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I'm such a bum

I've been super busy lately and haven't posted reviews in such a long time!  But that doesn't mean I've stopped reading.  These are the books I've read in the past month or so (and actually, I have two more I've finished, I just haven't written up the reviews for them.)

Title: The Riddle by Alison Croggon
Rating: 4/5
Pages: 512
Genre: Fantasy/ YA Lit.

Summary (off Goodreads): Maerad is a girl with a tragic and bitter past, but her powers grow stronger by the day. Now she and her mentor, Cadvan, hunted by both the Light and the Dark, must unravel the Riddle of the Treesong before their fractured kingdom erupts in chaos. The quest leads Maerad over terrifying seas and vast stretches of glacial wilderness, ever closer to the seductive Winterking — ally of her most powerful enemy, the Nameless One. Trapped in the Winterking's icy realm, Maerad must confront what she has suspected all along: that she is the greatest riddle of all. A sequel to THE NAMING, this second book in a captivating quartet about the ancient world of Edil-Amarandh is a sweeping epic readers won't soon forget.

After The Naming I was really excited to read the second book of this series. Once again, Croggon delivers an interesting and engaging book that makes you happy, sad, excited and fearful, all at once.

Cadvan and Maerad have to find the Treesong, something they believe is going to save them from the nameless one. So they go North. A lot of this book was really heartbreaking. The two of them flee but Maerad is endlessly at odds with herself and Cadvan. I really liked how Croggon portrayed Maerad. She's still a young girl, something that's frequently forgotten in books like this but we see her still acting like a teenager, despite her trials. She's had all these things happen to her and she's having a hard time dealing with it. Instead of talking to Cadvan, figuring things out, she retreats into herself, fights with herself even.

You also see more of a romance developing between Cadvan and Maerad but it's very subtle. I like that a lot more. And honestly, that makes the falling out between the two all the more painful. Cadvan wants nothing more than to help her, to understand her and she can't seem to tell him anything.

One of the flaws of this book is it's a little predictable. Cadvan was crushed by an avalanche, thought dead for most of the book. But Maerad never saw his body or saw him die; just knew that he couldn't have survived it. It was very obvious that Croggon wanted you to believe he was dead. It was very obvious to tell that he wasn't. However, that didn't deter as much as it could have from the emotion behind it. Maerad's grief was heartbreaking.

Her journey was also so sad. She made it to the north and actually found her family, her father's sister. However, she had to leave, never getting the chance to really know any of them. She had to find the Treesong and that meant pushing on; through her grief and despair and guilt and her hopelessness.

One character I really liked in this book was Maerad's cousin, Dharin. He was funny and engaging and was the first character to really lift Maerad's spirits in this book. This novel takes a dark turn, which is nice because it shows that being the one chosen to save the world is not something a person would want.

Maerad goes north with Dharin to find answers, and ends up finding none. Instead, they get chased by bandits, ending in Dharin's death. Maerad is captured and taken to the home of the Winter King who tends her wounds (two fingers lost to frostbite) and helps her understand that her Lyre is the key to the TreeSong... or at least half of it.

I really liked finding out so much about Maerad this book. We learn a lot about her Elidhu side. We really begin to see what she can do and the things that make her, well, Maerad. We see her fall for the WinterKing at the same time that she despises him.

Predictably, Maerad actually goes to Pellinor and who should she find there but Cadvan. Their reunion, while predictable, was still emotional. I think the most talented authors are ones who can still make you feel even when you already know about an event. Cadvan and Maerad's final decision is to go in search of Maerad's brother, Hem.

This is a great book for anyone who loves high fantasy. The characters are engaging and interesting and, while there are a few flaws in the writing, it draws you so easily into this alternate world.

Title: The Crow by Alison Croggon
Rating: 3/5
Pages: 528
Genre: Fantasy/ YA Lit.

Summary (off Goodreads): Hem is a weary orphan whose struggle for survival ends when he is reunited with his lost sister, Maerad. But Maerad has a destiny to fulfill, and Hem is sent to the golden city of Turbansk, where he learns the ways of the Bards and befriends a mysterious white crow. When the forces of the Dark threaten, Hem flees with his protector, Saliman, and an orphan girl named Zelika to join the Light’s resistance forces. It is there that Hem has a vision and learns that he, too, has a part to play in Maerad’s quest to solve the Riddle of the Treesong. As THE CROW continues the epic tale begun with THE NAMING and THE RIDDLE, Alison Croggon creates a world of astounding beauty overshadowed by a terrifying darkness, a world where Maerad and Hem must prepare to wage their final battle for the Light.

