Key Scenes Illustrated 3: The Son of Key Scenes Illustrated

Happy Friday, folks!  Welcome to another edition of Key Scenes Illustrated. Since it is late and this is spur-of-the-moment, there's only three this time.  Here we go!

From Jurassic Park Shades of Earth by Beth Revis: Elder and Amy find something unexpected on the planet.

Not a spoiler since it says it in the book blurb. F'realz.
From Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas: A deadly group of hardened convicts gathered from across the breadth of the land face their first challenge in the road to power and freedom...

Krispy and I were rather underwhelmed by the assassin competition part of the book.

From The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson: Fatprincess is actually halfway badass once or twice in the book!
Okay, so this isn't really an illustration of a key scene. and in fact
Elisa is no longer grossly obese in this book. I just like calling her Fatprincess
and drawing her as a fatprincess. I was going to try to have a review written
for today but it didn't happen, so you get this filler doodle for now.

Review (with doodles) of The Crown of Embers forthcoming.  Picture post by Krispy of her trip to Europe forthcoming.  Procrastination on both our parts very likely forthcoming.

Q4U: Ever anticipated reading a horrible book only for it to turn out not as bad as you expected? Or the opposite--anticipated reading a great book only to end up hating it?


Double Mini Book Review: Throne of Glass & Shadows on the Moon

Since the holiday gifting season is fast approaching (and since we owe you a ton of reviews), we thought we'd give you some mini-reviews of books we meant to fully review earlier in the year. That way, you can add them to your wish-TBR-gifting lists or remove them from said lists.

Without further ado, here are two joint mini-reviews of two YA fantasies we read this past summer.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Pros: Expansive world; potential for epic plots ahead; easily likable characters (at least for Krispy)
Cons: Mostly fluff and little substance; frustratingly perfect heroine; clunky plot and meh love triangle.

Krispy's Take: I absolutely love the backstory of how this book came to be. I love that it once was a retelling of Cinderella (though very little of that is left), and I love that it was once online at Fictionpress and built a following there. I love that it's about a kick-butt heroine who is also unabashedly feminine (I love tom-boy-ish Katniss and Katsa, but it's also nice to see a tough girl who likes pretty dresses and jewelry).

Unfortunately, Throne of Glass didn't really live up to its hype (not unlike Celaena herself, but more on that later). It wanted to be too many things at once. It wanted to be dark, but not too dark. It wanted to be really epic but also character-centric. It wanted political intrigue, but it also wanted the adrenaline fueled pacing of The Hunger Games. As a result, not enough time or set-up is given to any of these aspects, and I often felt like the book was pulling its punches. For example, the main plot of this book is a competition that has all manner of warriors/fighters/criminals as participants. So I don't think you can blame me for expecting something Hunger Games -esque, something gladiatorial. Well, the competition turned out to be one of the more mundane aspects of the book.

Celaena herself was frustrating to me in the depth department because I honestly want to love her. I think it's awesome that she's both a badass and a girly-girl, tough and emotional, but as with many aspects in this book, there wasn't enough depth. I think some of it had to do with the tell-instead-of-show issue with the writing (i.e. we're often told what an amazing assassin Celaena is, but we rarely see her skills for ourselves). She has a dark past, but it seems to have only a glancing or momentary flashes of effect on her, and I don't know if this is just because she's over it or if she simply isn't a reflective enough character. I left the book feeling like I knew her back-story, but like I still didn't know her (if that makes any sense) - and this is also with my having read all the novellas!

A magic-related subplot is woven in with varying degrees of success. Particularly, there's a point early in the book where I felt the magic plot line was jammed in with too heavy a hand, but things do smooth out more as the book goes. Still, it never meshed comfortably with everything else that was happening. There's also weird POV shifts. I say weird because I don't think all of them were necessary, and some only show up every once in a while. The switches also happen way too much during the climax of the book, messing up the pacing for me.

