Two potion shops, one heated rivalry…until hate bubbles over into something else.
Any adventurer worth their sword knows about Ambrose Beake. The proud, quiet half-elf sells the best, and only, potions in the city—until a handsome new shopkeeper named Eli opens another potion shop across the street, throwing Ambrose’s peace and ledgers far off balance.
Within weeks, they’re locked in a war of price tags and products—Ambrose’s expertise against Eli’s effortless charm. Toil leads to trouble, the safety gloves come off, and right as their rivalry reaches a boiling point…
The mayor commissions them to brew a potion together.
The task is as complex as it is lucrative, pushing both men to the limits of their abilities and patience. Yet as the fires burn and cauldrons bubble…they find a different sort of chemistry brewing.
My Review: 5/5 ⭐- Humor, Heart, and a healthy amount of scientific shade
The best word to describe this book is “Delightful.” It’s a quick, entertaining, and exciting read, perfect for if you need something cosy to curl up with in the car on your way to a mandatory family field trip. It takes place in a world inspired by your typical sword and sorcery fantasy settings, and takes a closer look at what the NPCs are doing while your party is off saving the world. The strength of the worldbuilding comes not from elaborate politics or original species, but from the charming minutia of daily life – the dumplings at a favorite tavern, mail getting postponed by griffin migrations, contending with the whims of the local government, which sinkhole to scavenge for the best moss, and of course, the eponymous rival potion shops vying for customers.
The protagonists each have unique and memorable personalities, voices, and mannerisms that make both sides of the rivalry sympathetic and lovable. There were a couple moments at the very beginning when I wished they would simply talk to each other like grownups, the not-quite-a-fight scene giving me a bit of secondhand embarrassment for poor Ambrose and his busted knuckles. However, their original misunderstandings stem from differences in their backstories you learn later in the book, which puts everything into perspective. Both of their arcs were heartfelt and well-resolved, and the romance was really fun to read as well, as they both come to terms with their feelings, and then navigate a new relationship with career plans in mind.
The side characters are also wonderful in their own ways. Dawn’s friendship with Ambrose is a driving side-plot, and it’s interesting to explore how these very different personalities interact and support each other. Banneker is wonderfully weird and confident in his role as comedic relief, as well as a supportive friend. Sherry and Grim are the protective parents of the ragtag found family. I found it a fun subversion that the orcish Grim works with delicate jewelry, while the little old lady is the village blacksmith and armorer. I also would be remiss to end this review without a mention of the fantastical technobabble about potion reagents and procedure, or the fantastic illustrations. As a chemistry nerd myself, it was a blast to read about people who do the fantasy-version of my line of work. Even the chapter titles are the steps in a potion recipie!
Thanks for reading! Be sure to check back next week to read another interview with Ashwick about the creation of A Rival Most Vial! I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!
When Lizzy’s mother is the next to vanish, she’s expected to grieve and move on. Instead, Lizzy wants to find out what happened, but the answers she seeks can’t be found in the fey realm of Arbaon.
With the help of her best friend, Booker Reed, Lizzy’s determined to retrace her mother’s final steps… straight through an illegal portal and into the mortal realm.
Whatever leads she expected to find, it wasn’t an academy of vampires, and a world stalked by their rabid cousins, the kavians.
Forced to rely on the vampires for protection, and secluded away behind the high walls of Speculo School, it quickly becomes clear not everyone is pleased with Lizzy and Booker’s investigation. With danger building the further they dig, the two fey need to decide if the closure they seek is worth risking their lives for.
But the longer they remain amongst the vampires, the more Lizzy begins to suspect that her answers instead lie with the deadly kavians.
My Review: 4/5 Stars – An engaging urban fantasy story that focuses on what family means
This book took me a little while to get into (mostly because of school interfering with my reading) but I’m glad I gave it a chance. Though the first part failed to catch my attention completely, because I ended up really enjoying this story. The greatest strength of this book is the relationships between the characters – especially Lizzy and Booker. They’re truly ride-or-die friends and it’s obvious from the beginning how much they care about each other, and though they have their clashes, they’re loyal to the end. I was wary of their vampire friends, Cara and Andric, at first, but I grew to really like them as well throughout the book as they proved their trust. I also appreciate that none of their interactions turned into a weird love triangle/quadrangle situation, including with the other minor antagonist/potential love interest/resident mean girl, Mia Harris. Their interactions were always a lot of fun and the switching of POVs worked well to facilitate the story. Maddy’s absence haunts the narrative and Lizzy’s grief and desire for answers is the driving force of the story. Even though we never meet her, it’s clear the impact she’s made on Lizzy and Booker’s lives.
I found the world-building confusing and a bit lackluster at first, but by the time the whole deal with the kavians was explained, I was already invested in the character’s stories so it was worthwhile. Urban fantasy is always a tricky space to play with – the creatures you use must be recognizable to the usual tropes and traits, without falling into the realm of cliche, and I think Holmes strikes a simple but effective balance here, and I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the series!
Thanks for reading! I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!
This past month went really quickly, and not just because it’s the shortest month. My school schedule is in full-steam-ahead with senior projects, research, running too many clubs, and spending time with my friends before we all move away at the end of the semester. As I write this, I’m dealing with a migraine thanks to a freak snowstorm, and I’m very much looking forward to spring when the weather is more consistently warm and I can go outside again.
