Book Review from a Teen Reader: Weird Al: Seriously by Lily E. Hirsch

Every now and again my teen reader writes a book review that I enjoy way too much to not share with the world (or, you know, the people who read my blog). Today he has a rip-roaring take on a Weird Al biography. I typed it as he wrote it, excessive use of italics and all. Enjoy!

Recently, I read Weird Al: Seriously by Lily E. Hirsch and I enjoyed it! Here are my thoughts and opinions on what I think might be the first-ever biography I’ve read and reviewed! Don’t quote me on that, though; I could be wrong.

So first off, because this is a biography, my review might be a little different. It is pretty hard to talk about the settings and characters when the whole book is about a real person so I’m going to focus on the writing itself instead. Just thought you should know before we get started.

Okay! So now that I’ve done the introduction and all that, it’s time to start talking about the book! I personally thought it was really interesting, and not just because I think Weird Al is funny. I think the author did a pretty good job having a serious discussion about Weird Al’s music and life, although there were some tougher topics mentioned…(but that’s just par for the course with a biography, especially one with a political chapter. Even if that chapter is about how the subject of the book doesn’t actively share his political opinions).

But we all know what this book is really about: Weird Al’s trademark parody songs! But the question here is: did Lily E. Hirsch actually do a good job writing about Weird Al and his songs? Well, the answer to that question (at least in my opinion) is yes! A lot of the chapters had entire sections highlighting a different song and explaining some of what it took to write and perform. And sometimes there’s funny jokes! That’s a pretty neat bonus in my eyes.

One of my favorite parts of the book was a silly little section highlighting several times where Al’s parody was so well known that the original song actually got confused with the parody! I just thought it was really funny hearing about how the person who made “American Pie” (the song “The Saga Begins” is a parody of) almost started singing the wrong song because of how often they heard it; thankfully they (presumably) sang the right song in the end.

However, no review is complete without at least one negative opinion. And so I’m afraid I have to share some things that I wasn’t that much of a fan of.

First off, while I do enjoy a good pun, there were one or two parts where there were just too many bad puns, and it made it a bit tough to read at times (I guess you could say I found it pun-funny! Get it? Because it sounds like unfunny…I’ll see myself out).

Another thing I wasn’t sure about was some of the more serious chapters. I understand that it has the word “serious” in the title, but I just expect a bit more silliness from a book about Weird Al, I guess. Aside from those two things, though, I didn’t really have any problems with the book. I found it extremely interesting, and it occupied my time for a good while. Overall, a pretty positive review!

One more thing: the book did a great job illustrating just how nice Weird Al is. It definitely seems like he’s the one celebrity you would actually enjoy meeting (although, I don’t know that many celebrities to choose from in the first place…). It doesn’t really matter to my review, I just thought it was some fun information. All in all, this one is pretty simple! If you like Weird Al enough to buy a book, then buy this one! And if you don’t I’m assuming there’s at least one person out there who is completely outraged. I am not that person, though. I won’t judge you!

Dragonlance Side Quest: The Second Generation by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Years have passed since the end of the War of the Lance. The people of Ansalon have rebuilt their lives, their houses, their families. The Companions of the Lance, too, have returned to their homes, raising children and putting the days of their heroic deeds behind them.

But peace on Krynn comes at a price. The forces of darkness are ever vigilant, searching for ways to erode the balance of power and take control. When subtle changes begin to permeate the fragile peace, new lives are drawn into the web of fate woven around all the races. The time has come to pass the sword — or the staff — to the children of the Lance.

They are the Second Generation. (Taken from Amazon)

I have a confession: I am not a monogamous reader. I usually read multiple books at the same time. Lately, I’ve been rereading my Dragonlance books while also reading new books. You can read my thoughts on my latest reread of Kindred Spirits here.

“…Weis and Hickman are like kender and bad pennies-they keep turning up. And so here they are again, all set to tell us about the wonderful things that are happening in Krynn”. -Forward by…Fizban the Fabulous?

The Second Generation is set after the end of the War of Lance which is when the events from the Dragonlance Chronicles (the original trilogy) takes place. An uneasy peace exists, but it’s much more tenuous than people want to believe. A new generation of heroes needs to step up. This book of short stories introduces the children of characters from the Chronicles. They are not their parents and they think and act differently. The writing also flows differently. That isn’t a bad thing. The tone is similar, but it needs to be at least a little different because this is a different cast of characters.

This book is actually a grouping of five novellas by the masters of Dragonlance. It’s an odd one to review since a few of the novellas have been elsewhere as well. It’s good to see them gathered together with other stories about the children of the Heroes of the Lance, though, and it does form a bridge to the next part in Dragonlance’s history.

I’m always a little wishy-washy on books of short stories or novella collections. There are usually some that I just don’t like as much as others. Unfortunately, that is the case with The Second Generation, although I do think it’s a strong connection point between the characters from the original series and the characters that take center stage in the next book.

