[Friday Flash Review] The Blazing Star, by Imani Josey

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❧ Title: The Blazing Star
❧ Author: Imani Josey
❧ Publisher: Wise Ink
❧ Publication date: 6th December 2016
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦.5  (3.5)
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Sixteen-year-old Portia White is used to being overlooked—after all, her twin sister Alex is a literal genius.

But when Portia holds an Egyptian scarab beetle during history class, she takes center stage in a way she never expected: she faints. Upon waking, she is stronger, faster, and braver than before. And when she accidentally touches the scarab again?

She wakes up in ancient Egypt—her sister and an unwitting freshman in tow.

Great.

Mysterious and beautiful, Egypt is more than they could have ever imagined from their days in the classroom. History comes alive as the three teens realize that getting back to the present will be the most difficult thing they’ve ever done. Stalked by vicious monsters called Scorpions, every step in the right direction means a step closer to danger.

As Portia and the girls discover that they’re linked to the past by more than just chance, they have to decide what it truly means to be yourself, to love your sister, and to find your way home.

blazing star❝In A Nutshell❞

 

✎ Time-travel back to Ancient Egypt with magical powers and twins, one of which is very selfish (she is!) and the other constantly pressured into “twinning”. Though the tables are a little flipped/evened out when they are both sent back in time and Portia discovers she has magic. Basically the less “special” twin is cast into the spotlight where she gets to discover more about herself.
✎ Black teenage girls in Ancient Egypt, generally being pretty awesome.
✎ Diverse ☒ (race #ownvoices)
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❝What I loved❞
✎ The setting! Ancient Egypt is one of those settings that is woefully underused, and often when it is visited, it’s usually in movies and ends up being pretty terrible.
✎ The characters. Well, Portia and Selene were my favourites. Seeing Portia claim her own identity and strike out for who she wants to be was one of the best parts of the book. She needs that independence from the twinning and through the events of the book, she begins to realise the courage to go it solo when she wants to.
✎ The plot was engaging and full of intrigue that kept me turning the page. It was fast-paced (for the most part–more on this below) and fun.
✎ Three black girls taking absolute centre stage and owning it and a cast full of women.
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❝What I didn’t love❞
✎ The pacing was great, and then slow and saggy, then great, and then slow and saggy again. There seemed to be whole swathes of the book where nothing happened, then everything happened at once. There was no urgency overall and it made the book less exciting to read than it first started.
✎ The old theme of person gets taken back in time (to Ancient Egypt of all places!) and still keeps up the insistence that there’s some kind of “misunderstanding” or prank going on, instead of actually accepting the rational explanation of, when it looks like you’re in Ancient Egypt, maaaaybe you’re in Ancient Egypt! It didn’t last that long, but long enough to be a little irritating and unrealistic. It felt like a series of scenes from a cliché movie which didn’t work for me.
✎ We’re in Ancient Egypt, but… we could honestly be anywhere else in the world, because I didn’t really feel that we were in Ancient Egypt at all. There seemed to be no descriptions, no depth to the setting. Just costume and occasional set-dressing. I feel that with the short length of the book, we could have really been invited to see more of the setting, especially as that’s what I was looking forward to the most.
✎ The potential love interest/relationship was just… it felt tacked on because, oh, look, gotta have that romance! It didn’t work for me. Not every story needs a romance and this was definitely one of those.
✎ I was inexplicably irked by the constant use of “the freshman” instead of Selene’s name. You don’t just go around referring to someone as the freshman when you know their name. It stuck out in the narrative and was just irritating as heck. You’d say the lieutenant” or “the captain” or even “the priest” etc, but not “the sophomore” or “the freshman” every other word when talking about the character. It happened a lot (or seemed to) which is what made it noteworthy for me. I think it was most annoying because it felt as though a strange distance was being put between Selene and Portia, when that wasn’t expressed in the story itself, so it stood out even more. I mean, it’s a tiny thing, but hey ho.
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❝If you liked this…❞
…then you might also like: Heidi Heilig’s The Girl From Everywhere and The Ship Beyond Time. More historical time-travel with great diverse characters, lots of myth and history and so much heart.

