Many may be wondering where the heck I’ve gone. I apologize! I have been really trying to focus on getting some habits cemented in place down here, instead of allowing myself to feel like I’m on permanent vacation. I have also been sick with one thing after another ( a cough-heavy cold, food poisoning, my period, a crippling headache for a few days….) and I haven’t felt much motivation to be productive blog-wise for about a month. I still want to do a post about Cusco, but I’m going to save it for a day when I don’t have to work later, because that’s going to take all day.
Life in Arequipa is awesome. It took me a while to find my feet here and truly feel at home, but now I genuinely love it, and walking around on the cobbled streets or the slick pavement of the historic part of the city, with aged white-stone walls rising all around me I can’t help but smile my biggest smile because it’s all just so lovely.
Perhaps the biggest update is that I am no longer teaching. The school I worked for was sloppy and disorganized. The person who was supposed to help the teachers here seemed to care neither about our health nor safety and was incredibly difficult to reach when one or more of us were sick with things that seemed like they had the potential to be dangerous. He actually completely turned on one of my closest friends here and is currently trying to get her kicked out of our apartments because she stopped working for them, too. Her arrival was one of the most atrocious things I have ever witnessed. It was a seemingly endless series of screw-ups and stressful situations that he should have made better and instead made worse. He took her leave-taking very personally (whereas mine was no problem, apparently), and in total it is an organization with which I want no more interaction whatsoever.
I’m at a coffee shop now, and I’m so happy. It’s a great place that I spent a lot of time at anyway, so I’m enjoying the people and the work. I get excited about going in. There’s just something I love about being behind a counter. I’m learning how to make coffee, and I spend a lot of time around some pretty delicious desserts. I move around a lot and feel healthier doing so. And after I’m finished I can just sit down on a cozy sofa and read my book for a while.
I will be in Texas for the month of December, from 1 December to 5 January. After I return I am moving into an apartment in Cusco with two sisters from Lima who own a bookstore and tea room. I completely fell in love with Cusco when I was there, and I can’t wait to be there. Now, though, I think I’m really going to miss Arequipa when I go. They’re both great cities with wonderful people in them, and it will be hard to move.
I’ve been reading the same book for so many days now that I’ve forgotten there are books I’ve finished that I need to blog about! I also haven’t been doing quite as much reading because I have been lesson planning more, and I have also started drawing more again. I want to tell new people I meet that I do more than just read (although reading will always be my first love!).
Today I’m writing about a series of three books that I absolutely loved in high school. Prospero’s Children, the first book in this series by Jan Siegel, is a wholly unique novel about an English girl in the 1980s just stumbling upon her witch powers. While other girls of sixteen worry about who will ask them to the dance and what to wear, Fern must concern herself with the powerful witch attaching herself to Fern’s father and also prevent disaster from striking the ancient city of Atlantis. Not sure about you, but I couldn’t handle that responsibility at sixteen.
“It began ages past in fabled Atlantis when a mad, power-hungry queen forged a key to a door never meant to be opened by mortal man–its inception would hasten her own death and the extinction of her vainglorious race. For millennia the key lay forgotten beneath the waves, lost amid the ruins of what had been the most beautiful city on Earth. But however jealously the sea hoards its secrets, sooner or later it yields them up. Now, in present-day Yorkshire, that time has come. And for young Fernanda Capel, life will never be the same again.” —Indiebound
There are so many beautiful things about this book. The language is rich and lush–it wraps itself around the reader like a scarf. The whole book has an ethereal, dream-like quality to it, especially in the parts that involve magic. The characters are charming and terrifying in their turn. Fern and her brother Will–children in this first novel–are “old souls” whose maturity and poise defy their age and allow them to cope with the supernatural events which they cannot outrun. Their mentor, Ragginbone, is such a thoughtful, delightful, wise old (really old) man that I wish I had someone like that in my life. Someone who had lived through not just decades but centuries and could tell me what to do with my life while we ate tea and biscuits. And I must mention Lougarry though I won’t tell you who or what she is. I wish I had one of her too. You’ll have to read the series.
The other two, The Dragon Charmer and The Witch Queen, are even stronger than the first, in my opinion. As Fern grows up, she makes allies in the supernatural kingdom and grows into a very strong witch. With her powers come enemies and people who want to use her, and she must use her wits as well as her magic to untangle herself from their webs. I particularly love The Witch Queen, although I wistfully wish the ending were slightly different. I understand the purpose in ending the series the way she does, and I know that there really wasn’t any way the reader (or Fern) could have both of the things that she wanted. But still. I find myself wishing there was another way. What am I talking about? Read the series and find out!
