Red Queen (Red Queen, #1) – Victoria Aveyard

Source: Goodreads 

Red Queen introduces us to Mare Barrow, a regular girl forced to live in the slums of civilization because her blood is red. The upper class, in addition to bleeding silver, are endowed with supernatural abilities. Some of them can read minds, while others can heal, or manipulate certain elements. The silvers live seemingly carefree lives while the reds are forced into enlistment at the age of 18. This is normal for Mare’s world. But some things are about to change. For one, Mare discovers her own powers, ones no one has ever heard of. For another, she suddenly finds herself engaged to a prince: a silver. Can Mare blend in with the upper classes? Or will the threat of rebellion rise, red as the dawn?

The concept sounds really cool, right? That’s because it is. This book is full to bursting with potential. But that’s about it. It’s not that the idea of a futuristic-middle-agey dystopian world is overused. In fact, it’s one that almost always interests me. But we don’t get very much of it. Aside from once or twice when a character is actively looking at a map or when they are traveling, we don’t get a very good idea of the world as a whole. Sure, there’s a massive war going on and I didn’t expect the reds to know everything, but I did expect more knowledge from the silvers. Aside from the immediate surroundings, the reader really doesn’t get very much in the way of layout for the cities and buildings, much less culture.

As far as characters and storyline go, I wouldn’t say I was surprised by anything or anyone. Granted, I had the plot twist spoiled for me, but I think I would have caught on pretty early anyway. I will say that my favorite character is not Mare. In fact, I’m not really a fan of Mare. For a girl who’s supposed to be really good at reading people she misses a lot. My favorite character is Evangeline. She’s the only person I feel like I really got a read on. She’s complex, while everyone else feels a little 1 or 2 dimensional. I think it would be awesome to follow Evangeline for a book or two. I can’t even begin to imagine what goes through her head.

At first, I thought the book was very much Hunger Games meets The Lunar Chronicles, but it did eventually deviate and do its own thing, at least for a little while. I picked up this book because just about every BookTuber and YA reader that I follow is obsessed with it. (The second book, Glass Sword, comes out in February 2016) After reading it and the reviews, I’m hearing a lot of comparisons to another futuristic dystopian series: Red Rising. (Which I haven’t read yet) Although Red Rising takes place on Mars and follows a male lead, it’s the ‘reds’ against the ‘golds’, and the main character has to infiltrate the upper classes and lead a rebellion, etc. So, it’s up to you which one you want to read, but they do sound extremely similar.

Will I read the sequel? Probably, but only because I like Evangeline and I’m really hoping Aveyard will flesh out the world some more. I’d be interested in seeing if all the silvers have the same abilities in the other countries, or if that varies. If you like YA or futuristic-middle age-y settings or dystopias or love triangles, this is the book for you. If you have a history of disliking main characters who are a tad oblivious and overly trusting, however, I’d say you should probably skip this one.

HHC Rating: 2 Stars

Into the Wild (Warriors, #1) – Erin Hunter

Source: Goodreads 

Rusty is a house cat who dreams of living in the wild. He gets his wish when he wanders into the forest outside his family’s garden and meets Graypaw and the wild cats of ThunderClan. After leaving his life of boring contentment behind, Rusty, now known as Firepaw for his bright orange fur, enters a world where every hunt could be his last, and living means learning who to trust. Can he keep his friends safe? Or will the enemy find a way to destroy the clan he has grown to love?

Erin Hunter (a bunch of authors sharing one pseudonym) has created a world in which politics, religion, and loyalty can be tested and questioned. The characters, basically all felines, gain purr-sonality and distinguish themselves from each other pretty quickly in the story. Into The Wild is the first book of six, which make up the first sub-series (The Prophecies Begin) featuring the characters. As of September first, I believe there are five or six sub-series, each having six books, as well as a number of stand-alone novels.

I was disappointed with where the first book ended (spoiler: it’s a cliffhanger!), but since there are a ton more of them I’m not worried about being unable to find out what happens next. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the themes of clans, war, and monarchies, as well as cats in general. Some of the fight scenes are a little graphic for younger readers, but overall they are handled very well and are in good proportion to the rest of the book.

