Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass, #5)

empire-of-stormsFirst Lines: The bone drums had been pounding across the jagged slopes of the Black Mountains since sundown.

This is the kind of book that when you see it on the library shelf, you just have to grab it.  It doesn’t matter if you have 2 or 20 books already in hand, you’re going home with this.  Sure, I let it languish on my shelf for a long time (so many books, so little time!) but I knew I’d get around to reading it.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Like everything in Aelin’s life, getting to the throne is no easier now than it was before.  Loyalties have been broken, friendships have fractured, and magic still divides the kingdoms of Erilea.  In her struggle to prove that she’s a worthy queen, Aelin may have to give up that which is most important to her to show her commitment to the crown…

You guys, I’m divided on this one.  I mean, Maas is a genius and we sing her praises unto the stars, yadda yadda yadda.  But I left this book feeling a bit unsatisfied.  And that’s a new experience for me with Maas.  (Of course she’s had cliffhangers before, but that’s not what this was that’s bothering me.)

I loved the characters.  Aelin is at her best, Rowan is at his best, Dorian and Manon are at their best…you get it.  These characters that we’ve watched grow and change throughout all the books are becoming stronger and more powerful and more invested in their struggle, which raises the stakes so much.  I loved seeing them.

But I felt like the best characters of all in this story were Elide and Lorcan.  I fell for these two so hard, even though I’d been introduced to them before.  And for as much as I loved them, I think that was also part of my hesitancy with this book: I wasn’t overly impressed with Aelin and Rowan and Dorian this time around.  I mean, I was, but it wasn’t the same.  Like Aelin has learned about all she can by this point and we know basically all of her secrets.  She has very little left up her sleeves at this point to surprise the audience, and I think that’s kind of what kept me coming back to this series.

There is still plenty of action in this book, which was great.  It may not be the ambushes and assassin challenges that we’re used to, but we still get fight scenes.  Again, with the direction that this book has gone in, it still felt a little unsatisfactory to me.  I love hand-to-hand combat, but there was remarkably little of it in this book as the villains are bigger and badder than ever before.

I’m glad a few things finally got explained.  There have been some questions lingering since the beginning (or any of the books between here and there) and they finally have some answers.  So that was nice.

Perhaps my biggest complaint about this book was the inclusion of characters from the prequel stories in The Assassin’s Blade book.  I was really cheesed off when I got to some scenes where Aelin clearly knew a character but I didn’t and then there was this weird attempt to fill in the audience (read: me) who hadn’t read the prequel stories.  My philosophy is that if they were really that important, they would have been in the regular books in the series.  Prequels are for extra stuff, not stuff that we absolutely have to read to understand the series.  Ugh.  I’m still cheesed off.  I hate feeling like I don’t know what’s happening in a book, like I’ve skipped a book.  I don’t ever read books out of order for that reason.

Thankfully, I suppose that was actually a relatively small portion of the story that had that, but the fact that it came up (more than once!) really irritated me.

Overall, it’s still a fantastically genius and surprising book by Sarah J. Maas, just like we’ve come to expect, but I miss a lot of elements of early Aelin and so this wasn’t my favorite book in the series.

Top Ten Tuesday: A Top Ten I Missed

Hey guys!  I want to get back in the swing of doing Top Ten Tuesdays, especially now that I’ve given up on my NaNo for now.  (Holidays…grading…ear infection/antibiotics…it wasn’t going to happen.)  So I thought I’d revisit one that I missed a couple of weeks ago, especially given that this week was a Thanksgiving freebie.  So here we go!  These are books that I’ve recently added to my to-read list.

toptentuesdayTop Ten Books I’ve Recently Added to My TBR Pile

1. The Making of Outlander: The Official Guide to Seasons 1 & 2 by Tara Bennett

You guys, I love this show.  Caitrona Balfe and Sam Heughan just rock it so far out of the park that I could easily watch this show 10, 20 times over.  (*cough* I may know this from experience *cough*)  So when I saw this book at the library, I grabbed it.  It has pictures and behind the scenes stuff, which I love.  Now I just need to read it!

2. The Wild Swans (Timeless Fairy Tales, #2) by K.M. Shea

I recently read my first book by K.M. Shea, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast that was phenomenal.  So I’m really excited to see what she does in this fairy tale retelling.