Queen of Shadows was yet another brilliant installment in the Throne of Glass series. I can tell that Sarah J. Maas is building to a truly explosive finale in the final volume. I only hope it means that we don’t have to say goodbye to any major players we love. Knowing books, I fear this may be a vain hope, but I’ll keep hoping until I close the last page on the last book.
At this point, there really isn’t any way to write about this book and not spoil the previous books in the series, so if you haven’t read up until this book, STOP READING NOW.
“Everyone Celaena Sardothien loves has been taken from her. But she’s at last returned to the empire-for vengeance, to rescue her once-glorious kingdom, and to confront the shadows of her past…She has embraced her identity as Aelin Galathynius, Queen of Terrasen. But before she can reclaim her throne, she must fight. She will fight for her cousin, a warrior prepared to die just to see her again. She will fight for her friend, a young man trapped in an unspeakable prison. And she will fight for her people, enslaved to a brutal king and awaiting their lost queen’s triumphant return.
Celaena’s epic journey has captured the hearts and imaginations of millions across the globe. This fourth volume will hold readers rapt as Celaena’s story builds to a passionate, agonizing crescendo that might just shatter her world.” —Indiebound
In Queen of Shadows, Celaena returns to Adarlan as her true self, and she is out for blood. It seems there is only so much abuse one young woman trained as a ruthless, deadly assassin can take before she snaps. This novel is just as emotionally charged as the rest of them, with perhaps a little more satisfying revenge than we have seen before. The story moves at a brutal pace, and I think my favorite part of this novel was the interesting alliances she forms to achieve her ends (and to replenish her depleted ranks of friends–it’s dangerous to get close to this girl.) The novel also takes some really interesting, surprising twists and turns, as we have come to expect from Maas. I was absolutely thrilled by the ending, and I cannot wait for the fifth book.
However, there are some things I have my doubts about, too. Celaena’s thirst for violence seems unnecessarily high in this book. In this world so filled with brutality, violence, and killing already, it’s nice to read about an assassin who doesn’t necessarily enjoy her work. She shows compassion and spares those who do not deserve to die. The reader sees very little of that compassion here. In much the same way action movie “heroes” leave a trail of bodies in their wake, Celaena kills ruthlessly and indiscriminately. I realize that her victims are working for a tyrant and standing between her and what she wants, but this gives the impression that there are important humans, and unimportant “stock” humans who can be killed without remorse or second thoughts. Sadly, this is not true in reality, and it disturbed me how our noble heroine becomes so hell-bent on destruction and revenge that she forgets she values life and once despised killing.
Along the same lines, while I truly enjoyed reading Queen of Shadows, and I couldn’t put it down, I feel like I read an entirely different series. Celaena has become a completely different character from herself in Throne of Glass. The people she surrounds herself with are different. Even the lines between friends and enemies are blurred, and people we thought were firmly in the evil camp turn out to surprise Celaena and her biases. While I enjoyed the truly epic nature of the narrative, I almost miss the comparatively quaint simplicity of the first novel.
I know it seems as if I have more negative things to say than positive, but it’s not true! I don’t really want to give away the good stuff, though. For those who haven’t read it, but have read the rest of the series, I say: what’s wrong with you?! Get moving! This novel was mostly stuffed to the brim with really good things, and I really recommend finishing the series.
I read Shadow & Bone several weeks ago because I had a special $1.99 e-book deal on it come to my email. I had heard good things about it and wanted to read it anyway, but hadn’t given it a very high priority.
Shadow & Bone is one of those books that reminded me why I continue to read YA books well into my adulthood. Leigh Bardugo is brilliant. In a genre heavily inundated with fantasy stories based on Celtic mythology and vampires, this author has constructed a world that is entirely new. With its strong themes of eastern-European nomenclature and mythology, yet possessing its own unique twists, I’ve never read a story like Shadow & Bone.
“Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life–a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.”–Indiebound
This book has everything you love about a YA novel. Danger, romance, a powerful female trying to find her own way separate from the men who would influence her. Darkness. Creepy creatures. Tragedy. Heartbreak. Betrayal. Nothing about this novel is predictable or boring. It kept me engaged from start to finish. When I finished this one, I had to read the rest of the series, too.
