Series Review: Bring Me Their Hearts

I will be the first to admit that I am 100% a “judge a book by its cover” type of reader. So, when I saw this book in my local bookstore, I couldn’t help myself. It’s honestly the prettiest book I own.

Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf follows Zera, a young Heartless. Created by a witch when Zera’s parents were killed, her heart is physically separated from her body and binds her by magic to her witch, Nightsinger. Zera’s memory of who she was before she became heartless are no longer her own to remember and she can stray no further than a few miles away from her witch. Though Nightsinger treats Zera well, she is a prisoner all the same.

The witches are locked in an age old battle with the humans who are hunting them down. In an attempt to win the upper hand in the long battle, Nightsinger offers Zera a deal. If she delivers the Crown Prince Lucien d’Malvane’s heart to Nightsinger, she would return Zera’s heart to her. Under the guidance of a noblewoman with ties to the witches, Zera attempts to learn to be of noble blood so she can win over the prince and ultimately take his heart and trade it for her own. But, Zera finds that though all her instincts are screaming for a reunion with her heart, she does not wish to doom Prince Lucien to the fate of being a heartless.

Throughout this story, a long tale of dark magic that governs the world unravels and Zera finds herself dead center in the action. She is torn between protecting those she holds dear and the longing in her to have her heart back. She fights an internal battle against the hunger who wishes to watch the world burn that she comes to know as a heartless.

This story is a three book series that reads fun and fast. However, I did find it to be largely quite predictable. I do have to admit, I really enjoyed Zera’s internal narration, she is sarcastic, sassy and just the right amount of arrogant. But, Wolf still manages to paint the overcast of the hunger on Zera as she moves through the story.

The third book is distinctly written in a more mature writing style, in my opinion. I find that the more the story grows, the more Wolf was able to find her voice as a writer. In the first two books there were several times that the writing style turned me off from the story. Though, I must credit Wolf with a fairly interesting imagination.

Overall, this was a fun read but I don’t think I will find myself ever rereading this series. What did you all think?

Series Review: Penryn & The End of Days Trilogy

I started reading this series ironically. My sister handed me Angelfall as a joke because she knows how much I love cheesy YA novels. “This book seems right up your ally,” she was laughing at me.

Rude, right? Lol. She loves cheesy YA novels just as much as I do.

This series has all the makings of a cheesy YA story. Penryn Young, a seventeen year old girl, finds herself caring for her family – mentally ill mother and 7 year old disabled sister – in the aftermath of the apocalypse. Angels have descended on the world and wreaked havoc on mankind. What is left of the human race are groups of gangs who are out for blood and those who are just trying to survive. Penryn finds herself in the second group as the book open, she is trying to get her family to a safer area when they have an accidental run in with a group of angels. Penryn’s sister is kidnapped by the angels, her mother runs for it and Penryn is left with no choice but to band with an angel, Raffe, whose wings were severed by his fellow angels in the street.

The book takes off following Penryn and Raffe as they try to find their way back to the Angels’ stronghold so Penryn can find her sister and Raffe can have his wings reattached. Throughout the novel, Ee pits Penryn and Raffe in a struggle to be loyal to their race and find how they fit in each others’ lives. Penryn is trying to save her world and Raffe is trying to be back in his.

What I enjoyed about this series was two fold:

  1. Penryn is pretty bad ass. She is constantly kicking butt throughout the book and can defend herself from almost any physical assault. Awesome to read a girl who is written as her own heroine
  2. This book is full of action from the start. Many things that other books skirt around or have their cast narrowly miss actually end up happening in this book.

What I did not enjoy about this series

  1. The ending of the series is rushed in a few short pages and leaves much to be desired. Though Ee did a solid job of capturing my attention at first, she lost me in the second half of the last book and at that point, I was honestly reading just to be done
  2. I wish Ee would have explored more of the emotional and psychological damage Penryn was put through due to being raised by a mentally ill mother and a father who walked out on her. Ee touches on it a few times throughout the story but I wish she would have dug deeper.

