Why I Love Music?

I was so bored today. So completely, mind-numbingly, rather alarmingly bored. There are no words in the English language potent enough to describe how bored I was today. I had to utilze all of my Youtube playlists to keep afloat.

Summer has indeed begun.

I am in high school, and as such, summer is a time of rejoycing, of giving thanks to the school board gods for ending school in time for some fun in the summer heat. The sun. The sand. The waves. Nothing encaptures a summer day like the beach. The ranks of instagram and snapchat are filled with beach pictures and videos.

The only problem, for me, is that I don’t really like going to the beach.

I know, boo-f*cking-hoo. Poor ME, I don’t LIKE the beach. The whole world must stop and readjust itself to suit my needs (obviously).

Let me explain.

I am pale as the moon, alabaster, white, translucent, and any other descriptors for the unfortunately snowy-skinned population. Believe me, I go outside all of the time, and I live in Florida for Christ’s-sake. One would think I would have built up some sort of tan, but alas, this has not come to pass. And as such, a trip to the beach is not as simple as slapping on a bathing suit, climbing in the car, and going. No. I must put layers of sunscreen all over my body. Yep, 100+ SPF. Sunscreen that just has to be showered off two hours later.

I am chunky, overweight, flabby, and as euphemisms deem it, ‘beautiful’, or some other bullshit. I am down with it, but I also don’t want to worry about my breasts tumbling out of some revealing concoction of ruffles either. So, I wear a cute one-piece that is a bit of a rough ride to get over and around my ass.

I am out-of-shape, wimpy, asthmatic, and just not a physical person. So, I am content to just bury myself in the sand or float in the water, but beach volley ball is just NOT my idea of a good time.

So, not only is going a pain, but it is a little pointless to even try.

Now, you may be thinking, “You’re just some dumbass kid. You really live up to your name, Miss Cynical Teenager. Are you just some other millenial I here about on Fox News?”

fox news

Okay, first of all, if you fit into the category of Fox News watcher, please go outside right now, I mean it, and spray yourself in the face with a water hose. Just do it.

Anyways,

I like music, and I consider myself to be pretty good at it.

I can play the flute, clarinet, piano, and piccolo. I have composed two piano songs of my own( here and here). And I have taught myself how to do all of these things.

I am no master, by any stretch. I am not a prodigy or even very good, all things considered. I think this is the real appeal of music for me, which sounds weird to say.

The best thing about music is that you don’t have to be very good.  Music can be a one-man show or an entire effort by a group. Music can be out doors or indoors. Music can be subdued or expressive. Music can be internal or external. Hell, music can be all of these things at the same time.

Music is beautiful.

There is no way around it. Music contains what is the best in this world. All people here about these days are shootings and bombings and diseases and wars and discrimination and debt and suffering. Malnutrition and starvation and parasites and death and injustice and ingnorance and destruction. Music, if it is even just for a moment, can make all of these things go away.

Music can expose you to the world with different styles and traditional instruments; you can expose music with your own styles and feelings. Music is meaning without language, sorrow without sadness, joy without laughter.

And that is why I like music.

Have you ever heard someone disagree about a song? Has there ever been a #Brexit decision about a piece of music? No, because I think music is one of the only things we as human beings can agree on. And thank God for that, or else my newsfeed would be even worse.

So, while other teenagers are at the beach enjoying themselves, I will be having a grand old time working on my next flute cover.

F*ck sunscreen. I have some music to learn.

Review: The Watchers

When I first read The Watchers by Lynnie Purcell, I really, really liked it. I liked the story, the characters, and the writing style. Upon rereading it a year or two ago, I still liked it, but less so. And after rereading it again (I went through a little bit of a rereading phase), I found it to be remarkably decent. Yep, just decent, barely above par. I actually think it is a bit of a rip off of Twilight, which already drops it off of the ‘nice’ list. Its only saving grace is that it does the whole idea a bit better, with a bit of a twist that kept me from vomiting.

Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Clare has spent her life traveling from town to town, never knowing a home, content to live from city to city. So, when her mom decides to drag Clare back to her hometown, Clare is skeptical. But, it is there, she learns the power of home, the meaning of the secret she has kept since birth, and the future of her role in a world far from normal.

Okay, girl moving to a small, backwater town? Check. Secret society kept from the world? Check. Hot guy that doesn’t like her at first, that has a secret? Check. Main character falls in love with the one person whose mind they cannot read? Check. Girl feels that she doesn’t fit in, thinks that the world is just unfair? Check. Young adult book is a go, everyone, young adult book is a go.

Plot: This is the part I have the most grievances with. Holy shit, I thought we had seen the last of Twilight. Is it even relevant anymore? I don’t know, but that is exactly what this book is. The main character, Clare, can hear thoughts. She can hear every person’s thoughts, her mother’s included. However, when she moves back to her mother’s old hometown, she encounter’s Daniel, who somehow can make her not hear all the thoughts around her. Clare is a half-angel, as her father was an angel who ran off when she was little. There is an ongoing war between two sides, and both sides attempt to conscript half-angels to their side.

