Ember Queen – Book Review

Ember Queen

by Laura Sebastian

The thrilling conclusion to an epic fantasy about a throne cruelly stolen and a girl who must fight to take it back for her people.

Princess Theodosia was a prisoner in her own country for a decade. Renamed the Ash Princess, she endured relentless abuse and ridicule from the Kaiser and his court. But though she wore a crown of ashes, there is fire in Theo’s blood. As the rightful heir to the Astrean crown, it runs in her veins. And if she learned nothing else from her mother, she learned that a Queen never cowers.

Now free, with a misfit army of rebels to back her, Theo must liberate her enslaved people and face a terrifying new enemy: the new Kaiserin. Imbued with a magic no one understands, the Kaiserin is determined to burn down anyone and everything in her way.

The Kaiserin’s strange power is growing stronger, and with Prinz Søren as her hostage, there is more at stake than ever. Theo must learn to embrace her own power if she has any hope of standing against the girl she once called her heart’s sister.


Book Reviews

Ember Queen is the last book in the Ash Princess Trilogy. Theodosia is no longer unsure of who she is to the people of Asteria. She has taken on the mantle of leadership and there is no longer doubt. She is also stronger, which is a very different Theo from the one in the first book.  It was nice to see this growth in her, a movement from being unsure, to a powerful, decision-making individual.

The cast of characters supporting Theodosia also took center stage. Some of the losses were hard to take, and I suppose that’s what makes a great tale. The sadness that grows from the death of a great character. In all, I suppose Theodosia’s own grief is enough to mark the passing of these great characters.

I died the Queen of Peace, and peace died with me…But you are the Queen of Flame and Fury, and you will set the world on fire.”

Ember Queen

I enjoyed reading the Ash Princess Trilogy. The story is good, but not epic. It is very character-driven, told primarily from Theodosia’s perspective. I felt that it would have been great to know what the other characters are thinking and what is driving them. Dragonsbane is a character I would have loved to discover more about. The Ash Princess Trilogy is definitely a journey about the Ember Queen’s quest to get back her throne.

Lady Smoke Book Review

Lady Smoke Book Cover

Lady Smoke

by Laura Sebastian

The Kaiser murdered Theodosia’s mother, the Fire Queen when Theo was only six. He took Theo’s country and kept her prisoner, crowning her Ash Princess–a pet to toy with and humiliate for ten long years. That era has ended. The Kaiser thought his prisoner weak and defenseless. He didn’t realize that a sharp mind is the deadliest weapon.

Theo no longer wears a crown of ashes. She has taken back her rightful title, and a hostage–Prinz Soren. But her people remain enslaved under the Kaiser’s rule, and now she is thousands of miles away from them and her throne.

To get them back, she will need an army. Only, securing an army means she must trust her aunt, the dreaded pirate Dragonsbane. And according to Dragonsbane, an army can only be produced if Theo takes a husband. Something an Astrean Queen has never done.

Theo knows that freedom comes at a price, but she is determined to find a way to save her country without losing herself.

Thoughts

I enjoyed Lady Smoke more than the first book of this series. Theodosia is free of the Kaiser and is on the run. She is set to take on her title as the Queen of Asteria, but her people are still enslaved. She has no allies, no army, no means to fight for her people’s freedom. She is a queen with only hope, and good friends.

This book is about Theodosia finding out where she stands with her people. She works to gain power, and enough strength to fight for her people’s freedom. She must also convince her people who have been long enslaved to fight for their freedom. That there were will be a time they will be able to feel and hold that freedom. In many ways, Lady Smoke describes that coming-off-age stage perfectly and finding inspiration to fight for a worthy cause.

Murdering Romance by Kendi Karimi- New Book Alert!

Murdering Romance Cover

Murdering Romance

by Kendi Karimi

Murdering Romance is a fictional story about one woman whose love for peanuts unknowingly sealed her fate, her missing father who had a lot to say about his absence in her life, and a little time to say it, then suddenly none at all, her ex-lovers who had a lot of her to kiss, but not to love, never to love.

Mukami wants to understand love and has spent all her life understanding death, like picking up yellow flowers from the brown earth and having them turn a pale blue in your hand. And she has lived a long life. And she is tired. She has been brave and is tired of that face. She has written herself to fame and is tired of the fame.