The rest of the series was very strong, too. At the risk of giving away what happened in novel one, I won’t give synopses for two and three. Be satisfied knowing that I simply devoured this series and was completely obsessed. In fact, I wasn’t happy when it ended, and bought all of the short stories and novellas associated with the world in these novels.
I love this series. I love everything about it. The plot. The characters. The setting. The darkness. The suspense. The intensity. The fearlessness of Bardugo’s writing. I highly recommend all of these novels. It never slows down. From start to finish, it is beautiful and intense, and I believe you will love it as much as I did.
I was really excited to read this one. I love Philippa Gregory. She is one of my favorite authors, and definitely my favorite writer of historical fiction. Every so often I crave the world of royal intrigue, and Gregory almost always delivers.
Unfortunately, this book falls into the “other” category.
“In this New York Times bestseller, Philippa Gregory tells the tale of Anne Neville, a beautiful young woman who must navigate the treachery of the English court as her father, known as the Kingmaker, uses her and her sister as pawns in his political game.
The Kingmaker’s Daughter–Philippa Gregory’s first sister story since “The Other Boleyn Girl”–is the gripping tale of the daughters of the man known as the Kingmaker, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick: the most powerful magnate in fifteenth-century England. Without a son and heir, he uses his daughters, Anne and Isabel, as pawns in his political games, and they grow up to be influential players in their own right. At the court of Edward IV and his beautiful queen, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne grows from a delightful child to become ever more fearful and desperate when her father makes war on his former friends. Married at age fourteen, she is soon left widowed and fatherless, her mother in sanctuary and her sister married to the enemy. Anne manages her own escape by marrying Richard, Duke of Gloucester, but her choice will set her on a collision course with the overwhelming power of the royal family.” — Indiebound
I did not enjoy this book much at all. I felt it was very hurried, with very little character development and almost no substance or emotion. I did not care for the characters at all, and I didn’t feel any emotion when they were in danger or trouble. It was so hasty that their problems developed and were solved almost on the same page.
Toward the end, things got a little more detailed, and the story engaged me more. But truthfully, I only bothered to finish the book because I paid for it and felt I had to. That said, I will still read the rest of the books in the series because I feel that this is a fluke on Gregory’s part, and I am interested in the saga of the Cousin’s War.
This past weekend we had a long weekend. The students were given a day off for “Students’ Day” and many of the teachers, including myself, took advantage of the opportunity to explore a little of the Arequipa region. School coordination arranged a rafting trip to the Majes Valley and the Majes River for us, and we had an absolutely awesome time! It was really the first time I’d been anywhere very far outside of Arequipa, and it was good to feel like I was doing some exploring, rather than remaining sedentary. It also felt good to get away from the noise and chaos of the city and hear only the birds and the wind, sit by a fire listening to spooky stories, and do some stargazing for all of the new constellations that surround me.
When we first left Arequipa, we were surrounded by a desert so dusty and grey that I felt like we travelled on the moon. The only color on the mountains and hills came from the trash thrown on the side of the road and from the occasional houses we passed. There are no plants growing here. This region gets very little rainfall every year, and it is concentrated in the rainy season. For most of the year, it’s inhospitable to plant life without human help.
We left the apartments around 6:30 am and drove for a few hours, taking the precarious turns on narrow, two-lane roads through the mountains that South America is famous for. Surprisingly, despite the early hour, the bus was quite rowdy–probably helped along by the free beer supplied by our fearless leader. Drinking in the car apparently isn’t a big deal here. Fortunately, the driver refrained from embibing any cerveza, and was very experienced at his job, if a little crazy sometimes.
We stopped for several sightseeing excursions before we reached our campgrounds. First, we got lost looking for the petroglyphs, but once we got there it was very cool. The petroglyphs are pictures carved into the faces of rocks jutting up on of grey desert sands on the side of a mountain. The place is called Toro Muerto, or Dead Bull, which was a somewhat intimidating name.
We didn’t stay long because it was very dry and hot (in a region with no trees there is also no shade), but we did get to explore the rocks and sands a bit looking for the petroglyphs. These drawings were left by a people who lived here before the Incas, so they are very old. Despite their antiquity, you can reach out and touch them. They are not protected from the elements or from people at all. In fact, people have carved their names and added their own pictures to them, which is irritating, but a fact of life. Unfortunately, there will always be stupid people with no respect for anything other than their own experience in the present. Still, until the petroglyphs are obliterated by people who don’t care about history, they are there for everyone to enjoy.