Won: 6/9 Complete
Run at least 2 sessions of my Planescape Campaign: Yes, this got off the ground! This is my first time DMing a campaign, I’m using an unusual setting, and my players are all experienced DMs, and so I was very nervous to start this game, but they all seem to be enjoying it so far!
Brainstorm newsletter stories for the year: I spend a lot of time playing DnD and it’s often a source of inspiration for tropes to recycle in my original fiction. I’m tempted to write out the backstories of my NPCs from the Planescape game as short stories of their own, or to novelize events from other games as a form of character development. I’m not really thinking about what’s going to be the most marketable, but what’s going to be the most fun for me to write. Most newsletters only have one “Cookie”, a single story that recruits people to sign up for updates and exclusive content. By releasing new stories quarterly, I’m going far overkill, and I’ve decided that not all these stories need to be “trendy” or “attention-grabbing”. It’s ok if they’re just plain weird.
I’ve been wanting to experiment with a more lineless art style, and to hone my shading and environmental storytelling in my art, and so these are some of the pieces I finished this month! The first is an illustration from my Avatar the Last Airbender campaign, during a particularly dramatic moment. The portraits are of Madeline Hyland, from the band The Amazing Devil. I used screen caps from their Love Run music videos as my reference.
Read “Whatever Happened to Madeline Hall” and Changeling for ARCs: Half done! I am finished with the prequel, and started Changeling but have not finished yet due to time constraints.
Read Tress and the Emerald Sea: I am about halfway through with this one as well!
Read Howl: Not started. I was too ambitious with my reading goals this month, but it’s at the top of the list for March.
Read ARMV for ARCs: Same as Howl!
Thanks for reading! I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!
It’s a fun exercise to find motifs that appear often in a writer’s work, and I recently noticed that I have an attachment to the describing nighttime scenes in my stories. I’ve compiled a bunch of short excerpts from these WIPs to compare the different worlds in which they take place. Feel free to peruse the tags and categories if any of these catch your attention!
A million twinkling stars hang in the dark sky. A galaxy of fireflies spots the clearing with dancing lights. The stone path continues before them, lined by late-seasoned wildflowers that grow as high as her waist. Garlands holding golden lanterns are spaced evenly along the way and draw the attention of diaphanous gossamer moths.
(later) They emerge into a glittering courtyard, paved with mother-of-pearl and reflecting the light of the waltzing stars. Garlands drape over the fluted stone pillars and drip with gemstones. Fountains spring from the center of the square, throwing fractal rainbows and silvery iridescent gleams to play off the walls. Hannah’s breath catches in her throat as she gazes at the spectacular sight, mesmerized by the moonlight.
The light of Illara filtered silver and violet through the Aral rings, illuminating the city with a soft hue. Clear skies let the starlight form spirals as it entered Laoche’s atmosphere, and Acheran spotted the constellation Chorer through the buildings. The “Crown of Heaven” and his sister’s namesake. Acheran made an armoe to it before soaring off. A cool wind carried him around the canyon effortlessly, and soon he reached sight of the Laine’s new home. A moment later, magic shocked through his wings, and he recognized a small figure huddled on the ledge next to the door.
From a Laoche Drabble:
The silhouette already sitting on the outlook nearly gave her a heart attack. The magic in Madelyn’s hand flared from a dim glow to a phosphorescent flash and she snapped into a fighting stance. “Who goes there?!”
The person whirled around, hands in the air. “Ighst, Madelyn! It’s just me!” Seth exclaimed. He put a finger to his lips. “Put that away before you wake up Radien. He’ll grouch at us for being up an about.
Madelyn relaxed and let the magic fall away before joining him where he sat, legs dangling over the edge. “What are you doing up?”
Madelyn hadn’t even noticed the sky. She looked up now, and her breath caught as she beheld the sight of the inky black coat of night speckled with hundreds of thousands of stars. The moon was gone tonight, leaving the sky scattered with the shining specks, like glitter spilled across a tablecloth. She’d read some astronomy books at school.
“…It’s amazing,” she whispered eventually.
“I’ve only seen a sky like this a few times before,” Seth said quietly. “Stephan took me on a sailing trip when we were younger. We couldn’t stray too far from the ports so people could keep an eye on us, but we snuck out one night on a small fishing boat and…”
His voice trailed off. He shook his head to forget the bittersweet memory, pointed into the air, and traced a constellation shaped like a group of pointy triangles. “That one is Kaaran, the mountain maker.”
Madelyn searched the heavens, trying to find the picture he pointed out, with not much luck. “Did he teach you to sail and navigate?”
Seth nodded slightly but said nothing for fear of his voice cracking. Madelyn dropped her eyes and twisted the fabric of her skirts in her hands.
“I miss him,” she said softly. “He was a good friend.”
“The worst part is not knowing what happened to him.”
“We’ll find him,” Madelyn said, with a sudden intensity he’d never seen before. “I swear it on the stars.”
Seth gave her a soft smile and that was enough.
