Saturday, June 8, 2019

Ranger's Apprentice: The Battle for Skandia, a review

The Battle for Skandia. John Flanagan. 2006. Puffin Books. Pages: 294. Price: USD $8.99/$11.99 CAN. Setting: Skandia. ISBN 0142413402. [Source: Bought]

• • •

Far from home after escaping slavery in Skandia, Will and Evanlyn's plans to return are spoiled when Evanlyn is taken captive. Will employs his Ranger training to locate his friend, but soon finds himself fatally outnumbered—until Halt and Horace make a daring, last-minute rescue. But their reunion is cut short by the discovery that Skandia's borders have been breached by the Temujai army—and Araluen is next in their sights. Only an unlikely union can save the two kingdoms, but can it hold long enough to vanquish a ruthless new enemy?

• • •

Rating: 5/5

Ah, the days when I was 16 and hormones were raging, and I was utterly clueless...

The Battle for Skandia is the fourth installment of John Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice series, and I think it's by far the most entertaining (which is strange because this was the one that took me the longest to read, but that's probably because I was a bit distracted). It is also the satisfying conclusion of the story presented in the previous novel (The Icebound Land), where we were left wondering if Will would ever come out of the drug-induced fugue-state he was in—until he did, right before the words ran out and the book ended!

A lot has happened to Will since he became a Ranger's Apprentice. He's trained under his mentor, Halt—the Ranger of the Barony of Redmont—gone to war against the warlord Morgarath and the Skandians, been kidnapped by a band of Skandians before the war with Morgarath was even over, been a slave for a while and drugged to the point that he couldn't be automatically taken off the narcotic without risking dying in agony...

When The Battle of Skandia opens, Will has just snapped out of the drugged-induced haze brought on the warmweed that had been forced upon him. He's not as in shape as he had been before he and his friend Evanlyn were captured. During her attempts to hunt meat, Evanlyn caught sight of a stranger in the frosty woods that stuck out like a sore thumb—because these woods belonged to Skandia and the stranger doesn't look one whit like a Skandian.

And by the time Will "wakes up" in the little cabin up on the mountain where he and Evanlyn have been hiding out from the Skandians, that stranger has become a real problem—he's a member of a scouting party from the Temujai Steppes in the East, and they've come to conquer Skandia for their boats.

One of the things I like most is that the world of Ranger's Apprentice is based on our own, with dynamics based on what was going on in the past. Araluen is obviously based on Britain; Skandia is based on Scandinavia; Celtica is based on Celtic countries, probably Wales or Ireland, since The Sorcerer of the North and The Siege of Macindaw reveal that Picta is based on Scotland, because historically Scots were referred to as "Picts"; and the Temujai Steppes are based on the Mongolian Steppes.

The way the world is built makes it feel different, but somewhat similar to what we know, grounding it in reality and not lifting it too far away for us to relate to it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this installment. The humour was well-paced and clean, never failing to make me laugh. But there were some things that made me stop and consider how old my (future) kids would need to be before they were scarred by those things. It's funny how you're forced to think like that when you're reviewing... haha...

Anyway, there are the obvious: Araluens take God's name in vain periodically, but not all the time, and the word "d**n" is used once in a while. The Temujai General has a concubine, and there are other things that I can't remember, on top of the general violence and unmentioned blood.

Every person and parent is different of course, so it's up to you if you wish to talk to your child about it. These "issues" are extremely mild compared to what I've seen, read, and heard, but I'm also 23 years old.

In my opinion, this book should be read 14 year olds and older if you or your child have been sheltered, even though the back cover says "10 years and up". But that's just my opinion.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

2019 Aussie Author Challenge

Challenge: 2019 Aussie Author Challenge
Hosted by: Booklover Book Reviews @
Time frame: January 1st, 2019, to December 31st, 2019

The class I'm going to be entering into will be WALLABY - 'Read and review 3 titles written by Australian authors, of which at least one of those authors are female, at least 1 of those authors are male, and at least 1 of those authors are new to you; fiction or non-fiction, any genre.' as they put it.

