Sunday, December 31, 2017

Review - Fall of Thrones and Thorns

Original Title: Fall of Thrones and Thorns
Series: Threats of Sky and Sea, #3
Author: Jennifer Ellision
Published: September 27th, 2016

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

I have mixed feelings with this book. It was good, but, as it was the last on the series, it was also my last chance to get all the answers I craved for, and in the end, most of them didn’t come. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but, just like with the previous book, it lacked something. It’s impossible to read this series and not notice that there’s a lot of potential in certain aspects that, in the end, don’t get fully developed. I was left with many unanswered questions here.

The characters, throughout the entire series, are great. Bree is still this girl with a frank attitude and curt responses, whose practicality, and the way her da raised her, don’t let her become the princess she’s supposed to be. I loved her, and I liked that, in this book, she could find her own leadership skills, and recognize the Nereids as her people. Also, I’m glad she and Aleta were able to deepen their friendship and overcome the obstacles, finding forgiveness in despite of everything that happened between them. As for the romance with Caden, it doesn’t get much development here. They clearly like and respect each other, and have feelings for one another, and there’s a suggestion of what they can become in the future, but right then, at the end of the story, duty has to come first. And that’s a good thing, because the author didn’t fall into the platitudes that normally rule fantasy novels. It’s not the typical ending. As much as I liked Caden, if they had ended up happily ever after, I, as a reader, would have had something to complain about, because I would have never understood why, as there wasn’t much between them as to build such a relationship.

Also, I liked that Bree didn’t take the crown as Queen of Nereidium. It wouldn’t have been very believable if she suddenly was fit for that role, but she knew that, even being the rightful heir to the throne, she wasn’t meant for it. It was not her fate, but at least she didn’t abandon her people, leaving them in good hands, and assuming her duty as Kyrene’s descendant, which is an honorable destiny for someone of her lineage. She made the right choice, giving the power to Aleta and placing her as governor; after all, she was raised for it, and with her temper, she had everything that’s needed to be a monarch.

Something I like about Jennifer Ellision’s writing is the way she gave every character a distinct voice, especially in books two and three, as she switches the characters’ POV. As I read, it was very clear when Bree, Caden or Aleta were talking, especially with Aleta, given her elegant choice of words that reflected the way she grew up. I liked how much she grew as a person, after suddenly finding herself stripped from her title, and losing her purpose in life upon knowing she would never be queen, because she decided to take the reins of her life, instead of playing the damsel in distress. She has a temper, and that’s great. She was destined to be a heroine after all, in despite of everything.

Just like in the previous book, this one doesn’t delve into the past. I was really hoping to read more about both Aleta’s past, and Tregle’s, but the story revolves more around their present circumstances, and their Torching. I really, really wanted to know more about Aleta, because, just think about it, her story could have been totally different, if Katerine hadn’t taken her to the palace. I mean, wouldn’t she have questions after finding out that she wasn’t Nereidium’s true princess? If I were her, I would be wondering about my parents, my birthplace, my family... I would look for them, or at least try to figure out what happened to them. Is she not even a little curious about those things? But, sadly there’s nothing about it. Also, there’s not another mention of Elena’s past or her history at the service of the king. Although there’s a novella for that, Sisters of Wind and Flame, that I will read, and I hope, will give some insight into the sisters’ general story.

About the Elemental powers, a good thing is that, in this book, we could know more about the four of them (if only a little), and also, Shakers were more important, which is something I really wanted to read about, given the lengths of their power, with the very Earth at their command. We could learn that Elemental powers are not always what they are meant to be, like in Everett’s case, whose Shaker abilities brought only destruction, dead plants, and earthquakes. And also, we could know about how far an Elemental can go if willing to truly be one with his/her Element, which was a great surprise. Reading about Aleta turning into a fire menace, after her loved ones were threatened, showed how much she’s fire, both literally and metaphorically. No one messes with Aleta. No one. And I loved her for that, she was my favorite character. Just one thing: what happened with Ruin’s Reaping? After having such disastrous effects on the previous books, being out of the Torchers’ control, and the king’s secret, lethal weapon, it didn’t have the importance I thought it would have.

Again, there was nothing about those Elementals capable of handling more than one element at the same time, like Katerine and Elena. But around the final battle, we know that the king has conquered the Elements without being an Elemental himself, and that was something I definitely didn’t see coming. It was a great final showdown, gripping and exciting, and I couldn’t put it down, thinking “finally the Makers showed up to clean some of the mess!”. But the questions, again. How did Langdon do it? How did he master the elements? He only says that his Tutors figured out a method, but there’s no further details. There’s just one chapter between them discovering this, and then defeating the king, with no explanation about how things happened. Not that there’s much time to explain, but still. I think that something that big deserves more than just a few words about it.

