Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian (Spoiler Free)

Everyone knows the legend. Of Arthur, destined to be a king. Of the beautiful Guinevere, who will betray him with his most loyal knight, Lancelot. Of the bitter sorceress, Morgana, who will turn against them all. But Elaine alone carries the burden of knowing what is to come–for Elaine of is cursed to see the future.

On the mystical isle of Avalon, Elaine runs free and learns of the ancient prophecies surrounding her and her friends–countless possibilities, almost all of them tragic.

When their future comes to claim them, Elaine, Guinevere, Lancelot, and Morgana accompany Arthur to take his throne in stifling Camelot, where magic is outlawed, the rules of society chain them, and enemies are everywhere. Yet the most dangerous threats may come from within their own circle.

As visions are fulfilled and an inevitable fate closes in, Elaine must decide how far she will go to change fate–and what she is willing to sacrifice along the way.

Laura Sebastian, Penguin Random House

My Review

I will pick up anything to do with Arthurian legend, but I really enjoyed this take on our Once and Future King. This story plays out in three times, the past when they (Arthur, Guinevere, Morgana, Lancelot, and Elaine) come together on on Avalon, the present when they reach Albion and step into their respective roles, and the future when the tale and tragedy of King Arthur plays out. I really liked this as it turned the conflict into characters versus plot , as Elaine tries to circumvent the tragedy we have come to know so well in Western cannon.

As a retelling, I thought it was particularly strong. There was the thread of the Arthurian legend, especially in the future line from the novel. However, bolstered some of the same stories in new ways like the twists in the intention, word play, and expanding context. Some examples are Arthur and Lancelot’s respective tourneys, Merlin and Nimue’s conflict, and combining some of the Elaine’s (in my opinion: Shalott, Corbenic, and Garlot). You can tell there is a deep familiarity with the story and love for these characters. I did wish that there was a clearer or longer ending and that the past timelines were brought into the story a little more. I do wonder if this was avoided because it was the part that deviated most from accepted cannon.

4.75 Stars

Publication Date: July 2021

Read other reviews and potential content warnings here.

Learn more about the Author here.

Definitive Bridgerton Ranking

I recently completed the Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn after fully boarding the Bridgeton train after watching Season one of the adaptation on Netflix. The Bridgeton series is a historical romance series where each book functions independent. They are connected as each protagonist is the member of the same family, it follows 8 siblings and their respective relationships.

I thought that this was a generally good romance series. I thought there was a good variety in the couples and each relationship was unique. In general I enjoyed this series but most of the books averaged out to about 3.75 stars. Of course, I am not including the main outlier in that of The Duke and I, which in general I didn’t enjoy due to the relative blandness but the blatant rape that occurs put me over the end. I do not recommend reading that installment, but I would recommend the rest of the series. For any additional content warnings I recommend checking out the series on Storygraph starting with the Duke and I here,

My favorite of the series was The Viscount Who Loved Me, but when talking about the series I found I had to make distinctions between the relationships I liked and the stories I like. If you have read the Bridgerton books, which one did you enjoy best?

By Plot

The books were ranked on the following criteria was the book well-paced, was it engaging, and did things happen.

  1. The Duke and I
  2. Romancing Mister Bridgerton
  3. An Offer From a Gentleman
  4. On the Way to the Wedding
  5. It’s In His Kiss
  6. The Viscount Who Love Me
  7. When He was Wicked
  8. To Sir Phillip with Love

By Relationship

The books were ranked on the based on the main relationship in terms of: chemistry, spice, and healthiness.

