Monday, May 30, 2022

Music Monday (201): Harry Styles, Jody Watley

Rules:

  • Music Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Lauren Stoolfire at Always Me that asks you to share one or two songs that you've recently enjoyed. For the rules, visit the page HERE 
Breana: I'm currently listening to Harry Styles' latest release: Harry's House. I rarely stay up for an album, but I couldn't wait till the morning to listen to it. I love it a lot (more about that on a different post later this month). For today, I wanted to mention two of my favorite songs. The first is Satellite.

 

My second pick is the last song on the album. It's called Love Of My Life


Adri: I've been listening to a lot of old school artist lately, and my pick is Dance To The Music by Jody Watley.



What are you listening to this week?


Friday, May 27, 2022

I Played Horizon: Forbidden West


Title: Horizon: Forbidden West

Developer/Publisher: Guerrilla Games; Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: February 18 2022
Platform: PS4 / PS5
Source/ format: Purchased, Disc
Other: Played on PS4

What I Thought:
I tried my best to keep this review vague, but there may be minor spoilers since I talk about specific parts of gameplay. 

I played Horizon: Forbidden West. Some of  what I said and felt in my review for Zero Dawn applies here, but it's done even better. All of this culminated to an enjoyable and dynamic playing experience.

The main plot was a wild ride with many expected and some unexpected twists. Needless to say, I’m glad that it didn’t hesitate to go in a more fantastical direction. Plot aside, like Zero Dawn, the side missions colored and expanded on the world, environments, and the plethora of characters both new and old. Each character felt super individualistic in their personality and in the way they spoke, moved, etc. Besides Aloy's interactions with different characters, it was nice being able to hear more of her personal feelings via periodically examining objects. Also nice was seeing more self realization developments for Aloy, especially by the end. The environments were straight up gorgeous, colorful, and felt broader. Finally, I have to mention Cauldrons. I enjoyed playing through them since, in a way, they seemed darker and more menacing. It's the same ambience I loved from the Frozen Wilds DLC.

To list my favorite new additions: the weapons (especially Spike Throwers),  different ways to get collectables, the ability to climb in countless areas, face paints, and armor dyes. Then there were others like a board game (Strike), racing, Melee Pits, additional mounts, and swimming. Swimming, sadly, ended up being frustrating during one of my favorite main missions. It felt a little awkward at times, even later when it was a lot easier. I enjoyed the added complexity to some of the puzzles like the Relic Ruins that used multiple Datapoints. Or how Tallnecks take additional and varied steps before being able to override them. The custom difficulty –where players can adjust a handful of options like the damage Aloy deals to or is dealt to for a truly customized experience. Last but not least, my absolute favorite and most important on my list –that I didn’t know I wanted –is none other than the Infinite Stash! With the Workbench based crafting system, it worked out great. Though, I definitely had to get in the habit of stopping by a bench to find out what was required for said upgrades.

My less enjoyed parts were mainly the later Melee Pits and combo chaining. The earlier ones, as well as the Pit Master and Enduring, were fine. But the instructions for the advanced combos weren’t as clear. After figuring those out, I then had to face the timing.  With that being said, I appreciated the combos in that they added more variety rather than a plain heavy or light attack.

Well, I loved how vibrant it got at times. And something I forgot to mention was, after going back to Zero Dawn, the controls felt smoother. Honestly, I want to see more. Overall, I had a swell time playing.



Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, May 25, 2022

We Free The Stars by Hafsah Faizal

Title: We Free The Stars
Series: Sands of Arawiya Duology #2
Author: Hafsah Faizal
Source/Format: Purchased; Paperback
More Details: Fantasy; Young Adult
Publisher/Publication Date:

Goodreads     Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads...

