Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Review: THE HEART OF BETRAYAL by Mary E. Pearson

Rating: 5/5 stars

This book. I haven’t been this invested in a series in a long time, but this book devoured me. This book is where Lia starts to actually reap the consequences of running away from her wedding. While The Kiss of Deception was (mostly) a joyride for her, The Heart of Betrayal is like she’s being forced to climb up a steep hill while blindfolded and handcuffed. It’s brutal and tough. I loved it, even more than the first book, and I’m so excited to see how the story wraps up in the next book.

*Spoilers ahead for The Kiss of Deception if you haven’t yet read book one of the Remnant Chronicles*

Okay, so Lia is in Venda now. The scenery in this book was so much darker than the first book. I preferred the beach town of Terravin to the stony ruins of Venda, but I will admit that we got so much deeper into the gritty details of this land than we did with any other city, and I relished building a mental city with all those extra details. Where book one was primarily character driven, book two focused a lot more on the plot and setting. I liked that, though, because we already had a good basis of who the characters are and we could dive deeper into the actual story.

On that note, I’m so excited we now know who the assassin is and who the prince is. I’ve been team assassin since the beginning, just because I think it would be funny for the princess to fall in love with the assassin sent to kill her. But I see what Pearson did, playing on the irony of Lia falling in love with the exact prince she ran away from in the first place. I kind of saw that coming, but I’m still okay with that relationship because Rafe’s pretty cool.

And Princess Lia, my goodness, what a powerful, savage woman. Maybe I haven’t read enough female-fronted fantasy, but she was a one-of-a-kind character in my eyes. I only wish I could be as tough as she is. Lia is one of my favourite protagonists of all time. She has developed incredibly since the beginning of The Kiss of Deception. She has also become more hardened, but after the situations in this book, that’s to be expected.

So Lia and Rafe are trapped in Venda, the first prisoners ever in Venda. Both staying alive by their lies, they must devise a plan to escape the impenetrable fortress and save their own lives before the Komizar, the leader of Venda, decides he’s finished with them and kills them. But he is always one step ahead of Lia and Rafe, already anticipating their next moves, making it extremely hard for either of them to accomplish anything. It was actually a bit frustrating at times because I just wanted things to happen but they couldn’t. The Komizar made me so angry, but I also sort of liked him? I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so conflicted about a character before.

The Heart of Betrayal is full of political intrigue, lies and deceit, tense battle scenes, secrets that could destroy a kingdom, and a few slivers of hope. There were plot developments in this book that I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have ever guessed happening, and then there were some things that I rightly predicted.

I guessed partway through reading that Lia would do a certain thing by the end of the book, and she did. Even though I saw it coming, I was still shocked and giddy when it happened, and my premature knowing what would happen didn’t make it any less exciting to experience.

This book is so worth the read, and I think it’s much stronger than the first book; it’s the catalyst for the events that will take place in the third book. This series, so far at least, is one of my favorite series. It’s a classical-feeling fantasy, and I like that atmosphere. There are no magical creatures, and there’s no magic, but the series still exudes a magical quality. (I’m pretty sure I said the same thing in my review of the first book.) It’s just an excellent, well-written series.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Review: THE KISS OF DECEPTION by Mary E. Pearson

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

I had been wanting to read this book for years, and I finally picked it up on a whim when I was craving something fantastical to read. I'm so glad I finally read this because it was lovely and just what I needed.

Princess Lia is your typical princess, about to be given as a bride to the prince of a neighboring kingdom in order to secure a political alliance. But Lia doesn't want to marry a man she hasn't even met, so she runs away on the day of her wedding. She flees to a small town in the south of her kingdom, ready to live by her own rules. As she lives in hiding, working as a waitress in an inn, two strangers come looking for her: a prince, who Lia ran away from and refused to marry, and an assassin, whose job is to quietly kill her.

One day, Lia meets both of these men, completely unaware of their true identities, and befriends them. They both bide their time in the town, watching Lia, waiting . . . falling in love. One of the best assets of this book is that the reader does not know who the assassin is and who the prince is either. I loved trying to piece together the clues (and my speculations were correct) to deduce who was who.

This book has a classically fantastical atmosphere. While magic is alluded to and vaguely referenced, there isn't any direct magic that takes place in this book. At first I kept waiting for magical things to happen, but then I sensed the underlying magic present in the story itself, and in the writing. The magic is subtle, but if you look closely, you will find it. Nevertheless, the story still has the feel of a fantasy book.

Pearson's writing in this story is beautiful, and she writes each character with such depth. Lia goes through one of the best character arcs that I've read, changing and growing in every chapter. The story begins with her as a stereotypical naive princess, but that's the point because otherwise her growth wouldn't be as spectacular. She develops into an independent woman who can defend herself and learn from others. Rafe and Kaden also develop drastically as the story progresses, with their morals being challenged and their loyalties being questioned. The boys have to learn for themselves where their duties lie and what paths their futures hold.