There were no signs or labels, so we had to guess what each of the pictures were. We also had to find them ourselves. Only one that I saw had an official number placed above it. Everything was very informal.
At one point, I stepped back to take a panorama of the landscape. The only life visible was our van and our group of tourists. Everything else is just hot sun, blue sky, and dry, grey dirt.
We travelled on for a few more minutes until we reached Jurassic Park! Okay, it was a Peruvian imitation of Jurassic Park, but it had a cool hike, some sweet fake dinosaurs, and some very real dinosaur tracks in the side of a hill. And it had ice cream at the bottom when we were finished.
As a girl from a mostly flat place (even Austin’s hills can’t compare to mountains, obviously), it was a challenge to walk all the way to the top just for some tracks. I was the first one up, though, despite my wheezing lungs, and was disappointed because I couldn’t see any dinosaur tracks. I thought I’d climbed all the way to the top for nothing!
However, the view at the top was stunning, and the breeze under the shade was equally gratifying. I was happy to have worked so hard after sitting all morning, and to be rewarded for my efforts with a beautiful vista and a cool breeze.
I was totally wrong, as I learned when a few of the others reached the top. I was looking in the wrong place and had passed right by the tracks! I was so focused on the top that I didn’t look to the side. There they were, behind me and further down–three-toed tracks that gave testament to the passage of some ancient and enormous lizard. It was pretty cool, to put it lightly.
After going back down, we stopped in town for lunch and to do some shopping for the cook-out we’d planned for the evening over the fire. I am so captivated by the street dogs here. They are sweet but shy, and so hardy, living in the heat, dodging cars driving crazily up and down, and finding food where they can.
Once we had our last errand out of the way, we were ready to see our home for the night. I loved it! They had peacocks, sheep, parakeets, tortoises, a bird of prey they had rescued, and a new litter of kittens. We stayed in cabins surrounded by flower beds bursting with color, but we spent most of our time in a grove of trees strung with hammocks.
It was such a wonderful escape. We sat around a fire and talked, listening to music and eating good food. We lay in our hammocks and all read our books quietly while the wind whistled through the trees above us. We ate freshly prepared Peruvian food and sipped on beers or fresh lemonade. Doris and I used my SkyView app to find the Southern Cross, Scorpio, Cygnus, and more. And despite the bugs in the cabin and the peacock mewing loudly above me, I slept the best I have since I’ve arrived in Peru. I can’t actually put into words how happy this weekend made me.
I skipped rafting because I just wanted to enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside for a few more hours. Rafting doesn’t mean that much to me, but the quiet does. Our bus was 40 minutes late picking us up to go back home, and the ride felt a lot longer because we were all so tired.
Once home, several teacher friends and I took advantage of the rare night away from school to eat dinner at a restaurant. We had Indian food that was absolutely out of this world! It was the cherry on top of a perfect weekend.
There are a lot of people who like Gillian Flynn. I have tried, but I am not one of them. I read Dark Places on my way here to Peru and found that I was so deeply disturbed it messed me up a little bit when I got here.
“Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas. She survived and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, the Kill Club–a secret society obsessed with notorious crimes–locates Libby and pumps her for details. They hope to discover proof that may free Ben. Libby hopes to turn a profit off her tragic history: She’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club for a fee. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started–on the run from a killer.” —Indiebound
There are several people I’ve spoken to who think this is Flynn’s best novel. Published before Gone Girl, there was apparently even a flop of a movie made, also. It does have all the elements of a twisted thriller designed to be devoured by readers. It is engrossing and suspenseful. It has a character at the end of her rope, despicably unlikeable, which for some reason makes her story that much more engaging. Can she redeem herself, or was her whole existence ruined when she was seven years old? It’s got gore, and some truly disturbing scenes, and if that is your thing, then it is masterfully written, and you should read it. You would probably enjoy it.
I am able to admit that I recognize how well this novel is written. Flynn is a talented storyteller, and she is not shy in her explorations of the more twisted pathways of the human psyche. Her character is manipulative and useless and fits into her story perfectly. The mystery itself, while incredibly disturbing and brutal, is suspenseful enough to keep even the most disgusted reader (me) reading until the very last page.
If dark, gory thrillers are your jam, then please read this book. You will like it. It will keep you reading long into the night.