That said, I did enjoy this book because it is fun and fluffy. The characters you're supposed to like are easily likeable; for example, I'm Team Dorian because he's handsome and a flirt and struggling to be his own man despite his tyrannical father. And as I said before, Celaena herself is a nice contrast to the usual run of Badass YA Heroines we've seen of late, and I'm all for different kinds of strong girls! While I wanted more depth from everything, there were at least interesting plot and character threads introduced, and it's clear that the world of Throne of Glass is an expansive one with far flung locations and long histories.

This book will probably be an easy and enjoyable start for new fantasy readers. It's a quick read and calls back to many classic elements of the genre without getting too complicated about it. Actual young adults will probably enjoy it too; I know if I had read this as a teen, I would have loved the heck out of it - with its assassin MC, hidden magic, and various kingdoms. I'm just too familiar with genre tropes now and much more crotchety and critical. Still, I enjoyed this book as one enjoys candy.

Intellectual Rating: 4 out of 10 stars
Emotional Grade: C/C+

Alz's Take: So I read a chunk of this story way long many years ago when it was still on Fictionpress.net under the title Queen of Glass.  Way long many years ago, I really loved it. 

Rewind to earlier this year: Krispy reads me the blurb for Throne of Glass and I'm like, "That sounds an awful lot like this story I read way long many years ago online."  To which Krispy says, "I think it's the same story."
Celaena Sardothian by ennemme //
via Sarah Maas' pinterest

Fast-forward to months later.  I read the book and, sadly, it did not stand the test of time--though that isn't an entirely fair statement since the story underwent considerable changes and revisions, not the least of which was changing the story from regular "adult" fantasy to specifically fall into YA.

The plot is disappointingly straightforward, and there are at least a couple of plotlines jammed into the story that never show up again and clearly setup for later books.  There are plenty of plot devices, some so-so setup for dramatic reveals that really aren't that dramatic, and in general, it's pretty generic fantasy with emphasis on the generic.  Except for the clothes.  There is a crapload of wordage spent describing everyone's fanciful beautiful clothes.  There are some lovely descriptions but I really don't need an update every chapter of what everyone is wearing.

Our beautiful blonde talented graceful shrewd multi-lingual world-renown assassin protagonist, Celaena Sardothien, is annoyingly perfect with a side-dose of angst over her Dark Past.  She's bubbly and snarky but she's much, much less annoying in Throne of Glass than she is in the novellas.  She's a super duper infamous assassin and this is barely evident in the book despite how often we are told (often from Adarlan's Assassin herself) that she is sooooo awesome.  You may find it disappointing that a book about an infamous assassin contains practically no assassinating at all.

Overall, I'd classify this book as "light fantasy" and probably a good choice for hesitant readers who are nevertheless interested in trying YA fantasy.

Intellectual Rating: 3 out of 10 stars
Emotional Grade: C

Shadows on the Moon by Zoë Marriott

Pros: Great Japanese fantasy worldbuilding without specific historical time period; every character in the book is a person of color; strong, persevering heroine; original fairytale retelling
Cons: Romance is a little bit underdeveloped; ending moves too quickly and is almost abrupt

Krispy's Take: For anyone looking for a fairytale retelling that really is refreshing and original, I highly recommend Shadows on the Moon! It is loosely based on Cinderella, one of the most retold fairy tales out there, but it still manages to be unpredictable and gripping. Why? It's not just because it's set in a fairytale version of Japan, though that helps give it immediate, superficial differences. This book comes off as a fresh twist on the old because first and foremost, it is its own story, only calling back to the original tale at times by using certain familiar elements (i.e. the ball for the prince's hand, former-gentry girl ends up being a servant who sleeps by the fire). This is how you retell an age-old tale in an innovative way.

Beyond that is the worldbuilding. We've griped before about cultural appropriation and simple lack of research in worlds built on the backs of real-life cultures, but this is an example of "based-on" worldbuilding done right. You can tell this book was meticulously researched with proper cultural details and characters that act in ways mostly consistent with that of the base-culture. The magic too is interesting and subtle; I liked that it wasn't the typical in-your-face magic that makes the heroine suddenly all powerful. It was also a nice physical incarnation of the variously explored themes of illusion, image, and identity.

