The Valiant (The Valiant, #1)

Image result for the valiantFirst Lines: The steam rising off the backs of the cantering horses faded into the morning fog.  Our chariot raced toward the far end of the Forgotten Vale, and Maelgwyn Ironhand–my charioteer, constant companion, and frequent adversary–pulled back on the reins.

Back in high school, I was reading Lesley Livingston’s Wondrous Strange series, about faeries and Shakespeare and a bunch of other cool stuff.  At the library one day, I saw this on the shelf and I thought it looked interesting.

When Fallon was a child, Julius Caesar invaded her homeland of Prydain and captured her father–a king of the Celts.  To get him back, Fallon’s older sister Sorcha fought Caesar’s legions–and died.  Fallon has been living in Sorcha’s shadow ever since and now, on Fallon’s 17th birthday, she can finally be a warrior like Sorcha.  But she never gets the chance.  Captured and sold to an elite Roman school training female gladiators, Fallon discovers she’s owned by her worst enemy: Caesar himself.  In a cruel twist of fate, Caesar may just be the only hope Fallon has of survival.  With enemies all around her, and not just in the arena, Fallon will always be fighting to protect herself.  And her most dangerous adversary may just be Cai, the young Roman soldier intent on stealing her heart.

This was a very interesting concept. I’ve read Lesley Livingston before and, as she admits in her own acknowledgements, this is the first time she’s written something that didn’t involve characters using magic. And I liked the result.

This covers an interesting moment in history that I don’t see many other books write about. It’s set during the reign of Julius Caesar in Rome, but it takes place not just in Rome but in Prydain or Britain as well, with the different bands of Celts that lived there. With my fast growing interest in the Celts and Anglo-Saxons who lived in England before the Norman Invasion, this was something I had to check out. And it did not disappoint.

The story focuses on the idea of having female gladiators known as gladiatrix. At the time of the story, it’s been a role that has been growing only for the last ten years or so, so there still aren’t many gladiatrix. It’s kind of interesting to see how it might have been different for a female warrior than a man, and the story makes sure to point some of that out.

The plot was fascinating and gripping once you knew what was going on. (It takes some time to set everything up, especially since we’re no longer familiar with the day-to-day of the Celtic or the Roman cultures.) When warriors of any kind are involved, there’s always danger and tempers on edge. I had a hard time predicting what might happen next because, like Fallon, I didn’t know what was normal in Rome and neither of us knew who was friend and who was foe.

I found myself really enjoying the characters in this. Fallon is strong and determined, but that determination also makes her blind to the politics of what’s happening around her. That’s where Cai comes in, as he wants to protect her as much as he can, even knowing she can fight her own battles. They have an interesting chemistry together because they push each other. I like that. It was even interesting to see people like Caesar himself and Cleopatra make appearances in this book. They were given personalities I have never really heard either of them having, but it makes sense. (Example: Caesar is nice and Cleopatra is clever but compassionate.)

I keep using the word over and over, but it really was interesting! There were so many little pieces of this story that I kept seeing that got my interest. While I’ve never been a fan of Romans (I much prefer the Greeks), I now kind of want to read up a little on their culture.

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The 48

Image result for the 48 donna hosieOk, y’all, this review is going to be formatted a little different than usual for one very good reason:

This is a DNF.  At 17%.

I got this book from Edelweiss as an ARC (it’s set to come out in October).  It looked interesting.  Time traveling assassins Charlie and Alex go back in time to King Henry VIII’s Tudor court to prevent Henry from marrying Jane Seymour.  It gets more complicated when their friend and fellow assassin Alice shows up unexpectedly.  Told in alternating perspectives between Charlie, Alex, and Queen Anne’s ladies’ maid Lady Margaret, we get to see both sides of history: the one who lived it and the two who want to change it.

Sounds exciting, right?

And at the beginning, it was fine. We start in Tudor England following Lady Margaret, Queen Anne Boleyn’s lady in waiting. And that was interesting, because Anne was about to start her fall from grace. It’s a very dramatic moment in history and it was lending itself well to that.  Everyone more or less knew Anne’s number would soon be up.

Then the time travel/The 48 stuff really started coming in and I lost it. I lost the momentum of the story, I lost why I should care about these characters, and I love the motivation to keep going. It’s this whole secret society thing and I couldn’t quite get behind a group that appears to want to change history willy-nilly for personal gain of some kind (I didn’t quite get far enough to piece all of that together).