3. Scythe by Neal Shusterman

I’m always nervous when it comes to Neal Shusterman.  The Stephen King of YA, I truly have read his books before and been haunted by them for days afterward.  But I’m also really drawn to stories that depict Death as a person, so this is a book I’m willing to take a chance on.

4. The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

I’ve seen this book winning awards right and left lately and I’m really interested to see what it offers.  Sure, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Everything, Everything, but this could be good.

5. What Light by Jay Asher

A Christmasy book from Jay Asher?  Now this I have to see.  Luckily, it’s already in my hands!

6. A Taste for Monsters by Matthew J. Kirby

I don’t know why I do this to myself, but this book is set during the time of Jack the Ripper, and the main girl sees the ghosts of the Ripper’s victims.  Clearly, I read way too much Agatha Christie/V.C. Andrews as a kid and I am now tainted.

7. Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

I love pirate stories and, even though this book isn’t out yet, I’m really excited to read it.  A strong female character who gets herself caught–on purpose–by rival pirates?  Sounds like fun!

8. Garden of Blood and Dust by K.K. Perez

A YA telling of Elizabeth Bathory, the most prolific female serial killer in history who may or may not have bathed in the blood of her victims.  Again, I feel twisted for wanting to read this.

9. When by Victoria Laurie

This is a story of a girl who can see numbers on the foreheads of everyone, giving the date of their death.  Her alcoholic (I think) mother has her use this skill for money, but that turns out to be a bad thing when she correctly predicts the disappearance of a young boy and becomes a prime suspect in the investigation.  Yeah, I’m into it.

10. The Innkeeper’s Daughter by Cindy Trumbore

This is supposed to be set in 6th century Ireland and based on some old Irish legend, so I’m already there.  I didn’t even need to know the rest of the story.

Rook

book-rook_307x462First Lines: The heavy blade hung high above the prisoners, glinting against the stars, and then the Razor came down, a wedge of falling darkness cutting through the torchlight.  One solid thump, and four more heads had been shaved from their bodies.

I bought this book ages ago from Scholastic and it just kept showing up on my shelf.  It was the kind of thing that I wanted to read, for sure, but it never seemed like I was quite in the mood for a dystopian that almost doubled as a historical fiction.

In the Sunken City, a place once known as Paris, a revolution is about to tear the city apart.  Anyone who opposes the new regime is beheaded swiftly and efficiently.  But occasionally, prisoners disappear from their cells with only a red-tipped rook feather left behind.  The Red Rook is a hero to the innocent and a criminal to the government.  Across the sea on an island called the Commonwealth, Sophia Bellamy’s arranged marriage to Rene Hasard could be the only thing that saves her family from ruin.  But when the search for the Red Rook lands on her doorstep, Sophia learns that her fiance may not be all that he appears to be.  Which is only fair, seeing that Sophia has her own secrets as well.  As the Red Rook grows bolder, Sophia and Rene find themselves in a dangerous–and deadly–game of cat and mouse.  Will the hunt for the Red Rook tear them apart…or bring them together?

Generally, it was pretty good. Sophia is a strong female character, who we quickly learn will not be the quiet, simpering miss that some of the men in her life wish she would be. She’s not going to sit back and let others control her. I liked that she was a fighter. And then there’s her fiance, Rene, who is not what he seems. He is a character that takes some warming up to because he’s so layered, but it’s worth it.  He’s a great example of giving depth through characterization.

I will admit that the beginning does seem a bit slow and takes a while for the action to get going. There’s kind of a lot to set up, like the fact that this story is set hundreds and hundreds of years after what they call “the Great Death” and that they have anti-technology pacts to keep them from using or creating machines. (They believed that was the downfall of the Ancients, which means us.)

Truly, it does really just feel like a skewed retelling of the French Revolution, which the author says was her inspiration to this story. You have a France in turmoil, divided by class and ruled by a man who incites that fury, feeds on it. You have men in power who are completely delusional and have started their own religions which put them in power as a high priest of sorts. Anyone (and I mean anyone) can be killed by the Razor at dawn if you irritate the wrong person. And that’s all why the Red Rook exists, stealing prisoners from the Tombs and freeing them under the noses of the bumbling officials.  It’s like a French Revolution version of Robin Hood, basically.