The books I have chosen are:
  1. Ranger's Apprentice: The Battle for Skandia by John Flanagan ✔︎
  2. Celtic Blood by James John Loftus
  3. From the Wreck by Jane Rawson
I'm familiar with John Flanagan, but James John Loftus and Jane Rawson are new to me.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

2019 Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge - Author Edition

Challenge: 2019 Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge – Author Edition
Hosted by: Dollycas @
Time frame: January 1st to December 31st 2019

How this is going to work: I'll add '(finished)' to the end of each title to mark when I've read the book, because I have to write down each book I'm going to read for this challenge :)

A – Lloyd Alexander, Time Cat (finished)

B – Marie Brennan, Tropic of Serpents

C - C.E. Laureano, Oath of the Brotherhood

D - Deborah Underwood, Here Comes Santa Cat

E - Elizabeth Bear, The Stone in the Skull

F - Corinne Fenton, Bob the Railway Dog

G – Gilbert Morris (with Dan Meeks), The Frozen Space Pilot (finished)

H - Holly Black, The Cruel Prince

I - Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer, Honey & Co.: the Cookbook (finished)

J – John Flanagan, Ranger's Apprentice: The Battle for Skandia (finished)

K – K.M. Weiland, Outlining Your Novel

L – James John Loftus, Celtic Blood

M – Morgan Rhodes, Rebel Spring

N - Brian Neil Roy, The Heart Island Anomaly

O - Jeffrey Overstreet, Auralia's Colors

P - Jacob Peppers, A Sellsword's Compassion

Q – Philip C. Quaintrell, Rise of the Ranger

R – Sara C. Roethle, Tree of Ages

S – Sabaa Tahir, A Torch Against the Night

T - Rachel Starr Thompson, Seeds

U - Ursula K. Le Guin, The Wizard of Earthsea

V – Elizabeth Gray Vining, Adam of the Road (finished)

W – Gretchen Woelfle, Katje, the Windmill Cat

X - Xenophon, The Persian Expedition

Y - Yotam Ottolenghi, Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipies from London's Ottolenghi (finished)

Z - Roger Zelazny, Nine Princes of Amber

Monday, December 31, 2018

Happy New Year!

Here we are, at the end of another year. I find it hard to comprehend that 2018 went so fast since I wasn't all that busy this year—but the year's gone!

When it comes to New Year's resolutions, I have to admit that I don't have any outside of goals I know I can't forget about (like I usually do about resolutions). I have to get a job in the new year—I know I've been saying that for months, but there haven't been any jobs openings that I fit and when there were jobs I sent my resume in but never got a response back (either I still didn't fit or I was now terribly overqualified since that I graduated college...)

But 2019 holds many opportunities. The day after tomorrow I'm going to walk into a business that has been looking for employees for months with my resume and hand it in to the owner—I've already handed one in to him months ago, but it seems that it was lost because when a friend asked about it he said that he never got one from me. Understandable, because I handed the resume to an employee and not directly to the owner.

The year of 2018 held many opportunities and experiences for me, which I'm extremely grateful for. Among them are:

  • I read 23 books in total, from The Great and Terrible Quest by Margaret Lovett to Falling Kingdoms by Canadian Author Morgan Rhodes to The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker and the first three Rangers Apprentice books by John Flanagan: The Ruins of Gorlan, The Burning Bridge, and The Icebound Land. Most of them were extremely long—The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks is 726 pages long, Quietus by Tristan Palmgren has 512 pages, and Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir has 480...
  • I got an awesome internship at my local county building that I wished I could have continued indefinitely.
  • I graduated from college, though it took two-thirds of the year from the graduation ceremony before I was officially deemed "graduated" thanks to how busy my program supervisor (*cough**cough*Ron Nickel*cough**cough*Bill and Frank Graham's photographer*COUGH*) was.
  • I got to explore a lot of my county thanks to my internship.
  • I got to level up one of my characters in Lord of the Rings Online to over Level 100 (so he's in Gondor now—in the city of Dol Amroth).
  • I learned to cross stitch properly.
  • And I got to switch my cat, Pebbles, over to healthier food so now I see her thriving in front of my very eyes, at a hale 7 years of age.
Looking at what I've listed, which feels like only a fraction of what I must have done, it makes me excited about what 2019 might bring. Will I get to further my experiences as a writer by attending a writers conference? Will I join a writer's guild? Will I manage to help my parents build their desired deck off the back of the house? Will we finally get on track with Trim Healthy Mama?

