Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project – Our Finest Regards (2015)

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This was actually kind of a sad review for me and it’s one that I’ve been putting off for a little while.  I’ve written briefly about the closing of Pretty Things here before, but this time my review comes with a bit more finality – this was my final bottle of their beer.

Beer Name: Our Finest Regards

Brewery: Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project

Style: Barleywine

ABV: 13.5%

Description: An English-style Barleywine brewed with a “reiterative mash” (i.e.they used runoff from the first mash in the second) technique, this was typically released in the months of November and December to help the locals keep warm.  My bottle was from the 11/2015 batch.

Appearance: It poured a thick, dark-caramel brown body topped that was topped off by a layer of tan foam.

Smell: Sweet aroma of brown sugar and toffee, with a slight bit of heat on the end.

Taste: Rich, sweet malts upfront highlighted by a complex blend of caramel, brown sugar, toffee, dark fruits, and butterscotch.  A bit of heavy cream came on in the middle right before the beer picked up the lightly toasted dark malts and subtly heat that carried it into the finish.

Mouthfeel: Full, creamy body with very low carbonation.

Hype: Fond memories.  This was very well regarded in its day, but being my last bottle from this brewery I had a special attachment to this as well.  I didn’t want to it to go, but I also figured it was time.

Overall: Simply fantastic!  It surpassed my expectations and I couldn’t have asked for a better final taste of this brewery.  It’s been rumored and teased that Dan and Martha Paquette, the team behind Pretty Things, has been looking to start professionally brewing again in England so hopefully I may someday come across some more of their beer.  Cheers to them!

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Music Monday: Rage Against the Machine – Evil Empire

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I’ve been meaning to jump in on this tag for a little while now, but haven’t really been able to fit it into my posting schedule.  After spending some time going through my old CDs the other day, I was finally inspired to start making these posts more of a priority.

Album: Evil Empire

Artist: Rage Against the Machine

Genre: Rap/Metal, Rap/Rock, Funk/Metal

Released: 1996

Description: The band’s second record is chock full of all the energy, aggression, and left-leaning/anti-establishment politics that quickly became the group’s signature style.  The album’s 11 tracks provide just over 45 minutes of relentless musical assault fueled by frontman Zach de la Rocha’s incendiary vocals and lead guitarist Tom Morello’s mastery of his instrument.  From the opening line on People of the Sun (better turn the bass up on this one) to the closing screams and thrashing guitars on Year of tha Boomerang, this album doesn’t let up for a single moment.

My Experience: I’m going to really show my age on this one, but I remember buying this CD as a teenager (with cash at an actual brick and mortar store) shortly after it was released.  It immediately became one of my favorite albums and has retained that status to this day. I’m a huge fan of both the sound and politics of this disc.

One thing that I find really striking listening to this some 22 after its release is how (unfortunately) relevant it still feels despite leaning so heavily on activist causes of its day.  With songs touching on topics like systemic racism, police brutality, domestic violence, the military-industrial complex, and Palestinian resistance to the expansion of Israeli settlements all these tracks remain frustratingly applicable to our modern world, perhaps none more so than Without a Face, which is sung from the perspective of a Mexican worker secretly crossing the US border to make money to send back home.

Top Three Tracks: This was a hard decision.  I have my favorites, but this is one of those albums for me where every track is really, really good.  Anyway, in no particular order, here are the three (with select lyrics) that I’ve chosen to highlight. Yes, there were painful omissions made.

1. Bulls on Parade

One of the first singles off of the album, the track criticizes the military-industrial complex in the United States and the government’s spending priorities:

Weapons, not food, not homes, not shoes
Not need, just feed the war cannibal animal
I walk tha corner to tha rubble, that used to be a library
Line up to the mind cemetery now
What we don’t know keeps the contracts alive and movin’
They don’t gotta burn tha books, they just remove ’em
While arms warehouses fill as quick as the cells
Rally round tha family, pocket full of shells

There’s also a fantastic music video for this song as well.  As if I haven’t already dated myself enough in this post, I first saw this as a grainy two-inch by two-inch movie file I downloaded from AOL back in the day.  Here’s a look at much better version:

2. Down Rodeo

This track got a lot of airplay in my area and serves as a call to arms against the forces of  consumerism, greed, and elitism. Its chorus takes the listener on an imaginary drive through the ultra-luxury shopping scene on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills:

So, now I’m rollin’ down Rodeo with a shotgun
These people ain’t seen a brown-skinned man
Since their grandparents bought one

It then goes on to look at the reality faced by those on the outside of all the opulence:

Them pen devils set the stage for the war at home
Locked without a wage, you’re standing in the drop zone
The clockers born, starin’ at an empty plate
Mama’s torn hands, cover her sunken face
We hungry but them belly full
The structure is set, ya never change it with a ballot pull

3. Wind Below

I’ll end with what is probably one of the lesser known tracks.  Drawing its name from the philosophy of the Zapatista movement, this powerhouse of a song looks at how the wealthy and powerful use their position to manipulate and exploit the rest of the world’s population:

Flip this capital eclipse
Them bury life wit’ IMF shifts, and poison lips
Yo they talk it, while slicin’ our veins yo so mark it
From the fincas overseers, to them vultures playin’ markets
She ain’t got nothing but weapon and shawl
She is Chol, Tzotzil, Tojolobal, Tzeltal

As well as closer to home examples:

And GE is gonna flex and try and annex the truth
And NBC is gonna flex and cast their image in you
And Disney bought the fantasies and piles of eyes
And ABC’s new thrill rides of trials and lies
And while the gut eaters strain to pull the mud from their mouths
They force our ears to go deaf to the screams in the south

And with that I will wrap up the first of hopefully many Musical Mondays.  Thank you and credit to Genius and @RATMVIVO for providing the lyrical and video content provided.

Aeronaught Brewing Company & Lamplighter Brewing Company – To the Moon

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I picked up this beer somewhat at random last month while browsing through one of my local shops.  The can art caught my and since I’ve been enjoying these two breweries lately I figured I might as well give this a go.

Beer Name: To the Moon

Brewery: Aeronaught Brewing Company (Somerville, MA) & Lamplighter Brewing Company (Cambridge, MA)

Style: IPA

ABV: 6.8%

Description: A collaboration between two popular local breweries, this IPA was released at the end of June to bring in the July 4th holiday just a little bit early (yes – I have apparently been sitting on this review for a bit).  Appropriately enough it featured an all-American blend of Eureka, El Dorado, Denali, and Idaho 7 hops.

Appearance: It featured a cloudy, golden/light-copper body through which I could just barely make out the other side of the glass.  A thin layer of white tan foam sat up top.

Smell: Sweet tropical fruits with a haze of piney hops in the background.

Taste: Lots of tropical fruit upfront followed by a smooth transition through crackery malts before coming to a slightly bitter finish with pine and floral hop notes.  Smooth tasting and flavorful throughout.

Mouthfeel: It had a super smooth medium body with a moderate amount of carbonation.

Hype: It seems there was some excitement around this release.  It did apparently get its own party after all.

Overall: Smooth, easy to drink, and super tasty, I would call this a highly successful collaboration effort.  An immensely satisfying brew, I am really happy that I happened to grab a full four-pack of this. I enjoyed every drop and look forward to seeing what these breweries put out next.

Kona Brewing Company – Big Wave

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I mentioned to my wife the other day how I had been feeling a bit burnt out on reviewing beer but really into just sitting outside on Saturdays and reading with a beverage by my side.  With that in mind, she went out and grabbed me something that looked appropriate to the task and offered me another momentary break from IPAs.

Beer Name: Kona Brewing Company (Kailua Kona, HI)

Brewery: Big Wave

Style: Blonde Ale

ABV: 4.4%

Description: Brewed to be a refreshingly smooth, easy drinking beach beer, this golden ale combines Galaxy and Citra hops with light caramel malt.

Appearance: It poured a clear golden-yellow/straw-colored body with many little bubbles running up from the bottom of the glass.  There was a bubbly white head resting up top for maybe a quarter of the drinking experience.

Smell: Sweetness with lingering light malts.

