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Friday, January 13, 2017

The Valiant

The Valiant
by Lesley Livingston

Ancient Rome has always attracted a lot of interest from historians and nonfiction writers, because it holds a lot of fame for its government and, most importantly, its Games. Chariot races, gladiator fights, animal fights, animal hunts, and even water games and fights were all stages in arenas like the colosseum for the Roman people to enjoy. Nowadays, people look back on this and can't even think what it would be like- to see people fighting to the death right in front of you. But in The Valiant, a novel by Lesley Livingston, you get not a view of what the games might have been like to witness, but what it might have been like to have fought in them- with a twist. Even though this book, unlike the majority of its predecessors, is fictional, it still contains the context and detail of Ancient Rome,although from the point of not a male gladiator (as it was historically), but a female one. In this novel, Fallon, the daughter of a Celtic king, is part of a society that resists Roman rule- at great personal costs. This means that people in their kingdom learn to be fighters- and Fallon is one of those fighters. On the eve of her seventeenth birthday, she hopes to gain status as a warrior in her father's royal war band. On this same eve, a chain of surprising, and somewhat unfortunate, events ensue that carries her all the way to Rome- but not in the stands, where the Roman people all get to enjoy the games. Instead, she is introduced to the life of a gladiator- in which you kill, or die.
A thrilling adventure that enamors the audience with its fantastical plot, while including a fair number of historical details such as Caesar and Cleopatra, the types of gladiator, the tribune of the plebs, and the grammatical structure of diminutives in latin, this novel is completely enjoyable as well as one that completely absorbs the reader.

If this book was a meal, I think that it would be lentils with coriander. This dish is an enjoyable, consciously healthy dish- and the book is fiction, yet with some historical facts- it contains enough fantasy to spark your imagination while still giving you some historical background (just like healthy food tasting good). A classic Roman dish, lentils with coriander uses lentils (one of the foods commonly used in Ancient Rome) as well as many spices acquired in that region of the world at the time. Lentils represent the book because lentils were one of the Roman staples of food. They were used commonly in many recipes, and hold a fair amount of nutritional value that helped a lot of people to stay healthy. This book captures the essence of the gladiator games, which was another essence of the Roman times- they used the games for happiness. The spices used in this dish are representative of all of the historical tidbits thrown into this novel- the latin grammar of the diminutives, latin vocabulary for gladiator kinds, etc. These facts added a little spice to the gladiator games and the book, just like these spices add to the taste of lentils, which-like the gladiator games-are a Roman staple.
This is a really good book, but I still would have enjoyed a little more Ancient Roman and Latin input. I give it 4 stars out of 5.

If you are interested in this book or want to see more by Lesley Livingston, you can check out her website at


Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Singing Bones

The Singing Bones
Illustrated by Shaun Tan
Foreword by Neil Gaiman 
     A brand new outlook on the Brothers Grimm Tales, Shaun Tan provides inspiring and thought-provoking images to correspond with each story. Each tale has an excerpt from the original story, and Shaun uses objects that are so realistic and primitive-looking that you can almost feel them through the picture. Each object looks worn and touchable, tempting you to reach into the page and hold it, stroking the material while you read the story. Each picture embodies the story- it is not just a single snapshot from a scene in the story- it embodies the entire thing. Shaun Tan uses lighting and color to draw your attention to certain details and focus the aesthetic of the art. The foreword by Neil Gaiman is very attractive to any reader who knows his works, and the foreword itself is well written and causes the reader to gain interest in the artwork, as well as the artist. I think that this is a really interesting book that changes your view and interpretation of the Grimm stories in new and insightful ways. However, the book only contains excerpts from each story. You almost don't even need to read the stories themselves, as "a picture is worth a thousand words." Shaun Tan, using his skill and insight, manages to illustrate the entire tale through one singular image, conveying the entire story while giving the emotions that go along with its components through lighting and how the clay is molded. If you want to see the Brothers Grimm Tales rather than read them, enjoy this book!
       If I was to attribute this book to a food, I would say that it is a really well decorated cake, with details and scenery decorated all over it. This is because this book was very visual and "tasted" pretty good!
       If you are interested in seeing more by Shaun Tan, visit

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Passion of Dolssa

A young woman in 12th century provincial France preaches to her people, and performs miracles that could only come from the divine. The Catholic Church, fresh from the crusades, seeks to “purify” the soul of christendom, and secure their hold on Europe. This young woman, Dolssa, refuses to be silent, and is branded a heretic. The Church hunts her across the land until Botille, a matchmaker in a small seaside town finds Dolssa on death door, nurses her back to health and hides her. However, with the Church bearing down on them, they only have so long, and the more time Dolssa spends in this town the more the Church will likely damn it.
Julie Berry weaves a tale of feminism, religion, and the thin line between being a saint or a heretic in medieval Europe. The prose of the novel is gorgeous, littered with Provincial French, and the characters are captivating. Botille and her sisters are outspoken and feminist in a time when women had few if any rights. Dolssa is an innocent whose words come from truth. She is also courageous and in the face of overwhelming power refuses to be cowed. The whole novel is told from many perspectives including those who pursue Dolssa. We are given a whole narrative and see both side of a complex history. The end in many ways feels inevitable, but the book is an epic ride the whole way through.

