Even the Darkest Stars

Rating: ⭐
Author: Heather Fawcett
Genres: Fantasy
Pub date: Sep. 2017 (read Jan. 2019)
Series: Even the Darkest Stars #1

I’ve decided to write whole new review about this book because I was only a little baby reviewer when I wrote my first review and I have so many more feelings about this book after the second read-through. You can still read my original review here.

I remember liking, but not loving this book the first time I read it, but I was so impressed with the setting that I decided to round up my rating to 4 stars. I definitely loved this the second time around though and I am now 100% on board with my original 4 star rating. I found the beginning a bit slow on my first read through, but I totally flew through it this time. Kamzin is just so spunky! I definitely didn’t give her enough credit in my first review and I thought she was super funny at the beginning on the book and I loved how much her character grew throughout the course of the novel.

Before I get ahead of myself, let’s do a little synopsis of the story. Even the Darkest Stars is set in a fantasy world based very heavily on Nepalese culture and early exploits of the Himalayas and Mount Everest. I have always been really interested in climbing expeditions (as a reader, not a real person – I have to say this because my sister’s partner is like, obsessed with climbing and if he reads this, which I know he never will, but if he did, he would make me go climbing with him and climbing in real life is SCARY. That’s why I prefer to read about it.). I’m going to credit my early interest to Gordon Korman’s Everest series, which I read as a kid, and was totally obsessed with (yay for Canadian authors!). Actually, I was obsessed with most of Korman’s books and would highly recommend to middle graders!

I would sincerely like to meet this author because we both live in Vancouver (she may be one of those rare native born Vancouverites?) and despite not wanting to climb, I’m super obsessed with mountains and hiking and feel like we would both have a lot in common. So Heather if you’re ever looking for some adventure and book loving friends, I’m here.

But back to her book. The story starts in the small village of Azmiri, with our main character Kamzin. Because her father is the village elder, her older sister Lusha is slated to succeed him and Kamzin is expected to become the village shaman. The only problem is that Kamzin has zero interest or natural talent for shamanism. Her friend Tem is a great Shaman, but his talents go unacknowledged because his father is a yak herder and that’s all Tem is ever expected to be as well. But Kamzin wants to be an explorer. She is envious of River Shara, the Emperor’s Royal Explorer and is shocked when he arrives at their village one day.

There is only one thing that would draw the elusive River Shara to Azmiri, the even more elusive Mount Raksha – the tallest and most dangerous mountain in the empire. Kamzin has always aspired to climb Mount Raksha and even participated in an expedition with her mother to Mount Raksha when she was 11. Unfortunately the journey took the lives of the entire expedition, with the exception of Kamzin and Lusha. So when Kamzin learns that River is there to climb the great mountain, she sees it as her big chance to impress the Royal Explorer.

Kamzin, River, and Tem all set off on a journey to climb Mount Raksha, with Kamzin leading the way. Witches have been banished from the empire for many years, their magic stolen from them by a spell placed by the Emperor. But the spell is breaking and they must reclaim a lost talisman from the top of Mount Raksha to re-cast the spell.

I loved everything about this book, but the setting was by far my favourite. Fawcett creates this wonderful atmosphere throughout the story – it’s that lonely, reverent feeling you get when you’re out in the wilderness. An appreciation for the beauty around you and a respect for the destructive power of nature. There are internal and interpersonal conflicts in this book, as well as the threat of the witches, fire demons, and fiangul that call this unforgiving landscape home. But I really liked that this book also had the person vs. nature conflict as well. What Kamzin is really up against is the elements and her own personal competitiveness. She’s repeatedly told to turn around if the consequences become too dire, but she is driven by a need to explore the unknown and to prove her skills to the world. In many ways, she is her worst enemy.

I loved the little triangle action between Kamzin, River, and Tem. Tem has been Kamzin’s best (and really only) friend for her entire life and they share a special bond. But Kamzin also shares something special with River, the first person who truly seems to understand her drive and can keep up with her on the expedition. He’s the first person to really challenge her. But Tem is distrustful of River and Kamzin has to admit that he does seem to be holding back some important information from them. Something is off with River’s shaman, and Tem rises to the occasion, acting as the group’s shaman and setting protections for them.