The battle with Everett in Abeline was breathtaking and had me at the edge of my seat. That was truly a moment in which I felt I was there with them, in the middle of the fight. It was pure intensity and action, and when one of Everett’s branches practically stabbed the Shaker Olivia, it was so sudden, that I literally gasped. Same as with Tregle and Caden, but especially with Tregle. My mind just rejected the idea of him being gone, and I realized how much I grew to like him. I didn’t want to say goodbye to him, especially when things had started to work out with Aleta, the barriers separating them finally down. I was like “No. No. No! That didn’t happen!”. Complete denial. But all that lead to finally learn more about the true reach of what it means to have Elemental powers in this world. 

As I mentioned before, I was left with many questions around the story. For example, I was glad to be able to know Nereidium, its people and their traditions, faith, architecture, training in Water Wielding… but I would have liked to know if, once Egria’s threat over Nereidium was over and Caden was king, could they, somehow, unblock all those poor Water Throwers that could never get in contact with their Element after what Langdon did to the Nereids? It was possible to undo what they did out of revenge? I really, really wanted to know. Also, what about the Underground? Clift only appeared briefly, and there wasn’t much about this rebel organization. In my opinion, giving some details about it would have added complexity and layers to the story. We know they are rebels, but that’s it. We never get to know who they are, or what they do to undermine the king’s iron rule. They barely participate on the final battle, even when Lilia and Elena gathered many of them in Clavins. They are just kind of there, if you know what I mean.

Also, what about all those romances playing out in the background? I was rooting for Liam and Meddie, they clearly were in love, or at least they liked each other, but the epilogue –that is, our very last chance to know what happened to this people we’ve been following for quite some time–, doesn’t say much. According to Caden, they were in Egria “seeing to the dismantling of Elemental conscription in my stead.”, and that may be enough for some readers, but not for me. I really, really wanted them together. Also, about Elena and Lilia, were they in love? Yes, in my opinion, but also, there’s not another mention of what happened with them, save that “they have the training camp well in hand”. Seriously, that’s it? Not even a hint about if they got together or not?

Finally, a word on both the names and the books’ covers. In this saga, names confuse me from time to time, because, on one hand, we have names like Bree, Caden, Aleta, Everett, and Helen, which are real names, from our own world, but on the other hand, we have names like Tregle, Jospuhr, Medalyn, Izador and Orlova, which are completely made up names. I know each author can do as he/she pleases, but in my opinion, if we are talking about a fantasy world unlike our own, it has to be one of two things: or you make all of them up, or you don’t. But, I repeat, that’s just MY OPINION. And I’m not complaining nor criticizing, just stating a fact about something I noticed. As for the covers, it puzzles me that Bree appears wearing those elegant dresses, because they are not her at all. It may be plausible in the first book’s cover, because she was being trained in the manners of a royal, but after that, there’s not even a moment for her to wear such dresses, between them fleeing Egria, and the war. And Nereidium has a lot of Ancient Greece on it, including the clothes, so that big purple dress on this book’s cover feels out of place. Bree is more of a breeches type of girl, and perhaps that would have to be shown on the covers to truly reflect her. But again –and as many times it’s necessary to mention it–, this is just my opinion.

I will definitely read the three novellas that accompany this saga, and I’m especially eager to read Breathe In, because it offers a short story about Duke Ardin and Lady Corrine, and I’m really curious about it. So, in short, it is a very good fantasy saga, but it had all those things that left me with questions, and that’s not what the final book in a series should do. Overall, I liked Jennifer Ellision’s style, she was a great discovery, and I will gladly read more of her stories in the future!

Monday, December 25, 2017

A Christmas Gift


First of all, I would like to thank each and every one of you, readers and followers, who every day stop by my little corner of the web to read me. When I started this blog, I honestly didn't think it would be as it is today. Let’s keep sharing our passion for books and stories, and discovering new literary gems! A giant THANK YOU for your interest and your support. It means the world to me!

So, today is Christmas, and that means that we have a reason for great joy. 

"Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord." (Luke 2:11).

