Reading Update 18/11/2020

Updates

Recently Finished: SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo
I decided to read this on a whim without really knowing anything about it. Mainly because I’m very interested in reading Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo and I have a weird thing where I like to read authors books in order, so I can see how they progress as an author or something? I dunno, my brain just rebels at the idea of consciously skipping a bunch of books in a writer back catalogue. Turns out Shadow and Bone is a YA book about a young war orphan called Alina Starkov, who unexpectedly reveals a dormant magical power that saves her best friends life – a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. Honestly I would have hated this book had I actually sat down and read a physical copy, there’s just too much brooding, mopey love triangley nonsense for my taste; as it is I just chewed through the audiobook while I was painting my bedroom so it was decent enough background noise.

Currently Reading: INFOMOCRACY by Malka Older
As regular readers will know I’m celebrating all things cyberpunk this SciFi Month, and after a brief fantasy detour I’m getting back to it. Infomocracy has been on my radar for a while and sounds like a pretty unique book in the cyberpunk canon. Instead of focussing on high-octane heists and adventure this is a book about political intrigue and espionage, which I looooove. The premise is that in the near future a powerful search engine monopoly called Information has pioneered switch from nation states to global micro-democracy and the story follows operatives from the different political and corporate factions as they gear up for the next looming election. It’s a story of corruption, manipulation, political manoeuvring and intrigue. I’m not far in yet but I’m already enjoying it and I’ll have a full review shortly.

Next Read: SIEGE AND STORM by Leigh Bardugo
This is the second book in the Shadow and Bone series that I started above. I’ve actually already started this one cos I moved straight on from the first book while I was still painting the bedroom haha. I’m about a quarter of the way through and actually enjoying this one much more than the previous instalment so far. There’s been much less mopey romance which is a big plus, though I’m anticipating it’ll make an unwelcome return at some point. Not particularly interested in actually sitting down to read it in my own ‘spare time’ as it were, so I’ll probs finish it up next time I’ve got some house chores to do.


That’s it for this lil reading update folks. Let me know in the comments what you’re reading at the mo, I love to chat about the books we’re all reading. And if you enjoyed this update why not follow the blog for more reviews and bookish chat.

What Is Cyberpunk?

Updates

Ok, so given I’m gonna be exclusively talking about cyberpunk on the blog during SciFi Month, it’s probably a good idea to talk a bit about what it is. Subgenres are fickle, amorphous things so don’t take this as a comprehensive overview. I’m sure there’ll be many things I leave out and probably some stuff others might disagree with, but this is my take on what cyberpunk is, at it’s core.

Cyberpunk is a genre of science fiction set in an immanently near-future, hyper-computerised and data-governed world, a world of obscene wealth for the minority, of powerful warring corporations juxtaposed with atomised subcultures of freelance hackers, criminals and a dispossessed underclass. It usually centres around a post-industrial culture predicated on the melding of biotechnologically-enhanced human bodies, interactive information technology and rampant corporate power. It’s the gritty, hard-edged science fiction of back alleys and overflowing rubbish dumpsters, littered with discarded computer chips and the detritus of the information society. The smokestacks with the fumes of an earlier era of industrial production have yielded to a world in economic and environmental breakdown, a world with a perpetual haze of smoke and filth where constant rain streaks the neon-lit concrete beneath a landscape of corporate skyscrapers, dilapidated tenement blocks and abandoned industrial factories. A fractured world of late stage monopoly capitalism.



At the core of cyberpunk is a hard-edged dystopian realism, an aesthetic that can be seen in its depiction of the collapse of technological, post-industrial utopias. It was a reaction against the antiseptic, relentlessly sanitised vision of much earlier classical science fiction and presents a postmodern backlash against the utopian SF of previous generations, when authors like Isaac Asimov and Hal Clement wrote stories embedded with the modernist confidence that scientific humanism would exert a degree of moral and ethical control over technology. Cyberpunk’s representation of technology marks a sharp departure from that early science fiction, with a distinct nihilism and diminished sense of optimism in technology.

