Review: The Martian by Andy Weir


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The Martian (The Martian #1) by Andy Weir

5/5 stars

369 pages

Synopsis: Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. 

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. 

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills — and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit — he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

So I’m late to the party on this one! I picked up The Martian because a patron recommended it to me. I was telling her that I need to read more science fiction, but my problem is that I need it to be as scientifically plausible/accurate as possible. Hard Sci Fi. I loved the amount of work Michael Crichton put into Jurassic Park and, as always, I’m trying to read more broadly. If you Google best hard sci fi lists, The Martian is usually always on there. It has also been on my radar since before it became a movie (which I watched and thought was alright). So, I picked up our second copy and dove in. And then I couldn’t put it down.

Mark Watney’s character is just hilarious. Much of the text is written in the form of prompts that he is using to record his life stranded on Mars. We get to see his strokes of brilliance and ingenuity as well as his tantrums and panic–which is what I think makes the book so easy to get in to. He is very relatable. Not so much in the rocket science, mechanical engineer, botanist smarts (thought that was great fun for me to read, understand, and learn), but in the humanity that he brings to his isolation. He probably would find that hilarious. Me bringing up his humanity as the sole resident martian. A dual-citizenship of two planets.

As for the science part, it fascinated me. I’m a science geek, so when Mark talks about bacterial reproduction for martian soil fertilizing, I’m hooked. (Okay, so don’t let that sentence fool you. Weir really does a great job of making the processes funny and understandable.) Only towards the end of the book did some of the science go over my head and kind of left me glossy-eyed. But I still got the gist of what was happening and it wasn’t really necessary that I understand the mechanics, it just adds a nice description of Mark’s thoughts and the reasoning behind his actions.

I also liked seeing the Earth-side of things. How an people from across the planet ended up working together to bring a single man back home. We also get to see the bureaucratic and tight-pursed side of things. People wondering if the millions upon millions of dollars that are going into the project to bring that one single person home is worth it. How these costs will effect future space operations. What information gets spun or withheld and why. These things are a reality. There will always be someone to say that it isn’t worth it to spend a lot of money to rescue a person. To question the worth of science. To say that science and knowledge are dangerous, so we shouldn’t attempt to learn and understand more. What has space and NASA ever done for us?

We also see the effects that isolation has on Mark. How he handles the most intense and extreme difficulties and the constant facing of near-death. He is the ultimate example of resilience and overcoming your difficulties. What Would Watney Do? He’d love to see that on a bumper sticker. So would I, for that matter.

The Martian is a fantastic novel and has achieved my rare 5 star approval. I would recommend it to anyone, whether you are a science fiction junkie or a picky reader like me. Ignore the movie. Read this book.


Review: A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising by Raymond A. Villareal


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A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising by Raymond A. Villareal

3/5 stars

432 pages

Synopsis: This panoramic thriller begins with one small mystery. The body of a young woman found in an Arizona border town, presumed to be an illegal immigrant, walks out of the town morgue. To the young CDC investigator called in to consult the local police, it’s a bizarre medical mystery.

More bodies, dead of a mysterious disease that solidifies their blood, are brought to the morgue, and disappear. In a futile game of catch-up, the CDC, the FBI, and the US government must come to terms with what they’re too late to stop: an epidemic of vampirism that will sweep first the United States, and then the world.

Impossibly strong, smart, poised, beautiful, and commanding, these vampires reject the term as derogatory, preferring the euphemistic “gloamings.” They quickly rise to prominence in all aspects of modern society: sports, entertainment, and business. Soon people are begging to be ‘re-created,’ willing to accept the risk of death if their bodies can’t handle the transformation. The stakes change yet again when a charismatic and wealthy businessman, recently turned, decides to do what none of his kind has done before: run for political office.

This sweeping yet deeply intimate fictional oral history–told from the perspectives of several players on all sides of the titular vampire uprising–is a genre-bending, shocking, immersive and subversive debut that is as addictive as the power it describes.

I really liked the premise for A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising. A human chronology of how vampires take over the world? Sounds good to me! Explaining vampirism with as close to medical virology as possible? Intriguing! Pseudo non-fiction? Bring it on!

What it lacked in cohesion, it made up for in novelty. The story is told in a choppy, but semi-continuous collection of accounts from various people involved at the heart of recognizing the Gloaming (vampire) development. Sources are even cited for legal matters, footnotes, and appendices. We start with the mysterious development of a virus and dead bodies disappearing from the morgue. Then word eventually breaks out of the NOBI (vampire) virus making people stronger, smarter, and developing a much longer lifespan. People want to willingly infect themselves, even without a guarantee of not making it through the process. Gloamings wanted rights and accommodations. Things began to change, but they were only of concern to those paying attention.

