Bright We Burn (The Conqueror’s Saga #3)

Bright We Burn

And I Darken (#1)

Now I Rise (#2)

Just in case someone is happening on this review in the future, I feel like it is relevant to mention that I am reading this book, and writing this review, the week of the Judge Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearing. I’m writing this review the day after Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the sexual assault that she experienced at the hands of Kavanaugh. Today they are voting to move him out of committee and tomorrow will be the confirmation vote in the Senate.

Reading this book quite literally soothed my soul this week. I ordered a signed copy which arrived soon after its July 5th publication date, but I kept putting off reading it. First it was because I was in the middle of other things, then I decided I didn’t want to read the signed copy, and so I put the copy at the library on hold. It just became available last week and I picked it up and began reading it over the weekend. Just before all these real world events began unfolding and deepening my rage stores.

This book is very violent, and yet it was so relaxing. Lada Dracul has taken over Wallachia and as prince she has decided that she is not going to be a vassal state to Sultan Mehmed anymore. In the first 100 pages she murders twenty-five thousand people and my pulse was so calm and steady. She did it out of revenge, to send a message, and to pay back the deaths of her own people tenfold. There is no reasoning with her – she has one goal and she will see it achieved. It was beautiful.

The context within which I was reading this book removed all sympathy I have for Radu or Mehmed. My heart was only for Lada. I wanted more blood, more destruction, more suffering heaped upon the men and the systems that would hold her back and prevent her from being the prince and dragon of her country. Every success for her was something I experienced as though it was my own. Her perseverance through capture, her absolute brutality, all of it made me feel like it was possible to seek justice at all costs and experience the fulfillment of success along the way.

She does suffer losses, but we rarely see a vulnerable Lada – when something is taken from her, she takes three things from the person who would dare to steal from the dragon of Wallachia. Justice, revenge, and consequences that were lofty enough to be impressive as well as deterrents. I was cheering the entire time.

Some of the people she kills simply got in the way, or were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their deaths as named, secondary characters might have made me sad before, but honestly they didn’t touch me. I didn’t have the space for mercy this week. My mind and soul only wanted justice, and in its absence, revenge.

This series is brilliant. I have never read anything like it. Every book was a triumph, the story gorgeously told, the characters are developed with depth and care. I demand that you read every book in this trilogy. If you are a woman who is furious in our current times, you must read this trilogy. Take refuge in these stories. They will bolster you and build you up. Let Kiersten White spin you a tale of a woman who will control her own destiny or die trying. GO GET THESE BOOKS.

The Beauty of Darkness (The Remnant Chronicles #3)

The Beauty of Darkness

The Kiss of Deception (#1)
The Heart of Betrayal (#2)

I have terrible news.

This book is SEVEN. HUNDRED. PAGES. LONG.

But that’s not all. I put it down at page 369.

I cannot remember a trilogy I have attempted to read that has begun so intensely yet left me uncaring enough to leave it unfinished. I don’t even know what to say. I’m so disappointed.

Rafe and his band of merry men have helped Princess Arabella escape from Venda, but they have also escaped with the knowledge that the Komizar has an army 150,000 strong and is planning to march on the other kingdoms. Kaden and Griz catch up to them and are taken prisoner, only to be freed to help them fight off a band of Rahtan sent by the Komizar to kill them all. They escape and make it to a Dalbreck outpost, where Rafe discovers that both his parents have died in his absence, leaving him as the new King.

Lia still needs to press on to Morrighan. She sees it as her duty to save her parents and to uncover the snakes in her father’s cabinet and in the Royal Scholar’s employ. Rafe insists that she not go, to the point that he has her under guard everywhere they go at the outpost. This eats at their relationship until Rafe decides he has no choice but to let her go. So she and Kaden and another person that isn’t important right now end up getting into Civica (the city outside the castle) after a brief stop in Terravin, the city she ran away to in the first book.

We see Rafe fighting battles to maintain his control over Dalbreck and Lia trying to stay alive long enough to uncover the traitors in Morrighan and Kaden continues to pine for her to no avail and…well…I just realized that I don’t care how this ends.

Lia’s character arc ended at the end of the second book. If anything, in this third book she goes past the strong, independent female lead into the bitchy, drunk with her own independence, jerk character. I mean, she’s really shitty to everybody through almost page 400 and part of why I stopped is that I discovered I wasn’t rooting for her anymore. I didn’t care if she lived or died. All the tension surrounding her success was completely gone for me.

