The Beast Player

Fantasy fans: you need to read The Beast Player.

I picked up Nahoko Uehashi’s The Beast Player because I am visiting Japan again soon and enjoying reading a bunch of Japanese literature before I go. This book blew me away unexpectedly. I came across it in the Teen room at the library where I work, and it’s an excellent read for young readers and adults alike.

Elin’s family has an important responsibility: caring for the fearsome water serpents that form the core of their kingdom’s army. So when some of the creatures mysteriously die, Elin’s mother is sentenced to death as punishment. With her last breath, she manages to send her daughter to safety.

Alone and far from home, Elin soon discovers that she can communicate with both the terrifying water serpents and the majestic flying beasts that guard her queen. This skill gives her great power, but it also involves her in deadly plots that could cost her life. Can she save herself and prevent her beloved beasts from being used as tools of war? Or is there no escaping the terrible battles to come?

(From the book jacket)

The Beast Player is an epic fantasy, a standalone story, and a philosophical musing on the futility of war. It features an inquisitive protagonist, a badass mom, a kindly father figure, and many more admirable- and not so admirable- characters, as well as some interesting creatures.

The pacing is perfect and just enough detail is given by translator Cathy Hirano to pull you into the world without becoming tedious. Even the most fantastical elements in this story are fleshed out in a thoughtful and believable way, and the actions and reactions of the characters also feel refreshingly realistic. 

Elin is a clever, independent, and interesting young woman, and a keen observer of the natural world. Her story doesn’t follow many of the expected tropes one often sees- there’s no predictable romance here, just a tight and interweaving story full of adventure.

Japanese Candy Wrapper Journal Video Tour

I love Japanese candy and snacks- they are often packaged very creatively and cutely, and feature all kinds of unique textures and flavours. For a while I had a subscription to a Japanese snack box (best birthday present ever) which gave me the chance to try out all kinds of different stuff. I love the cool packaging of these treats so much that I thought it was a shame to toss out the wrappers, and so I decided to start a Candy & Snack Journal. I’ve since added more and more as I’ve gotten candy as gifts, at shops, and on my trip to Japan in 2017.

When I first started this blog I made a post with a quick peek of my journal, but I decided it would be fun to make a video going through each page. I’ve enjoyed looking back at the candies and snacks I’ve tried, and hope that some others will enjoy the video too!

 

 

 

Mini Review: Maquia- When the Promised Flower Blooms

If you fall in love, you will become truly alone.

This is the sentiment that forms the undercurrent of Maquia, a standalone high-fantasy story centered around the lorph- also known by humans as the “clan of the separated” because their near-immortality has caused them to live isolated lives and become the stuff of legends.

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Maquia is a woman of the lorph. When a power-hungry kingdom raids her village, she is torn away from her kind and finds herself rescuing a human infant despite her deep knowledge of the heartbreak that will inevitably ensue.

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Maquia is a rollicking story of adventure, with heaps of drama, spoonfuls of humour, and touches of romance. It’s also quite emotional- if you are a crier, be prepared to cry. By the end of it my husband looked at me and said “I feel like they’re trying their damnedest to make me cry”.

One aspect of the story that I really like is the Hibiol- the lorph are weavers and have a unique language of the cloth which they use to record history and share messages amongst themselves.

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The film carries along at a good pace. It is interesting to see Maquia’s adopted son Ariel and the other humans in the story growing up steadily around the ever-youthful lorph characters. The way the characters developed and the decisions they made surprised me in some instances.

Another engaging aspect is the existence of the Renato- huge dragon creatures capable of flight that the kingdom of Mezarte have enslaved to do their bidding, but which are slowly but surely dying off from a mysterious “Red Eye disease”.

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A word of caution- if, like me, you prefer sub over dub, stick with the Blu-Ray for this one. Sub and dub options are usually included on both the DVD release and Blu-Ray for most anime nowadays, but this is an exception- I borrowed the DVD from the library and then realized that it only had an English dub, so we had to watch it with English voice acting. The BluRay, I found out, does have both a sub or dub option.

Overall I really enjoyed this film and would totally watch it again someday. I think that, since it’s an engaging standalone film with a PG rating, it would be a good movie to introduce someone to anime, to share with your family, or to enjoy on a date. Or, just cosy up and enjoy it on your own!