[Friday Flash Review] And I Darken, by Kiersten White

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❧ Title: And I Darken (Conqueror’s Saga #1)
❧ Author: Kiersten White
❧ Publisher: Delacorte Press
❧ Publication date: 28th June 2016
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦✦
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No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

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and i darken❝In A Nutshell❞

✎A re-imagining of the story of Vlad the Impaler, actual man-person and not the would-be vampire of myth. In this, his daughter, Lada, is set to rise to the legendary heights of Vlad in his stead, in a historical revisiting of the setting and his rise to power. Lada is a fierce princess with a very soft, handsome and clever brother, Radu. Lada and Radu are sent into the heart of the Ottoman Empire by their father as part of his politicking, when his own influence and position begins to slip. They are essentially hostages to ensure his cooperation.

✎ Lada is not a typical princess. She is a skilled warrior, violent and even vicious, and she refuses to let her home go. She wants the power and position of a man and refuses to play the courtly games her brother is so skilled at, whereas he shies away from battle and war unless absolutely necessary. They are very close as siblings but the relationship can be strained at times. They will defend one another at all costs.

✎Diverse ☒ (race (the majority of the book takes place in the Ottoman empire with only a few characters from outside), queerness, positive depiction of Islam); not #ownvoices.

✎ History and politics and love and war and a thousand things besides.
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❝What I loved❞
✎ Radu is gay. He is gay and he is a main character. Did I mention he’s gay? G A Y. Also, he’s gay.

✎ Lada is terrifying and brilliant and you want her on your team for absolutely anything ever that involves horrible killing and maiming because she will win and also scare you just a little.

✎ A positive, historical(ly accurate- afaik) depiction of Islam.

✎ This book is rich with intrigue and tension and filled with suspense. It is a luscious adventure into the past where the world comes alive in full colour. The level of detail and research was impressive and shone through, showing how much ground work and reading (and visiting!) White must have done. There is a fierceness to the narrative that Lada conveys and it is at times both horrifying and readable, whereas Radu’s gentler wit weaves an almost poetic story alongside his sister’s. The two are a contrast, yet entirely complementary. Radu’s sexuality is treated as a learning of his own self and it is not badly written. There is a lot of truth to Radu’s slow realisation of his feelings for Memed (not a spolier; sorry not sorry) that really shows how carefully his story was approached by a writer who is very obviously not a gay boy!

And I Darken is so gripping it’s impossible to put down. If we’re not being held hostage by the tense narrative of Lada and Radu’s childhood years, we’re kept at the edge of our seats as we’re invited right into the heart of the intrigue of the court as Lada and Radu aim to, at first, survive, and then eventually, to thrive. This was one of my very favourite books of 2016.
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❝If you liked this…❞
…then you might also like: I don’t read much historical fiction so I genuinely have no idea? Maybe possibly, for “history with a twist” (which is the closest I can come), check out Anne Lyle’s Alchemist of Souls books. They’re not YA, but they rep queer MCs and I enjoyed entering a slightly-alternative Elizabethan England when I read them way back.

[Friday Flash Review] When The Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore

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❧ Title: When The Moon Was Ours
❧ Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
❧ Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press
❧ Publication date: 4th October 2016
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦✦
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To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.
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when the moon was ours❝In A Nutshell❞

 

✎Absolutely gorgeous magic realism romance amazingness!
✎#ownvoices Latina MC, queer romance
✎Diverse ☒ (race, queerness (trans rep!!))

✎ A Pakistani trans boy who makes moons and hangs them everywhere is best friends (and more!) with a girl who came from a water tower and grows roses from her wrist.divider

