Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce

Tempests and Slaughter


Goodreads: Tempests and Slaughter
Series: The Numair Chronicles #1
Source: Library
Published: February 6, 2018

Official Summary

Arram. Varice. Ozorne. In the first book in the Numair Chronicles, three student mages are bound by fate . . . fated for trouble.

Arram Draper is a boy on the path to becoming one of the realm’s most powerful mages. The youngest student in his class at the Imperial University of Carthak, he has a Gift with unlimited potential for greatness–and for attracting danger. At his side are his two best friends: Varice, a clever girl with an often-overlooked talent, and Ozorne, the “leftover prince” with secret ambitions. Together, these three friends forge a bond that will one day shape kingdoms. And as Ozorne gets closer to the throne and Varice gets closer to Arram’s heart, Arram begins to realize that one day soon he will have to decide where his loyalties truly lie.

In the Numair Chronicles, readers will be rewarded with the never-before-told story of how Numair Salmalín came to Tortall. Newcomers will discover an unforgettable fantasy adventure where a kingdom’s future rests on the shoulders of a talented young man with a knack for making vicious enemies.


I’m going to start out by saying that I have never particularly cared about Numair as a character from Pierce’s other Tortall books. That is, I have nothing against him, but he’s never been up there in my unofficial list of favorite characters or anything, so I’m not a fan who was interested in this book specifically because it’s a Numair origin story. I’m interested in the book because I’ve been a Tamora Pierce fan since I first discovered her Protector of the Small series in middle school and I wanted to see what new fantasy adventures Pierce would serve up. I was not disappointed. Tempests and Slaughter is an engrossing, richly imaginative story that reminded of why Pierce is such a pillar of the young adult genre.

Tempests and Slaughter really has everything Pierce fans have come to expect of her work: complex characters, rich world building, dazzling magic, and a cute animal sidekick. The only real difference may be that the protagonist is a man, which stands out only because Pierce is also known for her badass female characters. However, there are still badass female characters here as side characters, and I was kind of intrigued to see that Pierce put the same thought into representing the male experience of puberty that she puts into the female experience of puberty in her other series. I can’t say I’ve really read a book where a boy wonders about waking up with an unprompted erection before.

I think I may have been most captivated by the world building in the novel, however. Obviously Pierce has several stories set in this universe, primarily in Tortall, so the in-depth exploration of Carthak is fascinating. I also enjoyed the look inside a mage university, a change from the knight training in the Alanna and Keladry books, and the look at subtle politics that are probably applicable to any type of academia (for instance, the general academic dismissal of traditional tribal magics and gods).

The plot is admittedly a bit meandering, but on further reflection I decided that many of Pierce’s books have a tendency to just sort of portray the day-to-day lives of the characters, and I like it because it’s interesting. Numair’s “thing” at school is that he’s the youngest mage at the university and has to deal with feeling out of place and facing jealousy from other students. There is sort of an overarching plot tied to the Carthaki political situation (readers learn more about Ozorne in this book!), but I think it’s really going to play out more later in the series.

Bottom line: I loved this book. It reminded me why I love Pierce and why I love YA fantasy. Sometimes my YA reading choices disappoint me, even though I am very fond of YA, but novels like this show just how good YA can be. Tempests and Slaughter is definitely going to be a contender for my favorite books of 2018 list at the end of the year. Also, if you’re not a Tamora Pierce fan yet and wondering if you need to have read her other books to understand this one, the answer is no; you can start right here.

5 stars Briana


The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diana Magras


Goodreads: The Mad Wolf’s Daughter
Series: None so far, but the text leaves room for a sequel
Source: Library
Published: March 2018


Drest’s father is the Mad Wolf of the North and she and her brothers form his war band.  But then her father and brothers are captured by a group of knights.  Drest sets out to reclaim them, intending to bargain for their lives with the life of a wounded knight. But the castle they are imprisoned in lies far away and Drest has many obstacles to overcome before reaching it.