Many stories are particularly focussed on the breakthrough in biotechnologies and the interfaces of humans and computer technologies through cybernetic limbs, implanted circuitry and genetic alterations. Cyberpunk’s most common emblems are the implants that allow people to directly ‘jack in’ to computer networks, or to plug in modules that give them access to additional memory, skills or even personalities. In stark contrast to earlier science fiction, technology is visceral in the cyberpunk aesthetic; “it’s pervasive, utterly intimate. Not outside of us, but next to us. Under our skin, often inside our minds”, according to Bruce Stirling, one of the very earliest trailblazers of the genre. One of the archetypal characters that represent this invasive melding of biotechnology and computer implants with human bodies is Johnny Mnemonic, a freelance ‘data courier’ who undergoes cybernetic surgery to implant a data storage system in his head. The system allows him to store digital data too sensitive to risk transmission on computer networks and Johnny makes a modest living physically transporting sensitive information for corporations, underworld crime rings and wealthy individuals.



The authors of cyberpunk have been fascinated by the image of a decrepit post-industrial world governed by huge multinationals and inhabited by rampant subcultures and its themes of urban disintegration are recognisably and painstakingly drawn from the condition of contemporary society, with the intensely visceral prose of William Gibson and other cyberpunk authors capturing the images of uncontrolled urban sprawl and environmental decay. The classic opening line of Gibson’s novel Neuromancer embodies the cyberpunk aesthetic: “The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel” and Gibson’s post-industrial landscapes are permeated by physical refuse and ecological decay. Tokyo Bay is a “black expanse where gulls wheel above drifting shoals of white styrofoam”, urban areas in the United States and Japan coalesce into massive ‘sprawls’, pouring rains and fog-blanketed, trash-strewn alleyways, where punk subcultures and data scavengers roam endlessly amidst the seedy, decaying streets.



Cyberpunk is really the first genre of science fiction to grapple with the emerging capability of technology and computer networks to act both as levers of authoritarian control, but also as vehicles that can open up space for social, political and cultural resistance. That’s the dichotomy at the heart of the cyberpunk genre and also, ya know, just provides a lot of really cool opportunities to tell stories about hackers pulling off major heists against giant multinational corporations and mega-rich tech barons and, at the end of the day, who doesn’t love that?



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Cyberpunk SciFi Month is ready for lift off!

Updates

Yesss, I’ve been looking forward to SciFi Month for weeks! As much as I love Halloween and all things spooky season, science fiction is my one true love and I’m strapped in and ready for lift off. Though in all likelihood most of my reading won’t involve much interstellar travel or interaction with alien species, and that’s because I’ll be exclusively reading books set in the near future corporate dystopias of cyberpunk!

What is cyberpunk, you may ask? Well, I’ll be doing a full introduction post before any reviews or discussion posts appear, so if you’re unfamiliar with the genre then don’t fear, I’ve got you covered! But for a very quick and dirty overview, cyberpunk stories are generally set in the very near future where corporations have become more powerful than governments and tend to have settings featuring high levels of economic and cultural displacement, inequality and social unrest. Artificial intelligence, transhumanism and virtual reality feature quite heavily. Think Bladerunner or Ghost in the Shell as some of the most famous representations of cyberpunk in film and you’ll have a good idea of what the genre entails.

I don’t really do plans or set-in-stone TBRs, but I do have a well of potential books I’ll be drawing from, as well as a bunch of short stories, comics and films I might watch and talk about. As far as books go, a non-exhaustive list of some of what I might be reading includes:



So these are a mixture of classic and newer cyberpunk. Neuromancer is actually one of my fave books of all time and I reread it every few years, while Repo Virtual and Busted Synapses are very new. There’s an interesting dichotomy between classic and newer stuff in the genre because a lot of the stuff being written in the 80s was still very much science fiction, whereas now, the internet, biohacking and cyber crime are very real and inequality, social unrest and corporate power have reached fever pitch. In many ways we already live in a warped version of the society the progenitors of cyberpunk were imagining back in the 1980s.