This is also about the time that the book starts to take on a novel-based storytelling, rather than the accounts that it started as. Background information that is not relevant to the story gets thrown in. Detailed descriptions of places or a main character describing the location of another character’s supposed story of when and how they were born really took away from the epistolary tone the book set itself up as. Then I started to wonder how some of the storytelling elements of these accounts were collected (which was distracting and detracting from the story).

I found the legal questions that arose from a new species of human being interesting to think about and consider. There was certainly a depth to the idea of how the ADA (American’s with Disabilities Act) be interpreted when someone voluntarily and knowingly disables themselves through contracting a virus (versus unknowingly contracting one, being born with a disability, or getting hurt accidentally, for example).

The biggest problem that I had with the book was the sudden shift in focus. Towards the end, there was yet another element added to the story that changes everything we were told to begin with–which isn’t a collective history anymore. More aptly titled as an incomplete history, intriguing ideas like the Anoesis, vampires being drawn to gold, and the Knights Hospitaller were never fully developed and explored. This left you feeling like the ideas came about late in writing the book and were injected regardless of the effects it had on the entirety of the story. They certainly left me wanting. Should A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising turn out to have a companion novel, I think I would pick that up with the hopes of having these questions answered. Maybe we will get “A Vampire’s History of the Human Downfall.” I would probably change my rating then.

Review: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado


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Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

3/5 stars

248 pages

Synopsis: In Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. While her work has earned her comparisons to Karen Russell and Kelly Link, she has a voice that is all her own. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.

A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella Especially Heinous, Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgangers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.

Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious, Her Body and Other Parties swings from horrific violence to the most exquisite sentiment. In their explosive originality, these stories enlarge the possibilities of contemporary fiction.

Her Body and Other Parties offers eight tales of strange and speculative fiction. As with most collections of short stories, I had some I liked more than others. But even though that is the case with this book, I still felt something deep from them, even if they weren’t subjectively as entertaining as others.

“The Husband Stitch” is a retelling of “The Velvet Ribbon.” I had never heard of this story, even in Alvin Schwartz’s In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Storiesso it was very intriguing to me and I did not know where it was going. It takes on the ever present pressure women feel from men. A wearing down until you just give in to their demands to satisfy their fragile masculinity. Even if it kills us. 4/5 stars.

“Inventory” was a slow start while simultaneously catching my curiosity. The reader is set up to be a voyeur into the narrator’s world. Given glimpses of her life in the sexual partners she meets. The undercurrent of deadly disease that sweeps the country sets a somber tone. Interspersed are the narrators coping mechanism–list making–which hit a personal note. 3.5/5 stars.

“Mothers” had the most vagueness for me, which is probably due to such an unreliable narrator. I don’t like being around babies, so the baby in this story was just horrendous for me! I could feel the grating effects of it’s unknowable and inconsolable storms immediately. I was conflicted on whether I didn’t like the story or not, but decided that the baby was so well written that my displeasure and anxiety for the story was misplaced. That baby was the real monster for me, which is probably just one of the many ways you could interpret the story as a whole. 3.5/5 stars.

“Especially Heinous” took me a while to really get into. I’ve never watched a Law and Order show, so I didn’t think I would be able to relate or appreciate this story. The ghosts-with-bells-for-eyes piqued my interest, but the story didn’t start getting really interesting until “season 4” with Henson and Abler. The format that the story was delivered in was also interesting to use. Most of us have read plays with stage directions and the characters listed out, but I have never read a story through the lens of a TV blurb. It was quite an interesting reading experience. 4/5 stars.

“Real Women Have Bodies” was another slow go story, but by the end I was left quite in horror. This story, to me, was speaking to the roles women are put into and they become so embedded in fulfilling that role, they lose themselves in the process. They are just a role to be filled. Even if they chose the role initially (motherhood, the peacekeeper, the hard worker) they become the role to the point of being taken for granted. They may not know what to do when freedom of choice is given to them again and they choose to stay in the role. I think this is another story that could really be interpreted in a number of different ways. Even if you didn’t read a deeper meaning, the horror of the incorporeal women is enough to put you on edge. 3/5 stars.

“Eight Bites” was my least favorite story precisely because of the triggering it caused. There are very real triggers for some and body image/obsession is one. I’m normally not easily triggered by it even though I have personal issues with my weight, body image, and anxiety, but this one bothered me. I try and stay objective when I review and even in “mothers” I put aside my personal stressors to see the content, I had a hard time doing that for this one. I think this was because it was so specific and focused on food obsession. 1.5/5 stars.