The Traveller’s grin drops, and for the first time, they look up, and see the spiraling endless universe in all of its warping, mirroring, orbiting. Their breath catches in their throat and the Keeper glows with a smug sense of satisfaction as they experience the wonder. The bottom of a black hole enjoys a beautiful view. Now silence hangs awkwardly between them, as the music of the orbits becomes audible again in the absence of the screams
Marcia squinted into the fog and cursed the night. Roiling storm clouds obscured the clear light of the full moon, casting shimmering beams and warping shadows over the bog. Wind whipped her short, straight hair across her face. It stuck in the corners of her mouth whenever she took a panting breath and flicked into her stinging eyes. For the dozenth time in half as many minutes, she swiped it behind her ears, frustratingly aware that it was a futile effort. The sky hadn’t opened into a downpour yet, but the freezing mist clung to her clothes, her clammy hands, her eyelashes. Any other night, she could hear frogs croaking, birds crying, and the water rippling as turtles breached, but now, only the howling gale filled her ears. She gritted her teeth and stomped forward aimlessly.
“The god placed the cycle in the sky as a warning and a memorial. To this day, the people of Sainha look at their constellations and describe it as a sea of savage stars.”
With that, Boreas extinguished the fire. Notos looked to the sky, letting their eyes adjust to the lack of light from the campfire. The dilation happened almost instantly, as if on command from their dragon’s physiology. Their rider felt their attention drawn by their dragon’s sense of direction and both looked into the depths of space. Delicate white lines formed in their vision, connecting distant solar systems into constellations, and outlining the skeletons of the doomed creatures.
“We must be careful flying through their battle tomorrow. It still rages in its new form,” Boreas said solemnly. “Now get some rest. You’ll need it.”
Thanks for reading! What time of day is your favorite? I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!
The other day, I realized I had “infinity” tabs open on my phone’s Firefox app. This is a way of showing I have over 99 idling, but I think the number was well into the hundreds. As I was emptying these out, I thought it might be entertaining to share some of the more interesting ones to give you all a glimpse into what goes on behind the screen. This is, in fact, a rather common experience for me and a widely known joke among author circles, the FBI, my friends, and my family alike. No matter how incriminating this following list may be, rest assured that my browser history is nowhere near as disturbing as texting my nurse sister out of the blue, “Hey, could you drink embalming fluid?” and receiving an answer from her supervisor, questioning if I needed to be reported.
If you can relate to this, I’ve even made a sticker! You can pick up your very own “It’s for Research, I Swear…” on my sticker shop!
Ethanol safety data sheet (I spilled some on my hands in lab) (I was not wearing gloves) (Its fine)
Did Punxsutawney Phil see his shadow on Groundhog’s Day? (He did.) (Grr.) (I wanted an early spring) (The groundhog hath betrayed me)
Mirror stat blocks and magic items in DnD (My players are going to encounter thematically appropriate challenges if it kills me.)
Little Old Lady memory magnetic coil (aka LOL memory, used in early space missions, literally knitted together)
St. Brigid’s Day prayer (her feast day came up recently!)
Pizza menu (Church group does weekly Italian nights after Mass to make sure we’re extra vampire proof.)
Translation of the Italian aria I’m learning for voice lessons called Lasciar d’amarti (I’m a soprano?! PLOT TWIST?! I’ve been laboring under the assumption I’m a contralto for years but it turns out I just can’t breathe.)
An unfilled google form for the Classics Club on campus (I’m a senior, so I’m not going to go. I just wanted to stalk the GroupMe)
Berberis thunbergii fact sheet (An invasive thorn bush called Japanese barberry I was trying to identify. I did not eat it though it’s technically edible.)
Organic chemistry functional groups sheet for class (should I have them memorized? yes. Do I. absolutely not.)
the HECKIN WIMDY meme (it was HECKIN WIMDY)
Ciphers (as in the codes)
Cipher (the ttrpg system)
Religious teachers Filippini habit pattern (a nearby convent my friend may be joining soon, and she asked me to help her sew the old version of the habit because the current one is bleh)
Cognitive Surplus (an online store I found from an Instagram ad that sells neat science themed stuff)
Nova Impossible Art Challenge audio (for an Instagram reel) (my characters did not pass the impossible art challenge)
Wrench Wench TV Tropes page (I’m doing a 6 fanarts challenge of fictional Women in STEM and wanted to gather data)
Daily readings from a month ago (the USCCB site has them all! in podcast form too!)
Stretches for shin splints (I spent three days climbing ladders for a cabling job and then suffered for a week)
The Four Humors (I got into a heated argument with my roommates about which temperaments we were)
Yerba Mate (a type of tea that uses a strainer straw but my roommate uses the straw for not that tea)
Deciduous Trees (I cannot spell Deciduous)
Pinnate vs Palmate and Single vs Compound leaf identification (helping to homeschool 3rd grade botany class)
Adorkastock drawing references (practicing gesture and movement)
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (I cannot spell this correctly on my own and it came up in a relevant conversation)
Guitar chords (I am self taught and struggle with barres)
Shiraishi name meaning (Did I name my character this intentionally? Yes. Did I forget? Also yes.)