The battle on Sharr is over. The dark forest has fallen. Altair may be captive, but Zafira, Nasir, and Kifah are bound for Sultan’s Keep, determined to finish the plan he set in motion: restoring the hearts of the Sisters of Old to the minarets of each caliphate, and finally returning magic to all of Arawiya. But they are low on resources and allies alike, and the kingdom teems with fear of the Lion of the Night’s return. As the zumra plots to overthrow the kingdom’s darkest threat, Nasir fights to command the magic in his blood. He must learn to hone his power into a weapon, to wield not only against the Lion but against his father, trapped under the Lion’s control. Zafira battles a very different darkness festering in her through her bond with the Jawarat—a darkness that hums with voices, pushing her to the brink of her sanity and to the edge of a chaos she dare not unleash. In spite of the darkness enclosing ever faster, Nasir and Zafira find themselves falling into a love they can’t stand to lose…but time is running out to achieve their ends, and if order is to be restored, drastic sacrifices will have to be made.

Lush and striking, hopeful and devastating, We Free the Stars is the masterful conclusion to the Sands of Arawiya duology by New York Times–bestselling author Hafsah Faizal.


**Note: there may be mild spoilers for We Hunt The Flame.**

It’s always nice when the follow-up to a favorite book sticks its landing, and delivers an ending that was satisfying in drawing the story to a close. We Hunt The Flame is one of my favorite young adult fantasy novels, and the sequel (and final book of the Sands of Arawiya duology) has sat on my shelf for way too long. At long last, I’ve finally read We Free The Stars.

This book—THIS BOOK—was so good from the very first page. The aftermath of We Hunt The Flame’s ending was immediate and visceral in its intensity. And for a group of characters I was clearly rooting for to succeed, it was hard to watch them experience the consequences and the subsequent turmoil brought about by accident and their decisions. But the conflict they were embroiled in was quickly spiraling into a war. Sides were already clearly drawn, and the greater part of the plot was already set in motion. I knew exactly what kind of story I was in for.

One thing that this duology did so well was the characters. Zafira: her desire to protect and help, to change the system that treated her unfairly, and reclaim magic as well. Kifah: who wanted her revenge, but was loyal and just as determined to restore magic. Altair: with his plans and web of allies. And Nasir: who was haunted by his past, who strove to atone and grasp a better future. Clearly I liked the dynamics of the team. What I was surprised by, however, was how deeply Faizal examined the characters. The story delved into the layers of who they were—their motivation, goals, and what they were willing to do to ultimately achieve them. No one was perfect. Mistakes were literally made (and some of them had really terrible consequences). The emotional stakes were just as high as the journey/battle to restore magic to Arawiya.

Lofty ambitions abound, but there was a cost for it.

We Free The Star was a fitting sequel and an excellent ending to the duology. I’m looking forward to Hafsah Faizal’s next book.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Music Monday (200): Harry Styles

Rules:

  • Music Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Lauren Stoolfire at Always Me that asks you to share one or two songs that you've recently enjoyed. For the rules, visit the page HERE 
Breana: I've been listening to Harry Styles lately. So far, one of my absolute favorites is She.



What are you listening to this week?



Friday, May 20, 2022

The Friday 56 (216) & Book Beginnings: We Free The Stars by Hafsah Faizal

The Friday 56 is a weekly meme hosted by Freda's Voice where every Friday you pick a book and turn to page 56 or 56%, and select a sentence or a few, as long as it's not a spoiler. For the full rules, visit the the page HERE


Book Beginnings is a weekly meme hosted by Rose City Reader that asks you to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you're reading.


Synopsis from Goodreads...

The battle on Sharr is over. The dark forest has fallen. Altair may be captive, but Zafira, Nasir, and Kifah are bound for Sultan’s Keep, determined to finish the plan he set in motion: restoring the hearts of the Sisters of Old to the minarets of each caliphate, and finally returning magic to all of Arawiya. But they are low on resources and allies alike, and the kingdom teems with fear of the Lion of the Night’s return. As the zumra plots to overthrow the kingdom’s darkest threat, Nasir fights to command the magic in his blood. He must learn to hone his power into a weapon, to wield not only against the Lion but against his father, trapped under the Lion’s control. Zafira battles a very different darkness festering in her through her bond with the Jawarat—a darkness that hums with voices, pushing her to the brink of her sanity and to the edge of a chaos she dare not unleash. In spite of the darkness enclosing ever faster, Nasir and Zafira find themselves falling into a love they can’t stand to lose…but time is running out to achieve their ends, and if order is to be restored, drastic sacrifices will have to be made.

