Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima

This is the sequel to The Demon King from the Seven Realms series. Possible spoilers ahead, so if you plan on reading these books, proceed with caution.

from Goodreads

In the continuation of this series, Raisa makes it to Oden’s Ford with her childhood friend and complicated love interest Amon Byrne, after having fled the Fells to avoid an arranged marriage to the wizard Micah Bayar, which would have set off a civil war among the clans and the Vale people. Meanwhile, Han Alister and his childhood best friend Dancer make it to Oden’s Ford after fleeing Marisa Pines after the death of Han’s mom and sister.

Though the two stories diverged at the end of the first book and remained as separate lines throughout most of this one, they eventually meet up again. This time though, Raisa, unable to be with Amon, falls for Han after agreeing to tutor him in the ways of the nobility. In their separate lives, Raisa continues to play the part of a noble lady named Rebecca Morley, while Han juggles various extracurricular training sessions in wizardry from the dean of the magic school and a mysterious tutor who only meets with him in a different dimension.

Needless to say, there is a whole mess of complex stories and characters going on in this book. And yet, the reader never loses track of who’s who and what events have occurred or how they relate. It’s actually really impressive how deftly Chima maps out the people, places, and events in a way that’s rich and layered, and yet never confusing. These books feel like Game of Thrones, but written by Tamora Pierce.

I think what helped the most with this though, is that Chima used the first chapter in the book to essentially act as the recap, like TV shows that use “Previously on…” Personally, I think series like these, especially in the fantasy realm, could use more of that structure. After all, they’re written in such an episodic way it just makes sense to give the reader a refresher on what came before (especially readers like me who read books with so much time in between). Maybe we can just create a website for that kind of thing.

The other element I really appreciate about these books, especially The Exiled Queen, is how the plot points mix with the every day issues, and that those issues act as parallels to our own real-world problems. For example, the dynamic between Cat Tyburn and Dancer shows how even those who come from marginalized communities (Cat is a Southern Isle native from the streets, but raised in the Vale) can still display prejudice and bigotry toward other marginalized communities (Dancer is clanborn).

I’d say one of the bigger flaws of the series is the rampant heteronormativity. There’s only one instance of LGBTQ+ representation, but it isn’t fleshed out and comes off as an afterthought. Two of Raisa’s cadet friends, Talia and Pearlie, are girlfriends. It’s mentioned that “women who prefer other women” are known as moonspinners. While I really like that new terminology for lesbians, this particular story point is brought up momentarily and immediately set aside. Presumably it’s because they aren’t main characters, but in the end, I felt like I could have gotten the same ending story without their inclusion, and that doesn’t make for true diversity and inclusion.

Overall, I really liked this sequel and I’m definitely looking forward to reading the continuation of this story. It’s complex enough to be intriguing, but not so much so as to overwhelm. Has anyone else read these books? What are your thoughts on the series? Let me know in the comments!

Where to Go to Write

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I’ve been trying to find new environments to place myself in for getting writing done. I don’t currently have an office space in my house (that’s changing soon though!), so I just make a little nest for myself in my bed using a pillow chair, blankets, and stuffed animals. It’s not the most comfortable though for a writing session that goes on for more than 2 hours.

My go-to location when I’m getting cabin fever is my local library. I find an empty desk or table near an outlet (for charging when I get low battery), and set to work. I’ve found that the moslty quiet with faint noise on the first floor of South Regional does wonders for my focus. I have just enough stimulus to keep me energized, but not so much that it distracts me from the task at hand.

I don’t always want to stay indoors though when writing. That’s when I go to the beach. However, those sessions don’t tend to last very long, because living in the Sunshine State, the glare on a screen makes it near impossible to see what I’m doing. I try going with good old-fashioned pen and paper, but the beach is a windy place, even on calm weather days.

Of course, I’ve done the cliche coffee shop writing session, be it Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks. DD is my usual go-to for these outings as it’s much closer to me than my local Starbucks. The problem with this though is that I don’t feel comfortable staying at a place like that for so long without frequently buying something, because I know I’m taking up valuable real estate that could be used for other patrons. And there’s only so many pastries and so much coffee I can consume before I explode.

This brings me to the question I want to ask my fellow writers: Where do you to go write? I can’t think of other environments to try out for a good hours-long writing session. I’m open to places that don’t have access to electricity, as I can always bring a pen and journal with me for some old-school writing. I just need some suggestions for new places to go for writing. Let me know your ideas in the comments!

Later Gator

later gator poem

You glide by casually
down the ‘Glades while
our noisy asses throw waves
and ripples in your territory
but still you pay us no mind.
And why would you? We’re chumps
in comparison to your prehistoric
perfected design. Blending with
brackish waters, barely un ojito
to be seen, a trail of bubbles
telling us you just passed and
let us go. We’ll see one of your
brothers later I’m sure. For now
you keep gliding the ‘Glades
never minding our waves.

Originally posted here.

Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare

My last read of 2018 and first review of 2019. This is the third and final installment in Cassandra Clare’s The Dark Artifices series, another story set in the Shadowhunter world. I want to start by saying that Clare is one of my favorite authors. I adore her Shadowhunter world. It wasn’t until just a couple of months ago that I realized that what’s called urban fantasy was my all time favorite genre.

For those who plan on reading the books and haven’t gotten this far, beware! Spoilers for book two, Lord of Shadows, ahead.

qoaad_blogIn Queen of Air and Darkness, the Blackthorns, Emma, and Shadowhunter community as a whole are reeling from the events at the end of the last book, in which Livvy Blackthorn is killed, as well as the Inquisitor Robert Lightwood, Alec’s father (he’s a major character in The Mortal Instruments series, FYI). With the grief of losing his baby sister and the impending doom that is set to happen to him and his parabatai because they’ve fallen in love, it’s too much for Julian to handle. He decides to have his emotions magically muted, which leads him to become a different person that makes cold, calculating decisions, but not in the name of family and love, instead for the sake of militaristic strategy.