Which brings me to the characters, especially the MC Suzume, who are all varied and complex. Particularly interesting was Suzume's relationship with her mother, who was frustrating and flawed but also very human. She's not the "wicked stepmother" we've come to expect from fairy tales and their retellings. Suzume is a great heroine because she is multi-layered and the things that happen to her weigh on her. She reacts to the traumas and triumphs of her life realistically; the repercussions of her actions and of actions against her are not swept aside. She also doesn't fall into the trap of losing sight of her goals (the plot) once the love interest comes along, and no one relationship rules her life (a trap that so many YAs fall into, especially when it comes to romantic relationships).

via Zoë Marriott's pinterest // Artist: Noir
And you know how I mentioned I like seeing different kinds of "strong" heroines? Suzume is one of them. She doesn't physically become a super warrior, but she shows great strength of character. Her strength is in her determination, devotion, and cleverness. It is a quiet strength that both works within the bounds of the gender roles of her society and pushes against it. In this book, you truly see how beauty can become power without beauty necessarily being glorified.

There are a few negatives. The ending came up a little fast. There's not enough falling action for my satisfaction and the events of the climax happen quite quickly. The romance felt a little underdeveloped because of its speed. It's not insta-love, but there's a lot of devotion developed over a short period of time wherein the lovers see relatively little of each other. But the romance is sweet and respectful, and it doesn't overstep into the realms of saccharine sappiness.

In short, if you like complex characters, well-researched and developed worlds, and fairy tale retellings, pick this one up. I think you'll find this book fits the bill.

Intellectual Rating: 8 out of 10 stars
Emotional Grade: A-

Alz's Take: This is how you write a Japanese-based fantasy novel right.  The author clearly did her research and despite how offput I was how on the very first page it was practically, "I donned my kimono and wrapped my obi and combed my long black hair with my tortoiseshell comb and then sat down to drink my miso soup while gazing at the cherry blossom tree outside", the book smoothed out and became less in-your-face-JAPANESE-zomg.

The book is very loosely based on Cinderella, so very loosely that you might not even realize it while reading--which is a good thing.  The plot takes inspiration from the fairytale without rotely following it, making for a refreshing read.

Suzume is an interesting heroine who struggles with many issues, ranging from controlling her magic to dealing with hostile family to self-abuse.  Yes, that's right, self-abuse.  It's not the focus of the book, but it is something that comes up and doesn't get swept under the rug.

Our struggling heroine forms many complex relationships over the course of the book, from her mother to her mentors to her love interest--though as for the latter, the romance was sweet but happened kind of fast.   I thought one of the most interesting dynamics was between Suzume and her mother since it's not the typical loving mother-daughter relationship prevalent in YA.

If you'd like to read a respectfully-written well-researched and just plain good Japanese-based fantasy, try Shadows on the Moon.

Intellectual Rating: 8 out of 10 stars
Emotional Grade: A-

Q4U: What YA fantasies do you think we should add to our gift-TBR-wish lists?

P.S. If there are any books we've read that we haven't reviewed that you'd like to know more about before the whole holiday rush, please let us know in the comments or email us. We'll do our best to get a review out by then...or at least respond to you privately with our thoughts!


Happy Thanksgiving!

On Wednesday, we presented you with a feast of books.

Today, we present you with a feast of food which we handcrafted with loving care and caring love and such copious amounts of delicious grease and fat as your arteries would clog in ecstasy merely to hear of!

Krispy's sister made bacon-wrapped asparagus.  It was so, so good.  All the bacon fat rendered out in the oven and cooked into the asparagus.

The sister ate one and was like, "OMG ALZ TRY ONE THEY ARE SO GOOD."
Alz ate one and was like, "OMG KRISPY TRY ONE THEY ARE SO GOOD."
Krispy ate one and was like, "OMG YOU ARE RIGHT THEY ARE SO GOOD."
Krispy, aided by slave labor from Alz, made her seasonal specialty: hedgehog potatoes!  Sliced not quite all the right through, stuffed with thyme and bay, cooked in butter, then baked in butter, and to top it all off we drizzled on the bacon fat from the aforementioned asparagus bacon rolls.  So delicious that mere words.  They cannot suffice.