❝What I loved❞
✎I picked up this book on a whim–and maybe that’s the best way to pick up a book sometimes! It was utterly delightful and beautiful and unexpectedly full of heart and depth and power.
✎Positive trans rep that isn’t attached to the magic realism element but that stands on its own and understanding parent of a trans teen
✎ The prose is stunning and almost achingly beautiful. Not only is the story compelling and magical, there’s a sense of strange urgency that isn’t rushed, but keeps you turning the page again and again, desperate to reach the end, desperate to read another page, another word. wtmwo dedication
✎ Can I say “everything”? I couldn’t get enough of the romance or the imagery. This book was just so breathtakingly beautiful. I’ve never read any magic realism before and I wasn’t sure what to expect at all, but this book was just pure poetry and I adored every second of it. I think that this book taught me what magic realism is.
✎ Special mention for the dedication (above), which is beautiful and magical:
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❝If you liked this…❞
…then you might also like: McLemore’s other books The Weight of Feathers and Wild Beauty as well as Roshani Chokshi’s The Star-Touched Queen and the accompanying sequel A Crown Of Wishes, both of which are resplendent with gorgeous imagery, magic and mythology, with prose that flirts a little with magic realism.

[Friday Flash Review] The Darkest Part of the Forest, by Holly Black

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❧ Title: The Darkest Part of the Forest
❧ Author: Holly Black
❧ Publisher: Little, Brown Books For Young Readers
❧ Publication date: 13th January 2015
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦✦
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Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough

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20958632In A Nutshell

✎ Role reversal twins: soft guy princey type; warrior girl knight. Small town in rural America where the forest is full of dark secrets and danger. Having spent their childhoods in the woods, Ben and Hazel know that things aren’t always as they seem, even if the town of Fairfold is so used to its long history with faeries that the things that happen are simply just accepted as they are.
✎ Queer romance! Changelings! Cursed sleeping faerie princes!
✎ A mysterious faerie, loved by both twins but without much of a lasting, terrible sibling rivalry love triangle (where the straight ship is launched, because isn’t it always if this happens).
✎ A brilliant juxtaposition of contemporary fantasy and fairytale and folklore, with life in Fairfold every bit as normal as any other town in rural America. Except for the faeries, of course. And the occasionally missing tourist, but hey.
✎Diverse ☒ (queerness and secondary characters who are PoC)

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What I loved

✎ Everything. Absolutely everything. This book is enchanting and delightful and reads every bit the way a modern faerie tale should. Ben and Hazel are compelling, interesting characters and they are so well-written as siblings.
✎ Q u e e r  r o m a n c e. I can’t stress this enough, really. Any book that gives me queer romance is automatically going to get bonus points, let alone if its a m/m romance.
✎ Faeries! Anyone who knows me knows that faeries are my thing. I am an actual changeling so really that shouldn’t be a surprise. I eat up stories that involve the fae, whether they’re fantasy or urban fantasy or that grey area between. Basically, faeries.
✎ Black’s writing style is just meant tot write books like this: it’s very gently lyrical whilst being utterly engaging and even “mundane”, but in the best of ways. It’s as though she brings faerie completely to life in a modern setting without losing or compromising on any of the magic and wonder and even terror of what faeries can really be like.
✎ The point that Ben and Hazel’s parents are generally guilty of “benign neglect”. I am always eager to see the various ways in which parents can totally mess up with their kids being displayed: it’s important to demonstrate and explore the fact that violence and/or abuse aren’t the only ways in which parents can hurt or damage their kids. Not being there can be just as damaging and even if the parents themselves are great people that does not mean they’re great at being parents.
✎ Hazel’s strength and bravery and general kick-assness, matched with her brother’s artistic softness.

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If you liked this…

…then you might also like: Holly Black’s other faerie tale books, particularly her Modern Faerie Tales books, Tithe, Valiant and Ironside, as well as the upcoming The Cruel Prince, which the first of a new series called The Folk of the Air and is also about faeries. This is slated for an early 2018 release.

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Being Neurodivergent

I’m on the Autistic Spectrum, but was diagnosed late. Generally I was the kind of autistic kid that adults overlook, mostly due to the stereotyped and cliché (mis)conceptions of what autism both is and isn’t. For starters, Autism is a spectrum, meaning that it presents in a variety of different ways. Further, what used to be classed as Asperger’s Syndrome (what I was diagnosed with first) is now considered to simply be part of the spectrum of autism. The terms “high-” and “low-functioning” used to be applied, but this is no longer the case (for the most part) and instead we have the spectrum. The former “levels” of functioning on the spectrum were honestly pretty ableist.