I don’t want to give away more details for fear of spoilers, but I can safely say that it is almost a fan fiction of Twilight. I did like how Clare at least had some personality to add to the mix and some of the side characters were memorable. Besides that, there is little to recommend here.

Characters: One of the stronger points of the book, the character cast was actually pretty good.

Clare: Clare was pretty cool. I like that she had tattoos and piercings and other neat stuff to distinguish herself. I also like how she was almost a deep thinker, as she contemplated abstract concepts. This really added to the internal dialogue Clare had with the reader. While not the best main character I have seen, she most certainly is not the worst.

Daniel: I have mixed feelings about Daniel. On one hand, I appreciate that he is deeper and smarter than other love interests, and definitely more human. But, I think my main problem with Daniel is that some of his actions I find annoying. For example, Clare says she has a tattoo, and explains that the only way someone would see it would be by accident. So, after falling in a pool, Clare goes home to change with him. So, while she is changing, he walks in just to see if he can find her tattoo. Now,  I understand why this was put in, but WTF Daniel? You don’t just walk into your sort-of-girlfriend-not-quite-yet’s room while you know she is changing. How about a little respect? I thought he was alright, but not exactly what I was looking for.

Alex: She was a pretty good character in the book, but still somehow generic. I like how she was almost a school counselor, but as a student. It set her apart from other ‘best friend’ characters. Alas, there is little else different. That being said, she did her job as the outsider for people to explain things to as exposition and as a friend for Clare, who lacked any at the beginning of the book.

Writing Style: The best way to describe the writing is: good. Yep. Just good. There is nothing bad that I did not like about the writing style, but nothing really stood out, either. As such, the writing accomplished its task without major problems or major amazingness.

Cover: I do, actually, like the cover. It is colorful and mysterious; it really sells the book. The only problem I have with the cover is that it is kind of misleading. This book does contain special powers, but I would not go so far as to say it has magic in it. The cover heavily implies that it will have magic in it, which it does not. This aside, I did like the cover.

the watchers

Final thoughts: This book review is rather short, isn’t it? Yeah, I would say so, mostly because this book has little to talk about. It was average, enjoyable to read, but little by way of sustenance.

Score:

5.5

 

College Tours

Hi everyone! I just got back from a college tour, which is part of the reason for my lack of post activity. I have some book reviews in the works, but those take FOREVER to write. I mean, I like to write them, and if I did not like to write them, then I would not write them. But, they are time consuming, especially when I have multiple ones I am working on at once. So, I decided to write to describe my recent college tour to put something out there on my blog (after all, isn’t that what a blog is for?). I hope someone finds this interesting, amusing, or otherwise worth their time 🙂

So, to begin with, I went to seven campuses on the east coast. In order, I went to Princeton, Columbia, Yale, Brown, Harvard, American, and Georgetown. Ya know, the unattainable, unaffordable, and unwelcoming ones? But, I’m always up for a challenge. However, the most remarkable thing about this trip, besides the price tag, was how little of my cynicism was reasonable. Overall, the universities were more welcoming, affordable, and warm than I expected.

For a little background, I did very well on the SATs, pulling in a 760 reading score and a 770 math score ( my school did not pay for the writing), and I maintain a 4.0 GPA and 5.0 HPA. So, I thought, why not?

I then mentioned to my dad that it would be neat to actually experience the college campuses in person before applying. We then planned a trip, flying into Newark and out of D.C. and driving using a rental car.

Let me tell you, this trip was f*cking expensive. I mean damn. A freaking Holiday Inn cost my family $200 a freaking night. Yeah, a Holiday Inn. It ain’t the effing Plaza. Not to mention, the rental car company, Avis, took us to the cleaners. $500 baby, with a three-day-early return. And airfare. Jesus Christ, $1100. So, there goes my college fund. Thanks a lot, I appreciate the help Avis, American Airlines, United, Expedia, and Holiday Inn. Love ya.

Now that I have that out of my system, I shall now impart my opinion on these schools here, so if any strapped for cash student wants to hear about my experience, listen up.

Princeton: One thing that can be said about Princeton is that it is beautiful. Seriously, this is one of the most beautiful places I have been. When you hear ‘Ivy League’, this is probably the image conjured. The buildings looked like castles and everything, from the chapels to the restrooms, were amazing.

Another notable facet of Princeton is that frat houses are not recognized. Rather, the students reside in themed housing or little eating clubs. This was a common theme among Ivy Leagues, but some, like Brown, were a little more open with frats and sororities. I thought that this was a good idea, an effort to keep away bad press.

Columbia: The best part about Columbia is not necessarily about the school so much as the area it is in. Centered in NYC, a bustling metropolis, Columbia has many opportunities for students to get part-time jobs or internships to boost their resume. This is mainly why I am interested in Columbia.