The Crow is the third in the Pellinor series by Alison Croggon. While it was an interesting book, and something that was certainly needed for the series, I didn't enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the previous two.

I think a large reason that I didn't enjoy this one as much was that it was concentrating fully on Hem. Hem is a fun and interesting character, but he is one I have care little about for the series. Maerad was with him only briefly and while he is talked about, we don't learn much about him. So to have a whole book dedicated to him when we've been shown the character so little, makes me care a little less about him.

However, Hem is still an interesting character and in different ways than Maerad. He is still very young and that youth shows. He's impatient and has a hot temper on him. He also has a very hard time fitting into this formal world. Maerad falls into the Bardic world easily, loving her lessons and her studies. Hem does not love it the way that Maerad does and is finding studying difficult and tedious.

One of the best parts of this book is the relationship between Hem and Saliman. It's such an honest and endearing love between the two of them, you can't help but feel every emotion that the two of them feel. I enjoy Saliman's character immensely because he's so engaging. He tries so hard to be happy, to keep high spirits while they push through a war but you can seen how much he hides and how powerful he really is.

We also meet Zelika. I have mixed feelings on her. We don't learn a lot about her. I feel like Croggon was constantly on the brink of letting us know who this girl was and never quite got there. We knew she was troubled; she wanted nothing more than to die fighting the things that killed her family and it's this reason she agrees to learn to spy with Hem. They learn that the Nameless One is starting a child army. As Zelika and Hem are spying, Zelika sees one of her brothers and is captured.

Hem goes after her. He spend a third of the book in this camp, looking for her, insisting that she's alive. He gets brought back to the city of the Nameless One, almost gets trapped in there and killed. When he finally makes it back, we find out in an almost backhanded way that Zelika had been killed, weeks before, and it seemed to make Hem's suffering worthless. I feel like we learned so little about Zelika only to hear of her death. It almost made me wonder what her purpose was. Why bother include her if we were to know so little about her?

I like the wrench that Croggon throws into this book. We've known since the first second of the series that Maerad is the chosen one, the one destined to save everyone. In this book, we find out that there's actually a chosen TWO. Hem is there to complete the other half of the TreeSong, to help Maerad defend all. I like that you didn't see it coming. It never occurred to me that both of them might be needed to save the world around them.

The other thing about this book that bothered me was towards the end it dragged. It was interesting and engaging but the entire last half of the book was Hem looking for Zelika, and never finding her. Nothing really happened and he seemed to be repeating the same steps over again. Croggon was trying to convey his misery and instead, just bored her readers a bit.

Overall, it was a good book and definitely worth it to read, especially considering the rest of the series. I find that the third book in a series tends to be the one that drags the most and this was no exception. However, I still look forward to the last installment.

Title: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling
Rating: 4/5
Pages: 341
Genre: Fantasy/ Children's Lit.

Summary (off Goodreads): Ever since Harry Potter had come home for the summer, the Dursleys were so mean and hideous that all Harry wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts Scho...more Ever since Harry Potter had come home for the summer, the Dursleys were so mean and hideous that all Harry wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he's packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature named Dobby who says that if Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike.

And strike it does. For in Harry's second year at Hogwarts, fresh torments and horrors arise, including an outrageously stuck-up new professor and a spirit who haunts the girls' bathroom. But then the real trouble begins--someone is turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects...Harry Potter himself!

It's been so long since I've read the Harry Potter books. I remember liking them but didn't really remember why. The other thing is that when I read these first books, I was in middle school and much younger than I am now. Rereading them as an adult reminded me of all the things that I enjoyed about the books.

I forget how just plain entertaining these books are. I mean, there are some hilarious parts to them. Like when Ron gets the howler from his mother and all the things that Dobby does to try and keep Harry from going back to Hogwarts. I also liked that we got to see the Weasley family a lot in this one. I was reminded how much I liked Mrs. Weasley.

JK Rowling does an amazing job fleshing out even her minor characters. I feel like I'm really getting to know them, to really get a sense of who they are. They're engaging and interesting, even characters like Filch. We don't see much of him but we still LEARN things about him.

The thing that drives me a little crazy is how Harry keeps insisting he doesn't want the fame he receives yet purposely goes looking for trouble. He is not the innocent that he makes himself out to be. Ron, Hermione and he frequently go looking for the adventures he claims not to want.

