30 Day Writing Challenge

30 day writing challenge

I haven’t done anything like this, so I thought it might be fun to try. 

Day 1: List Ten Things That Make You Really Happy

In no particular order:

  1. My son (he really makes my day brighter)
  2. Playing Dragon Age games (Origins, Awakening, DA2, or DA: Inquisition)
  3. Writing – blog posts, poetry, and Dragon Age fanfiction
  4. Reading during any spare minutes I have – esp if they’re ARCs (Advanced Readers Copy so I get to read and review them before anyone else)
  5. Talking to anyone who will listen about art and sharing my knowledge and appreciation of it – doubly so if I get to teach an art program like Art Explorers or the ones I used to do for Kids Cafe
  6. Having intellectual conversations with cute educated guys
  7. Nerding out/Fangirling while watching Star Wars/LOTR/Miraculous Ladybug/anything vaguely Anglophile (see my Pinterest page for more of what Nerdy/Geeky things I mean)
  8. Going to Comic-con in Phx – maybe one day I can do the big one in San Diego
  9. Traveling – last trip was to Alabama to visit my family so not sure that really counts but last trip before that was to Prescott/Sedona/Northern Arizona area which I hadn’t really explored since before I moved here to AZ so that counts. I haven’t been on a good trip since college, esp a “dropping me in the middle of a country where I don’t speak the language but still manage to have fun”, but here’s hoping for more in the future. 
  10. As corny as this sounds, doing my job at work. I got a Masters Degree in Youth Services in a Public Library and I really do love helping kids and their families, so anywhere I get to do that is awesome, i.e. during Preschool STEM storytime, during Baby Storytime, Kids Cafe, Reference Desk, Readers Advisory, or helping out with other programs. 

Winter

winter

Winter (The Lunar Chronicles #4) by Marissa Meyer

Winter isn’t completely the completely useless crazy princess all the nobility on Luna maker her out to be. She is beloved by the common people, something her stepmother Queen Levana has never been, and the Queen hates her for it. Winter, in turn, despises her stepmother for using her Lunar gift to permanently scar her face and not allowing her to be with the love of her life, Jacin, a palace guard. She allies herself with Cinder, Emperor Kaito, Cress, Thorne, Wolf and Scarlet as they plot to take down Levana and install Cinder as Queen of Luna. Will they be able to defeat Levana and each be able to find their happy endings? To find out read the exciting conclusion of The Lunar Chronicles! Recommended for ages 14+, 4-1/2 stars. 

I reviewed the other Lunar Chronicles books here and here, and although I ultimately loved this book, it was so freaking long I nearly gave up several times. It took me about a month to finish on audiobook, though that was with several interruptions. I mean c’mon, it was 19 discs. We’re almost getting into Game of Thrones territory here (it had 28 discs). I really think it should’ve been divided into two books as the story took so much buildup to get to the point, which was to take down Levana and install Cinder on the Lunar throne as queen. The theme of this book was about Winter, the stepdaughter of Queen Levana who has been mentioned in previous books but you hadn’t heard much about until this book, and was a reference to the fairy tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Winter was so flighty and weird that at first, I kind of hated her character, but as the book progresses the reader realizes that her odd behavior isn’t completely her fault. She has chosen to withhold the Lunar gift (mind control) and therefore has essentially driven herself crazy. 

I loved the character and relationship development between the couples: Kai and Cinder, Thorne and Cress, and Wolf and Scarlet. Kai and Cinder are so awkward when the book starts, probably because of the kidnapping but once he understands everything, they are too cute together and apart (especially when he is dealing with Levana). Wolf and Scarlet were interesting because she was tortured and he was genetically modified, but they are still so in love with each other no matter what has happened. Thorne and Cress are my favorite relationship and characters, aside from Cinder. Cress is very brave despite feeling insignificant all of the time. And Thorne is such a dashing rogue (very Han Solo in my opinion), though at the same time completely petrified at the thought of losing Cress, even though he can’t seem to voice it until the very end.

