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)

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)

Forest Born (The Books of Bayern, #4) – Shannon Hale

Books-Of-Bayern-Forest-Born-Shannon-Hale

Source: Goodreads

Rinna Agget has always belonged in the forest. Her family is vast, much like the trees she climbs. Then one day the trees reject her, and Rinna must leave their embrace to search for a new identity in the harsh city. In Bayern’s capital, Rin is known as Razo’s sister, and in her position as waiting woman to Queen Isi, she begins to unravel her own identity for the first time. When disaster strikes, it is Rinna’s wish to stay close to Isi that sends her on a dangerous mission with the girls she thinks of as the fire sisters. They travel deep into the neighboring kingdom of Kel, where someone from the girls’ past waits to seal their doom. Along the way, Rin begins to unravel Isi, Enna, and Dasha’s stories as well as her own, and in doing so might just heal her rift with the forest.

 

When I read these books as a child, Forest Born had not yet been published, so it wasn’t until this re-read of the series that I had the chance to enjoy it. The final book in Shannon Hale’s The Books of Bayern series highlights a new character, Rin, the younger sister of Razo, whom we followed in the previous book, River SecretsForest Born picks up a few months after the end of River Secrets, but being told from Rin’s point of view makes this story nearly a stand-alone. While you don’t have to read the first three books to understand what’s going on, you definitely won’t get the full effect of everything that happens unless you’ve read them.

I’ve read a lot of reviews for this book in particular that say it doesn’t mesh with the rest of series, doesn’t make sense, etc. etc. I’m here to tell you that’s a lot of rot. This book adds so immensely to my love for this series. I absolutely adored the first book, The Goose Girl, and while the war seemed to drag on forever through Enna Burning and lingered in River Secrets, I still enjoyed them. Forest Born had the same feel and energy as the first volume and really brought me back to why I loved this series so much as a child.

Rinna fits in…until she doesn’t. She spends much of the book feeling like an outcast, trying to be invisible, trying not to hate herself. These are all things that people can particularly identify with. Whenever Rin discovers something and gains one bit of confidence, the reader does as well. The story is a lesson in self-love and understanding while showcasing some of the most interesting gifts we’ve seen in The Books of Bayern. We still see our favorite characters: Isi and Geric, Enna and Finn, Razo and Dasha, Conrad, and baby Tusken; but we get the chance to see them all through Rinna’s fresh eyes that know nothing of wars or magic or betrayal. It was quite enchanting, and I had a hard time putting it down.

This particular cover was released in 2011 as a special edition to match the original three covers. The book was originally released in 2009 along with new covers for the whole series, each featuring a heroine on the cover. While I love the trend of putting characters on covers, it broke my heart not to be able to complete my collection of the beautiful original covers, which resemble antique paintings. When I was getting ready to start my re-read, I found this special edition cover and ordered it immediately, so now my collection is complete and I can enjoy the books for years to come without looking at my bookshelf and grumbling because the covers don’t match.

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

 

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – The Goose Girl
Book #2 – Enna Burning
Book #3 – River Secrets

River Secrets (The Books of Bayern, #3) – Shannon Hale

Books-Of-Bayern-River-Secrets-Shannon-Hale

Source: Goodreads

 

Razo, Finn, and Enna have been chosen to accompany Captain Talone and the new ambassador into Tira, the land to the south Bayern. The war is officially over, but whispers say the Tiran Assembly will vote to start up the fighting again at the end of the summer. Ambassador Megina’s job is to work with the Tiran people to convince them of peace, but her task becomes nearly impossible when burned bodies start appearing around the palace grounds. Desperate to find the culprit before they all end up dead, Razo must use all of his talents and put his trust in someone he never thought he would: a Tiran.

 

The third book in Hale’s Books of Bayern series follows our heroes into enemy territory, where tensions still run high after the end of a war won by magic. Unlike the first two installments, this one doesn’t follow a magic user. The beginning is slow, as it catches us up on what’s been happening since Enna’s trip to Yasid, and sets us up to follow a sneaky little fellow named Razo on his journey to find purpose in his tumultuous life.

I personally love Razo, who up until now has been the comic relief in the often tough situations Hale’s characters find themselves. With this book, he really takes shape and becomes his own man, not just a background friend. The latter three-quarters of the book flew like a shot from Razo’s sling, hitting upon the exact things I needed from this book.

Overall, it was a fun read, and for once I didn’t remember what was going to happen from when I read it as a child. Hooray!

 

HHC Rating: 4.5 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – The Goose Girl
Book #2 – Enna Burning
Book #4 – Forest Born (Review Available 8/15)

Life and Death (Twilight, #1.75) – Stephenie Meyer

life-and-death-stephenie-meyerSource: Goodreads

Beaufort Swan has spent his whole life being a grown up, and he’s tired of it. His mom is finally set to get remarried, and his new stepdad wants to move the family from Arizona to Florida. Beau, recognizing that everything is already about to change, makes the decision to move in with his biological father in Washington state. His mom has someone to take care of her, and Beau will have a chance at being a normal high school junior.

