Rise of a Hero (Farsala, #2) – Hilari Bell

Farsala-Rise-Of-A-Hero-Hilari-Bell

Source: Goodreads

Kavi, Jiaan, and Soraya are struggling to find their places in the new world they have been thrust into since the arrival of the Hrum army. Soraya faces never seeing her family again, Jiaan inherits a role he was never prepared for, and Kavi attempts to play both sides to save his people. As the Hrum swarm the countryside, only one person could possibly bring Farsala’s people together in its time of greatest need: Sorahb. But has the hero of legend really been returned by the gods? Or is he the spirit inside all people that unites them as one entity?

 

The second book in The Farsala Trilogy moves slightly faster than the first, but very little actually happens. Rather than world-building, it focuses more on character-building. Kavi’s past is revealed, along with his deep-seated motivations. Jiaan, thrust into a leadership role despite the presence of full-blooded deghans who survived the battle of the Sendar Wall, matures into his own skin, no longer the scared page-boy from Fall of a Kingdom. Soraya learns to survive on her own, to drop her pride and accept the people around her on their own merit rather than the circumstances of their birth.

The character development is truly what kept me reading this time around. I hope the final book wraps everything up because at this pace we could go for another three books and still have months left on the Hrum’s timeline. I get the feeling that this series would sell best as an omnibus. If I didn’t already own all three volumes, I don’t know that I would continue with the series.

 

HHC Rating:  3 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – Fall of a Kingdom
Book #3 – Forging the Sword (Review Available 10/17)

September Update & Goals Check-In

Update - 9 - September

This post is going up a little late this month. Mostly because I was completely unmotivated to write it until today, but also because I have kind of a lot going on at the moment.

I’ve moved! I’m still settling into my new home, but I promise to share pictures of my space once my bed arrives. Until then I’m sleeping on an air mattress, which is not ideal, but still better than I thought it would be.

Grad school is going well so far! I’m only two weeks in, but I’m loving my classes and the professors are great. There aren’t a huge number of opportunities to socialize, but I’m working on that. I’ve signed up to be a fiction reader for the graduate-student-run literary journal on campus, Redivider, and I’m hoping to get some opportunities to gain more copyediting experience as well.

There has been nothing but radio silence on the actual paying job front. I don’t understand why companies can’t at the very least have an automatic e-mail sent to anyone they throw into the ‘no’ pile. No answer is just plain rude. Even places that I’ve been able to go into in person and talk to a manager about hiring opportunities just redirect me to online applications that are then met with silence. Thank goodness it’s autumn again. Most retail places are looking to hire for the holidays now, so I should be able to get a position at someplace like Target or Macy’s. I’m sending out those applications today or Sunday.

Right before my nannying job ended, I wrote a cool post about the top 10 board books I read as a nanny. Did your childhood favorite make the list?

Tomorrow, I am attending Boston Teen Author Festival (BTAF) at the Cambridge Public Library and Cambridge Rindge and Latin School! Over 40 YA authors will be there, and while I’m pretty sure I haven’t read any of their books, I can’t wait to learn more about their work and get excited to read it! Best of all, the event is totally free!! I am most excited to meet Lindsay Cummings and Sasha Alsberg. Lindsay and Sasha have written a space opera called Zenith that is due out in January, and I preordered it months ago. Sasha is also one of the reasons I am where I am today. If I had never watched her videos about Emerson and their publishing program, I wouldn’t have looked into graduate school here, and I would probably still be living in New Jersey and trying to get a job in Public Relations while I attempted to write my book and actually working in retail. Instead, I’m chasing my dreams in a city I adore. So thank you, Sasha, and welcome back to Boston! Lindsay is also one of the reasons The Alchemists of Loom by Elise Kova was on my TBR that day I walked into B&N to find Elise doing a signing. She was so nice and gave some really amazing advice about writing and publishing that further convinced me that working in publishing is what I want to do with my life. So thank you, Lindsay, for sort-of introducing me to Elise. Once I get a job I can’t wait to pick up the sequel in the Loom saga, The Dragons of Nova! I was thrilled to participate in the cover reveal for this book!

Next week I’m seeing Patti Smith at an event for Harvard Bookstore, and I am so so excited. After reading her book M Train this summer (twice!) I am psyched to hear her speak and to pick up a copy of her new book, Devotion, which is supposedly about writing. You might only know her for her Springsteen-co-written hit “Because the Night”, or because of her marriage to Fred Sonic Smith, but believe me, her writing is something downright magical.