I do wonder if some of my not quite glowing reaction to a few of these novellas has to do with the fact that I love the original characters so much. Part of me struggled with these new additions at first. That being said, the characters themselves have new and interesting stories to tell.

“Kitiara’s Son” is one of my favorites from this book. Of all the book characters who lack parenting capability, she’d be at the top of my list. She has a son that is first discovered when his adopted mother comes to Tanis and Caramon for help. He is about to take the vows to become a knight of Takhisis- an evil order of knighthood that has recently sprung up. His mom hopes that Caramon and Tanis can convince him to not give his soul to their evil cause.

There are a few things I really enjoy about this story. One of them is the identity of the father. It isn’t who most people who have read the Chronicles would first expect. Another thing I love about this one is the personality of Kitara’s son, Steel. He’s very conflicted, although he tries not to show it. What follows is more of a story about choices and shades of gray than one of action (although there’s action too, of course).

“Raistlin’s Daughter” is a myth about Raistlin having a daughter. It’s not my favorite, possibly because I feel that it doesn’t fit his character, possibly because the tone seems a little…off. Whatever the reason, while I don’t particularly like the story, I do feel that it is the weakest in the collection. It isn’t bad, it’s just not fantastic. Moving on.

“Wanna Bet” is a rip-roaring tale of adventure, featuring Caramon’s three sons and an ill-fated errand. This is more funny than anything, although any story that involves the Graygem of Gargoth adds a bit to the lore behind Krynn’s creation. This is one of the novellas that appears elsewhere and it also feels most like a side quest from the original trilogy to me. I think it’s the addition of some very bad choices, a character who is not what he seems, and things that go so wrong that they almost go right.

“The Legacy” also focuses on Caramon’s three sons. This time it’s the youngest, Palin, who takes center stage. Unlike his war-like brothers, he’s interested in magic. He’s just enough like Raistlin to scare and worry his father. This story talks about his trip to the Tower of Sorcery and what transpires. I love this one! While it could be the connection to Raistlin, I think it’s a lot more about what it shows of Caramon (and the other original Heroes of the Lance). There’s a reluctance from Caramon to let his kids grow up, a fear of the horrors in the world and a desperate desire to protect his kids. Authors Weis and Hickman perfectly captured the struggles loving parents face every day. I feel for Caramon.

At the same time, it’s a story about the new generation of heroes coming into their own, about how what came before will play into their characters, and an introduction to the next part of the story. It’s masterfully told.

Lastly, there’s “The Sacrifice”, about Tanis’ and Laurana’s son, Gilthas. He reminds me so much of the protagonist of The Scarlet Pimpernel (or Batman, in a less Gotham-y sense). He is a weak fop who lazes around, doing nothing of importance. Except that’s not true at all. Underneath his metaphorical mask is an intelligent mind and a strong will. Gilthas resents his parents for being overprotective and wishes to help. Unfortunately, things don’t go as hoped and he ends up in a sticky situation. It also proves to be a break between himself and Tanis. This story lends a good explanation of what comes next in Krynn’s timeline. It’s probably the one that matters most as far as setting up the next few Dragonlance books. As far as the novellas go, it really does seem the center point of The Second Generation.

This is a well-written side book and an engaging one. There are a few inconsistencies between some of the tales told here and the events from the original story, but the reason for that is perfectly explained in the forward and actually adds a sense of fun and adventure. While I will always prefer the original companions and the Chronicles, this is a strong introduction to the new cast of big players, the ones who get swept up into events bigger than themselves. Also, major points for the addition of the Knight of Takhisis stat blocks!

It’s definitely worth reading if you want to know more about the world and get a good idea of the direction the series will take after the War of the Lance.

A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross

Jack Tamerlaine hasn’t stepped foot on Cadence in ten long years, content to study music at the mainland university. But when young girls start disappearing from the isle, Jack is summoned home to help find them. Enchantments run deep on Cadence: gossip is carried by the wind, plaid shawls can be as strong as armor, and the smallest cut of a knife can instill fathomless fear. The capricious spirits that rule the isle by fire, water, earth, and wind find mirth in the lives of the humans who call the land home. Adaira, heiress of the east and Jack’s childhood enemy, knows the spirits only answer to a bard’s music, and she hopes Jack can draw them forth by song, enticing them to return the missing girls.
As Jack and Adaira reluctantly work together, they find they make better allies than rivals as their partnership turns into something more. But with each passing song, it becomes apparent the trouble with the spirits is far more sinister than they first expected, and an older, darker secret about Cadence lurks beneath the surface, threatening to undo them all. (Taken from Amazon)

A River Enchanted is a magical book full of contradictions. It is meandering and slower in pace. It is breathtaking and kept me on the edge of my seat. It is a book where the setting lived and breathed, almost overshadowing the plot and characters.