Crab cake recipe from December (Christmas dinner of the 3 fishes. traditionally 7, but I live in a landlocked state)
Ceolocanth fish (my friend didn’t know about this very important living fossil)
Match-girls Strike (looking up the history into the story The Little Matchgirl for some reason, I think my mom brought it up)
Sewing instructions for a skirt lining (with secret pockets)
Calumny definition (It is related to false claims and trickery)
Myths about the moon (story research)
Sodium Citrate Safety Data Sheet (I don’t remember)
Purdue Graduate program (I am not going to grad school)
Seance (no further context. I don’t remember why I was looking this up either because I wasn’t conducting any seances)
Did the stock market exist during the Civil War (It opened in 1865 in the same year the civil war ended. This was for a call of Cthulhu game.)
(OH! THE SEANCE ONE WAS FOR CALL OF CTHULHU!)
How to use a French Press (I was successful in obtaining caffeine after a few tries)
Heimdall (his role in actual myth, the MCU, and DnD cosmology)
Fusion breakthrough (one step closer to sustainable energy!!!)
[Real Name] Apocalypse (No clue guys)
Amazon listing for sword earrings (very important! I now own these! Thanks to the same nurse sister who puts up with all of my existing whacky requests.)
How did Avatar Kyoshi die? (Unclear! Evidence suggests she just decided not to die until she was done. Badass bitch behavior)
Directions to a Catholic store in my area (for a field trip with future-nun-friend)
Is it safe to eat a box of edible packing peanuts? (yes, but you will have a stomachache. Source: my roommate. I did not eat packing peanuts.)
Hostel listings for Florence Italy (I’m going in August hopefully!)
Fanfiction (So much fanfiction)
Pigeon feathers (for my grandfather)
Apollo Dodgeball Meme (we all know the one)
Hammered Dulcimers (demonstrating the better version of the instrument I built in high school)
Grey DeLisle-Griffin (voice actor for Azula in ATLA)
Wholesale fabric stores (courtesy of my enabler friend who wanted to save me money, arguably, by pointing me towards a cheap bulk store)
Molasses cookie recipe (I’m pretty sure this is from October lmao)
Sno Cones (for a heated argument with an international friend about local treats)
Patron Saint of malfunctioning printers (inconclusive)
Instagram bots (I kept having people ask me if I was Indian, which was weird and I thought they might be fake?? Apparently they are not? If I had a nickel for every time a stranger mistook me for a different ethnicity, I’d have like a whole dollar at this point, so it’s especially weird it’s happened so many times.)
Acrylic sheet pricing for research (and making knives on the laser cutter at work)
Black as Night (an excellent dark modern Catholic fairy tale retelling I read in middle school)
Z-Library (piracy babeeee!)
Canadian postal abbreviations for provinces and territories (I’ve never sent or bought anything from Canada I am so confused.)
History of absinthe (I tried absinthe, it was good)
tactical bags (listen, I don’t shop for myself often but when I do…)
Autism self diagnoses test (as if this list were not proof enough)
Various poems and song lyrics
The mechanical turk (I think this came up in a quiz bowl question and also The Magnus Archives)
why does ancient copper have arsenic in it? (my boyfriend is a metallurgist and likes info dumping about history and we’re both nerds so I looked up why you can date archeological digs by the amount of poison in their alloys. I do not know why this came up.)
keys2cognition (a personality test you have to pay for that I did not take)
Chatelaine (illustrating why I want a pretty keychain that you effectively could beat people with)
MBTI cognitive functions (ok don’t @ me I’ve been obsessed with personality typing since 10th grade)
Armillaria glowing fungus (It looks. So cool. No clue why I was looking this up. I don’t think it’s native anyhow)
Moby Dick web comic by one of my friends @pocketsizedquasar which will not be getting deleted as I still need to read it and it got buried in tabs dlkfjdfsljk.
Mutter Museum (it’s dedicated to medical history!)
Various tabs on the writing industry gossip (outdated)
A YouTube channel I don’t actually watch????? A Netflix show I don’t watch???? Add them to the TBR I guess???? Who recommended these??????????????????
So much DnD research
Beginner’s guide to Bo Stances (so I can be even more dangerous)
Flower Fairy books (my childhood <3)
Too many piccrews for various ocs
Webb Space telescope pictures (I think we’re back to the summer now lol)
The Scarlet and the Black (An excellent movie I watched in 8th grade as confirmation prep about the Vatican during WWII)
How to make lapel pins at home (I’m saving this one too, I forgot this was a craft I wanted to do)
Bergmann’s Rule (about how size correlates to the environment for fictional world-building purposes. Cold = big)
Arwen costume references (future project for after my hair grows out again)
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son folklore gift (for Runaways Research)
Everything we know about the Stormlight Archive Heralds (for debating with my one fandom friend)
Do plants get growing pains? (the topic of a future poem)
A beginner’s guide to Heraldry (for historical and fantasy purposes. Also, I want a custom coat of arms for Reasons.)
Thanks for reading! Hopefully this was a somewhat entertaining read lol. I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!
Spring on the continent of Kameria is a dangerous time. With merchants flooding the roads to hawk their wares, the perils of their travel have many casualties as Keda soon learns.
Parents killed by the restless dead she’s picked up by an organization she’s never heard of and passed onto the mysterious protector, a woman who asks to be called Tante. But as they travel deeper into the woodlands, more dangers make themselves known as the two of them try to find a place in this world for the now orphaned girl.
