BOOK REVIEW: Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce

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Author: Tamora Pierce
Genre: Middle Grade/Fantasy
Series: Song of the Lioness (Complete)

Alanna the First Adventure: ★★★/5
In the Hand of the Goddess: ★★★/5
The Woman Who Rides Like a Man: ★★★.5/5
Lioness Rampant: ★★★/5

Summary Alanna the First Adventure: The first volume tells the story of Alanna’s page years. The book describes how she switches places with her brother and first comes to the palace—disguised as the boy “Alan”–, finds friends and makes enemies. She also learns most of the things she needs to know as a knight. Even though she is only a page, Alanna already has to fight the Sweating Sickness and the powerful Ysandir.

Summary In the Hand of the Goddess: Alanna, the squire of the Crown Prince Jonathan IV of Conté and still disguised as a boy, meets the Great Mother Goddess. From her she learns that she has to face her three greatest fears: the fear of the Chamber of the Ordeal, that of Duke Roger of Conté and the fear of love. But she also has to face another problem: Tusaine is declaring war on Tortall.

Summary The Woman Who Rides Like a Man: Finally Alanna has become a knight and removed a great threat to the Tortallan Crown from the land. But the revelation that “Squire Alan” is now indeed “Sir Alanna” isn’t accepted easily by the court. To get away from all the gossip and to find herself again, Alanna and her manservant Coram Smythesson left Corus and traveled through the Great Southern Desert, where they encounter the Bazhir tribe of the Bloody Hawk. There Alanna has to deal with the Bazhir’s customs while teaching three young people the way of a Bazhir shaman.

Summary Lioness Rampant: On trying to save an old friend of Halef Seif’s, Alanna retrieved a map promising the Dominion Jewel which could help Tortall to prosper. Thus, she sets out to find this jewel. On her way she meets the Shang Dragon Liam Ironarm as well as the Sarain Princess Thayet jian Wilima, who both return back to Tortall with her after her quest is complete. But even after she brings the Dominion Jewel home there is still danger for Tortall. Duke Roger of Conté is back from the dead and trying to destroy Tortall.

Review: I decided to do a comprehensive book review of Tamora Pierce’s quartet, The Song of the Lioness, because as she mentions, this quartet started out as a standalone book before she separated it into four separate ones. However, the series itself still reads as one continuous adventure. There is an underlying conflict that hovers over Alanna’s head as the series continues, with each book allowing a smaller conflict to be resolved. Since it felt as though the series was one long book, some books were less interesting than others. Reviewed as a whole, the series is definitely a 4 out of 5 stars for me, but individually some books stood out more than others. My least favorite being The Woman Who Rides Like a Man. The high point of book three was how Alanna truly maintained her independence from the confines of the traditional role of woman. She was shattering the gender norms with grace and confidence. However, the story arch of this book fell a bit flat for me as I continued to anticipate more action, but was greeted with a slow build up.

Comparatively, while I love the world and story that Pierce has the ability to weave through her words, I much prefer her quartet, The Immortals. Set in the same world and years later, it really delves into a much more magical world that I always look for in fantasy books. However, one thing that always remains, is the fantastic growth and character development of the strong female leads as they truly discover their purpose and potential in an unlikely setting. Not only Alanna, but her supporting characters grow alongside her which really pulls you into the world as though it truly exists.

Alanna of Trebond: A strong and determined female lead who is a great role model to any little girl. While she understands her weaknesses, her humbleness keeps her grounded in her successes. She continually shatters expectations and follows the path that is true to her own beliefs. Alanna maintains her honor throughout the entire series and the growth her character makes is one to be awed.

George Cooper: The King of Thieves, despite his title possesses an honor equaling Alanna. I loved their relationship and how George truly accepted Alanna with an unconditional love. He embraced her strong personality and never tried to limit her while providing the support she needed when she felt struggled. This was a respected relationship of equals.

Myles of Olau: I truly loved the father figure Myles became to Alanna. He recognized how special Alanna was and his patience and support was constant. Without a truly compassionate relationship with her birth father, Alanna was able to experience it with Myles.

