Review: Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon

 

10988It began at an ancient Scottish stone circle. There, a doorway, open to a select few, leads into the past—or the grave. Dr. Claire Randall survived the extraordinary passage, not once but twice.
Her first trip swept her into the arms of Jamie Fraser, an eighteenth-century Scot whose love for her became a legend—a tale of tragic passion that ended with her return to the present to bear his child. Her second journey, two decades later, brought them together again in the American colonies. But Claire had left someone behind in the twentieth century—their daughter, Brianna….
Now Brianna has made a disturbing discovery that sends her to the circle of stones and a terrifying leap into the unknown. In search of her mother and the father she has never met, she is risking her own future to try to change history … and to save their lives. But as Brianna plunges into an uncharted wilderness, a heartbreaking encounter may strand her forever in the past … or root her in the place she should be, where her heart and soul belong…

Amazon/Goodreads

Diana Gabaldon is a fucking genius. Just when you wonder how the hell she can keep moving forward with this story, she blows your mind all over again. Where does this woman fit, in her great mind, all the shenanigans that go on this series? It’s blissful insanity.

Drums of Autumn sets the scene for Brianna and Roger, and while we have new dimensions, new lives to focus on, it all still primarily revolves around Jamie and Claire. If they ever have a quiet moment in their lives, it doesn’t last long, and I can’t help but wonder if they bring chaos onto themselves or it’s just drawn to them.

Jamie and Claire are both strong characters. Bold and unafraid to speak their minds. They are usually at the head of the table, leading others, and with that, I guess, comes not only responsibility but constant shit hitting the fan.

Brianna and Roger add new elements, but I can’t bring myself to feel about them the way I’ve always felt about J&C. Gabaldon gives us blood, sweat, and tears, but they still seem unsure of each other.

I could go on about the writing style, plot, and character development, but I won’t. I’ve praised it all in the last three reviews, and those ravings still ring true. I don’t think Diana Gabaldon has the power to waver and wane in her writing, so I will forge on to book five and beyond.

Cheers!

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Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

11235712Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future

 

Goodreads/Amazon

A few years ago, when Cinder was first released, I couldn’t go to any book blogger’s site without seeing it’s cover. I was constantly reminded that it was a must-read, but for whatever reason, I just never got around to it. Maybe it’s because I’m not much of a science fiction fanatic or maybe it’s the bookworm curse of having a stockpile of TBRs that take forever to get around to.. I dunno. But I finally read it and…

I loved it.

It’s a retelling of Cinderella that I never would have imagined. It’s not elegant and full of glass slippers and pristine ballgowns. No, no, no. It has grease stains, wrinkled dresses, and robotic body parts. It’s awesome.

Cinder is amazing. She’s a world-class ass-kicker with a streak of stubborn, but the teenage girl in her still peeks through now and then. I love her snark and how, despite the way she’s treated by her stepmother, she puts others before herself.

All the characters are pretty well fleshed-out and three-dimensional. You see them, hear them, know them, and the relationships between them are genuine. Kai and Cinder have an instant attraction, but it wasn’t forced (AKA it wasn’t ooey gooey love from the moment their eyes met). Their connection is a growing and evolving tangible thing, ebbing and flowing as all relationships do.

Everything about this book feels real, from the characters to the world that Meyers has created. From the trash-littered streets to the glowing palace, it’s got layers of grungy beauty and a deep, troubled past that it’s inhabitants fight to overcome.

Overall, this book is stellar. It’s on my favorites list and is one of those books that will stick with me.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Cheers!!

Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Laia is a slave. Eli27774758as is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

Goodreads/Amazon

“Good books don’t give up all their secrets at once.”

-Stephen King

I feel as if this is the case with An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. It begins with two very different characters, each a victim of dire circumstances, who come to find strengths they’ve never known before. They turn their backs on who they’ve been told they are and become something unexpected.