I found the part at the end, the face-off between Cinder and Levana in the audience room to be completely insane but fantastically written by the author. The way Levana keeps using Cinder’s friends against her physically and keeps thwarting all her attempts, even pretending to surrender; it honestly was kept on the edge of myself till the last minute wondering who was going to come out on top. Apparently there’s a short story about one of the characters getting married in the author’s book  Stars Above, so I am definitely going to check that out later. 

Saving Hamlet

saving-hamlet

Saving Hamlet by Molly Booth

To be published: Nov 1, 2016

Emma Allen just got a cute new haircut and she can’t wait to start her sophomore year of high school. She is especially excited this year because she will be the Assistant Stage Manager for the high school’s production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and her senior crush Brandon is directing the play. Only things start to go wrong from the beginning. She is thrust into the role of Stage Manager, the cute soccer guy with no acting skill gets cast as Hamlet (which infuriates her best friend Lulu who had wanted the role and is not talking to her right now), and Brandon is a horrible director. Plus, as Emma discovers one night, she can go through the trap door of her high school stage and ends up in Elizabethan London at the Globe Theater where Shakespeare and the King’s Men are performing the original Hamlet. Because of her short haircut and clothes, she is mistaken for a boy and soon becomes Master Allen. She catches the attention of Master Cooke, the young man playing Ophelia. What is a girl to do? To find out, read this fascinating glimpse into the play Hamlet as seen through teenage eyes. 

I did find it interesting that I managed to read two ARC time-travel books back to back last week. This one was completely different from the other one, but has similar qualities, i.e. about growing up and rediscovering yourself and what you can be. I loved the in-depth study of the play and the characters and their motives, as it is one of my favorites and I enjoy watching different interpretations of it. I’ve never seen the play in street clothes, but it seems like it would work just fine, as it did in the text. The David Tennant version of Hamlet they mentioned in the book is really quite excellent, I recommend it. 

I liked the interpretations of Hamlet and Ophelia that Josh and Lulu came up with during the course of the play. During the “To be or not to be” speech, Josh suggests that “maybe this is about being stuck in a weird place. Knowing that you have to do this thing, but not being brave enough to do it. Being too much in your head.” I am totally guilty of doing this, especially with events going on in my life right now, so I can see where he is coming from about it. My favorite part was about Lulu’s interpretation of Ophelia, which also has points about it that remind me of my life at the moment. She says:

“I’ve always thought that Ophelia was this throwaway character and that Shakespeare was a sexist pig for writing her so fragile…But lately I’ve been thinking: she’s always being controlled, right? By her father, by her brother, by general sexism and the court. But then she has this love and she does everything correctly but loses everything, including Hamlet…She’s just so alone  and so done with living in this sexist world that doesn’t make any sense. So she just lets it take over, and gives in, and lets herself drown in it.” 

Emma is actually a pretty interesting character. She has decided to do drama instead of soccer (even though she was awesome at it) and changed to a whole new better group of friends. Her best friend is bisexual and her friend’s parents are super traditional and are in denial about everything, and making their daughter’s life miserable. Emma likes Brandon, the unattainable older hottie, but he barely acknowledges her existence outside of the play. Then there’s Josh, the untrained actor who rescued Emma from a party last year and she’s kind of attracted to, but not ready to admit it. Then of course, there’s the whole part of the book in Elizabethan England, where Emma becomes a boy assistant stage manager and uses the skills she acquires there to help out Josh in the future. I loved the mysterious Master Cooke character and I kind of would have liked to get to know him better or maybe have her pick him in the end. 

Disclaimer: Thank you to Disney Hyperion, via Netgalley, for allowing me to read a copy in exchange for my honest review. 

 

Summer Manga

This summer has been cray-cray! So much work and programming and personal life has been all over the place. So I have been reading a good amount of manga (29 and counting since end of April) this summer in between all the ARCs and book club reads because A. I enjoy them B. they are quick reads C. sometimes you just need something fluffy to read in between all the other stuff. I have discovered some pretty good stuff by accident, though some I knew about because of watching the anime version. I was very surprised how deep and meaningful A Silent Voice ended up being, and it is definitely one of the best mangas I’ve read this year. I’ve read more than I have reviewed, but I’ve been writing this post forever, so I figured I should end it soon. 

