Brooke Reviews: The Iron Trial by Holly Black, Cassandra Clare

I don’t typically read much middle grade, but I’m a huge fan of Cassandra Clare and the premise of The Iron Trial totally intrigued me. A book about a boy who purposefully tries to FAIL the entrance exam into magic school? I’m sold. I started reading, and the very first chapter completely hooked me. Not only does it introduce the story world and the major conflict quite spectacularly, but it’s also an ingenious bit of foreshadowing. So major props to Clare and Black.

Just as we’re told in the summary, Callum Hunt fails at failing, and he’s admitted to the Magisterium. His dad didn’t want him to go. Call doesn’t want to go. But as the story progresses, Call comes to appreciate his training and also his new friends. I have such a soft spot for Call. He’s sort of bitter and sarcastic, but he’s not mean. He’s actually quite funny. And he has a crippled leg, which definitely presents unique challenges for Call and sets him apart from other stereotypical MG and YA characters I’ve read.

I love the strong friendship between the three apprentices, Call, Aaron, and Tamara. The plot is interesting and engaging and hints at exciting revelations in the following books of the series. The plot twist at the end of Book 1 (which I sort of guessed!) is absolutely FANTASTIC. Prior to reading the book, I read a review which pointed out similarities to Harry Potter. And so when I read The Iron Trial, these similarities really jumped out at me. That said, it didn’t affect my reading experience or my opinion of the book much at all.

Got my hands on an ARC of The Copper Gauntlet, which was very exciting because I was still reading Iron Trial at the time and couldn’t believe my luck. Not sure how much I can say, as I should probably wait until closer to it’s release date, but it has all the features of Book 1 I loved – magic, adventure, tension, intrigue. Call is hiding something big from his friends and so he’s facing questions of trust and loyalty. Another enjoyable read!




Top 10 Tuesday: Best I’ve Read So Far in 2015


Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

I’m excited about this week’s prompt because it gives me a chance to brag about the incredible books I’ve read in the past several months. It’s been a pretty great reading year so far! Books are listed in the order I read them.


1. The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

2. Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

3. Top Ten Clues You’re Clueless by Liz Czukas

4. A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

5. Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White


6. Fairest by Marissa Meyer

7. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas

8. The Heir by Kiera Cass

9. The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

10. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh


Brooke Reviews: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

This is an incredibly emotional and beautiful book. Warning: do not begin reading until you’ve cleared your schedule. Must read uninterrupted.

First of all, this book is beautifully written. Seriously, Renee Ahdieh has a way with words – her prose is so, so beautiful. So even if the plot had not been as great as it was, I would have continued reading anyway for the sake of each breathtaking sentence.

Second of all, it’s a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights. If you’re familiar with my reviews, you might know that I’m a huge fan of retellings (when they’re done right). Ahdieh does a spectacular job of bringing the story world to life and giving the story a fresh twist. Her version provides an explanation for the seemingly unnecessary murders of the Caliph’s innocent brides.

Shahrzad is a strong female protagonist. She’s brave and selfless and sharp. Basically, she’s volunteered to sacrifice her life. Shazi believes she’ll be the first to survive. (And she’s right, of course.) She struts around the palace and wields her new title like a weapon and it’s awesome. But she’s also cautious and clever, and so her attempts to extract information from characters like Captain al-Khoury, Jalal, and Despina make the book infinitely more interesting.

Shazi hates her new husband, Khalid, and plots to kill him – that is, until she begins to fall for him. And then she realizes the better course of action would be to discover the reason behind the deaths so she can put a stop to the murders. Through the alternate perspectives and Shazi’s own discoveries, it’s fairly easy to piece together the mystery behind the murders of the innocent brides.

Shazi and Khalid’s romance is slow and sweet. It’s intense. It’s steamy. And there’s built-in tension, because Shazi fears for her life each dawn. Every time she made a witty or biting remark, I applauded but also cringed. Would Khalid be angered or amused by her disrespect? Their mutual stubbornness presented challenges, and also their unwillingness to share their vulnerabilities.

The ending is especially interesting. The cliffhanger (I probably shouldn’t have expected anything less) made me especially anxious for book 2. Can I have it now? Pretty-please?