Overall opinion: pick this one up if you’re looking for a short and fun read. It reads easily and quickly, I got through the whole series in about four weeks. I not call it one of my top picks by any means but the banter between Penryn and Raffe is enough to make you laugh out loud a few times.

Have you read this series, or is this the first you’ve heard of it? If you have read it, what did you think? If you haven’t will you be picking it up soon? Let me know in the comments!

Series Review: Red Queen

You may or may not have noticed that I have been currently reading the Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard for many weeks now. Let me explain why.

These books follow a young girl named Mare Barrow who is living in a world divided by the color of blood. There are the silver blooded folk, who wield powers that they use to keep the Reds in line. They see and paint themselves as gods. The red blooded folk are normal, no powers, and are oppressed by the Silvers who use them as sacrificial bodies in their war with other countries.

Mare comes from a poor family, as all Reds do, and she tries to help her family by stealing anything she can get her hands on. But, when her closest friend is conscripted into the army, which is almost equivalent to a death sentence, Mare gets desperate to help him. Many events find her in the presence of the Crowned Prince of her country, Tiberias Calore the Seventh or Cal as he prefers, but she doesn’t know who he is. Cal takes pity on her and gives her a job at the palace. It is during “Queen’s Trial”, or basically a show noble girls put on so the high Lords of the country can choose who is the best queen for the crown prince, that Mare discovers she has powers matching Silvers. This happens in the public eye so the King and Queen decide to claim her as Silver and hide her right under everyone’s nose as the second prince’s, Maven, betrothed.

Throughout these books, we follow Mare as she struggles with betrayal, trust, love, injustice and leading a rebellion of Reds vs Silvers.

Now, let me start by saying, the first book was actually pretty good. It was slow starting but had a crazy twist at the end. I picked up the second book expecting some crazy stuff to go down but every page of the second, third and fourth book was dry and fairly predictable. There was a chapter in one of those books where it was mid climactic battle, and I found myself dragging myself to get through it. The last book was WAY too long and took me almost a month to get through because I wasn’t very excited about it.

The characters were trying to be developed but it was honestly hard to root for anyone in this series. Cal was wishy-washy in all his decisions. Mare fell flat, she was single toned and when she finally developed out of her one tone, it was abrupt and difficult to swallow. There were some characters who were introduced too quickly later in the series and I found myself indifferent about their plots.

One thing I did enjoy, was that Aveyard painted a very clear picture of systemic oppression that is built to keep the masses down.

Overall, I did not enjoy this series and would not recommend picking it up. My sister and I started this series together and she quit in the first few chapters of book two. That was when I recruited another friend of mine to read it with me and she agreed that she only powered through because she was bored during quarantine.

I would say skip this series, not too much here to jump into.

Book Review: The Alchemist

“‘One is loved because one is loved. No reason is needed for loving.'” – The Alchemist

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is a beautiful story that I personally believe is one of those books that will keep on giving for as many times as you come back to it.

The story follows a young shepherd from Spain named Santiago who is quite content with the life he leads. He one day dreams of finding treasure at the pyramids of Egypt. He later meets a man that tells him of “Personal Legends” which are our hearts’ true passions. Santiago decides to follow his dream to Egypt to pursue what he believes to be his Personal Legend. As Santiago sets off on the adventure of his life to chase his dream, the book takes the reader along for the ride of hardships and unforeseen circumstances that befall him.

On the surface, this book is about a boy chasing treasure. But throughout the entire story, there are small tidbits of advice that far outreach any coming of age novel I have ever read. The story, at its core, is about living life fully. At every turn of the page, there is a quote that is unbearably truthful and relevant to the life any one of us is living today. Just a few pages into this book, I got a solid slap in the face by the quote “‘It’s this; that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.'” I mean, let’s stop there for a second and reflect. That quote ALONE is enough to send someone into an existential crisis! Or, in my case, open my eyes to the way I have been living.