It just…ok, I’m used to time travel stories where the time travel is more of an accident, like Outlander.  I don’t read a whole lot of time travel stories to begin with, but the whole systematic secret society aspect of it made it feel clinical and brutal.  I seriously felt like they had no real motivation to be doing what they were doing.  I didn’t understand why these characters would risk their lives to change history when it seemed like all they were trying to do was keep Catholicism from rising again in England.  (And that was just in Charlie and Alex’s case!  Who knows what the others were doing.)  I got weirded out.

I simply wasn’t enjoying it. It felt like a chore to pick it up and then my mind started wandering when I did. It wasn’t worth it to continue.

Daughter of the Pirate King (Daughter of the Pirate King, #1)

Image result for daughter of the pirate kingFirst Lines: I hate having to dress like a man.  The cotton shirt is too loose, the breeches too big, the boots too uncomfortable.

I was intrigued by this book before it got a cover.  Then, after it did…I was a little disappointed in the cover.  I thought it looked cartoony and gave off a totally different vibe than the synopsis did.  I thought I’d misjudged it, so I let it sit on my to-read shelf.  When I was at the library last, it was available and truly, I can’t stay away from female pirates.

Seventeen-year-old captain Alosa willingly allows herself to be captured by her enemies in a desperate quest to find one part of a famous treasure map.  Being captured by them allows her to search their ship without raising too much suspicion.  More than capable of handling the crew, there’s only one thing in Alosa’s way: Riden, the suspicious first mate who seems to suspect something isn’t right.  Clever as he may be (and hot to boot), Alosa has more than a few tricks up her sleeves.  Besides, failure is not an option for her.

Alosa is a lot of fun. Snarky and stubborn, she’s not about to let anyone get the jump on her if she can help it. And most of the time, she’s one step ahead of everyone else. I liked that cleverness and foresight.  The quote at the top of the book from Anna Banks calls her a female Jack Sparrow (I’m sorry, Captain Jack Sparrow), and I see the similarities.  I’m not sure I’d go that far, but Alosa does have that same sarcastic, devil-may-care streak they both have.  But she’s not a drunk like Jack nor does she rely on luck.  Alosa writes her own destiny.

For the most part, I found the other characters delightful as well–though a number of them felt flat. Obvious exceptions would be Draxton, the captain who kidnapped Alosa, and Riden, his first mate. And there are other goofball side characters who had a bit of a personality of their own that I enjoyed.

While the characters may not have always been overly impressive, I thought the action was. The plot was very fast-paced and always interesting. It was just a matter of me finding time to read it! But between Alosa being so clever and the constant fights (yeah, pirates) and Riden being suspicious, there was always something going on. I had a lot of fun reading about it all, especially when Alosa got herself out of some tight scrapes. It might be a weird way of describing it, but I thought those action scenes were well-edited. It always seemed to focus on just the right information without going too long and always stayed focused on what was important.

Oh, and there were a few flirty scenes that were muy caliente.  Like, surprisingly so.  I was reading it at school before our open house when parents come meet us and I was pretty sure that more than once I was probably blushing when a parent walked in.  (Not that it’s explicit–just caliente.)

I know this is supposed to be a duology, but as I got closer to the end, that well-edited compliment started to feel a little less so. The story builds up a lot along the way and then as you know the ending’s coming, there’s way too much to be wrapped up or even described well. That started to feel a little like the story had either lost its momentum or had lost its aim.

But otherwise, I really enjoyed that. I’m interested to see where the story goes next.

Slay (Freya, #2)

Image result for slay matthew laurenceFirst lines: The lava hasn’t even cooled yet.

We interrupt our dour doom-and-gloom post of yesterday to bring you something light and fluffy: a marshmallow!  I joke.  But really, this book is light and funny that it can blast away pretty much any bad mood.  So what did I think of it?  Let’s find out.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

After Freya escaped from the Finemdi Corporation, she journeys to Hollywood with her friend/high priest Nathan and Egyptian goddess bestie Sekhmet.  Again, Freya disguises herself as Sara Vanadi, an up-and-coming actress on a television show.  She desperately needs followers because each worshiper she has gives her more of the power she had when the Norse gods ruled.  But her enemies aren’t done with her yet.  Freya needs to walk a fine line between goddess and mortal.  Because if she loses her humanity, who will save the world?

The first book in this series bowled me over. I mean, it was sassy and action-packed, absurd and so much fun.

This book really isn’t any different in those respects, but I struggled with it. Part of it probably had nothing to do with the book. It was a book hangover from finishing a different series and while I thought I wanted something completely different from what I had just finished, apparently that was not the case.