Available at these places –> Amazon.com | Nuria the Honest Store, Nairobi | Naivas supermarkets | Writer’s Guild Kenya bookshop | Kibanga books | Candy and Books Kenya


Book Review

Murdering Romance is about Mukami, a woman in a quest to discover and experience authentic love, freely given by a father, or even a lover.  She has wondered where to find this love, for what she has seen and experienced for herself does not compare to her imagination.  She has also always wondered why her father left, why he didn’t stay and make a family with her mom. Perhaps his love and care would have taught her more, shown her how to find an authentic love for herself years later.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mukami starts a conversation with her estranged father via email, in which he tells her about the past, and she does her best to tell him about her present. She works at understanding his choices while doing her best to resolve a longstanding grudge over his neglect. Their conversations are fresh and revealing.

As these conversations unfold, Mukami shares her own experiences with love, or the lack of it, in the form she imagines authentic love should be and exist. The most disturbing of these accounts is a relationship with ‘Peanut Man’. An experience that is treated as best as it can be. I do feel as though the Peanut Man’s saga should be an entire book plot on its own, complete with a therapy session for the character, but I digress. Thankfully, Mukami does move on from Peanut Man to other relationships.

There is a rawness to Murdering Romance. Mukami does her best to share and unpack her life and the experiences she has lived. Each one made her wonder, making her wish and hope for the right one, the perfect moment. The conversations with her father become important. Murdering Romance is a story about Mukami who simply wanted to experience an actual authentic moment of genuine love and call it her own.

Ash Princess

Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. On that day, the Kaiser took Theodosia’s family, her land, and her name. Theo was crowned Ash Princess–a title of shame to bear in her new life as a prisoner.

For ten years Theo has been a captive in her own palace. She’s endured the relentless abuse and ridicule of the Kaiser and his court. She is powerless, surviving in her new world only by burying the girl she was deep inside.

Then, one night, the Kaiser forces her to do the unthinkable. With blood on her hands and all hope of reclaiming her throne lost, she realizes that surviving is no longer enough. But she does have a weapon: her mind is sharper than any sword. And power isn’t always won on the battlefield.

For ten years, the Ash Princess has seen her land pillaged and her people enslaved. That all ends here.

Summary

Ash Princess is a story about Theo, a princess of Astrean, who is living in an enemy’s palace ruled by the cruel Kalovaxian King. This king has murdered thousands of Theo’s people. He also takes pleasure in humiliating the Astrean Princess, calling her the Ash Princess. Theo even wears a crown forged of ash to parties thrown in her honor. When the man she thought would rescue her from the Kalovaxian King dies, by her hand no less, she is forced to start thinking of the future. Of her people’s suffering and the truth that no one is coming to the rescue, Theo must rescue herself.

I enjoyed the pacing of this novel. Once again, I have picked up a second series that is a quick, don’t-think-too-much kind of story. The plot line is not new, nor is it ground-shaking. It has been done before and reminds me a lot of Red Queen by Victoria A. Still, Theo is her own character and she takes charge in this book, doing what she can to survive her circumstances. Read it for a good easy time. There are heavy nuances of cruel behavior, obviously war, and slavery. It is a Young Adult novel at its fullest fantasy mode.

Caraval – Book Review

Caraval Book Cover

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless, she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval . . . beware of getting swept too far away.

Book Review

Caraval Aesthetic

Scarlett Dragna loves her younger sister Tella very much.  Their father is cruel and abusive, and he uses their love for each other against them. When he arranges a marriage for Scarlett, she decides to go through with it, in the hope that she will be able to take her sister with her. She hopes her arranged marriage will allow them to escape their abusive father.

Scarlett will do anything to protect Tella. It is to the point of giving up her dreams and sense of adventure.  When Scarlett was young, she longed to see the Caraval – the magical, faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the magical show. She wrote letters to Master Legend, asking for the Caraval to visit their tiny island, hoping for a chance to watch the Caraval. She never gets a response and loses hope as she grows up.  And then, days before her arranged marriage, Scarlett receives a letter from the Master of Caraval, Legend, inviting her to the magical show on Isla De Los Suenos. Enclosed in Legend’s letter are three tickets to the show.

Scarlett must now make a choice whether to follow through on the arranged marriage or follow her dreams and whims and attend the Caraval.