Taste: Light sweetness upfront from the caramel malt slowly blended into a more crisp pale malt profile.  There was a bit of a watery, nondescript moment mid-sip but after that the sweetness returned in combination with a subtle tropical hop presence.

Mouthfeel: Light bodied with a roughly moderate level of carbonation.

Hype: None.  This isn’t a style that really fuels the hype machine and there is plenty of this to go around.  Also, Kona Brewing is part of the AB-Inbev affiliated Craft Brew Alliance which I suppose makes them something of a pariah among the hardcore beer trend setters.

Overall: Light and refreshing, this was another nice beer to enjoy outside on a warm Summer day.  I really enjoyed the sweetness and subtle hop profile, I was just a bit perplexed by that gap in the middle I encountered.  Even that kind of worked out though, as it made the beer that much more thirst quenching. I’d be on board with grabbing another four pack of these for my next outdoor event.

Book Review: All Systems Red, by Martha Wells (Book One in The Murderbot Diaries)

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This book/novella had been following me around across several hunts for new reading material.  It appeared on a number of recommendation and “Best of” lists and even made the rounds here on WordPress a little while back.  What sealed the deal on me finally giving it a read, however, was seeing it pop up in an my email as Tor Publishing’s free ebook for the month of April.  How could I refuse?

This story is told from the perspective of an unnamed cyborg that calls itself “Murderbot.”  The property of an influential, yet extremely frugal, security company, Murderbot has secretly disabled the programming that inhibits its ability to make decisions and is operating independently.  Afraid of being discovered and disassembled, our protagonist has thus far made only modest use of this freedom by upgrading its basic (read cheap) intelligence programming and quietly streaming entertainment feeds.  Beyond that Murderbot just continues on going through the motions of fulfilling contracts by doing the bare minimum amount of work while binge-watching its favorite shows. However, when the latest group it has been assigned to protect comes under attack, Murderbot finds that it may need to regain its original focus in order to keep its human companions alive.  Now if only they would stop being so damn friendly it just might be able to do the job.

Given all the glowing reviews I had come across for this book and series, I was expecting to love this.  Instead, however, I wound up feeling a bit disappointed. I was intrigued by premise and humor of the story, but I did not really get interested in the plot until roughly the halfway mark and then from there it didn’t really do much to keep me invested after that.  The story on the whole felt a bit too vague, which in combination with some pretty light universe building and development of the human characters made it hard for me to really dive into this. Even Murderbot, whom I enjoyed for the most part, sometimes fell a bit flat on account of its chronic disinterest in events.  I think it might actually have been this extreme nonchalance on the part of our narrator that it made it so hard for me to really get invested.  I get it that we’re viewing the events of the novel through such a character, but a bit more engagement in telling or developing the story would have gone a long way. I won’t deny I got some good chuckles out of this, but I had been anticipating a whole lot more going.

Considering how quick a read this was (it checked in at a breezy 160 pages), I haven’t totally ruled out reading the next book in the series if it happens to cross my path.  I did see some potential in the story going forward and feel that Murderbot could grow on me as a character if its universe gets a bit more defined. Then again, maybe this just wasn’t the book for me.  I am apparently in the minority opinion here, so feel free to judge for yourself.

The Feminist Book Tag

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It’s been awhile since I last took on a book tag and this was definitely one of the more intriguing options I had lying around in my notes.  I like to think that I am fairly inclusive and open-minded in my readings, so, to the extent possible, I am limiting my selections to books I’ve reviewed here.

Your favorite female author

I had to think about this one for a bit, but I eventually decided that I am going with Colleen McCollough on this one.  I absolutely love her Masters of Rome series and consider it the absolute standard against which I will forever judge all works of historical fiction.  I know she has written other things that are bit different from these books (and with which I am entirely unfamiliar), but it was hard to pick against her after so thoroughly enjoying seven books and nearly 6,500 pages of her work.

Your favorite heroine

Ugh, another favorite question!  I’m calling this one a toss-up because I couldn’t decide.  It’s either Darwi Odrade from Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune or Vin from the first era Mistborn trilogy.