New Year's Eve marks the cliff over the precipice of a new year, in which so much could happen for us or to us. It's exciting and terrifying at the same time. For some we may end up gliding into the new year and barely notice the change outside of the 8 changing to a 9 on the calendar or the fact we're handing a new calendar after using up the last one (I'm going to miss my cat one, but the good news is that I have this year's Murdoch Mysteries one!). For others, it may feel like they're falling into the new year as they desperately wait for the next paycheck or the date when a loved one finally gets to come home (I'm praying for you guys).

Some are writing down or have written down their New Year's resolutions, and some aren't going to achieve what they set out to do. But that's okay. I'm not doing New Year's Resolutions.

Instead of resolutions, I'm going to say that I have a list of goals for 2019, a year in which seemed so far away when I was a kid and thought ahead to when I'm the age I am now.

My list is:

  • I want to publish at least one novel/novella/short story this year. I had told myself this last year but I got... distracted, lol.
  • I want to open an etsy and a craftsy store and sell cross stitch patterns. I have one pattern done already but I'm still working on transcribing it to a professional-looking sheet so it's more understandable.
  • I want to do more with the photography skills I learned in college. I don't have my Adobe subscription anymore, but the other day I got an Affinity Photo program that does the same things as Photoshop so I should be good to go.
What resolutions or goals do you guys have? I would love to hear them!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Bookopoly Review

I guess this is coming a little late, but in all honesty, I forgot about the Bookopoly Contest because it got to a point that I realized that I wouldn't be able to finish the contest. I had just ended up reading too many long books, ha ha.

But, man, I read so many good books. I may not have reviewed them all, but they were good. They made me experience so many emotions and they inspired me to write (even though I don't have much to show for that at the moment).

A lot of things have happened in my life over the summer—I finished the practicum I needed to do in order to graduate from college (I'm still chasing after my teacher in order to go over what I did for the practicum because he's so busy—he's a photographer for Franklin Graham so he's always following him overseas—and he can't talk to me when he's busy); I have been job hunting but haven't heard anything back from any of the places I sent my resume to; I've grown addicted to Lord of the Rings Online, which is kinda dangerous; I went to the church camp out at the end of August; and I got into cross stitching again. When I talk about it, it makes my summer seem kinda lazy :P

But that didn't stop me from reading up to ten books! That's a record for me, I think. Tallying up what I read, it seems that I read 2 historical novels (1 being historical romance), 2 science fiction novels (1 being a graphic novel), 5 fantasy novels (1 being a historical fantasy), and 1 collection of one-page comics.

Some of the books I ended up reading this summer were books I never realized I would ever read. Or bring myself to read. But the point of the bookopoly was to go and read books you wouldn't normally read in order to accomplish all the categories of the contest.

Total Books Read for Contest: 10

A Defense of Honor by Kristi Ann Hunter
When Katherine "Kit" FitzGilbert turned her back on London society more than a decade ago, she determined never to set foot in a ballroom again. But when business takes her to London and she's forced to run for her life, she stumbles upon not only a glamorous ballroom but also Graham, Lord Wharton. What should have been a chance encounter becomes more as Graham embarks on a search for his friend's missing sister and is convinced Kit knows more about the girl than she's telling.

After meeting Graham, Kit finds herself wishing things could have been different for the first time in her life, but what she wants can't matter. Long ago, she dedicated herself to helping women escape the same scorn that drove her from London and raising the innocent children caught in the crossfire. And as much as she desperately wishes to tell Graham everything, revealing the truth isn't worth putting him and everyone she loves in danger.

The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks
Long ago, the wars of the ancient Evil ruined the world. In peaceful Shady Vale, half-elfin Shea Ohmsford knows little of such troubles. But the supposedly dead Warlock Lord is plotting to destroy everything in his wake. The sole weapon against this Power of Darkness is the Sword of Shannara, which can be used only by a true heir of Shannara. On Shea, last of the bloodline, rests the hope of all the races.

Quietus by Tristan Palmgren
Niccolucio, a young Florentine Carthusian monk, leads a devout life until the Black Death kills all of his brothers, leaving him alone and filled with doubt. Habidah, an anthropologist from another universe racked by plague, is overwhelmed by the suffering. Unable to maintain her observer neutrality, she saves Niccolucio from the brink of death.

Habidah discovers that neither her home's plague nor her assignment on Niccolucio's world are as she's been led to believe. Suddenly, the pair are drawn into a worlds-spanning conspiracy to topple an empire larger than the human imagination can contain.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely traveling any farther than his pantry or cellar. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an adventure. They have launched a plot to raid the treasure hoard guarded by Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon. Bilbo reluctantly joins their quest, unaware that on his journey to the Lonely Mountain he will encounter both a magic ring and a frightening creature known as Gollum.

Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes
In the three kingdoms of Mytica, magic has long been forgotten. And while hard-won peace has reigned for centuries a deadly unrest now simmers below the surface.

As the rulers of each kingdom grapple for power, the lives of their subjects are brutally transformed... and four key players, royals and rebels alike, find their fates forever intertwined. Cleo, Jonas, Lucia, and Magnus are caught in a dizzying world of treacherous betrayals, shocking murders, secret alliances, and even unforeseen love.

The only outcome that's certain is that kingdoms will fall. Who will emerge triumphant when all they know has collapsed?

A Wrinkle in Time: the Graphic Novel by Madeleine L'Engle, adapted by Hope Larson
Late one night, three otherworldly creatures appear and sweep Meg Murry, her brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin O'Keefe away on a mission to save Mr. Murry, who has gone missing while doing top-secret work for the government. They travel via tesseract — a wrinkle that transports one across space and time — to the planet Camazotz, where Mr. Murry is being held captive. There they discover a dark force that threatens not only Mr. Murry but the safety of the whole universe.

Mandie and the Medicine Man by Lois Gladys Leppard
A Cherokee superstition seems to have come back to haunt Mandie and her friends. The gold they discovered has been donated to build a new hospital, but something or someone is tearing down the walls as fast as they can be built. The guard posted to watch the site is knocked out, tied up and blindfolded.

Will Mandie be able to find her friend Joe? Will Mandie and Sallie be rescued from their kidnappers? Will Mandie learn her lesson about jumping to conclusions?

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free.

Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. But when Laia's brother is arrest for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire's greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school's finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he's being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

Herding Cats by Sarah Andersen
With characteristic wit and charm, Sarah Andersen's third collection of comics and illustrated personal essays offers a survival guide for frantic modern life: from the importance of avoiding morning people, to internet troll defense 101, to the not-so-life-changing futility of tidying up. But when all else fails and the world around you is collapsing, make a hot chocolate, count the days until Halloween, and snuggle up next to your furry beacon of hope.

The experience of devouring book after book this summer was envigorating, and I look forward to doing it again! ^^

Thursday, September 6, 2018

An Ember in the Ashes: a book review

An Ember in the Ashes. Sabaa Tahir. 2015. Razorbill. Pages: 480. [Source: Bought]

• • •

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire's impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They've seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia's brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire's greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school's finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he's been trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

• • •

Rating: 5/5

I never knew that this book would become one of my absolute favourites, especially when I began to read it and found that it had been written in First Person Present. There aren't many novels written in First Person Present, and I often find it an annoying way to write because it presents the fact that, in logistics, when it's written that way, it kind of suggests that the book is being written as the events happen. And how can the main character be writing this when he's the middle of a battle or while she's being beaten by her master?

But this writing style didn't bother me while I read An Ember in the Ashes. Somehow, it actually helped.

The way Sabaa Tahir wrote her story drew me in and never let go. I couldn't put the book down! I actually felt regret every time I had to because I just had to know what happened next!

The characters were excellent. I felt I got to know Laia and Elias quite well. I grew to like them very much, and it got to the point that I was like "If you touch my son or daughter so help me—!" when it came to when Laia and Elias were punished for something. I'm not usually like that, lol.

I love the cover—I know it's not the original, which is just as stunning—but it was one of the things that drew me to the story to the point I ended up getting it and buying it. I've been aware of it for a few years, thanks to bookstagram and other book communities that I'm a part of, but I never really bothered to check it out until now. It kind of reminds me of something my photography teacher told me when I was in college: "People love faces", meaning people respond to images with faces or face-like shapes in them. It seems to be true because I was ten times more attracted to the copy with Laia and Elias on the cover than the first one with their silhouettes and the stone texture on it.

The range of characters in this book was amazing. The brutality is realistic, and even frightening. I swear I found myself holding my breath half the time, but somehow I managed to breathe or I wouldn't be writing this post, XD And despite the fact that the world of the story was based on the Roman Empire, it didn't jump out of me until after I read the synopsis on Goodreads while I marked the book as read. 