HHC Rating: 4.5 Stars

Flashback Friday: Seattle, WA – October 2014

A year ago next week, I was getting on a plane to Seattle for a college broadcasting conference. At the age of 22, I was heading to the west coast for the first time. I was psyched to see the Pacific for the first time, but I was also a little nervous about my first real conference. Would everyone be dressed more formally than me? I didn’t have a suit then, so I just wore pencil skirts and dress shirts. I was pretty sure I was going to go stir crazy an hour into our six hour flight, so I packed some homework and a book to read. I was missing three days of class for this,  so I actually had quite a bit of work to do.

Atop the Space Needle
Atop the Space Needle

I was wrong about everything. Literally every little thing about the trip, I was wrong about it.

First of all, You can’t see the Pacific Ocean from the Seattle business district. It’s an island(?) or maybe a peninsula(?) in the middle of a bay, and there’s east and west Seattle on other islands/peninsulas on either side. So seeing the ocean was out because we didn’t have time to go all the way to the far side of west Seattle to see it.

Second, half of the people showed up in jeans. That’s broadcasters for you. Only the on-air-only people showed up in suits, and everyone was super nervous and mostly introverted, so we all chatted about our radio and television stations and exchanged business cards and never talked again. It felt like I was at a high school leadership conference to be honest. You could practically see the nerves floating through the air. But it was very educational, and everyone was friendly, even if they weren’t particularly outgoing.

On the way to Seattle.
On the way to Seattle.

Third, I was glued to the window of the plane for the entire flight. Clearly I had forgotten that this was only my second trip by plane, and that I hadn’t been to any of the states we were flying over. In the age of the internet it is easy to forget that we haven’t been to places that we’ve heard about and seen pictures of time and time again. I’m also a little obsessed with maps, and seeing all those mountains from 30,000 feet was AH-MAZING, so you could say that I was definitely not bored on the way there.

This is a LIBRARY. Coolest building ever. It was across the street form our hotel.
This is a LIBRARY. Coolest building ever. It was across the street form our hotel.

The conference was held at the Renaissance Marriott, which is flipping gorgeous and pretty expensive. We had to walk down a steep hill from the hotel to the waterfront as well as everywhere else, so of course we also had to walk back up the steep hill. I wouldn’t have packed heels if I’d known how hilly Seattle is. I remember thinking at the time that this must be what the people in San Francisco feel like, walking up and down hills all day long.

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I’ll spare you most of the boring details, but let’s just say that A) non-seafood dinners are hard to find at a reasonable price, at least without taking a taxi somewhere. B) The business district basically closes at 5pm, Pike Place Market included, so it took us three tries to get there while it was open but the fish throwing was very cool. C) It’s a much father walk to the Space Needle than you think, but the view is totally worth it, and the only McDonald’s we ever found was only a block or so away from it.

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Pike Place Market

I wish we’d had more time to explore, but we were there for the conference so we tried not to skip things. It was rainy the whole time we were there but it only actually rained on us the last night of our stay. Otherwise, the clouds parted whenever we left the hotel. It was pretty nice!

Coming into the Houston airport. SO lush!
Coming into the Houston airport. SO lush!

The flight back is actually a funny story. The friend I had flown out with had booked his tickets after me, and I guess I told him the flight I wanted to be on, but it had been blacked out for me, so we actually ended up on different flights home. His layover was in Denver and mine was in Houston. I left 30 minutes before him, but after an hour hold up in Houston because the plane had to be re-cleaned, I got back to New Jersey more than an hour after him. My dad was picking us up, so my poor friend had to chat with him until I got there. Not that my dad is bad. He’s pretty awesome actually, it’s just that the two of them had never met before and I wasn’t there to introduce them. My flights were pretty great though. I was really surprised by how green the Houston area was! (I’ve literally always pictured Arizona as a red-ish, rocky desert and Texas as a more yellowy-tan desert… I grew up watching a lot of westerns.) It’s really nice there, and I’d like to go back someday and actually leave the airport this time.