But part of it, I think, was the book. It’s hard to put my finger on what exactly it was, but I’m going to try.

Ok, so Freya/Sara is still as sarcastic and kick-butt as ever. She will grind you into dust and examine her nails as she does so and it’sawesome. But I think part of what was weird about this book was that Sara was so unsure about herself. And I get that it’s not a bad thing to have flaws (she has plenty in other respects, like being pretty impulsive and morally iffy in some of her actions), but the self-consciousness was odd. I mean, we pretty much never saw her question herself in any respect in the first book and then about a quarter into this one, she suddenly starts feeling unsure about a lot. It was an odd tone for her to take.

I will say that one of my complaints about the first book was fixed this time around. I thought Nathan felt like a flat character last time, but that was definitely not the case this time around. I appreciated that. And getting to know other characters, like Sekhmet. She’s an interesting one.

The action’s also not as fast as it was in the last one. Last time, we were getting introduced to Norse mythology (if you weren’t well-versed in it anyway), figuring out just what exactly Finemdi wanted, and discovering Freya’s character. This time, it just felt slower. Sara decides she’s going to be a movie star for all the idolization, but every step of her journey was mentioned. Her spa days, her shopping sprees, her magicking her way to the top. In the reality TV-soaked world that we live in, I thought we may not have needed all of the details. I saw in a way why they were there, but it slowed the pace.

I will say that the end was quite adventurous. It took a very huge risk and I thought it paid off. That was gutsy and I respected that. I’m interested to see where that goes from there.

It’s so not a bad story. I’m still very invested in the story. Just the wrong book at the wrong time, I think.

Compare This! Perfect Chemistry vs. Pushing the Limits

Hey everyone!  So I was trying to come up with a topic for this one and I figured some of you were heading back to school just like me.  (I just started my 5th year teaching!)  One way or another, I ended up on contemporary romances where seeming opposites fall in love in large part because of school.  Who doesn’t love a back to school love story?  Because of their covers, I like to call this the Battle of the Near Make-Outs.

Let’s dive in!  Please don’t get lost in the chemistry.  (*ba-dum-chiss*  Get it??  Chemistry??  Oh, am I pushing the limits of your pun tolerance?  …I’ll shut up now.)

(Fun Fact: these two books have exactly the same rating of 4.07 on Goodreads.  I just saw this.)

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

VS.

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

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Perfect Chemistry

Synopsis: Perfect cheerleader Brittany Ellis’s life begins to unravel the second she walks into chemistry on the first day of her senior year.  Her lab partner is Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town.  Alex took a bet that he could lure Brittany into his life, thinking nothing of it.  But the more he gets to know Brittany and sees she’s a real person behind the “perfect” mask, the more he realizes taking that bet was probably the dumbest mistake of his life.

Pros:

  • I vastly enjoyed the multicultural aspect of this book.  Brittany is pretty typically white, I’ll admit, so it’s Alejandro (Alex) Fuentes who brings the color.  And I thought this book did a nice job of highlighting his culture and those difference between him and Brittany.
  • The emotions of this story are raw.  Both Brittany and Alex have their struggles that they desperately want to hide.  And having been a perfectionist like Brittany in school, I can attest to how realistic her struggles are.  (Having never been part of a gang, I can’t speak for Alex’s, but they certainly felt 100% real as I was reading.)
  • I liked that these two were so very different and yet they found common ground with each other.  There’s just something about that trope that I keep coming back to.
  • The title is pun-tastic.  They meet in chemistry and they have perfect chemistry?  #LoveIt

Cons:

  • Like many romance stories where opposites attract, it plays into a number of cliches.  So there are moments of predictability.
  • It’s been a while since I’ve last reread this, but there is the potential that pieces of the portrayal of Alex’s Latino community may be…um, a little stereotypical now.  I’m just going off what I remember of the story (and who knows how accurate that truly is anymore), but I remember a scene or two that may not exactly be flattering.  And whether that was just Alex and his friends or could be read as Latinos as a whole, I don’t remember.