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Spoiler-Free Review: Train to Busan

I picked this movie up at the library as it’s been a while since I watched a zombie movie. My hubby Dustin said he’s over zombie movies, but I convinced him to watch it with me tonight, and it didn’t take long before we were invested in the plot and characters.

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A workaholic father, recently separated from his wife, heads out with his young daughter to take her to see her mother in Busan. Someone odd has managed to limp onto the train among the many passengers.  The train has barely left the station before an attendant is attacked, leading to a chain of events that causes infection and panic to spread rapidly throughout the carriages.

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Dong-seok Ma as Sang-hwa, who is definitely my favorite character in the film- the dude is a total badass!

This is a really solid, tightly plotted film with a good balance of action, emotion, and lots of YESSSSS and NOOOO!!!! moments. You see early on that the zombies are fast, ruthless, and dumb. They swarm and crowd, scrambling over each-other in waves and crashing onto screaming victims.

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Sohee as Jin-hee

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Yoo Gong as Seok-woo

As the movie progressed, we were rooting for certain characters, pleaing with them to do or not do certain things. Contrastingly, there’s at least one character that we grew to hate (you’ll know who if you watch the movie!) and we were urging him toward a slow and painful demise…

While a few common tropes are used, and occasionally a zombie’s facial expression or movement feels a bit campy, overall the film is gripping and gives you a believable taste of what might surmisedly happen if a train full of people suddenly found themselves cast into infectious chaos. The infection doesn’t stop at the train- there’s an entire messed up world to face. There are also some surprising plot twists that I really appreciated.

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Su-an Kim as Soo-an- this girl is a seriously impressive actress!

I definitely recommend Train to Busan. It had me tensing up in my seat a lot, anxious for the main cast of characters. It engages you from beginning to end and leaves you sated with lots of feels. I can’t help myself from ending on a cheesy line- this train is an entertaining ride!

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Beasts of Burden- A New Comic Fave!

A lovely woman at the Comic Hunter shop in Charlottetown PEI highly recommended this book, and it was an easy sell for her because I love dogs, I love comics, I love dark and creepy stories, and I love it when someone shares their favorite reads with me!

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If you aren’t into animal stories, I’d suggest you still give this one a chance, because this series is more than meets the eye. While it’s full of sniffing-sleuth shenanigans and humour, the series focuses on arcane paranormal activities, strange creatures, and carnage!

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I felt there was a very good balance between each story, flowing from disturbing tales into more (relatively) lighthearted stuff and with bits of charm and laughs throughout. Jill Thompson’s gorgeous watercolour illustrations are perfect for this comic- together with Dorkin’s writing the characters really come to life, each with their own distinct personalities. I have a fondness for Pugsly!

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Highly recommended!

 

 

*note: this review also appears on my Goodreads 🙂

Spoiler-Free Review: Displacement by Lucy Knisley

Dustin and I are enroute home to Alberta from our 2 week vacation visiting my parents in NB.

Our flights got changed unceremoniously at 3am last night, so while we got a lot more sleep than we were expecting, we now have a really weird mishmash of flights and a 7 hour layover in Toronto.

To look at the bright side, though, I’ve got a ton of ebooks downloaded from Hoopla and Overdrive, and lots of time to catch up on my reading!

Lucy Knisley is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read several of her graphic novels, which are gorgeous, comedic, and full of honest, sometimes uncomfortable, reflections on life.

I enjoy the messy truth of an honest memoir, and Lucy never disappoints. I am currently drafting a comic memoir of my own, and Knisley’s work played a big part in opening my eyes to the versatility and potential of the comic format for memoirs.

ANYHOO, without further ado, here is my review of Displacement (as posted on my Goodreads).

Another fascinating personal memoir from Lucy Knisely- this time on a cruise ship with her grandparents who are in their 90’s and facing debilitating physical and mental health problems.

Lucy doesn’t censor her thoughts, even when they don’t cast her in the most positive light. She struggles with her inner criticisms, her candid thoughts, and her desire to understand her elderly grandparents.

As with her other works, this beautifully illustrated comic memoir is a mixture of self reflection, emotion, reminiscence, people-watching, existential pondering, and comic exasperation.

I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of Lucy’s situation on the ship paired with snippets from her grandfather’s war journal.

Yes, it is hard to confront aging, infirmity and death, but Knisley does it with love and honesty. It’s always a treat to read her work.