When I’m not working on homework, filling out job applications, or making multiple trips to the store to buy apartment necessities, I’ve been reading voraciously and re-reading my WIP. It’s amazing how many things I didn’t need during undergrad that I need now (like a teakettle). I haven’t read my manuscript in its entirety since I wrote it last November. Reading it again is like greeting an old friend. It’s a relief to know that I still love it and that the story is still solidly in my head as well as my heart.

I know I’ve been pretty terrible so far with the Friday Files posts, but I think they’ll pick up soon. I just needed to take a beat and figure out how to incorporate them into my life. Expect one on time management next week that should help explain my process. In the meantime, if you haven’t read my first Friday Files post, check it out here. It’s all about building a grown-up wardrobe without breaking the bank.

That’s what’s going on with me this month. Let’s check and see how I did on my goals in August.

August Goals:

Walk over 40 miles: My total for August was 43.45!

Read 8 Books:
River Secrets
Someone to Hold
Forest Born
The Diviners
Carry On
Fall of a Kingdom
A Man Called Ove
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle

What I’ve actually read: A lot of romances.
River Secrets
A Knight to Remember
Getting Out of Hand
Forest Born
Knocking Boots
The Princess Saves Herself in This One
Fahrenheit 451
The Diviners

Review 7 Books:
River Secrets
Forest Born
Someone to Love (Review available in 2018)
Carry On
Fall of a Kingdom
Getting Rid of Bradley
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle

The Diviners (Review Available in 2018)

Secure an Apartment: CHECK!!

Secure a Job: Search in progress.

 

September Goals:

Walk over 50 Miles: As of yesterday, I’ve passed the 50-mile mark!

Read 5 Books:
Fall of a Kingdom
Over Sea, Under Stone
Rise of a Hero
Voyager
The Dark is Rising

What I’ve actually read:
Fall of a Kingdom
Someone to Hold

In Other Lands
Over Sea, Under Stone

Review 6 Books:
Fall of a Kingdom
Someone to Hold (Review Available in 2018)
In Other Lands
Over Sea, Under Stone
Rise of a Hero
Fahrenheit 451

 

Get a job: Apparently, I am not the only graduate student struggling with this. Thankfully the holiday season is fast approaching and all of the retail stores are hiring. Who would have thought that two years out of college I would still be struggling to find a job? Not me. I’m also looking into how I can work as a virtual assistant or freelance copyeditor (once my copyediting class is over). I think this whole financial situation will get a lot easier if I can learn to diversify my income and pull from many places rather than one.

 

How are you doing on your goals? Are you still struggling to find a job? Do you have any advice about diversifying your income? Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email at Amanda@highlightsandhotchocolate.com.

Until next time,

Amanda

TV Review – The Vampire Diaries, Season #1

The-Vampire-Diaries-Season-1

Source: Wikipedia

 

Seventeen-year-old Elena Gilbert is still reeling from the loss of her parents in a car accident four months prior to the beginning of the show. She lives in the small town of Mystic Falls in Virginia with her younger brother Jeremy and their aunt and guardian, Jenna. The new school year starts and Elena and her two best friends, Bonnie and Caroline, meet the new boy at school, Stefan, who turns out to be a vampire. The storyline mostly follows Elena, Stefan, and Stefan’s mysterious older brother Damon, as well as a secret town council, made up the founding families, that somehow knows about vampires and seeks to rid Mystic Falls of them.

 

This television series is based on the book series of the same name written by L. J. Smith. I will readily admit I have not read them. Because everyone told me the writing was really terrible. Also, I had already seen the first season of the show at that point and knowing it wasn’t going to be as good made me just not want to go there and potentially ruin something beautiful. Because I consider what the writer has written to be cannon and any adaptations secondary, and I really want this TV show to be my cannon for this series.

This is a rewatch for me, but since I binged it the first time, I couldn’t remember where the first season ended and the second season began. This, my friends, is an excellent show and probably not appropriate for teenagers with the amount of illegal substances, underage drinking, and hooking up going on without anyone’s parents seeming to care overly much as long as they don’t see it personally. Not that that stopped me from watching it in 2009 when it premiered and I was a seventeen-year-old senior in high school. That said, Elena and pals are juniors, not seniors.

Being that this season takes place from 2009-2010, the music is super nostalgic for me. A lot of it is what I listened to during that time, and the tunes I didn’t recognize the first watch through I noticed now because they were songs I loved in college that hadn’t quite found me yet in high school. I also quite enjoyed the references to TwilightThe X-Files, and How I Met Your Mother, amongst others. The CW, like MTV, has a habit of picking attractive actors and actresses to fill their roles, though the CW doesn’t usually go over the top like MTV tends to. In this case, they played it right down the line and it worked out exceptionally well. While we had quite a few one-off characters, the season felt really full.

