Mini Reviews: The Circle Opens Quartet by Tamora Pierce

Another amazing series from Tamora Pierce, in which all of my favorite characters grow up. *wipes away tears* (Well, okay, they’re still only fourteen, but THEY GROW UP TOO FAST!) This time, Tris, Briar, Sandry, and Daja are off traveling with their teachers (except for Sandry, who remains in Emelan). They’re about to meet their own students, ahhhhh!

The Winding Circle kids all grown up, via minuiko.

Magic Steps
 

Title: Magic Steps
Author: Tamora Pierce
Series: The Circle Opens #1
Publication Date: March 1, 2000
Genre: (Young Adult) Fantasy

 
Sandry meets Pasco, a young dancer who comes from a family of Harriers (otherwise known as the Provost’s Guard, basically policemen… who thinking dancing is no big deal), and takes him in as her student since she was the one who discovered his magic. A murderer is also in town, and Sandry is multitasking with trying to catch the murderer and teach the impatient Pasco. TP’s writing is effortless as always, and I can get the sense of Sandry’s own youthfulness despite her powers. It’s amusing to watch her try to teach Pasco, when he’s not that much younger than her. There are also a lot of funny moments in Magic Steps amidst the seriousness of the murderer situation.

Street Magic
 

Title: Street Magic
Author: Tamora Pierce
Series: The Circle Opens #2
Publication Date: April 1, 2001
Genre: (Young Adult) Fantasy

 
There are cats in this one! (I love reading about horses and cats!) Briar and his mentor, Rosethorn, travel east of Emelan to the hot and dry city of Chammur where Briar discovers a young stone mage, Evvy, owner of a gazillion cats. There’s a gang war going on in the city that sucks both Briar and Evvy into its mix, and it’s interesting to learn about the culture of Chammur through it. Briar and Rosethorn’s magic is my favorite (most of the time) because they’re plant mages, so I love seeing them talk to plants! đŸŒ± The finale of this book is also very refreshing, as Briar gets to show off his true powers. (I really like it when the four Winding Circle kids use big magic!) We’ll see this trio more in the Circle Reforged series, but I like them as they are here a lot more.

Cold Fire
 

Title: Cold Fire
Author: Tamora Pierce
Series: The Circle Opens #3
Publication Date: April 1, 2002
Genre: (Young Adult) Fantasy

 
Daja always gets the short end of the stick. She and her teacher, Frostpine, travel to the empire of Namorn, wayyy north of Emelan. (There’s something hilarious about smith mages going into the cold…) There, Daja makes friends with a firefighter, and also discovers not one, but TWO mages in need of a teacher. Luckily, it’s Daja and not one of the other three, so she’s patient and mature and willing to look after them, despite some rough times. One thing that I liked about this series is that there are more narrative shifts, where we get to follow the story through someone else rather than the Fearsome Foursome.

Shatterglass
 

Title: Shatterglass
Author: Tamora Pierce
Series: The Circle Opens #4
Publication Date: January 1, 2003
Genre: (Young Adult) Fantasy

 
Aaaand of course Tris would get an older student who can’t handle her age nor her lightning-based magic! Tris and her teacher, Niko, travel wayyyy south to the city of Tharios, where there is a caste system among other differences that irk Tris. (I also love seeing the different cultures from all the places that the Winding Circle kids travel to!) One rule in Tharios is that anything that touches a corpse needs to be cleansed immediately, which makes catching criminals very difficult. Tris and her student, Keth – along with the glass dragon that Keth accidentally created – must try to control Keth’s magic while providing tools needed to capture the latest murderer. It’s interesting how the setup is the same as that of Sandry and her student’s, but they’re two completely different stories.