Lush and striking, hopeful and devastating, We Free the Stars is the masterful conclusion to the Sands of Arawiya duology by New York Times–bestselling author Hafsah Faizal.

Beginning: "Darkness surged in his veins. It exhaled wisps from his fingers and feathered his every glance."

56: "Everything, he wanted to say, but there was a cloth in his mouth, woven from fear and suppression."


Comments: I finally read We Free The Stars. It's the last book in the Sands of Arawiya duology, and I loved it. What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah

Title: The Stardust Thief 
Series: The Sandsea Trilogy #1
Author: Chelsea Abdullah
Source/Format: NetGalley (Orbit); eARC
More Details: Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: Orbit; May 17, 2022

Goodreads     Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads...
Neither here nor there, but long ago... 

Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn. With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality. 

Inspired by stories from One Thousand and One Nights, The Stardust Thief weaves the gripping tale of a legendary smuggler, a cowardly prince, and a dangerous quest across the desert to find a legendary, magical lamp.
I’m always up for a good retelling/rework of classics. And when I heard about The Stardust Thief being inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, it easily became one of my most anticipated releases of 2022.

In a lot of ways, The Stardust Thief was a story about history as much as it was about stories. They held power, but they could become embellished and also twisted by the loss of a good portion of the context within their meaning. Given that the inspiration was One Thousand and One Nights, I was already expecting stories within the story to take a prominent role. I was really pleased with how well that was done.

The way Chelsea Abdullah laid out the society the characters inhabited was one of my favorite portions of the book. A lot of what happened challenged the status quo repeatedly, which blurred the lines between right and wrong, truth and lie, justified or outright villainy. And a lot of the time, the end didn’t justify the means, owing to the moral ambiguity of some of the characters. There were a lot of secrets, though there were ample instances where the dark undercurrents in the story were plainly visible. It was complicated.

Once the story moved on from where it initially began, there was a lot of travel. The harshness of the climate was always in the back of my mind as I was reading the first hundred pages or so. During the opening chapters, the story was firmly grounded in a flourishing city, but moving beyond it revealed a harsher landscape riddled with danger. The sand, the heat, the cold, and the weather were vividly told.

Some of the travel parts could be a little slow though, and there were points where I got a little frustrated with the story. However, once I hit the second half of the book, everything just snapped into focus; the characters and the world were being explored far more; and the central conflict (and the point of the quest for the lamp) got clearer. That was also around the point when I really appreciated the work that went into developing the connection between the characters as well as their personalities. When the going got tough, they only had each other to rely on. (Also, Loulie and Qadir were my favorites).

All in all, The Stardust Thief was a promising beginning to a new trilogy. And after THAT ending, I can’t wait for the sequel.
About the author....
Chelsea Abdullah is an American-Kuwaiti writer born and raised in Kuwait, where she grew up listening to stories about mysterious desert creatures and wily (only sometimes likable) heroes. Consumed by wanderlust, she has put down roots in various states. After earning her MA in English at Duquesne University, she moved to New York, where she currently lives. When not immersed in her own fictional worlds, she spends her free time playing video games, doodling characters, and hoarding books she doesn’t have the shelf space for. Her debut novel, The Stardust Thief, the first book in a trilogy, is releasing with Orbit in summer 2022.

Disclaimer: this copy of the book was provided by the publisher (Orbit) via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, thank you! 

Monday, May 16, 2022

Music Monday (199): Anitta, Oceans of Slumber

Rules:

  • Music Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Lauren Stoolfire at Always Me that asks you to share one or two songs that you've recently enjoyed. For the rules, visit the page HERE 
Breana: I'm steadily adding more and more of Anitta's music to my playlist. Another favorite is Me Gusta featuring Cardi B and Myke Towers.