My favorite parts of the season might be the flashback scenes. Because we’re dealing with the eternally dead-yet-alive, the writers were able to jump into the past and show us bits of American history through the eyes of Stefan and Damon. I happen to know from experience that the flashbacks only get even better from here.

We got 22 45-minute episodes, and the first 6-7 mostly deal with getting to know the characters and setting up the layout of the town for the rest of the show. This was done really quite well. The remaining 15 episodes are composed of a mix of plots, furthering the basic character back story bits while also allowing room for a ‘big bad’. In this case, a bunch of scary vampires from the past show up and try to murder everyone. The season ends by wrapping up the season one big bad and hinting at the bad things to come in season two. If season one could be called “Let’s get to know everyone and hope not too many people close to our characters die”, then season two will probably end up being called “Feelings suck”.

 

Since this is season one, I won’t share any spoilers. Starting with season two, however, I’ll be referencing things from previous seasons, so don’t read them if you don’t want the plot spoiled!

 

And since this is of the utmost importance, I’m going to keep a tally of which team I’m on as far as ‘ships’ go in this series (Only the obvious one this time, though. No spoilers!):

The first time I watched this show, I was hardcore Team Stefan. Having watched other seasons I am now biased, obviously, but rewatching this season allowed me to see all the little manipulative things Stefan is doing while not actually realizing he is doing them. You would think that after 150+ years on this Earth he would know better, but, alas, he does not. So, this time around, I am wholeheartedly Team Damon. And I have no regrets.

 

Favorite Episode: Episode 19 – Miss Mystic Falls

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

 

Over Sea, Under Stone (The Dark is Rising Sequence, #1) – Susan Cooper

 

FullSizeRender
Photo by Amanda_HHC

 

 

Simon, Jane, and Barnabus Drew have just arrived in Cornwall for a summer holiday with their parents and great uncle when they discover a mysteriously hidden passageway to a long-forgotten attic in the house they are staying at. Among the relics and dust, they find what could only be a treasure map. In following the ancient clues, the Drews attract the attention of other treasure hunters, determined to get the prize for themselves in the name of an evil known only as the Dark. As Simon, Jane, and Barney unravel the secrets of the map, they realize the treasure is more important than they ever could have dreamed, and might even be related to the true history of King Arthur.

 

I was gifted The Dark is Rising Sequence as a Christmas present from my parents over a decade ago and loved them. When I set out to re-read all of my childhood favorites this year, I knew this series needed to be on my list. Cooper’s writing is simple enough that my young mind could comprehend it, but it is also complex enough to still make the story enjoyable as an adult.

Admittedly, I don’t remember much from my original reading of the book beyond that it had a theme about King Arthur and Merlin, and that I liked it, so re-reading these is nearly as entertaining as it was back then. I have always loved anything to do with King Arthur and Merlin (Guinevere and Lancelot not so much), so those themes in the story are my favorite. As a child, it was fun to read about people near my own age getting in on the adventures, rather than reading about yet another 16-year-old protagonist who needed to go save a princess or a kingdom or slay something. The Drews are not ‘special snowflakes’ in any sense. They make mistakes, and that is what allows the story to wander where it does and come to the conclusion Cooper had planned. The book does move a little slowly, and the characters’ minds wander so that we get more description than is strictly necessary. Most of these descriptions help build other characters in the reader’s mind, however, and for younger readers, it would make perfect sense that these descriptions would be needed. After all, we can’t all have ready-made villains in our heads to slap names on at the drop of a hat. What I am trying to say here is this: There is a lot of description, but it is not altogether unwelcome.

The scenery, seen through Cooper’s world-building, is wonderful. No matter where I picked up in the book, I could almost feel the Cornish winds whipping across the headlands and hear the sea slamming against the rocks of Kemare head as the tide rushes in. The characters each have their own personalities and accents, making each an interesting little nugget of eccentricities to mine for.

I have no idea where the rest of the series will take me, but I look forward to diving in!

 

HHC Rating: 3.5 Stars

P.S. The covers featured are from a reprint of the 1986 box set edition. The edition was printed in 2000, but as far as I can find, these covers are no longer available.