In a world full of magic, monsters, and uncertainty, the world isn’t terribly kind to those who born into it that aren’t special.
3.5/5 Stars – Not to my personal tastes, but worth it for the ending.
This book follows a mute and recently orphaned girl named Keda on her travels with Tante – a warrior and a member of the Pyreflies – as they try to bring her to safety. It’s a dark story in a harsh world, but it thrives in its handling of disability representation, found family, and hope. Keda starts as a helpless and traumatized child, unable to speak with strangers and addicted to sleeping draughts to stave off the nightmares that vividly recall the night her parents died at the hands of zombies. She’s handed off to the gruff ranger and dragged halfway across the continent in a series of tragic misadventures that test both women to their absolute limits and prove their strength.
Keda very quickly won me over as she demonstrated a quick wit, curiosity in spades, and a level of resourcefulness that’s admirable in someone who was previously a pampered noble merchant’s daughter. Despite her new disability, she learned to communicate through writing questions on her slate or in a notebook, and coming up with signs and body language to express herself. Tante takes her seriously throughout the adventure and teaches her to be more capable and self-sufficient. Her trauma is handled realistically and tactfully, showing that moving on from grief and loss is not a simple or easy or short process. Likewise, Tante immediately became my favorite character. I love love love world-weary mentors who never lose their compassion and sense of justice. Unraveling the bits of her backstory was a satisfying build-up of both her character development and her relationship with Keda as she started opening up more. Their dynamic at the end of the book is delightful and I cannot wait to read more about all their adventures together.
My main gripe with this book is the lackluster world building – though it exists for good reason. Lynnette Bacon-Nguyen tries to subvert the stereotypical fantasy cliche of an orphaned chosen one stumbling into greatness unassisted, and show what it’s like for an ordinary person in a grim dark setting. I think this idea works very well in the intention – Keda’s character arc feels like a slower-paced walk through the first few steps of the Hero’s Journey, and it certainly accomplished its goal in showing that everyday life in a grimdark setting sucks. That being said, I think it could be possible to illustrate these with a more original setting, or even just a new spin on the same creatures we’re already familiar with. The restless dead are scary, sure, but at the end of the day, they’re your run-of-the-mill zombies. The magic system has potential – I want to learn more about the religion and the churches, about how they interact with the magic of the world, and what it takes to learn magic. These things aren’t directly a part of Keda’s story, but even as a soft-magic system, I still would have liked it to be more fleshed out to help immerse us into the world of the story. It could be hard to get through the story sometimes when so many depressing obstacles keep getting thrown at these poor characters who are just trying their best to survive.
That being said, the world isn’t entirely grimdark. They receive help from the people in various villages they stop in, and go out of their way to put the restless dead back to rest so they cannot hurt any other people. The pyreflies and certain members of the church stand as a glimmer of hope in an otherwise miserable world. While I struggled to get through the middle of the book, the resolution of Keda’s character arc and the setup for future books in this series made it all worth the while and makes me excited to read more.
Thanks for reading! I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing! 🙂
This was a crazy month full of winter break excitement, odd jobs, starting school, and crazy amounts of scheduling. I’m trying to stay committed to my very important resolutions of A) not burning out, and B) having fun, so I tried to set softer goals in a wider variety of creative outlets so that I could follow where my energy took me, and it worked pretty well! In February, I’m going to prioritize reading, but keep doing these very gentle progress checks to keep myself on track. 🙂
Won – 6/8 Goals
Figure out the Runaways Timeline Situation – I had a puzzle to face regarding the two types of time dilation that occur in some fairytales. In one direction, hours in the faerie world could become seconds in the human realm, meaning that you could go adventuring for years and only miss an afternoon back home – similar to Narnia. In the other direction, hours could become years, and leave you, like Rip Van Winkle, returning unaged to a home where all your loved ones are long dead. I decided that the Seelie realm should follow the first rule, giving the girls time to rest and train at the midpoint before the action ramps up again, and that the Unseelie realm should follow the 2nd rule, to raise the stakes!
Make skirt – Last semester, I picked up a few yards of red wool and cream-colored satin to turn into a half-circle skirt as a winter break project, and I finished it as a weekend project. And look! It has pockets!
Start my Planescape DnD game – This is my first time ever running a long campaign, and I’m running it for the best DMs I know, so I was nervous leading up to the first session and did a lot of research into the universe and all the different planes to set up a dramatic storyline for them. We’ve had 2 sessions so far, and everyone is having fun! Because this is taking a lot of my creative time, I may end up sharing stories about the campaign here, in lieu of the usual writing content in the future.
Blog and IG for the month – Done as usual!
New blog plan for the year – I talked about this a bit in this previous post, but my plan for this year is to feature more book reviews and author biographies to encourage me to get back into reading! I have a lot of ARC reviews queued up, so be on the lookout for that!
Thanks for reading! What are your hopes for the year? I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!