Strobe Edge Vol 1

Strobe Edge, Vol 1. written and illustrated by Io Sakisaka

Honestly at first I thought this book was a bit shallow and the main character clueless, but I will admit that is a bit of the charm of the book. Ninako has always relied on others to tell how she was feeling and has always been very nice but naive, which is why when she falls for the quiet popular guy Ren, she doesn’t know how to react. She wasn’t expecting it and most of her interactions with him are purely by luck and circumstance, but both of them seem to be falling in love with each other in a most unexpected way. Of course, there is another boy named Daichi who is in love with her, and they have been friends for years, but won’t say anything except to get pissed at Ren for “taking her away” from him. The twist in this story comes from the fact that Ren is dating Daichi’s older sister and his family has been going through a messy divorce. Will she bow to her friend’s pressure to date Daishi or follow her heart (though possibly have it broken) by pursuing Ren? Recommended for ages 13+, 3 stars. 

A Silent Voice #1 -2 by Yoshitoki Oima

A-Silent-Voice-Koe-no-Katachi-Volume-2

Shoya Ishida is a bit of a ruffian and slacker. He is in 6th grade and with the help of his two buddies, they make a new girl’s life a living hell. Shoko Nishimiya is the object of his torture, a pretty deaf girl who thinks the best of everyone, even in the midst of being harangued constantly by Shoya. He ends up ruining six of Shoko’s hearing aids before her mother draws her out of school, and charges his mother for the replacement of them, all $17,000 worth. Because of what he did, Shoya is ostracized for the next 6 years by his classmates and supposed friends and becomes an outcast. He makes up his mind to find Shoko and apologize to her in person, after he has paid back his mother all the money he owes her. He finally meets her and instead of simply apologizing, he tries to become her friend. She is at first bewildered by this, but kind of accepts it at the same time. He does seem like he’s turned over a new leaf, paying his mom back for the money he owes her, trying to help Shoko out, and learning sign language so they can communicate. Her sister Yuzuru is very protective of her and at first pretends to be her boyfriend to scare off Shoya (which leads to a hilarious scene in a public bath later on). In the end, Yuzuru decides that he is not being false and is sincerely trying to make amends. Their mother, however, will never forgive him. Will Shoya ever be able to get her mother’s forgiveness? What is his end game? How does Shoko really feel about him? To find out, read the first two volumes of this delightful series. Highly recommended for ages 13+, 5 stars. 

I forget what I was browsing when I discovered this title, but I’m glad I picked it up. The subject matter was so interesting and one I’ve never seen in mangas before, at least in this context. This handled some pretty tough topics such as bullying, depression, and thoughts of suicide, with a light touch. By that, I mean we are clearly shown the cause of the main character’s issues and the effect it had on his life afterwards (without being heavy-handed). I have dealt with all three of those in the past and been on both sides of bullying and I thought it was written very well. I think my favorite part had to be his mother’s reaction to finding out that he planned to end his life (as a mother, I can understand her reaction). 

Demon Love Spell

Demon Love Spell (Ayakashi Koi Emaki), Vol. 1-4 written and illustrated by Manyu Shinjo

This is quite possibly one of the worst name for a manga or anime, or really a book period. However, the story really wasn’t that bad. A good girl falling in love for a bad boy is not a new story, but watching her crumble was entertaining. Definitely a 16+ book though, as there are fairly graphic depiction of nudity and simulations of sex.

Miko Tsubaki is daughter of the head priest of the local shrine and her father is a famous demon hunter. She is supposed to be following in this footsteps, but her powers aren’t as good. One day she seals the powers of an incredibly powerful incubus (who seduces women into having sex with them to gain their power or energy) named Kagura, totally by accident, and they start living together. He is in a much different form though, not the sex god form she originally encounters but a mini boy child version (which makes for some interesting scenes). Eventually, Kagura proposes marriage to her and she says yes, only they have to convince both of their families it is a good idea. 