Columbia’s academics seem focused around the Core, a set of classes required by all undergraduate students, including a physical education component. Fitting is with a more liberal arts education, Columbia was the most formal when it came down to distribution requirements, which may be a good or bad thing.    

Yale: This school was my favorite! It was beautiful, had great academics, and had residential colleges. What are residential colleges, you ask? Well, I had no freaking clue either, but I really like the sound of them. Basically, groups of undergraduates are placed in groups and all live in one little area/building with their own crest and name. Think of Hogwarts in Harry Potter. Yeah, sounds pretty cool, right? That’s what I thought, at least.

Along with this, the requirements were different than Columbia. Rather than having classes be required for graduation, certain areas were required for graduation. So, instead of taking only ENC1101 and only ENC1101 for the credit, you could take a creative writing class,  a science fiction class, or a how to write lab reports class. I really thought this flexibility suited me better than the rigidity of Columbia, while not being as loose as the next university, Brown.

Brown: I have conflicting feelings about Brown. On one hand, it is a very exciting school, full of opportunity and freedom. Brown does not have any distribution requirements, a far cry from Columbia’s Core curriculum. That being said, there are many cases where your concentration may require many credits for completion and as an incoming freshman, how does one know what to take?

Another component that had me a little leery was the financial aid package (btw, I’m hopefully going to do another little rant post on this…needless to say, my family cannot afford $60,000 a year, that’s bullshit). All the Ivy Leagues, and most other colleges, provided financial aid packages to incoming students on a need-basis. I really agree with this. How can the best institutions in the world offer merit packages? Isn’t getting in merit enough? Most of the Ivy Leagues provide financial aid without loans, but Brown automatically works a loan into the award. I know that it is only like $5,000 a year, but any mention of loans (and therefore debt) has me running for the hills.

Besides these observations, Brown was a terrific university.

 

Harvard: Harvard was probably my second favorite school that my family and I visited on the trip. Very similar to Yale, Harvard had area requirements for graduation, allowing for more freedom in scheduling. Again, Harvard also had a shopping period whereby students could try out different classes without committing to a schedule. I really liked this idea, because I am sure everyone has experienced that time when you signed up for something and had the realization that it was not really for you ( there was a time that this hippie lady kept saying I was a crystal child or something, but I was just trying not to piss my pants from laughter. Ah, the good old days). The only thing that was a downside for Harvard was that students had to declare their major at the beginning of their sophomore year rather than the end of the year. I don’t think this would bother me too much, but some people may not appreciate it.

 

American: The accessible and attainable school of the bunch, I really liked American University. Their internship and study abroad opportunities are what really drew my eye. Being centered in Washington D.C., American had connections in the embassies (half a mile away) and the capitol ( a subway and bus ride away). The acceptance rate was 25% rather than 6%, so I will definitely apply to this school.

 

Georgetown: This school is probably my least favorite. I just thought it was a tad uppity and rather snobby. That may be just my own impression, and I am sure that there are plenty of nice people who go here ( I had the pleasure of meeting a few). However, the requirements for entrance are worse than the Ivy Leagues and the campus was definitely geared for more graduate students. The main benefit of Georgetown is its situation in D.C. and the opportunities afforded to the students. Overall, while a very prestigious and excellent school, I feel that it was not for me.

 

 

 

Once Upon a December

Once Upon a December (the Liz Callaway version) is my all-time favorite song. Ever. I have learned this song in about six different languages and can sing along with five others. It’s really bad.

So, being a flute player, I decided enough was enough and covered the song on my flute. I think it is pretty good, but I am not sure. I hope its good, at least.

Here is is

Once Upon a December Flute Cover

I hope to get back to some book reviews soon, but I most likely will not publish any until after June 2 because a contest is starting at my school for book reviews using technology. Fun times 🙂

Review: Rebel of the Sands

I finished this book approximately ten minutes ago, and holy shit, the Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton is amazing! I cannot even begin to describe the ride this book took me on while reading it. You know what sucks though? I probably won’t see a sequel until next year. I am already dying on the inside. The rest of this year is going to be horrible just because I have to wait. And while the end was not a complete cliff hanger or anything, I still want- no, I need- to hear the rest of the tale. Other wise I’ll go cry myself to sleep every night listening to C’est La Vie by ELP be very disappointed.

I suggest not even waiting to read the rest of this review. I cannot recommend this book enough and even though it is still right next to me from where I put it down after finishing it, I have to force myself right now to stop reading and write about it. But, if convincing is required, convincing I shall provide. The summary is as follows:

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic.  For humans, it’s an unforgiving place, especially if you’re poor, orphaned, or female. 

Amani Al’Hiza is all three.  She’s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can’t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she’s destined to wind up wed or dead.

Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she’s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on mythical horse—or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew.

