Kaji Warriors: Shifting Strength Book Review

My second book review with Reedsy Discovery went live on September 1st. Kaji Warriors is perfect for the teen with an itch for sci-fi action. The text below was originally posted on the book’s Reedsy profile.

Young adult readers in search of sci-fi action and genuine characters should look no further than Kelly A. Nix’s Kaji Warriors: Shifting Strength. The Kaji people are a strong race of warriors involved in ongoing intergalactic battles. The current queen regent, Queen Sula, even brokered a peace with former rivals. Many members of the Empire do not agree with Sula’s actions, but an influx of other cultures and species have made non-Kaji citizens and hybrid Kaji children part of the Empire.

Atae is one such hybrid and lacks some of the height, strength, and physical characteristics common of the Kaji. Like many hybrids, she does not have a second form. Full-blooded Kaji can shift into “battle beasts” and fight in a lethal, four-legged form. Despite these disadvantages, Atae is a proud Kaji and determined to prove herself at the Sula Academy.

One day, an ambush by two deadly strangers shakes Atae’s pride and confidence. While recovering physically and mentally, Atae prepares to compete in a broadcasted, academy-wide tournament for the chance to enter a prestigious competition called the Gridiron. During the Tournament, Atae realizes that her battle beast is lurking beneath the surface, and she must fight for her spot in the Gridiron while controlling the beast within.

Kaji Warriors has a promising plot and cast of characters, but very slow to start. The author, Kelly A. Nix, alludes to a mysterious plot involving the queen, and I was hoping for more of that story rather than intermittent scenes about it. The main plot itself got bogged down by some of the world building in the beginning, but it did pick up about halfway through with the creative Tournament scenes.

Even with the large chunks of information dropped in the beginning, Nix had a nice balance of world and characters. The main characters have their own goals, motivations, and personalities, and I want to know how they will fit into the queen’s mysterious plans. While some of the characters were frustrating, I enjoyed the rapport and camaraderie among the group during the latter half of the story.

On a technical level, the book struggled with some narrative focus, as the perspective flowed between characters in the same chapters constantly. Although physical characteristics are part of Kaji culture, the overreliance on certain physical descriptions weakened the writing.

With Hunger Games action and fierce aliens, Kaji Warriors: Shifting Strength is great for young adult readers who want a battle royale on another planet.

Here’s the link to my Reedsy review of Kaji Warriors: Shifting Strength.

Karda: Adalta Vol. I Book Review

I was contacted out of the blue two months ago asking if I wanted to review books for Reedsy Discovery. Naturally, I jumped at the chance. I received an ARC copy of this book, and Karda just launched today! The text below was originally posted on the book’s Reedsy profile.

 

Karda: Adalta Vol. I is a blend of science-fiction and fantasy that speaks to the adventurer in all of us. Marta Rowan is responsible for scouting out planets for potential resources and trade relationships for an inter-galactic agency called the Consortium. She finds herself on Adalta, a planet with primitive technologies that was settled 500 years prior by human colonists escaping a collapsing Earth.  To blend in with Adaltan society, Marta joins an elite class of women who patrol the continent. But she soon discovers all is not calm on Adalta.

Marta’s mission of subterfuge puts her at odds with her desires to live a new life on Adalta. She forms a bond with a Karda, Sidhari, who is from a species of flying, horse-like creatures with hawk heads and talons. Drawn between her duties to the Consortium and the love she holds for Adalta, Marta’s desires help establish her as a character trying to do what is right while struggling to figure out what she wants.

A political struggle bubbles beneath the surface and moves Marta’s story along while eerie, magical incidents hint at a growing danger in the shadows. Throughout the book, the reader peeks into the mind of the sinister Readen Me’Vere as he taps into an evil, alien power to seize control of the continent.

The author, Sherill Nilson, creates an interesting world that plays with the boundaries of sci-fi fantasy, but the intriguing set-up for the larger world is obscured by the “primitive” Adaltan society. The idea of a lost colony of humans that reject the perceived ills of their former home was an interesting approach. However, the plotline involving the Consortium’s push to forcefully introduce technology fell by the wayside. But at the same time, the magical aspects of Adalta felt underdeveloped and fuzzy.