I found myself just as frustrated as Laia and Elias as they struggled to find freedom. Their journeys are peppered with riddles and mixed messages, and it’s only as the story comes to a head that all the answers begin to unfold. I think that’s what makes this story so good: they persevere and trust in their instincts, and as a result, they figure out who they’re meant to be.

The character growth is all I could hope for as a reader. Not even the minor characters remain stagnant, each affected and changed by the events that transpire.

The only character that didn’t convince me was Keenan. He seemed like an afterthought and the attraction between him and Laia felt forced. It was unnecessary except to form some kind of lopsided love triangle between Laia, Keenan, and Elias. I felt that the author was trying to make Keenan more than he needed to be – but who knows, maybe his role will make more sense in the sequels.

On the other hand, I enjoyed the tension between Elias and Helene: it was real and had a solid basis in their enduring friendship. The complexity between them was intense, and throwing Laia into the mix to create another little triangle of sexual tension made things interesting.

The relationships between these characters plays an essential role in their actions. They affect each other, pushing each other beyond what they once thought was their limit. It’s awesome and creates unexpected outcomes.

An Ember in the Ashes is well written, creating a vivid picture of tyranny, rebellion, betrayals, and hard truths. Sabaa Tahir has become one of my must-read authors.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Cheers!!

Review: Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

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Their passionate encounter happened long ago by whatever measurement Claire Randall took. Two decades before, she had traveled back in time and into the arms of a gallant eighteenth-century Scot named Jamie Fraser. Then she returned to her own century to bear his child, believing him dead in the tragic battle of Culloden. Yet his memory has never lessened its hold on her… and her body still cries out for him in her dreams.

Then Claire discovers that Jamie survived. Torn between returning to him and staying with their daughter in her own era, Claire must choose her destiny. And as time and space come full circle, she must find the courage to face the passion and pain awaiting her…the deadly intrigues raging in a divided Scotland… and the daring voyage into the dark unknown that can reunite or forever doom her timeless love.

Goodreads/Amazon

Diana Gabaldon is pure genius. Reaching the end of Dragonfly in Amber, I wasn’t sure what to expect next… I definitely not to be catapulted through time by twenty years. I immediately panicked, freaking out that the saga of Jamie and Claire was coming to end, that the story was transforming its central characters…

I’m glad I’m wrong most of the time. Rather than alter the focus from Jamie and Claire to their daughter, Brianna, Gabaldon used her to add another layer to the story, making things more complicated, if that were even possible. I don’t know how Gabaldon keeps it all straight, but she does it and it’s a freaking masterpiece.

What can I say about Voyager that I haven’t said about the previous two novels in the Outlander saga? Her writing style, world building, and character development are superb. I can’t find fault in any of it. It’s long and the scenes can be drawn out, but I find that the length and amount of description are necessary to get the depth of emotion across, to really reach the reader on more than just a surface level.

The change of scenery is a bit mind blowing, and I find myself missing the contrasts of Scotland. Jamie and Claire end up across the world, and I feel that there are no limits to their ongoing adventures. They never seem to settle, and even though it seems to be what Jamie wants more than anything, he doesn’t seem suited to a quiet life. I’m just waiting for the ball to drop, for him to do something crazy … and to subsequently pick up the pieces of my broken heart. He’s done it to me before, and I’m under no delusions that he’ll do it again in The Drums of Autumn.

If you haven’t started this saga, please, please give it a chance. Don’t let the number of pages deter you – every single word is worth the time. Gabaldon is a master story-teller, and I can say that I don’t think I’ve ever been as enchanted or involved in a story as I have been with the Outlander series. As readers, that’s what we crave, isn’t it?

Cheers!

 

Writing Challenge Week 6: Write About Your Feelings For Someone

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You. Yes, you. How could you do this to me? How could you make me feel this way day after day after day? Like I’m not good enough. Like my dreams will always be out of reach because they are beyond the strength and courage I have to accomplish them.

I’m angry with you, and it’s a difficult emotion because even while I’m raging, I can’t let you go. The people who love me tell you that you’re too harsh, that you’re too judgmental, that you should give me a break.