Being on the Autistic spectrum can include other neurodiverse experiences or mental health conditions, including ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), Anxiety, OCD (Obssessive Complusive Disorder) and many more besides. For my part, I experience ADD (Over-focused subtype), OCD and Generalised Anxiety Disorder (as well as Social Anxiety Disorder, but it’s difficult to tell how much of that ties in with my being on the spectrum).

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So what does all this mean?

Well…

  • It means that I’m a strange but generally amazing creature that worries excessively, has an anxiety gremlin rooming with me in my brain, I suffer from constant Intrusive Thoughts and have trouble switching my focus from one thing to another, but good luck getting me to quit once I am focused.
  • It means that people and small talk and generally expected social interactions are tantamount to myth and wonder to me and I just do not entertain the notion of a casual conversation because what is this mythical thing of which you speak and how do I participate in it? and I’d really much rather never leave the house than have to say “hello” to a single person I don’t want to greet, ever again.
  • It means that I have little-to-zero tone control 90% of the time and if I try to emulate or fake it, yeahhh, we’re both gonna know about it. (This is particularly hard when people do or say something I don’t like or disagree with, because I have no ability to remain civil or not activate You’re A Jerk face. Also awkward when receiving gifts I don’t dig, because my “Yes, thank you for the thought” face needs some work.
  • It really needs work.) It means I stress out over even the slightest interaction with anyone who isn’t My People (I have two of those). Yes, even online. Yes, even if I’ve known the person for years. Yes, even if the people are lovely. Yes, no matter what.
  • It means I get anxious if my set routine is disrupted and sometimes I will have to go through certain steps before I can happily settle into an activity; like arranging my space just-so at my desk, or making sure that the bed is made before I get in.
  • It means that when I’m comfortable with someone and feel safe I can talk forever and ever and ever and sometimes I zone out to what others are saying if it doesn’t interest me and yes this makes me a jerk sometimes, sorry.
  • It means I talk in “parentheses”, literally pausing to add in a slightly related sentence before going back to the main topic, by which point I’ve usually moved way too fast and lost everyone because people can’t see parentheses Leo.divider

Honestly, I could be here all day. Half of the time I forget just what it means. And I could probably have stopped listing things five sentences ago, but I’m not good at not talking about the things that make me neuroatypical. These things are a big part of what makes me, me, and it’s all swings and roundabouts in what they are, do, and how they effect me on a daily basis. But when all is said? I love my neurodivergence. Sure, anxiety sucks and apparently I’m supposed to care that people are hard and socialness is important, but hey–I love my parentheses and how I skip topic five million times a minute and how I’m receptive to sounds and scents that other people might not be.

I intend to talk more openly about each of these things in detail, so look out for the related posts, all of which I will link to my drop down menu at the top of the navigation bar, for sake of convenience and ease. And also because it will be neat and pleasing.

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[Friday Flash Review] The Girl From Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig

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❧ Title: The Girl From Everywhere (The Girl from Everywhere #1)
❧ Author: Heidi Heilig
❧ Publisher: Hot Key Books
❧ Publication date: February 16th 2016
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦✦

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Sixteen-year-old Nix Song is a time-traveller. She, her father and their crew of time refugees travel the world aboard The Temptation, a glorious pirate ship stuffed with treasures both typical and mythical. Old maps allow Nix and her father to navigate not just to distant lands, but distant times – although a map will only take you somewhere once. And Nix’s father is only interested in one time, and one place: Honolulu 1868. A time before Nix was born, and her mother was alive. Something that puts Nix’s existence rather dangerously in question…

Nix has grown used to her father’s obsession, but only because she’s convinced it can’t work. But then a map falls into her father’s lap that changes everything. And when Nix refuses to help, her father threatens to maroon Kashmir, her only friend (and perhaps, only love) in a time where Nix will never be able to find him. And if Nix has learned one thing, it’s that losing the person you love is a torment that no one can withstand. Nix must work out what she wants, who she is, and where she really belongs before time runs out on her forever

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25950053In A Nutshell
✎Time-travelling pirate ships, magical map Navigation and dysfunctional families visiting real and mythological worlds.

