“Beautiful Creatures” by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Cover of "Beautiful Creatures"
Available on Amazon and at you local bookstore.

It took me a while to work up an interest in this book. I first watched the movie and because I enjoyed it so much, I decided to read the book. Unfortunately, when I first attempted to read it, I put it down almost immediately. I enjoyed the prologue but when the story began, I found the voice too dry to bear. But after reading The JK Review’s review of the novel and movie, I decided to give it another try and be patient. It paid off.

Quick summary:

I read this book a while back so the details of the story are a bit foggy but here is the gist of what I do remember. Beautiful Creatures is told from the perspective of Ethan Wate, a teenager in his junior year of high school. He resides in Gaitlin, a small town in the South Carolina, which he hates because he finds it too backwards. He can’t wait to escape its borders and explore the wider world. In the meantime, he escapes through books. He is an avid reader on account of his late mother being a librarian. When the story begins, he’s been having weird dreams of a girl and hearing a strange song on his iPod in the mornings. Soon the girl he sees in his dreams turns up at his school. She is the new girl in town—Lena Duchannes, niece of the town’s shut in.

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“The House of Hades” by Rick Riordan

Available on Amazon and at you local bookstore.
Available on Amazon and at you local bookstore.

And so we’re back with Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series. This time, we’re racing along with the heroes, trying to get to the House of Hades in Greece to close the doors of death! Many obstacles stand in our way and things can go horribly wrong at any minute. Percy and Annabeth are stuck in Tartarus for the while, trying to navigate the underworld and stay alive as they plod on towards the doors of death. If they are not careful, they can be vanquished at any time by one of the numerous monsters that pop up all over the place since Tartarus is their turf.

Then there are the other demigods aboard Argo II. They all have their issues and insecurities and love interests. They’ve battled mountain giants/gods, weird-looking cow monsters, pesky dwarfs, and frigid opponents. Still, they always find the time to say how much they admire/love/care for each other, seeming to never get pissed off at each other’s fuck-ups while they continue on this stressful journey.

And then there’s Nico, off in a corner, lonely, tortured by unrequited love. Poor kid. Back in the states, the demigod camps are gearing up for battle because that’s what they do. They have nothing better to think about as Gaea threatens to end the world. Apparently, it’s better to eliminate each other now so Gaea can easily cross that task off her list.

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“City of Bones” by Cassandra Clare

City of Bones (Mortal Instruments)
City of Bones (Mortal Instruments) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On a random day when I was off work early, I ran into a classmate from college in the bookstore. I hardly knew her and we hardly spoke when we took various English classes together in college but I walked up to say hi and ask what she was reading/looking for. Nosy me. My inquiry turned into an hours-long conversation on books during which Cassandra Clare’s name popped up. I had expressed my desire to read the City of Bones because of the intriguing title, attractive cover, plus the movie was about to come out. But my classmate tried to dissuade me from the book. She warned that it was just a rip off of many other great works and that Clare was a horrible author with a bad temperament. Of course, I was intrigued and wanted to read the novel even more.

I did a bit of research when I got home, meaning that I hopped on Google and looked up Cassandra Clare. I came across many rants and reviews that discounted her work and, as my classmate claimed, stated she plagiarized her work. My curiosity rose and I decided to purchase the e-book to see for myself.

Quick summary: (Spoilers here and beyond)

The City of Bones is based in a world where humans and supernatural beings co-exist. The supernatural beings, mainly demons are hunted by an advanced human race called Shadowhunters or Nephilim. The novel begins with the protagonist Clary Fray and her friend Simon at a club called Pandemonium, where she witnesses a group of teen-aged Shadowhunters attacking a boy. She is confused by this and tries to stop it but then she realizes that the boy being attacked is actually a demon. No one else is able to see the teenagers and the demon. When Clary returns home, she has a tiff with her mother, who is upset at Clary staying out late. The next day Clary goes out with her friend Simon and again sees one of the teenagers from the club, Jace. She receives a strange phone call from her mother and runs home to find it in ruins and her mother Jocelyn vanished.

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“The Hero and the Crown” by Robin McKinley

Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.
Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

It seems that once I read a novel by Robin McKinley, it remains forever imprinted in my mind, floating around in my memories, and tantalizing me at random moments with traces of the story. That is what drove me to re-read Spindle’s End and to discover The Blue Sword. I had forgotten the name of a tale about a girl with vivid red hair who defeated a dragon and mistook The Blue Sword to be the book I sought because of its cool title and obviously the girl would need a sword to defeat the dragon so why not a blue one. I passed over The Hero and the Crown, judging the book by its title and wrongly thinking that the great story I read years ago could not have had such a simple title.

Oh, to be deceived by simplicity.