I just nod when I hear them say these things to you; nod and smile, all the while knowing that their words will never reach you, because this is something we need to settle between us. It’s a conversation we’ve had time and time again, and sometimes, I’m able to overcome you, bury you for a while. But you always manage to dig yourself back to the surface and sneak up on me.

And it starts all over. I wonder how I could let you back in and you tell me that I’m not good enough. How do I rid myself of you when you’re a part of me? If I could physically cut you out, I would, because I know I’m not the person you think I am. I’m better than that, and I’m sick of you telling me otherwise.

I have work to do in some areas of my life, but you…. you like to make me think that because I have flaws that I’m not worth loving. You’re a disease, a parasite that eats away at me until there’s nothing left and I realize that I’ve let it happen again. I rebuild my self-confidence and push through, making myself stronger each time, and that’s how I know I’m better than you like to think.

We are in constant battle, you and I, but I like to think I’m winning. As easy as it is to give in to you sometimes, I have more than you could ever offer, and I see that more and more clearly every day. Soon, I’ll be rid of you. You’ll be a small insignificant voice straining to be heard, and I’ll laugh at your efforts to bring me down. I’ll do all the things you’ve always said are impossible, and you’ll have no other choice but to dissolve.

I wish I could say a final goodbye right this moment, but it’s not that easy. You cling to me, but you’re losing your grip, and one day you’ll be the one to fall away.

 

Writing Challenge Week 5: Write a Letter to Anybody

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5. write a letter to anybody

Dear Sully,

You are my little boy. You are an epic love, and I never knew my heart could hold what it does for you. You’ve taught me to thrive in the simplicity of life. You’ve taught me patience as you present me with new challenges each and every day. You’ve taught me the importance of validation and expression, and as a result, I can slow down and see people for who they are and how they feel. I’m no longer rushing through life, no longer trying to accomplish the next big goal as quickly as I can, and I now enjoy the small moments that life has to offer. Ultimately, my life is better … all because of you.

I didn’t even know if I wanted children once upon a time. I wasn’t sure I could handle the demands that a baby would place on me. I’m an introvert. I like my alone time and I need my space. I love my sleep, and the quiet is my happy place. You stirred all that up, and I’ll admit, it was hard at first. I didn’t know what I was doing. I wondered what I had gotten myself into, mostly because I was terrified and I didn’t want to screw it up. But you were patient with me. You let me make mistakes and you gave me chance after chance after chance to get it right.

Over two years later, I’d like to think that I’ve got it somewhat figured out now. I won’t get it right all the time, but I want you to know that I’ll always try. I’ll always strive to do my best by you, and I hope you’ll never doubt my love. We’ve had bad days. We’ve had days where we struggle to communicate, where we butt heads and don’t see eye to eye. But the good days full of giggles, snuggles, and hugs far outweigh those others, and I promise I’ll do what I can to make sure it stays that way.

We’ll still argue, I’m sure. You won’t like what I have to say sometimes, but that’s okay. I’m prepared for that because I want you to grow up to be a good man. I want you to realize that although you are our whole world, the whole world does not revolve around you. I want you to be humble and know how to work hard. I hope to teach you empathy and compassion, logic and respect. I hope you’ll learn sacrifice and selflessness, but I also hope you’ll know when to walk away and take care of yourself. Essentially, I hope to teach you to maintain balance in your life, and that you’ll be better, do better than your parents. I hope to teach you at least half as much as you’ve taught me.

I love you, munchkin.

Love,

Mom

Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

20958632Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous
they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

Goodreads/Amazon

Rating: 2/5 Stars

The synopsis of The Darkest Part of the Forest is epic. It hints at a creepy and magical world and effects a level of excitement that makes you clear your entire day for reading, feeding your family be damned. But as I began turning the pages, fully expecting to be sucked in, I  felt my attention swaying as the story fell short over and over again.