I loved Rafe as a character. He had the same misgivings Lia did about their marriage but, under the cover of a false identity, he came to love her for who she was and I wanted to see that love story continue and work through their differences. But I’m not gonna read about them whining at each other for 300 pages and wait another 200 more before they even see each other again. That’s not fair to set up that kind of love story and then just kill it in the third book.

Oh and this gift she has – oh boy do I not care even a little about it. It’s like it’s just her gut talking to her about what she should beware of, a little warning system that’s like an overactive conscience. I was nosey and looked at how the book ends and BARF. No thank you. To give me this turd of a third book and then Deus Ex Machina the battle scene with her up-until-this-point pointless gift? Nah.

Also, for a girl who escaped to find her own destiny, she sure lets holy texts determine her every move, breath, and thought. I did not expect that this would be an independent woman turned religious fanatic trilogy but I am not the one for that nonsense.

I mean, I’m glad I read the first book because it was such a ride, but this would have worked just as well as a duology: make the second book a little longer and detail their escape and return to Dalbreck. They make sure his throne is secure and then move as a united front to defend Morrighan. There’s a kind of Hobbit Battle of the Five Armies moment where kind of enemies come together to fight the larger evil, and then all is well in the end. I don’t know, I don’t usually say how a book should have been written but this third book was just about as unnecessary as that fourth Hobbit movie.

Back to the library it goes. If you’re a completionist then please finish this third book and let me know what you think, but for me it’s a no go. I have other things waiting to be read.

Story Genius

Story Genius

In the process of writing my book I have been working my way through several craft books a.k.a. How-To books meant to help you outline, structure, and write your characters, plot, and overall novel. Stephen King’s On Writing was the first one I read, and it spurred me on to begin what is now 61,000 words strong. The next book I opened was Lisa Cron’s Story Genius, and while very different from King’s how-to, it has been just as useful in helping me craft my story.

Cron focuses on what she calls a third rail – the central idea of the book which is the main character’s big problem or misunderstanding of life. This is the why behind all of his or her actions, and should spark all decisions leading up to the major aha! moment, which is when he or she sees past her misbelief and sees clearly for the first time. Every scene included in the book, Cron writes, should touch this misbelief/resolution in some way to make sure the reader has a clear connection to why everything is happening.

A common complaint I have with the books that I ultimately set aside is that I stopped caring about the outcome. You’ll read a review later this week of a book that I set aside not because I was bored, but because I just didn’t care how it ended. Cron explains that a book should not just be a run down of what’s happening, it should also always be evident why those events are important, from something as simple as going to the grocery store to something as complex as a huge multi-army battle. This really spoke to me so I ate up all her advice about making sure I constantly ask why something is happening.

In partnership with the why is the how you communicate the why to the reader. It seems really simple, but something should happen, which causes the character to act, and that action causes something else to happen, which sparks yet another action. Everything should be connected, and if everything is connected then everything will speak back to the why behind the main character’s story. Just because something is well-written doesn’t mean it should be in the book. The reader isn’t reading for beautiful writing, they are reading for a good story that helps their mind escape.

The part of the book that I read quickly through but plan to come back to later were the last 3-4 chapters covering her organizational method for outlining, planning, and keeping track of the internal workings of individual scenes and the novel as a whole. Folders and scene cards and character cards – if I had read this book before I started writing I probably would have gotten caught up in the organization of it all and written very little. I probably would have gotten very frustrated with myself and maybe not have written anything at all, convinced that I’m not smart enough or whatever.

Once this first draft is done, though, this system will be very helpful in revising and rewriting. I can fill these scene cards and character info pages and world rules lists as I reread through my manuscript, and then I can rearrange those details as I need to. I am glad I wrote from my mind first and will organize second. This book will be right next to me once I’m ready (hopefully Halloween, fingers crossed!).

For someone who is just starting out and excited, I’m not sure if I would recommend this book as one of the first ones to read. It’s pretty full of “you musts” and “if you want to write a good story you have tos” and I found that a little…I don’t know, aggressive and discouraging? I mean, if a person hasn’t done a lot of writing in other areas I might, just to make sure they understand how to structure a novel. But if you read a lot and write a lot, you’re probably okay getting started and coming back to this book when you need some motivation or guidance when you get stuck.

It’s got a lot of great advice though, and so as long as you listen to all of it and take what you need, it’s a great book to have on your shelf if you’re plugging away at your own book! Go get you some.

Vicious (Villains #1)

Vicious

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1)

V.E. Schwab is an absolute delight on Twitter. Following her brings me publishing info, random trivia, and delightful animal pictures and travel anecdotes. I read the first book in one of her other trilogies a while ago and my experience there echoed my experience of Vicious, the first in her Villains series.