Day in and day out many of us find ourselves falling victim to the current of life, being dragged along with no control of where we’re going. We follow a preset list of “we should” vs listening to our hearts and really asking “what do I want”. And sometimes, when we find a dream that makes our hearts beat to a different tune, we abandon it because it scares us half to death, because it’s uncertain. There is a section of The Alchemist where Santiago is learning how to communicate and listen to his heart. The pages were so powerful because Coelho gives dialogue to Santiago’s heart and I found myself thinking what my heart would say to me if it could speak only to then smack myself in the forehead because DUH! my heart can speak, if only I would listen.

I cannot stress enough how much every single person should find a copy of The Alchemist in their hands at one point or another in their lives. The ending is so genius in its simplicity because it only underlines the theme of this book so severely. The journey is the point of this life, not what we find at the destination but what we learn on our way there.

I have read about people who read The Alchemist once a year, and I can without question see why. This book is a necessary add to everyone’s collection!

Book Review: Project Tau

Project Tau by Jude Austin is a story about a regular boy named Kalin Taylor who gets himself into a ton of trouble by accident. The book starts out with a prologue that is vague to the reader as we do not yet have background to who these characters are. All we can really pull from these pages is that chaos has ensued but are unsure who the protagonists and the antagonists are. Obviously, since the book is called Project Tau we have a hunch whose side we should be on. 

This story is set many years in the future, the year is approximately 3389 when the chapters begin counting. Kalin has just arrived at Sanderson College of Arts and Sciences (SACAS) from his home planet, Trandelia. He is nerdy and has little to no friends. Kalin decides that the best way to rectify this is to join a frat. He approaches the guys of the Phi Mu Alpha frat house about pledging and they, in turn, tell him that he needs to submit a picture of himself with Project Tau as a kind of entrance token. We gather that Project Tau is a government classified project and we have the prologue from which we can identify him. Once Kalin pursues this mission, he is captured by the leaders of the space station which houses Project Tau and held captive. We then follow his story through the following two years of what he is made to face. 

Austin has a unique concept that she is laying out to readers in Project Tau. It is the basic metaphor of man versus government. She tells the story of someone who is powerless to what occurs to him and is finally pushed so far, he starts to push back. This metaphor is not unique or innovative, but the approach is interesting. As I read through this book, I found myself outraged at what happened to Kalin Taylor. I have not come across a book that shows this kind of oppression without first giving a back story. There is no legitimate reason, whether it is justified or not, as to why Kalin has to go through the events laid out in the book. I came face to face with the idea that the government does not need a reason to oppress and usually does not have one. The lies that are spun and sold to Kalin are hard to swallow but they make the reader reflect on how many lies have been fed to us that we willingly accepted. Also, I loved that even though I read the events that led Kalin to his precarious situation, Austin’s writing still left me wondering if he really was a clone the whole time! It was awesome story telling on her part.

What I liked least about Project Tau was that the ending was given away in the prologue. Even though when I first read the prologue I was unaware what was actually happening, as I advanced through the book I was able to piece it together. The story was fun and exciting but it felt like I was safe from really falling off the cliff into the story because I already knew what was going to happen. I can appreciate a book that is written to draw a parallel to current injustices but I wish Austin had made us work for the ending instead of just giving it away. 

I recommend reading this book as it does get the mind rolling about media and government information sharing or lack thereof. However, I would recommend skipping the prologue and jumping back over to it after chapter thirteen if you want a more exciting story that you can be fully invested in.

Series Review: Shatter Me (Books 4-6)

So, these are definitely the set of books that I prefer in the Shatter Me saga. Again, spoilers ahead for both the 1st and 2nd set of the Shatter Me books. But I will try not to give it all away!

In these books, Juliette and crew have overthrown the Reestablishment regime in Sector 45, with Warner by their side. They have killed Anderson and Juliette has declared herself Supreme Commander of North America. Things start getting really weird when the children of the other Supreme Commanders start arriving at Sector 45. Eventually we learn that they are there to spy on Juliette and the crew and report back to their parents. Restore MeĀ is very slow to be honest. The only super critical event that happens is when Juliette gets kidnapped in the last, I don’t know ten pages?