A novel with a feminist message

After spending a pretty good amount of time thinking about this what would make a novel feminist, I decided upon Everfair, by Nisi Shawl.  I did so because it features two prominent female characters who challenge conventions with their political activism, academic/scientific interests, and sexuality.  A quick read of the author’s bio reveals that these are all topics near and dear to her own heart, as her academic and literary focus is on Sci-Fi and Fantasy works that look at, among other things, issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status.

A novel with a girl on the cover

Not sure that cover art is necessarily a sign of feminism, but Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer, one of my favorite books from this year, has a rather striking depiction of Jasnah Kholin on the cover.

A novel featuring a group of girls

While I certainly wouldn’t call them “girls,” I’ll pick the all-woman cast of The Stars are Legion, by Kameron Hurley – a female author who strongly identifies as a feminist.  Digging a bit deeper here, I read an interesting review after finishing this book that touched upon the issue of gender in this universe where men simply do not exist even as a concept (at least in the scope of the story thus far).

A novel with a LGBTQIAP+ female character

It just so happens that I’ve read two books so far this year starring main characters that fall within this category.  The first was Barbary Station, by R.E. Stearns, in which engineer/programmer Adda Karpe and her girlfriend Iridian try to join a band of space pirates.  The second book was the aforementioned Everfair, in which a young biracial French woman named Lisette enters into a polyamorous relationship with an Englishman only to find a more lasting love with his (former) wife Daisy.

A novel with different feminine POV

Different is a bit ambiguous here, but easily the most atypical female POV I can readily recall is Purga from Stephen Baxter’s Evolution.  She is a small mammal living roughly 65 million years ago in the late Jurassic era.

A book where a girl saves the world

I’ll go with Soon I Will be Invincible, by Austin Grossman for this one though I won’t spoil which of the novel’s superheroines ultimately saves the day.

A book where you prefer the female sidekick to the male MC

All the books in the The Expanse series featuring Bobbie Draper.  It’s no contest between her and James Holden, or any of the other Rocinante crew members for that matter.  Needless to say, certain events that happen early on in Persepolis Rising made me very happy.

A book written by a male author and featuring a female character

I’m going to assume this meant to say female main character.  Um, lots? Sarene from Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris is one of my favorite new (to me) characters of the year thus far and she would probably embrace being called a feminist to boot.

Anchor Brewing Company – Brewers’ Pale Ale

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This beer came to me by way of a friend visiting for the weekend.  We ended up needing to go on a beer run and this is what he grabbed.

Beer Name: Brewers’ Pale Ale

Brewery: Anchor Brewing Company (San Francisco, CA)

Style: American Pale Ale

ABV: 5.3%

Description: A “bright and fruity” pale ale brewed to meet the discerning tastes of Anchor’s brewing team.  You can find the full specs and back story here on the brewery website.

Appearance: Cloudy yellow copper semi see thru body with thin white head

Smell: Sweet, sugary malts beneath a layer of fresh pine and citrus hops.

Taste: Started out with sweet light malts upfront that gave the beer an almost candy or caramel-like body.  Fresh piney hops came in about midway through and stuck around as the brew came to a juicy finish featuring melon, citrus blend, and grapefruit.  Very clean and fresh tasting throughout.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with a moderate level of carbonation.  Right on point for the style.

Hype: None.  Anchor is a respected, long running brewery, but they don’t really get the hype that the smaller and newer guys do.

Overall: This was crazy good.  Clean, fresh, and light it was the perfect choice for a warm day.  I’m even going so far as to add this to my list of top five pale ales.  Check it out!

Brewery Visit: Bone Up Brewing Company, Everett MA

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Just a short train ride away from home and right down the street from my old haunts at Night Shift, is the site of Bone Up Brewing Company‘s taproom.  I’ve been meaning to check out this place ever since it opened up back in August 2016, but for a variety of reasons I never got around to it.  Luckily for me that finally changed this past weekend.