If I had taken the time to read the blurb on the back cover or even to skim the first few pages, I would have found the book I was searching for. Nevertheless, finding The Blue Sword was a wonderful misdirection that took me on an absorbing read. The Hero and the Crown was just as great but I love The Blue Sword’s story more (though, The Hero and the Crown was a more enjoyable read. I just love the imagery in the story). This is interesting because when I first read The Hero and the Crown back in high school, I could not find another story that I loved more (except for Rowling’s Harry Potter and Tamora Pierce’s Alanna series). Now that I’ve read both books almost back-to-back, I can tell why the younger me loves The Hero and the Crown and the older me enjoys The Blue Sword.

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“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” by J.K. Rowling

The 2005 cover by Mary GrandPré. I still like it.
The 2005 cover by Mary GrandPré. I still like it.

I forgot what grade I was in when this book came out but I know I was in high school, probably a junior or senior. Harry Potter was such a craze back then that almost everyone would try to sneak a read in class, especially if the teacher had assigned a video for the class to watch. We would hold the book under the desk and attempt to read in the semi-darkness of the classroom. That’s exactly what the majority of my psychology class did. We were all reading as quickly as we could because it was rumored that someone important dies in this installment. But one day my psychology teacher got so frustrated with us reading and not paying attention to the lesson that he gave away the ending: “Look. Dumbledore dies now stop reading!”

“What?!” was my reply, “why Dumbledore?” Of all the people in the novel, why did Dumbledore have to die? This question pestered me when I first read the series. Back then I couldn’t grasp the meaning of Dumbledore’s death. I saw it as just another horrible occurrence in Harry’s life. Now that I’ve re-read the novel and seen the movies numerous times, I think I now know why Dumbledore had to die: he knew too much; to throw readers off; and he is a crutch.

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“The Blue Sword” by Robin McKinley

Available on Amazon and at you local bookstore.
Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

I bought this book at Barnes & Noble thinking I read it back in high school. The book I recalled reading had a girl with flaming red hair, wielding a sword, and fighting a dragon that burnt off all her hair, which was never again as lustrous as it once was. After reading The Blue Sword, I realized that the book I was thinking of was The Hero and the Crown. As I mentioned in my reflection on Spindle’s End, The Hero and the Crown was the first book I read by Robin McKinley. Like Ursula Le Guin and J.K. Rowling, McKinley’s characters tend to stay with me for years. The details of the story may cloud over with memories but the characters never fade away.

At first, I did not expect any aspect of The Blue Sword to stand out to me. When I discovered it was not the book I thought it to be, I got upset and felt gypped and threw the book back in my bookcase. I didn’t bother to give it a chance. And how rude of me to do so, especially to Robin McKinley! A few months later, I saw The Blue Sword again while I was organizing my bookcase and decided to read it

A quick summary: (Here be spoilers!)

The Blue Sword is about a girl named Harry Crewe who moves to Ihistan, a military outpost in Daria, a land claimed by Homelanders, to live closer to her brother after their father died. She finds herself bored by the area but fascinated by its native inhabitants, the Damarians, or the Hillfolk, as they are referred to by the Homelanders. (The Hillfolk call the Homelanders Outlanders.) The Homelanders invaded and colonized Damar, a fabled land that is said to contain magic, to access the mines in its hills. Leaving the desert to the invading Homelanders, the Damarians retreated to the mountains that surround the desert. While some Damarians mingle with the Homelanders, others refuse to associate with them. Both, though, refuse to share much of their culture with the Homelanders, whom they see as obnoxious. The Homelanders instead speculate about what they do not know of the Damarians, who they think to be peculiar and secretive.

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“Lioness Rampant” by Tamora Pierce

Available on Amazon and at you local bookstore.
Available on Amazon and at you local bookstore.

A quick summary:

The Song of the Lioness series continues with Alanna and Coram in Maren, a country to the east of Tortall. Her purpose there is to find a friend of Myles’, who can translate a map she was given by the nameless woman who died in the last book. She discovers that the map points the way to the Roof of the World, where the Dominion Jewel is kept. The Dominion Jewel is a powerful object that only a true leader can wield. Alanna decides to embark on an adventure to claim the Dominion Jewel for Tortall to prove her worth as a lady-knight and to further fortify Tortall.

But before she begins this adventure, she meets a dragon. No, not one with pointy teeth and fiery breath but one just as deadly. She meets Liam, a member of the Shang warriors. He is called the Shang Dragon, “the best of the best,” and is lethal both with weapons and weaponless. Immediately Alanna is drawn to him and it’s lust at first sight. The Lioness and the Dragon engage in a stormy affair that’s short-lived due to their stark differences, stubbornness, and Liam’s fear of magic. After hearing of their plans, Liam decides to accompany Alanna and Coram to the Roof. Along the way, they meet Buri, a K’miri warrior, who accompanies Thayet, the exiled princess of Sarain. They both travel with children, fugitives of Sarain’s civil war.