✎#ownvoices biracial (Asian American) teen

✎Diverse ☒ (race, queerness, secondary character with mental health issues)

✎ Nix and her family (her father and the crew of the Temptation ) travel through time and alternate realities by using maps that guide them to a specific place and time (one use per map), collecting treasures both real and mythological/magical, as they search for the one map they’ve been looking for: the one that might undo Nix’s entire existence. It might mean getting her mother back, but is it worth the risk? The captain of The Temptation seems to think so. And he’s willing to do anything to get his hands on the map he needs, no matter the cost.

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What I loved

✎ Everything! The Girl From Everywhere is full of magic, heart and adventure. Between the often heartbreaking relationship between Nix and her father and the interpersonal relationships between the crew, this book takes a hold of you and makes you care. The characters are vivid and layered and the unique method of time travel is every bit as magical and thrilling as it sounds.

✎ Kash is an utter delight; half romantic rogue and half not-quite-gentleman thief.

✎ The seamless inclusion of so many fragments of mythology and magic, all of which come together to weave an intriguing tapestry against which the story of The Girl From Everywhere plays out. It’s almost Urban Fantasy, with the modern setting from which Nix and the ship come and go, passing through as they please, but the time-hopping and seafaring aspects transform the story into something else entirely. Something completely enchanting.

✎ The fact that Heilig goes there with the dysfunction of Nix’s family, including suggestions of mental health issues as well as drug abuse. It’s hard and it hurts but it’s real and it’s written like a pro.

✎The “political bits”!

✎ Everything. I loved everything.  This book is so, so long overdue a stellar, praise-singing review (which was why I did it first when beginning to tackle the terrifying backlog!), because it is a genuinely amazing book. A clear five stars with glitter and tasteful sparkles.

✎ Heidi herself is so lovely it’s almost criminal, to be honest. I had the great pleasure of interviewing her for Fantasy Faction, where she was an utter delight.

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If you liked this…

…then you might also like: Into The Dim, by Janet B Taylor.
Because: It’s slightly similar in theme, e.g. unorthodox methods of time travel and a vividly-realised cast. Into The Dim isn’t as diverse (though it features a MC with Anxiety and phobias that aren’t exploited or there for ~drama~ and ~tension~, as well as non-white* secondary characters (a black teen in the modern day and a Jewish teen in the past)) with regards to the main characters, but the mental health and anxiety issues are handled sensitively and accurately. Unsure if it is #ownvoices in this regard.

* Written as “non-white” instead of PoC because whilst many Jewish people consider themselves White, many do not.

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Battling my review backlog: a battle-plan

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I am ludicrously behind on reviewing what I read. I’ve tried to be good with at least the books I receive from NetGalley, but even so, due to a couple of years of lapsed blogging (not lapsed reading…) my backlog of reviews more closely resembles a mountain than a list. It’s gone from the ridiculous to the sublime, honestly. So here’s what I’m going to do about it.
1. Blog more.

Revolutionary, I know. I’m going to get through the backlog with the least amount of pressure possible, and to this end, I’m going to start Friday Flash reviews. (Hopefully) weekly I will post a review of a book that I read anywhere between 2014 to present. So I don’t drown in yet more reviews, anything from now (May 2017) onwards will get reviewed as normal with the intention of blogging more frequently.

2. Break the backlog down

Alongside the Friday Flash reviews, I’ll be going through the massive backlog and seeing which books I bought but then didn’t read for months. These will be my Tsundoku Sundays and they’ll add a little variety, as well as being a pretty cool way of seeing which books I jumped on within a month or so of their release and which I–for whatever reason–left to gather a little dust on the shelves first.

3. Write shorter, more concise reviews

I’m not good at writing short reviews, not gonna lie. But given my ever-limited number of spoons for both mental and physical exertion, posting reviews of 1.5k+ for each review very quickly gets tiring: in fact, that’s why, during the rough period that was 2014-2015, I barely managed to keep on top of anything at all. Things in my life were out of control and the first thing to slip was my blog. I want to fix that.

So that’s how I’m going to attempt to battle my epic backlog of books to review. I’ll get there. Maybe.