My biggest complaint about this book is the map in the front. The map is clearly not to scale, and it irked me to no end. When maps are present in books, I rely heavily on them, charting my way across the world with the characters. They help me get a clear picture of where events are happening and where characters are going. But this map only confused me because of how inaccurate it is. Don't take it too seriously if you use it while reading this series because you'll just have the same problem I did.

Overall, The Kiss of Deception was quite enjoyable. I had a fun time reading it, trying to guess who was the assassin and who was the prince, and how the story would play out (because I really had no idea where the premise would lead me). I loved watching Lia grow into a strong princess deserving of her title, and I can't wait to see how BA she'll be in the next book. Book one left off at the perfect spot for book two, and I can't wait to start reading it next.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Review: TURN YOUR PAIN INTO ART by Ariel Bloomer

Rating: 5/5 stars

I’m a big Icon for Hire fan, so when I found out lead singer Ariel Bloomer wrote a memoir, I immediately ordered myself a copy. And her book is so wonderful.

I didn’t know very much about Ariel before reading Turn Your Pain Into Art, but now I feel like I know her on a personal level, and I definitely know a lot more about her band, too. She starts out talking about her childhood and background of how she got to where she’s at today. Ariel always wanted to be a singer and lyricist, and many of her lyrics have come about from experiences in her life. I think that’s kind of the point of her book’s title: make all the events in your life count for something. Even the bad memories can turn out to be positive in the end: use the bad events as the basis for something positive, like killer song lyrics. And that’s exactly how Ariel approached songwriting, by using moments from her life as the basis for her lyrics. I especially enjoyed learning about the meaning behind “Rock and Roll Thugs,” which turned out to be more shocking than I had ever imagined. I loved seeing how so many of her experiences translated themselves into lyrics I can relate to.

I realized I wanted to be happy.

Ariel’s memoir is honest and full of raw emotion. She shares her fears and failures as well as her joys and successes. She tells us what held her back for many years and how she overcame her struggles to become who she wanted to be, someone happier. What’s great, though, is that she shares stories of her depression in a way that the reader can immediately connect with her but also want to get better. And she wants you to get better. This book doesn’t look down on anyone struggling with the same miserable circumstances that she did, but it provides a support one can use to recognize their problem and work through it and come out on top, just like Ariel did.

“My voice matters. I don’t have to mindlessly do what everybody asks of me,” says Ariel about playing in the Christian music genre. I had no idea that Icon for Hire, and especially Ariel, didn’t want to be in the Christian music genre. Ariel herself grew up a Christian, but she doesn’t want to be defined by that type of music nor confined to that label’s limitations. That’s interesting because I originally discovered her band through a sampler of new artists from Tooth and Nail Records, a Christian music label. I’m glad they were able to become independent so they can produce the kind of music they want and share the messages that are important to them. I love that we learn about the band’s history simultaneously with Ariel’s personal history. It shows how much Icon for Hire has always been a part of her life and how devoted she is to it.

Ariel’s voice and style are very pronounced, and it makes the book so engaging to read. I felt like I was having a nice chat with her instead of a formal presentation (which is sometimes how memoirs/biographies turn out). She describes a refreshing approach to self-help. I wouldn’t initially call this a self-help book because half of it is her memoir, but the other half is about how to live intentionally and love yourself. Her whole book is focused on loving yourself and finding creating happiness for yourself. She suggests the “outside-in” approach, in which you change what’s on the outside of you, your surroundings, and consequently feel better on the inside.

Turn Your Pain Into Art is a highly motivational book, and not in a way that’s like, “Oh that’s nice, I should do that someday.” In part two, Ariel includes questions and lines to write your answers at the end of every chapter, and it has been an eye-opening experience for me on a personal level. I’ve become really introspective and begun reevaluating my life, my dreams, and my hopes. The questions have helped me realize what I want out of life and where I find true joy. I’ve realized what’s holding me back and what I’m afraid of, and I’ve set tangible goals to help me achieve my dreams. It is a great feeling to realize you are finally making progress in life.

It's okay to stop doing something that's too hard or makes you no money or just isn’t fun anymore.

This book is recommended to anyone who’s a big fan of Icon for Hire or a fan of Ariel’s web series, The REL Show. Or for anyone struggling with depression and a feeling of being stunted in self-expression, like being caged in a box but wanting to come out on the other side. I have gained so much from reading her book, and it’s one that I know I will read again and again when I need the reminders to love myself.

I came to understand that if I stopped creating so much room for my pain, it would stop screaming at me so loudly.