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Wednesday, August 16

Recently Read | May + June 2017

Wednesday, August 16

It's already August, and I can barely believe it. 2017 has been a year of playing catch-up, it seems. (Or perhaps I just overextend myself a tad?)

What did I read during the months of May and June?

Top Read

Hunted by Megan Spooner

Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them.

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas … or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance.

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?

I'm always game for a retelling, and the Beauty and the Beast tale is one of my all-time favorites. (Regardless of how problematic it can sometimes be.) The character of Belle is one that I really connect with—from her love of books to her feeling out of place in her community. In Hunted, Megan Spooner has created a "Belle" that is a stronger, more complex version of the character in the animated movie and other retellings, a character who's been forced to deal with more hardships in life and who's a little more self aware. (It's easier to dive into such topics in a book, natch.)

The story itself is darker, and more influenced by folklore. It takes a decidedly non-Disney turn at points, and Spooner makes a point to call out some of the issues with other versions, namely Yeva's conflicting feelings about the Beast and the somewhat insane decision to return to him.

I also really enjoyed Spooner's expansion of the world, and her inclusion of other characters, including Yeva's sisters and a boy from town who could have turned out like Gaston—a dude bro-y stereotype—but was actually pretty awesome. (Don't get me wrong, I love Gaston, but we all know he's The Worst.)

Honorable mentions

A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses #3) by Sarah J. Maas

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit—and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well. As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords—and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

Y'all know how much of a Maas fangirl I am, particularly when it comes to the Court of Thorns and Roses series, so it should come as no surprise that I was super pumped to read this book. And it didn't disappoint—although I do still like the second book best—bringing plenty of action,  swoon and time spent with the fabulous characters who make up the Court of Dreams.

This isn't the last book in the series, but it is the last book that Feyre and Rhysand have the starring roles. I'm really excited to see who the main characters of the subsequent books are; I could read books about this world and the myriad of people who live in it for a very long time to come and never tire of it/them.

Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist #1) by Renée Ahdieh

The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

Another retelling, of sorts, Flame in the Mist incorporates elements of Mulan, Robin Hood, and Japanese folklore into a lush, engaging story. I've not read any of Ahdieh's other books, but I've heard that she's a great storyteller, and this book definitely leads me to believe that the rumors were correct.

Ahdieh also brings the swoon, which is always a check in a Pros column for me, and the main character of Mariko is a feminist in an era in which her kind of progressive thinking was not only frowned upon, it was unheard of. Do be warned, however: the ending of this series starter is a bit of a cliffhanger.

Spill Zone (Spill Zone #1) by Scott Westerfeld

Nobody's ever really explained the Spill. Was it an angelic visitation? A nanotech accident? A porthole opening from another world? Whatever it was, no one's allowed in the Spill Zone these days except government scientists and hazmat teams. But a few intrepid explorers know how to sneak through the patrols and steer clear of the dangers inside the Zone. Addison Merrick is one such explorer, dedicated to finding out what happened that night, and to unraveling the events that took her parents and left her little sister mute and disconnected from the world.

Spill Zone is one of those books that I might not have picked up had I not gotten involved in a book tour for FYA. I didn't love any of the other Westerfeld books I've read, and I tend to be behind the trend when it comes to picking up graphic novels. However, I'm thankful I chose to get involved with the promotion for this book, because I super enjoyed the mix of spooky and suspense.

The book features a post-apocalyptic "zone" that will give you more questions than answers, and leave you wanting more. The art style is a little choppy at times, but it really works with the strange look and feel of the story.

Other reads


Giant Days (Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, Vol. 4, and Vol. 5) by John Allison


Now I Rise (The Conqueror's Saga #2) by Kiersten White | Our Dark Duet (Monsters of Verity #2) by Victoria Schwab | Roses and Rot by Kat Howard | Royal Bastards (Royal Bastards #1) by Andrew Shvarts | The Evaporation of Sofi Snow (The Evaporation of Sofi Snow #1) by Mary Weber | The Gold-Son by Carrie Anne Noble | The Sandcastle Empire by Kayla Olson | The Traitor's Kiss (The Traitor's Trilogy #1) by Erin Beaty | Violet Grenade by Victoria Scott


Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert | The Black Witch (The Black Witch Chronicles #1) by Laurie Forest

Have you read any of these books? If not, what have you read lately that you'd recommend?