Schwab’s style is very much like a cartoon bomb with a very long fuse that is lit from a far distance and the only thing we get to see is the slow progression of the lit end as it eats away at the fuse, moving towards the large explosion at the end. We’re not allowed to see where the explosion will happen or how big it might be. She expects us to be interested in the little things and to follow along, trusting that something huge will come at the end.

I see why steady fans are absolutely rabid for her. She respects the patience and intelligence of her readers and writes for the story and not necessarily for flashy chapters. I found myself having to ration my patience, motivate myself to read just one more chapter, because previous experience has shown me that Schwab doesn’t disappoint, she just makes you wait for it.

This style of writing and my understanding of it kept me reading this book, but it also kept me away from the sequels to A Darker Shade of Magic. When I have more time, maybe over the summer or someday when I can take time away from teaching, I can give more of my patience to smart, slow, fireworks finale books like this. Unfortunately I need a little more than what these books have to give to keep me reading and consistently enjoying what I read. I almost put this book away three times (I bought it on a $2.99 Kindle deal) but I had to continually remind myself to keep going because my time would pay off.

The story centers around Eli and Victor. They are students who decide to study EOs (ExtraOrdinary people) for their scientific theses. In the process of researching how EOs are created, Eli posits that near death episodes (NDEs) create a situation where the person comes back, but with powers that mirror their final thoughts or desires just before “death.” They decide to try to make each other an EO by overseeing conditions that cause one and then the other to die and then be brought back to life. Their experiments are successful, and the consequences for themselves and the people they love end up being more than they bargained for.

The book leads us through their present day movements and flash backs to their past relationship to illustrate how Eli and Victor become enemies, and their slow progression to a face off fueled by revenge and self-righteousness. Each man has gathered other EOs to their side and are using their abilities to achieve their respective goals, which are to eliminate each other. The clock ticks the hours, then the minutes by leading up to their confrontation. (The grammar of this paragraph is horrid, I know. Just know it’s a race to see who kills who first.)

The follow up to this book, Vengeful, is coming out on September 25th, so you have time to read through Vicious before its release to get caught up. My only suggestion is that you start now because you’ll want to read Vicious in bites – read too long and you will feel bored and want to set it aside – so you make it through the entire thing and get to enjoy the ending. I myself won’t be moving on to Vengeful. I’ve had my fill of these books and don’t want to have to “homework assignment” myself through another one. But they are smart and have great endings, so if you like those kinds of books, definitely go get you some. I think I’ve learned that they just aren’t for me.

The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2)

The Heart of Betrayal

The Kiss of Deception (The Remnant Chronicles #1)

Middle children are so difficult. We expect so much of them. We want them to keep up the excitement of book 1 while elaborating on deeper themes that were introduced. While they are keeping the intensity up we also want book two to give us MORE NEW INFO AND MORE INTENSITY to continue the climb to the finale.

I wish there was a way I could temper my expectations of middle books in trilogies because I think I would enjoy them more. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this novel. But gosh do all middle books have to be so drab and one-toned?

Lia is in Venda this entire time, and it’s like the only color in this book is gray. I imagine all people get to eat is gray gruel and they all wear gray clothes. Lia literally wears a potato sack for the entire first day she spends there. There are little street urchins running around and the walls are made out of mortar and skulls. I’m not exaggerating this is real.

The Heart of Betrayal gives us a deeper look into the history of Venda and how it relates to the history of Morrighan. Lia manages to translate more of the books that she stole from the Scholar in Morrighan, and discovers that it is a holy text that closely mirrors the one she studied since birth and recites remembrances for. Maybe her ancestors lied. Maybe there are harsher, bleaker truths that exist but have remained hidden because history is written by the victors. Lia discovers these truths through reading and experience. All I could think about is how our real world religions do the same thing that these countries did with their holy texts – when you strip away certain specifics, they are all really about the same basic values.

Now I’m sorry but we need to talk about the dudes. I know that this is a YA book and so the “he had no choice he’s so conflicted so we should root for him as the underdog and hope he gets with the girl who can’t decide between the two dudes because he didn’t have a choice about where he ended up” appeals to the younger women, but honestly I do not have time for this pity party bullshit. Kaden does horrible shit. Just because he discovers that he likes Lia does not excuse all of his nonsense that everyone wants to explain away with his uncontrollable circumstances.

NO. N. O. SPELLS. NO.