This book also had some humour in it. Kamzin is so stubborn, but her stubbornness made me laugh at lot. I also loved that she had what is referred to as a “familiar”, which is an animal that is basically attracted to you from birth and stays with you. Her familiar was a mangy little fox named Ragtooth and besides being really sweet, I thought he made for some great comic relief.

I can see how this book might not be for everyone. Pretty much the entire book is devoted to the journey to the top of Raksha and I know not everyone love journey books. Like I said, I didn’t really love it the first time, I think because I kept waiting for them to get there so I could learn the “so-what” of the story. But knowing the second time that the whole book was going to be devoted to the journey, I enjoyed it a lot more. I think there’s just the right amount of tension between the characters and I liked how much Kamzin grew over the course of the novel.

There are still some unanswered questions and I’m looking forward to see how Fawcett further develops her characters in the next book. Does anyone know if this is a duology or a trilogy? Would love to know going into the second book!

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The Belles

Rating: 
Author: Dhonielle Clayton
Genres: Fantasy
Pub date: Feb. 2018 (read Jan. 2018 as audiobook)
Narrator: Rosie Jones
Series: The Belles #1

Where to start with The Belles? First of all, I listened to it as an audiobook and I really liked the narrator! She had a great tone for this book and she was really enjoyable to listen to. As for the content? I heard this book had teeth, but about halfway through I was wondering when it was going to start to bite. I wouldn’t call it a slow start because the story is still pretty engaging, but it’s a bit repetitive at the beginning and it wasn’t until the second half of the book that the story grew fangs. But boy does it ever get intense! Because of the start, I thought it was a 3 star read overall, but the author definitely steps up her game in the second half of the book and I’m really looking forward to reading the sequel.

The Belles is set in a beauty-centric fantasy world based on New Orleans, called Orleans (or-lee-on). People have become grey in Orleans and only a select few talented Belles can restore colour and make people beautiful again. The Belles power come from their personal arcana (unsure of spelling because I read as audiobook) and they can change anything about a person, from hair, eye, or skin colour, to height and weight, to bone structure, and even the well-being of internal organs. In this world, people are obsessed with beauty and must pay for beauty appointments. However, the changes don’t last forever and the grey will always start to creep back in, so the rich are always changing their looks based on the latest fashion.

Camellia Beauregard is one of 5 Belles coming of age this year. She has spent her whole life training to be a Belle and she will have one chance to present her powers to the Royal Family, who will pick one of the Belles to be their favourite. The Favourite will work for the royal family and their courtiers, while the rest of the Belles will be appointed to other beauty salons around the city. All of the Belles want to be named the favourite, especially Camellia and her sister Belle, Amber.

Once the Belles start working though, they discover that working as a Belle is not quite what they expected and start hearing about strange things happening in the salons. The Royal Family is also in a state of upheaval because the time is coming for the Queen to declare her heir. By rights it should be her older daughter, Charlotte, but she has been in a bewitched sleep for years and has never awoken. If Charlotte does not awaken, the heir will have to be her younger sister Sophia, and the more the Belles learn about Sophia, the more they fear the kind of queen she might be.

The Belles had a really interesting plotline in that it’s really not clear for a while where the story is going. There is a large mystery element to the story and because we don’t learn the full depth of the plot until later, there’s a lot of world building taking place in the first half of the book. Like I said, I didn’t dislike the first half of the book, I think that Clayton did some really good world-building and really delved in to some of the intricacies of the world she’s created. But the plot feels a bit nebulous after the favourite is announced and I thought there was a disproportionate amount of time spent on various beauty appointments and treatments. It was interesting, but I just wanted the author to get to the point.

But I can’t really fault her because the time spent on world building definitely paid off in the second half of the book. The second half is nasty! Things get really dark and pace of the plot picks up immensely. I liked the ending a lot because Clayton answers some of the more pressing questions and mysteries, but still leaves enough threads open to propel us into the next book.