The closer you get to the end, the more twists and turns there are. You start questioning motives, things you thought were facts, and how certain things are going to work. I liked that a lot got revealed that I wasn’t expecting.  Actually, I just liked that I couldn’t call how it was going to end.

I also really like that this is a standalone dystopia. How often do you see those? It wraps up everything in this one book, which means that there’s a lot of action, excitement, and yes, a few deaths.  But what’s a war if there aren’t sacrifices?

While it wasn’t perfect, it was really enjoyable.  I had a lot of fun reading this.

NaNoWriMo Week 2 Update!

I have a confession to make, you guys.

I fell off the wagon.

I know, I know.  I’m disappointed too.  I was making all kind of progress and then I just stopped, but I have my reasons.

Reason #1: The timing sucks.

November is just a really really bad time for me to try to write a novel.  Between Christmas shopping, Thanksgiving get-togethers, and my school schedule which becomes more demanding as the end of the semester draws nearer, I’m running out of time in a day to write.  My 7th graders are turning in an essay at the end of this week.  My 8th graders are doing debates.  I have to lesson plan a whole mystery novel unit that I’ve never done before, which takes a ton of creativity and time.  So it’s not entirely feasible that I can give up an hour and a half at night to write when my job demands these things from me.  (Teachers, in case you didn’t know, don’t clock out at the end of the school day.  We bring work home with us nearly every single night.)

Reason #2: I just got sick.

This is the part that really sucks.  I believe I  have an ear infection (which I am going to have a professional verify later today), but I’ve had them all my life and I’ve started to realize what they feel like.  Pretty confident that’s what this is.  But it just kind of makes you feel blah, you know?  I just want to curl up under a blanket and read/watch Netflix.

Reason #3: My story’s a little political and I need a break.

When I started this story, I didn’t intend for it to be political.  (In case you’ve forgotten, it’s about two warring Native American tribes.)  But with the election coverage being nonstop for the first 8-9 days of NaNo, it managed to work its way into the fabric of my story.  And now, after the cards have fallen the way they have, I just need to take a step back from everything political, and that includes my story.  It’s wearing me out.  I feel drained every time I sit down to write it.  It’s just too complicated of a world right now for me to continue working on this story.

Will I eventually go back to this story?  I plan on it.  Maybe over Christmas break when I have more free time on my hands.  But for now, it’s just not working.

So a heartfelt kudos to all of you who are continuing on with your stories and making great progress!  I applaud your devotion to your writing and wish you the best as you continue!

The Summer I Became A Nerd

61n3c5uvtil-_sy344_bo1204203200_First Lines: When I was in junior high, the school I went to held a Halloween festival every year in the gym.

Bear with me.  It’s NaNo and I promise I’m still reading (I’m almost reading more now than I was before–what?) but the posting of reviews is a lot harder when you’re trying to write 1,667 words a day.  So reviews are coming, but they may be a bit shorter than usual.

From Goodreads: On the outside, seventeen-year-old Madelyne Summers looks like your typical blond cheerleader—perky, popular, and dating the star quarterback. But inside, Maddie spends more time agonizing over what will happen in the next issue of her favorite comic book than planning pep rallies with her squad. That she’s a nerd hiding in a popular girl’s body isn’t just unknown, it’s anti-known. And she needs to keep it that way.

Summer is the only time Maddie lets her real self out to play, but when she slips up and the adorkable guy behind the local comic shop’s counter uncovers her secret, she’s busted. Before she can shake a pom-pom, Maddie’s whisked into Logan’s world of comic conventions, live-action role-playing, and first-person-shooter video games. And she loves it. But the more she denies who she really is, the deeper her lies become…and the more she risks losing Logan forever.

This was cute. I’m not going to say it’s groundbreaking or even totally realistic, but it was cute. I like stories about nerds (thanks to my love of the Big Bang Theory), so I was hoping this would be somewhere along the same vein, and it was.

Even though Maddie is constantly hiding who she is and her indecision gets annoying at times, I can’t say it’s not realistic. I mean, I remember hiding parts of myself from my friends in high school for fear of what they would think. Don’t most of us, though? I feel like that’s the definition of high school. But it was really funny to see her bloom in the geeky spotlight.