“The Resident” was an ok read and felt very liquid at times. I wasn’t sure what was happening by the end. A strange foreboding grew and grew, but never seemed to reach a point. I got a vague sense of the narrator haunting the grounds, but it also seemed like she was really there. Is she trapped inside of her own mind? 2/5 stars

“Difficult at Parties” was the most obscure story. There is evidence that the women is recovering from some kind of assault, so beware if that triggers you. She is bruised and hurting both physically and mentally. In an attempt to bring back some normality or re-connection with herself and the man who is helping her, she turns to porn, but is left feeling worse because of the voices she hears underneath the sound. She tries and makes an effort to get out of her own head, but the voices in the recordings are a fixation and renew her instability. This was the story I wanted to read more of because I felt it was too fragmented to form an understanding or interpretation of. 2/5 stars.

I like the unabashed honesty that all of the story’s narrators have even if at times I could not follow their train of thought. They are all stories that are tinged with the eerie and unknown. Raw and exposed thought and emotions. Pick Her Body and Other Parties up if you are looking for some weird fiction.

Review: An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten


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An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten, Marlaine Delargy (Translator)

3/5 stars

173 pages

Synopsis: Maud is an irascible 88-year-old Swedish woman with no family, no friends, and…no qualms about a little murder. This funny, irreverent story collection by Helene Tursten, author of the Irene Huss investigations, features two-never-before translated stories that will keep you laughing all the way to the retirement home.

Ever since her darling father’s untimely death when she was only eighteen, Maud has lived in the family’s spacious apartment in downtown Gothenburg rent-free, thanks to a minor clause in a hastily negotiated contract. That was how Maud learned that good things can come from tragedy. Now in her late eighties, Maud contents herself with traveling the world and surfing the net from the comfort of her father’s ancient armchair. It’s a solitary existence, but she likes it that way.

Over the course of her adventures—or misadventures—this little bold lady will handle a crisis with a local celebrity who has her eyes on Maud’s apartment, foil the engagement of her long-ago lover, and dispose of some pesky neighbors. But when the local authorities are called to investigate a murder in her apartment complex, will Maud be able to avoid suspicion, or will Detective Inspector Irene Huss see through her charade?

I picked up An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good for both of the book clubs I program for. I wasn’t sure if it was going to work at first because it is such a short book, but it packs a good punch. I’m not normally a mystery reader, so this allowed me to push my reading boundaries some more.

Darkly comedic and serious about her comfort, Maude is an 88 year old who will do anything for some peace, quiet, and chill time. I liked that the story revolved around an elderly lady. I can only think of one other book that I have read with older protagonists (Insomnia) and really like seeing action and adventure taking place in their lives.

As for Maude’s character, at first I thought the stories were just some fun and deadly jabs about the elderly and their preference for routine. But once we start learning about Maude and her past, you can see how her actions now were shaped by her pent up life back then. Her reactions to her situations are calculated and well thought out. She user her age to her advantage, from pretending she is slow and absent in her mind, to being in need of a walker or cane for mobility. But are her wits and keen mind enough to prevent her from being caught?

It is strange to say this, but the book and Maude herself are charming in their own way. Her murders become more improbable that she will get away with them, but that becomes part of the urge to read on. Cozy and enjoyable are not words that go hand in hand with murder, but An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good pulls it off.

Review: Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke


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Bluebird, Bluebird (Highway 59 #1) by Attica Locke

320 pages

2/5 stars

Synopsis: When it comes to law and order, East Texas plays by its own rules–a fact that Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger, knows all too well. Deeply ambivalent about growing up black in the lone star state, he was the first in his family to get as far away from Texas as he could. Until duty called him home.

When his allegiance to his roots puts his job in jeopardy, he travels up Highway 59 to the small town of Lark, where two murders–a black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman–have stirred up a hornet’s nest of resentment. Darren must solve the crimes–and save himself in the process–before Lark’s long-simmering racial fault lines erupt.

A rural noir suffused with the unique music, color, and nuance of East Texas, Bluebird, Bluebird is an exhilarating, timely novel about the collision of race and justice in America.

Crime isn’t my normal genre, so this pick for the book club I run now was a chance to push my boundaries. The writing in Bluebird, Bluebird sets the tone and pace of the story well. It is a slow burn that sometimes seems noir-esque, without the sexual tension (Darren’s thoughts about Randie are one sided and I didn’t feel they were honest. They seemed too quickly interjected and didn’t seem like his character). The old south is alive and well, which lets you easily envision the book playing out in black and white, despite it occurring in modern times. Your senses are shaken when you stop and think about the events taking place juxtaposed with the time they are taking place in.