Because this is the first book in a trilogy, it acted as a setup for a much larger conflict that was far more captivating, but we didn’t actually get to see. The build-up to the action was so slow and it took a while for the threads of the story to come together. Marta and Sidhari did not spend as much time together as they should have. Although the bond between Mi’hiru and Karda is supposed to be remarkable, the reader doesn’t really get to feel this incredible relationship.

Overall, readers who enjoy stories like Eragon and the Dragonriders of Pern will enjoy Karda and the world of Adalta. Karda utilizes classic fantasy ideas as the foundation of the story, but Nilson places her own touches on this unique world. Although intended for adults, and there are some scenes that are not suitable for younger readers, older teens can also enjoy this high-flying, magical planet.

 

Here’s the link to my Reedsy Review.

Spinning Silver Book Review

I am part of a sci-fi/fantasy book club at my local library, and this book club is the perfect excuse to move books from my endless to-be-read pile to the top of my list. Spinning Silver, written by Naomi Novik and published in 2018, is one such novel that was on my radar for quite some time. I knew it was fantasy and that it was vaguely related to Rumpelstiltskin. When I finally picked it up in late 2019, I was eager to dive in. Warning: major book spoilers down below!

Spinning Silver is set in a late medieval to Early Modern Lithuanian village and centers around three main points of view. Miryem is from a Jewish family, and her father is the local moneylender. Miryem’s father is a kind man whose inability to collect money leaves his family destitute in the increasingly harsh, Eastern European winter. Tired of being taken advantage of, she steps into her father’s role and starts collecting on debts in the village.

Despite her father’s protestations and the disgruntlement of the townsfolk, Miryem excels at the role and begins to provide for her family. As she increases her wealth (that is, spinning silver into gold), she hardens her heart even more to the opinions and thoughts of others.

Wanda, a young woman in the same village, begins to work for Miryem to pay off the debts that her drunken father has accrued. Wanda is a quiet, stoic woman whose father drinks away his money and routinely hits Wanda and her two brothers. She is hungry for independence and begins to stockpile some of her excess pay from Miryem while becoming a valued member of Miryem’s family.

Irina, the daughter of a local noble, is painfully plain and a burden to the household. She is to be married off to hopefully lend prestige to her father and stepmother’s household, despite her wishes. (More on her a little later.)

In Miryem and Wanda’s village, the creeping, biting winter is a sign of the arriving Staryk. The Staryk are a race of magical, winter beings responsible for the winter ills of the village, and the Staryk world is often visible in the surrounding woods. When the Staryk king overhears Miryem talk about her ability to turn her silver into gold, he takes her up on the challenge and brings her increasingly large sums of magical silver to turn into valuable gold.

These visits from the Staryk king kickstart the plot as Miryem has the enchanted silver made into beautiful jewelry and sells it to the duke of her grandfather’s town, Irina’s father. These three pieces of jewelry become Irina’s dowry, and Irina is betrothed to Tsar Mirnatius, a young ruler with a burning secret. This Staryk silver has a peculiar effect on Irina, and it becomes the only way she can save herself from Mirnatius and take control of her own fate.

Miryem is taken by the Staryk king to his icy kingdom, forced to turn troves of silver into gold for mysterious purposes. The accidental death of Wanda’s father forces Wanda and her brothers to flee as they have their own encounters with magic in the eerie, snowy woods. The stories of these three women intertwine as they fight for agency, for family and for their homes in different ways.

Overall, I loved Spinning Silver was wonderful and right up my alley. I’m always a fan of fairytale retellings, historical fantasy and interesting female characters. However, some of the plotlines wrap up in quick and neat ways that sometimes feel unsatisfying. Miryem’s resolution with the Staryk king felt rushed, even if I liked the outcome. Miryem was the most fleshed-out character and Wanda had a satisfying arc, but Irina felt the most distant and separate of the three storylines. There were many threads running through the story, and sometimes it got caught up in trying to get all the parts aligned with one another. The chapters with a POV that was not Irina, Miryem or Wanda, although rare, were not as interesting or developed.

Nevertheless, I was thoroughly enjoyed Novik’s book. The frosty, snowy atmosphere really got me in the mood for the winter holidays, especially since my area isn’t known for nippy temperatures. The historical backdrop for the story isn’t distracting and provides enough detail to set up the kinds of lives each of the characters has. The strength of this book comes through in the characterization of Miryem, Wanda and Irina and the way the all set out to achieve each of their goals.