Synopsis: Steampunk, the retro-futuristic cultural movement, has become a substantial and permanent genre in the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. A large part of its appeal is that, at its core, Steampunk is about doing it yourself: building on the past while also innovating and creating something original. VanderMeer’s latest book offers practical and inspirational guidance for readers to find their individual path into this realm. Including sections on art, fashion, architecture, crafts, music, performance, and storytelling, The Steampunk User’s Manual provides a conceptual how-to guide that motivates and awes both the armchair enthusiast and the committed creator. Examples range from the utterly doable to the completely over-the-top, encouraging participation and imagination at all levels.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars – Not what’s advertised, but still a good read.
I picked up this book at a Renaissance fair, in preparation for running a Treasure Planet inspired DnD Planescape campaign. I was hoping for a history of the steampunk genre and a primer on the main tropes, cliches, and foundational works of the movement. As an engineer who works at a maker space. I was also hoping it would live up to its self-proclaimed title as a “how-to guide” full of projects. Shame on me for not reading it more thoroughly in the shop, but I flipped through the pages full of bright, glossy photographs, and marched to the front counter without a second thought.
Don’t get me wrong – this book partially covers those topics, and I quite enjoyed those parts. But this book, in truth, is a collection of interviews with artists, musicians, authors, performers, and costumers talking about their craft and their relationship to the concept of “steampunk.” You can learn a lot from reading about their process and if a certain piece of work catches your eye, you can check out their work to learn more. It’s a convenient multimedia collection, best suited for a coffee table, not a textbook.
That being said, this is a delightful picture book full of oddities and curiosities of all kinds and I had a really fun time reading through it all the same. The most interesting aspect of the “steampunk” genre, at least to me, is the broad spectrum of opinions regarding “practicality.” On one hand, it’s an aesthetic, with form prioritized over function, and the look attracts many people to the subculture. It’s supposed to be fun and undermine convention, and if it’s impractical, then that’s all the better, right? But it’s also inspired by real steam-powered technology, and vintage sci-fi dreams of submarines and airships. Aren’t the glued-on gears a cliche, completely defeating the purpose of moving, ticking, living clockwork? Or is the stationary adhesive saying something profound about societal systems? It’s an interesting question I hadn’t really considered before, and while my intro can probably tell you which side of the isle I fall on (as I slowly push the “science is art and art is science and both are magic” soapbox away), I still appreciated the opportunity to read the alternative perspectives.
The book is separated into chapters based loosely on artistic medium: Art and Making; Fashion, Architecture, and Interiors; Storytelling; and Music and Performance. Each chapter has sections on finding inspiration with tips from creators of that type, various interviews, advice on developing your skills, a DIY project or two, and some essays on the philosophy of Steampunk. You do not need to read these in order or in their completeness to enjoy the book, but as a whole, it gives a comprehensive summary of the current genre as it existed in 2014 when the book was published. I would be curious to see a 2nd edition, talking about how the genre has developed in almost a decade. When I was 13, my parents still used flip phones, and I was strictly forbidden from touching social media, except educational YouTube videos. I can only imagine how much the boom of the internet has changed the community, with creators being able to make a living for themselves from Instagram, self-publishing breaking down the gatekeepers in the literary world, and the pandemic fundamentally shaking up how live performances were done. I am also curious to see how the themes of steampunk have reacted to current and developing issues of digital privacy and the pervasive role that technology plays in our world today, especially in the Zoomer generation.
All in all, I’m glad I read this, and it informed me about a genre I’ve been interested in exploring for quite a while. If nothing elese, it’s a fantastic well of inspiration for interesting tangents and trains of thought.
Thanks for reading! Are you involved in the Steampunk Community? What are your thoughts? I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!
Twin sisters, both on the run, but different as day and night. One, a professional rogue, searches for a fabled treasure; the other, a changeling, searches for the truth behind her origins, trying to find a place to fit in with the realm of fae who made her and the humans who shun her.
Iselia “Seelie” Graygrove looks just like her twin, Isolde… but as an autistic changeling trying to navigate her unpredictable magic, Seelie finds it more difficult to fit in with the humans around her. When Seelie and Isolde are caught up in a heist gone wrong and make some unexpected allies, they find themselves unraveling a larger mystery that has its roots in the history of humans and fae alike.
Both sisters soon discover that the secrets of the faeries may be more valuable than any pile of gold and jewels. But can Seelie harness her magic in time to protect her sister, and herself?
5/5 Stars: I would like to adopt Seelie and give her a hug right now please and thank you
I’ve been looking forward to this book for months and it did not disappoint. The world is so rich and believable. It’s an enticing blend of whimsical and terrifying, grounded in a very familiar reality but full of fantastical elements that weave naturally with the mundane. I also really enjoyed the portrayal of the Seelie and Unseelie courts. I’ve been a fairytale and folklore nerd since I was a kid, and it’s always fascinating to see how other authors handle the established customs and lore while creating their own unique story, and Ivelisse Housman does it very well, especially juxtaposing the perception of each realm against the protagonist, Seelie, herself.
The characters are what make this story so memorable and lovely. Seelie is an autistic changeling with overwhelming magic – but in a story where the word “autistic” doesn’t exist – Housman has to show just what that means through her 1st person perspective. Throughout the book, people treat Seelie’s awkwardness, struggles, and general weirdness as nothing more than a part of her being a changeling. They expect her to be odd. People assume all changelings are odd. But that’s not necessarily true – she’s autistic, AND a changeling, and those two traits are a big part of her personality and identity that interact, but they aren’t the same thing, and that’s important.
