Geekerella – Ashley Poston

 

Geekerella-Ashley-Poston
Source: Goodreads

 

 

Danielle Wittimer and her parents had a special bond – their undying love for the too-soon gone TV show Starfield. Now that they’re gone, the show and the convention her father started in honor of it are the only things Elle has left of them. They keep her going while her stepmother and twin stepsisters make her life a living hell.

Darien Freeman grew up torn between worlds. Discovering Starfield and Excelsicon in middle school literally saved his life. Now, the chance to play the lead role of Prince Carmindor in the new film adaption of the cult TV show is more than he can pass up, but will the fans accept a new Carmindor?

Terrified to meet his new fans and foes, Darien reaches out to the Excelsicon founders to try to pull out of his meet-and-greet, only to find a friend instead. As Elle and Darien get to know each other through texts, they begin to understand just how not alone they really are. Will it be enough to save Carmindor and the reboot from disaster? Will it be enough to rescue Elle from her own personal hell?

 

 

I heard about this book last year just before it came out, and I had the chance to hear Ashley Poston speak about it at the Boston Teen Author Festival in September. Geekerella‘s charm comes from its roots in the Cinderella fairytale, tied up in its infusion of sci-fi culture – Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, and so many more. The melding together of fairytale and space opera with verge-of-adulthood problems and responsibilities makes for a totally new story that will enchant readers for years to come.

Poston’s love for everything space shines through in her writing and in her speech. Her next space-opera-meets-fairytale will hit shelves in the next year or two, and I personally can’t wait to get my hands on it.

 

HHC Rating: 4.5 Stars

 

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

 

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

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
Book #3 – Forging the Sword

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)