I saw glowing reviews for The Mad Wolf’s Daughter in Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal, so I prepared myself for a wonderful story.  To  my surprise, I did not find the fast-paced, exciting tale with a strong protagonist I was lead to expect.  Instead, I found a plodding narrative full of random encounters and a protagonist whose main quality seems to be that she impresses reviewers because she is a girl who can wield a sword.  But this is 2018.  We have scores of fighting female characters.  Simply handing your female lead a weapon is not enough to impress me; I need a well-written story, as well.

Why so many reviewers have praised the pacing of The Mad Wolf’s Daughter is truly confusing to me.  Throughout the story, my main emotion was boredom and I could not wait for Drest and Co. to hurry it up and arrive at their destination.  Unfortunately, they first have to journey through a series of random towns and have a series of disconnected adventures.  This is so Drest can do things like fight six boys (who have sticks and one spear among them) with a sword so that other people can cry out that “her legend awakes” or something.  Don’t ask me how getting into a street fight means that you’re now a legendary warrior.  We’re obviously just supposed to believe she’s legendary because the story told us so.

Other encounters have higher stakes.  Drest must fight adults or a mob or the law.  However, Drest tends to escape from these encounters with surprising ease.  Seriously, she rescues a woman from execution just by running up to the stage and running away.  That’s all it takes.  It makes you wonder why legends like Robin Hood or the Scarlet Pimpernel take so long about these thing–at least a chapter, if not the entire book– and then have to fight their way out or use a clever ruse to escape in disguise.  This girl, after all, can effect an escape from a crowd in a few sentences, and get herself and three other people away with zero trouble just by running really fast.  It’s amazing!  (Or, rather, it defies all belief and makes the story seem pointless and dull since there’s no suspense or danger.)

Other reviewers seem excited about the setting.  Medieval Scotland!  I admit the premise of the book excited me, too.  However, no historical characters or events appear in the book.  Drest and her family represent the presence of war bands at the time while the knights generically represent the concept of feudalism.  Other medievally things exist like swords, witch burnings, and oppressed women.  Basically, this book reads as generically medieval–I could get the same setting from a medieval-esque fantasy set in a pseudo-Europe.  I really want more historical flavor from my historical fiction.

Finally, there is Drest, our Strong Female Lead.  She’s not like the other girls.  She can wield a sword!  Other women–they are weak.  And probably shunned as witches and outcasts when they do not act properly weak.  But Drest?  She’s different!  And…that’s about all I have for you.  Other than her strange tendency to stage her thoughts as conversations between her brothers.  This is obviously supposed to help readers connect with these brothers.  After all, do we care that they are imprisoned when we have never met them?  No, we don’t.  So we have to “meet” them through Drest.  Some people seem to think this is clever.  I find it weird.

Our other main characters are just as boring as Drest.  There is her male sidekick whose name I forget.  He has a crow and says he is a witch.  He is really just in the story because authors seem to like having one female and one male lead.  Then there is the knight Drest is travelling with.  He’s basically Steve Trevor–faints, complains all the time, does nothing but get carried around by the other characters.  He is obviously the heir to the castle Drest is going to and I guess we are supposed to care that his uncle is obviously trying to kill him off so he can rule instead.  But…this knight fella is so annoying and helpless that it is hard to see why anyone would care if he was not ruling.  He does not seem like he would be particularly good at it.

In short, I see little to recommend The Mad Wolf’s Daughter.  It may have a girl protagonist who likes swords, but plenty of books these days contain fighting girls–and many of them also have well-paced plots and strong characterization.  I would prefer to read one of those.

2 star review

The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner


Goodreads: The Seventh Wish
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: June 2016


Charlie wants more than anything to be able to buy a solo dress with crystals for her next Irish dance competition.  Ice fishing will give her the chance to earn some money, but she never expected to catch a magic fish–one that will grant her wishes if she spares its life.  But life is complicated and Charlie is about to find out that wishing does not make problems go away.


The Seventh Wish is a modern take on the Brothers Grimm tale “The Fisherman and His Wife,” in which a magical fish grants wishes in exchange for its life.  In this tale, however, it is not a poor couple who captures the fish, but a young girl named Charlie who wishes for good things for her friends and family.  However, she soon learns that wishes can go unexpectedly awry and that sometimes it’s safer to engage in good old-fashioned work to achieve one’s dreams.

The story starts out as what might seem like a standard middle-grade book about a girl trying to navigate relationships at school and home while also trying to excel in a pastime she loves (in this case, Irish dance).  However, in this story, friends and sisters do not drift apart because of time or because of new interests.  Instead, Charlie finds her life tumbling down around her when her family is affected by the heroin epidemic.  It is an authorial decision that has caused some controversy for the book.  And yet, many children have experienced the same pain, betrayal, and confusion as Charlie when the epidemic has affected their own loved ones.  There’s no point in hiding a story about what these children already know all too well.

As always, Kate Messner depicts her characters with great empathy.  She does not excuse their actions, but she does offer out the hope of redemption for them.  Recovery is an everyday struggle–one that the addict as well as her family will experience through life.  But, the story suggests, it is a struggle that can be won.  The Seventh Wish is a beautiful, heartfelt book, one that I can imagine has given comfort to many of its readers as it reminds them, as reading reminded Matilda, “you are not alone.”

4 stars


Why I Limit the Number of Books I Own

“One who cannot cast a treasure away at need is in fetters”. –Aragorn, The Lord of the Rings

Why I Try Not to Collect Books

I own a lot of books.  I don’t deny it.  Still, I regularly take time to look over my collection and to remove titles.  Typically I donate them to teacher-friends who will use them in their classrooms or to the library, where they will either be added to the collection or sold at a book sale.  Sometimes I donate them to a Little Free Library or free book swap, or to an organization that gives free books to children.  Parting with a book is often a wrench.  I may have read it and enjoyed it.  I may have never read it, but hope to one day.  Or I may have dreams of keeping it to share with others.  Still, I only have so much space, and something must go.

However, I have a more compelling reason to part with my books, other than the lack of space and the hardship of moving dozens of boxes of books.  I feel strongly that I ought not to keep books that I know I will not reread or that I may never get to .  I don’t, after all, really need all these books.  I own plenty enough to keep me busy, as well as access to the library, to Project Gutenberg, and to free Kindle books (no Kindle needed–there are apps for laptops, phones, and tablets).  But many people do not have the same access to books that I do.  So it seems incumbent upon me to share what I have.

It can be easy to forget that not everyone is an avid reader and not everyone grows up surrounded by books.  But in 2016, Susan Neuman and Naomi Moland published a study of book deserts, neighborhoods where books were not sold in stores and thus not readily available to families.  Because many impoverished families do not use libraries (because of the fear of fines or suspicion of government) and because they may not have Internet at home, they face more challenges in attaining literacy skills than others.  But reading for pleasure is associated with increased educational performance and having books in the home can increase the level of education a child attains.  So it seems obvious that, even if I don’t live in a book desert, I should be promoting literacy in my community.  I do this, in my own small way, by sharing my books with others.

As the months go by, the number of books I own is dwindling (though more always creep in the door).  I find it increasingly difficult to part with books as I removed less treasured volumes long ago.  But I have taken to reflecting on Aragorn’s words to Pippin, when Pippin admits how hard it was for him to leave his Elven-brooch behind: “One who cannot cast a treasure away at need is in fetters.”  I never want to feel like I am buried under my possessions, or burdened by them because I have nowhere to store them and no way to transport them.  So, each time I choose a book to donate, I take a deep breath and remind myself that I do not need this book.  Life will go on.  I will always find other books to treasure and enjoy.  I will buy them or borrow them or be gifted them.  But, in the meantime, I still have the power and the freedom to let possessions go.

How I Remove Books from My Bookshelves

As I admitted at the start, I actually do own a lot of books–but I have given many away, as well.  These are some of my secrets in attempting to let go:

I read the book and then immediately donate it.

If I never alphabetize it on my shelf, I can’t become attached to it!  This works for me because when I buy books, they tend to be from library book sales, so I don’t have to feel bad about spending fifty cents and then getting rid of the book.  However, you can also do this with gifts if you think the giver won’t be offended.

I Donate Books I know I can Easily find again.

If I know that the book is still in print, at my library, or otherwise easily accessible (free online because out of copyright, for instance), I will let it go.  I know that I don’t need to own a copy of a book that isn’t rare.

I am honest about my chances of reading or rereading the book.

I have owned books for ten years or more that I really want to read at some point.  However, after ten years, I have to admit to myself that it’s quite possible I’ll never read the book at all.  If I feel that strongly about reading it once ten more years have passed, I’ll just have to track down another copy.  There’s no point in hauling all these books around “just in case.”

I am honest about the chances of other people reading the books.

Sometimes I think that a book might be nice to have to loan out or to keep in the family or something.  But chances are any kids are going to be reading their own books.  If I’m not totally in love with a book,  I’m not going to keep it on the off-chance someone else will read it years from now.

Places to Donate Books

  • Library Book Sales
  • Schools
  • Little Free Libraries or Book Swaps
  • Community Yard Sales
  • Literacy Programs

Or, if you need more ideas, Briana previously wrote a post about eight places to donate your gently used books.

How do you decide what to remove from your shelves?


Victoria: Portrait of a Queen by Catherine Reef


Goodreads: Victoria: Portrait of a Queen
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: November 2017


Crowned queen at the age of eighteen, Victoria went on to rule for sixty-three years.  She survived several assassination attempts, fell madly in love with her cousin Albert, and watched as the United Kingdom industrialized.  Catherine Reef provides an overview of the life of one of history’s most popular monarchs.


Catherine Reef titles her book Victoria: Portrait of a Queen.  That alone should have indicated to me that the book would be a brief overview of Victoria’s life and reign.  Though I had hoped to learn more about some of the events shown in the Victoria mini series and to delve  more deeply into Victoria’s personal life and relationships, I found myself disappointed.  The book glosses over incidents, covering events like the Chartist revolt in a few paragraphs and only vaguely mentioning some of the assassination attempts on Victoria’s life.  I could not help but feel that the book would be vastly improved by increased historical background, as well as by more quotes from primary sources.

Perhaps Reef desires to keep the focus on Victoria, and that is why she does not really delve into events as she might.  Wars, uprisings, and industrialization all get a few paragraphs–a few pages if we are lucky.  But I cannot help but think that such events could easily warrant an entire chapter that examines their historical roots, their impact on the culture, and so forth.  It seems almost dismissive to note that the Chartists’ attempts to gain such rights as a secret ballot or annual elections failed and then to move blithely on from the concerns of the working class.  Perhaps Victoria moved blithely on–perhaps she really did not care for the working class.  But then at least tell us something more of that!

I also wanted to learn more about Victoria’s relationships.  Her romance with Albert is famous, but I did not feel readers received a very intimate look.  And other figures such as Gladstone seem important, but do not seem to receive as much attention as they deserve.  At times Reef quotes from Victoria’s diaries.  Why not more often?  And why not more quotes from other people living through the events?  Primary sources really make history come alive–and I wanted more.

If you are looking simply for an overview that covers Victoria’s life in bite-sized pieces, this is the book for you.  You can easily read it in maybe two days and close it feeling like you have a bit of a grasp on the life of a queen everyone seems to know about–at least to reference.  But if you really want to dig deep into the history, past being able to answer some trivia questions, you might wish to look elsewhere.

3 Stars


Alexander Hamilton: Revolutionary by Martha Brockenbrough


Alexander Hamilton Revolutionary


Goodreads: Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary
Series: None
Source: City Book Review
Published: September 5, 2017

Official Summary

“Complex, passionate, brilliant, flawed? Alexander Hamilton comes alive in Martha Brockenbrough’s exciting biography Alexander Hamilton: Revolutionary, which is an essential read for teen fans of Hamilton the musical.

Discover the incredible true story behind the Tony Award-winning musical – Hamilton’s early years in the Caribbean; his involvement in the Revolutionary War; and his groundbreaking role in government, which still shapes American government today. Easy to follow, this gripping account of a founding father and American icon features illustrations, maps, timelines, infographics, and additional information ranging from Hamilton’s own writings to facts about fashion, music, etiquette and custom of the times, including best historical insults and the etiquette of duels.”


I enjoy nonfiction, but when I picked up Alexander Hamilton: Revolutionary by Martha Brockenbrough, I wasn’t expecting it to be quite as engaging as it is.  With a lively narrative voice and a text design seemingly geared to keep people even with short attention spans reading, the book offers a quick but fun and informative look into one of America’s Founding Father’s.

Brokcenbrough begins with Hamilton’s early life in the Caribbean and follows him to his death, exploring especially his actions during the Revolutionary War and his role in founding the country after the war was over.  She also offers glimpses into his private life, looking at his friendships, his relationship with his wife, and his affairs. The pacing of the book sometimes seems a little fast, but I think it works for readers who just want to learn about Hamilton and his life; I wasn’t expecting an in-depth tome geared towards stolid history buffs who want every little detail.

And though the book focuses on Hamilton’s accomplishments and his merits—his integrity, drive, and intelligence—it does not shy away from pointing out his faults.  The book is a celebration of Hamilton in many ways, but it also strives to be balanced.

Most surprising, however, may be how beautifully designed the book is. The cover under the jacket has an intricate design embossed in gold foil. The interior has illustrations of key players in the novel and sketches of key places.  Quotes are featured in the middle of the page, breaking up the text so it doesn’t look like an imposing block of words.  This is a great book to buy if you like owning beautiful books.  It’s not just pretty, though, because it’s also a fascinating read.

4 stars Briana


5 More Bookish Misconceptions

There is only one version of King Arthur and one of Robin Hood.

Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (1485) is one of the most famous versions of King Arthur, but stories about the character existed in English and folklore long before Malory came along.  Plus other authors such as Geoffrey of Monmouth and Chrétien de Troyes added their own tales to the legend.

Likewise, there is no single, definitive source for the Robin Hood legends.  There are early ballads from the late 15th century or early 16th century, but not all the familiar characters such as Maid Marian appeared at that time.  Other alternations such as Robin’s support of King Richard and his status as a nobleman would also come later.

C. S. Lewis was only a children’s author.

C. S.  Lewis did more than write the Chronicles of Narnia.  He was a medievalist who write literary criticism.  He was a poet.  He was an apologist who explored Christianity in such works as Mere Christianity, The Great Divorce, and The Problem of Pain.  He also wrote adult fiction including his Space Trilogy, Till We Have Faces, and The Screwtape Letters.

Les Misérables is set during the French Revolution.

Victor Hugo’s novel actually describes the Paris Uprising of 1832, a response to the July Revolution (1830), which placed Louis Phillipe on the throne.  The story begins in 1815, some years after the French Revolution (1789-1799).

In The Lord of the Rings, Sauron is just a giant eye.

The book does describe the eye of Sauron being drawn to certain places, though it’s unclear if he can actually manifest as a giant eye or if these descriptions are simply referring to Sauron’s “all-seeing” gaze.  However, we can assume that he does at least have a physical body (which would aid him in wearing the One Ring!).  Gollum describes seeing the Dark Lord’s hand missing one finger.

There is One set list of the Canon.

The canon is the body of works generally considered to influential in shaping Western literature.  Two of the more famous lists are the 1909 Harvard Classics and Harold Bloom’s 1994 The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. However, there is no single version of the canon accepted and agreed upon by everyone.  Indeed, the canon has become increasingly contentious over the years as people advocate adding authors, creating separate canons (such as a women’s canon), or dropping the idea of the canon altogether.  Here you can read more about the difference between classics and the canon.

Other Posts in the Series

5 Bookish Misconceptions  (Featuring LotR, Shakespeare, and more!)