Not to get too personal, since I’m not officially diagnosed as autistic idk how much of a right I have to claim this representation for myself, but I don’t know if I’ve ever read something so relatable, except for maybe Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time. I was homeschooled through 8th grade, and when I went to public high school, everyone, including myself, attributed my awkwardness to that upbringing. Society expects homeschoolers to have odd mannerisms, even though I had I had plenty of opportunities to socialize with other kids through clubs and field trips. But even with four years of “real school” and college, I still have odd mannerisms, and weird hobbies, and social awkwardness in spades. It’s only through reading about the community of late-diagnosed autistic people, and especially women, that I’ve learned the vocabular to describe my experience. Reading Seelie’s perspective felt so fundamentally familiar to my experience in so many ways: being the odd one out and not knowing why, not having the language to explain sensory overwhelm, or meltdowns, or special interests, or stimming.
She makes mistakes, she’s sometimes obnoxious and immature and stubborn, like any overwhelmed teenager, but she’s also brave, and clever, and the hero of her own story. She’s an inspiration, and I cannot wait to see how she continues to develop in the next book. I also think I’ve found my next cosplay. When I unpackaged the book, my mother did a double-take and asked, “Is that you?” and she’s… not wrong. I could do Isolde easily with my hair’s current length, and I plan to grow it out again to match Seelie’s.
I also can’t talk about Seelie without mentioning her twin Isolde. I am desperate to know what’s going on inside her head, she is such an interesting character in her own right, and we only see her from Seelie’s perspective. I would love a short story or companion novel or something in her POV in the future. I love the bond the two of them have together, and the sweet domestic scenes with Birch in the Destiny were some of my favorite ones in the novel. Likewise, their arguments were the most heart wrenching ones.
The supporting cast is also excellent. Raze manages to be insufferable and likeable, which is high praise. Usually if a character is too annoying I’ll simply skim any parts with them, but I stayed invested whenever he was on the page, and grew to like him alongside Seelie. I loved his banter and friendship with Olani, and the way the duo serves as foils to the sisters. The friendship between Olani and Isolde reminds me of the phrase “as Iron sharpens Iron” – two strong women making each other better fighters, and better people in turn. Leira is an intimidating villain, and I’m both fascinated and terrified by what Gossamer is scheming and what it means for the world at large.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for an interview with the author, Ivelisse Housman, about the writing process for this book! In the meantime, I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!
I hit burnout last year, and I hit it hard. Over the summer, I desperately wanted to finish the 3rd draft of runaways, but struggled to muster the energy and focus needed to even read through the document. During NaNoWriMo, I got back into editing, but I treated it like another assignment. Words got done more because of willpower than because of inspiration because I was already in that crunch time mental state. In the process of writing the largest of the developmental changes, I realized this book probably needs two more POVs than I originally anticipated, turning it into a much larger and more complex project, and bringing with it a sense of dread that I will never finish, never publish, and never have anything to show for this work. Looking ahead at the year, seeing so much traveling, moving, graduating, starting a new job, and other major life upheavals, I’m already exhausted just glancing over the calendar.
I’ve hit writer’s block now, too. Travelling to visit my grandparents over break, I had to be in the car for a grand total of 10 hours round trip. I should have been fully awake, undistracted by the internet, and immensely productive, as I’ve been in years past. The objective: finish, edit, and post a new short story for my mailing list about a sorceress who stole the sun, and the seamstress that brought it back. Despite having a rough outline for the story, and inspiration aplenty, I hit a wall of creative block trying to make the lore consistent, then the words wouldn’t come when I tried to force myself to focus on the blank page, and I managed a total of 90 words. Pathetic.
The worst part is: I know exactly what caused this problem, and how to fix it, but I haven’t let myself do what I need to fix the problem.
Burnout happens when you over-commit and work yourself too hard for too long without breaks. It’s very easy to trap yourself in a cycle of “Oh, I’m so behind, if I only work harder, I can take a break.” But working harder only makes you more burnt out, more inefficient, and more behind, and so the vicious cycle continues. For me, this build-up occurs most frequently during the semester, and then I promptly get sick as soon as finals are over. But a side effect is this: in my shreds of free time, I refuse to rest. I spend so much time being an engineer that when I have the opportunity to work on my creative pursuits, I prioritize creating, instead of sitting down to do the things that refresh my creative well. I brag about how I go months without turning on the TV. I only read by listening to audiobooks on my commute to work, or while doing tedious lab tests, which means I work through my TBR at an astonishingly slow pace. And even there – I naturally refer to reading as “work” and talk about my “pace” as if I’m on an assembly line, and not as if its an activity I love, that inspires me, and makes up part of my identity.
You need to breathe in to breathe out.
I got so caught up in telling stories that I forgot what inspired me to write in the first place. I was a bookworm as a kid. Mom punished me, not by restricting access to the TV or video games, but by hiding my books out of reach and confiscating the flashlight. I’m struggling to put words to page because I’ve forgotten how to string together eloquent prose in the torrent of academic papers written in past test passive voice. I used to scoff at boring adults who never frequented the library, but as an adult, I’ve found myself daunted by the idea of setting aside so much time to finish the books I check out between visits. But I miss that and I need to make it a priority again—not only because reading books is something I *should* do, but because it’s something I *want* to do.