Bone Up is located in a modestly sized industrial building it shares with a CrossFit gym and a small restaurant.  The taproom is pretty cozy, especially in comparison to some of the others in the area, but they make good use of the space and have given it quite a lot of character.  Staring into the room, there is a bar counter to the right, a line of seven or so tables with chalkboard tops down the center of the room, and a small patio out front with a few extra seats.  The wall on the left side of the room is pure nostalgic gold. There’s Metallica pinball, a Ms. PacMan/Galaga arcade machine, and a couple of bookshelves packed full of old board games and irreverent 90s comics; a Farside collection and Tick graphic novel were two things in particular that caught my eye.  As an added bonus, the bartenders were all super friendly and their playlists offered up a steady supply of classic metal that perfectly matched the decor.

As for the beer they had maybe a dozen or so brews on tap, so I decided early on to resign myself to not being able to try them all.  With that in mind, I started my day off with a 4.8% Kentucky Common named Mr. Buttons in memory of a dog owned by one of the folks over at Valley Malt.  It wound up being an excellent brew to start my day off with after an extremely hot walk over from the train.  It drank nice and easy with a sweet malt base and lingering hints of rye and very lightly toasted malt. I paid a couple of extra dollars for the glass, because, well, I liked it and the proceeds from the sale went to benefit local shelter dogs.

Beer number two was another full pour and also my strongest offering of the day, a 7.4% double IPA named 4 Star Smoothie that was hopped with a “newish” variety called CrysCade.  It poured a glowing yellow/amber body and had a nice creamy orange taste upfront and a mild, hazy grapefruit bitterness lurking in the background with some light malt.  The finish was smooth with slight peppery notes and a lingering fruity aftertaste. A very nice take on the style.

Finally, in an effort to make the most of my time at the brewery, I decided to end my visit with a flight.  In an effort to be somewhat responsible about that decision, I filled said flight with some of the lightest offerings available.  Their flights are served up in muffin trays, cost $9, and come with four samples of whatever is on draft plus a complimentary snack from the dollar wall (I chose Cheez-Its).  I began with Wasted Life, a 6.4% IPA.  A nice blend of dank hops atop a fruity, bubblegum sweet base I’d definitely go back for a full pour of this.  Brew number two was Azacca, a blonde ale checking in at 4.4% and featuring a sweet honey malt base and refreshing blend of fruits.  Next I went with Key Lime, which was very aptly named and awesomely refreshing.  Nice and light at only 4.7%, this was another great beer for a hot day.  I gave this one a write-up when it first came out so you can check out my full notes here.  Closing out my day was Hillcrest, a 4.8% session brown ale with smooth grainy notes.

All in all, I had an excellent visit to the Bone Up Brewing Company taproom.  I really enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere and had a great time having some drinks while playing a few classic arcade in the process.  Make sure you give this place a visit if you are in the area!

Ipswich Ale Brewing Company – Summer Ale

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As I’ve mentioned here before, I have a lot of love for the Ipswich Ale Brewing Company and their ability to consistently put out excellent offerings at a very competitive price.  Needless to say I was pretty excited when my wife picked me up a six-pack of their Summer Ale to help me beat the heat.

Beer Name: Summer Ale

Brewery: Ipswich Ale Brewing Company

Style: Blonde Ale

ABV: 4.9%

Description: The label on the bottle’s neck says it all: “No fruits.  No spices. Just an ideal blend of pale malt, Cascade, and Mosaic hops.”

Appearance: Cloudy golden body with plenty of little bubbles running up from the bottom.

Smell: Light citrus notes.

Taste: Crisp, sweet pale malt joined by mellow hints of citrus rind.  A very mild grassy bitterness came out on the end.

Mouthfeel: Body was on the lighter side with a moderate carbonation.

Hype: None.  Summer ales don’t tend to generate a lot of hype and Ipswich is more of an “old reliable” type brewery than a trendy hot spot.

Overall: The beer offered a nice clean sweetness that really hit the spot on a warm summer day.  I’ll be having a few more of these this over the next few months for sure.  It’s pretty much exactly what you’d want from the style.

Book Review: Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson

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After a brief hiatus, I have made my return to the Cosmere by going all the way back to its origins.  Published in 2005, Elantris is not only the first book set in this universe, but it is also Brandon Sanderson’s first published novel.