I finally had time to read my book on the flight back. The book, unsurprisingly, was Nicholas Sparks’ The Best of Me. I tend to pick up Nicholas Sparks when I’m in an airport, okay? I don’t know why. So, I was halfway through the book and nothing much had happened yet when I got on the plane in Houston. This nice couple in their 50’s or 60’s sat next to me. And then I got to all the sad parts… I should probably explain that I’m a crier. I cry for everything. Sad commercial? crying. Friend’s dog dies? tears. Sad movie? bawling. My own pet dies? bedridden for most of the day. So, sad books get me. Every time. And everyone knows that Nicholas Sparks likes to twist the endings of his books and make the reader bawl their eyes out. Only, I had zero tissues. So I sat there blubbering until the lady next to me basically adopted me and had the stewardess bring me a stack of napkins. She also kept checking on me to see if I wanted any food or a drink or anything throughout the flight. She was nice. That book was not.

By the time I got back to New Jersey it was one in the morning and my flight was 2 hours late. My poor friend had parked his car at my house and still had to drive home after got there. I learned a lot of lessons on that trip, not the least of which was to do extensive research on where you are going before you get there and get completely lost. Lucky me that I have pretty decent directional skills or we might not have made it back to the hotel. Cell phone map apps are so not helpful if you don’t know which way is north, by the way.

Check out some more pictures from my trip below, and let me know on Twitter if you’ve ever been totally wrong about a place you’ve visited!

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Sunshine in Seattle
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Skyline from the waterfront
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Waterfront from Pike Place Market
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Seattle Skyline from the Space Needle
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A totem pole down by the waterfront
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Another totem pole we found down town
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Somewhere over the western U.S.

Until next time,

Amanda

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles – Patricia C. Wrede

Source: Goodreads 

Cimorene is not your average princess. Her hair isn’t blond and she doesn’t swoon at the sight of handsome princes, and she certainly doesn’t sew, or dance, or sing, or any of the other hundred things a princess is supposed to do. So she runs away and volunteers to be a dragon’s princess. Her parents are appalled. Her fiance is confused. Cimorene couldn’t be happier. Until the wizards show up of course. Then Cimorene’s life gets so complicated that she gets exhausted just trying to explain it to people.

Patricia C. Wrede’s writing is some of the best I’ve ever read, and her characters are simply charming. The series is made up of four books: Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, and Talking to Dragons.

Throughout Cimorene’s adventures in the Mountains or Morning and The Enchanted Forest, the reader is introduced to such people as a witch with nine cats (none of whom are black), a magician obsessed with magical theory, a flying blue donkey, a stone prince, a fire-witch who can’t actually use any of her magic, and a lot of dragons, wizards, and knights. Wrede’s world is so full it runs itself, and The Enchanted Forest Chronicles simply allows the reader to look inside for a little while. Rich with swords and magic and daring rescues, I could read this series over and over again and never get bored. This is easily one of my all time favorite series.

HHC Rating: 5 stars

Wellness Update #2 – The Thanksgiving 5K Logs #2

Last week and this week are pretty interesting because I have visitors at my house just about every day. Despite my failure last week to get a run in, I have free time tomorrow to finally do one. In the mean time, I’ve been attempting to catch up on some sleep and do some yoga.

Yoga is always interesting to me. It looks so simple, yet it is easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I am not very flexible, at least not anymore. In 5th grade I used to do those pretzel sits where your feet go on top of your thighs, like this:

pretzel maker sitting like a pretzel

Source: CraftCaravan.com

and I could ‘walk’ on my knees like that. Not anymore. Whether because I grew another five or six inches in almost strictly my legs (I was already over 5′ at 10 years old. ohhhh the stretch marks), or because I started running and actually built some muscle, I doubt I’ll ever know. My flexibility has been all downhill since 5th grade, and my athleticism has only gone up. So yoga, with it’s focus on flexibility and strength, fascinates me. I would love to someday do the 30 Day Yoga Challenge where I do yoga every day for a month, but I get really wiped out after about 2 days right now.