This book is a provincial meal. Full bodied and complex the book brings many different events, symbols, and themes together in harmony. It creates an image of a world long gone, but just as visceral as glancing out a window. The deep faith of Dolssa, and Botille’s belief in her grasps the reader, and after every twist you only become more attached. This book is one of the best pieces of historical fiction I have read in a long time and fully deserves 5 stars.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Thousand Miles to Freedom

By: Eunsun Kim

At eleven years old, Eunsun Kim wrote her will.  She thought we was going to die and there was nothing she could do about it.  Her mother and older sister had left to find food and didn't come back for days.  When she was finally giving up her mother and sister returned -- without a single bite to eat.  The famine in North Korea had already claimed Eunsun's grandparents and father.  Despite the overwhelming belief in their eternal president, Kim Il-Sung, and dear leader, Kim Jong-il, Eunsun's mom decided there was nothing left for them in their North Korean town and they had no choice to but leave.  This started Eunsun's nine year journey to South Korea, despite the risks: imprisonment in a labor camp or death.  Throughout her journey Eunsun and her family live homeless, get caught by North Korean police, fall into the hands of Chinese human traffickers, and eventually make it to South Korea.  However, A Thousand Miles to Freedom, details more than just Eunsun's incredible journey.  It also explains her hopes and dreams for the fall of the Kim regime and a united Korea.  Her dreams for raising awareness of human rights violations come to life in this memoir.  Eunsun's passion and voice are astonishing and beautiful.  She doesn't hide from the truth -- she explains the good and bad of North Korea and South Korea.

This book is soup.  For me, this means a light soup with a touch of citrus and onion with some pork.  the savory words and clean flavor reflect the elegant writing style and beautiful hopes.  The gentle warmth of the soup is the hope, dreams, and honesty of Eunsun Kim that define the message of this book.  This book is a savory dish because it has sustenance and retention.  It provides energy and power without being overwhelming or too sweet.  This book is without a doubt a 5.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

When You Leave

By Monica Ropal

Cass is convinced that everyone will leave her. Her father is gone and now her mother is married to some random rich guy she doesn't like and she has to go to a random private school. Cass is determined to stay out of the spotlight and stay in the background. However there is a cute boy named Cooper whose locker is next to hers. Although Cass doesn't want anything to do with him, they just click. Then all of a sudden Cooper is murdered. When Cass' friend is accused of killing him, Cass has to be the detective and find out who really killed him, because obviously Gav is being framed.

Honestly I really did not like the book. It wasn't very well planned out and the only thing I was even remotely interested was Mattie, who of course is the love interest in the end. The book starts off when Cass goes to a new private school that has nuns and she just wants to blend in. Cass isn't your 'typical girl' she's a skater girl, and she has other skater friends so she's cool and better than all the other girls at her school. So she's in detention one day and this guy- Cooper- comes in looking for something in a desk. When one of the nuns walks into the classroom he panics and starts kissing Cass. For no reason. With no warning. Of course the nun is all like 'oh you just wanted to see your girlfriend ok you can both go now' and she leaves detention. Cooper is of course like that was nothing don't think of it but I'll wink at you cause you're cute. Some time later Cooper walks up to Cass when she's alone and says 'you're not like other girls, you actually have emotions.' What exactly is that supposed to mean? He's known her for about a day and says she is special because she can feel things. Wow. So special.

Basically the entire plot of the book hinges on Cooper finding Cass special and not like other girls and Cass thinks the same thing of herself. Cooper doesn't treat Cass all that well, he doesn't try to get to know her and she just thinks she is so special because the popular boy likes her. The book could have been a lot better if it didn't mention that Cooper died in the summary. If it hadn't said that then the book would have had a plot twist and more of a mystery component. But no.