Any way, it picks up after that as we learn that Juliette is not actually who we think she is and has a whole history with the children of the other Supreme Commanders, including Warner! A whole chain of events unfold from the kidnapping that ultimately leads the crew to the final battle for the world. Juliette finds out she has a sister who is essentially The Reestablishment’s secret weapon and they have been draining the life out of her to use her to their advantage.

These books are more fun than the first set for a few reasons.

  1. Juliette is no longer a scared and helpless little girl. She finally starts to face the demons inside her and take charge of them, even if she can’t drive them out fully. She really comes into herself and her powers and I enjoyed reading a version of her that is powerful and strong.
  2. Warner and Juliette are goals.
  3. Kenji and Warner’s relationship and banter was actually very entertaining
  4. Mafi starts to pull on our heartstrings a bit as we read about Juliette’s frankly traumatic upbringing and how far The Reestablishment would go for their own gain. The struggle between science and emotional ties is so stark in this story and it really starts to make you wonder, how far would I go?

A few critiques:

  1. Some Warner/Juliette plot lines were so forced, I just wanted to cut them out of the story. The whole situation with Warner’s ex-girlfriend? Come on, that was so middle school it made me roll my eyes.
  2. Anderson coming back to life like 12,983 times? It got so predictable by the time I was reading Imagine Me that it became a bit of a joke to me.
  3. Some decisions the crew made throughout these books were unforced errors to be honest and they just didn’t always match the picture that Mafi tried to draw of these characters sometimes.

Overall, I enjoyed the 2nd set in this saga. If they were stand alone, they would have been stronger than the 1st set. The ending of Imagine me brought me to tears, because I have a sister (you’ll understand when you read it). And the fact that Mafi brought us back full circle to the white bird with the gold crown atop its head and completely hit us over the head with a new metaphor, that is what I call good writing.

What did you all think? Let me know!

Any suggestions for what to read next? Any one want to start reading a book together? Let me know in the comments!

 

Series Review: Shatter Me (Books 1-3)

To start out, please note that I don’t think I am a good enough writer to be able to share this review with you all without spoilers. So, please beware! Spoilers ahead!

Where to start with the Shatter Me series? Well let me start by saying that the first three books and the last three books are two very different stories. Central characters are the same but the events and central story are very different. So, I will only be addressing the first three books in this review or it would just take too long to explain everything!

We meet Juliette Ferrars, in a world that is dying due to human pollution. There are no more birds, animals are scarce and the weather is unpredictable. Juliette is locked up in basically an insane asylum because she has killed a little boy, accidentally. Juliette suffers from a strange affliction that makes her touch lethal to all. She is, obviously, extremely scarred by not only accidentally killing a child and not being able to touch anyone, but as we find out also because of her abusive parents. Juliette is scared and alone and continues to dream of a white bird with a gold crown on its head which at first, symbolizes the freedom she longs for, or at least I thought so in the first three books.

Juliette suddenly gets a guest in her cell. Adam, who she recognizes eventually as a boy she used to go to school with, gets tossed in with her and she can’t understand why. Eventually, Juliette and Adam are released and Juliette finds out that Adam is actually a soldier in The Reestablishment. The Reestablishment is a regime that took over the planet in promises to undo the human damage that was done and return the world to how it used to be but surprise, surprise, they’re a bunch of lying assholes who just wanted to take over the world.

Juliette discovers that Adam’s commander, Warner (um yeah please remember him), sent him to do recon on Juliette in her cell only to release her and take her into his own custody to use her powers as a weapon for the reestablishment’s agenda. But, plot twist, Adam and Warner can touch her.

Throughout the three books, Juliette goes through a journey of discovering the power she holds within herself. She has kept people at bay for so long that she has to learn how to let them in so they can work together to overthrow The Reestablishment. She also has to learn to decouple herself from the scared little girl who shied away from everything and tried to make herself as small as possible for everyone else’s benefit.