Clayton addresses a lot of really interesting social themes in her book, which is what made it stand out for me. It’s obviously about beauty and how highly it is valued by society and how we assign value based on beauty. In many ways, beauty is a social construct and is very objective. In our own world, ideas of beauty differ greatly from country to country, but looking at North America, there are certain attributes we tend to value greater than others, thinness being the most obvious one that comes to mind. However, like Orleans, we are constantly changing our minds on other attributes. The one that comes to mind immediately for me is eyebrows. In the 2000’s thin eyebrows were all the rage, while now big eyebrows are definitely in.

I found it interesting that Clayton’s world features a monarchy, but women still tended to be de-valued. She draws attention to the different beauty standards that exist for men and women, but how men still want to look good too. However there is a sexual assault scene in the book and I found it really surprising that in a matriarchal society such as this, people still went out of their way to excuse men’s actions.

Finally, the villains in this book are top notch. There’s a lot of drama and several villains, with varying levels of, shall we say evil? Our number one villain is totally nuts and will get right up inside your head. She reminded me of Umbridge a little bit because it’s the perfect example of how smug and evil a bit of power can make some people. I really don’t know where Clayton plans to take this story in the next book, but colour me intrigued! I already have an ARC for the next book, which is being published in March, so I’m planning to start it very soon!

The Demon King

Rating: 
Author: Cinda Wililams Chima
Genres: Fantasy
Pub date: Oct. 2009 (read Jan. 2019)

I’ve had the entire Seven Realms box set sitting on my shelf for some time and I finally got a chance to pick up the first book. I’ve been hearing really good things about the sequel series, Shattered Realms, which has the final book coming out this March. For this reason, it was a bit intimidating to start this one because if I liked it, I was pretty much looking at an 8 book commitment.

But I’m glad I finally picked this one up off the shelf, because I did end up quite enjoying it. It has a pretty slow start, so it did take me a bit of time to get into it, but around the 100 page mark it started getting really interesting!

I really like the characters in this book. It’s set in a fantasy world that is split into seven different realms, many of which are at war with each other. Our characters live in the Queendom of the Fells and are not currently at war, but fear war from the other realms. Queen Mariana is the current ruler and the throne is always passed down through the female line. The Queen is advised by wizards, who are closely watched over by the clans, who fear the wizards having too much power.

Our main characters are Raisa and Han. Raisa is the Princess Heir of the Fells and is approaching her 16th name day, when she will start courting and accepting marriage proposals. Her mother, the Queen, is caught up in planning a huge party and entertaining the guests, but Raisa is more interested in flirting with cute boys like the young wizard, Micah Boyar, and catching up with her friend Amon, who has just returned from soldier training after 3 years away.

Han is a reformed street gang lord who used to run with the Raggers, thieving to survive. But in an effort to protect his sister and mother, he gives it all up for a more honest life – until he runs into Micah Boyar using magic in the wilderness and steals the amulet that gives him power. Han has little interest in the amulet, aside from taking away Micah’s misused power, but he starts to wonder if the amulet may have cursed him when he repeatedly starts running into trouble.

It’s a bit difficult to explain the plot because there is a lot going on, but it’s never really confusing. The world building is slow, so you do have time to get acquainted with it. The only thing I found a little confusing was some of the history. Historical events like the Naeming and the Breaking are referenced throughout the book, but I’m still not really sure what they are and I hope it will become more clear in the next book.

Once this book gets going though, it’s a lot of fun and that plot goes in some really unexpected directions. Han is cool, but Raisa was totally my favourite character. I thought she was so feisty and I loved how she was just kissing boys all over the place without really developing any lasting attachments. She wants to have fun, but she also genuinely cares about the wellbeing of her queendom. I really liked Amon and their friendship and was super intrigued by Micah and what his motives were. My favourite part of the book was when Raisa and Han interacted together in the middle of the story. I thought that whole section and plot line was so fast paced and interesting! I was a little disappointed when Raisa returned to the castle because I thought it brought the energy of the book back down and I wanted to maintain the fast and fun pace.

So overall, a few criticisms with pacing, but I thought it was a great start to the series and I have a feeling the next books will be a lot faster paced. It takes time in high fantasy books like this to introduce all the characters, the magic system, and the world building, so I’m expecting the story to pick up a lot faster in book 2. Hoping to knock out this whole series over the next month or two and we’ll see if I feel like continuing on the the Shattered Realms series at the end or not.