Volume 4 was my favorite one of the series because it made me laugh out loud so much I must’ve seemed like a crazy person.The series as a whole has been pretty hilarious as the incubus tries to get Miko, a priestess, to have sex with him so he can become even more powerful as a demon. But this volume is more stepped up as they are both falling more in love with each other and Miko’s resistance is falling fast. Plus every time she works up the courage to actually do it, they are interrupted by a crazy situation, aka the body swapping in this book.  Recommended for ages 16+, 4 stars. 

Wolf Children Ame and Yuki

Wolf Children: Ame & Yuki written by Mamoru Hosoda, illustrated by Yu and Yoshiyuki Sadamoto

I love love loved this book! It was a bit of a random pickup after I saw the book on a comics involving mothers booklist and thought it looked like fun. It was sweet and sad and wonderful! Plus fabulous illustrations that were so expressive. Hana is a young woman at university in a biology class when she meets a handsome but quiet young man and shares her textbook with him. They quickly fall in love, even after he reveals that he is half-wolf and can change at will. They soon have a baby girl named Yuki, followed a year later by a boy named Ame. Her husband has a tragic accident and dies, leaving young mother Hana to take care of two children by herself. She decides they would be able to be more themselves, aka half-wolf children, if they lived out in the country where her husband grew up. So they move way out and have to fend for themselves, learning to garden and be a part of nature. Her children are very different as they decide whether they want to be human or wolf on their own. Parts of this manga made me sob and it was totally heart-wrenching, but hopeful in the end. The anime version is great as well. Highly recommended for ages 15+, 5 stars.

Library Wars Vol 14

Library Wars: Love & War, Vol 14 written and illustrated by Kiiro Yumi

The Library Task Force (LTF) is still protecting the author Mr. Toma from the Media Betterment Committee guys aka the bad guys who want censorship, but decide he must defect from Japan to protect himself.  Kasahara and Instructor Dojo are helping Toma escape, but Dojo is injured and Kasahara must protect both of them from the MBC. Kasahara picks him up and takes him to safety. It finally happened! Kasahara finally got up the nerve to kiss Instructor Dojo after he is injured and tell him she likes him. He is shocked to say the least, but can still smirk at her as she is leaving. The LTF figured out that their mole was none other than Assistant Director Hatano and not Tezuka’s brother Satoshi. Dojo manages to make it a hospital where he has surgery to remove the bullet from his leg, and Kasahara drives Toma to Osaka. I liked it at the end of the manga when the LTF team members are discussing how similar Kasahara and Dojo are, and how Dojo used to be just like Kasahara when he first started. Highly recommended for ages 13+, 5 stars. 

Kimi Ni Todoke - From Me to You manga

Kimi ni Todoke (From Me to You), Vol 1- 10 written and illustrated by Karuho Shiina

I adore this series! I discovered the anime on Hulu and binge-watched it until the end, completely obsessed with it. So when I discovered there was also a manga, I jumped at the chance to read it. I am enjoying it because there is so much more in the manga that you don’t get in the anime show. Volume 1 is so adorable and I loved how the author/illustrator showed how Kazehaya was falling for her so early in the series instead of a bit later like they show in the anime. I mean he was nice to hear from the beginning but you don’t really see the love till later. Volume 1 is all about introducing us to the main characters and Sawako’s first year (1 of 3 years of Japanese high school). Sawako, who the teens have all dubbed Sadako (the long dark haired girl from the horror movie The Ring) because her behavior and mannerisms look the same, is a very quiet and shy girl with no friends. After a chance meeting with Kazehaya before school starts, she starts to slowly come out of her shell and try to get to know and befriend her classmates. They begin to see how cool she is and fun to be around. She becomes friends with Ayane and Chizuru, two girls who are the total opposite of her but soon become fiercely protective of each other. Because she is friends with Chizuru, she also befriends Ryu, Chizuru’s best friend (who is also secretly in love with her). With Kazehaya’s help, she is befriending more classmates and becoming well-liked with pretty much everyone, except Kurumi (who declares them rivals after she is rejected by Kazehaya). Then comes the incredibly slow burn romance between Sawako and Kazehaya culminating in a very awkward pronouncement from both of them that they like each other and start a relationship. I loved Ryu’s character even more in the manga, especially in relation to Chizuru. I can totally relate to Sawako as I was very shy in high school. Looking forward to reading more volumes in the series as this is pretty much where the anime stopped and I know there is at least 15 more volumes after that. Highly recommended for ages 14+, 5 stars. 

