Hello, friends—it’s September! I don’t know if you’re into the wild pumpkin-everything craze (are you? What’s your favorite??), but despite my increasing aversion to cold, autumn is still my favorite season. Maybe it’s the revival of all the cozy things I love so much: crackling hearths, heavy blankets, comforting casseroles . . . and rainy afternoons when there’s nothing to do but read a book. Oh, how I treasure those rare days!
And speaking of reading, here is the latest list of what I’ve read over the last couple of months! It’s so interesting to look back and see the (sometimes) eclectic collection of books, but different as they are, each one is packed with wild adventure and heartfelt heroes. I’ll be curious to know if you’re familiar with any of them!
Howl’s Moving Castle – I’ve already read and reviewed this book at LEAST once before, so I won’t repeat myself too much. Only this time it was the audio version I listened to while a friend of mine and I were on our way to NJ for this year’s Realm Makers conference. What a treat! Jenny Sterlin has an amazing voice that breathes a whole new life into the story and characters that I’ve come to treasure. I’m not big into audiobooks, but this one I could listen to on repeat!
Kaiju No.8 volume 3 – Such a fun, action-packed read! These manga volumes are far too short for my taste, I get so swept into the story and characters that it seems like it’s over just as it begins. This time Kafka jumps out of the frying pan and into the fire when he encounters one of the highest-ranking monster slayers who is dead-set in exterminating him! He manages to escape, but with every incident his cover is threatened, and I don’t think it’ll be too much longer before his superiors discover his secret. Yikes! And just when he takes another step further toward his dream, the base is attacked by high level monsters far too organized for anyone’s liking. The team barely survived the last assault, so I’m anxious to see how this debacle pans out!
Castle in the Air – This is also a reread for me, also in audio, though this time on the way back from this year’s Realm Makers conference. Again, Jenny Sterlin knocked it out of the park with her narrative performance of Diana Wynne Jones’s second book in the Howl’s Moving Castle series, which follows young Abdullah on an increasingly chaotic adventure with cantankerous magic carpets, disagreeable genies, gruff mercenaries, and imperious cats as he tries to rescue a princess from the clutches of an evil djinn. My only regret is that I kept nodding off because I was so tired!
In the Land of the Everliving – Book 2 in the Eirlandia trilogy by Lawhead. I couldn’t be sure unless I checked, but I think this series falls closer toward the adult fiction than YA. At least it seems that way regarding character tropes, story development, and pacing. This volume progressed more slowly than the first book, I think, with a plot that bloomed more than carried you away on white rapids (which I suppose is a fancy way of saying it happened slowly). But there was still the crazy adventure of our heroes going from outcasts to infamy, a small group of friends with big dreams to a warband with higher purpose after being turned away, driven out, and met with hard losses and rejection. And man, the snark never gets old! The banter between Conor, Fergal, and Donal is some of the best.
Crown of Sand and Sea – I’ve been anticipating this novella for the past several months—it’s hard not to when it’s a side story continuation of Moonscript. Especially if the main character happens to be Captain Coren of the Solitary Star, pirate of Oolum, cousin of the Aselvian throne! I loved this dude from the first time we met back in Moonscript, with his peppy charisma and humor, so it was great being able to explore more of his background and how he got from elven prince to Niarian pirate and freedom fighter. And how he met the intrepid Zizain! There is also a strong thread of reconnecting with the family left behind, bringing together his family in faith, love, and forgiveness, which gave it a feeling of home—and I do love me a homecoming story.
Demon Slayer – My soul, my soul! It was wonderful. Fantastic. Not perfect but incredibly great. A favorite, for sure. I also loved how genuine and humble the mangaka (author/illustrator) was about the process and his readership in his notes included in each volume. The themes of perseverance, sacrifice, and family moved me to the marrow, as it were. You can read my full review here.
Stan Hawthorne & The Broken Sword – After the intensity and emotional rollercoaster of Demon Slayer, I needed something more lighthearted and fun to read, and this book fit the bill perfectly! It was wonderfully paced, fun, and HILARIOUS (these boys. Really. They crack me up!) One thing I will say against the story: it felt like being dropped into season 2, after the setting and characters have already been introduced and established. Williams gave all the necessary information in chapter 1, granted, but those were bones, and I want meat! I need backstory, because what’s actually written and alluded to in the story is so interesting. That aside, I was not at all left confused about what was going on and picked up the premise fairly quickly. One thing I will say about the book: it could use a good round of copy editing. I hesitate to say these things because I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that they shouldn’t read it, because regardless of the 1) personal preference and 2) technical hiccups, it truly is a good, engaging, delightful read. The characters are a blast to watch, diverse in personality and deep in their struggles and burgeoning friendships. The snarkiness, banter, and antics they share had me laughing out loud. There is SO MUCH potential for this world and plot that I hope to see more of and learn more about these kids and their armor. Besides, I definitely need more of Karl in my life.
Orange – What a rollercoaster this story was. I picked it up without knowing a whole lot about the story except that it was a ‘sci-fi slice of life’, which sounded interesting. It’s more a contemporary story with the only sci-fi element being the letters that were sent back in time to the senders’ younger selves. Have you ever had that ‘If I knew back then what I know right now’ feeling? This story explores that in a literal and emotionally raw way, as the characters implore their younger selves to save one of their friends from himself. It had the teenage angst and drama of your typical shojo (romance), but I was instantly engaged in the plot, in the race against time as instances both foretold and unpredicted unfolded for these kids on their mission to save their friend. I felt the situation was so brittle that I couldn’t be at ease until I knew whether or not they actually succeeded–I was so nervous! It’s a surprisingly deep and raw story, dealing with tough topics, and burgeons into a beautiful picture of courage, love, friendship, and sacrifice.
Ronnie Akkard & the Brotherhood of Blades – Y’all, this book was a boon to my soul. Crazily fun, wildly hilarious, and deeply moving. I didn’t get enough of these samurai armored kids in the STAN HAWTHORN novella, so getting an entire 300+ page novel of them was an absolute treat. It continues the plotline from the novella, delving deeper into the world, lore, and characters as they struggle to become a cohesive unit before the enemy comes. The wit, sarcasm, and banter these boys have tickled me positively pink, and different as their personalities are, I fell in love with them all (well, except for Sam. He has his reasons, but he’s got a serious arc coming). I was absolutely delighted by how quickly these characters came alive for me, lighting up on the page in a way that hasn’t happened in a long while, and I still want more. The writing and narrative are immersive, giving voice to each of the characters in their turn and unique perspectives with never a dull moment between explosive battles, layered mysteries, and pulse-pounding character development that pulled me through fistfulls of chapters at a time. It’s got the charm of our favorite shounen with less of the cheesiness, crafting vivid images that excited my imagination. I won’t say it’s perfect, but without a doubt it brought a mountain of joy and I can’t wait to see where the story goes next.
The Muscle Girl Next Door – This was such a fun and sweet read! I was laughing from page one, primarily at the expense of our protagonist, who is a scrawny bean that has fallen madly in love with his buff chick neighbor and has a hard time expressing himself without getting super embarrassed. It’s a quick, one-shot ‘novella’—which is actually the only thing I have against the story. It’s too short!! I loved watching these characters interact with each other and want to learn more about both of them—like what kind of job Ruby has that she needs to be so muscular for! But overall it was well written with interesting characters and hugely entertaining.
What have YOU been reading in these final days of summer, friends?