Alz had never had them before.  They were beyond all hype and expectation.
Krispy says that this year they came out especially well.
Maybe because of the, you know, whole bacon fat thing.
Krispy's cousin baked a humble apple pie.  From scratch.  Including the crust.

We have tasted divinity in the form of apple pie. There's nothing humble about it.
Alz made a moist chocolate bundt cake with walnuts and Ghiradelli dark chocolate chips.  She neglected to take a picture so you get an MS Paint rendering.
Despite Alz's worries about it being only half-baked
(as so frequently many of her ideas and notions are)
the cake came out wholly baked and fine.
There were, besides, turkey and ham and carrots and regular potatoes and guacamole and truffle brownies and food, food, food, food.

We cooked.  We feasted.  We conquered.

Happy Thanksgiving!

PS And this guy got a bone and turkey and an extensively long playdate with Krispy's cousin's dog for his Thanksgiving treat. 

"I smell food. Why aren't you giving me anything?"


Book Feast for Thanksgiving

First, we must apologize for our lapse in blogging on Friday. I was exhausted from a previous weekend Vegas trip that I forgot I had scheduled and just really wanted to vegetate and watch the many shows I am behind on. So we forgot to blog.

To make up for it though, we have prepared a sampling of the books for your taste-testing. A book feast just in time for Thanksgiving! The holiday season is upon us, and while that brings its own share of stresses and activities, it also usually means some downtime for reading! PLUS, the Superlatives Blogfest is in less than a month, so now is the time to get a few more books read in time for that! (That's what I'm trying to do anyway.)

That aside, I've had a really great run of books lately, and Alz and I haven't had time to write our usual long reviews. So we thought we'd highlight some of our most recent reads (from October until now) we think you should check out!

First Course: Appetizers

Looking for a quick, engaging read that is not only satisfying but also timely and wonderful? Try this Middle-Grade contemporary. It's both heartbreaking and heartwarming.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Craving something with a little more adventure? Try this desert fantasy set in a refreshing world of deities, sky serpents, and whirling sands.

Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst

Second Course: Soups/Salads

Want something a little familiar and a little fantastic? Try this older, more literary riff on a classic tale, showing that life is messy and complicated for everyone - even children who never grow up. (Although purists of the Pan mythology may not find this to their taste and might want to skip this course.)

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Main Course: The Meaty Stuff

Tired of the same old paranormals? Try this dark paranormal set in an intriguing version of the After Life that you wouldn't quite expect. This book digs into some heavy themes, but manages to shine just enough hopeful light into an otherwise bleak, urban world.

Sanctum by Sarah Fine

In the mood for a historical? What about plucky female leads and a true love story (the true love of friendship)? Try this harrowing tale of two best friends caught in the turmoil of World War II. This sensational team will win you over with their engaging voices and courage.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Alternate Main Course

For the adventurous, try this atmospheric genre bender! It's part fantasy, part contemporary and filled to the brim with quirky characters, mystery, and mythology - all set in the possibly enchanted wilder places of Virginia. It will leave you wanting more.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater


And for dessert, we recommend these two picture books. Both are illustrated by Jon Klassen, but one isn't told by him.

For those with a somewhat more wicked sense of humor, try this tale about a fish and a hat and yet another valuable life lesson about stealing.

This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

For those wishing to finishing their reading meal with the "warm fuzzies," try this tale about a magic box of yarn and the girl who finds it.

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett

Hope you enjoyed this book meal. Do let us know if you check any of these out. We'd also like to wish you all a HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!! Pig out on Thursday, but don't forget to NaNo! ;)

Q4U: What books would you add to this feast?


On the Reading Plate

It's late, Krispy and I watched Elementary, and I had cold mango green milk tea and Krispy had hot almond black milk tea with boba.  You know what that means!  We didn't have a post planned and now it's time to talk about what we're reading!

WonderKrispy's reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

Goodreads blurb: "I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

I skimmed a bit of it before Krispy got into it and found it well-written, intriguing, and very realistic in its portrayal of the curiosity, kindness, carelessness, and cruelty of children.  And adults, come to that.