I really dislike giving low ratings, but I can’t go any higher than two stars for TDPotF and here’s why:

  1. The world building was mediocre. I couldn’t envision the town or even the fairy forest, and the tension we were supposed to feel between the two worlds fell flat. Even the legend of the prince and the shock of his waking – which I guess was supposed to be a major part of the story? – didn’t feel like a big deal.
  2. The characters were underdeveloped and inconsistent. I couldn’t connect with any of them, and I’m kinda depressed about it because there was so much potential for them to be so much more than they were. {ahem, Jack! I mean… the guy could have his own novel.} What little personality they had didn’t quite fit with their actions, making the believability nil. There was no development in the relationships, and insta-love without any real foundation is always boring.
  3. The weird kissing thing. We were given a half-assed reason as to why Hazel felt the need to kiss every boy she saw, but I’m still not convinced that it was good enough. It was just kinda weird and never came in to play. She was supposed to be liked and admired by all, but I didn’t see what was so awe-inspiring about her. She was a cookie-cutter character with none of the flare we were told she was supposed to have.
  4. The plot was rushed. All the action and twists felt crammed in to too few pages, and the direness of the situation didn’t feel real. I guess without that essential connection to the characters, I couldn’t really care about what happened to them.

 

However, the writing style kept me intrigued and turning the pages, allowing me to see why Holly Black is a bestselling author. Maybe this particular novel was just rushed through to meet a deadline. Maybe she was in a slump. I don’t know what happened, but it needed a few more runs through the editing process or maybe a hundred more pages. There was such potential here, and it saddens me to say that it didn’t live up to the hype.

Great idea; poor execution.

This is the first book of Black’s I’ve read, so I won’t give up yet. I’ve heard great things about her books and will definitely be giving them another shot.

Cheers!

Writing Challenge Week 4: Rant About Anything

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4. rant about anything

 

To rant is to complain vehemently and aggressively about something. To go off on a tangent. To let your emotions get a hold of you and have diarrhea of the mouth.

I guess I’ve come to a point in my life when I don’t really have anything to complain about. It may sound like false humility and annoying positivity, but it’s true. I have my observations, don’t get me wrong, but I try not to take it all too personally anymore.

I’m about to hit my 29th birthday, and while I’m under no delusion that I’ve got it all figured out, I don’t feel like I’m scrambling. I’ve learned to let things go and, most importantly, I’ve come to terms with the fact that my opinion, no matter how heartfelt, is mostly insignificant in this world. Of course, my thoughts are important to me and to those that love me, but in the big scheme of things, it’s a pretty small thing. I’m one person in a world of billions and expecting undivided attention is, frankly, narcissistic. With that being said, I also believe that one person does have the ability to affect everyone else. Whether it be by words or actions, people can inflict pain, encourage hope, build love, stir anger, or instill excitement.

It’s a strange balance to keep: believing we are both insignificant and significant. They each have their time and place. On the one hand, the world doesn’t revolve around you; on the other hand, you have the power to effect change. I’ve come to determine that life is a balancing act and full of contradictions.

I’m quite certain that I haven’t made much of an impact in the world as a whole. All I can do is focus on those close to me, and in doing so, I believe I’ve made a positive difference there. That’s all we can all hope for really, but for those of us with big dreams, we still strive for more.

The majority of people live under the idea that “it can’t happen to me.” They don’t change the batteries in their fire alarms because they doubt a fire will ever start in their home. They don’t alter their diet and lifestyle under doctor’s orders because they don’t believe they could ever have a heart attack. “That happens to other people.” People see themselves as invincible, as beyond the scope of tragedy, but the truth is that these things have to happen to someone. Why not you?

On the other side of the same coin, I believe if tragedies can happen to anyone, so can success. When it comes to having big dreams, we are always told of the obstacles we’ll face. We are always told to expect heartbreak and hardship and that success is unlikely if not impossible. What I’ve come to learn is that success is always within reach of those who keep trying to better themselves, who keep pushing and keep working, who don’t make excuses. If you give in to the negativity, then those dreams are most certainly never going to come to fruition. Success has to happen to someone. Why not you?