It's only a game

A series of events ensues, and after a kidnapping and a near drowning, Scarlett does end up at the gates into Caraval.  The ticket master has a set of rules for Scarlett and her companion.  Most important of all is to remember that it’s all a game.

It all does seem like a game until Scarlett realizes that her dear sister Tella is at the center of the game.  She is missing, seemingly kidnapped by Legend.  The players are in a race to find Tella and win the prize, but Scarlett is in it to save her sister before the day she has to marry a man her father found for her.

I think the rules of Caraval apply while reading this book.  It is simple good fun, and entertaining.  It’s about Scarlett finding a footing, finding what matters to herself and what she wants to do with the rest of her life. She does it while playing a game of make-believe that might cost her more than she bargained. Reading Caraval had me wanting to go to a magic show, or visit the circus. It’s all make believe, don’t get carried away.

I hope your weekend is full of beautiful magical moments.

A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns Cover

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a breathtaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan’s last thirty years – from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding – that puts the violence, fear, hope, and faith of this country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives – the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness – are inextricable from the history playing out around them.

Propelled by the same storytelling instinct that made The Kite Runner a beloved classic, A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once a remarkable chronicle of three decades of Afghan history and a deeply moving account of family and friendship. It is a striking, heart-wrenching novel of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love – a stunning accomplishment.

Book Review

I have no sufficient words.  All I can say is that Mariam’s character makes me feel very angry about what she had to endure at the hands of people who should have afforded her better. Even as I understand her decisions and feelings by the end of this book. 

“Mariam wished for so much in those final moments. Yet as she closed her eyes, it was not regret any longer but a sensation of abundant peace that washed over her. She thought of her entry into this world, the harami child of a lowly villager, an unintended thing, a pitiable, regrettable accident. A weed. And yet she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back. She was leaving it as a friend, a companion, a guardian. A mother. A person of consequence at last. No. It was not so bad. This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate belongings.” 
- A Thousand Splendid Suns

I wish and hope with all my heart that the realities found in this book do not repeat, even as they do even now in some versions across the globe. I wish and hope that all who do walk these paths forged by war, unbending wills, and downright cruelty find the strength to live and survive as Mariam and Laila do, and make it to the other end of the dark tunnel with hope.  This book is very raw, immersing, and speaks of a strength forged when there is nothing else to hold on to, nothing else.

“‎I know you’re still young but I want you to understand and learn this now. Marriage can wait, education cannot. You’re a very very bright girl. Truly you are. You can be anything you want Laila. I know this about you. And I also know that when this war is over, Afghanistan is going to need you as much as its men maybe even more. Because a society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated Laila. No chance.

Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns

Homegoing – Review

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

Book Review

I just want to say that Homegoing is required reading. It is also important to say that this book is not an easy read.  It is always heartbreaking to read about the slave trade, and the roles fellow tribes’ people played to sell off their own people into the slave trade.  Yaa explores the two different sides of the slave trade by following two half-sisters, Esi and Effia.  The two women do not meet each other, but they are born to the same mother. 

Esi is sold into slavery, and her descendants grow up as slaves, and end up in the slave struggle in the U.S.  Effia is married off to a British slave merchant.  Her descendants remain in Ghana, and struggle with the realities of being born from a slaver, and what is their true place, their tribe.  In seven generations from the eighteenth century to the present, Yaa explores the great civil rights struggles and cultural shifts in the U.S. and in Ghana, and how these struggles affect Esi and Effia’s descendants.  Each experience somehow tied back to the moment Esi became a slave, and Effia married a British slave merchant. The vast journey Homegoing takes spans seven generations in a breathtaking and emotionally brutal story.

A Sky Beyond the Storm – Review

Picking up just a few months after A Reaper at the Gates left off…

A Sky Beyond the Storm book cover

A Sky Beyond the Storm

by Sabaa Tahir

The long-imprisoned jinn are on the attack, wreaking bloody havoc in villages and cities alike. But for the Nightbringer, vengeance on his human foes is just the beginning.

At his side, Commandant Keris Veturia declares herself Empress, and calls for the heads of any and all who defy her rule. At the top of the list? The Blood Shrike and her remaining family.

Laia of Serra, now allied with the Blood Shrike, struggles to recover from the loss of the two people most important to her. Determined to stop the approaching apocalypse, she throws herself into the destruction of the Nightbringer. In the process, she awakens an ancient power that could lead her to victory–or to an unimaginable doom.