Daughter of the Flames (Ruan, #1)As for me, I've been reading Daughter of the Flames by Zoe Marriott.

Goodreads blurb: "In a world of clashing cultures, a girl fights for freedom — and finds a surpring romantic ally — after learning a startling truth about her identity.

Inside an ancient temple in the mountains, fi fteen-year-old Zira trains in the martial arts to become a warrior priestess who can defend the faith of the Ruan people. Bearing a scar on her face from the fire that killed her parents, the orphaned Zira is taught to distrust the occupying Sedornes. Terror strikes when the forces of the tyrannical Sedorne king destroy the only home she knows. To survive, Zira must unravel the secrets of her identity, decide her people’s fate — and accept her growing feelings for a man who should be her enemy.

I actually started reading this weeks ago.  I got about halfway through to a turning point, put it down, and somehow never got around to finishing it even though I liked it.  (Other books and shiny things and TV and such, as ever and always, distracted me.)  I've picked it back up though and hopefully will be able to secure the sequel before I finish so I can dive right in--

The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle, #1)
Gorgeous cover!

--or would dive right in if I didn't have to read The Raven Boys next.  Krispy read it and loved it so much I bumped it right up to the top of my to-read list.  It has a gorgeous cover and after how much we enjoyed The Scorpio Races, I have faith in Maggie Stiefvater.

And/or I may cheat on this resolution by reading the final book in Beth Revis's Across the Universe series, Shades of Earth (click with caution since the blurb is kind of spoilery for the previous book).  The ever-lovely Yahong graciously sent me an ARC (thank you!) and omg even writing this post is tempting me to crack it open.  Though I have mixed feelings on the previous two books, I'm still exceedingly curious to know what happens.

Shades of Earth (Across the Universe, #3)
Seriously, the publisher needs to chill on changing the cover design with every release.
Now none of the hardcover books will match!
As for what Krispy's going to tackle next, I think it ought to be The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller:

The Song of Achilles
If you look at it upside down, it looks like half an upside down man.
Do you see it?  DO YOU?
It's Greek mythology, not YA, interesting and beautifully-written from what I've perused, and Krispy's gotten this sucker from the library at least three times without ever actually reading it.  Do it, Krispy!  Read the book!

What are you currently reading?


Randomosity on Fridays: Self-Portrait Version

Krispy is always leaving me forever.  She goes away and I end up pining away, with my coal-black heart broken in twain and my soulless void a black hole of angst.  That's what I tell her, anyway.  Secretly I'm jigging in joy because I can get up to all sorts of secret shenanigans in her absence and when she returns, she has no idea of the havoc I have wrought.  Sometimes she won't find out for days.  Or years.

Ahem, Krispy leaving me by my lonesome again over the weekend aside, go take a peek at over at Sophia's blog for a recap of a Jon Klassen signing and Halloween, complete with pictures that including a glimpse of the elusive yours truly.

Getting back to our weekly dose of randomosity--I was perusing some old books this week and in one of them I found an ancient doodle I had used as a bookmark.

Yes, I've been drawing myself fundamentally the same way for well over a decade.  You may notice, however, that in 1999, I hadn't yet confined my long lustrous locks into a braid and that I used to part my hair on the other side.  I'm pretty sure my sweatshirt was still black even then, but for some reason I chose not to color it in.

Finding this ancient doodle of myself inspired me to poke through some of the more ancient folders on my computer, and I have unearthed a few more examples of Alz Through the Years.

This doodle dates back to 2002, before I owned a tablet--this one is drawn with my m4d haxx mouse skillz0rz.  I believe I was taunting someone (possibly Krispy) about the summer heatwave.  For some reason I am wearing a blanket around my head.  As far as I can recall, I was wearing a blanket around my head mid-summer because my head would get cold in the mornings and at night.  I was not, alas, living on a tropical beach at the time.  That much, at least, is artistic liberty.

Here, I express my consummate desire to pass onward from the weariness of the daily grind of life and lessons thereof.  To whit: class had killed me dead.  Oh, 2004.  This is still mouse-drawn.