There are some pretty amazing people out in the world who are living a yoga-centered life and they inspire me all the time to keep at it. Whether I’m able to hold my downward dog for 3 more seconds or get into a deep lunge without tipping over, I’m gaining ground every day.

If you’re interested in yoga, you should check out two of my favorite people:
Adriene Mishler of YouTube’s ‘Yoga With Adriene‘ and Rachel Brathen of Instagram’s ‘Yoga_girl‘.

Check back next week to see how my running goes! There are 6 weeks left until Thanksgiving. I’ve got this, right?

Until next time,

Amanda

Seriously Wicked – Tina Connolly

Source: Goodreads 

Camellia lives with a witch. Sarmine Scarabouche is not a particularly nice witch, evidenced by the fact that she tricked Camellia’s parents into giving her up when she was very little. Now Sarmine wants Camellia to learn magic and become as evil as she is, but Cam just wants to be a normal teenager. Then something horrible happens when Sarmine summons a demon, and Camellia will have to use everything she’s learned, about people, about magic, and most importantly about herself, to stop her world from crashing down around her.

Seriously Wicked is a brilliantly woven story. Every twist caught me by surprise, and Cam is a fantastically complex character. I love fantasy writing, and I’m always interested to see how authors bring magic into present day modern world scenarios without the use of time traveling or immortality themes. In this case, Connolly was able to incorporate beings such as dragons, demons, and phoenixes as well as witches into a modern world without attracting overly much attention, despite the odd ingredients needed for spells and so on. The characters are all very real, and despite the magic and mishaps, there is an underlying theme of normality that Cam is craving, and that Sarmine doesn’t know how to give to her. The whole dynamic between those two characters is so interesting that I could easily write a research paper on it.

The story is funny and captivating, and I couldn’t put it down. I hope Connolly eventually writes a sequel, but even if she doesn’t, this is a book I will probably read at least a few more times.

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

Beyond Clueless – Linas Alsenas

Source: Goodreads 

Martha Sullivan LOVES theater. It’s her passion. So when her parents decide to send her to a girls-only Catholic high school, Martha’s only condolence is its amazing theater program, which is staging Into The Woods (with BOYS!). Her best friend for the last four years, Jimmy, is attending the local public school. He’s making new friends and deciding who he wants to be – even finally coming out of the closet! – all while Martha is just trying to keep her head above water with her parents new ‘teenager rules’. Everything changes when Jimmy meets Derek, and Martha meets Felix. Will their friendship survive their relationships?

I had never heard of Linas Alsenas before I picked up Beyond Clueless. Actually, I picked it up because it had the word clueless in the title and I was kind of hoping it was a sequel to the fantastic 1995 film (because it’s based on a play and this book has little theater masks on the spine), but I was wrong. By the time I had read the dust-jacket though, I was intrigued and I had to read it. Apparently, Alsenas has written some very well-known LGBTQA books, so this is simply another to be added to the list! I have to say, I really liked how everything was presented. I often avoid certain themes in books because authors spend exorbitant amounts of time pounding them into the reader. Romantic preference and body type are, sadly, themes that fall into this hole fairly regularly. While this book definitely used the characters’ romantic preferences as a central theme, it didn’t allow them to overpower all of the other themes and ideas that were crucial to the story line. (round of applause for that!)

Although at one point there are a bunch of characters introduced rather vaguely and all at once, Alsenas does a phenomenal job in developing them each into unique people who remain easily identifiable throughout the story. I was worried that with a large cast of characters (They’re putting on a play, so besides the main friends there’s also a whole cast of people seen regularly) I would lose track of the story and who people were, but with the good character development, I had no trouble. This story is richly woven with confusion and misdirection of the kind found in a Shakespeare play, which made it all the more entertaining when the characters stumbled across a new piece of information. Despite its shortness in length, Alsenas’ book is so full of story that it took me much longer to read than I originally thought. I would definitely recommend it to teen readers, as well as anyone who enjoys a good high school storyline.

HHC Rating: 4 Stars