to be. The killer’s storyline was a little weird, but, again, slasher films. shrug All in all, I don’t believe I regret the experience. There was mystery, there was blood, there was Quincy’s growing resentment for Jeff…

Do I recommend this book? Crap, I don’t know. If you like the slasher genre, go for it.

Taylor Swift and Existential Crises

A pile of long-stemmed red roses against a chalky black background.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash. [Image Description: A pile of long-stemmed red roses against a chalky black background.]

Do you ever feel like you’ve been alone for so long that you don’t know how to spend time with someone else? Not even romantically. I’m sitting here, listening to Taylor Swift — yes, I know exactly how pathetic this sounds, thank you — after watching her documentary. (Stick with me here.) In the documentary, she talked about how she’d achieved her dreams and, while she was over the moon about it, she was struck with the realization that she had no one to call. Yes, she worked her ass off all of these years and achieved her grand goal, but she did it alone. There was no one to high five, as she put it, because her success was her own.

That stuck with me. When I kick ass and become a bestselling author, who would I call? I mean, besides my family. Who would I go out on the town and celebrate with? So, naturally, I thought of my friends. And while I have wonderful friends I wouldn’t trade for the world, and would 100% call them in this theoretical situation, who do I talk about my writing with?

My family knows about my blog. They know I want to be an author. But I never actually talk about the stories I’m writing. To anyone, friend or family. I’ve operated under a fear of “jinxing it”. If I talk about it, it’ll become a job, and these characters are too precious to me to let telling their stories become something that I dread.

The fear is not unfounded. I’ve made this mistake with projects in the past. I told people in order to become accountable and see the thing through, only to feel weighed down by expectations and pressure and possible disappointment. A lot of it was me projecting; convincing myself that if I don’t get this done everyone will see me for what I thought I was: lazy, fraudulent, never finishing what I start. Which wasn’t fair to myself, and I know that now, but I still hate the thought of having to do something. Because once I know I have to do something, I lose any and all interest in doing the thing.

Plus, why get anyone’s hopes up about any of the stories I’m writing if I may not stick with them? After all, I have a habit of not finishing the things I start. Evidence: the dozens of unfinished first drafts in my arsenal of notebooks and thumb drives. Which, to be fair, is partly because I’m still growing as a writer.

So, I didn’t jinx it. I didn’t talk about my stories. And I’m not sure it’s for the best.

Fear. Anxiety. Some days it feels like they rule my life. Because, yes, I have friends, but who am I really close with? Who do I call on a Friday night when I’m bored and need to get out of the house? Nobody, that’s who. Yes, a lot of the time I don’t feel up to it, but sometimes I do. And so now, fresh from the empowerment of Taylor Swift’s album Reformation, I’m running hypothetical situations in my head. Who would I call on a Friday night? Who is my best friend (within driving distance)? And that’s when it hit me.

I don’t have one.

I mean, I did, a long time ago, but shit happens and life moves on. In the time between then and now, I was so consumed by the daily drama of living with multiple chronic illnesses that I didn’t have time to think about strengthening my other friendships. Life moves on, yeah, but apparently without me.

Then I start thinking about how I can fix this. Forget a best friend and focus on being a better one to the friends I already have. And I’m hit with another realization.

I don’t know how.

Is it possible that, in the five or so years since, I’ve forgotten how to be a friend? With long distance friendships, your circle of people are a few taps away. And it’s hard, the distance, but your bond doesn’t suffer for it. Sitting here now, typing this, it feels like all of my friends are long distance, even though some are only a couple of towns away. How did this happen? When did normal, face-to-face conversation become a foreign concept to me? When did I stop showing up? When did I stop inviting people to hang out just to spend time with a human I don’t share a bathroom with?

Most importantly, when did I stop letting people in?

At some point in January, I promised myself I’d stop apologizing for taking up space. For having an opinion. For existing, in general. John Mulaney once said, “Hey, you could pour soup in my lap and I’ll probably apologize to you,” and I don’t think I can explain it any better than that.

My point is, while I am undoubtedly afraid of getting hurt again, I believe part of the reason I haven’t made an effort to spend time with friends in person is the same as the reason I apologize for taking up space. But I’m not a burden. And the worst anyone can say is no. And I’ve always known both of those things, but I’m still working on being okay with them. And for now that will have to do.