We remember the day hope was born to all of us, in the form of our Lord Jesus Christ, who came to give us the most precious gift of all. An eternity with Him. I know not all of you out there celebrate Christmas, but I also know about struggle, pain, disappointment, sadness, and every situation out there that makes us want to give up every single day. Sometimes it seems that it is never going to end, isn't it? Well, today, in this day of joy, I want to tell you what God has put in my heart. He's bigger than any situation that you are going through, and wants to help you and be with you. That's why He came to the Earth as a human being. To give His life for you, to SAVE you, and after that, He won't ever abandon you, because you were (and are) worth the ultimate sacrifice. That's His promise.

If you were hoping for a sign this Christmas, let it be this one. Today, God is telling you that you matter. You are worthy of love. If you are in desperate need of hope, and are going through a difficult time, when only a miracle will do, I sincerely encourage you to open your heart to the Lord, be honest about how you feel, and give Him your burdens, so He can work His miracle in your life. 

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

He's looking for you. He’s waiting for you. He has a plan for you, a unique contribution to this world only you can bring, a reason why you were born in this century, in your corner of the world, with your body type, your talents, and around the people you have met, and will meet. He’s seen your pain, it didn’t take Him by surprise, and He wants to help you. He has the perfect outcome for it, and can work a miracle in your life to turn it upside down, in ways you couldn’t even imagine. He sees the bigger picture, and knows you better than anyone. Let go of your anger, your fear, and your worries, because He has already won, and is GREATER than any situation you are going through. And He wants you to walk holding His hand and accepting Him as your guide, your Light through any darkness. 

We always feel that we can’t handle our problems. They feel like a giant stepping on a bug, right? At least, that’s how I feel it every time I’m overwhelmed by obstacles and difficulties. But we need to know and remember, every single day, that He is bigger than those giants. For Him, they are the bugs He can step on, and that’s hope for us. If you feel ignored, frustrated and abandoned, alone in a growing blackness, let me tell you, He hasn’t forgotten about you. He LOVES you. No matter where you are, both physically and spiritually, it is always the right time to say yes to Him, and accept Him as Savior and Father. And no, I’m not talking about a religion, but a friendship. A deep, meaningful relationship that will transform you, fulfill you and nourish you in the best possible way.

Thank you for stopping by to read, and mostly, for your respect. I know that not all of you out there celebrate Christmas, so I appreciate it, it is the most precious gift you can give me, today, and every day. I sincerely hope the Lord can talk to you through this, and help you become your best possible version. We, as Christians, believe the Lord is always a necessity, and I just hope you can experience His love and power, to change your life for the better. Because, no matter how it is now, it can always be better in the Lord. 

Merry Christmas, and may the Lord’s blessing rain over you!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Review - Riot of Storm and Smoke

Original Title: Riot of Storm and Smoke
Series: Threats of Sky and Sea, #2
Author: Jennifer Ellision
Published: August 17th, 2015

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

I liked this book very much. It has action, romance, fantasy worldbuilding, and everything I love about a good story. But, I’m afraid, I felt it lacked something. Let me explain myself.

This book picks up exactly where the previous one left it, right after Kat and Bree’s da’s deaths, and we meet our characters on the run for their lives, from the terrible King Langdon. Bree is still a great character, stranded in the middle between the barmaid and the royal. I love her practicality, her quick wit, and her curt, no-nonsense responses. She’s definitely not perfect, nor a princess, and she’s not to be trifled with. I love her attitude, her spunky manners, and the fact that she’s never a false person, having no qualms about saying what she thinks. I like her as a person, and in this book, I’m glad she could deepen her relationship with her friends and discover her powers as a Water Thrower. But after the first book, I ended up with a lot of questions that, sadly, weren’t answered. The plot centers mainly on the escape from Egria and the king’s clutches, and that’s pretty much all there is. There’s no new hints of Bree’s past, or her da’s, nor about her true parents, or Nereidium… And I really wanted to know more. Also, there’s little to no presence of Elementals in this book, we don’t get to know many new things about them, save Aleta and Tregle’s torching, and that Bree, as a Thrower, is able to breath underwater, because the Elements don’t harm their wielders. Shakers barely appear, and I’m sure they are more powerful than what can be read in the scene with the bandits. And, sadly, neither there’s anything about people like Kat, able to wield two elements at the same time. With that I’m not saying that the book is bad, I speak for myself saying that I would have liked to know all those things.

As I said, with Bree and her friends’ journey, and Caden’s quest to gather a rebel army and defy his father’s tyrannical reign, there’s practically no time to delve into the past, nor into the special characteristics of some places, like Clavins. But neither about the present, apparently, because we get to know characters like Meddie, Clifts and Liam, as a part of the Underground movement to dethrone Langdon, and there’s not even much about it. How many of them are they, what they do, where they are, how they work… It’s a rebellion, after all! I just hope we get to know more about it in the next book.

I liked all the new characters, especially the sisters from Masonstone, Elsbeth, Dorna and Lilia, and mostly Lilia, because she’s a royal, but also a natural warrior, and I felt really bad about what happened to her family, they didn’t deserved that. I also liked that we could know more –if only a little– about Kat, both through her ghost and her twin sister, Elena. And just like in the previous book, I loved Aleta, she’s still that strong, smart, stubborn girl, fit to be a queen, and I want to know more about her, like who her parents are, where she was born, how Kat found her… I like her relationship with Tregle, and I only grew a little tired of her bickering with Meddie, although even they knew when to stop and work together. The way Aleta is and was raised, surely she was going to find something to criticize in someone else’s leadership skills. Only a word on them after they were captured by the bandits and imprisoned: finding them felt a little too… simple? I mean, an overheard conversation revealed they were all together in the same prison, but I think it would have added complexity to their adventure if one of them was already sold as a slave, or something, and the master was a staunch supporter of the king, for example. But I’m not complaining, just stating the fact.

Again, and just like in the previous book, the love story isn’t well developed. I simply can’t see the chemistry between Caden and Bree, I don’t see where that irresistible pull to each other lies, if they barely interact in this book, and all the sudden they can’t live without each other. I, as a reader, just can’t root for a couple I don’t throughout understand. It’s not clear why they like each other, and their attraction doesn’t make much sense, at least for me. I do hope, however, that it gets better in the next book. As for Caden’s part of the story, I felt it lacked a big part that we deserved to know. He manages to escape the battle after the disaster caused by Ruin’s Reaping, but after that, we don’t get to know anything else about him, except the assumption of his death after the letter Liam reads (that I never believed, sorry). And suddenly, a couple of chapters later, he and Lilia appear alive in Clavins, and never say how they made it, or how they escaped after being defeated, and that would have been an interesting story, especially after the vicious attack and the new weapon they faced.

A word on the villain. It’s amazing how, even when King Langdon only has one scene in the entire book, is a constant presence that infuses permanent terror, mostly based on the force of his army. As a reader, I couldn’t help feeling how terrible he is and the lengths he’s ready to reach in the pursuit of his goals. Even when he’s out of the picture, I felt like he was everywhere, and that’s the best way to create a villain, in my opinion: scary, even when he’s not even there. But also as Caden’s father, a man he knew since forever, and now has become this twisted version of himself he needs to overthrow for the sake of his people.

The last part was just awesome, the sea battle was amazing, and it had me at the edge of my seat. Bree could finally let loose her Throwing abilities to save her loved ones and reach Nereidium, and perhaps it is me, that I read too many fantasy stories, but she finally did what it is always needed to wield any kind of power, and that I knew before her: feel it as a part of her, running through her veins, an indivisible part of her essence… Like she is water and water is her. Although as nobody explained that to her, is understandable. As for that cliffhanger in the end, it was mean, and it just makes me need to know more. How Aleta will react, how the people in the island will treat their princess after so many years… It makes me want to read the next book right now. And that’s what I’m going to do, for certain.

So, in short, it was a good book, but it had these moments, like the romance, that I wish, were more developed, and I definitely wanted to know more about the past, to care a little more about the present. It was, however, a really interesting adventure, and I’ll be reading the next installment as soon as I can!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

An apology & a recommendation

Hello, my dear followers and readers!

First of all, I would like to apologize for this so very long absence. The last part of the year is always the toughest, and I was overwhelmed by projects and exams in school, in addition to some health issues I’ve been dealing with, so I practically didn’t have time to read. I do miss it, of course, my to-read pile kept growing before my eyes, but I just couldn’t do it justice for a very long time. But now that I’m free, I’ll be heading on to the next fantasy world as soon as I can. I’m just taking a few days off after the last week of school to catch my breath, have some rest, and disconnect from the hurries and research, and everything that happens when you deliver two or three projects on the same week.

With that said, I would love to introduce you to someone today. As you know (or maybe not), I have a very active presence on Pinterest, and I’m constantly sharing new books and recommendations from all genres, as I would like everyone to be able to find characters, and worlds, and all this stories that speak to them, as it has happened to me so many times, and still does. I do this through my own boards, but mostly, I can get it even further thanks to my friend, the author Josephine Blake.

She let me in her group boards, Clean Romance and What’s EVERYONE reading?, and even when she knows that I never respect the pin limit, because I get a little bit too excited with all the new books I find every day, she still hasn’t kicked me out, which for me, it’s pretty amazing, and practically a hug. 

That is why today I want to introduce you to this wonderful person, through her beautiful work. Josephine Blake is an insanely talented historical fiction and romance writer from Portland, whose first novel, Dianna, appeared on the shelves in 2016, and since then she has written many sweet and clean books that have received an amazing response from the reading community. As a thank you for her generosity, her patience, her writing advice, and overall her great predisposition, I’d love to share with you some of her novels, so you can get to know her, meet her wonderful characters and love stories, and live a unique experience. Don’t forget to visit her as Josephine Blake in Pinterest, and of course, in her blog, A Word From Josephine Blake, where she shares all kind of content, from news about her work, to free samples of her writing, and, of course, you can find her novels, in paperback or Kindle format, available in Amazon, the Book Depository, AbeBooks and Kobo.

Don’t worry, I will list some of the links below, you will be able to access them directly by just clicking on the book title, and voilá! So you know, in the spirit of the next Christmas, a book is always the best present for someone you love (and if you don’t, a deodorant will be just fine – believe me, I know).

With that said, here we go. Great books from a great person!

A pull here. A tug there. Something is calling out to Dianna from a distance. 

While her younger sister begins planning her marriage to the son of a wealthy business man, Dianna discovers a yearning within her soul the likes of which she has never known. Having brushed aside the many suitors presented to her over the course of her adolescence, Dianna refuses to fall quietly into spinsterhood. 

Her cravings for adventure and change overpower her strong sense of logic and she journeys forth to marry a man she knows only from a handful of letters. 

This change is good.This is the life for her. Isn't it?

Charlotte Brittler is content. Unlike her elder sister, Dianna, who headed west in search of a life of adventure, Charlotte thrives in the bustling, overcrowded Manhattan streets. If she could only find a husband, her life would be complete.

When the son of a local oil baron captures Charlotte’s hard-won interest, her most basic instincts come into play, and Charlotte is swept away down a path full of secrets and intrigue, in a twisting game that threatens her very heart. 

Logan Drexel is the son of a professional con man. Nothing more and nothing less. His father has gambled away his grandfather’s company, wasting any funds they bring in on maintaining an appearance of exuberant wealth to the Manhattan society. 
Charlotte Brittler is his only chance. 

Logan knows that if he is to recover his dignity—and his family’s good name—he needs money, and a lot of it. So, he promises himself one more con. One last time, he will seek to deceive someone for monetary gain. If he can marry Charlotte, every debt collector can be safely swept under the rug, and he can escape the clutches of a father that has used him time and time again. 

But Charlotte is not a prize to be won. She’s a furious, flame-driven storm that will stop at nothing to get what she wants, and Logan quickly realizes that the tables have turned. When he set out to steal Charlotte Brittler’s heart, he never banked on losing his own. 

Noelle Brittler’s task is simple. Marry and marry well. 

And yet…. 

Emboldened by the successful marriages of her four elder sisters, Noelle is determined that she will have nothing but perfection in a suitor. She lives her day-to-day life, planning parties, organizing charity events and taking slow, wistful turns around the garden, burdened with dreams of a future that she feels is slipping away from her. 

Kenneth Black is anything but perfect. Destitute from a young age, Kenneth has managed to make a name for himself. His Bakery, La Petite Paradis, is frequented by adverse clientele. He feels that even the wealthiest of lives can be made a little richer with the taste of something sweet. 

When Kenneth rescues a young, attractive woman from a terrifying encounter, he never expects to find himself presented with an invitation to one of the most coveted events of the year— a 50th birthday celebration for the girl’s mother, one Samantha Brittler. 

The Brittlers are notorious amongst the lower class for their wealth and standing. While Thomas Brittler, the owner of Brittler Steel, is a self-made man, just as Kenneth is, Kenneth is under the impression that he would not be welcomed at this event as himself, the lowly town baker. 

Aided by the intoxicating Miss Noelle Brittler, he adopts the character of a well-known architect. Their plan seems to be working well, that is, until certain costly items begin disappearing beneath the noses of the many wealthy guests in attendance. There are cries of theft and everyone is looking for someone to blame… 

As tensions rise and passions come to fruition, the pressure is on to find the thief and clear his name. He can’t have Noelle, but he’d sooner be tossed out on his ear than let her think him a thief.

In 1888 London, Isabel Vanderton is facing down the society gossips with defiance and indifference. As the only child of Marcus Vanderton, she is the rightful heir to the Vanderton fortune, and whomever dares to marry her would inherit the lot, winner take all.

As rumors of her ill-health circulate, Isabel finds herself encountering suitor after suitor, no doubt hoping to win her hand—and her inheritance—before she passes to an early grave. 

An endless wave of greedy suitors is not the only thing Isabel has to contend with. Her legs are failing her, her body is weak, and she is being haunted by a man of such breath-taking beauty that he cannot possibly exist. 

But exist he does. Terrified of slipping into madness, Isabel tries to ignore the pull he has over her mind and her body as she suffers through encounter after encounter with a man no one but she can see.

Death is impatient. 

Since Isabel’s mother died thirteen years ago, he has watched her. He has haunted her for years, and now he has come to claim what is rightfully his. He will have Isabel at any cost.

Determined, Death sets out on a careful game of seduction that threatens Isabel’s very sanity. She will succumb to him, or she will suffer the consequences.

As Isabel bargains desperately for her soul, Jack the Ripper stalks the London streets, endangering everything and everyone Isabel holds dear. 

Clara Cartwright is not beautiful. She is small of stature and childlike in appearance. She is also nearly eighteen years of age. A fact that never fails to amaze the ladies of Firbranch, Montanna, the small town at the base of Mount Blackmore, where her family has lived for as long as Clara can remember. Resigned to the fact that her elder sister, Greta, can catch the eye of any boy she fancies, while Clara herself is often still mistaken as a schoolgirl, she hides from the people of the town. Rarely venturing out for social functions and finding solace in the pages of her many books. Each beautifully bound edition, a gift from her father. 

A tough and intelligent man, Clara’s father, Patrick Cartwright, works as a lapidary, collecting precious gems and selling them to the highest bidder. Although—in Clara’s mind—he is an adventurer. 

He excels at his chosen profession, traveling far and wide across the country, but always home for Christmas. 

Then comes the telegram. From far across the snow-covered Mount Blackmore, Clara’s father has sent word that the mountain pass has been snowed shut. He’s staying with a friend until the pass clears, but he will miss Christmas.  Heartbroken at the news, Clara resolves to do anything she can to help bring her father back home in time for the Holidays. Even if that means enlisting the help of the deplorable local fur-trapper, Charles Donahue.

Charles isn’t interested in guiding persistent little Clara over Mount Blackmore in the dead of winter, but when the stubborn young woman ventures out on her own, he is forced to follow. Reckless, irritating, and sarcastic, Charles can understand why Clara Cartwright has not yet found a husband. She has a spark of defiance and stubbornness that most men would find off-putting. Charles, however, sees it as a challenge. An attractive little challenge indeed.

This is just a sneak peek, I promise Josephine has a lot of ther titles, among novels and novellas, that I didn't feature here for a question of spoilers, and space. I really hope you like it, and  give her a chance. If historical fiction and romance are your thing, then Josephine Blake is your author! I promise you will love her! 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Review - Dare to Be Kind

Original Title: Dare to Be Kind: How Extraordinary Compassion Can Transform Our World
Series: -
Author: Lizzie Velásquez
Published: June 6th, 2017

Publisher: Hachette Books
Let me clarify something. I never read nonfiction. I know some people love it and prefer it over any type of novel, short story, or whatever writing form you can think of, but I’m not one of them. I just need a good plot to keep me engaged and passing one page after another wanting to find the answers to an amazingly concocted story. Or at least, that’s what I expect every time I pick a new book. However, I had to make an exception with this one. 

I’m a big fan of Lizzie Velasquez and I consider her one of the bravest, most beautiful women in the world. In case you don’t know who she is, Lizzie is an American author and motivational speaker who, at the age of 17, was labeled by Internet bullies as “The World’s Ugliest Woman”, due to a very rare and only recently diagnosed syndrome she was born with, that doesn’t allow her to gain weight and only a few other people in the world have. You can find her talks online, she has several in which she explains her syndrome and tells her story, and she also has her personal YouTube channel, here, if you want to take a look. But my favorite is her TEDx AustinWomen talk, that truly left me speechless and gave me a lot to think:

In this book, Lizzie tells us her story and her memories, not only on bullying, but also about the circumstances of her birth, how her syndrome affects her life, and how it doesn’t define who she is. She talks about her family and friends, and although I don’t know them, I can relate to the feelings and situations she went through, especially around finding friends who are truly worth keeping. And also, I could relate around chapter 8, when she talks about her dog, Ollie. I can truly understand what she means when she says that the puppy saved her life, as my own dog, a beautiful, loving black giant named Loki, came one day, and since then my home is a different place, for the better. I didn’t really know how dogs could be, as I never had one that lasted long, but now I see that they are little angels sent to teach us about unconditional love, loyalty and friendship. Everything she says about Ollie is true, and if you don’t have a dog, I sincerely encourage you to adopt one. You will have found your best friend.

The reason why I grabbed this book is because, recently, I’ve been hearing of a lot of bullying cases, in the news, and online, that, sadly, end with kids or teenagers attempting to take their own lives, due to their suffering at the hands of their peers. I myself, back when I was a kid, had to go through many years of non-stop bullying, and although I thank God that I never suffered physical violence, the truth is that words and attitudes can cut as deeply as the sharpest knife, and scars take an eternity to fade, if they ever do. So as Lizzie shared her story and her darkest moments in her book, I want to share some of mine, to all of you out there who think that there’s no case like yours, that this is never going to end. Your situation, if you are bullied, are a lot more relatable than you think, and let me tell you, it’s not an endless darkness. I know it, because I’ve been there, and I got out. Of course, I know that things were different back then. Every time I look back when I was 8, 9, 10 years-old, I feel grateful that we didn’t have social media back then, or things could have gone out of hand very easily. When I was a kid, bullying didn’t have a name. It was just something kids do in school, that is normal, because it’s just a part of it. But the truth is that it’s not that easy, and Lizzie explains adults’ attitude towards it in the clearest terms, that I saw with my own eyes:

Some people believe bullying is a normal part of childhood—so normal, in fact, that they might not even consider certain behaviors to be bullying at all.

Just as Lizzie, I have a few stories of my own. As a kid, in middle and high school, I did what all of us do: try to fit. Needless to say, it didn’t fully work. I had friends, yes, but not a best friend, not someone I could talk to, and share everything I loved. Since forever I’m a reader and a writer, I love fantasy and romance, but in school, I was just the “book swallower”, the nerdy, unremarkable girl that no one noticed, except when there was a test, or a book we had to read and they didn’t understand it. I was laughed at, and called names, on a daily basis, and more than once I heard insults towards my family. I got asked why I was that fat, when I really wasn’t. I once was called “uglier than a bat”, by this guy who said he would take me to the field trip we were going to, so I could scare bats away with just my face. Another time, I fell into a sewer, as I was so angry with my bullies I didn’t watch my step, and as I clung to the sidewalk to get out, they just laughed and pointed at me, instead of helping me. I spent one PE class after another, as teams were being formed, left sitting there, humiliated as the last one, as I watched the captains looking at each other to decide which team would take me, as none of them wanted me, and I came home crying my eyes out, and wondering why I just kept going to school.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For the sake of brevity, and my own heart, I won’t delve deeper. So, what’s the point of that bunch of bad memories? Not to make you feel sorry for myself, because I don’t want that. Just to tell you that I get it. I know what bullying means, I know what it is not wanting to go back to school, and repress your anger as tears go down your cheeks. And I also know how it is to defend yourself, and having adults take the bullies’ side, when your life is a living hell. Even now, sitting here, a new memory comes to me, when a teacher yelled at me as I was standing in front of the entire class, for everyone to see, because I had failed an exam on verb conjugations. I was 12 years old. My heart still aches a little bit when I remember that, proving that teachers are as capable of being bullies as kids are, and in a worse kind of way, because they are supposed to be the mature adult in the situation. But I power through all these memories, because as Lizzie says, they are not going to win. They don’t define me.

Have you ever looked for a book’s genre? When you go to GoodReads you can see them listed in each book’s individual page, so you can know if it is fantasy, romance, mystery or whatever genre you can think of. But, did you notice that, when you read that book, that little word didn’t truly cover it, that the book was far more complex than just a fantasy, or a romance, that it had many subplots and a ton of characters, each deeper than the other? The same happens with us. When we are bullied, names are applied to us, and hurtful things are said about us. But the truth is that, just like those books, that doesn’t describe us. We are far, far, more complex than whatever name we are called by, and it is our responsibility to make our story shine. Now, I’m not saying that we are books, or intend to compare people to them. But I do like to say that we are all writers in some way. We, and no one else, is in charge of writing our own story, and NO ONE is allowed to stop us. I decided, a long time ago, even when things were really tough, that I am the only one in charge of my story. Lizzie even says this in her book:

Wherever you are right now, you’ve gotten there because of your own remarkable qualities and experiences. You are the person who led the way to where you are today. The good choices you’ve made and the bad ones, the positive experiences you’ve had and the negative ones—all of it is your story.