In any case, this is just a small selection of some of the cyberpunk books I’ll be perusing this SciFi Month and please, if you have any fave cyberpunk books I haven’t mentioned here or recommendations you think I should look at, do let me know. In the meantime console cowboys, let’s lay back, relax and jack into cyberspace, we’re in for a wild ride.



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October Reloaded: Monthly Wrap Up

Updates

Happy November bookwyrms! October is over and that means it’s time for the first of my revamped wrap up posts. Looking back, I haven’t done one of these since April (jeez) so I’m excited to dive back in. Funnily enough I didn’t actually do much reading in October cos I spent a good chunk of it playing through The Last Of Us games, which was an unforgettably phenomenal experience. If you’re unfamiliar with these games they’re the absolute pinnacle of character-driven storytelling in video games, just viscerally emotional and like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic zombie-infested setting too, which made it a great horror season playthrough. In other news, I also tried my first ever pumpkin spice latte (can confirm I’m now addicted to their syrupy goodness) and went for lots of nice walks along the river and the old colliery near where I live, which has now been converted into a scenic park complete with ducks, swans and a lake.



I read two books in October; The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall and The Patience of a Dead Man by Michael Clark. The former was an absolute delight, a queer af Sherlock Holmes reimagining in a chaotic Lovecraftian multiverse that was so unapologetically fun but also incredibly well-written. I loved it so much and will def be doing a full review at some point to sing its praises from the rooftops. The second book didn’t impress me though, it was just ill-conceived and badly-written with largely forgettable characters. I did review it here but the less said about it going forward the better.

I did post a bunch of fun stuff on the blog though, including reviews of Stephen Graham Jones’ new revenge horror The Only Good Indians and Deck Matthews’ epic fantasy novella The First Of Shadows (I also had the honour of interviewing Deck too, so make sure to have a peek at that – links to all this good stuff at the end of the post). I also officially started my project to read the entirety of Stephen King’s back catalogue with mini reviews for Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining.

And now that spooky season is coming to an end we’ve got SciFi Month to look forward to! Look out for my announcement post later today where I’ll be talking about my plans for all things cyberpunk!



REVIEWS:
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
Carrie, ‘Salems Lot & The Shining by Stephen King
The First Of Shadows by Deck Matthews
The Patience of a Dead Man by Michael Clark

INTERVIEWS:
Deck Matthews, author of The Riven Realm series and The Varkas Chronicles series


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Reading Update 31/10/2020

Updates

Hey bookwyrms, it’s been a few weeks since a good reading update cos I’ve been playing through The Last Of Us parts one and two for a good chunk of October and that had me utterly hooked and absorbed for a good week and a half. Very much back into the reading rhythm now though and this update straddles the gap between the end of Halloween and the beginning of SciFi month.



Recently Finished: THE PATIENCE OF A DEAD MAN by Michael Clark
I read most of my horror in September this year, starting off strong with Mexican Gothic and The Year Of The Witching. I really loved those books so was disappointed to end on such a low note with THE PATIENCE OF A DEAD MAN. This messy, ill-conceived and poorly-executed haunted house horror didn’t impress despite a few spooky scenes that weren’t enough to redeem the rest of the book. I reviewed it yesterday, and while it’s def not gonna be a glowing recommendation if you’re looking for your next horror read, it will at least make you appreciate the things we can often take for granted in the books we do enjoy.

Currently Reading: REPO VIRTUAL by Corey J. White
SciFi month is on the horizon and I’m making the transition from horror to my true love of science fiction in REPO VIRTUAL. I’m specifically focussing on reading a lot of cyberpunk this November. Some of you may be aware that Neuromancer is one of my all time favourite books but I’ve never managed to find another cyberpunk novel that managed to hit the same heights. I find a lot of more recent cyberpunk has abandoned the grimy, high-tech-meets-low-life grittiness in favour of empty aesthetics. Corporate skyscrapers and neon-lit back alleys without the class politics which, despite its flaws in 80s cyberpunk, was still present. Sorry, I have a lot of opinions about cyberpunk and the representation of class struggle, but I’ll park them for now. Suffice to say, I’m only three chapters into REPO VIRTUAL at the mo, but I’m glad to say I think this story about a virtual thief and his contract to steal the world’s first sentient AI is gonna be a good ‘un.