Spoiler-Free Review/Squeefest: Black Butler- A Book of the Atlantic

I finally got around to watching the new Black Butler film, A Book of the Atlantic. It’s been a little while since I watched anything Black Butler, and this movie reminded me why I love the series so much. I’ve enjoyed all previous installments, and this one has all the bits I love about Kuroshitsuji: dark and mysterious plot, bloody and dramatic fight scenes with witty repartee, and understated but impactful sprinklings of humour and fanservice.

118369^ Hey look, it’s Inspector Gadget! I mean, Ronald Knox…

All aboard the Campania! The Campania is essentially the Titanic, but with 3 smokestacks instead of 4. It’s a luxury liner on which Ciel, Sebastian, and a smattering of other favorites, embark on yet another mystery- this time involving a secret society and medical mishaps involving reanimation of the dead! (Read: Zombies.)

Although Ciel leaves his loyal house-servants (minus Sebastian, of course) at the docks, many other fan-favorites make an appearance in the movie, including Elizabeth and her family, Grell Sutcliff, Ronald Knox, Undertaker, Snake, and a few other surprises.

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Snake always cracks me up (anyone who is familiar with the series will know why). I especially loved the character development of Elizabeth- let’s just say I’m much more fond of her now! Undertaker also really surprised and delighted with his newest development.

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The movie also gives viewers an intimate look into some unseen moments from the very beginnings of Ciel and Sebastian’s relationship, starting with the fateful deal that forms the basis of the entire series. As such, this movie is a treat for fans of Black Butler, but would also be enjoyable for people who have never seen previous episodes or spin-offs.

Highly recommended!

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Two Canadian Women Who Changed the Way I Spend & Save

My hubby and I went to Japan last year. It was the most amazing three weeks of my life, and I look back on it so fondly every single day. We spent a lot of money on the trip- a lot. It was our honeymoon, so we went all out.

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For the first time ever, after our trip to Japan, I had lingering credit card debt that I wasn’t able to pay off right away. Previously I would never carry a balance on my cards, always paying them off before interest could accrue, but in Japan it was easy to justify charging tons of purchases to my cards, or even using them to withdraw Japanese yen, since “heck, it’s not every day we’re in Ikebukuro!”

To be honest, I don’t regret relying on my cards on that trip and bringing some debt home with me. It was an unforgettable trip, filled with delicious food, shinkansen (bullet trains), museums, ryokan (traditional inns), theme cafes, onsen (hot springs), arcades, and shopping. I treasure every little souvenir and photo book from that trip.

What I did realize, though, was that, because of my regular spending habits, what should have been a relatively easy few thousand dollars to pay off became a hefty burden. Despite my efforts to get the balance down each month, paying huge chunks off with every paycheck, by the end of the month the balance had risen significantly again, mainly because of my regular habits of shopping online.

I can try to defend my online shopping in a lot of ways- we had recently moved, and so we had new rooms that were bare without furniture and other items. Our new place has garden beds, and I felt obligated to get some gardening supplies and try to maintain what the previous owners left behind. My artistic hobbies inspired me to try new mediums, so of course I needed those expensive markers and calligraphy nibs.

The truth is though, most of the time my shopping wasn’t driven by a need- I was browsing the deals on Amazon, chasing the high of new and shiny things. I’m a very privileged person, I am thankful to be able to say that I have all the material wealth I need. So why did I feel compelled to always buy more, more, more?

Disappointed in my apparent mess of a budget, I did what I always do- I turned to the library for answers. A few months ago I found this book called Worry Free Money by Shannon Lee Simmons.

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A lot of times in the past when I tried to read financial books, I lost interest partway through because a lot of the information didn’t apply to me, or wasn’t practical or realistic. Worry Free Money is the first financial book that I read from cover to cover. As soon as I was finished, I created my own financial plan following the simple guidelines in the book.

I can’t believe I had ever tried to make budgets in the past that allocated specific percentages for clothes, entertainment, food, and so on. Who spends like that?! What we spend our money on differs from month to month according to a lot of different factors, so it makes so much more sense to plan the way Simmons explains:

monthly income – fixed expenses – meaningful savings (RRSP, etc) – short-term savings = available spending money. Simple as that.

shannonleesimmons^Thanks, Shannon!