Books I Can’t Wait to Read in 2019

Mystery/Thrillers

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware – Sep. 5, 2019
I’ve read every book Ruth Ware has written and I will be reading this one too! I don’t think Ware is the best mystery writer out there, but I find her books so compulsively readable that I’m always thrilled to pick up a new one! Especially because this one sounds SO GOOD! It’s about a woman who takes a live-in Nanny job in the Scottish highlands, which she thinks is going to be a dream job and ends up being a nightmare that lands her in prison for a murder she didn’t commit! This sounds so intriguing and I can’t wait to read it! Goodreads says this book is coming out in early Sep, but Edelweiss is listing the release date as Aug. 6, so we’ll just have to wait and see!

I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney – May 16, 2019
Alice Feeney only has one other book, Sometimes I Lie, but I read it last year with my book club and we all loved it! I was really impressed with it as a debut novel and it had so many twists that I did not see coming at all! I know Who You Are is about actress Aimee Sinclair. She has a fight with her husband one day and then comes home to find him missing. The next day, she goes to the bank to find $10,000 missing from her account – the kicker is that she is the person who supposedly emptied the account. Suddenly her life is turned upside down and nothing is as it seems.

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager – Jul. 2, 2019
Last year and read and enjoyed Riley Sager’s second thriller novel, The Last Time I Lied. I haven’t read his debut novel yet, but I’m planning to read both Final Girls and his new book, Lock Every Door. Lock Every Door is about Jules Larson, who takes a job apartment-sitting at the mysterious Bartholomew building. At first, Jules likes the job, but when her fellow apartment-sitter disappears and she learns about Bartholomew’s dark, hidden secrets, she must race to uncover the buildings hidden past and save her friend!

Historical Fiction

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See – Mar. 5, 2019
I’m cheating a bit on this book because I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC and I have already read it, but I’m including it anyways because it releases in March and fans of Lisa See will not be disappointed! The Island of Sea Women is set on Jeju Island in South Korea and takes us through 70 years of history – from the 1930’s to the 2000’s. Jeju Island’s culture is focused around women – where they are the core providers for their families and the men stay home and take care of the home and children. It tells the story of Young-sook and her friend Mi-ja, who are both part of the Haenyeo collective of divers who make a living diving for sealife in the fridgid sea.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – Mar. 5, 2019
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo took Booktube by storm last year! I read it back in 2017 with my book club and also loved it – so I’m so excited to pick this one up later this year. Daisy Jones and the Six is about solo singer Daisy Jones and popular band, The Six. I’m not totally clear on the plot of the novel, but it’s set in the 70’s and is guaranteed to include all of the drama of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. I loved how diverse Evelyn Hugo and how good of a story teller Taylor Jenkins Reid is, so I can’t wait to read this one too!

The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia – Apr. 16, 2019
This is a lesser promoted novel that I stumbled upon on Netgalley and became immediately intrigued with. It’s by a Mexican author and has actually been published since 2015, but the English translation is being released in April. It’s about an abandoned baby that was found under a bridge and the impact he has on the small village. It’s set during the Mexican Revolution and the outbreak of the spanish influenza in 1918 and this setting is what really intrigued me about the book. I already have a copy of this from Netgalley and I’m looking forward to learning more about this period of Mexican history.

Fantasy

Romanov by Nadine Brandes – May 7, 2019
Romanov is a historical fantasy novel about Anastasia Romanov. It re-imagines history where instead of Anastasia dying, she was tasked with smuggling out a spell on her way to Siberia that might be the only thing that could save her condemned family. I don’t really know much more about the story, but I’ve always been a little obsessed with Anastasia and I pretty much only had to hear the words “Anastasia” and “fantasy” and I was in. In discovering this book, I also discovered that Brandes has another historical fantasy novel about Guy Fawkes plot to blow up the British government, Fawkes, which I must now also add to my TBR because that also sounds amazing!