Other reviews in this series:
Book #2 – The Dark is Rising (Review available 10/10)
Book #3 – Greenwitch (Review available 10/31)
Book #4 – The Grey King (Review available 11/21)
Book #5 – Silver on the Tree (Review available 12/12)

In Other Lands – Sarah Rees Brennan

In-Other-Lands-Sarah-Rees-Brennan

Source: Goodreads

Elliot Schafer is obnoxious. No one at school can stand him, his father at home ignores him, and his mother left when he was a baby. Then one day his teacher drives him to the middle of nowhere and sells him to an oddly dressed woman because he can see a stone wall where his classmates cannot. What ensues is part adventure, part education, part self-discovery, and all about the love.

 

A review of this book popped up on Goodreads about two months ago, and I requested it from my library immediately. Blurbed by many well-known authors, including Leigh Bardugo, Tamora Pierce, Cassandra Claire, Gregory Maguire, and Holly Black, this book was a definite addition to my TBR. In Other Lands was published just under a month ago, on August 17th, and a copy arrived at my library a day early! I can’t even tell you how exciting that was.

Let me start by saying that there are no chapters. The book is sectioned by year, following Elliot from the ages of 13 to 18. The ‘otherland’ is a fantastic world full of diverse peoples and even more diverse cultures. This book is not only a play on the portal-world trope but also a narrative on how our culture is being constantly blended and added to with new words and beliefs. From sexuality to gender stereotypes to machismo and sexism, this book hits it all right on the head. With a Trigon ball.

Being CisHet and having people close to me who identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum made this book all the more dear to me. While I’m sure not everyone will agree, I felt that it did a good job of handling the differences in sexuality and not blowing them out of proportion, as often happens in literature and in other media. It wasn’t anyone’s defining characteristic, and that’s exactly as it should be. That being said, there is quite a bit of discussion throughout of intimacy and menstruation, as well as actual (but not overly detailed) intimacy. So, I wouldn’t recommend reading this if you’re under the age of, say, 14, or if you are uncomfortable at all with that kind of scene, whether CisHet or LGBTQ+. With the addition of a few of the other cultures whose major sexism is the reverse of humans, it can all become just a bit much all at once.

 

Overall I am glad to have read it and will be recommending it to many of my friends, CisHet as well as LGBTQ+, to read.

 

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

Fall of a Kingdom (Farsala, #1) – Hilari Bell

Farsala-Fall-Of-A-Kingdom-Hilari-Bell

Source: Goodreads

 

Jiaan is the eldest son of the high commander of Farsala’s army, but his half-blood status means he can never inherit, and he can never fight with the full-blooded deghans. His half-sister Soraya is a full-blooded deghass, but she will face sacrificial abandonment so that her people can win the oncoming war against the mighty Hrum. Kavi is a crippled peddler, but his slight shoulders hold the greatest weight. Will he choose to aid Farsala’s deghans, who have treated his people harshly for centuries, or the Hrum, who promise legal equality once Farsala is conquered?

 

This series is a re-read for me, but I remembered next to nothing about it aside from the fact that there was magic and a war. I also remember not loving the first book, but that the rest of them were better.

This first volume reads more like an introduction to the characters than its own story arc. There is some world building, but not enough that I understand the hierarchy of the deghans and the peasantry in any real way. There is mention of different languages, but not enough description to know who speaks which and what the differences are. There are also major time jumps. We seldom see what two characters are doing in the same timeframe. Overall, I finished the book feeling somewhat confused. Somehow, Fall of a Kingdom falls victim to what is typically a second book slump, even though it is the first book in a series.

Here is what I was able to understand of the Farsalan culture:
The kingdom of Farsala is made up mostly of plains, though it has swamps on the coast, and mountains, cliffs, and deserts as well. The Farsalan people are separated into two sects. The deghans (deghans and deghasses) are the nobility, who intermarry to keep the bloodlines pure. A sign of blood purity is straight, jet black hair. The peasants, on the other hand, often bear the bastard children of the deghans, who then go on to fight as foot soldiers in the army. The peasants all have curly light brown hair. Their main export is horses, and their cavalry is the strongest in the world. Their belief system is founded on Azura, the sun god, who keeps them safe from the wicked djinn, who use their magical powers to trick men into committing crimes. It is this belief system that sentences Soraya to be sacrificed so that Azura will bless the army with victory. Each of the Farsalan deghans’ noble families has it’s own animal sigil, and there are giant statues of them arranged in a line at the palace to show who is highest in the gahn’s (the emperor) favor. And that’s it.

I don’t have a recommendation either way for this book just yet, but I’ll come back and let you know after I’ve re-read the other books in the series.

 

HHC Rating: 2.75 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #2 – Rise of a Hero (Review Available 9/26)
Book #3 – Forging the Sword (Review Available 10/17)