Thursday, August 10

Haiku Revieu | Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Thursday, August 10
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

A pretty movie
Dane DeHaan is terrible
Haven’t I seen this?

A dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.

Special thanks to Colt, who provided the haiku for this review.

Full disclosure: We went to see Valerian in theaters  out of curiosity, because we thought it was the kind of movie that would be better, visually, on the big screen, rather than actually wanting to see it. With such low expectations, we had an enjoyable time, but it's still a pretty dang terrible film.

Thanks, for the most part, to Dan DeHaan's Valerian. I've seen Dane in other roles, and never thought he was amazing, but Valerian is flat-out awful. He makes Cara Delevigne's Laureline look good, and if you've seen Suicide Squad, you know that this is impressive. He's uncomfortably, laughably bad in the role, and it's super hard to picture him as a dashing space soldier/rogue. He's definitely better suited as the somewhat creepy maybe villain à la Harry Osborne.

The movie also suffers from many moments that are just too similar to The Fifth Element to be coincidence, given that both were directed by Luc Besson. I understand that Luc took a lot of influence from the Valerian comics for The Fifth Element, but that movie's too well-known (and too good) to get away with copying scenes/ideas.

All that said, the movie is pretty—lots of outerspace, futuristic tech and funky aliens—and I am glad we saw it on the big screen. The CG wasn't terrible, for the most part, and there's something to be said for movies that begin like Valerian does, with disparate people coming together in peace and creating something awesome to achieve a common goal. (I find the idea of peace with extraterrestrials a much preferable one to that of aliens who just want to destroy us.)

Just don't say I didn't warn you about the acting.

Check it out:

Wednesday, August 9

Haiku Revieu | Atomic Blonde

Wednesday, August 9
Atomic Blonde

Charlize is a BAMF
McAvoy's unexpected
Set in the 80s

An undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents.

After her role as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, it's no surprise that Charlize Theron is an action star. And if you had any doubt, watching her fight scenes in Atomic Blonde will get rid of any doubts that might be lingering. She is impressive in the fight scenes, and knowing that she did a lot of her own stunt work in the film makes it even more so.

That said, her character (Lorraine) is not all that interesting. Which makes the movie suffer some, considering it revolves around her and her role as a badass spy. The movie tries to make her interesting by surrounding her with intriguing secondary characters, but it never quite gets there.

Speaking of secondary characters, James McAvoy is great in this film. No spoilers, but I like how his character (Percival) lives in a gray area and has, to use a somewhat problematic term, "gone native." He's fascinating, and I wish Percival and Lorraine had had more screen time together. I also enjoyed Sofia Boutella's Delphine and—surprisingly?—Bill Skarsgård's Merkel. I would enjoy seeing Atomic Blonde sequels with Merkel as Lorraine's Q.

The most surprising thing about Atomic Blonde was the time period—even after watching the trailer, I was surprised to discover it was set in the late 1980s, right before the fall of the Berlin wall. Because of this setting, the movie is very stylized and gorgeously retro, but it's funny how well it would have fit into the present, aside from the whole Cold War storyline, natch. (I want many of Lorraine's outfits.) The movie did a good job at keeping its secrets, too; most of the twists weren't super obvious or foreshadowed too clearly.

All in all, I liked Atomic Blonde, but I didn't love it. I think part of my problem is that I went into the movie wanting another John Wick, in which the main character kicks ass and doesn't bother to take names, while being intriguing and engaging regardless of a lack of dialogue. It tried to reach that level of entertainment, but just missed the mark.

Check it out:

Tuesday, August 1

Hey August | 2017 Man Calendar

Tuesday, August 1
Download this page of the 2016 Man Calendar for personal use by clicking on the image; it will open in a new window. Right/control click to save it. Then print the page on letter-size cardstock, and trim it to 6"x9".

Desktop version:

Find the rest of the 2017 Man Calendar here.