I AM TEAM RAFE. IF SHE ENDS UP WITH KADEN I WILL BE SO MAD. DO NOT TELL ME WHO SHE ENDS UP WITH. Honestly I hope she ends up with neither but if I have to choose I choose Rafe and his motley crew who ventured into enemy territory and risked their lives to get Lia back. I love that it’s the prince and 4 other guys who are like HONOR AND JUSTICE AND SUPPORT OUR PRINCE AND FUTURE QUEEN! oh man my heart. Prince Jaxon Flaxon Waxon Rafferty is amazing and I ❤ him.

Aside from the dudes, I always appreciate a lady protagonist who learns to take hold of her own destiny. Lia has the dudes to help her, but no one can help her navigate the Komizar (leader of Venda) and the results of his scheming. She has to be on her toes when he tries to use her and her gift to escalate Vendan fervor ahead of what will be a very lean winter. She decides to explore the Sanctum, finds hidden passageways, and eventually discovers a plot that is deeper than she could have ever imagined, which links Venda back to Morrighan. She sings to the people and tells them stories from the holy texts, and her actions endear her to the clans and people.

The ending to this book made me want to rip the hearts out of every Vendan soldier, governor, and Rahtan and paint the walls with their blood. I don’t want to give away what happens but Lia may have taken on a role that she definitely doesn’t want and the ramifications of that action will almost definitely echo into the third book. The Beauty of Darkness just came in from my holds so I’ll be picking it up on my way home from work and smashing through it over the weekend.

(Psst – Team Rafe. I’m not messing around Mary. Kaden is a joker, Lia deserves the heat and passion and dedication she has with Rafe.)

I mean, it’s a middle book so it’s not as exciting, but it’s worth it to bridge from the amazing first book to what I am sure will be an exciting conclusion. Go get you some.

Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy_Rich_Asians_poster

I have a terrible confession to make, and that is that I love a good romantic comedy. I haven’t watched one in a long time, but when I saw the clips and reviews coming in from the movie adaptation of the novel Crazy Rich Asians, I knew I had to go see it. I had not read the novel ahead of time, so unfortunately this review won’t have any comparisons to the book.

I didn’t want this movie to end. I needed to see what came next. I wanted to stay in this story with this pair of people who love each other so much that it transcended even cultural and familial obligation. The male lead, Nick, never falters. He never doubts his love. He considers it, he feels the weight of obligation, but every time he is right by Rachel’s side, even in the face of the disappointment of his mother and grandmother, who are expecting him to come home and run the family business.

It was nice when Rachel discovered how rich and connected Nick was that she didn’t stay mad at him long for keeping it from her. She understood that he wanted her to love him for him, without the trappings of wealth and his family name. What I personally fault him for is not telling her before they got on the plane to Singapore, and for being oblivious about her going off to the bachelorette party (Nick’s the best man in his friend’s wedding and has brought Rachel along to meet his family) and not expecting his ex to make trouble.

This movie goes hard with the cultural expectations and honestly I’m glad they didn’t pull any punches. I don’t want to give away the twist(s), but when I say I wanted to cat fight everyone shitting on Rachel I mean it. I would have been there with fucking bells on and no amount of money would have saved those bitches from the beat down this fat American would have brought upon them. If you have seen this movie and you know what happens to her at the wedding they’ve come to attend, you know I mean it when I say that bitches are cold. WOW. W. O. W. BITCHES. I can’t imagine being Rachel in the middle of the wedding craziness, coming to terms with who her boyfriend is, and then having to face THAT. Hold me back, I gotta fight some old Asian women over their disrespect of my girl Rachel Chu.

I did cry, but not for the reasons you might think. I didn’t doubt that Nick was 100% for Rachel, and everything that his family did to her was really shitty. The moments when I cried was when the people that truly cared about her were kind to her. After the wedding she runs to her crazy best friend from college’s house, and she just lies in the guest bedroom for days. One day Ken Jeong (the dad) comes in with the friends younger sister twins and they work together to toddle in to bring her a tray of food because she hasn’t been eating. I lost it. She’s a stranger in a land of her heritage, sad and lost in love, and people are so kind to her. My heart just ached for her and was thankful for the helpers. Even Nick, from the distance he gave her to think, gave her a gift of kindness that made me cry all over again. The most beautiful part of the movie was the thirty minutes in which Rachel regains her confidence and redefines her value with the help of the kindness of others. It was *chef’s kiss.*

I’ll say it again, I didn’t want this movie to end. The cast was flawless, the story was amazing, the acting was so good – it moved me to tears and laughter. It is a movie I will want to be able to watch at home once it leaves theaters. If you haven’t yet, treat yourself to a delightful 2 hours and go see Crazy Rich Asians. You won’t be disappointed. Then come back here and let me know what you thought.