Kamisama Kiss Vol 20

Kamisama Kiss Vol. 20 written and illustrated by Julietta Suzuki

Namami and Tomoe are finally dating and they are in Okinawa for Nanami’s class trip. Mikage sends Tomoe on an errand to drop off a gift to the shrine maiden on an island nearby and Tomoe realizes it’s the same one he met so about 100 years ago. She tells him “the girl who lives in your heart is a good one,” and “you need to change if you want to make that girl happy.” He assumes that it means he must become human and starts reading up on it, but it really freaks Nanami out. Tomoe is kind of realizing how hard it will be to be a demon and have a human girlfriend, and she thinks he is rushing his decision to become human. Nanami goes to discuss things with Mikage who tries to make her see things through Tomoe’s eyes. Tomoe eventually takes the re-evolution potion that Kurama got from Ami (to turn her back to human after she was turned into a mermaid in the previous volume), and turns into a small white fox and then is stuck like that. Will he be able to turn back into a demon or even a human? To find out, read this exciting volume. Recommended for ages 14+, 5 stars. 

Demon Prince of Momochi House Vol 1     The Demon Prince of Momochi House

The Demon Prince of Momochi House, Vol 1-2 by Aya Shouoto

A fellow librarian recommended this series to me, so I decided to give it a try. I mean how can I not with a fox demon guy on the cover? They are a particular weakness of mine. The manga is about a orphaned girl named Himari Momochi who inherits a mansion on her 16th birthday. She soon realizes that things are not always as they seem. Once she gets there, she finds 3 gorgeous squatters who have no intention of leaving her house, which is a gateway between the demon and human world. Two of them (Yukari and Ise) are ayakashi (spirits) and the other is a human named Aoi who can transform into a fox/cat/butterfly demon. Aoi was chosen by the house to be its protector, and that is why he can change shape. The fox demon (Nue) reminds me a lot of Tomoe from Kamasama Kiss at least in looks (though a little more effeminate), though he and his alter ego are way nicer to start out with, and even features similar characters from that manga/anime.

Naturally Himari immediately falls for Aoi and is constantly talking about him and being concerned for his well-being. The funniest parts were how flustered she gets around him because he seems to be so naive, which makes me wonder how long he’s been the house protector. I look forward to finding out more about both of their characters and the mansion to better fill out the story. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

Dragon Age: Magekiller

DA - Magekiller

Dragon Age: Magekiller (Dragon Age: Magekiller #1-6) written by Greg Rucka, Front Cover Art by Sachin Teng, Pencils by Carmen Carnero, Inks by Terry Pallot, Colors by Michael Atiyeh, and Lettering by Michael Heisler

To be published: August 9, 2016

Tessa and Marius are mage killers, and we see the evidence of their handiwork in the first couple of pages after a mage turns into an abomination and tries to kill them. They escape, only to be tailed to their hideout by an elven slave coming to ask their help for his Tevinter magister master. Marius immediately turns it down, as he himself was a former slave and wants to have nothing to do with them. The elf convinces them to come and they do, only discover that the magister is not just another mage, but the Archon himself (the equivalent of ruler in the Tevinter Imperium). He wants Marius and Tessa to get rid of four Venatori agents who are aiming for Tevinter to be restored to the way it was 200 years ago, in the “glory days” of the Imperium. The mage killers make short work of their targets, until it comes to the last one. Marius knew the woman from his past, and won’t kill her. In the end,  she helps Tessa and him escape from the Archon.