In all four of the Circle Opens series, I really enjoyed seeing the relationships between the new students and new teachers develop. There’s so much humor in TP’s books despite the serious plotlines, and the worldbuilding is detailed and diverse. How many TP books do I have left to review? I feel like I’m mentioning the same things over and over again, yet I’m not bored yet! (I hope you’re not either… *gulps*)

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Mini Reviews: The Protector of the Small Quartet by Tamora Pierce

This is only like my FAVORITE TAMORA PIERCE SERIES EVER, no big deal. I feel like it’s so hard to explain why I love this series so much – I kind of just want to say JUST READ IT AND YOU’LL UNDERSTAND! And sometimes I don’t know why I love certain books when there are probably similar books out there, but The Protector of the Small is The One for me. I reread it almost every year, and when I want comfort books, this is the series I turn to.

When I was in high school, I went to the library almost everyday after school to volunteer, and during my downtime, I’d inevitably turn to the Fantasy section and walk straight towards the “P” section for all the Pierce books. (Pros: Gail Carson Levine and Philip Pullman were also close by!) There were these wonderful shiny hardcover copies of Squire and Lady Knight that I would just claim for as long as I could, and I’M JUST IN LOVE. (So all my Tamora Pierce reviews are less of reviews and more of me ranting about my life, sorry in advance, haha.)

First Test

Long story short, the realm of Tortall is finally accepting its first girl into the knighthood training program in a hundred years (Alanna didn’t count since she hid that she was a girl), and ten-year-old Keladry of Mindelan stepped up at the chance. However, she’s been put on probation by the training master, and has to handle bullying from the boys and being at a physical disadvantage. Kel is determined to show everyone that she can make it, and in the process, gains some valuable friends and makes some enemies too. I fell in love with Kel and her gang in this book – Kel is so different compared to Alanna in that Kel is quieter and more “average” in terms of looks, so maybe that’s why I could relate with her more. Her tenacity and firm belief in doing the right thing particularly stand out in my mind, since the plotline allows those characteristics to shine through. This first book in the quartet has plenty of action and adventure, and allows us to revisit good ol’ Tortall while getting us familiar with the new characters.

Page

Title: Page
Author: Tamora Pierce
Series: The Protector of the Small #2
Publication Date: May 23, 2000
Genre: (Young Adult) Fantasy / Magic / Adventure

Ta-dah! Kel’s made it through probation! (Oops, was that a spoiler? You kind of expected it, right? Since she’s the heroine and all and the story can’t go on without her?) The knighthood training consists of four years as a page (modern translation: middle school), four years as a squire (high school, shadowing teachers/employed professionals), and pass the Ordeal of Knighthood (yay job!). This book details Kel’s next three years as a page. Life as a page isn’t easy, and Kel continues to try to balance her studies with her extracurriculars (ex. going on an anti-bullying campaign, essentially) and her developments into womanhood. Tammy always manages to fit so much time into one book without making it boring, and I was totally engrossed in seemingly mundane things. Also, more animals in this book!

Kel and her menagerie, via minuiko.

Squire

Title: Squire
Author: Tamora Pierce
Series: The Protector of the Small #3
Publication Date: May 1, 2001
Genre: (Young Adult) Fantasy / Magic / Adventure

Kel has survived four years as a page, and is moving on to being a squire under either an active duty knight or a desk knight in the palace. After facing prejudice and resistance as The Girl for four years, Kel faces new problems as she starts to become exposed to the rest of the world. She makes new friends and new enemies, and learns how to be a great leader in the process. She also (unfortunately?) gets stuck with a baby griffin (as you can see from the cover), which sounds like an awesome experience… but it’s not. I like how nothing is idealized or sugarcoated in this series (as well as other Tammy books) – if something sucky happens, it happens and becomes a learning experience. That said, bad things (ex. character death) doesn’t happen for no reason. Kel’s “high school” years are so much more exciting than mine, and maybe that’s why Squire is the book I read most often from this series when I was in high school, haha. 😄

Lady Knight

My favorite book in this series, if I had to choose. Kel becomes a full-fledged knight, but is disappointed when she’s put in charge of a refugee camp instead of being out in combat. However, fate has more in store for her than just that… this is the culmination of all things great about The Protector of the Small series: great friendships, great plot, amazing characters. SO MUCH LOVE FOR LADY KNIGHT!!!

Lady knight, via minuiko.

