Review: The Madness of Hallen (The Khalada Stone #1) by Russell Meek

A few years ago, I attended Armageddon in Dunedin. A small convention, there wasn’t a huge amount going on and I don’t recall spending more than a couple of hours there. I did, however, stop by Russell Meek’s booth, where is he was selling copies of his first novel, The Madness of Hallen. He was also taking pre-orders for the sequel.

Three years later, I’d still not picked them up. But after learning that the third volume of the series was soon being released, I finally began to read them.

But honestly? I don’t even want to talk about the book right now. Well, I do, but there’s something I want to talk about first. Russell Meek opted to go down the self-publishing route, but let me tell you, he pulled out all the stops. This book? It’s so incredibly well made. Like, this thing is heavy. And not just because of the book’s size. The pages feel expensive, man. It feels so polished. Honestly, I was just so impressed.



Anyway. Onto the contents. The Madness of Hallen is the first of the Khalada Stone series. It’s a fantasy novel. Not my expertise, but let’s not get too tied up in that fact.

The novel starts off a little slow. Fair enough. It’s fantasy. Fantasy always needs a little time to create a world, y’know? There’s building involved. But eventually things get underway. We get pulled into Orhl and Faerl’s world. There’s a bit of romance (which I totally loved), a bit more action (which was great), and a lot of magic (which was super exciting).

Orhl and Faerl have extraordinary powers, linked to ancient stones. Combined, these ancient stones are the mind of al-Din. But, of course, the mind of the Sword of the Faith is desired by many. It all makes for a pretty thrilling story.

I loved how Meek easily introduced a whole host of characters, carefully juggling perspectives. For me, the transitions were smooth and I found the story, though complex and filled to the brim, easy enough to follow.

The magical elements were, to begin with, a touch confusing. I didn’t always know how exactly it was working or why exactly it was necessary. But as the book progressed, things slowly began to make more sense. And as things made more sense, things became more interesting. While there wasn’t a lot of character development, the world building was really well done, and I feel like the series has a lot of potential.

I already have its sequel, A Brother’s Bond, sitting on my shelf. I’m excited to see how the series progresses! It’s always exciting to see self-published authors doing well, and I whole-heartedly hope that Meek gets the success he deserves.

Let me know if you’ve read this series! Do you make an effort to support self-published authors? Are there any recommendations out there?


Wrapping up February

Is this super late? Yes. So, I headed off to university at the start March, and a lot of my reading choices for February reflected that. It was all about the books that I desperately wanted to read as soon as possible, but weren’t quite going to make their way into my suitcase. Anyway, since I was moving into my new flat, I struggled a wee bit to get this up… but here it is!

And so, moving on to my favourites of the month…


In non-fiction, I really adored The Art of Rivalry by Sebastian Smee. This book talks about the artistic rivalries of Matisse and Picasso, Manet and Degas, Bacon and Freud, and de Kooning and Pollock. As a lover on modern art, I fell head over heels with this book. I loved how personal it was! I thought it was funny, interesting and a great perspective to some of the artworks these incredible artists have created. Although I don’t know if anyone who doesn’t have a vague recollection of these artists would enjoy this book, I know that I certainly did and would heartily recommend it to anyone who even thinks that they’re going to like it.

I also really want to talk about Notes from a Dead House by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I don’t have the best relationship with Dostoevsky. I’ve picked up a couple of his smaller novels in the past (I tell myself I’m prepping for his bigger ones…), and not been overly impressed. But there was just something about Notes from a Dead House. It was like nothing I’d ever read before, and I was completely captivated by it.

Book Haul: Taking a Break from Flat-Hunting…

I’ve recently been faced with the most arduous of tasks: hunting for a flat. I can’t even begin to tell you how stressed out this has made me. Anyway, I was pretty desperate to escape for a wee bit and ended up visiting my favourite book store.

And so, today I have a book haul to share you with you! I always love seeing what picks have snuck their way onto my friends’ shelves, so I hope you enjoy it too!

The packing boxes needed to be in the background to prove that I’m actually moving, obviously.