Ah!  And here we go, a portrait of Alz in Class from late 2005.  I sat in the back right underneath a ceiling vent that sent a perpetual glacial draft into the room even in the dead of winter.  I had a tablet by this time.

A little Alz from 2006.  Note the white spots that indicate coat buttons and the tips of the little cords to pull the hood tight--it's the same coat as in the 2005 pic.

I made Sculpey!Alz in 2007 and yes, that's the same coat.  (I really loved that coat.  I wore it until the snaps broke.)  I was bored one day and had some plain white Sculpey and spent a few hours indulging my sense of narcissism, then broke out some acrylic paints (metallic brown and shiny black) and spent some time painting.  Sculpey!Alz stands on a shelf on the other side of the room behind me even as I type this, casting judgment down upon me.

2008: Check it out!  A new slightly different coat!  And look, random Krispy!

Alz in 2009: Playing Portal, wearing a scarf crocheted by our marvelous baker-friend-who-also-makes-paper-flowers, and otherwise looking pretty much the same then as now.

And to bring us pretty much up to speed, here's one last Portrait of an Alz, circa 2010:

This is still an accurate picture of what I'm like when I'm in the process of manateeing.

Sooooo there you have it, folks.  You've seen me evolve from my gritty hand-drawn ballpoint-pen-on-paper days to my mouse-drawn years all the way to my getting a tablet and getting all fancy with lines and pressure sensitivity.  Or devolve, as the case might be.

Have you ever done a self-portrait?  Do you change your clothes more often than Alz?


Recovery Wednesday

We got a little sidetracked yesterday with Election 2012, so we don't really have a post for you. I mean, we kind of nearly missed Loki's play time because we were too busy watching the coverage. Loki was not pleased.

Suffice to say, we rocked the vote and we hope if you had a chance to that you did too!


Sheepy wanted to vote, but he's a sheep & probably not of age.


In other news, the YA Superlatives 2012 Blogfest is coming up in a little over a month. It's the brainchild of a bunch of cool ladies- Katy Upperman, Jessica Love, Alison Miller, and Tracey Neithercott. We had so much fun participating in the 2011 Superlative Blogfest that we're doing it again this year.

Click the banner here or button in the sidebar for the preliminary information.

You have a little over a month to get a few more books in before the blogfest to help you fill in those categories! We hope you'll join in!

P.S. Loki 2016. Yes/No? :)


Randomosity on Fridays: Halloween Pics

And it's November! This year is seriously flying by. Can someone please slow it down? I'm not ready for the end of the world yet!

In any case, hello my lovelies! I missed you while I was away, but I've returned with plenty of pictures to share. It will take me a while to get through them all, but expect a few picture heavy posts to crop up this November!

For today, I'll share a few from Halloween!

I posted a pic of my "costume" on Wednesday, and here is the finished costume.

I was Taylor Swift for the Halloween potluck I had at work. My look was based on her new album artwork.

The Sister managed to throw together a costume to match Loki the Shark.

After lamenting that we'd sort of missed out on Halloween festivities (she was out of town; I just got back in town), Sophia and I made our own plans and went for dinner and boba in costume.

Glinda the Good Witch & Taylor totes hang out sometimes.

But really, these plans came about because Sophia wanted to ask me about Colonial and Revolutionary U.S. History. You can imagine the extent of my utter nerdiness when I tell you that I was a little GIDDY with excitement at this request.

Text message transcript:

SOPHIA: I'm assuming you're awesome at colonial and American Rev history?
ME: Pretty awesome?
SOPHIA: I need to sit down and have a boba and history chat with you...

Later, at dinner...
SOPHIA: So I need a refresher on the colonial and Revolutionary eras.
SISTER: Oh my God, that's her [pointing at me] sh*t.

My sister knows me so well!

And here's a teaser from my trip!

Frankfurt am Main, Altstadt: Römerberg

Salzburg, Austria: Mirabell Garden

Have a great weekend everyone, and as it is November, some of you might be NaNo-ing! I'm supposed to be. So good luck to you and good luck to me!

Q4U: Are you participating in NaNoWriMo?

If so, don't forget to friend us! We're kangaru and shizalent.