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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Cork, Ireland: Blarney Castle


This is the sixth installment in the Ireland Series about studying abroad in Galway, Ireland. Read Part I here.


ONE OF THE LAST ADVENTURES we took in Ireland was a weekend trip to the city of Cork in the far southwest. Visiting Limerick and Cork is nice to pair together. We had no problems catching a bus cross country. Two popular bus services are CityLink (http://www.citylink.ie/) or Bus Eireann (http://www.buseireann.ie/) and takes a couple hours. Traversing the green pastures and villages dotting the moors makes the journey pass quickly.



In Cork, we set up shop in a dorm room hostel. It’s definitely recommended to take advantage of the cost-saving hostels throughout Ireland, and choose a room arrangement that is right for your group. We were feeling particularly thrifty and tried out a 12 person mixed dorm. The room consisted of only bunks, but there were locker options to keep valuables safe. There was also a communal room to cook your own breakfast.

However, we didn’t plan on spending much time inside. Our main attraction was Blarney Castle, a towering fortress of rock and limestone surrounded by a garden of hedges. The Castle is open year round, and you can view a list of admissions pricing here: http://www.blarneycastle.ie/pages/plan-your-visit.




The castle originates from around the tenth century and holds the famous Blarney Stone, whereby kissing it, you will be blessed with “The Gift of Gab,” i.e., eloquence. The castle is a series of levels that spiral ever upwards until your reach the battlements. The Blarney Stone is conveniently located in the wall on the outer hub of the battlements. There’s no standing upright to reach it—you have to lay down and grip two iron bars while lowering your upper body into midair to kiss the stone, that has received the attentions of thousands of visitors before you, including statesmen, council members, and celebrities. It’s still great fun, although there are no guarantees that you’ll leave the castle being able to rap Shakespeare. There are many legends surrounding the Stone; some claim it to be a war prize, others that it is of Biblical origin, and others still that a witch revealed the Stone’s power to the castle’s owners upon being saved from drowning.


Looking up at the Blarney Stone. Visitors lay down and suspend themselves in mid-air to give it a kiss. 




This is a classic castle and you can easily spend hours exploring here. We branched off into the gardens and found several amusing stops, such as a sacrificial alter and a dungeon (we were way too fascinated by the dungeon). After roaming the grounds in the brisk air, we stopped off at the Stable Yard café and indulged in ham-and-cheese pizza rolls, Guinness Irish stew, homemade cakes with cream, scones with jam, and washed it all down with a Bailey’s coffee. There is nothing like warm, hearty fare to stave off the chill.










Then it was back to Cork where we found the nearest pub to our hostel to pass the night away. Often the pubs are welcome to newcomers coming on stage to join a circle of musicians, whether you’ve brought your Irish bagpipes or fiddle along, and tonight was no exception. After returning back to Galway, I looked forward to backing my bags again, this time to visit family in Sligo. 


Read Part V of the Ireland Travel Series here.

Disclaimer: the above is presented as fiction, not fact.



Sunday, April 2, 2017

April 2017 Book Review: The Wrath and the Dawn

THE WRATH AND THE DAWN
By Renee Ahdieh
~Book Review~




*Minor spoilers*

PAYING HOMAGE to 1001 Nights and Beauty and the Beast, The Wrath and the Dawn is a stunning portrait of imagery. If you like purple prose (which I do!) then there are plenty of descriptions to savor as the characters’ every thought, dialogue, and action is described in painstaking, colorful detail. Sometimes it was to the point where I thought get on with it. Then Ahdieh would shake things up with an assassination attempt, and I would be dialed into the story again.

There was one major area the story missed the mark for me: the magic. It just didn’t quite have that “spark” of originality, given that it is, on certain levels, drawing very obvious parallels with the aforementioned tales and the stakes never felt as gripping as in those original tales.

On the surface, The Wrath and the Dawn has it all. There is a grim and secretive “boy-king” Khalid who has murdered his way through forty wives for reasons no one knows why (ugh, I hated that he kept being referred to as “boy-king” – I feel the story would have worked better and been more seductive if he was called how he acted – a man. I never got the impression of him as a young boy). There is a feisty and proud heroine, Shazi, who volunteers to be his wife with a secret mission of her own: revenge. There is an aspiring magician who cackles and waves his hands at the skies as he grows his dark powers in a way that made it impossible for me to not think of Jafar from Disney’s version of Aladdin. There is Shazi’s childhood sweetheart, Tariq, who is hellbent on saving her from marrying the monster boy-king. There is the wholesome and supportive handmaiden, Despina. And there is an evil Sultan.