Rebel of the Sands reveals what happens when a dream deferred explodes—in the fires of rebellion, of romantic passion, and the all-consuming inferno of a girl finally, at long last, embracing her power.

Hell yeah. Nothing like a gunslinger to get the blood pumping. I usually don’t like westerns, but the book has an Arabian Nights edge that I personally love in any book (see The Wrath and the Dawn Review). Can you tell by now that I love this book?

Plot: 

The world Amani (the main protangonist) lives in is unforgiving. As a girl, she has nothing. As a boy, however, she has the power of terrific aim and guts to keep her alive. The village of Dustwalk is some back-country shithole where the women hang if they are raped and guns are more prevalent than water. Amani grows up here before embarking on her journey that makes up the plot of this book. And, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t entertained for every freaking word on every freaking page. After all, lying is a sin (lol inside jokes). The world of Miraji is expertly created, full of djinn and ghouls and Skinwalkers, and is fully capable of producing an individual as wild as Amani is. So, the plot is realistic in is surrealism, if that makes any sense. I love it, I love it, I love it.

Characters:

Amani: Alright, here we go. Amani. Is. Awesome. She has an unbelievable sense of self-preservation and will do whatever it takes to get her goals accomplished. She has a knack for guns and can hold her own against any man in a gun match. She can think on her feet and has instincts that keep her alive. There is nothing more to say. I would say that she is the best part of this book, but there is just so much good in it, I don’t even know if I can.

Jin: Amani meets Jin early on in the book in a pistol pit and from the very beginning you know there is something up his sleeve. I actually reread this book since I began writing this review and I liked Jin even more the second time around. He possesses most of the characteristics that allow Amani to survive in the desert, but has a certain distaste for it. So the question remains: if he doesn’t like the desert, why is he currently traveling in the desert? And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the crux of the matter. I loved Jin as well, especially upon a second reading.

Tamid: As a character, Tamid was not present for a lot of the book. The only reason I mention him here is because he is brought up in the rest of the book numerous times, almost as a motif.

Ahmed: To many spoilers!!!! Gahhhh!!! I want to talk about these characters, but then I would give away twists. Short story is that Ahmed is an interesting man. I am not sure how I feel about him personally, but a well written enigma nonetheless.

Naguib: Talk about a spoiled whiner. This character is one of the may sons of the Sultan and is constantly clawing for what power he can get. While he is distasteful, he is convincing, so I do have to say that he is a good character.

Noorsham: When he was first introduced, I did not even realize he would be a supporting character. He is kind of glossed over, than introduced again, then dropped again, then picked back up again. Hopefully we will see more from this blind follower the next sequel, but I can safely say that this character is as important a reflection of real people as he is a reflection of the main protangists of the series.

Writing Style:

Holy shit, this is Hamilton’s first novel? No. Freakin’. Way. She way she told this story was brilliant. If the prose had been to sophisticated, it would have stuck out from the rugged nature of the world and protangonist. If it was too rough, on the other hand, it would have distracted the reader a bit too much. The writing, I am happy to declare, masterfully blends the two, at times being metaphoric and beautiful, and other times the tough language of a girl who’s lived a hard life. Simpy brilliant.

“Tell me that and we’ll walk away. Right now. Go and save ourselves and leave them to die. All you’ve got to do is say the word. Tell me that that’s how you want your story to go and we’ll write it straight across the sand to the sea. Just say it.”

My story.

I’d spent my life dreaming of my own story that could start when I finally reached Izman. A story written in far-off places I didn’t know how to dream about yet. And on my way there, I’d slough off the desert until there was nothing left of it to mark the pages.

Only Jin was right. I was a desert girl. Even in Izman I would still be the same Blue-Eyed Bandit with a hanged mother, who left her friend dying.

Bonus points for first person, present tense 🙂

Cover: The cover is pretty cool, too. It is accurate, pretty, and intriguing to boot.

rebel

Final Thoughts: 

This is, quite honestly, one of the best books I have read in a long time, possibly ever. There is no way I can see some one not liking this book; it is just so versatile. On one end it is a western, on one end it is an Arabian journey, on one end it is a rebellion story, and on another it is a redemption story. There simply is something for everyone.

Score:

9.2

This book is now in my top ten, if not top five. Read it! Like, right now! Just go and read this; you’ll thank me later.

*I may have to have a separate post about one part of this book in particular that I thought was amazing. However, it occurs near the end, and I would have to go into spoilers, and there is no f***ing way that I want to spoil this book for any one. I would not wish that on my worst enemies. So, I will clearly label the post as spoilerific and discuss this later. Toodles!

Review: Danica

When you go on Amazon.com and look at potential books, did you know that you can find books that are completely free? If you filter the search for prices lowest to greatest, books appear that are priced $0.00. As you can imagine, I have hit this up some many times. About 80% of the books on my Kindle were free!