Top 10 Tuesday: Favorite Top 10 Topics


Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

Happy 5th anniversary to Top 10 Tuesday! Very exciting. I discovered TTT last May and have participating ever since. It’s a great weekly meme which connects book bloggers and gives us a chance to highlight our favorite books and make super fun lists. What’s not to love?! Today I’m listing my favorite “top ten” topics of the TTTs I’ve personally participated in. (It would have been too difficult to pick only ten topics from the archives! I do not envy those of you who have been participating all five years!)


1. Books as movies/TV shows (June 2) – This was too much fun! I love imagining my favorite books and characters coming to life on the screen.

2. Authors I’d love to meet (May 12) – Author love!

3. Peeking in on characters’ lives (April 7) – This was such a great prompt because I’ve often wondered ‘what happened next?’ This goes for all books without epilogues. Did the guy and the girl stay together? 

4. Books from childhood (March 24) – Your favorite childhood books really leave an impact – they shape you! I enjoyed giving appreciation to my childhood reads.

5. Favorite heroines (Feb 24) – Girl power.

6. Likes/dislikes about bookish romance (Feb 10) – I am such a sucker for a good romance. This TTT gave me a chance to outline my favorite (and least favorite!) aspects of bookish romance.


7. Places I want to be (Oct 14) – The top 10 places books have made me want to visit – as an avid traveler, this topic spoke to me.

8. Characters on a deserted island (July 22) – I tried to be logical about this topic, but I think I was too excited about being stranded with my favorite book boyfriends. 😛

9. Cover trends I like/dislike (June 24) – Let’s be honest – judging books by their covers is totally permissible.

10. Book covers I’d frame as art (May 6) – I love cover art, and enjoyed letting it shine in this TTT.

*FUN FACT: I tallied the number of times certain books/characters/authors were mentioned across the ten TTTs I chose for this post. The frontrunners included The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer (7!), Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (6), Graceling by Kristin Cashore (6), Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (5), and City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (5).

Looking forward to future TTTs! What were your favorite TTT topics? Feel free to link to your fave TTT posts in the comments below so I can check them out. 🙂

What writing with more emotion does for your draft


This is the seventh installment of my New Novel blog series. Last week I wrote about making an unlikable protagonist sympathetic. 

I’ve been slowly but surely plodding along on this first draft of my new novel. I feel comfortable with my character’s voice and I enjoy writing from her POV. My supporting characters are interesting. The story is always on my mind. All good things, #amiright?

So I recently shared an important scene with my writers group because I needed some feedback. Something didn’t feel right but I didn’t know how to fix it. Long story short, their advice was to add more emotion to the scene.

When I revised the scene with their advice in mind, I was super excited about the result. *I don’t typically revise as I’m drafting, because I think it’s important to just keep writing and to keep moving forward. But adding to this scene was necessary to regaining my momentum.

Let me tell you what emotion is NOT. Emotion is not melodrama. If your character is angry or upset, he/she does not need to sob or fall weak-kneed to the floor in order for you to get this across.

So what is emotion? It’s what your character is thinking/feeling at any given moment. It’s your character’s reaction to being fired from his/her job, or meeting a new friend, or losing a loved one. Reaction is key.

WHY is the emotional aspect important? WHY should we give the reaction more attention/emphasis? I’ll give you 3 reasons.


If your reader does not feel connected to your protagonist, if they could care less about your protagonist’s situation, they’re likely to stop reading. This is especially important for me to remember because my protagonist, Gwen, is somewhat unlikable at the beginning. (I wrote about this predicament last week!)

So when I shared the latest scene with my group, they told me Gwen wasn’t really internalizing her feelings. Readers want to know what your POV character is thinking and feeling, and internalization is key.

They pointed out a few strategic places where I could amp up Gwen’s emotional reaction. For example, they were interested to know what was going on in Gwen’s head when she began interacting with another character.


The scene was important to me because it directly followed the inciting incident of Act 1. Therefore, this scene is largely about Gwen’s reaction to the inciting incident (the event that sets the story in motion!).

I received this comment from one of my group members: “Let 1st impression/reaction [to character x] show how things have changed.”

While writing the scene, I’d forgotten that everything Gwen is experiencing should be colored by the events of the inciting incident. She has a new perspective on her situation and the other characters. Therefore, she’ll make different decisions based on new information. She’ll be asking new questions. And as Gwen is processing her emotions, I have to tie it all back to the plot.


You don’t want to tell your reader that your protagonist is angry or upset or excited. Rather, show your character reacting emotionally.

In the scene, my protagonist Gwen is exhausted and annoyed. She’s still reacting to the inciting incident of the story, and she isn’t given much time to process it before she’s thrust into another surprising situation. So now she’s angry. In my head, I could visualize Gwen’s anger/anxiety and her resulting facial expressions. But it was difficult translating this into words.

My writers group recommended The Emotion Thesaurus. The thesaurus lists the physical signals, internal sensations, and mental responses associated with 75 separate emotions. For example, the book reminded me that someone who is angry might be sweating, cracking their knuckles, glaring, breathing noisily, or baring their teeth. Internal sensations include grinding one’s teeth, quivering muscles, a speeding pulse. I could then choose the “tells” that made sense for my character.

Hope this helps! Have you faced similar challenges? Please share your thoughts! As always, feel free to contact me if you have a question. 🙂


Brooke Reviews: The Heir by Kiera Cass

The Heir is the continuation of The Selection series, but from the perspective of the next generation. Princess Eadlyn is the only daughter of King Maxon and Queen America, and she’s also the first female heir to the throne of Illea. She’s spoiled and conceited and sometimes selfish, and she’s fiercely independent. That’s why she’s completely uncomfortable with her parents’ idea of a Selection, even when it’s for the good of her country. Her parents hope the princess’ search for a husband will distract the kingdom from it’s displeasure over the elimination of the caste system.

I liked Eadyn. She could be especially annoying (like her mother! ugh, America!), but I appreciated her acknowledgement of her own flaws and shortcomings. I empathized with her, because she has enormous responsibility and pressure placed upon her as the first female heir. Her struggle with the Selection stems from her fierce independence, and that’s understandable. I understood that Eadlyn only wished to prove she could be a competent ruler without a male partner. She seems to think that dependence on another is a sign of weakness, and that she should only ever be strong and confident and fierce. (She has definite feminist leanings!)

Of course, because Eadlyn thinks she has everything under control, nothing goes according to plan. She undergoes a lot of growth throughout the novel, especially when it comes to accepting her vulnerabilities and learning to open up to both friends and family. She’s so guarded, and she’s scared of letting others in. She’s scared of possibly developing feelings for any of the boys. But she recognizes this, and she wants to change.

I also enjoyed the heavy dose of familial love – Eadlyn has loving, supportive parents, and three sweet, protective brothers. (She’s a twin!) I loved her relationship with her siblings. As for the boys of the Selection, they’re quirky and endearing. It was interesting to read from the perspective of the selector rather than the selected. So far the plot isn’t predictable – the cliffhanger ending took me by surprise. Above all, the book is incredibly entertaining. Very quick read!




Top 10 Tuesday: ARCs On My Summer TBR Pile


Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

I came home from BEA with 47 books, 31 of which were ARCs. I’ve already created a spreadsheet to organize my books by release date, and now I’ve got them stacked according to the order in which I plan to read them. So my summer TBR consists of the August/September releases I picked up at BEA. Looking forward to reading every one of them!



1. Court of Fives by Kate Elliott – Aug 18

2. Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman – Aug 25

3. Cage of Deceit by Jennifer Anne Davis – Aug 25


4. A Whole New World by Liz Braswell – Sep 1

5. Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman – Sep 1

6. Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy – Sep 15

7. Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales – Sep 15

8. Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson – Sep 22

9. Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld – Sep 29

10. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – Sep 29

3 tips for making your unlikable protagonist sympathetic


YA is populated with extremely flawed, sometimes “unlikable” characters. We grew tired of the seemingly perfect protagonists, so we were introduced to characters like Katniss Everdeen and Beatrice Prior, who are atypical because they’re guarded and tough and blunt – but no less heroic.

These characters can be difficult to write. We have to be careful not to turn our readers away. Rather, we want to draw them deeper into the story.

So how do we take protagonists with unlikable traits and make them sympathetic? *Notice I don’t use the term ‘likable’, because likability isn’t really the issue. We’re after characters who are layered, sympathetic, heroic.

My current work in progress is about a girl named Gwen who is rather spoiled, conceited, and somewhat selfish. While she’s incredibly fun to write, I have to be sure my reader will care enough about her to keep reading and experience Gwen’s growth.