  1. Daphne and Simon (The Duke and I)
  2. Benedict and Sophie (An Offer From a Gentleman)
  3. Eloise and Phillip (To Sir Phillip, with Love)
  4. Gregory and Lucy (On the Way to the Wedding)
  5. Hyacinth and Gareth (It’s In His Kiss)
  6. Colin and Penelope (Romancing Mister Bridgerton)
  7. Francesca and Michael (When He was Wicked)
  8. Anthony and Kate (The Viscount Who Loved Me)

Overall Ranking

  1. The Duke and I
  2. An Offer From a Gentleman
  3. On the Way to the Wedding
  4. It’s In His Kiss
  5. Romancing Mister Bridgerton
  6. To Sir Phillip, With Love
  7. When He was Wicked
  8. The Viscount Who Love Me

I learned: Out of Office Emails

Out of office emails are very helpful if they are put up at the right times. They tell people when they can expect to hear back from you and to assure others that you are not just ignoring them. This has happened a couple times and has unfortunately while nothing was technically done wrong, people’s feelings can get hurt and/or feel like you are bad at your job.

When I first started I was bad at evening remembering to set my out of office email. especially when I would only gone for a day at the top of the week. Once I got a hang of remembering to turn on the out of office… which took a minute ( I have been in this job for over two years). I was still have frustrated people trying to reach out to me while I was gone, even when my out of office email went on first thing (6:00 am) the days I was out.

What I learned is that you have to turn on your out of office (or at least for the people I work with), while you are still in the office. At least the last half hour you are actively working. My goodness the grace it gives people when they have received an out of office and you respond whenever, versus when they don’t and you just respond as soon as you can is astonishing. So that’s what I am going to keep doing for now. How do you approach your out of office?

Morning Person

I am not a morning person. Every person that has been with me before 9 am can tell you this, any roommate, sleepover friend from elementary school, family member, you name it. I am in every sense not a morning person. I do not wake up well, it takes me a long time and I fall immediately back to sleep at least once. Then once I am up I am groggy, forgetful, clumsy, and often grumpy as heck for a while. Because of this I need to wake up early.

Honestly, it feels really counter intuitive because I hate the morning, but the days I wake up early are my best days. It feels odd because I don’t do anything with my extra hour or so, but my regular hours feel better. Basically I started waking up at 6 or 5 totally on accident because I was falling asleep so early after work and was waking up accidentally after so many hours. Now I have started waiting up at 6 intentionally.

I still get to be groggy and have the time and space to fall back asleep, slowly drink coffee, check my phone, etc. The mornings aren’t better but I totally get to enjoy a large portion of my day. I also get to be less stressed about figuring out if I am able to start work and talk with others without feeling as overwhelmed or rushing into reboot mode for the day as the same time as work mode. I feel like the morning allows me now to become a person and wind-up for the day.

Are you a morning person? If not, what do you do?

Series Review: Beyond the Four Kingdoms by Melanie Cellier

Can you tell I have been hyper fixating on this author? This is the sequel series to The Four Kingdoms that following some of our familiar characters to explore new lands and expand relationships beyond the Four Kingdoms after a storm clears to reveal a pass into a heavily populated continent. The books are a companion series of fantasy retellings. Similar to the prequel series, we rotate through the kingdoms and young royalty as they go through their individual tale.

My Review: This series is highly magical and the fairy tales are much more quest based with romance thrown in to the stories. Still enjoyable, but a very different reading experience, especially by book 2. I think that the retellings were more inventive but I really missed how much relationship building and politics were present in the first series. This series was very romantic with high stakes. Personally, this was less my taste than the original series. On average this series was about 3.8 stars! If you have read this series, let me know what you thought!

Genre: Fantasy Romance that all focus on a general quest or curse.

The Books:

A Dance of Silver and Shadow (Twelve Dancing Princess)

A Tale of Beast and Beauty (Beauty and the Beast)

A Crown of Snow and Ice (Ice Queen)

A Dream of Ebony and White (Snow White)

A Captive of Wing and Feather (Swan Lake)

A Princess of Wind and Wave (Little Mermaid)

Favorite Retelling: One thing that I think was a bonus about this series was how inventive the retellings got. My personal favorite was Snow White or a Dream of Ebony and White. I don’t think I had ever experience a Snow White tale get this deep or political before. I liked how Snow White had to become a real political threat to the throne and a ruler in her own right. This was also the only retelling I have ever read that held the King accountable for some of the catastrophe that comes to kingdom and it was weirdly satisfying. The found family was a happy bonus.