Jonathan of Conte: I loved Jonathan’s character through the first two books. He was an unlikely humble crown prince. He got down and dirty and never really expected special treatment. However, during book three, the heaviness of the crown began to change him. I struggled alongside him because he backtracked from the person he began as and I hoped for so much more for him. Though he lost his way, he always truly cared for Alanna, though it was apparent that they were in different places and would never truly be able to provide what the other needed.

I think the main thing to take away from The Song of Lioness is the relationships and growth between the characters. There is a little bit of something for everyone–love, passion, greed, friendships, heartbreak, sadness. This fantasy book truly touches upon the different relationships currently and in the future.

BOOK REVIEW: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

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Author: Kendare Blake
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Series: Trilogy (Ongoing)

Three Dark Crowns: ★★★/5

SUMMARY: When kingdom come, there will be one. In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born—three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions. But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.

There are a lot of mixed reviews for this book. First off, it took me FOREVER to finish it. I ended up taking a LONGGGG break halfway through before buckling down and forcing myself to finish. I only gave this book a 3 out of 5 stars because of three reasons:

  1. The premise was interesting and fresh
  2. The writing was easy to follow and visually descriptive
  3. It was unpredictable and surprising

Overall, I only enjoyed around 20% of the book, which were the last 100 pages or so. The beginning dragged on and I’m guessing the author was taking her time to really get readers to buy into each of the queens’ characters/personalities, but at times I found it really long and uninteresting. There were parts in each queen’s story that I thought were repetitive and unnecessary. Also, for most of the book, I didn’t really enjoy any one character and couldn’t find myself attached to any. However, that could have been the author’s intentions to keep readers from cheering on any one of the queens throughout the book.

Character Development: There really wasn’t any present throughout the book, but from the few reviews I read about the second installment, it seems most of the growth will happen in the next book. I’ll talk about a few of my favorite to least favorite characters.

Arsinoe: The Naturalist queen. Her personality was the most dynamic and interesting. I found her refreshing and honest. She accepted the fact that she was “giftless” yet she was doing everything she could to make some sort of gift arise from inside her. Her efforts were admirable despite the fact her methods may not have been. I enjoyed reading her chapters as I found myself curious as to what she would do next. Her relationship with Jules and Camden were heartwarming. I love them both.

Jules & Camden: Jules is one of my most favorite characters. She’s true to herself and Arsinoe. Her loyalty and honest to goodness towards her friends is to die for her. She never waivers and her strong personality always shines in whatever she does. I’m sure the next book has a lot in store for her.

Mirabella: The Elemental queen. Known to be the strongest with the backing of the High Priestess, she’s destined to be the reigning queen. However, her powerful exterior conflicts with her delicate heart. Though she was the strongest of her sisters, she was the most empathetic and hesitant. She was misunderstood because of the image the priestesses painted of her. She was frustrating to read about at times, because if she took a little bit more of an initiative a lot of the problems would have been solved. I hate when miscommunication is a factor of a problem remaining unsolved.

Katherine: The Poison queen. She’s my least favorite. Her character is just unlikable in my opinion. If I were to guess, I would say she is only going to get worse in the next book. I didn’t like her in the first and I’m pretty sure I’ll dislike her even more in the next book if she stays on the same path.

Joseph: I hate this guy. I’m not going to spoil the book, but in the beginning I really enjoyed reading about him with Jules. But by the end of the book I wanted to strangle him. He’s so worthless and his words never support his actions. Weak-minded guys are the worst.

Overall, I would recommend this book if you’ve got nothing on your list to read. It’s not an immediate go out and buy type of book, but maybe more of a library check out kind. The cover is beautiful though. It was well written and though some people might find the shifting perspectives jarring, I thought it was organized enough to follow without getting confused. Just be prepared to have to trudge through at least 75-80% of the book before you can really get into it. The ending was very interesting and I didn’t see the twist at the end–the cliffhanger at the end itself makes me want to read the second just to see what happens. Though I have no strong attachments to any of the characters to see how things turn out for them.

Buy it on AMAZON.