I read Danica a while back and completely forgot about it! When I ‘purchased’ it a couple years ago, it was free. Damn. There is nothing I love more than getting a bargain. And that is exactly what this book is. Without further ado, here is the summary:

Gretsche’s world gets turned around at the discovery of werewolves. While trying to fight them to get her friends back, she makes an even more shocking discovery about herself and her own supernatural abilities.

Yeah. That’s the actual summary. Full of f***ing detail, I know. Gosh darn it Amazon! You can do better! I wrote up my own damn summary because I am so completely pissed with this summary. I know that point is to not give away the plot, but I want more.

Here is my summary:

Nineteen year old Gretsche lives a normal life as a want-to-be party girl, alongside her friends Brent and Haley. After a night of partying goes horribly wrong, Gretsche is dragged into a world of werewolves and vampires where she must learn to decipher friend from foe. In order to save her friends, Gretsche has to learn to master herself before she can overcome her enemies.

The funny thing is that NO ONE is talking about this book. Good Lord, when I looked up the title and author, I got stats about Danica Patrick the race car driver! Needless to say, I went into this book with little expectations and little information. What I found was a lot better than I thought it was going to be.

Plot: Vampires and werewolves. Unless you have been living under a rock for the last ten years, you know of all the books that have come out about vampires and werewolves, with Twilight being the front runner of the supernatural storm. However, the author does take a new twist on this aging rhetoric which refreshes the concept a bit. Underneath it all, however, it is still the same old, same old. There are some twists and turns that I liked, but the plot was ultimately predictable. Notice I did not say bad. This book was super enjoyable and I ate it up, despite the less than outstanding content.

Characters: This is the strongest part of the book. There are some very interesting characters in this book.

Gretsche: She is the best thing about this book. She is funny, brave, smart, badass, and a really good friend. A main character must always two the line between individuality and generality, seeing as though the reader must be able to relate to the character. Gretsche is a perfect balance of the two, and I completely backed her from beginning to end.

Brent (Bear): As a character, Brent is slightly above average. I liked how funny he was during his interactions with Gretsche and his relationship with her. Other than that, nothing else stands out.

Jason: This is one conflicted character alright. Shrouded in mystery until the end of the book, Gretsche (and ultimately the reader) has no idea if he is a friend or an enemy. I was not sure how I felt about him until I mulled him over after finishing the book. And so, I can safely say that I thought he was well developed and intriguing and I wish to see more of him in a later book ( which hopefully is writen soon).

Dimitri: I can’t go into much detail about Dimitri here, since I would hit upon some serious spoiler territory. However, I can say that Dimitri is the second reason (after Gretsche, of course) to read this book. He is witty, moody, and just engaging in general.

Haley: Haley was pretty cool. Haley was Gretsche’s friend. And yeah. That’s about it.

Preston (Gretsche’s dad): He is an awesome Dad. He supports Gretsche through everything and is one of the nicest father figures I have read in literature. However, sometimes I question the realism of this. There is no way, after hearing about attacks throughout the city, and the attack of a friend, a father would willingly let his child go around to bars willy nilly where other victims had been attacked. It would be one thing if he was some aloof, asshole dad, but from the book he clearly wants the best for his daughter. Besides this nitpick, I liked Gretsche’s dad.

Writing Style: This is probably the weakest link with this book. While not terrible, the writing was kind of ‘jumpy’, meaning some scenes were incredibly detailed and some scenes were completely glossed over. This is only natural, in any book, but it did not work out so well here. This book would have seriously benefitted from an increased length; another fifty pages would have allowed some of the scenes to be fleshed out. However, the writing did improve over the course of the book, so I am looking forward to the next book (whenever it comes out). Besides that, there is nothing really to note. Overall, the writing was passable.

Cover: For some reason, there are two covers; one is pretty cool and one is decent.

danica 1

This cover is pretty good, I guess, but I like the other cover a lot better. Here is the other cover:

danica

Now that’s kinda badass. It has swirly shit on it, red for blood, and really interesting graphics. I love it 🙂

Final Thoughts: 

While not a masterpiece, Danica certainly deserves more notice from readers and critics alike. Christ, if Twilight made it big, why don’t more people know of this book? I don’t know. I’m just some cynical teenager.

Score:

7.4

If possible, I recommend that you pick up this book somewhere. Hey, I managed to get it for free! This book is definitely worth your time, if not your money.

Essay Contest

I recently entered in a writing contest that I won last year. Unfortunately, I did not win (boohoo, poor me). One of my friends won, though, so that’s nice. Keepin’ it in the family, ya know? Gotta pass on the tradition.

Anyway, I thought it would be good to upload it to see what other people think. Let’s see if I can get any comments this time 🙂

The prompt was something like if your house is on fire, which book of fiction would you save and why?