And the story works, for what it is – a slow-moving, lush romance. The secrets behind why Khalid is killing off his brides are unfolded one by one, and we see multiple viewpoints of a nation building toward revolution. It almost reminded me of watching a musical. Each scene is neat, packaged, and executed like a scene on stage, although the writing lingers a bit too much on excessive detail to explain to the reader why the character is feeling that way. We are told innumerous times that Khalid is a monster but I never got that impression because none of his actions really made me that scared for Shazi. It seemed like he fell for her charms too easily.

However, I didn’t feel a connection to the main characters. The story just never really caught fire or had me brimming with curiosity over what came next. The reason behind why Khalid killed off his brides made me sigh. Really, where the story shone for me were the smaller moments: I loved the Rajput and Omar, who perhaps because their roles were much smaller, conveyed so much more of their character in what they didn’t say. I loved the two tales that Shazi tells Khalid to spare herself from death, and I was kind of interested more so in how those stories wrapped up. And I was really excited for one particular fight scene, but then Khalid didn’t even get a chance to show why he was the “second best swordsman” grrrr. I loved the world-building descriptions as well, but after a while, I began to dread each new scene with Shazi, because I knew I was about to receive a speech about what she was wearing down to the last amethyst earring.

There is a second book, The Rose and the Dagger, that wraps up this duology. Fans of slow-moving romances will want to check it out. Overall, a heartwarming and luscious story that exults in the power of love.

Recommend for fans of: Rosamund Hodge, Kristin Cashore, Marie Rutkoski, Amber Lough

Upcoming Book Review: Alpha Goddess by Amalie Howard 

April 2017 Book Review: Fate Fallen



FATE FALLEN
By Sharon Stevenson
~Book Review~


THE TWINS ARE BACK and their demon tracking world grows darker still. Shaun learns it is a bad idea to bring a date to a haunted house when a murder mystery quickly spirals into a cat-and-mouse game with a deadly Fae. Sarah and Ray’s relationship is put to the test with Ben and an even greater threat: Sarah’s mother. The ass-kicking in this installment is in prime form, and Stevenson knows how to write at a rapid pace to keep you turning the pages. My favorite Dev cracks me up as usual, and the end is a tantalizing peek into what further challenges away the twins. The wry humor, twists and turns, and secondary characters who constantly keep the twins on their toes make this a great urban fantasy series to return to again and again. 

Recommend for fans of: Kim Harrison and Supernatural 
Upcoming Book Review: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

Monday, March 27, 2017

Year of the Boar: Tica: Free on Amazon.com

Hi Everyone,
Year of the Boar: Tica (Changeling Sisters Novellas) is offered in free ebook format on Amazon.com and Smashwords.com! Pick up your copy today and check out other great April deals below: 

  • Check out The Tribe of Ishmael (Afterlife Chronicles #1) on Amazon.com on April 8 - 10th for discount deals. 
  • Sneak a copy of Year of the Dragon (Changeling Sisters #3) on Amazon.com April 26 - April 27th at a discounted price.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

March 2017 Review: The Falconer

THE FALCONER

By Elizabeth May

~Book Review~



Warning! Spoilers!

LADY AILEANA “Kam” Kameron lives in 19th century Scotland where the fey are not nice pretty things but deadly. A particularly nasty one kills her mother, who is a Falconer, one of the gifted humans who can sense and kill fey. Now Kam is the last of her kind, and with the help of the mysterious fey royal Kiaran, sets out to find her mother’s killer.

The pacing in this book was very awkward. The author seemed to take for granted that her audience is well-read in the lady-by-day, fey-hunter-by-night trope and hits you over the head with everything all at once, which left me feeling like there was a distinct lack of world-building. Instead of seeing Kam meet her mentor Kiaran for the first time and build a grudging trust, we’re instead plopped right into one of their encounters and expected to buy that she would be fine with an extremely powerful faery teaching her after just telling us that her mother was murdered by one of these creatures. Also, we’re told that Kiaran is a hottie, rather than shown their connection.

Buuut the author is right. We have seen The Falconer story and its characters before. The pixie is Jenks from The Hollows series by Kim Harrison, Kiaran is Ash from Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series, and Kam is Mac from Karen Marie Moning’s Faefever series. The plot is eerily similar to Faefever, but more of a toned down YA version. In the end, the plot was too derivative and the creative world-building came too late. Plus, it never seemed like Kam really had to strain too hard to keep her two lives, one as a lady of the court, and the other as a fey hunter, truly separate and balanced.

That being said, I did read Book Two in the series, The Vanishing Throne, and it was like the author was suddenly given free reign to tell the story she wanted. It gets much darker, much more creative with the types of fey introduced and their mythology, and the stakes are raised. As such, move through Book One as quickly as you can and then enjoy Book Two.