Cadence is a land divided. It is also a land of magic. On one side, some can use this magic in different (and unique) ways, such as weaving protections and secrets into wool. There is a cost, though: it shortens the life span of those who use it. On the other side, magic can be used without paying a price, but there is never enough food or resources. These two sides are at war, the peace only lasting as long as neither clan crosses over into the other clan’s side.

Jack left the island of Cadence and has been gone for years when our story starts. He receives a request to return to help with an emergency: girls on the island are disappearing. The Laird’s daughter, Adaira, who summoned Jack, is convinced that only Jack can help. He has a unique gift: he’s a bard and his music can summon the spirits. Adaira hopes that she can persuade the spirits to tell her where the girls are and how to get them back.

Adaira and Jack are both interesting characters. They have a complicated history. As children, they were rivals. Adaira is beloved, the only child of the Laird. Jack was sent off the island and has always felt unwanted. It is a clashing of personalities and the friction between them leads to opportunities for them to build off each other, developing both characters in unexpected ways.

Jack’s mother is the one who sent him away. She has also kept the secret of who his father is. Needless to say, their relationship is strained. I liked that it was more than just resentment. There was love there on both sides, even though they struggled to fit into a family dynamic or even a healthy relationship. It’s hard to be close to someone who keeps secrets like that, and the author conveys this struggle brilliantly.

The book isn’t quite a mystery and it isn’t quite a fantasy. It defies classification. It is beautifully written and kept me enthralled even though I could argue that the entire book is merely setup. The ending dropped a bombshell and set up the second book wonderfully, but the majority of the book showcases the magic of the island, the history of the warring clans, and the relationships between the people on the island and between the people and the magic of the island itself.

There is no explanation as to why the island of Cadence is full of magic while the mainland where Jack has been for years is completely devoid of it. There isn’t a lot of explanation for several larger points, but I actually loved that. It left an air of mystery and excitement. There is so much lurking beneath the surface, peeking out in small ways and giving wonderful tidbits of a world both large and seeped in enchantment.

This isn’t a novel that will be enjoyed by everyone. It is a book to read if you like to be drawn in by the magic of language itself. If you love being lost in lovely prose, puzzling out the quiet beauty of a story well written, A River Enchanted is for you.

Heart of Fire by Raina Nightingale


Camilla has always been told that humans are inferior. They cannot use magic. If they bond to dragons, they will doom the creatures to extinction. She has never believed a word of it. She has always known that she can use magic, and she suspects it is the elves who harm the dragons by keeping them to themselves. Now, she is presented with the opportunity of a lifetime: a dragon’s clutch is hatching and while she will earn the wrath of her captors if she is caught, she has the chance to see a dragon hatch and perhaps even to Recognize.

Kario’s people have feared dragons since time immemorial. When an unrealistically huge black dragon flies in while she is hunting, she is certain she will die. Instead, her life is changed when Nelexi, Obsidian Guardian of Areaer, chooses her as her final rider. Kario takes the name Flameheart, but she is soon homesick and afraid that she is insufficient to be the partner of a god.(Taken from Goodreads)

Thank you to the author for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Heart of Fire is available now.

The books starts when Camilla, the protagonist, finds a way to see dragons hatch. When a dragon chooses her as its companion, things shift. What was once viewed as something exclusive to the elves (the ability to bond with dragons) is now proven to be available to humans as well. The accepted way of things changes as Camilla faces new challenges and triumphs.

At its heart, Heart of Fire is a book about relationships. Aside from Camilla’s relationship with her brother and her complicated feelings about family, I really liked the relationships with the dragons. I feel like the communication (sort of telepathy) between the different characters and the dragons was used more as character development than as a conversation between the humans and dragons. I found that to be an interesting way to show what a character who is a little reticent- as Camilla came across- is thinking or feeling.

The book takes a while to get going, but stay patient: once things are set up, it’s an entertaining book. The author obviously had a strong idea of what was going to happen and why. The world is an interesting one, with dragons (yay!), elves, and magic. I particularly liked how magic worked. It was a different take which I enjoyed reading about.

I struggled a little bit with the characters. I felt like they were kept at arm’s length, although that could have been me. I thought that the dragons’ interactions are what gave us the best looks at how Camilla thinks. While this was a really cool dynamic, I do wish that Camilla-and other characters to a lesser degree- were just a little bit more accessible.

At the end of the day, Heart of Fire is an enjoyable fantasy, and Raina Nightingale is an author with a lot of promise.

Mental Health and Fantasy

This is an updated version of an older post.

Mental health and fantasy: I know that seems like an odd combination of words. One of the many wonderful things about fantasy, though, is the way it can be used as a place to be incredibly truthful while at the same time completely fantastical. Unfortunately, as with other genres, fantasy seems to be fighting against that same stigma against mental illness. It isn’t often that mental illness is really represented respectfully in fantasy, so when I come across a book that either has a character with a mental illness or explores themes involving mental illness, I notice.