The story takes place on the planet Sel, an Earth-like world that is home to another civilization of humans advanced to roughly the middle ages.  Once a beacon of magic, culture, and technology, the city of Elantris was the center of a prosperous civilization. Its residents were selected by a process called the Shaod, a mysterious phenomenon that would transform them into beings with silver skin, white hair, and enhanced physical and restorative abilities by granting them access to the AonDor, a system of magic based upon drawing symbols.  That all changed, however, when an event called the Reod mysteriously transformed the nature of Shaod roughly ten years before the start of this story. Instead of bestowing physical and magical gifts upon its recipients, they are now afflicted with discolored skin and have become doomed to live on in anguish from injuries that will neither heal nor kill them. In response to this change, the city of Elantris was sealed off as a de facto prison for anyone touched by the Shaod, a circumstance enforced by the church of Shu-Korath and the King of Arelon, an influential nation whose capital city of Kae lays in the shadow of Elantris’ ruins.

It is here that we meet our protagonists, Prince Raoden of Arelon and his fiance Princess Sarene from the prominent sea-faring nation of Teod.  The two were set to be married in order to secure an alliance between their nations, the last remaining bastions of the Korathi religion and the lone holdouts again the forces of the Fjordell Empire and the Shu-Dereth faith advancing across the continent.  Days before the wedding, Raoden was taken by the Shaod and discretely exiled to Elantris. Upon her arrival in Kae, Sarene is informed that Raoden has died of a particularly ravaging disease, a story she finds deeply suspicious. Determined to secure a place for herself in Arelon’s court, she embarks on her own private inquiry into the matter and quickly becomes fully enmeshed in the political intrigues of her new home.  Roaden, meanwhile, is determined to learn more about the changes in Shaod and works in secret to improve the lives of the people within Elantris. Threatening them both, however, is an ambitious Derethi priest seeking to gain a foothold in Arelon as a prelude to invasion.

There was a lot about this book that I really enjoyed.  Both Raoden and Sarene were excellent, likeable characters and I felt invested in their stories right from the start.  I particularly admired their integrity, intelligence, and sense of social justice and found these traits excellent counterpoints to the other leaders’ tendencies towards exploiting their subjects’ basic needs and prejudices for personal gain.  The supporting cast was equally impressive, with a well-written and intriguing list of friends and foes alike. The story itself, though more focused on intrigue and politics than the more action packed novels that follow it, was quite engaging as well.  No spoilers, but Sanderson usually writes an exhilarating ending to his books and this one was definitely no exception. Finally, I took much joy in catching references to things that come up in later books. Even though this was my first visit to Sel, I’ve come across a few Elantrians before and noticed that Nazh left his now familiar marks here as well.  What got me most excited though was the appearance of Hoid. What was he trying to accomplish here and how does it impact his other travels? Also along this line of thought, I am also very curious to find out more about the Shards and Investiture native to Sel beyond what I’ve pieced together from other sources. It feels like there is a lot of unfinished business on this world, so hopefully someday I will get answers.

My main criticism of this book was that I didn’t think it had quite the same epic feeling as Sanderson’s later novels.  A big factor in this is surely due to me reading an early work after already being so immersed in Cosmere lore, though not having the now-customary quotations or in-world excerpts starting each chapter did contribute greatly to this feeling.  Whatever the reason, the story felt very insular to the cities of Elantris and Kae without expanding out into the rest of Sel as much as I would have liked/expected. I also noticed a few events and ideas used in this book that got picked up and reused in later novels as well which left some scenes feeling less fresh than they probably would have otherwise.

Putting that aside, I am happy to have finally visited this world and upon finishing the book found myself thinking about where my next stops in the Cosmere will be.  After a bit of thought I’ve given myself the goal of taking two more adventures there this year. My first stop will be Warbreaker to follow-up on a few references I missed in Oathbringer and then from there I am thinking that I may dive into the Arcanum Unbounded, a collection of short works that takes place throughout various worlds in the Cosmere.  I have a few other things lined up to read before those happen, but something tells me I won’t be able to stay away for long.