                                          And the Tree Was Happy

I consider myself a moderate in most things, more things than anyone cares to know. I am moderately musical, moderately creative, moderately introverted, moderately liberal, moderately feminist, and moderately lazy. One of the only convictions I have is that nothing I own is worth my life. So, should a situation arise where there is a fire in my home, the first thing I would do is get my family and myself to safety. If I had time to rescue my cat, my tablet computer, my parents’ wills, my laptop, my rat, my flute, my clarinet, my mother’s jewelry, my computer’s hard-drive, and anything of real monetary or sentimental value, then the fire must not be all-consuming and I would not have to perform this so-called ‘rescue.’ However, if I did proceed to choose an item I could order on Amazon.com for ten dollars, you could bet your buttons that it would not be a tawdry Harlequin teenage romance. I would choose The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, arguably the most influential book of my childhood.

My childhood was one to be envious of; it was stock full of dancing, singing, twirling, joking, and laughing, often ending in a childish disaster. One pervasive aspect of that experience was the warmth of the orange tree growing in my backyard. My sister and I, along with our fellow neighborhood kids Sam and Parke, would play-act as outdoorsmen with the tree being our ‘base camp’ and we would collect fallen oranges and use a juicer to extract the juice. We would use the leaves, alongside pilfered bottle caps, as currency in our market where we sold dye from the bougainvillea flowers that dot the chain-link fence separating the yard from the foreign lands of the neighbors and every night, exhausted from the day’s ‘efforts’, my sister and I would beg our mom for a story. On the days where she did not just make up a random, nonsensical story for us on the spot, she would read from our Dr. Seuss books and, of course, The Giving Tree, a story about a tree and her love for a little boy as he grew to be an old man. As he aged, the boy forgot about the tree, but the tree was always there for him upon his return and the tree ended up giving her apples, branches, and trunk to him to make him happy.

After Hurricane Jeanne in 2004, the orange tree uprooted and died. The Waste Management Authority had the task of dragging it out of the backyard. Needless to say, Sam, Parke, my sister, and I were all quite devastated. The following night we held a funeral ritual, and by the end of the year we had a new designated market spot and drank store-bought orange juice.

A few years later, Sam entered Middle School, and she was too busy to join us outside. The next year, my sister followed suit, and the next year, Parke left as well. So, like the Giving Tree at the end of the story, I was left all alone in the fading glory of childhood.

Now, as a teenage girl in high school, if someone were to pose the question to me, “What is your favorite book?” I would not provide The Giving Tree as an answer, for it is not my favorite book. The Giving Tree represents the part of me that I have lost with age, the part of me that still longs to be outside swinging in the branches and collecting the oranges and climbing its trunk and pretending to hold a market and playing hide-and-go-seek and sleeping in its shade. To me, The Giving Tree is not a book that is read then placed on a dusty shelf to be picked up later when I feel nostalgic and sentimental like some old fool. It reminds me of where I came from, my origins, and where I must go in the future. For even when I go off to college and get a job and retire, I know there will always be a giving tree here at home for me to sit and rest upon when all is said and done with my life.

I hope everyone likes it 😛

Review: Crown Duel

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith is an interesting case in reference to publication. Originally published as two separate books, a 2002 re-release combined Crown Duel and Court Duel into one continuous, two-part book entitled Crown Duel. So, for this review, I will be basing my thoughts on this re-release. Here is the summary:

Over their father’s deathbed, young Meliara Astiar and her brother Branaric promise to lead their people against the evil King. The impoverished count and countess discover that even when the cause is right, leading a war is much tougher than it appears. When Meliara falls into the hands of the elegant Marquis of Shevraeth, the enemy commander, she knows she has to either escape or die. After a desperate chase across country, she discovers that she and Bran are not alone—but the alliance is offered by the person she hates the most.

Once the king is gone, she faces a new type of battlefield: not muddy fields and sharpened steel, but marble palaces. The weapons now are fashion, manners, and the subtle and secret language of fans. Finally, there is the toughest challenge of all, courtship. For how do you defend yourself when the one who draws your eye, and your heart, is your worst enemy?

Plot:

As suggested by the description, the first part chronicles the uprising in the kingdom of Remalna and the second part deals with the aftermath. I really thought this was a nice change; in too many instances, the conflict ends and then everything everything is peaches and cream. Not here. In the wake of the uprising, the succession of an heir and the disbanding of the army is discussed in detail, with no correct answer being thrust in your face as the reader. All in all, the story line was detailed, fairly original, and completely engaging.

Characters: 

Meliara: I love her! At first I was very worried that she was going to be some Mary Sue character, but she is awesome! She is realistic (well, as realistic as a fantasy character can be) and resourceful. She doesn’t complain the whole time and is aware of her flaws as much as she is aware of her strengths. Nothing much left to say here, so lets move on.

