Forging the Sword (Farsala, #3) – Hilari Bell

 

Farsala-Forging-The-Sword-Hilari-Bell
Source: Goodreads

 

Lady Soraya and Commander Jiaan have formed a tentative alliance with the multifaceted Kavi. The young commander will direct the army, the last remaining deghass will navigate alliances, and the peddler will rouse the people and forge the first Farsalan sword to be made of watersteel – the same formula the Hrum have been using to decimate the Farsalan resistance. Together, they are Sorahb reborn, and only together can they hope to defeat the Hrum nation before their time runs out.

 

The final installment in The Farsala Trilogy brings all the pieces together. Although it still moves a little slowly, there is a lot of ground to be covered, opinions and allies that must be shifted into just the right places – almost like a chess match – before Sorahb can fulfill the destiny he was created for. The combination of magic, wit, strategy, and weaponry was very cool to watch. Every step in the trio’s plan to take back their homeland was inspiring to watch and filled me with pride. Jiaan, Soraya, and Kavi have developed so much since Fall of a Kingdom and it was truly a pleasure to see them shine in their big moments.

This story is not without its losses, as no war goes without casualties, and the losses are steep, both in the present day and in Sorahb’s time. But the making of a legend is no easy feat, and Hilari Bell succeeded wonderfully in her endeavor to lift the curtain on the ‘real’ story of Sorahb and the rise of Farsala.

Overall, this book touched my soul. I can’t resist an underdog story. Given how the first two books went, however, I think this entire series would read better as a compilation – all three books bound together – because of where the endings occur. It would make more sense if they were sections of one book than each as a stand-alone. Just thinking about our heroic trio makes me a little weepy with pride, but there is so much world-building and background to be shared given the story of Sorahb, that it can be disheartening to finish a book and feel lost. I think a compilation would alleviate this issue.

 

 

 

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – Fall of a Kingdom
Book #2 – Rise of a Hero

 

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1) – Marissa Meyer

Lunar-Chronicles-Cinder-Marissa-Meyer

Source: Goodreads

 

Cinder is just your average cyborg, living in New Beijing in an age where people like her are enslaved, and there is a plague sweeping the globe. Oh, and the queen of the moon wants to take over Earth. You know, normal stuff. So when the handsome Prince Kai visits Cinder’s mechanics booth at the weekly market with an android of national importance for her to fix, she naturally can’t say no. Everything that follows is nothing Cinder could have imagined, and her life suddenly has meaning beyond her wildest dreams.

We all know I love a good Cinderella retelling. I was excited when I first heard about this one, but after finding out it involved a war with the moon, a plague, and Cinderella being a cyborg, I was seriously worried it would collapse under the pressure of so many ideas in one book. I avoided it for years. Then I found the audiobook and decided to give it a go.

WOW. There was so much going on in this book. The war, plague, and cyborg aspects are only the tip of the iceberg here people. This book is beyond anything I’ve read in its sheer amount different topics, yet somehow they all fit together perfectly? How is that possible? It literally defies all expectations. ‘I am not a robot book’ it says. ‘Neither am I a war book, or a fairytale, or a plague story.‘ In fact, this book is everything. It’s like literary stone soup, and I loved every happy, miserable, hysterical second of it. I might have to listen to it again before I move on to the second book just to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

This was a book I found myself thinking about constantly when I wasn’t listening to it. It’s the kind of story where you figure a few things out, and then the rest of the twists throw you off a cliff that only the next book can fix. Except each book follows different main characters and they’re all supposedly going to converge at some point. It’s a pretty cool concept, even if it is another thing to add to the pile of things going on already in this series. I get the feeling I am going to need flow charts and graphs to follow it all.

As far as the actual audiobook goes, I enjoyed the narrator almost always. Her pacing was good, the voice differences were good, and the pronunciations were clear. But the voice that was chosen for Cinder’s robot companion, Iko, still echoes painfully in my head.

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

Other reviews in this series:
Book #2 – Scarlet (Review Available 1/23)
Book #3 – Cress (Review Available (2/13)
Book #3.5 – Fairest (Review Available 3/6)
Book #4 – Winter (Review Available 3/27)

The Dark is Rising (The Dark is Rising Sequence, #2) – Susan Cooper

 

The-Dark-Is-Rising-The-Dark-Is-Rising-Susan-Cooper
Photo by Amanda_HHC

 

 

All Will Stanton wants for his birthday is snow; something that never arrives in time for Christmas or his birthday in the south of England. Until it does. But the freak snowstorm isn’t the only thing that’s arrived in the Thames Valley. A homeless wanderer, a dark rider, and a man with a very distinctive white beard are all laying in wait for Will’s birthday. With Christmas fast approaching there isn’t much time to worry about the forces of evil, and that’s probably for the best because Will has another mission to worry about: he must combine the six ancient signs for the Light before the Dark rises to power forever.

 

In this second installment of The Dark is Rising sequence, we head to a new part of the British Isles, with new characters and old (pun intended), and new mission.  Will Stanton is tasked with finding the second of the ‘things of the Light’, the first being the grail found by the Drew children in the first book. To complete his quest, Will has to gather the six signs, all made from different natural elements, to complete something called ‘the circle’. Along the way, the Dark seeks to trick and distract Will in many ways and test his loyalty to the Light. The danger factor in this book is definitely taken up a notch from the previous installment. Where the Drew children were chased by scary people with guns, Will is attacked by ravens, tortured with the simulated screams of his family among other emotional attacks, and chased down by horses and tornadoes. Oh, and everything takes place over the course of about two weeks, from Will’s birthday to Twelfth Night.

I’m still unsure if I like the time jumps in these books – days when nothing exciting happens are just skipped, but you don’t usually know there’s been a time jump for a few paragraphs – but the short time-spans of the novels is quite interesting. Most YA and MG books that are coming out today like to wrap everything up at the end of every book in a series, and leave the overarching storyline to be mostly a mystery. In this series, however, everything seems like tiny little steps towards facing the BIG BAD DARK ‘someday’. They finally explain in this one that there are four ‘things of the light’, and since there are five books, I assume we’ll find the other two things in Greenwitch and The Grey King, and then we’ll have our big fight scenes in Silver on the Tree. Just saying. It’s a lot more information than we had after Over Sea, Under Stone, which gave away nothing about the plot of the series except at the very very end when Barney is all like, ‘You know, I think Uncle Merry is a lot older than we think he is,” because Barney rules.

I’m going to try to finish the series and reviews for the books by the end of the year, despite the fact that I totally missed posting this last week. Grad school is hard, okay? I’m also starting to get sick and I’m starting a new job (more on that in the October Update post on Thursday), so there’s been a lot going on. Who knows if I’ll get to NaNoWriMo this year. So, this has been your chatty book review for the week. I’m going to go finish a rough draft of a paper now before getting five hours of sleep and then going to work training for eight hours before my four-hour class where said rough draft is due. You’ll find out on Thursday if I’ve survived. Until then, leave me a comment about your favorite use of timelines in a book series!

 

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – Over Sea, Under Stone
Book #3 – Greenwitch
Book #4 – The Grey King (Review Coming Soon!)
Book #5 – Silver on the Tree (Review Coming Soon!)

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

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
Book #3 – Greenwitch 
Book #4 – The Grey King (Review Coming Soon!)
Book #5 – Silver on the Tree (Review Coming Soon!)

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