The world itself is rich and doesn't seem like a copy. It always felt like I was there, almost as if I was standing next to, fighting next to, spying next to, the characters as the plot progressed.

I love books like that.

The theme and the story were very well done. I could tell that the overall theme was about freedom and that bravery comes in more than one form. It makes me kinda a little jealous, because I fumble with themes and it's always been a mist-like concept for me and when my English teacher tried to teach me about it and have me find it in a short story he had me read I kept drawing a blank, ha ha. But that doesn't mean that Sabaa made the theme too aparent—I say that I was able to see it clearly now that I think back to it because she wove it into her story masterfully. It makes my heart beat harder because not all authors are able to that!

Unfortunately, despite all the good things I have to gush about An Ember in the Ashes, there are still some downsides to it. There was some swearing, b-words but no f-bombs (thankfully). Rape is mentioned but never happens in the story. It almost happens to Laia a couple of times, but Elias was there to keep it from happening. Laia gets beat up by one of the Masks, but that wasn't the only instance of violence in the story. A lot of people die. Sabaa has a body count to rival Tolkien in this story.

But I would read this story again, definitely. It will stay on my bookshelf forever. I'm definitely getting its sequel, A Torch Against the Night, when I get my next paycheck (I'm trying to save money, lol), and when I'm finished that I'll get the one after that...

I love it when I find a book that I like ^^

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Golem and the Jinni: a book review

The Golem and the Jinni. Helene Wecker. 2013. Harper Perennial. Pages: 486. [Source: Bought]

• • •

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a strange man who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian Desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop.

Struggling to make their way in 1899 New York, the Golem and the Jinni try to fit in with their immigrant neighbours while masking their true selves. Meeting by chance, they become unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures, until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful menace will soon bring the Golem and the Jinni together again, threatening their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

• • •

Rating: 4/5

I wish I could have rated this story as a 5 out of 5, but there were just a few things that knocked this story from favourite to merely a story I liked a lot.

I first learned of The Golem and the Jinni when I was looking through Goodreads for novels staring golems so I could find inspiration for a race of stone-like beings for one of my fantasy stories. The word "golem" had been bobbing around in my head for a while, so I looked it up. And when I saw it I thought I have to read this!

I'm so glad I did, because it opened my eyes to a time period in a part of the world I don't think about very often—or hardly at all.

The first thing I want to say about this book is that it was delightfully void of any swearing. I didn't have to worry about any unexpected s-words, b-words, or f-bombs. There was some blaspheming, but there's only so much you can expect from a secular author. It's very rare for a book such as this, though, to possess no swearing.

The second thing I want to say is that the authoress was delightfully sensitive in her handling of the three respective religions she included in the book: Judaism, Christianity/Catholicism, and Islam. The main two were Judaism and Catholicism, because the Golem was taken care of by a rabbi and the jinni was found by a Syrian Catholic. Only one character was Muslim—or he was—but in his flashback he was and she handled it well as well. Reading this book didn't make me feel as if she was mocking the faiths she decided to put in the book (which is awesome since I'm a Protestant Christian so I always have an eye for details such as this).

One of the things I didn't like was the mention of sexual intercourse. There were several points where it was mentioned even though the author wasn't overly explicit, only saying enough to let you know what the characters were doing. There were at least four different scenes.

The story was a tiny bit slow, but it was also delightfully engrossing. There were times where I couldn't bring myself to put the book down, and the cliffhangers were put in all the right places. The settings and scenes were all so real that I always felt like I was there, an invisible spectator standing behind the characters, watching everything unfold before me. There were parts to Ahmed's personality that I liked, some that I did not; and Chava had a personality similar to my own that had me connecting to her from the beginning.

I didn't see who was the villain until the last quarter, which didn't bother me even though the book had me following him from the beginning. It left me feeling quite surprised, which I don't experience with stories very often. There were parts that left me feeling sad for certain characters, and I think I even gasped once or twice while reading. I like it when a story latches onto my emotions and doesn't let go.

There looks to be a sequel to the story planned to be published next year. If it follows through I look forward to snatching it up so I can see what happens to Chava and Ahmed.

Until then I'll have to distract myself, lol.

Ranger's Apprentice: The Battle for Skandia, a review

The Battle for Skandia . John Flanagan. 2006. Puffin Books. Pages: 294. Price: USD $8.99/$11.99 CAN. Setting: Skandia. ISBN 0142413402. [S...