Getting used to the never ending rain of Forks Township soon becomes the least of Beau’s worries, while making new friends and trying to figure out why his perfect-in-every-way lab partner seems to hate his guts quickly take priority, but some of the answers could cost him everything.

 

Stephenie Meyer celebrates the 10th anniversary of the first Twilight book by gender swapping and rewriting it. Many have even speculated that she did it because everyone complained so much about how the original Edward used and abused Bella, and she wanted to show that it had nothing to do with their genders, but with the fact that one of them was a vampire and one of them was a human. Life and Death was originally released with Twilight, packaged together as a 10th-anniversary edition. I didn’t really feel the need to own another copy of the first book, so I waited until Life and Death was released independently. I picked up a paperback copy at my local Barnes & Noble for about $10.

It was a little slow at the beginning, and I also had a hard time figuring out who was who, having read the books and seen the movies nearly six years ago now. As far the Twilight craze went, I was a bandwagoner. My friend Christine read the books as they came out and was really surprised when the craziness appeared out of nowhere just before the final book, Breaking Dawn was released and the first Twilight movie was announced. I remember the books sweeping through our Catholic high school like wildfire, just as The Hunger Games would do three years later. Suddenly everyone had read the books, and vampires were the cooler than The Jonas Brothers. But I digress.

Life and Death gender swaps everyone, even minor background characters, except for Charlie and Rene, Bella/Beau’s parents, because at the time of his/her birth, it would have been very unlikely for the father to get full custody, so it wouldn’t make logical sense for Beau to be moving to Forks to stay with a mom who should have had custody all along. Everyone’s names start with the same letter as their old name, in an attempt to make it easier to figure out who is who. Though Mike/McKayla was the only one I could pick out without any trouble.

While I can’t tell you how many times or where exactly the book started to veer from the original, I can tell you that it does veer quite a bit. (I guess that’s why they released them together?) Beau is significantly more clumsy, and fearless, wishing to be the adult in all of his familial relationships, and obsessively in love with Edythe (or maybe the obsessive love was just more apparent from the male perspective? Bella’s thoughts were relatively quiet in comparison) and this ultimately drives the story in new directions. The majority of the Cullens have only very small parts, and everything after the slow beginning moves almost too quickly, though you probably guessed that by the fact that this novel is shorter than Twilight.

Overall, I felt it was well done, despite the slow beginning and the character confusion, and I actually enjoyed the new ending. While Twilight could never have ended that way, it made perfect sense for Beau and Edythe’s story to end there. I think I will always love the original quartet more, but it was refreshing and unique to be able to take a book I really enjoyed and look at it from a new perspective. I felt that I was able to get into the characters’ heads in new ways, and maybe understand Meyer’s world a little more thoroughly. I just need a list of people with their male/female names so I can get all of the characters straight in my head. Just thinking about it hurts.

 

Curio Street Reads Rating: 3.75 Stars

Enna Burning (The Books of Bayern, #2) – Shannon Hale

Books-Of-Bayern-Enna-Burning-Shannon-Hale

Source: Goodreads

Enna has returned to the forest after settling her best friend Isi into her new life as Princess of Bayern. Everything is easing into a new normal, one where Enna and her brother Leifer run the family farm after their mother’s death until Leifer comes home one night with a terrible secret: the language of fire. Whispers of invasion by the nearby kingdom of Tira become actual battles, and Leifer’s secret could mean the difference between Bayern winning the war or the end of everything.

 

Although I wanted to pick this book up immediately after re-reading The Goose Girl back in March (I read the whole series in middle school), I had a lot of other books on my list to get through. When I finally got to this one, I wasn’t in as much of a mood to read it as I had been, and the beginning felt slow because of it. I brought it on vacation with me over Independence Day weekend and finally broke through to the rest of the story, which was quite enjoyable.

If The Goose Girl focused on identity than Enna Burning focuses on trust. Enna and Isi are 17 and 18 now, and rapidly growing up and gaining responsibilities that seem increasingly impossible to complete. Enna and Leifer’s secret eats at them incessantly, and Isi has multiple problems of her own, the least of which is trying to support her new husband as their country heads into its first war in decades.

As the sophomore book in the series, the plot is much more straightforward, focusing almost entirely on the war, and the plot has a clear way of ending. Hale’s world building is quiet, yet extensive. We learn about Tira through its soldiers’ words, and we learn more of Bayern’s war-torn history. The character development continues to be superb. A worthy follow-up to The Goose Girl and a good set up to push the story past being just a fairytale retelling.

I definitely adored the first book, and I loved this volume as well. I look forward to re-reading River Secrets shortly.

 

HHC Rating: 4.5 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – The Goose Girl
Book #3 – River Secrets (Review Available 7/25)
Book #4 – Forest Born (Review Available 8/15)