Book Review

Gray Heart – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★ ☆ (3.75 / 5 stars)

 A year has passed since Kanna sealed her second irregular inside of her. Now a shell of her former self, Kanna is struggling to maintain her friendships and focus on the tasks at hand. But, when a competition for her hand in marriage suddenly sends her life into a spiral, Kanna is forced to keep her head high, while also searching for the last two irregulars… as well as the origins to her own past. 

In the conclusion to the Dark Irregular Trilogy, we finally are given a chance to see Kanna embrace her destiny. She parades this resilience with pride and courage, and despite every trial and tribulation, she comes out stronger for it. Kanna, as the cornerstone of the trilogy, is an admirable character, each of her decisions made on her own, after weighing all options. She is never the one being rescued; no, she is the one doing the rescuing, even if people don’t want it to be the case.

The overall conclusion of this trilogy is satisfying; it gives Kanna, Kenneth, and their friends the closure they need, with an ending that will leave fans smiling. In reality, the Dark Irregularity trilogy is a critique on light versus dark. Not everything light is good, and not everything dubbed “evil” is bad. Sometimes, there’s this gray area…just like Kanna’s heart. 

As I’ve said with Kaitlyn Legaspi’s writing before, there is room for improvement. There is so much potential worldbuilding in the Dark Irregular Trilogy, that there could be spinoffs just about some of the side characters! Some of the side characters fell flat, but those with personality shone through like diamonds (such as Bel, Ronan, Neel, and Cedric). I really wish we could have spent more time with them, expanding on the universe of the irregulars and the magic system.

What ultimately brings this story to 3.75 stars for me is the romance in this story. Spoiler warning ahead.

While I love both Kanna and Kenneth, starting with Dark Irregular, I saw them more as brother and sister, mentor and mentee, rather than “lovers”. While Legaspi does spare us the details of a relationship between a minor and an adult at this point, where ultimately the two of them don’t get together until many years pass, it couldn’t help but feel a little off to me. Perhaps this was due to my own preconceived notion on their relationship, which hindered my enjoyment of their slow-burn romance. 

Overall though, while there were some things I wanted to learn more about, Gray Heart provided a wonderful conclusion to the trilogy. I’ve already seen how Legaspi has improved since this trilogy in her Cardholders Series! I cannot wait to see what she introduces us to next!

What’s it about?

After a year of having two irregulars sealed inside of her, Kanna has shown no sign of ever regaining her lost voice or taken emotions. As a result, life has become more monotonous and repetitive than it was after the first transfer, and Kenneth and her close friends are starting to give up on the idea of her former self ever returning.

Thankfully, a new sport known as Soul Slicing has risen to newfound popularity and has given her a single reason to feel a semblance of a rush of excitement. Unfortunately, it is also the bringer of some unexpected news the queen declares on Kanna’s seventeenth birthday: her marriage to one of five champions of Sylenia as a condition of the merging of the two sides of the kingdom.

As the competition to gain the princess’s favor ensues, an even greater problem arises as she learns more about her origins, her powers, and the devastating fate that she will do her absolute best to change.

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Book Review

Card Holders: Red Blood – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.75 / 5 stars)

There are two types of people: bound and unbound. While the ideas of super human strength, super speed, and other such powers might sound like a blessing, it reality it is much difference. Society sees the unbound as a curse, and Neela Blydes knows this all too well. But, when the domain’s cardholder dies, Neela is thrown into the a contest of power and wits, that threatens not only Neela’s life, but the life of those she cares about. Why is a group of assassins after her? Does this have to do with her father’s death? Can he trust her new friend, Amil? Or is it all coincidence?

In an action pact first novel, we enter the domain of the cardholders. Reminiscent, in a way, to the Hunger Games, Battle Royale, My Hero Academia, and other stories that throw young competitors into a ring, Kaitlyn Legaspi perfectly captures the anxiety and confusion a 17-year-old girl might feel upon having an entire competition on her shoulders.