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Pushing the Limits

Synopsis: No one knows what happened to Echo the night she went from popular girl to the freak with scars on her arms.  Even Echo doesn’t completely remember–she just wants life to go back to normal.  But when the leather-wearing, girl-user Noah Hutchins takes an interest in Echo, her world shifts in ways she never imagined.  They should have nothing in common, and yet…

Pros:

  • The things that Noah and Echo go through are painfully real.  They go through things that teens are actually going through.  It’s not sanitized–it shows you the bad and the ugly about life that many actually experience.
  • The characters are deeply flawed, but in a lovable way.  You realize very quickly that their flaws make them beautiful.  And they aren’t interested in fixing those flaws so much as they are making life better for them.  It’s a great philosophy to have.
  • Even minor characters feel completely fleshed out.  You kind of know what makes everyone tick, rather than just the biggest characters.  That kind of development is pretty rare.
  • More than just being romance, it also has a great amount of suspense and mystery.  You’re going to get sucked in quickly.

Cons:

  • Ok, yes, being a romance book about two people who seemingly have nothing in common plays into a lot of your cliches.  I mean, it’s going to happen.  There are parts that are going to be predictable.
  • There are times when this book really should be rated M for Mature.  I read this as 22 and even then, I had a hard time stomaching some of the action.  I’m not even talking sex (which isn’t even in the book)–I’m talking abuse, violence, neglect, etc.  It’s real, it’s dark, and you kind of have to be in the right mood for it.

 

My Winner: Perfect Chemistry

Why?  I remember being blown away by this book in high school.  Like, to the point where I named my first Kindle Alejandro after Alex.  (That’s not even a joke–I really did that.  I like to give my Kindles literary names.)  Having had the same personality type as Brittany, it was so easy for me to fall into her story.  And I really loved watching Alex turn from villain (you’ll understand why when you know the terms of the bet) to hero was so endearing.  I just loved every minute of it.  Simone Elkeles has a way of writing simple, tender moments that feel so real.  Something as simple as holding hands feels like so much more.

As always, this is not to say that Pushing the Limits is not worth your time.  It’s totally a great read.  But as one must have a winner, there must also be a loser.

What do you think?  Do you prefer one over the other?  Leave a comment below to share your thoughts!

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018 Netflix Movie)

Image result for to all the boys i loved beforeThe letters are out.

This has gotten so much hype so quickly that I had to see what it was about.  I mean, not that I didn’t know.  I read the book years ago when it first came out, so I knew the plot.  But every YA author was all over Twitter spreading love and I needed to check it out.

In case you don’t know, Lara Jean Covey writes letters.  Ok, she only writes letters to her crushes when the feelings are so overwhelming that she doesn’t know what to do with them.  She never intended for them to be seen.  They were a way for her to deal with her feelings.  But when the letters get sent out by mistake, Lara Jean quickly finds herself caught up in trouble she never wanted.  When one of the boys pretends to be her boyfriend to save her from some of this trouble (and helps him get back with his ex), Lara Jean thinks it’s the perfect deal.  Until the feelings may not be pretend anymore, at least.

In a nutshell, it’s cute.  I’m thrilled at the diversity of Lara Jean’s half-Korean family (her dad’s white, her mom Korean) and all that came with that.  I thought the story was intriguing and I got sucked in even though I was initially doing other things when it started.

Lara Jean is the girl I think many of us might have been in high school.  She has one best friend, but mostly spends time with her sisters and stays home.  It’s all she needs.  She’s messy and shy and lives by the rules she sets for herself.  (She makes her fake boyfriend sign a contract!)  But perhaps my favorite trait of Lara Jean’s is that she is terrified of driving.  Praise the angels, there’s finally a character like me!  At 16, the last thing I wanted was the responsibility of handling a multi-ton vehicle that put my life–and others–in jeopardy every time I was on the road.  I’ve never seen another character like that and I’m so thrilled that Lara Jean was able to represent me in that way.

The plot, as I mentioned, is cute.  Lara Jean is stuck in a hard place, as one of the letters that went out was to her sister’s ex-boyfriend that Lara Jean had been crushing on for years.  Um…oops?  Watching her dodge that but also getting into hi-jinx with her fake boyfriend was just fun.  It was pretty light-hearted and funny most of the time.

But it definitely gets deep too. Death, abandonment, rumors, and bullying all play a role in this.  And it deals with them in a way that’s definitely respectable.  It didn’t feel like it was the “adult” response to these things, but it felt like teens trying to muddle through the best they could.  And that was pure and real.

And now we come to my single complaint of this movie: it’s not for younger viewers.

A coworker of mine is of Persian descent.  Her girls are half Persian and half white.  She’s constantly looking for movies and books for younger teens (7th and 9th grade) with a minority lead so they have representation.  I initially told her this might be a good choice.