Another thing I didn't like about the book is that Cooper and Cass were in a relationship for about two weeks before he died. Which of course gives you so much time to know someone. And I understand that she wanted to solve the murder for her friend Gav because he's being framed but it wasn't that well written. I personally don't really like the whole 'kid knows more about murder than police do and manages to solve it' trope, it's overused and super unrealistic. However this book took that to another level. The only reason Cass was able to solve the murder was because of a cell phone. In a log. Right next to the crime scene. Because obviously the cops wouldn't have checked in a log for the phone, and you know, the killer wouldn't have just deleted the text or destroyed the phone or anything. And of course Cass would just have a dream about it. Dreams don't work like that. She's not talking to dead people. The dream makes no sense at all. It also bothered me that the killer was so obvious. I won't say who it is, but from the moment the character entered I knew he killed Cooper.

One more thing I don't like about this book: Mattie and Cass' brother. Cass' brother was autistic, he didn't talk well and didn't communicate well, and while I have no problem with autistic people, the only reason her brother was autistic was to show how little Cass connects to other people. It showed how much she was like her brother- just a quiet person who doesn't work well with others and no one really understands. It bothered me to no end that her brother was autistic for the sole purpose of showing how hard she has it. And then there's Mattie. Honestly he was the only character I liked. He was mute, so he could never talk, but Cass could of course understand him. It was never explained if he wrote on a piece of paper or if he signed to her but she could understand him while others couldn't. Mattie ends up the love interest and saves her and it's like the brother again, Cass only connects with people who don't talk much or at all. The reason Mattie was mute was because the author needed to show how hard Cass had it and how she doesn't connect with 'normal' people.

I did not like this book. I give it a 1 out of 5 stars, it just was not interesting or engaging. It was like a piece of stale bread. Overused, old, not tasteful and hard to get into. I would not recommend this book to anyone.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Prairie Fire

By E.K. Johnston

Ignore the cover.  Ignore the summary.  Go straight for the first page of this book and start reading because this is the single most amazing, beautiful, heartbreaking, hilarious, emotionally compromising, pulchritudinous, SOUL TEARING sequel I have ever laid eyes on in my long history of laying eyes on books.  Or better yet, read the first book.  

Prairie Fire finishes the tale of Siobhan McQuaid and Owen Thorskgard started in The Story of Owen, where Siobhan becomes the bard of Owen, a dragon slayer.  The world building in this series is phenomenal.  Set in an alternate universe shaped by the existence of non-magical, carbon-consuming dragons, everything is pretty much the same as our world, but tweaked for the allowance of dragons.  For example, the United States is half the size as it is in our universe, Canada claimed all the extra land, and the Sahara Desert was created through an environmental disaster caused by a dragon war.  Driver’s Ed contains sessions detailing dragon evasion, and there is an international army of dragon slayers that work around the world to protect people from the dragons, called the Oil Watch.  

In the beginning of Prairie Fire, Owen and Siobhan enlist in the Oil Watch, proving to be difficult for Siobhan, who suffers from physical injuries after the events of The Story of Owen.  The book follows Owen and Siobhan’s experiences in the Oil Watch, with Siobhan struggling to overcome the limitations of her injuries, and Owen trying to do his duty to protect people, no matter the outcomes.  Everything is told through the voice of Siobhan, who proves not only to be subtly hilarious, but insightful and immensely entertaining.

The relationships between characters in these two books are extremely diverse and genuine for a young adult book.  The main female character does not end up dating the main male character, and said main female character does not have a rivalry with main male character’s girlfriend.  Owen’s aunt is married to another woman, and his father is not married to his mother, who chose to stay in her country, Venezuela.  The characters themselves are extremely well written and constructed, including the side characters, who do not get written out of the story.  Even in Prairie Fire, when faced with a potential love triangle, Siobhan does not feel pressured to start relationships with either of the love interests, but rather chooses not to engage in a romance at the time so she could work on her other issues, such as composing music of Owen’s deeds and staying alive.

The only things I did not like about these books have nothing to do with the content.  The cover art is rather atrocious, looking so badly photoshopped that I had decided not to read The Story of Owen when I first saw it (I later read it and discovered just how wrong my assumptions were).  The summary is no less convincing, a little cheesy and not at all compelling.  

Overall, The Story of Owen and its sequel, Prairie Fire, were both engaging, entertaining, hilarious, and magnificent.  The ending of Prairie Fire made me sob so much my family grew concerned.  I can not write enough to express my love for these two books.  If this review did not convince you to read it (I doubt it did, these books can not be explained and my writing does not do them justice), then just go, find The Story of Owen in your local site of book distribution, charge past the horrible cover and slightly better summary and read the first page.  These books are so beautiful that I place them on the same shelf as Harry Potter.  E.K. Johnston is an incredible writer, and I am looking forward to more books by her. 