I remember the very first fantasy book I read that had a mental illness represented. It wasn’t the main plotline of the story; in fact, it was just a part of who one of the characters was. It was something they had, but it didn’t define them. I love that so very much. What I don’t love in fantasy, as with any other genre, is mental illness being the throwaway reason for atrocious acts. I am so excited to say that I am seeing less and less of that in fantasy over the years, although it does still pop up more often than I’d like.

Here are a few books that either have a character with a mental illness (done respectfully) or have themes of mental illness, such as depression. Because who says you can’t discuss mental health and dragons in the same book?

For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig

A young woman with a dangerous power she barely understands. A smuggler with secrets of his own. A country torn between a merciless colonial army, a terrifying tyrant, and a feared rebel leader. The first book in acclaimed author Heidi Heilig’s Shadow Players trilogy blends traditional storytelling with ephemera for a lush, page-turning tale of escape and rebellion. For a Muse of Fire will captivate fans of Sabaa Tahir, Leigh Bardugo, and Renée Ahdieh.
Jetta’s family is famed as the most talented troupe of shadow players in the land. With Jetta behind the scrim, their puppets seem to move without string or stick—a trade secret, they say. In truth, Jetta can see the souls of the recently departed and bind them to the puppets with her blood. But ever since the colonizing army conquered their country, the old ways are forbidden. Jetta must never show, never tell. Her skill and fame are her family’s way to earn a spot aboard the royal ship to Aquitan, where shadow plays are the latest rage, and where rumor has it the Mad King has a spring that cures his ills. Because seeing spirits is not the only thing that plagues Jetta. But as rebellion seethes and as Jetta meets a young smuggler, she will face truths and decisions that she never imagined—and safety will never seem so far away. (taken from Amazon)

I remember being astounded when I picked up For a Muse of Fire. The main character, Jetta, had an illness that I understood. There were symptoms of extreme depression, and what seemed like mania. Surely, it couldn’t possibly be bipolar disorder, right? I mean, the number of times I’d read a character with bipolar disorder in fantasy books was a big, glaring zero. I read and loved the book, then checked the author’s note at the back. Not only does the character have bipolar disorder, but lithium (one of the main medications for bipolar disorder) also plays a role in the book. The author handled the topic wonderfully, probably because she has bipolar disorder herself. I was gobsmacked. It was so cool to see a character that I could relate to in that way.


Vultures by Luke Tarzian

An enemy slain is not a conflict won…

After decades of war the demon Te Mirkvahíl is dead. But its progeny endure, spilling from the Heart of Mirkúr, sowing death across the land of Ariath. If the people are to finally know peace, the Heart must be destroyed. Theailys An believes he can do just that with The Keepers’ Wrath, an infamous power focus wrought in Ariath’s yesteryears–but the weapon first must be reforged.

War spares no one…

Serece never intended to get involved in Ariath’s war. But history and demons have a way of pulling strings. When she learns Theailys An, a man whom she abhors, bears striking similarity to the first creator of The Keepers’ Wrath, Serece departs her mountain world for Ariath to ascertain the truth.

From patience, hope…

For millennia Behtréal has walked the world alone. Rewriting history to resurrect his people is easier said than done. But Ariath holds the key–soon The Keepers’ Wrath will be remade.

Truth from madness…

As paths converge and a shadow falls across Ariath, one thing becomes increasingly and horrifyingly clear–these events have played out many times before. (Taken from Amazon)

Vultures is a very dark, incredibly brilliant book that explores themes of mental illness, grief, and loss. Author Luke Tarzian describes Vultures as being “very much a story about love, loss, grief, and mental illness through the eyes of reluctant heroes.” (interview here) This is not a comfortable book; rather it is dark and brings the reader face to face with villains both physical and emotional. If you don’t mind harsher storylines, Vultures is excellent.


The Cursed Titans by Ricardo Victoria

The triennial Chivalry Games have returned! After helping to destroy the Withered King, Alex and the rest of the group find out that saving the world has consequences. While he is secretly battling with depression and with the Alliance on the verge of collapse, a diplomatic summit and the Chivalry Games—to be held in the far off Kuni Empire—may give everyone the opportunity to turn things around. Alex builds a team to represent the Foundation in the Games, facing off against the best fighters in the world. When an ancient being tries to raise legendary nightmares known as Titans using the peace talks as a trap, Alex has to find a way to save everyone before it is too late. Alex must learn that he is not truly alone to save the world from the chaos of the Titans. In a world where magic and science intermingle, anything is possible. (taken from Amazon)

Author Ricardo Victoria drew on his own experiences with depression when writing The Cursed Titans. The rawness of that story arc blends in beautifully with what is, at its core, a story of hope. One thing that I loved about how mental illness is portrayed in this series so far is that it accurately shows (in my opinion) how depression can affect people, but not in a way that was ever detrimental to my own mental health. It also shows that a person is much much more than any illness they have, whether it is visible or not.