While the writing itself is evocative, the characters themselves, especially the main characters, fell a bit flat and one dimensional to me. Darren’s struggles between law man and lawyer training didn’t capture me because he didn’t really give off the depth that was ascribed to him. Randie seemed stock “girlfriend who travels the world and doesn’t know what is really going on”. Geneva and Michael had more depth in their character through the actions they took than I found in Darren.

Though the story was steeped in uncertainty and the writing made it occasionally palpable, the ending was a whirlwind of confusion that was quickly pulled together. I understood the concepts that Locke was bringing into the story, showing how deep roots tangle and racism is still very much alive in America, but I didn’t feel that the characters actions were altogether addressed and accounted for. It seemed like too much of a neat bow for such sudden and controversial character revelations. I couldn’t tell if there was too much mystery or not enough for the content provided. There was no real closure on the case either. It just fades out.

I will say that the final chapter of Bluebird, Bluebird did create a bit of surprise that left me anticipating more. I’m not sure if I will pick up the next book in the series, but I do think that fans of mystery and noir would enjoy this book better than I did.

Reading, blogging, anxiety, and depression


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I try to take Sundays to catch up on my reading and bookish fun, which usually means a blog post, a bookstagram, and updating my Goodreads list. Most of the time I find this enjoyable. A cathartic release of pent up ex-student life that still somehow feels unnatural to be free of assignments, due dates, papers, projects, and classes every day of the week despite having finished my degree a few years ago. Anxiety for things that I don’t have to do any more, but that I still have a deep seated reflex to worry about.

Worrying is a part of my life. It’s just a part of who I am. I like to joke that everyone has some majestic spirit animal, but mine is a squirrel. And that aptly describes me in many ways. Constantly fretting about the future, trying to prepare for the worst, literally squirreling a little cash away when I think about it only to be forgotten in the piles of crafting supplies that I seem to amass but rarely use.

Reading lets me take a break from myself. I can get lost in a fiction or engrossed in learning from non-fiction. When depression hits, though, even my love of reading drifts away from me. The tide of overwhelming thought slips past my head and the weight of exhaustion pulls me under and brings me low. I stop having the energy to keep my blog or Instagram going. Then I get worried about not updating them. Which then puts me into a self-inflicted mental panic of not knowing where to start and what to say coupled with literally watching the time go by and the sun go down as I do nothing about it. As if I’m going to be late turning in an assignment and get my grade docked for it. I don’t want to do it, but I cannot do anything else because it is not done. I will fret and fret and sigh and sigh all while not moving from my couch to do anything about it. Because I can’t let myself relax. Why should I relax? How can I relax when I could be doing something else?

I try to remember that it’s just one little blog in a universe of digital data. It’s just a blog and no one reads it, but the imminent feeling of “bad” that I feel if I don’t get a review done makes it difficult. Why do I care so much? Sometimes I think about abandoning it like I have the others. But I haven’t so far (go me!(?)). Sometimes I don’t want to talk about books. Sometimes there’s nothing that I can say that will add to the discussion. Sometimes a book speaks to you so well, you can’t put it into words. Other times it sucks and, hey, you move on because that TBR pile is always there to loom over you. But this it is a project I started for myself. Something to do. A way to look deeper at the things I read. I started this blog as a way to put some structure into the void that college left. But then I’m reminded that this project has no end goal. The dualism continues.

So sometimes I don’t blog and I don’t write a review. Sometimes I don’t post on Instagram or update my Goodreads. First world problems. I don’t know why it matters so much to me. I don’t really care what people think of things. Half the stuff I read isn’t popular or buzzworthy. I just like books and reading. I like the upbeat world that follows the love of books. I’m drawn to want to participate and share the mutual love for reading…but, you know, from a distance. Because I’m an introvert and shy. And I get anxious and depressed.

Eddie Izzard’s squirrel impression from Dressed to Kill.

Review: The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh


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The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

288 pages

3.5/5 stars

Synopsis: King has tenderly staked out a territory for his wife and three daughters, Grace, Lia, and Sky. He has lain the barbed wire; he has anchored the buoys in the water; he has marked out a clear message: Do not enter. Or viewed from another angle: Not safe to leave. Here women are protected from the chaos and violence of men on the mainland. The cult-like rituals and therapies they endure fortify them from the spreading toxicity of a degrading world.