Marquis of Shevraeth (Vidanric): Ahhhh, Shevraeth. Can I marry you? Nah. You already are my husband 🙂 Talk about cool under pressure. This character, for most of the book, is a mystery. Meliara has no idea what he is thinking half of the time, so, as the reader, you want to find out as much as she does. He is extremely competent, intelligent, thoughtful, and loyal, among other things. A superb character overall. (the bonus content at the end of this book from his perspective is pure gold!)

King Galdran: This is where the character cast falls a little short. It isn’t that King Galdran is a bad character per se, but he is simply the asshole character everyone knows. He does bad stuff and serves his purpose as a villan I suppose, but he just does it cause he is super evil. Everyone is scared of him cause he is evil. And there is nothing much else to him. Since he is only a supporting character, and in only the first half, I guess it isn’t as bad as I make it out to be.

Flauvic: Going into this character is dangerously close to spoiler territory, so I’ll try to tread carefully here. Flauvic is a suave, gorgeous man Mel (and the reader) meets in the second half of the book. He is very, very intelligent and clearly works for himself. He was a great edition to the story, and I thoroughly enjoyed the plot twist associated with him, even if I could see it coming.

Nee (Nimiar): I was very worried when this character was first introduced. I thought that she would be the bitchy court lady who shuns Mel or some other bullshit. I am happy to report that Nee was, in fact, a very sweet, genuine person and I thought she was a very nice edition to the book.

Writing style: One of the strong points of this book, I do have to say, is the language. The prose is not necessarily lyrical, but it is sophisticated and adapted well to the content of the book. The descriptions are detailed enough so that the reader can visualize the setting without being bored to tears over the lush detail of the hors d’oeuvours served at every gosh darn meal. It is told in first person (my favorite POV) and is very reflective in nature. It is my experience that Sherwood Smith can do no wrong, and this book is surely a pinnacle of her sharp writing style.

Cover: This is the cover of the copy of the book I have as a hard copy:

crown

I think that this cover is a very apt indicator of the book. It is simple and to the point without a bunch of other distracting nonsense to clutter it up. I really like the original covers as well.

crown 1

This is the original cover of the first book. Here is the cover of the original second volume:

court

I especially like this cover, but not for any objective reasons. I just think it is pretty is all 🙂

Final Thoughts:

I am reluctant to assign this book a score. The book is so damn enjoyable that a score might not fully encompass the depth of amazing-ness that is this book. Don’t believe me? Check it as soon as possible and see for yourself!

Score :

8.8

I highly recommend Crown Duel for any reader, old or young, especially those like me who love fantasy novels. Crown Duel is one of the most enjoyable books I have read 🙂

Review: The Wrath and the Dawn

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh was a literal déjà vu for me. I have always had grand ideas of writing a novel or a short story or something, but I have never really gotten past the first few chapters. And I have no idea why. I love writing. I really do. It is just that whenever I try to write a cohesive story more than five or so pages long, the threads fall apart and I am left unsatisfied. There is always something, a thing that I cannot quite place, missing.

I feel this way with The Wrath and the Dawn too. The book, by all accounts, should be amazing. And it was. There was some small thing missing in the plot and character writing that I only realized after careful inspection, so I am here to share my thoughts.

Without further ado, here is the Amazon.com synopsis:

“Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.”

http://www.amazon.com/The-Wrath-Dawn-Ren%C3%A9e-Ahdieh/dp/0399171614

As you can see, the book is a retelling of the fairy tale One Thousand and One Nights, or Arabian Nights. While fairy tale retellings are a dime a dozen nowadays, with popular series like the Lunar Chronicles lining the shelves, I had never read a retelling of Arabian Nights prior to The Wrath and the Dawn. Now, I have seen two more adaptations spring up and I am sure more are on the way.

Plot:

There is nothing really special about the plot, seeing as though it is adapted from another source. However, I do think that the book is its own entity: I say this because there are many differences between the original and this book, such as the fact that there is, in fact, a reason behind Khalid killing his wives. The mystery drives the plot, not really the stories Shazi tells. And so, I liked the plot, since I loved the mystery.

The world described in this book I absolutely adored! It is set in an era of magic and secrecy, with magic carpets and mystic men and is based on lore from Persia. I ate it up! The kingdom of Khorasan is a character in its own right.

Characters:

I will start by saying this: there are multiple POVs in this book. I am more of a fan of single POV books, but I thought the changing POVs were a good edition and added to the mystery. With that being said, Shahrzad, or Shazi, is the main character of the book.

Main Characters:

Shazi: Shazi is introduced on her wedding day and we immediately get a glimpse of her personality. She is strong willed, arrogant/extremely confident, and fairly oblivious. She wishes to believe that she is all-knowing, but she misses a lot, as she later finds out in the story. I like that she has flaws yet still is a certifiable badass. Too many times nowadays heroines are advertised as a “strong female protagonist” simply because they can use a knife or some other bullshit thing. Meanwhile, they are downright useless, stupid, or impractical. Shazi is not any of these, and I love it.