Neela is tough; she doesn’t want to appear weak, constantly standing her ground against her trainer, Brochlan, and her brother, Jacen, while trying to appear just as powerful as two well known assassins, Claec and Amil. But, while being tough, she doesn’t sacrifice her own principles: kindness before anger, sympathy before pain. This makes her a rising star in the tournament, and one that the reader (as well as the ficitonal audience) will cheer for along the way. 

Card Holders: Red Blood serves as an introduction to the conflicts, ending with tear-jerking heartbreak that makes you want more. With the direction of the narrative, I wasn’t surprised over the terrible fate handed to Neela, but it still made me tear up all the same.

Yet, while the characters shine in Red Blood, what it lacked was some of the worldbuilding that I oh-so-selfishly desired. There was clearly an interesting hierarchy going on with the cardholders, the unbound, and the bound, but not all of it is laid out clearly. Neela is forced from being a vigilante into being a competitor by someone else’s hand, and even by the end of it all, I wasn’t entirely sure “who” the Queen of Hearts is supposed to be. Perhaps that is on purpose though, making me yearn to come back for more.

While the book is a marvelous introduction to the world of the Card Holders, it felt more like the first half of a bigger story. A true turning point didn’t come right until the end for Neela. Though, this obvious change in her does excite me for the next book.

Card Holders: Red Blood is definitely a fabulous start to this series! It left me with some anime vibes, and I absolutely cannot wait for the next book. Spring 2022 can’t come soon enough!

Card Holders: Red Blood comes out on February 19th. I definitely recommend everyone check it out!

Note: I received a copy of this book at no cost in exchange for my honest review.

What’s it about?

There are two kinds of people in this world: the bound and unbound. The unbound are born with unnatural, inhuman abilities. While having powers may come with its perks, to be unbound is to be cursed. Unbound individuals are treated as freaks, yet despite this, they hold the highest positions in the government: the Card Holders of the fifty-two domains.

When her domain’s Card Holder dies, unbound seventeen-year-old Neela Blydes is forced to participate in a tournament to find the unbound most worthy of leading the Queen of Hearts Domain. But the tournament isn’t as glorious as it seems. It’s a tournament that herds unique unbound called Specialists into deadly combat, a tournament where winning by default is nonexistent and killing is permitted.

As Neela progresses through the rounds with her life on the line, she forges new alliances and encounters dangerous unbound adversaries. Among them is a white-haired man with crimson eyes.

Dangerously familiar crimson eyes.

Book Review

White Blossom – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.75 / 5 stars)

There’s a space in Kanna’s memory, and it’s been that way for seven months. She doesn’t remember her mentor and friend, Kenneth, and her friends seem to be hiding things from her. But upon learning about eight dense shadows roaming the countryside, she and a handful of other apprentices are assigned a task to find these shadows and stop their disarray. But with the constant presence of her irregular, Liridian, impacting her emotions and attitude, can Kanna stop the dense shadows…or are there worst foes afoot?

Once again, we are taken back into the world of the irregulars with Kanna, this time seeing a shift in the kind-hearted main character we had come to know and love. She is jaded, more and more like Kenneth every day (at least as her fellow apprentices say behind her back), worn down by the presence of Liridian. This change is important: it shows that the impacts of the events in Dark Irregular remain.

White Blossom is a much stronger book than Dark Irregular overall. Having already ventured into this world with Kanna, we are familiar with the aspects of the shadows and the irregulars. Despite the fact that Kenneth is lost in the void, his presence might be the strongest though: you can feel him dictating the plot, even when Kanna is not aware. For a good portion of the book, the suspense of when Kanna and Kenneth would come together again left me saying “one more page”. With the arrival of the lone irregular though, it made the suspense all too great…and I couldn’t put it down until I finished the story.

Legaspi’s craft has certainly improved since I read Dark Irregular. The narration is stronger, while answering some questions about Kanna’s past and the world as a whole. Yet, it could be stronger – being less passive, with more showing rather than telling. The cast of named, and relevant, characters is large as well, and without much exposition into who they are, I was left confusing a number of them.