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“The Woman Who Rides Like a Man” by Tamora Pierce

Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.
Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

A quick summary:

On her first adventure as a knight, Alanna and Coram visit the Great Southern Desert, where she runs into one of the Bazhir tribes called the Bloody Hawk. After a tense meeting, where she was shunned by the Bloody Hawk’s shaman, she and Coram are inducted into the tribe. They call her “Woman Who Rides Like a Man” since she goes unveiled, wear breeches, carry a sword, and literally rides a horse like a man. While residing with the tribe, Alanna and Faithful, her cat, are adopted by three children—Ishak, Kara, and Kourrem—, who were made outcasts of the village by the shaman because they have the Gift (magic). After the shaman dies due to his own stupidity, Alanna begins to train the three children to become shaman of the village.

Prince Jonathan and Myles also visit Alanna while she resides with the tribe. George sent his spies. After winning their acceptance, both Jonathan and Myles were inducted into the tribe. Myles uses the opportunity to adopt Alanna—both magically and legally—as his heir. Jonathan and Alanna rekindle their romance and there is talk of marriage, which leads Alanna to again ponder what it is that she wants. She yearns for adventure but she also loves Jonathan. However, committing to Jonathan carries responsibilities such as marriage and producing an heir for the kingdom as soon as possible. Still, she does enjoy George’s company. She hardly has much time to ponder this since she helps to train her young shamans as well as others who visit the Bloody Hawk, which marks the budding of a new school of magic. Also, she tends to the Voice of the Tribes, a spiritual figurehead, who is frail and sick. The main reason for Jonathan’s visit is to become the new Voice of the Tribes. It’s a controversial move since the Bazhir tribes and the king of Tortall are at odds but the Voice of the Tribes believes that by making the prince the Voice, the rift between the king and the tribes will mend.

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“In the Hand of the Goddess” by Tamora Pierce

Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.
Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

The Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce was a great read. I completed the books a couple weeks ago but I am behind on my posts. I decided to re-read the series because I wanted to once again experience reading a favorite book for the first time. Of course, this was a silly plan doomed to fail since I am no longer the person I was when I first read these books and, obviously, this is neither the first, second, or third time that I’m reading them. I first read Alanna’s story when I was a freshman in high school and her story resonated with me. Alanna is a headstrong girl who defies the ethics of her land by posing as a boy so she could become a knight. She does not allow her circumstances to dictate who she should be. She decides that for herself.

The younger me and the present me both admire this trait. Back then, it stood out to me because I was at the point in life where a child’s family begins to prep and prod her in the direction they believe it best for her to go. My family had great intentions and their prepping and prodding were positively beneficial but I wanted to decide for myself. Now, as I try to assimilate to adulthood, I still find it alluring because I realize that it takes a lot of guts to go against the norm and do something unexpected. It takes guts to chase your goals and not allow circumstances or anything, rather, to hinder you from attaining it. Therefore, it took guts for Alanna to continue with her plans to become a lady-knight at a time when such an idea was not easily accepted. She must really have madness in her family, as she often mutters whenever she does something crazy.

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“Alanna: the First Adventure” by Tamora Pierce

I love this cover!
I love this cover!

Alanna: the First Adventure is a wonderful bildungsroman about a girl who wants to become a knight. Since she lives in a medieval-like society, such things are forbidden. Luckily, she has a twin brother with whom she can switch places. Alanna switches with her brother Thom who wants to study to become a great sorcerer and their plan goes off without a hitch since they have a father who’s too caught up in his work to care much about his children. With the help of their village healing woman, Maude, and a reluctant Coram, the sergeant-at-arms, the twins are able to continue on their chosen paths.

A girl she may be but that does not mean she is unable to keep up with the boys in her training. She is easily accepted as one of them despite her dispute with a bully and she proves herself to be their equal as she works tirelessly to become a knight. Alanna’s body does get in the way at times, such as the growth of her breasts (she ties them down with a band) and her period popping up but luckily, again, she has made friends with the King of Thieves, the amiable George, who helps her in such tough situations. She seems to have everyone on her side, even the gods. In the first few years of her training, Alanna has done some great feats for her age. She heals the Prince, who is a great friend of hers, when he succumbed to a sorcerous fever, she got a magical sword, and she defeated an ancient power with the help of her prince. She isn’t chummy with everyone, though, and is wary of the Duke of Conté, the prince’s cousin, who she suspects of making a move for the crown. He is also a great sorcerer.

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