Yes, it’s so simple, but it was a game-changer for me in that it made budgeting approachable, set out an understandable plan I could actually stick to, and encouraged me to determine a set amount I wanted to save each month. I set up an RRSP and began actively contributing to my TFSA again (it had been gathering cobwebs for a while, largely ignored).

However, the problem remained that I had a compulsion to order things I didn’t need, mainly from Amazon. I wasn’t hitting my saving goals, and my credit card balance continued to fluctuate- despite having paid down the initial spending from Japan long ago, it was quickly replaced with a balance from my compulsive late night shopping binges.

Back to the library!

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I picked up The Year of Less, and was inspired by Cait’s decision to set a shopping ban for herself. Cait made a successful effort to stop seeking more material things and instead dedicate her money largely toward memorable and meaningful experiences like travel.

Ever since our trip to Japan, I’ve been dreaming of going back for another visit, but thinking it would be a long time before we could ever make an expensive vacation like that again. Cait’s book make me realize that travelling has been far more enriching for my life than the illusion of happiness provided by clicking “complete purchase” on a cart full of stuff.

cait^Thanks, Cait!

Thanks to these women, I now have a renewed focus on spending less and saving more. My willpower is bolstered by beautiful memories of Hyōgo, Kyoto, Gunma, Tokyo, Osaka, and imaginings of other places in Japan, and the world, that we have yet to visit. 20171015_232501

 

 

Detroit Become Human: A Spoiler-Free Review

I’d been waiting for this game to come out, but I didn’t realize it had finally been released  2 days ago until my hubby said “I bought you a present” and dropped it in front of me. So, I spent a good chunk of my weekend completing my first play-through.

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I am super impressed with this game. It far surpassed my expectations. I’ve always enjoyed these types of episodic, storytelling, quick-action games, and I am a huge fan of other Quantic Dream titles Heavy Rain and Beyond Two Souls. Detroit Become Human is right up there at the top of my list now.

This game is so engrossing that I think even people who don’t usually play video games should give it a shot if they have the chance. Anyone who has enjoyed stories like Ex Machina or I, Robot will surely love this game.

The plot of Detroit Become Human takes place 20 years from now, and revolves around the stories of three androids and the humans they encounter. Exploring the various detailed scenes of a futuristic (but still recognizable) world is a treat for the eyes. Some scenes are set in places so enchanting or lively that I don’t want to progress and leave, while others present a much more bleak or serious mood.

The various androids and humans in the game have interesting personalities, including the side-characters, and I found myself rooting for my favorites.

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^Who wouldn’t love Ralph?

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^and Luthor, the strong and quiet guardian.

The voice acting is, for the most part, really good. I especially love Clancy Brown as Inspector Hank Anderson. Clancy Brown is one of my favorite actors, so I was pretty excited when I saw him in the beginning of the game.

His deep, throaty voice works well with the grumpy, foulmouthed, but otherwise loveable character.

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The gameplay itself felt pretty solid for the most part once I got used to remembering the touch-sensitive pad (“playing” the piano is especially fun).

I played on experienced mode because I wanted my actions to really count, and sure enough I made a handful of oopsies throughout, especially near the end. I finished with what was probably one of the most tragic endings in the game. But, it was a wild ride and had me on the edge of my seat!

Did I mention yet? The graphics in this game are seriously amazing.

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Detroit Become Human addresses questions of humanity and identity. It surprised me with some of its more blatant allegories to the darkest parts of our real world history- these were definitely heavy-handed at times, but regardless, I still enjoyed the story very much.

There are tons of twists and turns, and I am certainly going to do at least one more play-through soon to see what different outcomes I could have gotten.

Overall, I loved this game, and I highly recommend it!

Edit: I forgot to mention that, as a Canadian, the role Canada plays in the game made me excited XD

 

 

 

Spoiler-free review: The Tea Dragon Society

This charming story was even better than I imagined! When I saw the cover I knew I would love this book. I got what I was hoping for. The art is gorgeous, the characters are diverse, and the tea dragons are ADORABLE.

Like Princess Princess Ever After, The Tea Dragon Society is short, sweet, and full of moments that make you feel all warm and fuzzy.

It only took me half an hour to read, and yet I felt like the characters were very well represented.

Yup, I adore this book and I am going to recommend it to everyone, of every age, at the library where I work.

Can I just say that I really want a Rooibos dragon of my own?