I think the point I’m trying to make is that having a sense of humility is just as important as having ambition. Prepare for the worst, but believe in the best. If I’ve learned anything in my observations of those I look up to, it’s that they follow a path of hard work and accomplishment while believing in compassion and consideration for others.

I’m not telling you how to live your life. This post is simply a compilation of my observations and the conclusions I’ve come to as to how I want to live my life. The world is full of extremes, and I want to settle somewhere right in the middle.

Cheers!

 

 

Teaser Tuesday

20958632Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The
faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

Goodreads/Amazon

“They’d come for the first time two months before, on a full moon. Three of them, dressed in silvery gray, on three horses — one black, one white, and the third red.”

 

Alright, so even I’m curious about this teaser. I opened to a random page and picked the first two sentences my eyes came upon, so I have no idea what this little excerpt is referring to. The Darkest Part of the Forest has been filled with magic and monsters so far, so I can only imagine…

Cheers!

 

Sunday Stackup

There’s nothing quite like a pile of new books to get through, and no matter how many unread books I have, I still tend to stock up on new additions each week. #thelifeofabooknerd

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This week’s haul has some pretty epic stories that won’t be sitting unread long. Much to the happiness of my husband, they are either library books or ebooks – he thinks I own too many books; I tell him I just don’t have enough shelves. It’s an argument he’ll never win because I’ll never surrender. Booknerds are fierce when it comes to protecting their beloved stories, and I’ve bared my teeth about it a time or two.

Anyway, here’s what’s new this week!

 

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Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

From the author of the breathtaking bestsellers Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber, the extraordinary saga continues.

Their passionate encounter happened long ago by whatever measurement Claire Randall took. Two decades before, she had traveled back in time and into the arms of a gallant eighteenth-century Scot named Jamie Fraser. Then she returned to her own century to bear his child, believing him dead in the tragic battle of Culloden. Yet his memory has never lessened its hold on her… and her body still cries out for him in her dreams.

Then Claire discovers that Jamie survived. Torn between returning to him and staying with their daughter in her own era, Claire must choose her destiny. And as time and space come full circle, she must find the courage to face the passion and pain awaiting her…the deadly intrigues raging in a divided Scotland… and the daring voyage into the dark unknown that can reunite or forever doom her timeless love.

Goodreads/Amazon

Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series as seriously taken over my soul. I can’t recall what life was like before I began this series, and I certainly don’t even want to contemplate what it’ll be like once I’m finished. Thank goodness they are almost a thousand pages each.

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The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

Goodreads/Amazon

About a hundred pages in already, and it’s a keeper. Magical and a bit tragic with a flair of mystery so far. I can tell this is going to be a quick read, but it’s not exactly easy, hence the tragic.

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Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan

A stunning story of love, betrayal, and family, set against the backdrop of a changing Taiwan over the course of the twentieth century.

February 28, 1947: Trapped inside the family home amid an uprising that has rocked Taipei, Dr. Tsai delivers his youngest daughter, the unnamed narrator of Green Island, just after midnight as the city is plunged into martial law. In the following weeks, as the Chinese Nationalists act to crush the opposition, Dr. Tsai becomes one of the many thousands of people dragged away from their families and thrown into prison. His return, after more than a decade, is marked by alienation from his loved ones and paranoia among his community—conflicts that loom over the growing bond he forms with his youngest daughter. Years later, this troubled past follows her to the United States, where, as a mother and a wife, she too is forced to decide between what is right and what might save her family—the same choice she witnessed her father make many years before.

As the novel sweeps across six decades and two continents, the life of the narrator shadows the course of Taiwan’s history from the end of Japanese colonial rule to the decades under martial law and, finally, to Taiwan’s transformation into a democracy. But, above all, Green Island is a lush and lyrical story of a family and a nation grappling with the nuances of complicity and survival, raising the question: how far would you be willing to go for the ones you love?

Goodreads/Amazon

I mean, doesn’t Green Island just sound heartbreakingly incredible? I feel a few tears and some chocolate in my future…

What do you guys have this week?

Cheers!!