I was wrong.  And I hate that she can’t show this to her girls.  (Also, they’re the type of girls who would self-censor, so it’s not entirely because their mother’s fault.)  Sex jokes, mentions of porn, and some strong language all make this perhaps not the best choice for younger teens.  I know some younger teens will watch it regardless, but I’m frustrated that YA as a genre (books and movies) seems to be making the main characters more/too mature for their ages.  It used to be that I couldn’t find YA books for older teens, but now I can’t find YA that’s appropriate for middle school, like I grew up with.

And I know that I can’t fault this movie too much for following the trend.  I promise I won’t take it out on this movie.  But I’m frustrated.  (Side note: if you know of any YA books with minority leads that are appropriate for middle school, leave a comment and you will have my eternal gratitude if not my soul to boot.)

Ahem.  As I was saying, this movie as a whole is quite cute.  The love story is adorable, Lara Jean is charmingly quirky, and it’s quite funny.  Just don’t maybe let the little ones watch it unless you want to explain what some things mean.

Top Ten Books I’ve Completely Forgotten

Today, we’re going to be completely honest with ourselves.

I’ve been keeping track of my reading list religiously on Goodreads since June of 2008 (that’s an entire decade, folks).  In that time period, I’ve read 1,436 books (at the time of writing this, anyway), which equals out to about 463,825 pages (excluding a large number of times I’ve reread books that Goodreads didn’t start tracking until lately).

So yeah, it’s more or less conceivable that I’ve forgotten a few books along the way that I’ve read.  Generally speaking, though, I tend to at least remember something of every book I’ve read.  By no stretch of the imagination am I saying that have a mind like a steel trap, but there’s usually something.  A scene, a feeling I associated with the book, something.

I thought it would be interesting today to take a look back at those books that, for one reason or another, I absolutely 100% have no recollection of.  It’s so bad that I may have even looked at this book on the library shelf and went to pick it up again because I didn’t remember anything.

Top Ten Books I’ve Completely Forgotten

1. Lucky in Love by Kasie West

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This is the book that gave me the inspiration for this post.  Apparently I read this and didn’t like it, since I gave it a 2 star rating.  I saw this on another site and went to Goodreads–only to discover I’d already read it.  Things that make you go hmmm….  (I feel especially bad/old since I just read this like 2 years ago and nearly every other book on this list is from at least 6 years ago, if not longer.)

2. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

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I know I read this in college, but I remember nothing.  (The odds are good that since it was assigned, I probably read it quickly and moved on.)  When it showed up on the Great American Read list, it sort of tickled my brain that I knew something about it, but that was it.

3. Ever by Gail Carson Levine

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Y’all, I got nothing.  It certainly looks like something I would have read at 17 (which was roughly when I did read it), but beyond that…nada.

4. The Devouring by Simon Holt

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I have a vague sort of uneasy feeling associated with this, but I can’t tell if it’s the cover or if the book creeped me out.  But beyond that weird feeling, I couldn’t tell you anything about the book.

5. Another Kind of Cowboy by Susan Juby

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I started rereading the description of this one and it jogged nothing.  As someone who grew up listening to country music and wanted to be a country girl despite her suburban roots, I knew why I was drawn to this.  But maybe it wasn’t good enough to remember?

6. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

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Now, I know this was a homework assignment.  My senior year of high school had two Ayn Rand novels to read–this and Atlas Shrugged.  (I recommend neither.)  Seeing the cover of this one sort of jogged something (“Hey, isn’t this about an architect or something?”) but not much else.  Actually the more I sit her typing about it, the more I’m starting to remember.  ABORT MISSION!  ABORT MISSION!  PURGE THE FILES!

7. Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

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If someone showed me this cover and asked me if I’ve read this book, I’m about 99% sure I’d say no.  It didn’t even look familiar as I went through, much less did the description throw up any new information.  But at one point, I must have read it.

8. Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause

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The only reason I know this book is about werewolves is because I just saw it in the description.  When I first saw the cover again, my guess was vampires.  Shows you how much I remember about this.

9. Tartuffe by Moliere

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Ok, so like technically this is a play rather than a book.  But I don’t remember a lick about it.  This was from a theatre class I took in college, I know that much.  But other plays we read in that class–A Doll’s House, M. Butterfly, etc.–I remember.  I must really have not liked this one.

10. Possess by Gretchen McNeil

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I recognize this cover in that vague kind of “Oh yes, I’ve seen this before” sort of way, but I know nothing about the book.  Something about demon possessions, but I only know that because I reread the description.  Oh, and the title.

What about you?  Do you completely forget entire books you’ve read as well?  Don’t make me feel like I’m the only one here!  Leave a comment and we’ll wallow together!