Altogether, The Protector of the Small quartet is AWESOME on so many levels. We get to see nine years’ worth of character development, and Tammy doesn’t disappoint. There’s never a dull moment, and every character contributes to the plot. Another amazing thing about this quartet is that there’s so much political and historical development, although unlike the previous Tortall heroines who were placed at critical moments of history being rewritten, Kel was not. It’s like discovering a new part of the world – the picture of Tortall in my head just got a lot more colorful and a lot bigger after these books!

Also, I AM IN LOVE WITH TORTALL FANART! I especially love minuiko’s depictions of the Tortallan heroines, and her Kel art is just amazing… she’s a big Kel fan too! The Tortall Comics Project is where the cool kids hang out, so that’s where I’ve quenched my PotS needs.

Squire, via JWHamer.

Review: Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen


Flipped

Flipped is like the cutest thing ever! This was one of my very first chick lits, and I was enticed by the minimalistic cover (which is actually really clever, once you read through the book!). The flipped symmetry of the narratives and the push-pull romance are really well done, and this story shows you that good books don’t necessarily need to be lengthy; a simplistic yet deep story that’s funny and endearing.
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Review: Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

Skipping Christmas
 
Skipping Christmas is a short, delightful tale about a couple who decides to skip Christmas and go on a cruise instead. With lots of strained neighborly relationships, fake tans, and unsolicited “Free Frosty” yard signs, this story shows a satiric view of Christmas and the joys and ordeals of the holiday.
 
 

 

Introduction

Luther and Nora Krank are skipping Christmas this year. With their daughter, Blair, off with the Peace Corps in Peru, Luther convinces Nora that they don’t need the shopping, the parties, the holiday cards, or the stress; instead of spending $6,100 on Christmas like they did last year, Luther and Nora are planning to go on a ten-day Caribbean cruise on Christmas day for half the cost. However, the Kranks find skipping Christmas to be increasingly difficult as their neighbors – shocked at the thought of not celebrating Christmas – start to ambush them with holiday cheer.

Discussion

Grisham has created your typical American neighbors with Skipping Christmas: Luther is a tax accountant who is fed up with the idea of Christmas, and Nora feels obligated to put on a big Christmas dinner and have the decorations up, but is torn by Blair’s absence. They both try to reject everything Christmas-related, which is a very difficult task considering how involved they were in years past... but with the cruise as motivation, Luther and Nora become more tenacious about skipping Christmas, to the dismay of their neighbors. The Kranks’ neighbors are delightful characters who act like one big family, trying to win The Best Holiday Spirit Awards for their street and all that. So of course the (aptly named) Kranks, much like the Grinch, are ruining everything about Christmas!

There is a slightly exaggerated quality to Skipping Christmas that makes this story satiric, and it was funny to me how the Kranks go to such great lengths to boycott the holiday and how people react when they hear about what the Kranks are doing. But maybe somewhere in North America, there ARE people that gung-ho about Christmas? The conflicts between the various characters resonated with me, because the routines and traditions that usually bring a sense of comradery in a neighborhood is slowly breaking into pieces in Skipping Christmas. Oh, and should I mention that there’s a big plot twist? It had me going, “Really? Really???” in disbelief, and definitely upped the anxiety and frustration that I already felt from all the existing conflicts.

Conclusion

Grisham really hits on both the goods and bads of Christmas with Skipping Christmas, and he had me nodding in agreement, laughing at the satire, and accepting resignedly that there are bad parts to Christmas in addition to the good. But Skipping Christmas also left me with the hope that the good outweighs the bad; I’d recommend this short read to anyone who’s getting into the holiday spirit or who thinks that Christmas is a sham, as a reminder to not go overboard this season with your like or dislike of the holiday. For me, Christmas is about spending time with my loved ones, and Skipping Christmas really brings that point home.

(By the way, this book has also been adapted to film, so maybe put Christmas with the Kranks on your to-watch list as an alternative or an addition to Skipping Christmas!)

Happy holidays! Wishing everyone a safe and relaxing holiday season. 🙂