I like how Harry, Hermione and Ron's friendship grew this book. You really saw how they interacted and how they cared for each other, much more so than in the first book. The first book it was more feeling each other out. They still had a lot of problems in book one but I liked that they seemed to pull together for this one.

I also like that Rowling gives Voldemort more of a history than "he's the bad guy." You learn that he has a past he's ashamed of. While his persona is a little too Hitler like (pureblood perfect race), he at least has depth, which doesn't always happen with Villains.

This second installment of the Harry Potter series is a fun and engaging story and is really good for all ages. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy stories.

Title: Poison: A Novel of the Renaissance by Sara Poole
Rating: 4/5
Pages: 416
Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary (off Goodreads): Ever since Harry Potter had come home for the summer, the Dursleys were so mean and hideous that all Harry wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts Scho...more In the simmering hot summer of 1492, a monstrous evil is stirring within the Eternal City of Rome. The brutal murder of an alchemist sets off a desperate race to uncover the plot that threatens to extinguish the light of the Renaissance and plunge Europe back into medieval darkness.Determined to avenge the killing of her father, Francesca Giordano defies all convention to claim for herself the position of poisoner serving Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, head of the most notorious and dangerous family in Italy. She becomes the confidante of Lucrezia Borgia and the lover of Cesare Borgia. At the same time, she is drawn to the young renegade monk who yearns to save her life and her soul.

Navigating a web of treachery and deceit, Francesca pursues her father’s killer from the depths of Rome’s Jewish ghetto to the heights of the Vatican itself. In so doing, she sets the stage for the ultimate confrontation with ancient forces that will seek to use her darkest desires to achieve their own catastrophic ends.

This was another book won off of Goodreads. Often these books are very hit or miss. I was expecting this one to be very harlequin romance. However, the book was interesting and engaging with a plotline that kept you guessing until the very last moment.

I really don't know that much about the Borgia family, only that they were all very manipulative, doing whatever they could to gain power in Rome. Borgia did much for Cesare he son and Lucrezia his daughter. This book actually took place in their rise to power: Borgia was still a cardinal, trying his hardest to become the next pope.

The novel is actually told from Francesca's point of view. Her father was Borgia's poisoner and was murdered. Francesca proves her worth to Borgia by poisoning the poisoner Borgia hired instead of her, thus being appointed to the position and putting her in a place to avenge her father.

Poole's ability to weave history in with fiction was fascinating. It was no secret that Pope Innocent, the pope who died and allowed Borgia's succession, was no friend of the Jews. Poole weaves a story of politics and alliances. Francesca learns that Innocent is planning to expel the Jews from Rome. At this point in history, they have already been expelled from Spain, leaving them with really no where else to go. Borgia has agreed to let them stay if he becomes Pope and the Jews financially support it.

Poole also suggests Innocent was poisoned, made to look like a natural death. Francesca is able to get close to his but is not one hundred percent sure whether it was her that caused the Pope's death or it was something else that killed the man.

Francesca is actually really interesting because she is torn between being religious and knowing she is going to hell. She kills people for a living and knows that she will never make it to heaven. Yet it is so hard for her to kill the Pope, to kill this person who is supposed to lead all of Christianity even though she knows how corrupt he is.

One of the most powerful scenes in the whole book is when Francesca is in Borgia's office, not long after the Pope has died. She tells him of her fears, of going to hell and how she killed a pope and Borgia gives her confession. The scene was very raw and just hit you hard. Francesca was not a weak person, quite the opposite, but she cried at Borgia's feet who did not judge her, despite the fact that he spends much of his life doing just that.

I also like that Poole mostly managed to keep the romance out of it. Francesca had men that she was interested in, ones she loved and ones she slept with but they weren't romantic interests that took over the story. They were just a part of her life. There was no grand gesture of love but more a subtle declaration.

The best part was that you never really saw what was coming. The whole book, you were looking for Borgia to be poisoned. Every page you turned you wondered how Borgia was going to die only to learn that he wasn't the target; one of his competitors was so that the death would be pinned on Borgia.

I recommend this book to everyone, especially in they are interested in history. If you like the time period of the Tudors, then you would also appreciate this novel.

Books so far this year: 30/75
Currently Reading: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo and The Singing by Alison Croggon

You can read these reviews and all other at im_writing or my Goodreads account.

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