Sherwood by Meaghan Spooner – Mar. 19, 2019
This is another book where I read a really short description of the book and was immediately like, “I have to read this.” Sherwood is basically a gender-bent retelling of Robin Hood. In this version, Robin Hood is dead and his betrothed, Maid Marion is bereft. The people of Nottingham are greatly suffering, especially with the loss of their hero. In her desire to help her people, she dons Robin’s green cloak and is mistaken to be him. The people are desperate for a saviour and Marion decides to do her best to help them.

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi – Jan. 15, 2019
This one comes out today, so we don’t even have to wait for it anymore! I am totally shocked at myself for including The Gilded Wolves on this list because I strongly disliked Chokshi’s other book, The Star-Touched Queen, but the plot just sounds so good that I’ve decided to give her another try! The Gilded Wolves is set in Paris in the late 1800’s and is being compared to Six of Crows, which I absolutely loved! It’s about a rag-tag group of people who assemble to hunt a lost artifact for an all-powerful society through the street of Paris. It’s received really good early reviews and I’m definitely intrigued to read it!

Young Adult

With Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo – May 7, 2019
As with many of the books on this list, I’m excited to read this upcoming release because I read Acevedo’s novel, The Poet X, last year and loved it! Along with the story, I really liked that the Poet X was written in prose. There’s no indication on the synopsis of With Fire on High that it will also be written in prose, but it still sounds really good. It’s about a teen mom who loves to cook but struggles to make ends meet and care for her abuela. She dreams of taking her school’s culinary class, going on the class trip to Spain, and one day working in a real kitchen. Can she turn any of these dreams into reality?

Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan – Feb 12, 2019
I stumbled upon this new release on Netgalley as well and while I wasn’t approved for an ARC on this one, I’m really excited to read it when it comes out in February. It’s about two high school students who are frustrated with the status quo at their school and start a Women’s Rights Club. They get a lot of positive support when they start the club, but they are eventually targeted by online trolls who threaten their club and their voices. I’m here for any and all YA books on feminism so I can’t wait to read this. What makes me more excited is that the two girls on the cover are black and white, so I’m hoping this will be a more intersectional, feminist read than some other similarly plotted books that I’ve read in the past.

Internment by Samira Ahmed – Mar. 19, 2019
This is another book I’m a little surprised to include on the list because I read Ahmed’s debut novel, Love, Hate, and Other Filters, last year and did not like it. But I don’t want to judge an author by one book, especially their debut, so I’m excited to give this one a try, which sounds WAY different than her first novel. Internment is a dystopian novel about teenager Layla Amin, whose family is forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens. Do I really need to say more? It’s set in the near-future and I think we can all agree that with the current president, anything is really possible, so I’m intrigued what social commentary Ahmed is going to make about the current political climate. I actually just received an ARC for this one, so I’m planning to read it soon.

Non-Fiction

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West – May 7, 2019
This is a bit of a longer list than I usually make, but there’s just so many good books coming out this year! Lindy West’s new book OBVIOUSLY has to be on this list because just everything about it screams something I must read. I really like Lindy’s writing (along with Jessica Valenti and Laurie Penny) and I’m a here for a book about how the “patriarchy, intolerance, and misogyny have conquered not just politics but American culture itself.” It sounds like this book is going to cover a lot of topics, from the 2016 election to the #MeToo movement, I can’t wait to read West’s observations and critiques.

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson – Mar. 12, 2019
Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak was published 20 years ago and was monumental in discussing the impacts of rape and sexual assault. She has published many other books since then, although I’ll admit, Speak is the only one of her books I’ve read. Shout is going to be a memoir collection of poems and essays about sexual assault, the progress we’ve made, and some personal anecdotes from the author’s personal life. It sounds like a really great anthology and I’m interested to see what the author has to say 20 years after the publication of her ground-breaking novel.