Next Read: GLITCH RAIN by Alex Livingston
You guessed it, more cyberpunk! There’s gonna be a theme this month, gang. GLITCH RAIN is a few years old now, published by Apex back in 2016. It’s a novella about Akuba, a low-level hacker for the wealthy elite, making just enough to keep the bills paid and the booze flowing. Her job is to scrub the social feeds for faces who don’t want to be seen, hanging out at parties to guard the elite from errant social media statuses and incriminating photo posts. But when an old debt comes due early, suddenly she’s the one who needs to keep her face out of the omnipresent eyes of the drones. Thrown into the high-stakes world of international cybercrime, Akuba has to outmanoeuvre unlimited surveillance, high-tech con artists, and an international hacker kingpin if she wants to survive. I’ve not read anything by Alex Livingston before and actually only found this because I was specifically looking through Apex’s backlist for cyberpunk titles because I’ve been so consistently impressed with the fiction they put out and think they deserve a lot more recognition as a small press publisher. Plus this story sounds like it kicks ass.


Let me know in the comments what you’re reading at the mo, I love to chat about the books we’re all reading. And hey, if you enjoyed this update why not follow the blog for more reviews and bookish chat.

State of the Blog 2: Electric Blogaloo

Updates

Hey bookwyrms, I’m gonna cut straight to the chase here cos I’m actually not really in the writing mood today, just wanted to give a quick update. Regular readers probably read my State of the Blog post a few weeks back, where I talked about how I was planning on having a regular schedule of reviews and whatnot. Yeaaahhhh, I’ve already done a complete U-Turn on that.

Turns out that’s not how I like to blog. And I knew that already, but for whatever reason I decided “hey, pumping out content for your hobby blog even when you don’t feel like writing” would be a great idea. But it’s not. I’ve sat down a couple times this week to write a review that, according to my regular schedule, is ‘due’ tomorrow. But I didn’t feel like writing it. Truth be told I haven’t been doing much reading or writing lately; not cos I’m in a slump or anything, I’ve just been watching shitty reality TV with my girlfriend and playing video games. I just wanted to do other things, and that’s fine. As I sat there trying to force out a review and not enjoying myself very much, I just thought why am I doing this?

This is my hobby, it’s supposed to be fun. And it is! I love blogging and reviewing books and chatting to fellow bloggers and readers about what we’re all reading. But sometimes I want to watch that shitty reality TV or play a video game or go for a walk. I’m much happier and much more comfortable being a casual blogger, rather than forcing myself to churn out content for readers who I know don’t mind either way.

I actually felt pretty guilty for a while about writing this post, given that barely a few weeks ago I promised readers ‘regular’ content, so for a while longer I tried squeezing blood from the proverbial stone to get that review finished and posted for tomorrow. I wasted another hour sitting in front of my computer feeling shitty about it before I realised my readers don’t mind whether or not I’m posting on a regular schedule. It literally doesn’t matter. And if I’m not enjoying my hobby, what’s the point of doing it?

So that’s that. I am still gonna be posting, but only when I feel like it. And if that means sometimes there’s a glut of content for a week and then I go for a while without posting anything, then so be it. On the plus side I’m still gonna be doing everything else I mentioned, including the author interviews and Comic Club (I’m really excited about that one), I’ll just be doing it on an irregular schedule. And hey, all that means is every morning when you wake up you’ll have the excitement of wondering whether there’s a new Parsecs & Parchment post to read! Happy reading bookwyrms.

Reading update 04/10/2020

Updates

Recently Finished: SOURDOUGH by Robin Sloan
This was such a delightful book. It’s basically just the story of a computer programmer who finds happiness in baking bread when her favourite soup and sandwich takeout closes and the owners gift her their (possibly sentient?) sourdough starter. It was recommended to me by eriophora (@BasiliskBooks) on Twitter when I asked for some nice gentle reads with little stress (I’m really feeling the need for those types of stories right now) and this really hit that spot. The highest the stakes get is wondering whether or not Lois will get a spot at the local farmers market. I loved it and if you want something nice and wholesome about someone just learning to be happy then I would definitely recommend Sourdough.

Currently Reading: THE AFFAIR OF THE MYSTERIOUS LETTER by Alexis Hall
I’m a few chapters in to this one and already I absolutely adore it. It’s a sort of Lovecraftian lesbian Sherlock Holmes reimagining where ‘Holmes’ is a drug-addled sorceror tasked to investigate the attempted blackmail of her former lover. Told from the perspective of ‘Watson’ (Captain John Wyndham) the duo are beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, harassed by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark. It’s a joyous, bizarre and unapologetically fun story and again, a perfect fit for the kinds of stories I feel like reading at the mo.

Next Read: WHEN THE TIGER CAME DOWN THE MOUNTAIN by Nghi Vo
Tor Books sent me this ARC and I can’t tell you how excited I am to read it. It’s Nghi Vo’s follow up to her majestic The Empress of Salt and Fortune, which was a story whose words flowed through my mind like silk over soft skin. Set in the same world and part of The Singing Hills Cycle, it’s nevertheless a standalone that reunites us with the cleric Chih, who finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover – a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty – and discover how truth can survive becoming history.


Let me know in the comments what you’re reading at the mo, I love to chat about the books we’re all reading. And hey, if you enjoyed this update why not follow the blog for more reviews and bookish chat.

State Of The Blog

Updates

Happy Sunday bookwyrms, hope you’re all having a lovely book-filled weekend. And hey, thanks so much for all the blogiversary well wishes, I was overwhelmed by all you fine folks getting in touch, you’re the best.

And on that note, having taken a week off to recover from the madness of the blog’s birthday week, I’m happy to say I’ve been busy preparing a new and improved schedule for Parsecs & Parchment! Long term followers probably know I’m not the most organised of bloggers haha. I have a very haphazard approach to what I post and when – a review here, an update there and no consistent days or schedule to set your watch by. But that’s all about to change!

So what can you look forward to from P&P in the future?

First off, the bread and butter of the blog isn’t changing; the backbone of the blog is still gonna be the much-beloved stalwart of the blogging community, the hardy book review, all meat and potatoes like. Only difference is I’ll be posting them on a regular schedule (get me, right?). So you can look forward to at least one review a week, posted every Thursday, and should I start building up a glut of backlogged reviews there may even be some super special bonus posts from time to time if you just can’t get enough review goodness.

Second (and I’ve been thinking about this for a while) I’ll be starting a Comic Club that I’ll be hosting at least once a month on a Tuesday, where I try and work my way through the significant pile of graphic novels and trade paperback comic collections that make up a significant chunk of my TBR. One post a month is a minimum so if I get really into something for a while there could well be some bonus posts here too.

Third, author interviews! In my head I wanted this to be a feature from the blog’s inception, but I just wasn’t organised enough to make it a regular thing. You can still check out my interview with the wonderful Gareth L. Powell, author of the superb Embers of War books, that I did back in September 2019. I’ve already got an interview lined up with Deck Matthews, author of The Riven Realm series, and lots of ideas for other authors I’d like to collar for a chat, so keep your eyes peeled for those.

On top of that I’ll still be posting my reading updates whenever I’ve got new stuff to talk about, as well as a periodic non-fiction edition that readers responded to very positively when I did this as a one-off a few months back. I’ll also be creating an archive page where you can easily access past reviews, as well as commissioning a custom logo for the site now I’ve proven I’m in it for the long haul. I’ve also been toying with the idea of a total cosmetic overhaul, though I’m still not sure about that. I actually like the minimalist aesthetic I’ve got going at the mo, but it does bug me that the homepage doesn’t have a layout that displays a bunch of recent posts in tidy little boxes for easy browsing. And finally, I quite like the idea of committed followers getting to know me a bit better. I do think my personality shines through in my writing somewhat but I think once a month I’m gonna start doing a round up of the month gone by, what I’ve read and reviewed, but also just a little bit about what’s been going on with me for those who might be interested. I know a few other bloggers who do this and I personally like it a lot, makes the community we’re part of feel that much more friendly and accessible, you know 🙂

That’s about it for now. There are a couple other things that I’d quite like to do, but at the risk of taking on too much at once I’m gonna hold back on them for now. In the meantime I hope you enjoy all the juicy goodness you can look forward to squeezing out of Parsecs & Parchment in the near future. Happy reading bookwyrms!