Recommend for fans of: Karen Marie Moning, Julie Kagawa (haha, I love to recommend her), and Rae Carson

Upcoming Book Review: Alpha Goddess by Amalie Howard 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

February 2017 Book Review: Firewalker

FIREWALKER

By Josephine Angelini

~Book Review~



Warning! Spoilers!

SOMETIMES I READ A SERIES OUT OF ORDER. In this case, I couldn’t help it. The library only had Firewalker, Book II of the WorldWalker Series, and the cover was so pretty that I couldn’t resist.

So, at first I was a bit confused digesting that a witch burning on a pyre could world-jump into alternate realities, but then I thought, cool. Now, Lily and Rowan aren’t my favorites. Rowan is pretty awesome but too perfect. He never messes up and he always knows best. Lily is a breed of witch known as a Mary Sue. She is so perfect that I was rooting for her evil alternate dimension twin, Lillian, just because she was much more of a flawed badass. But the world-building and creativity in this book made me so excited. I felt like I was reading The Golden Compass for the first time, except without the soulful characters.

Lily is a witch and the only one who can stand against her twin Lillian, a powerful other version of her that rules alternate Salem, in a world where warfare and terrifying Woven beasts have destroyed much of the known world. Interestingly enough, this means that First Nations peoples never experienced reservations and still have their versions of tribes, one of which Rowan is from. Rowan used to be in love with Lillian before she turned into a power-hungry dictator who hung scientists. In this book, we see what drove Lillian’s decisions by experiencing Lillian’s visits to Cinder Worlds, which again, is a very neat idea.

Much of this book is slow. Lily recovers, talks to Rowan, sleeps, talks to her mother, eats, talks to her sister about a vague threat from a government agent, and then recovers some more. Finally, her Earth friends Tristan, Breakfast, and Una say, “Enough already, tell us what the hell is going on.” Interestingly enough, they all show signs of being Mechanics, warriors who all specialize in certain abilities like healing or fighting which are heightened once they are claimed and fueled by a witch. Or that’s my Book II understanding of it, anyway. Still majorly cool. They world-jump with Lily back to the Salem that’s in trouble and start making their battle plan to stop Lillian before nuclear warfare breaks out and the visions of a dead Cinder World comes to pass.

The hands-down most awesome part of this book was The Hive. These are Woven who are yep, you guessed it: killer bees! But not just any killer bees. Their main fighters are the “Warrior Sisters,” who are as tall as humans, have poisoned whips, and are supernaturally fast given their insectoid eyesight and wings. Freakin’ awesome. I was riveted the entire scene when they encounter The Hive. Usually fantasy novels speak with fear to hype up certain mythical beasts and I think, yeah, yeah, so scary. But in this case, the characters’ fear truly felt real.

There is a key cliffhanger involving The Hive at the end of the book, and so I’ll have to get my hands on Book III: Witch’s Pyre just to see what happens. This is truly an imaginative book. The characters don’t get much depth beyond what we typically see in YA Fiction, but Rowan, Breakfast, and Una specifically are an endearing bunch, and the world-building is top-notch.

Recommend for fans of: Philip Pullman, Julie Kagawa, Susan Ee

Upcoming Book Review: Fate Fallen by Sharon Stevenson 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

January 2017 Book Review: The City Darkens



THE CITY DARKENS

By Sophia Martin

~Book Review~



 




Warning! Minor Spoilers!



THIS IS A DELICIOUSLY DARK NOIR where class politics mix with cries for revolution in an alternate Scandinavian decopunk world. Myadar is an endearing highborn protagonist who knows little of the games the court plays but will stop at nothing to get her son back.

It is rare to find a book that distinguishes itself, but The City Darkens has a voice all of its own and no shortage of creativity when interweaving gods with robots and fleshing out the religious and political issues that have reached a turning point amongst the people.

Myadar is content to raise her adorable son Bersi in the countryside. However, then her devious mother-in-law shows up and demand their appearance at court. This means reuniting with her cruel husband. As all loyal supporters of Game of Thrones’ Ned Stark know, going to court is always a very bad idea. However, Myadar has no choice and later watches in horror as her son is taken from her and used as a pawn against her to force her to toe the line with her husband’s political agenda. Luckily, Myadar begins to explore the world around her to create a space for her choices, choices that will change the fate of the court and their people in ways none of them, even Myadar, could expect.

This is an atmospheric novel that combines intrigue with passion. Myadar quickly grows on the reader as a capable heroine open to exploring her sexuality with multiple partners, several of whom she must tread carefully, as they have scheming motives of their own. All in all, this book succeeds at capturing an air of danger as Myadar must work fast to turn the tables on her enemies and navigate a just as swiftly changing world.



Recommend for fans of: The Kushiel Dart series by Jacqueline Carey
Upcoming Book Review: Fate Fallen by Sharon Stevenson