Favorite Couple: Teddy and Isla (A Princess of Wind and Wave). This is my favorite version of a Little Mermaid couple I have experience so far. I like that they actively had to fall out of love with idea of each other and in love with the person they got to know. This was the couple that grew the most together throughout their story. Close second is Lily and Jonathan (A Dance of Silver and Shadow). They are so similar and dutiful. It lead to a fun back and forth of admiration and angst.

Favorite Kingdom: Eldon. I liked the more rigid and traditional kingdom more than I expected. Even though it ended up getting them more trapped in their curse than anything else I found the shift to be a nice change of pace.

Favorite Family: The Duchy of Marin (A Dance of Silver and Shadow). We didn’t spend as much time with them but the three sisters competed (and deserve a short story of their own) and the brother, Jonathan, is the featured love interest. The family is heavily featured as they are the ones who invited the Princesses from the Four Kingdoms to the new land. They are so sweet together and genuinely try to levy their roles as diplomat in every scene they are in.

Favorite Book: A Tale of Beast and Beauty. I think there was a great balance of the relationship and understanding the curse that was on the Kingdom of Palinar. There was a lot of misunderstanding when it came to the Beast (Dominic) and Sophie, but I loved how the relationship developed and that you got to see the type of rulers they would both be. Second place, A Dance of Silver and Shadow. I have loved Twelve Dancing Princess retellings since the Barbie Movie, but I thought the competition was a great introduction. I loved the balance between competition, getting to know a new land and new characters, and an incredibly tense romance.

Monsters at Work: Hit or Miss

The Premise: Monsters at work takes place after Monsters Inc (2001). The series follows Monsters Inc after it reopens to transition to use Laugh Energy instead. The whole company is trying to figure out it’s new place and how to work under new leadership. The new character we follow is Tylor Tuskman who was hired as a Scarer fresh out of Monster U. In the chaos no one thought to let him know the job no longer existed. When he shows up to Monsters Inc. he gets reassigned to the quirky facilities team, MIFT.

My Review:

I was really looking forward to this show as I am huge fan of the films and of the cast of this show. Unfortunately, it felt like the show knew that. I have this theory that you can figure out if a show is for you in three episodes. In my opinion, the show is rather forgettable. All the new characters are “weird” and intense, but they don’t have storylines of their own. Splitting the show with Mike, Sully, Celia, and Roz from the original series feels like it is splitting focus and doesn’t really know it’s own intentions. Mike and Sully even though it supposedly months later are figuring out for the first time how the new company should run and how to be in charge. The most heartfelt episode was episode three but it came it waves and for me too late. It feels like the show has yet to find it’s own heartbeat and direction.

How to Watch: Disney + (steaming service)

Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro (Review)

Summary:

Xochital is destined to wander the desert alone, speaking her troubled village’s stories into its arid winds. Her only companions are the blessed stars above and enimagic lines of poetry magically strewn across dusty dunes.

Her one desire: to share her heart with a kindred spirit.

One night, Xo’s wish is granted—in the form of Emilia, the cold and beautiful daughter of the town’s murderous mayor. But when the two set out on a magical journey across the desert, they find their hearts could be a match… if only they can survive the nightmare-like terrors that arise when the sun goes down.

Tor Teen, Mark Oshiro

Review:

This was a really ethereal and weird read about connection, religion, and freedom. I have always found Oshiro’s writing to be very visual and visceral. The characters were flawed, confused, and doing the best they could even when it wasn’t best for everyone. It was really easy to get attached and want the best for everyone , including the characters that only briefly share their stories.

Now, I loved the back stories they made the world feel full and the culture complete. However, they were all previous stories that were just for the world and not for the current plot as outside observers (ala The Sun is Also a Star and Lalani of the Distant Sea). This sometimes lead it feeling hard to back into the plot and readjusting to the different moods back and forth.