Dragons of Autumn Twilight and Dragons of Winter Night by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Once merely creatures of legend, the dragons have returned to Krynn. But with their arrival comes the departure of the old gods—and all healing magic. As war threatens to engulf the land, lifelong friends reunite for an adventure that will change their lives and shape their world forever . . . 
When Tanis, Sturm, Caramon, Raistlin, Flint, and Tasslehoff see a woman use a blue crystal staff to heal a villager, they wonder if it’s a sign the gods have not abandoned them after all. Fueled by this glimmer of hope, the Companions band together to uncover the truth behind the gods’ absence—though they aren’t the only ones with an interest in the staff. The Seekers, a new religious order, wants the artifact for their own ends, believing it will help them replace the gods and overtake the continent of Ansalon. Now, the Companions must assume the unlikely roles of heroes if they hope to prevent the staff from falling into the hands of darkness. (taken from Amazon)

The Dragonlance Chronicles has the very first character with a mental illness that I ever read in a fantasy novel. Sturm is a knight, and his honor is everything to him. He also struggles with depression. While he has never been my favorite character in the series, it meant so much to see my depression reflected in a fantasy novel for the first time. Another thing that I love about how his depression is depicted is that it is made abundantly clear that it is something he has, not who he is. He is compassionate, brave, and loyal. His friends understand that he has “dark moods” and they become concerned about him, but they never give up on him or judge him. It’s a breath of fresh air.

Character Profile

The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

Six years ago, sisters Evelyn and Philippa Hapwell were swept away to a strange and beautiful kingdom called the Woodlands, where they lived for years. But ever since they returned to their lives in post-WWII England, they have struggled to adjust.
Ev desperately wants to return to the Woodlands, and Philippa just wants to move on. When Ev goes missing, Philippa must confront the depth of her sister’s despair and the painful truths they’ve been running from. As the weeks unfold, Philippa wonders if Ev truly did find a way home, or if the weight of their worlds pulled her under.
Walking the line between where fantasy and reality meet, this lyrical and magical novel is, above all else, an exploration of loss and healing, and what it means to find where you belong. (taken from Amazon)

This book is beautiful, but oh my goodness, it is sad! The Light Between Worlds shows the struggles of depression and grief, and how self-harm can become an addiction. I would highly suggest taking care when picking up this book: while I feel that it has an accurate and respectful representation of mental illness, I think it might be a difficult read for some people.


The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

As the Shadow of Mordor grows across the land, the Companions of the Ring have become involved in separate adventures. Aragorn, revealed as the hidden heir of the ancient Kings of the West, has joined with the Riders of Rohan against the forces of Isengard, and takes part in the desperate victory of the Hornburg. Merry and Pippin, captured by Orcs, escape into Fangorn Forest and there encounter the Ents. Gandalf has miraculously returned and defeated the evil wizard, Saruman. Sam has left his master for dead after a battle with the giant spider, Shelob; but Frodo is still alive—now in the foul hands of the Orcs. And all the while the armies of the Dark Lord are massing as the One Ring draws ever nearer to the Cracks of Doom. (taken from Amazon)

I cannot say with certainty how accurately The Return of the King portrays PTSD, but I think that Frodo is a good representation of the struggles that PTSD causes in someone. I wonder if perhaps Tolkien used some of his own experience as a soldier to better show what Frodo was going through. I think some things become a “before” vs “after” experience: before the experience that caused PTSD vs. how life is after.

Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans

Twenty-three years ago, a Duke with a grudge led a ruthless coup against the empire of Semilla, killing thousands. He failed. The Duke was executed, a terrifyingly powerful sorcerer was imprisoned, and an unwilling princess disappeared. 

The empire moved on. 

Now, when Quill, an apprentice scribe, arrives in the capital city, he believes he’s on a simple errand for another pompous noble: fetch ancient artifacts from the magical Imperial Archives. He’s always found his apprenticeship to a lawman to be dull work. But these aren’t just any artifacts — these are the instruments of revolution, the banners under which the Duke lead his coup. 

Just as the artifacts are unearthed, the city is shaken by a brutal murder that seems to have been caused by a weapon not seen since the days of rebellion. With Quill being the main witness to the murder, and no one in power believing his story, he must join the Archivists — a young mage, a seasoned archivist, and a disillusioned detective — to solve the truth of the attack. And what they uncover will be the key to saving the empire – or destroying it again.

Aside from being an incredible fantasy, Empire of Exiles perfectly described what my anxiety disorder feels like. I was astounded by how seen I felt. In her author note, author Erin M. Evans said that part of this book came to be when she thought about what a magic system that felt like an anxiety disorder would look like. The answer to that question led to one of the most unique and fascinating magic systems I’ve seen in fantasy.


So, Reader, what books have you read that portray mental illness well? Add to my TBR!

Release Day Repost: The Bone Shard War by Andrea Stewart

Lin Sukai has won her first victory as Emperor, but the future of the Phoenix Empire hangs in the balance – and Lin is dangerously short of allies. 