I’ve been holding my breath, and this year, I ran out of air.
The first year I ran this blog, I was pretty good about having a reading rec post on a monthly basis, which meant I read or reread at least 12 things a year, but I’ve fallen out of the habit. This year, I’ll be bringing back that post format, as well as author biographies, because as writers, I think it’s important to know about the people behind our favorite stories. History is a special interest of mine, and so I think it would be an interesting exercise to research more about the literary movements and influences that came before, and how learning more about the past can help us contextualize our fiction in terms of the present, and the future. If there are any English majors out there laughing at me, please understand my brain has been thoroughly fried by four years of differential equations and I’m sure you’ve noticed the atrocious amount of passive voice past tense grammar leaking into my prose from the lab reports.
Let’s talk about prose too. I’ve never been one to worry much about my writing style. As a beginner, I read that there’s no way to force a particular style into your writing and that one would develop with time and practice. In my experience, this is true, and when you’re just trying to reach The End on your first manuscript, getting words down is more important that fretting about eloquence. I’m not on first drafts anymore, though. All my projects are in various stages of editing, and in line editing, sentences matter. They’re the brushstrokes that make up the whole painting. The ingredients that make up the layers in a decadent cake, or the richness of the flavor in a savory meal. The prose you consume will bleed into your style, and the publishing industry holds genres to certain standards. This is why it’s important to read both a broad variety of topics and authors to expose yourself to many styles and voices, and why it’s important to read in your target genre, to understand the conventional expectations.
I can’t tell an entertaining story if the only thing I’m reading is academic papers. It’s impossible to prepare a banquet with the literary equivalents of hardtack. (I should also probably knock it off with the food metaphors and go make myself dinner.)
ANYHOW. Onto the part of the post you probably care about:
Unseelie by Ivelisse Housman: This book is one I preordered months ago and I’ve actually already finished it. I really enjoyed this story and it totally lived up to the hype, so stay tuned for a full review and an interview with the author!!!
Pyreflies by Lynette Bacon-Nguyen: This is an ARC from an author in one of my fandom discord servers and next up on the reading list! You can also expect a review on this blog soon.
Howl by Katie Koontz: This is a werewolf novel by one of my best friends on tumblr and I know she’s been working really hard on it so I’m excited to read the finished version after seeing so many snippets on her blog!
Other People’s Heartache by Vanessa Roades: This author is a friend of mine on Instagram and I’ve had it sitting around in my email for a WHILE now as I signed up for a bunch of newsletters all around the same time for the free stories. I’m intrigued by the premise and need to get around to catching up on the backlog of ebooks I have downloaded!
The Brandon Sanderson Secret Novels: If you follow publishing news in the fantasy spaces, you’re probably familiar with BrandoSandos insane quarantine hobby and mind-boggling Kickstarter from last year. If you don’t know the backstory, this prolific author of the Mistborn Trilogy and the Stormlight Archive used to travel 1/3 of the time pre-lockdown, which severely cut into his writing time, and when COVID struck in 2020, he just… casually wrote an extra five books in his newly acquired free time. He started a Kickstarter to have them published in A Year of Sanderson, putting out the books every quarter, along with lots of exclusive merch and subscription boxes, which immediately broke the record for the fastest funded campaign and the record for the most amount of money ever raised on Kickstarter EVER. He donated a lot of this money to other publishing kickstarters as a way of giving back to the community, and continued putting out the regularly scheduled books, like a glorious madman, and the first of these secret novels released on January 1st. I’m already behind on the rest of the Cosmere, but what’s another stack of books on the list I guess?
Short Stories from the Tor Newsletter: Brandon Sanderson’s publisher puts out a newsletter on a regular basis that always contains a number of interesting articles about the industry and fantasy news, as well as an original short story from one of their authors. I discovered that these are a fantastic easy way to fill up your Goodreads book goal with fast reads, and they’re in a genre that I really enjoy, so they’re a solid option for quick commutes on the bus, or between study breaks at school. I have links to them saved so I can go back to the ones I miss, and I want to keep up with them this year to discover new authors and continuously read short fiction so I learn more about how to write those types of stories!
Going Postal by Terry Pratchett: I’ve wanted to get into the Discworld series for ages, and I’ve read Mort already, but haven’t been able to find many of the books. One of my best friends was moving house earlier this year and didn’t want her copy, so she let me steal it, and I’m determined to get through some of the unread physical books sitting on my shelf lol
Way Too Many Email Substacks: Back when Dracula Daily was consistently trending #1 on tumblr, a bunch of lovely people set up email substacks for other classic works of literature, and I, full of hubris, subscribed to ALL of them. I’m now several weeks behind on Great Expecations, A Study in Scarlett, Moby Dick, Les Mis, and a modern fantasy story that’s also being done in a serialized format called “Last Light” by A. Lawrence. I’m determined to binge read the archive to catch up and then stay caught up, preferably before the substacks actually end.
Thanks for reading! What are your TBRs for the year? I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!