On a personal note, as a monoglot (I only speak English) I was really intimidated by the amount of Spanish in the book when I started. I was put at ease about 20% through when I realized that everything was either common words (hola, etc.) or were translated either directly or indirectly.

I gave this book a 4/4.25 stars. If you have read it let me know what you thought or if you are thinking about picking it up.

Publication Date: September 2020

Publisher: Tor Teen

Read more reviews and content warnings here.

Read more about the author here.

Validation – I need it

Today my boss pulled me aside and told me that some of the volunteers in my committee had approached them, saying that they were denied information and were left out of an event. My body clenched. I fully was prepared to go into defense mode. Explain the history, the precedent, my communication strategy. Before I could even open my mouth, my boss told me that she was so confused how they could forget a meeting that they were at and that it was incredibly unprofessional that all the feedback was coming through communications thread but not directly. to me at any point. My muscles relaxed,

All of a sudden. I didn’t feel in defense mode. Not only had my boss been there but my boss believed me. I wasn’t over reacting or taking things personally. It wasn’t something I needed to guard against. It was something that I shouldn’t have to deal with. It was such a relief not just to know the way I was feeling or responding were valid, but that my standards were reasonable and I wasn’t just misinterpreting things.

While I think eventually it’s easy to come to the conclusion to you need to have and express the feelings you are feeling. It is another to understand that your standards are normal. The way that you are experiencing the situation should not be happening, but is.

I think especially in professional or collegial settings it can be even harder because there is a certain amount of decorum expected, especially in group settings. Being new to something and everyone having a poker face, I never know if I am misinterpreting something or that my assumed standards coming in are different than reality. You will put up with so much for a pay check and if you don’t know that you shouldn’t. Please if there is something happening that shouldn’t be and someone you work with isn’t bring it up. Bring it up. Validate their experience. They probably think it is something should be dealing with or because no one else is reacting that they are overreacting.

Anyway. Validation is lovely.

Makeshift Tuna Noodle “Casserole”

Making meals is hard and planning ahead when grocery shopping can feel really overwhelming. This a quick and easy one-pot meal that tastes delicious, costs minimal amounts while being made of mostly pantry staples, and is a relatively balanced meal. Let me know what your go to easy meal is!

Servings: 3

Ingredients:

  • One box shell noodle Mac&Cheese (store brand: $1 per box)
  • One can tuna fish (roughly $1.50)
  • 1/2 a cup of frozen peas ($1.50 per package)
  • 1-2 tbsp. Butter
  • 1-2 tbsp. Mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 tsp (2/3 shakes) dried Thyme
  • Pepper

Steps:

  • Boil water for mac and cheese and cook noodles according to directions. With 5 minutes left on cooking time add the frozen peas to the pot.
  • Strain noodles and peas into colander. Pour back into to pot add butter and coat noodles and peas.
  • Add in tuna, mayo, and lemon juice and combine well.
  • Pour in cheese packet from box, thyme, and add pepper to taste.
  • Enjoy.!

Spring Wrap Up

I didn’t make it to everything from my Spring TBR (approx. 40%). My workload drastically changes plus I got COVID which sucked, and lead me down a few different roads reading wise. Specifically, I read a lot more middle grade and significantly shorter novels than I have previously leaned towards. I read 54 books this spring and enjoyed most of them! Definitely diversified my reading more than normal into different genres and was pleasantly surprised. The average rating of the season was 3.89 stars. What was your favorite book you read this spring?

Genre Breakdown:

Age Breakdown:

Age Range# of Books
Children4
Middle Grade15
Young Adult17
Adult18

Most Read Author: Mellanie Cellier (7 books across the Beyond the 4 Kingdoms series and the Return to the 4 Kingdoms series)

Standouts:

Anna K by Jenny Lee

Eva Evagreen: Semi-Magical List by Julie Abe

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar

Beartown by Fredrik Bachman

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls