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Retro Friday: Blood Red Horse by K.M. Grant

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I became curious about Blood Red Horse by K.M. Grant back when Angie did a Retro Friday review of it. It seemed like a very interesting, under-the-radar historical fiction novel. I was delighted when I found a bargain copy of it in one of the used bookstores in Manila. I thought the cover looked great and I liked the gold accents in the design. That copy has been patiently waiting in my TBR pile for years. Since I’ve been trying to be better about reading books that I have physical copies of, I picked it up when I was in the mood for historical fiction.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

You need three things to become a brave and noble knight:
A warhorse.
A fair maiden.
A just cause.

Will has a horse – a small chestnut stallion with a white blaze in his brow. Ellie is a fair maiden, but she’s supposed to marry Will’s older brother, Gavin. And as for the cause, King Richard is calling for a Crusade. The Knights of England must go to the Holy Land to fight.

Will and Gavin will go. Blood will be shed. Lives will be taken. But through it all, two things will be constant – Ellie, and a blood-red horse called Hosanna…

Blood Red Horse instagram

Blood Red Horse is set in the time period when Richard the Lionheart serves as the king of England and he leads his men on a crusade against the Muslim leader Saladin. To be perfectly honest, I know next to nothing about this part of history because it wasn’t included in the curriculum in schools back home in the Philippines. It doesn’t really matter since I was able to enjoy reading Blood Red Horse even though I’m not familiar with the historical setting of the book. I liked how the book starts with Ellie, Will and Gavin as young children and how we see them grow and develop throughout the course of the book. More so in the boys’ case as they march off to join the crusade with their father. The boys were thoroughly excited to be knights of the crusade, not knowing that war is such a bleak and miserable business. Ellie was left at home but she was destined to have adventures of her own.

Even at a young age, Will has the skills that make him a fine horseman. When he is finally permitted to choose a Great Horse, he sees something special in Hosanna, and immediately knows that he’s meant to have that particular horse even if Hosanna wasn’t exactly meant to be a warhorse. With the title of the book being Blood Red Horse, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me that majority of the story focuses on Hosanna and how the horse influences everyone who gets to know him. However, I thought it was a bit strange how fixated everyone was on Hosanna. I understood Will’s fascination because Hosanna becomes his reliable and faithful companion for years, but everyone else that comes in contact with Hosanna? I just thought it was a bit much for a non-magical horse. (If Hosanna had magic, I think it would have made more sense why he inspires such strong emotions in people.)

I’m usually not a fan of stories about war and true enough, I didn’t really enjoy the passages that centered around the crusade because I found it such a sad experience for the boys and everyone involved. As expected, there’s some violence in there but in an understated way. What I did like was how readers get to see two sides of the war, instead of being biased towards one side. They may disagree about their faith/religion but both leaders of the two groups, Richard and Saladin, see the other person as a brave and worthy opponent. As a result, there’s no clear villain in the story. What we have instead is two groups of people fighting for what they believe in. As I mentioned earlier, I also liked the character development of Ellie, Will and Gavin and I’m really curious what the next books will have in store for them. While I didn’t fall in love with Blood Red Horse, I did think it deserves more attention than it’s currently gotten. If you’re a fan of the historical period of Richard the Lionheart’s reign or of stories about horses, then I have a feeling you’ll enjoy this book.


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Top Ten Underrated Authors in Epic Fantasy

Top Ten Tuesday2

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. I think epic fantasy is becoming more of a trend lately because I have seen other bloggers raving about recently published novels that they’ve loved. I’ve tried some of them but unfortunately, I didn’t think they were as strong as some of my favorite epic fantasy books. So for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, I wanted to focus on one of the genres that I love. Some of the epic fantasy authors I think more readers should check out:

Megan Whalen Turner – I think I’ve made it pretty clear how much I love MWT’s books. I know it’s gotten a bit more attention from authors and bloggers in the past few years but I still don’t think it’s enough!

Robin McKinley – I love Robin McKinley’s lyrical writing style and how her books have a fairy tale feel to them (of course, some of them are fairy tale retellings). My favorites are The Blue Sword, Beauty and Pegasus.

Diana Wynne Jones – I haven’t read all of DWJ’s books but I’ve really enjoyed the ones that I have. I wish I discovered her novels much sooner. I loved Howl’s Moving Castle and also enjoyed the Hayao Miyazaki film adaptation of it.

Sherwood Smith – I think Sherwood Smith writes fun adventure stories and I also love the slow burn romances in her books. I need to catch up on her books because I haven’t read her more recent releases. My favorites of hers are Crown Duel and the Sasharia en Garde duology.

Kristin Cashore – I recently reread Graceling and Fire for a book club discussion and I was reminded of how beautiful Kristin Cashore’s writing is. Strong female protagonists, wonderful worldbuilding and love stories I could root for.

Meg BurdenNorthlander and The King Commands are seriously underrated novels that they’re now out of print. I really enjoyed reading them and I wish they would get more attention. Also hoping that Meg Burden will publish more books.

Andrea K. Host – AKHost is a fairly recent discovery for me, I read and loved her Touchstone trilogy (YA sci fi) and Medair duology (epic fantasy) earlier this year and I’ve been itching to reread them. I’ve been recommending her books to anyone who will listen.

Rachel Neumeier – I thought House of Shadows was a really good read and I’ve been meaning to read The Floating Islands for a while now! I like that Rachel’s books are standalones, which is rare for the genre.

Frances Hardinge – I thought both A Face Like Glass and The Lost Conspiracy were amazing and I feel like Frances Hardinge is a reliable author when it comes to epic fantasy. These two books are also standalones so you can start with either of them.

Juliet Marillier – Another author I need to catch up on since she has several books that I still haven’t read. I highly recommend her Sevenwaters series, Daughter of the Forest and Son of the Shadows are brilliant works of fiction.

Have you read any of these authors? Would you have recommendations for me that would have similar writing to these authors?


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Instagram Challenge: #FYAPhotoaday

This month, I’m joining Forever Young Adult’s Photo-a-day challenge on Instagram. I saw that several of the bloggers I follow on Instagram were participating in this so I thought it would be fun to do it too. I’m chachickenpie on Instagram if anyone wants to check out my posts. I have no idea if I’ll be able to keep up with the challenge for the whole month of September but let’s see. I may not be able to post every day since a lot of my books are back home in Manila. And I’ve been reading a lot on my Kindle lately and I have to admit that it’s difficult to take creative pictures of Kindle editions.

Here’s the list for the challenge:

fya_photo-a-day

I like Instagram bookish challenges because I think is fun to browse through book pictures. Do you post book pictures on Instagram? Have you joined any bookish challenges there?


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August 2014 Recap

Extraordinary Child by Lim Xiufen Silver

Extraordinary Child by Lim Xiufen Silver in the Singapore Art Museum

September is here! Once the ber months have started, that means that Christmas is just around the corner. I still haven’t booked my flight to Manila in December, I really should do that soon since prices are steadily going up. Anyway, here’s a list of the books I’ve read in August:

Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews – Review can be found here.

Fiancee for Hire by Tawna Fenske – I read this based on Mina V. Esguerra’s recommendation since I’m always on the lookout for fun contemporary romance books. However, I was disappointed because I didn’t enjoy this as much as I was expecting. I didn’t think it was as good as other romance novels that I’ve read.

One Night of Sin by Elle Kennedy – Quick, fun and smexy read. There are two more books in this series and I look forward to reading them.

(Reread) Fire by Kristin Cashore – Review can be found here. Still can’t believe that I’ve never reviewed this earlier!

Isla and the Happily Ever After plus Paris postcard

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins – Review can be found here. I bet a lot of book bloggers read this one in August!

Firelight and Moonglow by Kristen Callihan – I believe I saw Laura Florand recommending this author on Twitter and the premise for this historical paranormal romance looked intriguing so I gave it a try. Firelight is also a Beauty and the Beast retelling and I’m a sucker for those. Overall, I thought these books were just okay. Not bad but not great either. Not sure if I’ll continue reading the rest of the series, I started the third book but couldn’t really get into it.

Another author that has been recommended by Laura Florand and book blogging buddy Li is Kelly Hunter. I’ve been glomming through her backlist the past couple of days and have finished the following titles:

The Man She Loves to Hate
Wife for a Week
Bedded for Diamonds
The Maverick’s Greek Island Mistress

I have mini reviews on Goodreads for these Kelly Hunter books and I’ll try to consolidate all of them into one blog post later on.

That’s it for my August reading month. In summary, I would say that the highlights of the month for me were Magic Breaks, Isla, Fire and discovering Kelly Hunter. How about the rest of you, how was August as a reading month for you?

Recap of previous months:
January
February
March
May
June
July


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Isla and the Happily Ever by Stephanie Perkins

Isla and the Happily Ever After was one of my highly anticipated releases for this year since I really enjoyed reading both Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door. Those titles are quite a mouthful, aren’t they? I kept seeing other bloggers post pictures of their review copies of Isla and this just made me want to read the book more. Also, I’m still bummed that Stephanie Perkins visited Manila and I wasn’t able to attend the event (so many authors have visited the Philippines since I moved to Singapore). I was so excited when I finally got a copy of Isla so of course, I read it as soon as I could.

Isla and the Happily Ever AfterHere’s the summary from Goodreads:

From the glittering streets of Manhattan to the moonlit rooftops of Paris, falling in love is easy for hopeless dreamer Isla and introspective artist Josh. But as they begin their senior year in France, Isla and Josh are quickly forced to confront the heartbreaking reality that happily-ever-afters aren’t always forever.

Their romantic journey is skillfully intertwined with those of beloved couples Anna and Étienne and Lola and Cricket, whose paths are destined to collide in a sweeping finale certain to please fans old and new.

I really enjoyed reading Isla and the Happily Ever After and I think I like it just as much or maybe even a bit more than Anna and the French Kiss. Isla and Josh are both great characters. I liked how there’s so much more to them that what was previously shown in the first book. I found it interesting that Isla is named after an island because “isla” is the Filipino word for island (pronounced is-lah instead of eye-lah though). I always think it’s awesome when of the characters in the book I’m reading is a reader herself. I could understand Isla’s thirst for adventure and how she satisfies that thirst by reading books. Also, how cute is it that Isla and Josh bonded over Joann Sfar? They made me want to read his graphic novels even though I’m not much of a graphic novel reader. I could really relate to Isla and her insecurities about not having a clue about what she wants to do in terms of her career – heck, I’m a decade older than her and I’m still figuring things out. I could also understand how she’s so forgiving of others but so hard on herself, to the point where she questions whether she’s worthy of being loved. I loved her friendship with Kurt and how she had to learn how to balance having a guy best friend with having a boyfriend. On a counterpoint to Isla’s ambiguity, Josh is very passionate about his art and he knows that he wants to pursue a degree that would enable him to focus on this field. My artistic talent is limited to stick figures so I’m always in awe of artists. I enjoyed reading about Josh and his art and would have loved to see samples of them if that was possible.

Isla and the Happily Ever After is partially set in New York, Paris and Barcelona. I’ve never been to New York so I can’t really say anything about the scenes set there. But having read Laura Florand’s vivid and detailed descriptions of Paris, I feel like Stephanie Perkins’ imagery pales in comparison. Isla mentions that she’s comfortable enough in Paris for it to feel like home but I don’t think she was able to portray that in a believable way. I did love the Barcelona scenes since they were from the perspective of tourists, with both Josh and Isla visiting the city for the first time. It reminded me of my own trip there earlier this year because we visited the same tourist spots, mostly the sites of Gaudi’s work.

I think Stephanie Perkins excels in portraying realistic teenage romance. She gets how awkward it is to have a serious crush on someone. And how tentative things are at the start when the two parties realize that what they feel might be mutual and there’s just all this tension between Isla and Josh. Then it transforms into a new-found relationship that makes both of them giddy with happiness. Even the issues that they they had to deal with felt authentic. I was really rooting for them and the way they changed and matured throughout the course of the novel was satisfying. I had so much fun reading this book and would recommend it to any fan of YA contemporary.

Here are some pictures from my Barcelona trip that are related to the book. Casa Batllo is probably my favorite Gaudi-designed house:
Barcelona - Casa Batllo Barcelona - Casa Batllo (2)

The awe-inspiring Sagrada Familia:
Barcelona - Sagrada Familia1 Barcelona - Sagrada Familia

On top of the world a.k.a. the view of Barcelona from Parc Guell:
Barcelona 2014 - view from Parc Guell


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Sola Musica: As Heard on TV by Marla Miniano

Today is SOLA MUSICA‘s release day! Go and grab a copy.  My copy has already been downloaded in my Kindle.

A beach cove, a hot summer weekend… SOLA MUSICA is where everyone’s going, to enjoy the best new music from all over. Bestselling Filipino YA/chick lit authors Mina V. Esguerra, Marla Miniano, Chinggay Labrador, and Ines Bautista-Yao each tell a story about this festival: the music, the people, the hearts that will soar (or break).

Sola Musica

BREAK by Marla Miniano
Natalie is about to watch her favorite band in the world, with a guy she’s crazy about — if only she can get through forced family bonding with her grandmother, her little brother, and her grandmother’s boyfriend.

Author links:
@marlamini
marlaminiano.blogspot.com

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As Heard on TV by Marla Miniano
I believe in the right song at the right time.

Sola Musica was brought to life because Ines, Mina, Chinggay, and I all understand and acknowledge the power of music: it can summon and create memories, fuel joy, foster relationships, and either exacerbate or soothe heartache. It can also make pivotal moments in your favorite TV shows absolutely perfect. Here’s a quick list of my favorite songs in TV soundtrack history.

1. “With or Without You” by U2 on FRIENDS

At several pathetically heartbroken points in my early twenties, I sat on the floor and stared out the window at the vast night landscape while blasting this song on my computer. This is mostly because a lot of my romantic decisions back then were greatly influenced by Rachel Green—a fact that I am both thrilled with and embarrassed of. I love how this song resurfaced the following season, when Ross cheated on Rachel at an office party. I know, I know though: they were on a break.

2. “Dice” by Finley Quaye and William Orbit on The O.C.

It’s New Year’s Eve, and Ryan needs to kiss Marissa before the clock strikes twelve, because that’s how it works when you’re a nobody from Chino trying to get with the popular blonde girl strategically sighing into her champagne. There are no functioning elevators in the building, of course, but Ryan bursts into the room just as everyone shouts “3, 2, 1,” and there is confetti and a belated declaration of love and glorious making out. Cut. I watched The O.C. religiously in college, and although I’ve always been more attracted to the Seths of the world, Ryan’s mad dash to midnight inevitably became my (slightly misguided) benchmark for grand gestures.

3. “Dancing on My Own” by Robyn on Girls

Holy Horvath, this scene… where do I even start? It’s funny and tender and sweet and a little bit sad and ridiculously, painfully real. None of the characters, with their less than stellar EQs and erratic bouts of self-awareness, can seriously be considered great defining forces in my journey to adulthood — not at this point, anyway. But I do grasp the intricacies and complexities of friendship the show illustrates so well: how platonic relationships are supposed to get easier as you grow up, but rarely do. In the end we are all “adventurous women,” and if a dance break is what you need to survive, then go ahead, grab a partner, and press play.