Battles in fairy lead to Emma and Julian traveling through a portal to another dimension called Thule, where the Dark War from the Mortal Instruments series went terribly wrong and Sebastian lived and ruled the land. Suffice it to say, this is not the kind of book you can read casually and pick up as a stand alone. You absolutely have to read at least the two previous books, and the other Shadowhunter series’ books. While it gives just enough detail to fill in those gaps to anyone who might be new to the world, it’s definitely written for die hard fans of Clare’s world.

Taking this book into consideration with the rest of the series, I have to say it wasn’t my favorite. It started off really strong and I was hooked and tormented all the way through the adventures in Thule. The events that unfold after that didn’t quite keep my attention in the same way. It’s not to say that I didn’t like how the story unraveled, but I definitely felt much of it could have been condensed.

There were a lot of moments that were meant to be character development, which is absolutely crucial to any story, but when it comes to the stories that Clare writes, that development must also carry the story forward. I didn’t feel like every detail written for the sake of developing characters did that. As a fan of the people and the world, I loved reading these details into each individual’s personality and thoughts, but as a reader of a novel as a whole, I thought many scenes bogged down the story that wanted to keep going. There was a lot that could have been saved as more “behind the scenes” tidbits, which is something the author likes to post on her social media. In short, it felt like much of the content in Queen of Air and Darkness was dedicated too much to fanservice, which hurt the overall story.

That said, I want to reiterate that I loved learning more about the characters. Specifically, I adored seeing the development of certain relationships between different character sets. Clare has a true talent for putting into words the complexity of human emotions and how those are influenced by and affect the ties that bind. The relationship that broke my heart the most was between Ty and Kit.

After the death of his twin Livvy, Ty leans on Kit for support in his insane endeavors to bring her back from the dead. Kit knows it’s a bad idea, but wants so desperately to please and help Ty because of the love that’s grown that he goes along with the bad idea. The way things end between them left me wanting to cry, but I’m hoping that that particular dynamic has more to come, and it seems like there’s room for growth with the way Clare wrote their ending.

I’m looking forward to reading about Kit’s story in future books and seeing how his story fits in with the rest of the Shadowhunter world. Have any of you read the books in this world and/or series? What are your thoughts on the Shadowhunters? Let me know in the comments!

Wanderlust: Ireland (Blarney Castle)

The next stop from my trip to Ireland over a year ago was the famous Blarney Castle. No one warned me that kissing the Blarney Stone required some gymnastics. I wasn’t expecting to be held as I bent backwards into a space between walls with no net to catch me if I slipped through. So here’s a fair warning for fellow travelers who might have a bit of a fear of falling from high places.

 

195I’m also bad at climbing steep, narrow stairs of old, which are prevalent in Europe I’m finding. It takes a bit of leg muscle to make the trek up the stairs, but it’s well worth it, if nothing else than just to say you climbed up to the top of a castle. But I thought the views were pretty stellar from so high up.

I felt a great deal of fear, especially since the steps were so slippery with rain and moss. All that kept passing through my mind were images of falling to my death, thinking, This is where they’ll find my body. In an old castle, in Ireland. There were moments I thought of giving up and turning around, but I hadn’t made it that far just to give up before kissing the damn stone.

Besides that, there’s something about fighting against your own pounding heart and gasping breaths in damp, cold stone walls that makes you feel like a heroine out of a novel.

It wasn’t just the castle though that was beautiful. The surrounding grounds with gardens filled with deadly plants made for quite the sight as well. It felt like walking through magic. 225

With nothing but green and brown as far as the eye could see any which way I turned, I half expected fairies to come greet me at any moment, and wisk me away to a revel I’d never return from.

Or perhaps I just felt the call of the Emerald Isles inviting me to stay a bit longer. I admit, the thought had crossed my mind several times throughout this journey.

See more of my Ireland 2017 travels here:

Part 1. Part 2

Stay tuned for the remaining segments from this trip. Let me know in the comments if you’ve visited Blarney Castle or other Irish stops. What did you think?

Goodreads Reading Goals: Yay or Nay?

reading goals GRFor the past two years I’ve used the Goodreads reading goal tool to track how many books I get through in the year. Maybe it’s because I also worked full time while doing grad school part time, but I felt so much stress to make sure those numbers were met. I think though it has a great deal to do with our society’s evolved mentality of, “If it isn’t recorded, did it really happen?”

There are some books I read that aren’t recorded in the Goodreads reading challenge because they’re not available on the site/app. Still, knowing this, I can’t help but feel stressed that my numbers aren’t more, because I know they should be. This manic need to prove to strangers that I’m reaching my goals takes the enjoyment out of reading.

I find myself trying to fly through books so that I can catch up and make my numbers. I know it sounds crazy, but there’s this peculiar desire to prove to the internet what a good reader I am. Especially since I feel like I used to read a lot more as a kid. Of course, when I was a kid, I had way less responsibilities and more time to read. Then again, did I really read more, or did I just not pay as much attention because I wasn’t recording it somewhere for everyone to see?

I think for 2019 I’m going to refrain from the Goodreads reading challenge. I’ll still keep track in my pretty bullet journal, because that feels more fun. Also, it’s just for me, so no one else needs to see it unless I want them to. This way I can still have some kind of goals and hold myself accountable for the books I do and don’t read. But I don’t want the stress of proving my reader status to the world with online goals.

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So, who else out there is planning on dropping the Goodreads reading challenge next year? Who’s planning on starting it? Do you have any other ways you keep track of your reading? Let me know in the comments!