Khalid: Khalid, the boy-king or Caliph of Khorasan, is Shazi’s recent husband and wife-murderer. He is a deeply guarded character and we rarely get a glimpse at his personality. For all intents and purposes, he is a stony-faced mystery. Yet, I am reluctant to say he has NO personality. He does, he really does. And it comes out in his body language. If you are a dialogue reader and skip the descriptions, it sucks to be you. Khalid comes to life in the way his actions, movements, and facial expressions are detailed in The Wrath and the Dawn.

Supporting Characters:

Despina: A handmaiden who serves Shazi while she lives at the palace, Despina becomes Shazi’s “friend”, though I am reluctant to call their relationship this. Despina is much wiser than Shazi in certain areas, but in some ways Shazi is more wise than her, and there is this whole dynamic between them that is friendly without them being “friends” per se. As a character, Despina holds up on her own, but there was nothing really shown of her without Shazi around. I think this is a little disappointing; I really wanted to learn more about her. *sigh* Alas, I shall have to wait for the sequel!

Jalal: Serving as a captain of the guard, Jalal is Khalid’s cousin and often his conscience. Jalal is arrogant and smug, but in a way that is more charming than repulsive. I liked him, but wish that I could have seen more from him, perhaps even from his POV.

Tariq: He is Shazi’s friend/love. He adores Shazi and would die for her, if that is what it would take to make sure she is happy. However, he is quite naïve in some of his pursuits and is out-witted about half of the time before he even realizes what is going on. On the whole, I liked him as a person, but I felt that he was kind of an unnecessary character and a deus ex machina in the end. The story’s progression was fairly obvious in regards to Tariq and he was a bit of an outside subject.

Jahandar: Jahandar is Shazi’s father. He loves his family very much, but is a little unstable now that his wife died and his daughter is marrying a murderer who kills all of his wives at dawn. Understandable. In the story he dabbles in magic, revealing his instability more and more. Call it personal taste or whatever, but I was never invested in his story like I was in the others. I am not going to say that he was a bad character, but he was okay and only okay.

The Rajput: A silent bodyguard/expert swordsman, the Rajput is a silent presence the entire time. Much like Khalid, some of his personality came through in his body language, but not nearly as much as Khalid. Overall, he was okay.

Writing Style:

This is where I am very divided. On one hand, the writing is downright beautiful. There are some phrases and sentences that just have me swooning on the spot. Who could resist the allure of some of these?

Khalid froze in time. Then Shahrzad watched his face shatter. The eyes of molten amber faded to dull memory. Faded to ruin. His raw anguish seared her soul and robbed her of breath. The bloodstained shamshir fell to his side.

 

It tore at what professes to be my soul. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. A thousand, thousand times. At your knees, and it will never be enough.

And quite possibly my favorite:

One hundred lives for the one you took. One life to one dawn. Should you fail but a single morn, I shall take from you your dreams. I shall take from you your city. And I shall take from you these lives, a thousandfold.

That is some serious writing there. Being a musical person, I thoroughly appreciate the lyricism of the diction and syntax of this book. It is truly a marvel.

However.

The impact of this prose is twofold. Sometimes it weaves itself in with the moment, resulting in some truly wondrous scenes. Sometimes, it fails to do this and creates a dichotomy within the book. I would note how great the writing was kind of like when you are in the movie theater and say “wow, that was some really great cinematography”. And that is exactly what is wrong with this book. Sometimes it feels like a film and you are the viewer; you have a firm grasp of what is going on and you really like it, but you are not in the story. You are not immersed in what is happening. The film keeps rolling by and you are the passive receiver rather than the active reader. In some spots where the writing really needed to pull it off, it split from the events and was beautiful to read but difficult to dive into.

All in all, though, the writing was really good. As this is the author’s debut novel, I am really expecting great things from one Renée Ahdieh.

Cover/general appearance:

You and I know the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” is complete bullshit. Sure, it may be good in a symbolic sense, but in a literal sense it is stupid. OF COURSE people want to read books with interesting covers and cool artwork. Look at this and try to tell me that you are not intrigued:

wrath

Now this is a cover. Hell YEAH! It gives you a glimpse at the genre, the main character, and the central focus of the book in one image. A+ on design, Renée Ahdieh.

Last thoughts:

Let’s say that you are at the mall with some of your friends. You see someone and you’re like, “Holy shit, he/she is totally hot!” But there is always that one friend that points out the coffee stain or the crooked tooth or the awful pattern of the shorts. So now you are shit out of luck. You want to go back to that blissful state of enthrallment, but the slight imperfection is a neon sign in you head.

When I realized what about the writing bothered me, this is what happened. This book is one glorious package of intrigue, passion, and history, but I managed to find the bug in the rice. And it is all subjective.

After calculating the scores for the categories, The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh get a score of:

8.2

I recommend that you buy this book at your earliest convenience and give it a go. I am sure you will not be disappointed 🙂