Ulysses by James Joyce
This is just one those books that I’ve always meant to read. That’s it. That’s the only reason why I picked it up. That’s the most boring reason ever (sorry!), but that’s really all there is to it.

It by Stephen King
I have read of Stephen King’s books. Two. And neither of them were horrors. I’m not really good with horrors, but Stephen King is my brother’s absolute favourite author. I figured I had to give it a shot.

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
In a desperate attempt to hype myself up to the point of reading some of Dostoevsky’s larger novels, I picked up some of his smaller ones first. After making my way through The Gambler, Notes from the Underground and Notes from the Dead House, I’ve finally decided to bite the bullet.

Adam Bede by George Eliot
After reading Middlemarch, I knew I needed to read more from Eliot. There were a few of hers at the store, but this one’s synopsis drew me in the most. Having already read this, I can say that this was an excellent pick and I loved it.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu
I’m not gonna lie. I picked this up because of its aesthetic pull. This book is incredibly beautiful. The cover, the quality of the pages… I just couldn’t say no. I figured it would also be a nice addition to my Reading Chinese Classics series.

Habibi by Craig Thompson
The store I was in isn’t really known for stocking graphic novels or comics, so I was really surprised when I saw this there. I’ve heard so much about this and have had my eye on it for a while, but it’s always been way too expensive for me to justify buying. Fortunately, I had a reward available and managed to snag this for 50% off. It’s such an attractive-looking book, and I can’t wait to see what the fuss is about.

And there we go! The cure to stress is, apparently, buying a pile of books. Have you hauled any books recently? If so, let me know what you’ve picked up and why!

Review: ‘Spider-Woman,Volume 1: Switching Gears’ by Dennis Hopeless [Spoilers!]

Warning, warning! This review contains spoilers!

When I first saw Spider-Woman, Volume 1: Switching Gears on a shelf in my local comic store, I basically lost my mind. Seriously, guys. Jessica Drew is pregnant! This is sort of the most exciting premise I’ve seen for a comic in a while.


This collection starts off with Jessica, fully pregnant. She’s frustrated because she feels as if people are babying (haha, see what I did there?) her. It’s at odds with how she feels. Far from taking a break, Jessica still feels ready to kick butt.

I really liked this part. It felt very real. Here she is, trying to balance suddenly being responsible for more than one life, but also not wanting to give up her current lifestyle. She’s a superhero though-and-through, but all of a sudden people are offering to help her walk across the street and carry her groceries.

But of course, Jess gets her chance to kick butt. Carol advises that she to go to this space-hospital. What Carol didn’t know was that this hospital would soon be under attack! Skrulls have taken over the hospital! And Jess (with the occasional help of other expectant mothers) totally saves the day.

To be honest, this particular storyline is why I dropped a full two stars. I just didn’t love it. I mean, come on. Jess is great and would certainly beat me in a fight (not that that’s saying much), but Jess is full-term at this stage. She’s full-term! And then she literally gives birth and five seconds later is back to kicking butt.

I just didn’t buy it. It sounds insane. And while I can’t say I’ve ever read a comic and thought Oh my! How believable!, I also don’t expect to read one and think …what? Seriously? How? Is this a joke? Are you kidding me?.

So while the middle was a bit of a flop for me, the last issue really brought it back home for me. The final issue of the collection shows Jess in full-blown baby mode. She’s totally overwhelmed and unsure of how to care for this kid and care for herself at the same time. This was what I wanted to see right from Issue 1. Instead of a full-term pregnant woman still backflipping and punching her way through life, I wanted to see one of my favourite superheroes figure out how to be a mother while saving the world.

Of course, with some help from a couple of friends, Jess manages to learn how to balance the two. She learns that she doesn’t have to get it right straight away, that she can lean on other people… and that she might not have to give up absolutely everything.

Overall, I think I was a little disappointed with this. But the final issue in this collection made me feel like I’m going to love this series as it continues. I’m super excited to pick up the second volume!

Were you as excited as I was about this premise? If you’ve read it, how did you feel about Jess taking on all those Skrulls? Let me know!

