Thursday, November 29, 2018

October & November 2018

I completely forgot to write an October entry, so here are two months worth of recommendations. Whoops. As you can tell, I followed through on my goal to enjoy some relaxation time and make up for my very busy summer. Read on for my favorite books, movies, and games, and probably too many uses of the word "trope". 


When I was in college a friend told me about Suspiria (specifically a scene involving razor wire) and made it sound so scary that I decided I would never be able to watch it. Well, I finally worked up the nerve and managed to catch a theatrical 4K restoration and WOW. The combination of incredible color, stunning visuals, and the rad AF synth score work so well together and excited every one of my creativity neurons. The story is supremely weird and strange (not super scary) and totally what one expects to see in an abstract Italian horror film from the 70s. I'm pretty sure it involves witches in a dance school? 

I liked the first season of Netflix's Castlevania but it definitely felt like a prologue. With season 2 we finally get to the meat of the story and it's great. I loved all of the characters, including a host of villains that were genuinely interesting and often sympathetic. The season is a bit of a slow-build but the finale is deeply satisfying. I think I must have watched the fight scenes from the penultimate "For Love" episode at least 20 times. In fact, I think I need to go rewatch that episode again - brb. 


I started playing Vampyr in October but had to call it quits (for now at least) after constantly feeling punished by game mechanics I did not understand. Oh wow, did you charm that NPC? Surprise! That NPC is dead now because you charmed her and a huge section of the town is permanently in chaos. *autosave* I understand the developer's goal was to make you "live with your choices" and will probably try playing it again now that I know how the game works but ugggghhhh, I was totally not in the mood for that at the time. 

So I needed a bit of a palate cleanser that wasn't grim-dark or excessively frustrating and then remembered I had downloaded the Ratchet & Clank remake a few months ago. It's silly and light and very fun to play. I restarted second and third playthroughs immediately so I could get every collectible and upgrade every weapon. I loved the original games and the 2016 version combines lots of good elements from the franchise and manages to feel both new and familiar. 


I set my highest reading goal to-date this year (75 books) and surpassed that goal in October! Here are some of my favorites and they aren't ALL romances for once.

I mean, most of them are but hey...

After a huge portion of the world is covered in water from an apocalyptic flood, the gods and mythological creatures from Navajo legends are reborn and start appearing on earth. Trail of Lightning takes place in what was formerly the Navajo reservation (Arizona, Utah, New Mexico), which declared independence from the US and surrounded itself with an impossibly high wall of turquoise. The story follows Maggie, a monster hunter with a violent past, and Kai, a Medicine Man in training, as they try to find the source of a new kind of monster. 

I loved this book. The mythology and setting are wonderfully rich and the characters are complex and interesting. The story is written in a way that you don't always know what is going on or what the characters are thinking and it works. Trail of Lightning ends on a bit of a cliffhanger (aaarrrrrggg!) so I am chomping at the bit for the next installment. 

I've been reading romance books for a few years now and somehow completely missed the FBI-Partners-Who-Fall-In-Love set up until recently. It is most definitely a thing and I am here for it. The Irish and Whiskey series follows all of the familiar beats, as an experienced (handsome) agent returns to duty after the death of his husband and is paired with a fresh-faced (handsome) partner who is a hacker and used to be a NCAA basketball player. Romance protagonists ladies and gentlemen! It's so very tropey and melodramatic and unbelievable in the best ways and I tore through all three books in a weekend. 

The Lightning-Struck Heart is a fantasy romance (knights, unicorns, dragons, etc) through the filter of RuPaul's Drag Race. It is high camp, wall-to-wall innuendo and sex jokes, and an utter joy to read. I was laughing out loud constantly. Our main character is Sam, a phenomenally powerful wizard's apprentice who literally has NO filter - everything that comes into his head comes out of his mouth. He is accompanied by Gary, a gay unicorn who lost his horn, and Tiggy, a half-giant. Sam spends his days being captured by dark wizards and pining for the dreamy knight commander Sir Ryan Foxheart, who is engaged to marry the prince. When the prince is captured by a dragon, Sam, Gary, Tiggy, and Foxheart set out on a quest to rescue him. 

In the universe of The Lightning-Struck Heart everyone talks about sex without shame or reservation, and there are characters with a huge spectrum of sexual identities that never face discrimination for who they love. This is a kingdom where there is nothing unusual about a prince marrying a knight. It's incredibly refreshing. The book is non-stop sassy, salty banter, sexual innuendo, and supreme ridiculousness, yet at the same time there are real moments of heart that caught me off guard. Sam is surrounded by people who love him - his family, the wise old wizard, the king - and there are so many wonderful passages where those characters help and support him. Occasionally the narrative gets a bit lost in the excessive banter (to the detriment of the story) and once in a while a joke goes on way too long, but this didn't detract from my overall love of the book. 

In the very near future, an army of ten-foot-tall statues that look like Transformers in samurai armor appear in locations all over the world. When protagonist April May records a video about one of them and posts it to YouTube, it is an overnight viral phenomenon and April becomes one of the most famous people in the world. The book follows how this fame shapes and corrodes her life and the growing mystery of why the "Carls" are here on earth. While the book features a frustrating main character (who pissed me off constantly), I think she has a solid, interesting story arc and the novel is well constructed and wonderfully original. 

Salt Magic, Skin Magic is a gothic romance with an unexpected combination of supernatural elements and folklore. The book starts with Lord Thornby, a rudderless bon-vivant who is dragged home and trapped on his father's estate by mysterious, violent forces. A year into his imprisonment, a magician named John Blake arrives to investigate a purported case of witchcraft and the two begin working together to lift Thornby's curse. The magic in this book is really unique (Blake is an "industrial magician" who can communicate with objects like nails and salt) and the chemistry between the two main characters is great. 

Whenever K.J. Charles releases a new book I snap it up immediately. Band Sinister follows a classic romance formula with two characters stuck together in a country house and slowly falling in love. It feels very much like a Jane Austen set-up with a gay twist (the author refers to it as her ode to the work of Georgette Heyer, who I have not read). If you want a light-hearted, cockle-warming historical romance, this one is a lot of fun. 

Despite featuring my absolute least favorite narrative trope (abductee falls in love with her abductor) I somehow still liked this book. I think it's because the author did a lot of work to reenforce the motivations of the characters? I can absolutely understand if a different reader would be unable to get past that crummy set-up - I was on the fence a number of times. 

Every year, the evil Empire sacrifices one girl from each village in a huge pyre. For many years, Gilene has been offered up by her town and has survived due to her ability to wield fire magic. On her fifth trip to the flames, a gladiator recognizes her and leverages his knowledge of her secret powers to gain help in escaping slavery. After they are free, the gladiator kidnaps Gilene and the two travel back to his home country where he intends to use her magic to help re-establish his position as leader. Not the most enjoyable start. But the story that follows includes some vivid storytelling and world building (including a super creepy haunted city) and managed to keep me involved and mostly rooting for both characters. I still really hate that plot device though. 

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