I enjoyed these books for a few reasons:

  1. They are a really easy read and super fun to get through
  2. I love the way Mafi uses the language she writes with to reflect what is happening in Juliette’s mind (My sister and I are in disagreement on this point, she is not a fan)
  3. Warner. Duh, he is everything, even though he is just as messed up as Juliette (I am a sucker for a tortured and misunderstood soul)

Some critiques:

  1. It seems a bit too “middle school” at times. The dialogue between the characters is often not representative of the personalities Mafi draws up for us
  2. The plot builds to a bit of a disappointing climax. I mean, I guess it makes sense after the last three books come out, but I know these were a bit of an add on.

As a stand alone trilogy, these books are fun. However, I am personally more of a fan of the 2nd set.

What did you guys think? Which of the two sets was your favorite? Let me know in the comments!

 

Series Review: An Ember in The Ashes

A quick call out before I start: This series is not yet concluded as of the time I am writing this review. So, I am writing based on the first three books only. There are also someĀ light spoilers in this review.

An Ember in The Ashes By Sabaa Tahir follows a young girl named Laia whose family and her people, the Scholars, have been torn apart at the hands of The Empire. The Empire is an oppressive regime that has taken over the land and enslaved or imprisoned almost all of the Scholars. Laia suddenly finds herself apart from her brother, the only family she has left, who was imprisoned by The Empire because of knowledge he possesses that can be critical to the rebellion against The Empire. In her quest to find and free her brother, Darin, Laia crosses paths with Elias.

Elias Veturius is finishing his final year at Blackliff Academy which breeds Masks. The Masks are the most terrifying and lethal soldiers in The Empire and will stop at nothing to carry out the orders they are given. But Elias is different. He does not embrace the side of him that Blackliff has created, he is gentle and kind and wishes to leave The Empire all together. But he is trapped in this world he was forced into.

When Laia and Elias meet, they are two very similar people, who are living two very different lives. Both Laia and Elias feel oppressed and stuck in a world they did not ask for. But Elias has power and Laia feels helpless. As the series goes on, they find they will play very important roles in each others’ journey to freedom from their oppressors.

The very interesting thing about this series is the world that Tahir creates. I listened to a podcast that she was hosted on and she spoke about her background, her family is from Pakistan. She spoke about how she modeled The Empire oppressors after the political strife she came to know within her culture. Laia struggles with this so much throughout the series, the notion of “Why is it always my people who suffer”. That struck me because, doesn’t everyone feel like that sometimes? Whether they are right or wrong or the severity of the oppression varies, we have all found ourselves in some kind of situation where we have asked “Why me” or “Why us”. I think that makes this story relatable to so many readers on so many different levels.

Aside from that, I personally do not enjoy Laia and Elias as characters. Elias is loyal to a fault and finds himself denying so much of what he wants and who he is because of who he thinks he has to be for everyone around him. It gets repetitive and sometimes irritating. In Book 3, I think he started to explore this more and I hope that in Ember #4 he will finally realize what he wants and what he needs to do to get it. Laia falls a bit flat to me but I believe this is written on purpose. Her character development occurs to an extent throughout the books but I think she is still lost in her world trying to figure out what the role she plays really is. And aren’t we all doing the same on some level?

My FAVORITE character is Helene Aquilla. Oh, Helene. Her character development is downright amazing to follow, in my humble opinion. Helene is Elias’s best friend and she has to face so many horrifying things because she is trying to protect Elias from himself. I can’t say much about what she goes through without giving the central plot away but I can say that she is an amazing pillar of strength. And her love for Elias makes her so accessible, especially when it is not reciprocated in the way she desires. Her loyalty digs her into some deep pits that she has to climb out of. But, I am most excited to read about what becomes of her in Ember #4.

Overall, Tahir creates an awesome story that is extremely difficult to put down. There are currently teasers going around about the cover art of Ember #4 and I am already so excited to read it. This is a must read to jump into a world of political strife, love, pain, jealousy and almost everything else in between. You are guaranteed to find a favorite character within this crew.