BOOK REVIEW: The Darkest Minds by Alexndra Bracken

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Author: Alexandra Bracken
Genre: Young Adult/Dystopian/Romance
Series: A Darkest Minds Novel (Book 1)

The Darkest Minds: ★★★★ (3.5)

Buy it on Amazon

SUMMARY: When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something frightening enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that got her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that had killed most of America’s children, but she and the others emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they could not control.

Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones. When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. She is on the run, desperate to find the only safe haven left for kids like her—East River. She joins a group of kids who have escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents. When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at having a life worth living.

REVIEW: This is my first read of 2016 and it was a solid novel. I typically do not like to read young adult dystopian books, but I heard a lot of good things about this one (plus the fact that I stumbled upon a hardcover copy for only $3), I decided, why not? “The Darkest Minds” earned 3.5 stars from me. Overall I found the book enjoyable and interesting, but something about the journey kept me from giving it a higher rating.

Bracken’s writing is spectacular. No doubt about it, this author has a talent. She was able to provide descriptive explanations without being too wordy or confusing. She builds the world and sets the tone early on in the story. The beginning was a bit slow for me, but I understood she wanted to emphasize the darkness early on by revealing a little bit about the main character’s background from her experiences. I did appreciate the fact that the author did not literally write everything out for readers and would allow them to discover things on their own though.

The world she builds is somewhat believable, but there were times I found myself thinking it was a post-apocalyptic one, only to remember that the government was still somewhat running and the older folk were still working and living life. It is a bit unbelievable that parents would send their children to a camp believing they were being rehabilitated and accept the fact that they’re NEVER allowed to visit them again. The fact that most of the thousands of children inside the camps are just shipped somewhere by their parents willingly is still a bit hard for me to believe.

Basically, children who don’t die from IAAN (this disease the government makes up) they develop special abilities which are defined by color:

Green: great memory and very smart

Blue: ability to move things

Yellow: ability to manipulate electricity

Orange: ability to play with the mind

Red: ability to manipulate fire

Ruby: Ruby is an Orange, one of the last in the world, and the protagonist of this book. She starts out as a nervous, unsure young girl as she is sent to Thurmond for “rehabilitation.” After she escapes, she begins a journey that is destined to change her forever. By the end of the book, Ruby is more resolute and “cutthroat,” I guess you can say. But throughout the story, I did find her to be a bit whiny. One of my my pet peeves is when characters insist on keeping a secret because they’re afraid of being shunned, which is what Ruby does for a majority time. Overall, she wasn’t a terrible heroine, but she also wasn’t one of my favorite.

Liam: Liam is a Blue and the charismatic leader of the pack Ruby ends up joining. He’s tall, ruggedly handsome, and looks older than he actually is. Liam’s heart is huge and he’s always thinking of others before himself, sometimes at a fault. (No one can be perfect after all). The Skip Tracers and Psi Officers are all after him because he organized a breakout, not to mention the $250,000 bounty on his head, but you know you can rely on him because he’s so capable.

Charles “Chubs”: Chubs is also a Blue and the comedic mean kid of the group. He doesn’t like outsiders but is extremely loyal once he accepts someone. He never lost sight of what needed to be done and wasn’t blinded by the temporary “happiness” at East River like the others were. And even though he was upset, he was loyal until the end.

Suzune “Zu”: Zu is a yellow and the cute, young Asian girl of the group. She doesn’t have much control over her abilities so wears rubber gloves all the time to protect the others. Because of her traumatizing past (that isn’t fully revealed) she’s mute and interacts with them with expressions and motions instead.

The romance is introduced near the later end of the book. I found it strange that in the beginning of the book, the author emphasizes how uncomfortable Ruby is with boys because she was separated from them for six years. Then all of a sudden, she’s on a journey with two of them and becomes more comfortable pretty quickly, as she’s sassy with one and starts to like the other. Her character was very vanilla, and the conditioning she experienced in the camp for SIX YEARS would not disappear in a few weeks or a month even…

The reason I didn’t rate this book higher is because the whole story was basically a long road trip. There were some car chases and close calls with Skip Tracers and Psi Officers trying to recapture the group, but it consisted of them just traveling in a car trying to find out where East River was to find the Slip Kid (Rumored to be an Orange kid who was able to get in touch with parents). I also didn’t like how it ended. I understand why it had to be done and I can just assume what is going to happen later, but still it’s not a very “feel good” ending.