Adri: I'm listening to Oceans of Slumber's new song Hearts Of Stone.



What are you listening to this week?

Friday, May 13, 2022

I Listened to Serpentina by Banks

 
Serpentina is Banks’s highly anticipated fourth studio album. It was certainly one of my most anticipated albums of the year.

The overall feel is a lot different from The Altar (2016) and III (2019). Even so, it’s very much a “Banks” album in all the best ways, with a lot of synth effects, auto-tune, and some experimentation—it’s a blend of genres—but the beats are catchy. They have a certain moody and atmospheric edge that works well with Banks’s vocals, which I’ve come to expect and appreciate. And when it delivers, it delivers.

The lyrics are just excellent. I expected nothing less, but even then I underestimated it. There were way too many lines that I wanted to quote. Some of my favorites come from the songs Skinnydipped, Meteorite, Holding Back, and Birds by the Sea. But, all of the tracks are a solid offering, and it’s hard to choose any one song that stands out as a top favorite when they’re all so good.

Overall, Serpentina has quickly become a favorite. And so far, I’m having a great time listening to it on repeat.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Music Monday (198): Anitta, Alice Francis, and Stromae

Rules:

  • Music Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Lauren Stoolfire at Always Me that asks you to share one or two songs that you've recently enjoyed. For the rules, visit the page HERE 
Breana: A couple of weeks ago, I caught Anitta's performance on the Coachella livestream. So I checked out her most recent album. One of my favorite songs is Gata featuring Chencho Corleone.


Adri: I have been waiting for something new from Alice Francis in what felt like forever. And yet, I managed to miss the release of their new song, As Long as You Smile, which I am currently enjoyingAnd now I have another album to look out for.


Andrea: Hi all! This week I'm listening to Bonne Journée by Stromae. This is another artists that I discovered by watching the Coachella livestream. Have an amazing week!



What are you listening to this week?

Friday, May 6, 2022

Monsters in the Mist by Juliana Brandt

Title: Monsters in the Mist
Series: n/a
Author: Juliana Brandt
Source/Format: Netgalley; eARC
More Details: Middle Grade; Fantasy; Horror
Publisher/Publication Date: Sourcebooks Young Readers; May 3, 2022 

Goodreads     Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads...
When Glennon McCue moves into a lighthouse on a mysterious island, he must figure out why those who visit are never heard from again…before he and his family fall victim to the island’s curse. 
After Glennon McCue’s father takes an overseas position, Glennon finds himself relocated from Minneapolis to his uncle’s lighthouse on Isle Philippeaux, smack dab in the middle of Lake Superior. Surrounded by nothing but black, ominous waters, there are many stories about the island, but the worst one is that sailors wash ashore…and are never heard from again. Just before his family is supposed to move home, a storm rocks the isle and a ship crashes outside the lighthouse. The survivors seem off, especially one sailor who acts more like a monster than a person. Suddenly, Glennon finds himself in the middle of a real-life scary story, and unless he can figure out the mystery of the island…he and his family will be lost forever, too.


Monsters in the Mist is probably one of the best middle grade horror books I’ve read this year. It wasn’t only thrills and chills, but it struck a balance between telling a spooky story and a poignant one; where the monsters weren’t only the mystery of what resided in the mist, but could be found in the memory of and about the living as well.

Monsters in the Mist unfolds in the perspective of Glennon. I sympathized with him and understood and appreciated the way the author portrayed how he dealt with the stress of the scarier points of his situation. It was to the point where his doubt in himself made him question what he saw. The story deals with heavy topics, and much of it illustrated the way that grief and fear affect people differently. You don’t need to look any further than Glennon, his sister Leeunah (Lee), and his mother to see what I mean.

The setting didn’t make it any easier for the characters, as Isle Philippeaux didn’t give up its secrets easily. It was a mysterious place with an eerie atmosphere that only intensified as the story headed for its conclusion. I was especially interested in the way lighthouses were used in the story (as indicative by the book’s cover), and it ended up being one of my favorite aspects.