Shortly after their escape attempt, the Breach opens up in the sky and rifts start forming and spewing out all manner of things. So not only are they fighting the Archon’s assassins, but also demons. After a big battle that saved a few farmsteads worth of people and going back to the closest town to recuperate, a mysterious woman comes in and Tessa is sure that she is an assassin sent by the Archon. Charter, an elf, turns out to be a scout sent by the Inquisition (the soldiers and other people banding together to seal rifts and get rid of demons and other baddies), asking them to join the cause. Tessa and Marius join the Inquisition and they are sent to the Western Approach to get rid of the Venatori in the area. They are joined by Dorian Pavus, a Tevinter mage and the Chargers, led by Krem. They manage to rescue all of the slaves captured by the Venatori and destroy the camp before returning to Caer Bronach in Crestwood to recover when they run into Leliana, spymaster of the Inquisition, and are summoned to the headquarters at Skyhold. They find themselves thrown into the final battle with Corypheus at the remains of the Temple of Sacred Ashes as reinforcements for the Inquisitor. Can everyone work together to save the world from evil? To find out, read this exciting comic. 4 stars. 

I am a huge Dragon Age fan, so when I found out that this comic was coming out, I jumped at the chance to review a copy. So my review will probably be a bit more detailed than most people because I recognize most of the locales in the comic, even if they aren’t labeled. This blog post will illuminate that further. This is a cool comic because not only does it feature the freaking Archon, a character only hinted at in-game, but also because timeline-wise, it is situated between Dragon Age 2 and Inquisition. So you get to see the Breach and the rifts from an outside character in Thedas. While I really enjoyed the comic, I can see how someone who is not versed in the Dragon Age universe would get very lost. There are a lot of unexplained parts and storylines that just stop or end awkwardly. Maybe a preface with a map and a brief description of Thedas would be a good way to ease people into the story. 

Tessa reminds me a lot of Cassandra, and not just because they are both from noble families in Nevarra. They are both strong, determined women who do what they have to in order to survive. I absolutely adored how Greg Rucka managed to sneak in a copy of Varric’s Swords and Shields as choice reading material for Tessa and Marius, it made me laugh! My favorite parts were when the “assassin” comes to kill Tessa and Marius in the town after they defeat the demons and Tessa begs her to come back tomorrow morning as they are both too tired and the assassin says “There are no such thing nice assassins.” Followed shortly thereafter when they both have daggers to each other’s throats and instead of making a move to strike, they count to three and both take a sip of beer. And of course, they had to bring in my favorite mage, Dorian to make things more snarky (yay I love Dorian!). Plus you get more time with all the interesting characters from Bull’s Chargers. 

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this comic, from Edelweiss via Dark Horse Comics, in exchange for my honest review. 

Heroine Complex

Heroine Complex

Heroine Complex (Heroine Complex #1) by Sarah Kuhn

To be published: July 5, 2016

Ever since the demons started coming out of inter-dimensional portals eight years ago, Aveda Jupiter has been San Francisco’s on-call heroine. She loves kicking butt, taking names and collecting all the fame and attention that goes with it. Evie Tanaka is her long-suffering personal assistant (and best friend) who very much prefers to be behind the scenes organizing Aveda’s schedule and handling her tantrums. Lucy, a martial arts instructor and bodyguard, and Nate, a demon scientist and physician make up the rest of Aveda’s team. Staying in the shadows is hard for Evie when she also has to be the caregiver for her unruly teenage sister Bea. To top it off, her boss is injured after a demon fight and Evie must take her place, and her secret powers emerge.  On top of that, she finds herself in a very unexpected romance with a co-worker. She suddenly realizes that being a superhero isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Can she figure out how to handle her superpowers, her love life, her boss and best friend and her sister, all while trying to save the world from a demon invasion. To find out, read the exciting first book of the Heroine Complex series! 4 stars. 