If you like young adult dystopian novels, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one. I do plan on continuing the series to see how it finishes.

Buy it on Amazon

Kalcyon Soundtrack

Kalcyon will officially be released on January 31, 2016. And I’m happy to say that the e-book, paperback, AND hardcover will be available for purchase!

To have a little look into what to anticipate, here is the soundtrack that inspired me throughout the writing journey of Kalcyon. Enjoy!

I made both the Karnage and Kalcyon playlists public on Spotify if you want to listen to them at your own leisure.

Karnage Soundtrack

Kalcyon Soundtrack

KALCYON SOUNDTRACK

  1. i believe by Christina Perri
  2. human by Christina Perri
  3. Wings by Birdy
  4. One the Water by Finding Favour
  5. Stars by Marie Hines
  6. Young Blood by Bea Miller
  7. The Call by Regina Spektor
  8. Feels Like Coming Home by Jetta
  9. If You Say So by Lea Michele
  10. The Sun Is Rising by Britt Nicole
  11. Cassiopeia by Sara Bareilles
  12. Crystals by Of Monsters And Men
  13. Hunger by Of Monsters And Men
  14. Black Water by Of Monsters And Men
  15. I of the Storm by Of Monsters And Men
  16. Monsters by Katie Sky
  17. Poison & Wine by The Civil Wars
  18. Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl by Wet
  19. Statues by Nina Nesbitt
  20. Pilgrims On a Long Journey by Coeur De Pirate (Instrumental)
  21. Pau hafa sloppio undan punga myrkursins by Olafur Arnalds (Instrumental)
  22. Four Walls by Broods
  23. Run – Snow Patrol by Eklipse (Instrumental Cover)
  24. Runaway by AURORA
  25. Who We Are by Tristan Prettyman
  26. Brother by The Brilliance

Wrapping up 2015. Hello 2016

In 2015, I published my first book (Karnage) and completed my second (Kalcyon). When I was a senior in high school, I could only dream of this moment. Writing was my medicine for boredom and though some people found it a strange prescription, I found it absolutely right (pun intended!).

As I occasionally fan through the pages of my book, I still can’t believe it myself. I wonder how I sat my scattered mind down to write 600+ pages of a story. I’ve immersed myself in the fantasy world of Celestria this past year and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I have the last book of the trilogy slated to be completed by the end of this year and I’m not only sad but excited for this adventure to come to an end. (Though I don’t think this world will ever come to a complete end for me and I’m sure I’ll venture back to Celestria, and maybe expand beyond just Selena’s story).

One thing I’ve learned in 2015 that applied to every aspect of my life was a realization I had when writing the dedication for Kalcyon:

For everyone who had a dream that seemed too far to reach–greatness is achieved when you transform your weakness into strength.

I’m a hopeless dreamer when it comes to life and I always believe that there is something greater out there, so I continue to reach forward no matter how impossible things may seem. And I want to encourage everyone out there with a dream that you may have had as a child or still currently keep close to your heart because anything is possible. I know it sounds cliche, but you will only get as far as you believe you will. It may take five days or even five years, and even if you have to crawl to get there, every move forward gets you closer to achieving that dream.

It’s worth it.

The things you love the most are the things that get you the most frustrated. I’ve wanted to bang my head against the wall multiple times during my writing process, but I never gave up and continued to look forward because I knew all the blood, sweat, and tears would be worth it in the end. 2015 has been a hallmark year for me in terms of personal achievements and I’m sure 2016 will be no different. Happy New Year!

Leigh’s 2016 Writing New Year’s Resolutions

I. Complete The Phoenix Ashes Trilogy
II. Complete book 1 and 2 of the Death Wish Undone Trilogy
III. Get traditionally published
IV. Publish “Moon Lily”
V. Read 30 books!

 

What did you learn in 2015 and what do you hope to achieve in 2016??