I believe there are three important aspects to writing the unlikable yet sympathetic protagonist, and that’s what I’ve kept in mind while drafting Act 1 of my novel:


Arrogance and selfishness – not a great combination of traits for a YA heroine. I want to show my reader that Gwen is not a total jerk. So I introduce a little boy Gwen has a soft spot for and is fiercely protective of. They’re not related, but he’s like a little brother to her. When he’s hurt in the first few pages of the draft, Gwen rushes to his side to be sure he’s okay. She’s rude to everyone along the way, but it’s clear that she really cares for this boy.


Your protagonist can’t be a lost cause. Your reader has to recognize your protagonist’s potential, and often this means giving your character a desire for change/growth.

Gwen recognizes her flaws and has a desire to change, but she doesn’t quite know how to go about this in the beginning. The reader will be much more willing to accept Gwen for all her faults especially if she herself admits to being a huge pain. I think it’s so much worse when a person is horrible but thinks they’re God’s gift to society. (That’s just annoying. You’ve met people like that before, right?)


I’m talking about backstory. WHY is your protagonist selfish / conceited / rude / angry / bitter / guarded / fearful? What has caused them to be this way? We don’t want to give our characters excuses, per se, but realistically your character would have been influenced by something or someone in his/her past. (Again, this doesn’t justify the behavior, merely offers an explanation.) After all, the reader wants to sympathize with your character. Reveal backstory on a need-to-know basis, giving up bits and pieces at a time.

Gwen grew up without her parents (yes, I know it’s cliche). But she’s privileged and favored, and consequently has no friends because everyone hates her for it. (I’m trying not to give too much away, but there’s a bit more to it than that.) In short, she’s lonely, but can’t seem to help pushing others away.


Hope this helps! Have you ever struggled to write an unlikable but sympathetic character? What was your strategy, and what did you learn? Tell me more about your character(s) and how you made them sympathetic. Also, I’d be happy to answer any questions!

Thanks for reading,
Brooke H

WIP update: 8,983 words

Brooke Reviews: The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

Be sure to enter my giveaway for a signed ARC!

I really enjoyed this extremely refreshing and original debut novel. I was intrigued by the unique premise, and hooked from page 1. I appreciated the aspects of the historical time period as well as Boecker’s blend of fantasy and magic. She’s crafted a vivid story world, and the book would not be the same without it.

I loved the irony of the main conflict – a witch hunter being accused of practicing witchcraft. For our protagonist Elizabeth Grey, who is one of the best, this is a terrible accusation. She’ll be burned at the stake, a sentence she was more accustomed to doling out herself. But when she’s rescued from this horrible fate by Nicholas, a powerful wizard (the most wanted criminal in the kingdom), her ideals and beliefs are challenged.

Elizabeth is a strong female lead. It was easy to sympathize with her and to root for her to succeed. She’s strong and capable (seriously, she could kill you), but she’s also vulnerable. This, in my opinion, is a realistic and believable character. At first, she held tightly to what she’d been raised to believe about witchcraft, so it was interesting to see her slowly let it go. When Elizabeth comes to realize she’s a major player in a prophecy, she has to embrace it and place her trust in her new friends in order to uncover the truth about the evil in her kingdom.

This book is a page-turner – high stakes, high tension, not so predictable. There’s adventure and mystery and romance (but no insta-love!). Also humor and plenty of magic. Definitely an enjoyable read!




Top 10 Tuesday: 2015 Anticipated Releases


Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish


1. Ink and Bone (The Great Library, #1) by Rachel Caine – July 7

2. Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, #4) by Sarah J Maas – Sep 1

3. Hunter (Hunter, #1) by Mercedes Lackey – Sep 1

4. The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow – Sep 22

5. Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith – Oct 6


6. Ice Like Fire (Snow Likes Ashes, #2) by Sara Raasch – Oct 13

7. Velvet Undercover by Teri Brown – Oct 20

8. Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird, #2) by Claudia Gray – Nov 3

9. Da Vinci’s Tiger by Laura Malone Elliott – Nov 10

10. Winter (The Lunar Chronicles, #4) by Marissa Meyer – Nov 10

The following books are 2015 releases I’m anticipating but did not add to my list because I picked them up at BEA. These include Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid (Aug 4), Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman (Aug 25), Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (Sep 29), A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston (Oct 6), and Soundless by Richelle Mead (Nov 10).


What 2015 releases are you anticipating?? Do we have any books in common? Any recommendations to add to my TBR?