From Manga to Anime: ‘Orange’ by Ichigo Takano [Spoilers!]

Warning, warning! This review contains spoilers!

A few months ago I was sitting on a plane and happened to watch the film, Orange directed by Kojiro Hashimoto. In the next few months, the manga and the anime became wickedly popular. So while my first encounter with the tale was with the film, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the two more popular mediums.

Knowing that the anime was months away from being released, I took the plunge and Orange: The Complete Collection Volumes 1 and 2 during a visit to Dubai.

With the manga, I fell in love with the story all over again. It follows Naho, a relatively girl with a few close friends, who gets a letter from her future-self. The letter, in short, gives her instructions on how to save her new classmate (and crush!), Kakeru, from himself. Add in Suwa, her bestie who’s been in love with her forever, and three other friends (who, to be honest, mostly feel like comic relief) and it all makes for nice story about friendship and romance… it just has a wee bit of a twist.

Can we just talk about Suwa for a minute? Suwa is the freaking MVP in this story, guys. This applies to both the manga and the anime (even  more so with the anime, to be honest), but I just couldn’t wait to talk about him. He is the best flipping friend on the planet.

Like, come on. He’s fancied Naho forever! Then he befriends this new guy, fully knowing that Naho is going to fancy the new guy. Then he helps said new guy hook up with her. Even when new guy flounders and asks him advice a thousand times, Suwa is calm, cool and collected. He just wants his pals to be happy.

I mean, plot-wise? Yeah, no one knows why all the friends didn’t just add a little P.S. to the end of their letters. A little Hi! Everyone wrote letters, by the way! would have gone a long way, am I right? And yeah, there were definitely times when… well, it felt a little contrived. If I were Kakeru, I definitely would’ve questioned why all my pals were suddenly volunteering to run a relay with me. Like, surely a relay isn’t such a big deal, right?

But who cares a few plot-holes? …well, I do. I do a lil. But the rest of the story was enough to make me forget about that for the most part. It was sweet! I loved the friendships and thought the romance was adorable. And it had enough depth to make it more than just a rom-com.


A couple of months later, the anime was released and I pretty much lost my mind. I liked the anime. I really did. I loved the art, I loved the music, I loved the voice actors. There were definitely moments when I thought the pacing was off and the art dipped in quality, but overall I thought everyone did a super good job.

If I’m going to be critical, I did feel like the anime focused a little too much on the romance. Even though it didn’t really stray from the manga all that much, I just sort of got that vibe. A terrible description, I know.

But that extra focus made me feel like the story was almost taking a manic-pixie-dream-girl approach. Even though Naho isn’t that chirpy girl that we associate with the trope, the focus on the romance did imply that she is going save him. That it isn’t going to be the friendship or the memories. That it’s simply because fancies him back.

Maybe I’m looking into it too much. With the Athletics Day and the final episode, the anime definitely redeemed itself on that front, but… oh, there were just moments. There were moments when I was thought: Really? Is the crush really that important?

But overlooking that, I really liked it. I thought it was a really great adaptation of the manga. I especially liked how they handled the time-jumps. I loved the confession scene. Like, come on. Whose heart wasn’t beating through their chest at that one?

Ultimately, I probably enjoyed the manga a touch more than the anime, but I’m still super happy that I watched it. While it had its ups-and-downs, that final episode totally sold it for me. I finished the anime completely and utterly satisfied.

Did you read/watch Orange? Did you think it was worth the hype?

Reading Chinese Classics: ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ by Luo Guanzhong

True to form, I’ve continued with my endeavour to read some Chinese classics. Since reading Six Records of a Floating Life, I decided to bump the standard Four Chinese Classics up my list.  I started with Dream of the Red Chamber, but I had a wee mishap with my edition not being complete.

However, I had Romance of the Three Kingdoms sitting on my shelf, so thought I may as well hurry along with that. I’d picked up the editions printed by Tuttle. They’re split into two volumes, both translated by C. H. Brewitt-Taylor. 