As her own governors plot treason, the Shardless Few renew hostilities. Worse still, Lin discovers her old nemesis Nisong has joined forces with the rogue Alanga, Ragan. Both seek her death.  

Yet hopes lies in history. Legend tells of seven mythic swords, forged in centuries past. If Lin can find them before her enemies, she may yet be able to turn the tide.  
If she fails, the Sukai dynasty – and the entire empire – will fall.  

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

In the final installment in The Drowning Empire trilogy, Emperor Lin finds herself on the brink of her empire’s collapse. Enemies beset her on all sides, and her allies are few and scattered. She enters into a desperate race to save her empire, but are her actions enough?

The Bone Shard War is breathtaking and impossible to put down. As the stakes get higher, the choices made by all the characters become ever more critical. The fate of the empire- indeed many people’s lives- depends on the decisions of a few. I loved seeing that every character plays a role in the empire’s collapse or salvation, even those who have had lesser roles, like Ayesh the adopted child of Phalue and Ranami.

As with the other books in the trilogy, The Bone Shard War is split between multiple points of view. Each is well-written and distinctive enough that it’s never confusing, despite the many events (or disasters) being discussed in each separate chapter. As events unfold, the characters weave in and out of the main story, that of Lin’s attempt to hold onto a rapidly failing empire. It was extremely gratifying to see the seemingly disparate threads of narratives line up, becoming a complex multi-layered story, epic in scale and beautifully written.

Jovis and Mephi continue to be my favorites. Poor Jovis finds himself trapped by Kaphra, forced to be his weapon. His point of view was doubly fantastic because, on top of wondering how- or if- he will ever escape, he grapples with questions of morality. Is he a hero or has he become a villain? How can a person weigh lives saved against evil deeds? It was at times heartbreaking, yet always enthralling. And I just adore Mephi, of course.

Lin, now Emperor, is struggling with the many problems that rulers are plagued with: dissatisfaction among other leaders, groups of dissenters (some of whom may have violent agendas), and war. On top of everything are the sinking islands. She is convinced that magical blades, mentioned in history texts, hold the key to at least some of these problems. She is singly focused on finding them, but in the process seems to be losing sight of the needs of her people. I kind of thought she was a lousy ruler, which made her good intentions and the justifications for her choices even more interesting. At times I truly didn’t like her, making her an even more fascinating character.

Meanwhile, Phalue and Ranami are in two different places, fighting their own individual battles. While their story arcs have been less interesting to me in previous books, Ranami’s chapters kept me riveted in The Bone Shard War. Her skills, which have less to do with fighting and more to do with words, are showcased in ways that are quiet yet important. I loved seeing a different aspect of battle; one that is more intentional and sometimes even more dangerous.

There is no downtime in this book. The Bone Shard War races toward a heartstopping conclusion which kept me on the edge of my seat. The writing was superb. Author Andrea Stewart has created a unique world and memorable characters. The Bone Shard War is a stunning conclusion to an amazing series. Don’t miss this one!

Shadows of Pnath: An Arkham Horror Novel by Josh Reynolds

An expert thief outwits foes old and new to defeat a sinister summoning, in this hair-raising noir-thriller from the bestselling world of Arkham Horror

Adventuress Countess Alessandra Zorzi has a new vocation: reacquiring the occult artifacts she stole to put into the safer hands of Miskatonic University. With her new apprentice, Pepper Kelly, Zorzi tracks the infamous Zanthu Tablets to Paris. But the city is rife with spies and the countess has many enemies. When Pepper is kidnapped, it becomes clear that someone is out for revenge. Zorzi must rescue her apprentice, find the tablets, and prevent an old enemy from summoning an army of vengeful ghouls from the depths of the catacombs. Stealing relics is a lot harder the second time around…(Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Aconyte Books for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Shadows of Pnath: An Arkham Horror Novel is available now.

Shadows of Pnath is a rollicking, massively entertaining foray into the world of Arkham Horror. The very first page sets the tone, with the Comte d’Erlette (who is not a very nice character) showcasing just how evil he is. This world of less-than-savory characters, supernatural beings, and hazardous undertakings is established from the get-go. From there, the story moves on to Alessandra Zorzi, sort-of reformed thief. She’s trying to stay on the straight and narrow, but when multiple groups find her, all looking for the same thing (okay, she did steal it in the first place, but that’s beside the point), she gets drawn into a madcap adventure and a race to avoid some seriously nasty consequences.

I enjoyed the heck out myself, reading this book. The characters are all fantastic. It turns out that Shadows of Pnath is a sequel of sorts, but I was able to follow along just fine, despite not reading the previous book. I think this speaks to the setup of the book. The author gave information as the book progressed, avoiding the dreaded info dump and providing important details without bogging anything down. In fact, the excitement and fast-paced storyline never let up for a minute.