Miryem’s pride and stubbornness are extremely relatable, even when her pride becomes rashness. She has a need to prove herself, not just as a woman, but as a Jewish minority in a primarily Christian village. Miryem loves her family and strives to protect them from enemies, magical and human ones alike. Even the way Miryem handles the Staryk king is a show of her determination, tenacity, and resourcefulness.

Wanda’s quiet ambition and struggle to be recognized as someone worthy of respect is something that many can identify with. Her father’s cruelty drives a wedge between her and her brothers and relegates the household to poverty. Through adversity, she and her siblings learn to trust one another and become a family once again. Wanda’s connection with Miryem’s family helps her and her brothers find the kindness, love, and respect missing from their troubled home. Wanda can live the life she wants instead of subjecting herself to someone else’s whim.

Irina’s fight to save her life and occupy a space of power is a tense one as she outsmarts and bargains with the evil demon inhabiting her husband’s body. Even though this agency comes at a dangerous price and was not of her choosing, Irina uses her wiles to do what is best for herself, her family, and her people. Like the other two women, Irina is determined to take what no one will give her and make her life on her own terms.

Although Wanda, Irina, and Miryem share different experiences, they are determined to show their value to those around them. Novik’s wonderful writing style leaves you with thoughtful quotes that can resonate with anyone. If you need a book with believable female characters, creepy snow elves, and a chilly winter setting, Spinning Silver is for you.

History & Historians

In my junior year of college, I took a course called “History & Historians”. In this class we learned research techniques and how to write papers– we spent all semester writing and analyzing. It culminated in one large paper on a topic of our choice; the where/when of the topic was dictated by the teacher and their specialty– our class was Medieval Europe.

I have attached a book review and my final paper for this class in PDF format.

ziegler-book-review-2012

history-and-historians-final-paper-2012

 

Stone Heart

Illumination comes from many places.

With my eyes on my feet and my soles on the street, I made my way down the avenues of an unfamiliar town.

I found myself in a strange alley when I tore my eyes away from the concrete river.

I found myself stunned by a riot of colors and textures. Colors took on a heavenly aura, like bubbles waiting to be popped as I stood in an agonizing daze. My breath came out in uneven, labored gasps, my lungs were filling with hot ambrosia. My head became heavy and light all at once. My eyes became all-seeing and empty all at once. Cold sweat on a fevered brow, laughter bubbled behind my clumsy teeth.

The god of art stood over me. Or was it a tulpa, conjured by my jumbled mind and an entity in its own right? Wide lips, all the better for speaking truths; blank eyes, all the better for seeing all that the world had to offer. A crude design, and yet so universal. I could not help but fear the neutral face—was it pleased? Angry? Bored? Appeased?

“Art is the center of the real world,” the stony voice intoned, a sound like pumice wrapped up in foil.

A silent scream bounced around in my throat, and my legs gave out beneath my body. My muscles bent like rubber, my bones shriveling like dehydrating clay. I briefly wondered how the tiles would taste. I opted to let my fingers explore the sharp edges and smooth crevices, meditating on the shapes of letters and how such small tiles complete a larger picture. My mind spun and reeled like a spiral galaxy, pondering the nature of man in the larger tapestry of life. I also refused to comprehend the nature of language—I no longer felt the need.

I know not how long I knelt at the altar of the many-faceted mosaic god, it felt like millennia, and it felt like a heartbeat. The concrete roughness of the sidewalk beneath my knees slowly pulled my soul back home to my aching body, never knowing if Art found my penance acceptable.

New York, New York

A begrudging love story to New York and an exaltation of my Catholic heritage.

New York has never been an especially exciting place to me. Nothing personal, NYC. No offense Ol’ Blue Eyes. There is always this sense of nostalgia surrounding the City That Never Sleeps as a haven for aspiring artists and small-town folks. I think it’s because I’m not an artist—I have no soul for it to call to. I have never dreamt of seeing my name in lights. And while I would prefer anonymity, the city is too big and too lonely. I find the summer heat stifling and the smell of gutter trash sits heavy in my nose. And I hate the winter up there.

And yet, New York is a part of my blood. My father is a native, although you would never guess by the lack of accent. Jim and Roseanne Diamante adopted my father as an infant, an anonymous child of New York. He spent his preteen years in Long Island—wood paneling and Italian restaurants are my only frame of reference for my great-grandmother’s basement in Elmont that he so frequently mentions. I drop a lot of vowels at the end of Italian words, I call red sauce gravy, and I make a damn fine spaghetti pie.