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1st Birthday Celebrations!!!

Updates

Cut the cake and pop the champagne, it’s Parsecs & Parchment’s first blogiversary! I feel like I’m stuck in some kind of time warp cos, despite 2020 lasting for seven years already, it only feels like yesterday I posted my first review. The world might be a trash fire right now but I’m glad to say amidst it all I’ve found a great community of like-minded book lovers to escape from it all from time to time.



I was actually on holiday in Nice, France around this time last year when I decided I wanted to start a blog (holidays, remember them?). I’d started listening to Calvin Park’s Under A Pile of Books podcast and binged through all the episodes while sitting on the balcony of my Airbnb sipping Carrefour rosé cider in the warm dusk of the Côte d’Azur. I’d also started following some of the folks from The Fantasy Inn on Twitter, noteably Sara and Jenia, who happened to be organising a readathon around the same time. I enjoyed getting involved in that and found this little community so welcoming I just wanted to be more involved. I don’t think they know it, but right at the start it was these three folks that did the most to make me feel welcome and encouraged me to be part of the online book community. So a special thanks to them, I raise my glass to you.

Obviously since then I’ve made new pals who share my love of all things speculative and found a bunch of other really quite wonderful blogs to follow. The recommendations I’ve got from you all have improved my reading life immeasurably.

I was a big SFF nerd beforehand obviously, but in hindsight the range of books I was exposed to was quite homogenous and I wasn’t adventurous at all, despite what protestations past me might have had if you told him that. Not to say none of those books were any good (I still think A Song of Ice and Fire is one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read, despite how unfashionable that might be now) but over the past year my horizons have expanded beyond recognition and some of my now favourite authors are writers who I would likely never have heard of without the book community.

Jade City and Jade War by Fonda Lee are hands down some of the best fiction I’ve ever read; everything P. Djèlí Clark has ever written blows me away; Snow Over Utopia by Rudolfo A. Serna and Coil by Ren Warom, both published by small press Apex Publications; and most recently I’ve finally started getting into some of the fantastic self-published fiction that graces the shelves of the SFF world these days, with books like The First of Shadows by Deck Matthews and The Sword of Kaigen by M. L. Wang. These are just a small selection of the amazing books I’ve encountered over the last year that otherwise I simply would not know about.

So I owe a big debt of gratitude to all you guys, for your recommendations and insightful reviews, as well as for your kindness and warmth in welcoming a new member into your flock. Here’s to you all and long may our little community flourish. Cheers!


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Reading Update 20/09/2020

Updates

Recently Finished: THE FIRST OF SHADOWS by Deck Matthews
I decided to pick this up after reading Rin’s review on her blog The Thirteenth Shelf. Rin is someone whose reading opinions I value a lot when it comes to books I’d also like as we share a lot of opinions on what makes a good story. THE FIRST OF SHADOWS is a frenetically-paced high fantasy novella(!!!) that packs a ton of engrossing world-building and heart-pounding action into a very small space. I’ll be writing a full review soon and also delighted to announce an upcoming interview with Deck Matthews himself, so keep your eyes peeled.

Currently Reading: THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS by Stephen Graham Jones
This is my first Stephen Graham Jones book and I’ve struggled to settle into it. A dark blending of classic horror and dramatic narrative, it follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way. The story is interesting but the prose is quite odd and I find I’m having to do a lot of going back over stuff to understand what’s going on, which is affecting my enjoyment somewhat.

Next Read: THE SWORD OF KAIGEN by M. L. Wang
I’ve wanted to read this one for a while after hearing everyone in the book community rave about it for months. I don’t know anyone who has a bad word to say about it and I thought what better time to finally dive in than Self Published Fantasy Month 🙂


Let me know what you’re reading and follow the blog to never miss a post!