I honestly thought this was a Young Adult book until I picked it up and discovered the prodigious use of the the F-bomb in the beginning (the content/storytelling style makes it more New Adult). My only gripe with it was the beginning didn’t really grab my attention like I was hoping and I had to kind of force my way through it. Once the story got going however, it was great. I picked this one up because it’s about kick-ass Asian heroines, which is something you don’t see too often, and I love a good multicultural superhero story. The book reminded of the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in the feisty-heroine- fights-demons-with-her-assorted-talented-friends-and-hunky-love-interest kind of way. I loved Evie’s character and the way she fell in love with the guy that always annoyed her but turns out she has a secret crush on. I’m sure this has happened to pretty much everyone at some point in their life (I know it has for me). Nate was totally the hot nerdy guy I always seem to fall for. I completely was not expecting the twist at the end of the story, but it definitely made for some interesting reading. So if you are looking for a fun light read with snarky humor about awesome heroines,  nerdy references and guys, karaoke contests, and a touch of romance and sex, then this is definitely the book for you.

 

And I Darken

And I Darken

And I Darken (The Conqueror’s Saga #1) by Kiersten White

To be published: June 28, 2016

Lada is the daughter of Vlad Draculesti, otherwise known as Vlad the Impaler. Only he is not pleased to have a girl as she is not pretty enough to be married off for an advantage. She is trained from an early age to fight and Vlad recognizes that strength in her and is proud of her viciousness, but not enough to give her love or attention. Her younger brother Radu is handsome, fair and meek, everything is sister is not. But their father doesn’t care for him either. So it is not surprising that Vlad, the ruler of Wallachia, a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire in Southern Romania, uses his two children as bartering chips with the Ottoman ruler, Sultan Murad. Lada and Radu spend the majority of their childhood in Eridne in the palace, learning to survive in a place and with a religion not their own. Eventually they become friends with Mehmed, the third son the Sultan, and it is he who changes their life forever. Will Lada finally get the recognition and power that she deserves? Will Radu finally come into his own and become his own man and not an extension of his sister? To find out, read the exciting first book in The Conqueror’s Saga. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

I adored this book. I’ve been fascinated with the Ottomans for awhile now and I love stories that are twists on the original. Everyone pretty much knows who Vlad Dracul is, but to imagine his daughter (a noblewoman in 15th century Romania) as the brutal vicious one is a definite twist. It’s so rare to find such a richly detailed story, with a non-preachy view on religions (especially Islam), and such complex characters. In fact, the author made Islam sound really peaceful and centering, like I think it really is based on my studying of it. The executioner being labeled “the head gardener” was an interesting concept for me, as was the knowledge that it was the Ottomans (or more accurately the Ancient Mesopotamians who preceded them), not the Wallochians, who came up with the idea to impale people as punishment. The fratricide law that Mehmed enacts at the end of the book was based on historical fact and did basically give the sultan the right to get rid of his male siblings so that

Lada’s character is fascinating and it’s nice to hear about a rather unconventional heroine who is not flawlessly beautiful and is bitter and vengeful and ready to kick ass and take no prisoners. And she has a right to be, as life has always been hard on her and she really has no one to confide in about her deepest darkest feelings, even though she can barely admit those to herself. She is manipulative and strong and feisty and someone I would want to fight for me.

Radu is completely different from her in a way – he is softness and civility, to Lada’s anger and violence. He gains power not by force but by being charming, sophisticated and courtly. He has to hide the biggest part of himself to survive. But they both want the best for Mehmed, even though they disagree on what exactly that is. And they both love him, something I know he is aware of and does exploit to his better end.

My biggest gripe with this book was how much the story got bogged down in the middle with politics. I’m all for story-building but I felt that the author could’ve skipped a bunch of not vitally important stuff to get to more meatier parts. I hadn’t seen that it was part of a trilogy until I was about to write this review. I’m not surprised as the author has set up way too much of the story for it to be a single volume, plus I’m interested to see where she goes from here with it. It was just starting to get good, with Lada finally coming to terms that she might actually have some real power, Radu learning that even though he can never openly show his feelings for the sultan, he can still be around to protect and advise him, and Mehmed finally becoming the ruler he is meant to be.