Logan is a total sweetheart, and scenes with him and Maddie were alternately cute and laugh out loud funny. I was reading this while in the company of other people, and I kept giggling. It truly was that funny.

Now, I can’t say I’m a nerd to this level. I don’t read comics or LARP on the weekends, but something about those scenes felt fake, and I don’t really know why since I have no experience with that. Certainly some of the scenes were strange because of the LARPing or the plot, but some were more forced than others.

Overall, though, I rather enjoyed this. It, like the candy we’re still eating from Halloween, may not have had a lot of substance to it but it sure was sweet.

NaNo Update: Week 1

Hey there, fellow writers and insomniacs!  We’ve made it almost a full week with NaNo and I want to check in, maybe give you a moment of levity and something quick to giggle over.

So far, I have over 8,000 words on my draft and it’s alright.  Normally by this time, I’m spazzing out about my draft like this:

754

(This is also why I’ve never finished a draft before.)  I get too stressed out about what I’m writing.  Does it make sense?  (Mostly.)  Am I being too melodramatic here?  (Definitely.)  Oh no, I have to rewrite this NOW!

But I’m trying to chill out.  It’s just a draft, right?  I can always fix things later, butcher what doesn’t need to be there.  For now, I just need to focus on getting my ideas down, like this:

80s-dance-kid

(I think this is my new favorite gif, FYI.)

I’ve been hitting my word count every day, which is kind of awesome.  I mean, it takes me about an hour each evening to plunk it all out, but that’s really good time compared to how long it took me in college with a story that wasn’t working.  So far so good!

giphy

So, how are your stories coming?  Are your stories amazing?  Have you completely given up on NaNo yet?  Did you work on one story for a few days and then start a new one?  Share your stories in the comments!

~Holly

Beauty and the Beast (Timeless Fairy Tales, #1)

41snlt75b7lFirst Lines: Prince Severin happened to be pacing in the little hall when the stained-glass skylight shattered, and a young woman fell through the ceiling with the broken glass.

I’ve signed up for BookBub, which emails you daily with book deals in your favorite genres, and this showed up once on it for either really cheap or free.  Naturally, I struck.  Hello.  I named my blog after this story.  And with all this NaNo stuff, this seemed like an easy story to read while I wrote my own story.

From Goodreads: Once upon a time Elle made a mistake. A small miscalculation sends her through the roof of an enchanted chateau. Stranded until her broken leg mends, Elle is unwillingly forced to rely on the good will of the sour chateau owner —the cursed Prince Severin.

Prince Severin—the commanding general and staunch supporter of his brother the crown prince—is cursed to look like a beast until a maiden falls in love with him. He has given up all hope of shattering the curse, and has only disdain for Elle.

Unfortunately, the pair can’t seem to avoid each other thanks to the meddling of the chateau’s cursed servants. Eventually Elle’s playful manners and Severin’s hidden gentleness draw the pair together.

But not all love stories can end that easily. After all, Elle is not what she seems, and Severin’s life is placed in danger when hostilities flare between his brother and the monarchs of a neighboring country. When Elle risks everything to save Severin, will he be able to forgive her for her lies?

Elle and Severin are interesting characters. They both take a little while to warm up to, but they’re sweet once you get to know them. I liked getting to follow both of them as they slowly started to warm up to each other.  Elle has a lot of secrets, but she’s got a good heart.  And we have a hard time seeing what Severin’s really feeling because he’s used to no one caring.  So it was really fun to see those two open up.

It wasn’t just a simply Beauty and the Beast retelling.  I liked the background plot to all of this, with warring nations and magical beings that inhabit the land. It was something I wasn’t completely sure was going to work (I’ve read other books before where it hasn’t), but it did. The main plot is definitely about Elle and Severin, so this background stuff was so far removed from the story that it was just here and there, enough to make things interesting but not to overpower the story we love.

I’m kind of a purist with this particular fairytale, so the closer it sticks to the source material, the better. This did a nice job of including all the moments that I have come to look forward to while still creating its own identity. I’m impressed.  That’s not easy to do.

Overall, I really enjoyed this.  I can’t wait to see what else this author has done.