But when their father, the only man they’ve ever seen, disappears, they retreat further inward until the day three strange men wash ashore. Over the span of one blistering hot week, a psychological cat-and-mouse game plays out. Sexual tensions and sibling rivalries flare as the sisters confront the amorphous threat the strangers represent. Can they survive the men?

A haunting, riveting debut about the capacity for violence and the potency of female desire, The Water Cure both devastates and astonishes as it reflects our own world back at us.

The Water Cure is a hard book to pin down. It’s like trying to look at a photograph through the murkiness of milky water. You are sure there is an image, a story to tell, but the shifting image seems both hypnotic and frustrating to figure out.

The writing is lulling and at the same time evocative. Like being rocked to sleep on the ocean before a storm comes through. There is a constant sense of foreboding and alarm that resides in the undercurrent of the story. The narrative is spread between two of the sisters as well as a collective voice from all three of them. This makes the flow of the story shift with an uneasy motion as there is no dominant, singular voice.

The vague nature of the story and background coupled with the surreal and monotone voice the sisters have make it really hard to give The Water Cure any kind of solid rating. I enjoyed how the characters developed their own thoughts and emotions and the stream of consciousness narration. The story itself was a little bit of a let down. I’d have liked to have more information on what has happened to the world, there was a lead up to a fuller understanding of things, but it fades into the background along with the teens’ past.

Pick this up if you are looking for something different–for a fluid story that muddles your senses.

Review: A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell


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A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell

304 pages

2/5 stars

Synopsis: It starts with a simple favor—an ordinary kindness mothers do for one another. When her best friend, Emily, asks Stephanie to pick up her son Nicky after school, she happily says yes. Nicky and her son, Miles, are classmates and best friends, and the five-year-olds love being together—just like she and Emily. A widow and stay-at-home mommy blogger living in woodsy suburban Connecticut, Stephanie was lonely until she met Emily, a sophisticated PR executive whose job in Manhattan demands so much of her time.

But Emily doesn’t come back. She doesn’t answer calls or return texts. Stephanie knows something is terribly wrong—Emily would never leave Nicky, no matter what the police say. Terrified, she reaches out to her blog readers for help. She also reaches out to Emily’s husband, the handsome, reticent Sean, offering emotional support. It’s the least she can do for her best friend. Then, she and Sean receive shocking news. Emily is dead. The nightmare of her disappearance is over.

Or is it? Because soon, Stephanie will begin to see that nothing—not friendship, love, or even an ordinary favor—is as simple as it seems.

A Simple Favor is a mystery thriller that interweaves psychological suspense throughout the story. I found it to be good enough to finish, but was disappointed in the execution of the twists.

The first half of the book follows Stephanie’s spiral into an unthinkable situation. She doesn’t understand what is happening or why Emily has abandoned her child. Stephanie’s questions and shock soon become annoying repetitions or the same thoughts. She is shocked about everything new she learns about the woman she thought was her best friend. She assumes that because she has shared deep and personal secrets with Emily, that Emily would have done the same. But because she hasn’t, Stephanie turns every new revelation, no matter how personal or private, into herself. Why didn’t Emily tell me? Why would she lie to me about this? What about how that makes me feel? I trusted her with secrets, why didn’t she trust me with hers? It became annoying. Sometimes people lie and step around their past because it is too painful to bring up. Even to a close friend.

That being said, each new part of the story offered a new shift in the story and characters. They hooked me back in, even if it slowly became tedious again. I was debating on putting the book down, but the first few lines of part two recaptured my attention. The same thing happened for part three.

I wasn’t really impressed with the reason Emily chose to disappear. Boredom. Really? Really…. ugh…. And the thing with Stephanie’s step-brother? Way too big of a secret for the simple plot device it was used for.

Overall, A Simple Favor was a so-so book that held my attention enough to finish it. Some of the parts felt very forced or highly convenient. I thought the book had an interesting thread running through it, but it gets lost in too much gimmick and drama. I do think that fans of contemporary thrillers would probably enjoy it more than I did.

Review: Still Just Kidding by Cassandra Calin


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Still Just Kidding: A Collection of Art, Comics, and Musings by Cassandra Calin

168 pages

5/5 stars

Still Just Kidding is a fabulous collection of Cassandra Calin’s comics that you’ve probably seen here and there on the internet. I love her style and the very relatable topics the comics depict. What is really nice about the book is how Calin talks about the behind the scenes of her process: how she draws, the ways her work has changed over time, and what tools she uses to make her comics. It definitely makes me want to drag out my old sketchbooks and pencils again!

One of the many relatable comics from Cassandra Calin.
Image via her Instagram page.

I just love her work. Check out her store page, if you are, too!