If these books were food, they would be homemade apple fritters with vanilla sauce, still warm.
 Sweet, but not barf your face off sugary, kinda sorta healthy, filling and satisfactory, and so good that you have an emotional breakdown after finishing them because there are no more left and you need more because they were so amazing and huggable (though I do not recommend hugging apple fritters) and make you want to cry and sing Disney songs at the same time.  If by any chance apple fritters are not a favorite or an experience you have had yet, then these books are like your favorite comfort food.  I give both The Story of Owen and Prairie Fire five out of five stars.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Renegade (and Reckoning)

By Kerry Wilkinson

Despite the extreme popularity of the Hunger Games trilogy there were some serious flaws.  This book, Renegade, played into several of them.  One of my biggest problems wight his book was the extraordinary resemblance to Catching Fire, the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy.  In order to fully explain my problems with this book I will be giving away part of the ending.  So there will be SPOILERS. Ok, I'll start at the beginning.  Renegade is the second book in the trilogy.  I read the first one, Reckoning, probably over a year ago.  I found it extremely similar to the Hunger Games when I read it for these reasons.  There is something called the Reckoning where everyone takes basically an aptitude test that nobody really understands how it works.  They get a status as a result of this test: Elite, Member, Inter, or Trog.  That's not the important part though.  Then, there is the Choosing.  It is basically the reaping from the Hunger Games.  A certain number of people are chosen from the North, the South, the West, and the East based on the status they got as part of the Reckoning.  (Just a note, the reckoning is a test that everyone takes when they are 16).  Silver Blackthorne, the main character, gets Member, which is very good for where she's from.  She has a friend, Opie, who she goes out hunting with even though it's illegal.  I'd say that's pretty similar to the Katniss Gale situation. Silver gets chosen as part of the Choosing which means that she has to go as an offering to the King.  King Victor is the king as a result of the war 17 years earlier.  Silver has a little brother, I'll come back to him.  Silver is torn from her mom (her dad's dead, a little like Katniss's), her little brother, and  her friend Opie.  She is brought to the Castle Windsor and makes some friends on the way.  So this all happens in the first book.  She also discovers bad things happen in the castle.  Most offerings die.  She gets them all (as in most of the offerings still alive) to escape after befriending Imrin, a male offering.  Imrin is basically Silver's Peeta.  Imrin is essential to the escape plan.

Ok, onto the second book.  This book is essentially a linking book.  It is bringing together the first and third books.  It doesn't really have a plot of it's own and Silver really doesn't have any character development.  So the Gale/Peeta or Opie/Imrin romance thing happens, which was not done well.  It was more of an annoyance and was never really dealt with in this book.  Silver worries about it but never does anything about it.  If you've read Catching Fire, then you know there is a second Reaping.  Guess what! There is a second choosing in this book and it is made especially to get at Silver, the same way the Quarter Quell reaping was to get at Katniss.  The rules are changed so that Silver's brother is chosen.  And then some more stuff happens and Silver realizes she is being used.  All I have to say is that at least she notices because Katniss didn't catch on this quickly.  Then at the end Silver, Imrin, Opie, and one of the other offerings, Faith, return to Castle Windsor to do some stuff and on the way out Imrin gets caught.  He is still caught at the end of the book.  Basically, the same thing happened to Peeta.  As I said, Imrin is basically Silver's Peeta.  So my prediction is that when she chooses, Silver will choose Imrin because Katniss chose Peeta.  There were more similarities as far as plot and characters go, but those were the most glaring.

You probably assume I didn't like this book because my review isn't exactly praising the book.  But I do have to say that I enjoyed reading it and plan to read the third.  I don't think it was that interesting as a whole, but it held my attention until about the last 100 pages.  Something was almost always happening, which was why I could tolerate it.  Also, the writing was pretty good.  There were some stylistic things I didn't like, but that's just me.  I personally think she uses the word "as" too much but I don't think that's really something to complain about.  As a whole, the writing portrayed what it was supposed too in an interesting way.  There were some places where I would have preferred a little more description, but that was about it.  Overall, the tone and style matched the subject matter and age group the book was targeting.  In general, I also liked the characters and whatever was happening at the moment.  More happened than I explained and what actually happened was interesting enough. It was exciting, if a little predictable, but still enjoyable.

I'd say this book (Renegade, that's the book I'm actually reviewing) is like chicken.  It's a pretty generic flavor and a lot of people say "tastes like chicken" about other things.  That doesn't always means its bad, it's just nothing special.  This book is a 2.5.  Strong in some ways, weak in others.  Enjoyable to read but not super exciting either.

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