Alessandra Zorzi herself, the thief turned heroine, is a blast to read. She’s clever and tenacious and seemed to be channeling Indiana Jones (but with far more poise and moderately more success- sorry, Indy). Add in Pepper, Zorzi’s plucky apprentice/sidekick (although that relegates her to the background and she is far from just a background character), and several other great characters and there isn’t a dull moment. Each character in the female-led cast is utterly unique, with their own motivations. The twisty and tenacious alliances added an extra layer of entertainment to an already extremely readable book.

I loved the noir-meets-supernatural vibe of the book! Zorzi would have been equally at home with a Sam Spade style of narration, but instead, she pops right out of the pages into an action-packed book with a fast pace. This is a quick, engrossing read that brings the best of both noir and occult horror stories and mashes them together into a world that is just flat-out fun.

I had a blast reading Shadows of Pnath, and I’m planning to grab other Arkham Horror novels. Pick this one up. You’ll thank me.

Lucky Jack by Sue Bavey

Meet Jack Rogers. Born in 1894, he once locked eyes with Queen Victoria and was one of the first travellers on London’s ‘Tube’. An early car owner, he had many escapades on his days out to Brighton, including a time when his brakes failed and he had to drive through central London without them!

His skills as an entertainer earned him popularity throughout his life, and kept him out of the deadly mines while a prisoner during the First World War. At the tender age of 103 Jack earned the title of ‘The World’s Oldest Columnist’ as he began dictating his life’s exploits to a reporter from the local newspaper. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for gifting this book to my son. Lucky Jack is available now.

Lucky Jack is the memoir (dictated by Jack to a reporter) of Henry “Jack” Rodgers. This little book spans a remarkably large span of time because Jack lived to be over 100 years old! And by lived, I mean he really lived. He didn’t just exist. Jack had a zest for life that comes through the pages loud and clear, making this book a captivating and often rollicking taste of history from a new perspective.

As an American, the majority of my knowledge of British history is confined to the “big” names and events. Lucky Jack makes things much more personal and, in that respect, more familiar. There were a few things here and there that my tragically American sensibilities didn’t quite understand (beef drippings, for example) but I was able to easily infer.

The book included small anecdotes about Jack’s life. The chapters were short and would work very well as a history curriculum supplement (homeschool mom here). While the entire book was interesting, the parts involving Jack’s experiences in World War I were extremely powerful. It can be easy, I think, to relegate things to history books, making them seem a little removed. Lucky Jack gets rid of that invisible barrier, making historical events less separate from the day-to-day grind.

The way the book is organized by author Sue Bavey makes for a quick yet engaging read. It’s told in the first person and feels like nothing so much as a good conversation with a friend. My oldest son said, “Jack came across as a kind, somewhat goofy person who was probably a joy to be around in his lifetime”. I think that Jack was one of those delightful people who share their “luck” with everyone they meet. The reader is definitely lucky to be able to peer into the life of a remarkable man who truly lived.

Teachers and parents: make sure to read Lucky Jack with your older elementary and up children. Everyone else: read this for an enjoyable trip through someone’s life.

Pathfinder Beginner Box and D&D Starter Set: Thoughts

After some recent situations (see: fiasco) involving Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast, I decided it would be the perfect time to check out Pathfinder 2e. This is my first experience with Pathfinder 2e, and there are some differences between that and Dungeons and Dragons. You can read my thoughts on the Pathfinder Core Rulebook and The Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook here if you are so inclined.

I have played a total of four sessions in the Pathfinder Beginner Box so far (it takes a little longer when one of the party members has school the next day and needs a decent bedtime), so I’ll have to wait a while before sharing “finished” thoughts. I’m enjoying it immensely so far, though!

Today, I’m going to share my unasked-for opinions on the Pathfinder Beginner Box and the Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set. They have some similarities but there are also some things that are unique to each set. As with my other post, I’ll let you know: I am not going to bash either D&D or Pathfinder. There are things I like and dislike about both. I hope you give table-top roleplaying a try and enjoy whatever TTRPG you play!

Image Credit: Amazon

For transparency: When I used the Beginner Box, it was the more simple version and did not include the extra dice, etc. The set we used included one set of dice, the rulebook, five pre-made character sheets, and a pre-written adventure. The set pictured above has quite a bit more, but I was happy with what the simpler version had.

My group and I played the (simpler) Starter Set a few years ago. This was one of my oldest son’s first experiences with Dungeons and Dragons and we had a blast. He needed a lot of help figuring out which dice to roll and why (it can seem a little complicated at first) but enjoyed playing his pre-made character in the most chaotic of ways. His lighting the tree my rogue was hiding in on fire comes up more often in conversation than you would think. At any rate, it sparked an interest in TTRPGs and he has since played a few homebrew campaigns and is joining the group on the Pathfinder adventure.