These things were accompanied by some frightening and dangerous instances. And it forced the characters to literally acknowledge all that had happened to them—as well as the predicament they unwittingly found themselves in—before they could move forward.

Monsters in the Mist had a message: feeling somewhat topical in a story that was otherwise a haunting read. All in all, it was great.

About the author....
Juliana Brandt is an author and kindergarten teacher with a passion for storytelling that guides her in both of her jobs. She lives in her childhood home of Minnesota, and her writing is heavily influenced by travels around the country and decade living in the South. When not working, she is usually exploring the great outdoors. Her novels, THE WOLF OF CAPE FEN, and A WILDER MAGIC were both published by SourcebooksKids. Up next is MONSTERS IN THE MIST which will publish in May, 2022. Her writing is represented by Natalie Lakosil of Irene Goodman Literary Agency.

Disclaimer: this copy of the book was provided by the publisher (Sourcebooks Young Readers) via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, thank you! 

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Shadow Grave by Marina Cohen

Title: Shadow Grave
Series: n/a
Author: Marina Cohen
Source/Format: NetGalley; eARC
More Details: Middle-Grade; Horror
Publisher/Publication Date: Roaring Book Press; May 3, 2022

Goodreads     Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads...

This town has a secret it might just kill to keep…

12-year-old Arlo is afraid of the creepy zombie show all his friends watch, of fire, of his own shadow—but most of all he’s afraid of losing his mother to the disease that nearly claimed her life the previous year. While on a Thanksgiving road trip with his mother and sister, Lola, their car hits a strange beast and they become stranded in an old logging town with something unnatural living in its surrounding woods—a dark secret the townsfolk will kill to keep.

Marina Cohen is one of those authors that have books I’ve been meaning to try. A while ago, I had the opportunity to read her latest release, Shadow Grave. I had no expectations going in, other than what was laid out in the synopsis. 

I liked this story. From the start, it seemed like it would be a very spooky read, and I have to admit that it kind of was. There was something going on, and there were moments of tension. Plus, the setting was isolated, which created a sense of being trapped. It certainly had a sense of eeriness and mystery, which was something that the main character, Arlo picked up on. But there was directness to the narrative that limited some of the intensity that could have been there. That being said, when Shadow Grave hit its stride, the story sped toward the conclusion (and stuck the landing) with plenty of twists and turns. Ultimately, it had a strong dark fairy tale kind of vibe to it.

Shadow Grave also proved to be largely about its characters. That was a good thing, as it’s one of the areas where the story excelled. The topics could be heavy—absent parent, illness, accidents, etc.—but I ultimately liked the way Cohen approached them from the viewpoint Arlo. His character was largely shaped by everything he’d experienced prior to the start of the story. There was also his mother’s soothing reassurances, and the broken promises made by…well, someone else (If you want to know, you’ll have to read the story). These things formed the way he tried to handle the situation, while looking out for himself, his mother, and his little sister, Lola.

Overall, Shadow Grave was great. There were a number of good things about the story that I think a lot of readers would enjoy.
About the author....
Marina Cohen is the author of several horror and fantasy books for children and young teens. Her novels GHOST RIDE, THE INN BETWEEN, THE DOLL'S EYE, and A BOX OF BONES have been nominated for various awards in Canada and the United States including, The Sunburst Award, The Ontario Library Association's Red Maple and Silver Birch Awards, The Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, The Rocky Mountain Book Award, The Manitoba Young Reacher's Choice Award, and The Pacific Northwest Library Association Children's Choice Award. THE INN BETWEEN and A BOX OF BONES are also Junior Library Guild selections. Marina loves old castles, hot cocoa, mysterious doors of all shapes and sizes, gingerbread and all things dark and creepy. She spends far too much time asking herself "What if?"

Disclaimer: this copy of the book was provided by the publisher (Roaring Book Press) via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, thank you! 

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