Top 5 Reads of 2018

This is the companion post to my Top 10 Books of 2018, which features my favourite reads of the year that were actually published in 2018. This post will feature my top 5 books of the year that weren’t published in 2018. This works out well for me because its hard to narrow it down to just 10 books and the majority of the books I read are new releases. So here’s my top 5 reads of 2018 in no particular order:

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez

You know how sometimes you read a book and you really like it, but then the more time passes, the more unsure you are of whether you actually liked it as much as you thought? This book was the opposite of that for me. I really liked it when I read it, but the further removed I’ve gotten from reading it, the better I think I actually like it. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter tells the story of Julia, the teenage daughter of Mexican immigrants, and how she deals with the death of her older sister Olga. I know some people aren’t a fan of this book because honestly, Julia is super unlikable and confrontational in the story, but I thought it was such an accurate portrayal of a raging, rebellious, grieving teenager. Julia is struggling with accepting the death of her sister, who was the perfect daughter in her parents eyes, and she acts out against her parents traditional Mexican values. She struggles to understand her parents and her parents struggle to understand her. It’s ultimately a coming of age story about grief and the struggles of immigrant families. I listened to it as an audiobook and I would highly recommend this format – the narrator was fantastic and the whole reading experience was super enjoyable, despite the heavy topics.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

This was probably my most unexpected read of the year. I set an informal goal for myself to start reading more classics. I tried some Jane Austen and wasn’t the biggest fan, but I found Wuthering Heights on audiobook for a really cheap price and decided to give it a go. I’m not sure whether to credit Emily Bronte or Joanne Froggatt (the narrator) for how much I liked this, but together they made me absolutely LOVE this book. I don’t always love classics because they tend to wane on too much about nothing, but I loved the drama of Wuthering Heights. Evidently I have a thing for unlikable characters because NO ONE in this book is very likable. I think most people are familiar with the plot, so I won’t get too into it, I’ll just say that it’s an inter-generational story about the cycle of abuse and the human ability to both love and hate. I’ll still give Bronte most of the props, but Froggatt’s narration definitely played a role in making me love this as she does a fantastic job with all the characters and accents!

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation was one of the first books I read this year and while it was a slow-read novel, I really loved it. This book tells the semi-autobiographical story of 10 year old Kimberly Chan and spans about a decade in scope. Kim and her Ma are sponsored by her Aunt and move to New York from China. It’s based off the author’s experience immigrating to America and I thought it was such a well crafted story about the struggles immigrants face to build a new life and climb their way out of poverty. Kim and her Ma live in a run down apartment and work in her Aunt’s sweat shop sewing clothing. It’s technically Ma that works in the shop, but the workers regularly enlist the help of their children since they work on commission and it’s the only way they can make decent money. Kim attends school during the day and is driven by her desire to learn and get a job that will enable her to lift her family out of poverty. Like I said, it’s a quiet sort of story, but powerful and I really loved Kim’s character and perspective.

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

I’m just now realizing that I read 3 of the 5 books on this list as audiobooks (this being the third), which is actually super impressive since I tend to dislike audiobooks a lot more than I love them. But I guess I found some real winners on Audible this year! The Nowhere Girls tells the story of 3 very different high school classmates: Grace, Rosina, and Erin. The biggest thing I can say about this book is: great representation. Grace is a fat, Christian girl; Rosina is a gay, Mexican girl; and Erin has Asperger’s. Grace is new to town and when she learns that the former resident of her bedroom was a high school girl who was essentially driven out of town when she claimed she was raped at a party the year before, she starts a secret club to do something about it. I really liked this book because it was diverse and it addressed relevant social issues that any teen girl can relate to. Plus, it has another great narrator!

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

I’ve been raving about this series since I read it back in August. I included the sequel Wundersmith in my Top 10 Books of 2018 post, and I have to include the first book in this list. I can not say enough good things about this series. It is the smart, fun middle grade book that I’ve been looking for since Harry Potter. It tells the story of cursed child, Morrigan Crow, who is whisked off to the magical land of Nevermoor on the eve of her death day by the enigmatic Jupiter North. There she participates in the trials to become a member of the prestigious Wunder Society, all while trying to hide the fact that she’s an illegal immigrant to Nevermoor. This book is so whimsical (it has a giant, talking cat and flying umbrellas), but what I love most about it is that it has depth. It’s so well written and crafted that this magical world pretty much builds itself. It’s obvious that there’s a lot more to the plot than Townsend reveals upfront and I think we’re in for a multi-layered, multi-book series that has the potential to be just as popular as Harry Potter. I really, really loved this and I can’t wait to see what Jessica Townsend publishes next!