It’s a historical novel, set near the end of the Han dynasty. The dynasty is totally falling apart, and this novel is a dramatisation of all the people who rushed in with their desperate attempts to restore or replace it. It deals with personal drama, family drama, and a lot of battling.

I read the first volume fairly quickly, but I have to admit that it certainly felt like darn hard work to get through. It’s a war novel, y’know? There were a thousands of characters that I only barely remember, all immersed in the complex world of politics and battle.

…it just wasn’t for me. It lacked something that appealed to me. I don’t know enough about the time period and its politics to care enough the historical aspects. I could hardly keep up, let alone actually connect with the characters.

I decided to take the second volume a little more slowly. I read maybe 200 pages a day, and really took the time to make sure I knew exactly what was going on. I reread, I googled… and to be honest? It was still just as confusing as the first volume. I still really struggled. There were times when I didn’t really know who was doing what or why they were doing it.

That being said, I did enjoy the second volume more than I enjoyed the first. I even laughed at one point. Shocking, I know. But I still faced all the problems that I faced with the first volume, and the whole book just felt like a massive (mostly unenjoyable) slog. Most frustrating for me was the translation. I understand that translating is difficult, but there were so many moments in this when the English was just plain awkward.

…a more negative review, I suppose. But this is a classic for a reason. If you are more inclined the books that do have a massive focus on battles and politics (and have an astonishing ability to keep up with thousands of characters), you’re probably going to like this a lot.

But me? I’m just excited to be done and am 110% ready to get on with my next pick.

Let me know if you’ve read this! Did you enjoy it more than I did?

Review: ‘She-Hulk, The Complete Collection: Volume 1’ by Dan Slott

Some of you may recognise this from one of my hauls earlier this year. I’ve read bits and bobs about Jennifer Walters, but never picked up one of her own comics. But I totally loved the idea of her as a character, and was super keen to get into Dan Slott’s She-Hulk, The Complete Collection: Volume 1.

For some reason, Dan Slott’s She-Hulk really just didn’t do it for me. Chiefly, I didn’t find myself loving the character as much as I thought I would. Even though I still adore the concept, I found myself getting more and more irritated with Jen. I didn’t find her humorous or endearing. I didn’t feel sympathetic towards her and I certainly didn’t feel as though I connected with her on any level. I just wasn’t invested in her.



The art was nice. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t fall in love with it either, but that’s fine. It was just nice.

As for the issues themselves, there were some hits and misses. That’s always expected. The collection starts with Jen as a hot mess. She’s partying hard, shirking her responsibilities as a lawyer, and annoying her fellow Avengers to the point that they decide to boot her from the team. The rest of the collection follows her as she… well, as she gets her shit together. She learns to balance Jennifer with She-Hulk, and combine her abilities as a lawyer with her superhuman strength.

I particularly enjoyed reading the parts where She-Hulk and Spiderman got to interact. Although I wouldn’t call any of the collection overwhelmingly serious, their conversations and quips brought a nice light-heartedness – a nice humour – to the collection. I also really loved the dynamic between She-Hulk and Southpaw. Again, it brought a great humour to the collection.

Overall, I guess I didn’t dislike this collection. There were some really excellent issues. It had me smiling, it had me laughing. Jennifer Walters was totally kickass as She-Hulk and totally kickass as her lawyer human self. But it took me a long time to read, y’know? I wasn’t dying to pick it up whenever I had a spare moment.

But even if it didn’t reel me in, I’d still recommend it to anyone who wants to find out a little more about Jen. It’s a mammoth collection and includes nice little snippets about her origin story and all that good stuff.

There was humour! There was action! There was even a little bit of sex. It had all the right ingredients for a wicked awesome story. So sure, it didn’t exactly hook me, but I did enjoy reading it and I imagine that many people will enjoy it way more than I did.

Let me know if you’ve read this and enjoyed it! I’m tempted to pick up Scott Byrne’s The Sensational She-Hulk, because I’ve heard so many good things about it. I’m hoping that I fall in love with his run in that same way I’d hoped to with Dan Slott’s!