And deep in the Waiting Place, the Soul Catcher seeks only to forget the life–and love–he left behind. Yet doing so means ignoring the trail of murder left by the Nightbringer and his jinn. To uphold his oath and protect the human world from the supernatural, the Soul Catcher must look beyond the borders of his own land. He must take on a mission that could save–or destroy–all that he knows.

Book Review

A Sky Beyond the Storm marks the end of the Ember in the Ashes. Laia has changed.  She is no longer the frightened girl at the start of the series.  Since then, she has endured torturous hours, under the commandant.  She stood up to bullies in the resistance. Endured heartbreak thanks to the Nightbringer.  She found the strength to save Elias and her brother.  Most important she found purpose and the determination to follow through. I admire her tenacity and her ability to keep going no matter what.  This determination to find another way, not to give up.

Elias’s character when we first meet him is on a quest to escape his harsh unforgiving life at Blackburn.  He doesn’t succeed and gets pulled back each time, by Helene, by the Commandant, by the masks under his command.  The consequences he faces should he be caught running were demonstrated on fellow masks who ran away. The punishment was brutal.  After a series of unfortunate events, in which Elias goes through a trial to become the emperor, he makes a choice not to be a mask anymore.  This decision means he forfeits his life and Marcus chooses to end him. At this point, Elias is saved by Laia. To repay her, Elias chooses to save Darrin, Laia’s brother, and this decision, this giving of himself, leads him to the role of the Soul Catcher. Elias is a struggling soul catcher.  He doesn’t excel in this role, and even though in this last book he comes back to help fight the Nightbringer, I wished there was a way out for him.

The only disappointments in this book are the lack of the Commandant’s story. I wish there was more about her, about why she chose to be so cruel even to her own son.  Her motivations are really not defined, and even though she makes the perfect villain, her story deserves more. The other unfortunate character is Harper. There’s a saying I heard a lot at my old job. ‘Bad things happen to good people.’ I really don’t like this saying, because why? Why do bad things happen to good people? Harper is a perfect representation of this saying. And while I don’t question why Sabaa Tahir goes this route, it adds to Helene Aquilla’s growth, but it sure sucks for Harper. I think he deserved to live and enjoy the world he had fought so hard to create.

The series came to an end with an epic fight and a lot of losses. A host of characters leave in the tragedy that is war. But happiness does come for all the remaining characters. It was a good ending for Laia and Elias to find their place.  In a way, so does Helene, despite her many losses. These four books were worth it.

Slay – Book Review

Slay Book Cover

Slay

by Brittney Morris

By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is a high school student and one of the only black kids at Jefferson Academy. By night, she joins hundreds of thousands of black gamers who duel worldwide in the secret online role-playing card game, SLAY.

No one knows Kiera is the game developer – not even her boyfriend, Malcolm. But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, the media labels it an exclusionist, racist hub for thugs.

With threats coming from both inside and outside the game, Kiera must fight to save the safe space she’s created. But can she protect SLAY without losing herself?

Book Review

Keira Johnson is seventeen and she is in a high school where she is one of three or so black kids at school.  She is also a game developer and has created a VR card dueler game named SLAY.  The thing is, no one in her school knows, including her boyfriend and little sister.  She goes by the name Queen Emerald in the game, and she spends most of her free time working to make sure the users of her game don’t face any glitches.

What I loved about this story is that Keira is a very strong character.  She is smart, diplomatic, knows her mind, (except when it comes to her boyfriend) and she creates a safe platform welcome to anyone in search of a place they belong.

Slay delves heavily into race issues. They are part of Keira’s daily life, filled in conservations with her boyfriend, best friend, parents, and her little sister.  Keira endures questions at school like whether it is okay for white folks to wear locs. If they do, whether or not it will insult the black culture.  At all times, Keira wishes she were still back in her old school where she did not have to be the authority on such questions. The pressure can be too much.

Keira creates an exclusive game, SLAY, that only allows black people into the game.  The moment it is discovered, a fierce debate starts on how right it is to create such an exclusive space. Keira takes it in stride and does her best to keep the game going and her members happy in the face of growing criticism.