Let me know what you all thought about this series and how much are anticipating Ember #4!

The Steak Dinner & A Lesson In Courage

I know what you’re thinking. What in all of the hell could that title possibly mean? I know, I know. What’s crazy about the story I am about to share is that it happened almost 5 back and I just finally picked the lesson out of it 2 weeks ago. Isn’t it insane how our minds work? What I actually mean is, isn’t it insane how our minds work once we learn to reflect?

Here’s how it all went down:

My first job out of college was in a factory, as a production supervisor overseeing all of the employees who run the lines. It was a hard role for a few reasons.

  1. I had no idea how to manage people, what motivated them, what they hated, how to read the team, etc. (5 years later and the only thing I have learned about managing a team is that it is difficult)
  2. The factory was in commissioning which means that the lines were brand new and we were just learning how to run them.
  3. I was literally just months out of college and I didn’t even know who I was let alone how to conduct myself properly to get the outcome I wanted (Still working on this by the way)

Just picture this: 22 year old who barely knows how to keep the peace leading a team of approx 40 people who are still unfamiliar with the lines they are trying to work. Overall, it was just a recipe for a bad time and saying morale was low was probably the understatement of the decade. In an effort to combat the low morale and increase productivity, our manager put out a challenge. The challenge basically boiled down to whichever shift can hit a specific line efficiency percentage would get a steak dinner for everyone on the shift.

Weeks went by and no one even got close. Until one night, things were actually going right for us. I remember being extremely on edge and suspicious of what was happening because I had never seen all the lines run at the same time. There was always at least 1 line down at any given point in the night. But, the team did it. They somehow managed to pull 40% efficiency out of their butt and they were all so happy. I had never seen them so fired up! They were walking off the shift stopping by my office to let me know how excited they were for the steak dinner, it was so awesome.

The next day for our team meeting with the department manager I said “We can’t wait for that steak dinner” when he asked for other business for the meeting agenda. He simply replied back “Yeah, no, that’s not going to happen”. I honestly had no idea what was happening and ended up replying back “What do you mean? that’s bullshit!” Again – remember I was 22 and just could not conduct myself properly but it really was bullshit. Now, I can’t stress enough how inappropriate his reply back to me was and if this ever happens to you guys at work, you should take a serious stand and this should be escalated. He said “I can’t believe you’re this f***king stupid”. I LOST it. Partially because I did not take well to the way he talked to me but mostly because I was SO disappointed for my team and I knew this was just the wrong move if we truly wanted to raise morale. But, he wasn’t budging and I just ended up feeling like absolute garbage. The worst part was, I had to look at my team and tell them it just wasn’t going to happen and I had no explanation for them.

I imagined the team being so disappointed in me for not being able to get this secured for them and I carried the burden of how much that would backslide all the progress we had made. Instead, the team was thanking me for standing up for them. I was so confused how they even found out what happened during the meeting. Turns out one of the team members that were in the room relayed it to the shift lead who worked with me and it spread from there. I was still so disappointed in the fact that they didn’t get the steak dinner that I missed the whole lesson here.

Courage does not feel good. Not always, at least. In this case I left the meeting defeated, disappointed and honestly enraged and frustrated. But, my team recognized my courage and appreciated me as a leader for it. I always thought that whenever I acted in a courageous way, it would feel amazing. I would have light coming out of me or a spotlight on me or something grand and heroic. But I felt like crap. Until I reflected on the situation and really thought about the fact that even though I didn’t recognize it at the time, this was a turning point for my team and I. This was when they started to trust me, this was when they truly felt like I was going to go to bat for them when I believed it was right.

Don’t be courageous because it will make you feel like a good person, or because you think it will end up working out positively for you in the end. Be courageous because it is the right thing to do. When it feels like it is you against the world, be courageous. When it feels like it will never get better, be courageous. When you feel like it will haunt you if you don’t, be courageous.