You, my friend, that you are reading this, and can relate to what I’ve told you, need to know that you are more than just the bullied boy or girl, and that everything is about choices. You choose to let the bullies win, or not. Please, don’t sink into silence. Speak up. Ask for help, and don’t be afraid. Just as Lizzie says, you decide if your path is going to be good or bad, and I believe that all of us were born for a reason, among the trillion possibilities of coming to this world being who we are, with the body type, the eye color, the personality and character we have. Even when we don’t notice at first, and the bullies’ voices and opinions fill our head and seem to be louder than a thunder, they are just that. Noise. An annoying cacophony that you can shut up with your personality and qualities, your talents, and the fulfilling of your goals. You can fight back by not letting them define you, just as Lizzie says in her TEDx talk, and remarks in her book:

I am here to tell you: It is fine to be who you are. It is a good thing not to be just like everybody else. What makes you unique is what makes you beautiful, because it’s what makes you you. And the world needs you, exactly as you are. That’s the truth, plain and simple.

I spent years of my life bullied by classmates and even college professors for what I liked, and especially because I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Stories are my passion, my best way to communicate with people, but some college professors literally laughed at my face and didn’t take me seriously when I said it, convinced that I was in the wrong place, that because they couldn’t teach me how to do that, it was a delusional thing, a fleeting dream in the head of a naïve teenager, and that I would eventually give up. But, just like Lizzie says and explains, the best revenge are your accomplishments, and a happy life. My work was never good for them, because it was too “literary” for their taste, and they gave me every reason not to try. But they never, and I mean, NEVER, could slap the pen out my hand, because that’s my decision, and they don’t have a say in the matter. It wasn’t until years later, when I chose a different course of studies, when I truly found a voice. The voice of the storyteller I never stopped being, and although at first I was overly shy, and scared of being laughed at again, I found people who truly saw me, the real me, and for the first time I was told, as I was close to tears, that “if they don’t or won’t listen, it’s their loss.” And now, I say the same thing to you. Your voice is worth to be heard. You were born unique. Your talents and virtues do not have a match out there, and no matter what, you are a full human being for who there’s no barriers if there’s determination enough. And I tell you what, the world is depending on whatever purpose you are meant to achieve. Get rid of all those thoughts that eat away your brain, because nothing, and I mean NOTHING they say or do, is worth your life. I don’t know your story, but I know mine, and I finally come to understand that I’m more than that bullied little girl, and that if I don’t move forward because of those jerks, they would be winning a match that only should be my victory. Have things hurt? Yes. There were dark times? Yes. But they didn’t, and won’t, define me. 

About this, I would love for you to listen to Andrea Pennington in her TEDxIUM talk, where she encourage us to become who we really are, to LOVE who we are, in direct connection to Lizzie's words. It left me speechless, they are twenty minutes of PURE GOLD.

The world would be a very different place if we just replace three of every five hurtful words with a kind one. Just as Lizzie wants to tell us in her book, something as simple as kindness can save us, and change the world around us. 

Also, what Lizzie tries to tell us with every word, is that true beauty comes from within, and that's what we all need to understand and remember every single day. This world is too demanding in terms of physical perfection, and the standards are unattainable, so I won't waste the only life I've got trying to fit them. The only people in our lives that are worth keeping around are those brave enough to look past all of our physical imperfections (because everyone has them), to the person we really are, because all of us are worthy of love, and love creates beauty. 

Finally, one more thing. Adults, especially teachers, DON’T IGNORE BULLYING. Don’t pretend it’s not there, just because you think you can’t handle it. Step forward, and take the bullied person’s side. Take action, because this is literally costing lives. Stop what you are doing, and listen. LISTEN. Pay attention. Do your job as a grown up and look for the roots of the problem to take it out. Use your place as an educator, as a mature person, to spread kindness and respect, from whatever position you are in. If we unite, and for once we do not respond with curt language, cuss words, insults, or even physical violence, this world would be one step closer to be a better place.

Please. Take the brave decision. Love and forgiveness are ALWAYS the right choice. For the sake of the world, Dare to Be Kind