I thought that the story in the D&D starter set flowed well (although it was pretty straightforward). My only niggle with the adventure itself was that it seemed designed to show what a campaign can look like but didn’t really teach the mechanics of the game. My oldest said that he was frustrated by his confusion over what dice to roll and why. Can you tell he’s used to grasping new concepts quickly?

What stands out to me the most with this more deluxe Starter Set (pictured above) is that it comes with six sets of dice. I find that incredibly cool! This could be a player’s first experience with TTRPGs and I feel having a dice set to send home with each person shows an encouragement to keep going on future adventures.

The deluxe Starter Set has a bunch of extra items, such as extra pre-made characters (a LOT of them, which is great!) and paper figures. However, none of that is in the box. Instead, it will be emailed and you can print what you want to use. I go back and forth on this method. On the one hand, it is good to save paper and not have a bunch of stuff that maybe you aren’t interested in. On the other hand, I’m a homeschool mom. I am very aware of the cost of printer ink and I hoard that stuff like gold. I personally would rather have things included (at least some of them), doubly so because any figures printed on normal printer paper are going to be a bit on the flimsy side. But saving paper is good, so there’s that.

Now, on to the Pathfinder Beginner Box. Please forgive any lousy pictures: photography is not a skill I possess.

Included in box

Unlike the Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set, the Pathfinder Beginner Box only has one set of dice. I LOVE THEM, though! Why? Because each one has a different color which is matched on the side of the pre-made character sheet. My oldest raved about how easy it was to know which dice was which when he was asked to roll. It also helped him quickly grasp which dice were used for what reasons. I do wish that there were a few more sets of dice, like in the D&D set, but these dice are still really stinking cool. I saw them and thought, “How smart and so simple!”

The Beginner Box also comes with figures, a map, and some other extras. I like that they are included in the box (again, I’m an unrepentant printer-ink hoarder) even though I know at least some of it probably won’t be used. Then again, maybe. The map is pretty cool, double sided and well made. It comes with four pre-made characters, but they are already printed and ready to go. The Beginner Box also includes a solo adventure (something that might be in the D&D Starter Set too, but I’m not sure).

I’m not far enough into the adventure in the Beginner Box but am enjoying it a lot so far. One thing that seems a little different is that, while the adventure is far from choppy or boring, it seems to be more aimed at teaching the mechanics of the game. This isn’t a bad thing, but it does feel a little different to the adventure in D&D’s Starter Set. I’m not finished yet, so my opinion on the adventure itself might very well change down the road.

Lastly, there are also action reminder cards for each player. As someone who is playing this after using Dungeons and Dragons for years and years, this is a handy addition. The actions are a little different and it’s so helpful to have a reminder.

The prices are comparable, so I don’t really have any thoughts on which set gets more bang for its buck. I was happy with the adventure in the Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set and I’m also very pleased with the Pathfinder Beginner Box.

As I continue playing the adventure in the Beginner Box, I’ll also share my thoughts on that. If you’ve made it thought this post, congratulations: both sets are much better than what I’ve written is.

Vevin Song by Jonathan Neves Mayers

Years have passed since hostile creatures flew down from the sky and forced humanity to fight or flee. Now, the surviving humans live in underwater cocoons, knowing that the world above does not belong to them anymore.

Marla Hightower is just getting by with a job she loathes in a cocoon, longing for something more fulfilling after a rough start to life. But things change as she begins to develop unusual abilities not unlike the winged creatures who invaded her world.

Knowing that being discovered will result in her being experimented on and placed in confinement, Marla plans to escape from the cocoon and launch up to the surface, beginning her dangerous journey to uncover not only her origins, but those of humanity’s enemies. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Vevin Song is available now.

Vevin Song started with a bang, immediately sticking the reader into danger and desperation. It served to introduce me quickly to the fears that led the entirety of humanity into hiding. We are introduced right away to a way of life that is ending. The humans are leaving, heading into “cocoons” under the ocean. However, the main story actually takes place years later.

After the first chapter, the pace slowed down a bit. That’s not to say there wasn’t any action. There was (and even more carnage!), but it took a while to get there. Marla is the main character and things really move at the pace of her character development, which meant some slower parts at the beginning. I struggled a bit with her. She came across as kind of a snot, which I normally don’t mind (I don’t need to like a character or relate to them to find them interesting), but I think she was meant to be likable. That kind of threw me a little. I really enjoyed reading the other characters, however, especially Erin.

Things start to open up when Marla returns to the surface. More and more is learned about the Vevin, and it was obvious that a ton of thought and effort was put into making them unique and different (although not as different as the people in the book thought). I loved the lore and mannerisms of the Vevin! Their addition made the book captivating.

The last part of the book picked up, hurtling toward a conclusion that was as attention-grabbing as it was appropriate to the story arc. I don’t read a ton of dystopia, but I can say with confidence that nothing about the book is cut and dry or anything like what you’ve read before.

Vevin Song was an enjoyable book, and fans of dystopian science fiction will find themselves immersed almost from the beginning.