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Salamat, Marla! Love the topic that you chose. I also get hooked to certain songs because of how they accompany scenes in the TV shows that I enjoy watching.


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Sola Musica: Growing Up on the Beach by Ines Bautista-Yao

SOLA MUSICA will be released on August 28. To celebrate, I’m hosting guest posts from the authors throughout this week.

A beach cove, a hot summer weekend… SOLA MUSICA is where everyone’s going, to enjoy the best new music from all over. Bestselling Filipino YA/chick lit authors Mina V. Esguerra, Marla Miniano, Chinggay Labrador, and Ines Bautista-Yao each tell a story about this festival: the music, the people, the hearts that will soar (or break).

Sola Musica

A CAPTURED DREAM, Ines Bautista-Yao
Gem has the chance to make her dreams come true and perform at Sola Musica, with one crippling problem: all her talent left her six years ago when a boy kissed her.

Author links:
@inesbyao

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Ines beach baby

Diving equipment behind me and socks on my feet because I didn’t like walking barefoot on the sand.

I grew up near the beach. Most weekends were spent driving to the water, pitching a tent, and hunting hermit crabs.

I still remember getting all excited about finding those perfect little holes in the sand that were built sideways. I would squat down next to them and wait for the hermit crab to come out. Then I would try to catch it and put it in my little plastic pail. It would always scurry away of course, but I can’t forget my elation on chancing upon another diagonally built hole.

I also remember my dad’s fishing boat. It wasn’t a yacht by any means, but it wasn’t a banca either. It was a big fishing boat that my fun-loving parents and their friends converted into a floating party. We got on when the sun was still making its way up in the sky and got off when we were surrounded by darkness from above and below. It was named Ines. I found it very weird, especially when my dad joked that he named me after the boat. It was only later that I realized it must have been the other way around.

Ines beach toddler

All I needed was my green plastic bucket and I was all set!

One of my favorite memories on that boat was eating freshly grilled fish while trying to keep my balance as we gently rocked on the waves. I loved eating anything sugba or inihaw because that meant we were outdoors and the fish was swimming in the water just a few minutes before. In fact, when the fishermen pulled the dark green net bursting with fish onboard, I was right there watching. They teased me that they had caught a mermaid. I wished with all my heart that they had so I could finally meet one, jump into the water, and swim next to her. My excited little eyes were glued to the coils of the net, looking for a dark green tail—or anything that resembled a mermaid. But all I saw were little silver fish glistening in the sun and frantically flopping around on the boat’s wooden deck.

There was one night when the grownups pitched tents along the shore and sent all the kids into a house to sleep. I wasn’t too sure about sleeping away from my parents, but I wanted to sleep with the other kids. So I bravely agreed. I recall staring up at the ceiling fan, studying the long-legged spiders crawling across the beams, wondering if one would fall on me. Eventually, I got up and made my way out the house and to the beach. I stared at the different tents (there were many of them) and counted the third tent from the left—which was most probably where my mom told me their tent would be—and zipped down the flap. I remember saying, “Mama?”, breathing a huge sigh of relief that I had found the right tent, and crawling in next to them, finally falling asleep.

I have loads of beach memories because it was so easy for my parents and their friends to make the drive. It didn’t matter that the sand wasn’t powdery white like Boracay’s (my city-born-and-bred husband only likes white sand!), that there were no air-conditioned rooms and we had to sleep in tents, and that our food was whatever we caught in the sea. I cannot imagine doing that today or taking my daughters to a beach without running water and an air-conditioned room to escape the heat, but when I was growing up, that was how it was. And I happen to have great beach memories. But come to think of it, if that mermaid had showed up, they would be even better!

I cannot believe I found this photo of the tents and the house! I wrote this post before looking for photos. The yellow and blue one was ours.

I cannot believe I found this photo of the tents and the house! I wrote this post before looking for photos. The yellow and blue one was ours.

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Salamat, Ines! Seems like the beach was your playground when you were a child, I’m jealous. :P

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