What I did not love about Slay was the treatment of Keira’s boyfriend, Malcolm.  He calls her a queen, so he is a king. He reads a lot, but his views on what he reads and what he takes in immediately present a challenge.  He reads books written by black writers, only. He calls it decolonizing his mind. Malcolm’s character seems fine at the start.  He and Keira have a great relationship and they are in love. Still, his opinions become worrying when he tells Keira she should not be playing video games, especially SLAY, not knowing she developed it.  He also does not approve of Keira’s sister dating a boy who is not black. As Keira articulates, Malcolm believes, ‘… you can’t be for the advancement of black people if you’re dating someone who’s not black.’

Mint chocolate Cadburys

Malcolm deteriorates from here, turning controlling and very scary when he starts believing Keira is ignoring him.  He threatens her best friend and wants to shake Keira down in the school cafeteria because she won’t answer his calls.  He turns into a villain after this, and I thought it was the saddest thing since Cadburys discontinued mint fudge in our region.  Why would they be so cruel and unusual? I really miss these. Bring them back Cadburys. Anyway, Malcolm drew the short stick in SLAY, and I don’t support it. On a side note, Malcolm seems modeled after Killmonger from Black Panther.

In any case, I believe Slay is an important book to read.  Keira is a very independent character, and she stands up for herself and the game she has created.  The safe space she calls SLAY allows an international sisterhood and brotherhood to join in and just enjoy a game, being themselves. 

My favorite quote from this book is: “As we duel, as we chat, there’s an understanding that “your black is not my black” and “your weird is not my weird” and “your beautiful is not my beautiful,” and that’s okay.”

A Torch Against the Night – Review

 A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

A Torch Against the Night
A Torch Against the Night Book Cover

In A TORCH AGAINST THE NIGHT, Elias and Laia are running for their lives.

After the events of the Fourth Trial, Martial soldiers hunt the two fugitives as they flee the city of Serra and undertake a perilous journey through the heart of the Empire.

Laia is determined to break into Kauf—the Empire’s most secure and dangerous prison—to save her brother, who is the key to the Scholars’ survival. And Elias is determined to help Laia succeed, even if it means giving up his last chance at freedom.

But dark forces, human and otherworldly, work against Laia and Elias. The pair must fight every step of the way to outsmart their enemies: the bloodthirsty Emperor Marcus, the merciless Commandant, the sadistic Warden of Kauf, and, most heartbreaking of all, Helene—Elias’s former friend and the Empire’s newest Blood Shrike.

Bound to Marcus’s will, Helene faces a torturous mission of her own—one that might destroy her: find the traitor Elias Veturius and the Scholar slave who helped him escape…and kill them both.

Book Review

I read A Torch Against the Night in one afternoon. It continues from where An Ember in the Ashes ended. Elias and Laia are on the run from the masks and need to get out of the city.  Elias is determined to get Laia out and help her save her brother from prison.  Laia needs Elias’s considerable skills to stay alive, and escape a city locked down by masks who are determined to capture Elias.

Helene Aquilla has become the Blood Shrike. She answers to the new brutal emperor Marcus and he has a terrible mission for her.  Track down her friend Elias and bring him back to the city for a public execution.

A Torch Against the Night is an action-packed read.  Laia is stronger this round, more decisive which is grand to see.  She supports Elias as they race to save Laia’s brother.  Helen remains a character caught in a terrible nightmare.  She must hunt for Elias, even though it means killing him.  Her quest is designed to break her and Marcus knows it.  There was no moment of softness for Helene, the Blood Shrike.

The field of battle is my temple.  The swordpoint is my priest.  The killing blow is my release.  I’m not ready for my release. Not yet. Not yet.

Elias Veturius, A Torch Against the Night

Elias, my favorite character, chooses a tough road in this book.  His only wish has been to live a quiet life, one of peace.  But, he has only lived by the sword and been trained to be the best warrior.  His willingness to sacrifice himself is both admirable and something to be sad about at every step. By the end, he has reached a point of no return and makes a choice that will change his and Laia’s lives forever.

The fight against the chains of slavery forged by the martial forces is underlying, growing by each chapter.  I loved meeting Elias’s adoptive mother most.  She is a skilled Kehanni (storyteller) and her tale helps Elias and Laia escape a tight spot.  Her words spark a revolt and I thought that was such a powerful scene.  As with Book One, there are terrible losses in Book Two.  I was happy and sad as I read the last chapter of A Torch Against the Night.  I cannot wait to get A Reaper at the Gates to discover the consequences of Elias’s decision.