My mother, a Jersey girl through and through, still ties me to New York. My great-great-grandparents, James Doyle and Theresa Hanrahan Doyle, met in the city after emigrating from Ireland over a century ago. They spawned generations of Doyles, Farrells, Carters, Worralls, Caseys, McCullochs, and all the rest of their endless kin. In 2009, I sat in the same church my great-great-grandparents were married in 100 years prior. In 2009, the once-Irish-now-Hispanic neighborhood near St. Jerome’s was jolted awake by the relaxing screams of bagpipes celebrating my comically large family (my apologies to those people—it was way too early for that noise).

Later that night I watched my family get three sheets to the wind as they got close to drinking the bar dry. I sang a teary-eyed “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” arm in arm with Marjorie (and in unison with the rest of my clan), both of us thinking about our grandfathers. New York holds some fond memories of cousin shenanigans, time well spent with my grandmother, Broadway shows, and of course, the food.

You know what? I love New York.

tumblr_inline_nomq35ssr21tuk7pa_500Image by Nina Vitale Photography

Out, Out, Brief Candle

Part of a writing challenge among friends, these stories were inspired by pictures we submitted from our collections or found online. This one was inspired by an image of a brightly lit, vinatge street lamp at night.

I was born of sheep fat and an insect byproduct with a heart of cotton cord. It was my fate to serve humanity, to help them battle night and shadows. Your ancestors used us not only as a source of light but as a way to honor their gods and saints, a way to commemorate the lost. I was too afraid of being a church candle—that is a lot of responsibility. What if I did not burn as brightly as they needed me too, and the gods did not hear their prayers? No, religion wasn’t the way for me to go.

I dreamed instead of more domestic uses—perhaps as a way to tell the time or to illuminate a scholar’s room after dusk. I think I would enjoy reading. Of course, that comes with its own set of responsibilities—there are always rogue candles who burn down houses and towns, or those who refuse to stay lit under even the slightest of winds. Our lives can be brief and short, our bodies burned away and melted to puddles. That’s alright. We don’t feel pain, and our waxen spirit lives on in all candles. We will take shape once again, perhaps as extravagant candles or lamps made from animal fat.

Imagine my dismay when I found myself stuffed into a streetlamp. I was just a mere background figure as the town bustled past me. Nights could be bitter and cold, and we were unceremoniously snuffed out at dawn. My first night in the little glass box, I ignored the world. I burned in silence, ever dutiful but pouting.  The next night, just down the road, I saw a fellow candle trying to get my attention. In the way that only we candles understand, she told me to stop sulking and enjoy the life we lived. I begrudgingly took her advice, and then wondered why I was so upset.

I saw giggling lovers hand in hand as they took a candlelit walk in the park. People could walk with less fear in the dark, as it kept monsters at bay. People were designated to keep us lit throughout the night, should a strong wind blow us out. I saw many things in the dead of night, some bad but some wonderful. As the decades passed, we became an old way of life, relegated to rural homesteads. Even some religious practices phased us out with electric candles and plug-in menorahs.

Technology, although our replacement, is fascinating to watch. At first, we scoffed and called it soulless, but how can we know the truth of the electric world? Perhaps they can only speak among themselves. Despite the growth and function of your discoveries, we persevere. In power outages, we are still lit alongside the flashlights. We are coveted for scents to mask your often foul odors—a dubious honor, but one we take in stride. Remember us next time you light a match—it may be our fate to serve humanity, but it is also our honor.

Intro Blog

Hello and welcome to my writing blog!

My name is Caitlin and I am a lifelong reader and an on-off again writer. From 2009-2013 I attended the University of Central Florida to earn a B.A. in history. During my time there, I developed my skill as a researcher and a writer and I discovered that I loved it!

I have over four years of professional writing and editing experience, and I proficient in Microsoft Office and G Suite. With my most recent job, I was a content lead and an online content editor and writer. I have experience writing long-form content, emails, marketing copy, and blogs. I also have experience with keyword research and SEO techniques.

In this blog, I will provide samples of my poetry/essays. I will also post some of my work from school as an example of professional, scholarly writing. In addition to that, I will start posting new content– I’m of the mind to do book/movie/television reviews, perhaps reviews of places I visit.

-C.M.D.