I think the thing that really made me knock this down to 3.75 stars though was the relationship between Kenneth and Kanna though. In Dark Irregular, I perceived them more as a brother and sister, especially due to their age differences (18 v. 15). In White Blossom, their deeper (inherently romantic) feelings for each other are skimmed upon. While with adult characters, a four year age difference is nothing, the ages of 18 and 15 are a little uncomfortable. Perhaps this will be clarified in the final book in the trilogy, Gray Heart, as being no more than a deep friendship that transcends traditional bonds. Or maybe they won’t admit feelings until Kanna turns eighteen.

To answer all these questions brewing in my head, I guess I’ll just have to pick up Gray Heart in the near future. If White Blossom was any indication, this series is just going to keep getting better and better.

What’s it about?

It has been seven months since the transfer of the Dark Irregular into Kanna as well as the loss of her memories of her dear friend, Kenneth. Life has been normal for the young apprentice of Division Thirteen, but throughout the endless days of tedious and disciplined training, studying, and spending the occasional day with her friends, Kanna has been feeling empty despite being filled with the presence of her new irregular.

After seven months of the same daily routine, a family from the minor kingdom of Rohnay arrives to have a meeting with the queen and inform her of the eight Dense Shadows that have been raiding towns and cities on the border between the east and west sides of Sylenia. These same, alarmingly human-like, Dense Shadows suddenly strike the Palace of the Crimson rose during the new knighting ceremony. Kanna finds one of them oddly familiar.

As one of the apprentices chosen to seek and eliminate the eight Dense Shadows, Kanna is eager to figure out the reason behind their raids as well as why that one shadow seemed familiar. To her horror, the raids and shadow are the least of her worries, for there is a high possibility that one of the dark queens is trying to breach the wall that keeps the two parallel worlds apart.

And she is not afraid to use any means necessary to do so.

Book Review

Dark Irregular – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3 / 5 stars)

Kanna never thought of herself as important. An orphan, often teased as a child, and forced to hide her emotions. After her guardian, Morgana, gives her approval, she is escorted to the Palace by Kenneth and Neel to become a knight. But there is a lot hidden in Kanna’s past that she doesn’t know about, and as she forms a friendship with Kenneth as her friend and mentor, she soon learns their paths are more entwined that she realized.

A fast paced adventure, Dark Irregular introduces us to a world where shadows run rampant and the people look to the knights for defense. Kanna is strong, talented, and fearless; slowly, she opens up to the reader…and to her friends as well. Kaitlyn Legaspi does a fantastic job in defining the main characters: between Kanna’s blunt timidness, Kenneth’s focused callousness, and Neel’s joyful playfulness. In such a short novel, you get a feel for who they are and their emotions.

The concept of an Irregular is a unique take on a “demon” type of creature as well. Born out of intense emotion, they haunt the landscape, leaving a void of emptiness that the reader not only feels in Kanna but in the world as a whole. Even as emotions run high, the feeling remains, making the reader wonder themselves if they’ll become a host for an irregular as well.

While I enjoyed the overall plot of Dark Irregular, and at times couldn’t put it down, the story moved a little too fast. I would have liked to spend more time watching the friendships between characters develop, as well as see Kanna face struggles in her training, and not just her ability to master it. The plot itself moves almost too fast, with world building elements mentioned only when they become relevant, rather than leaving clues along the way. Kanna is often thrown into the plot, moved about like a pawn rather than influencing most of the decisions. While this is understandable for a 14-year-old girl without much authority, I hope in future books that she will be able to guide the plot rather than be moved through it like a game piece.

Despite it’s flaws, Dark Irregular is a unique, fast paced fantasy that I think many people would enjoy. I full intend to pick up the sequel, White Blossom, in the near future.

Because with an ending like THAT…who wouldn’t want to read the next book?

What’s it about?

A world consists of two planes of existence. There is the world of the living, where humans, elves, and every whole-spirited creature breathe. Then there is the Void, where demons and beings made of pure darkness, shadows, live.

Almost fifteen years ago, these shadows brought the deaths of the Kingdom of Sylenia’s beloved king and queen and the disappearance of their newborn baby. In the present day, the kingdom remains in the capable hands of a young queen, her major generals, and their knights but is constantly threatened by the growing number of shadows that enter the living world.

A secluded young orphan named Kanna is one of the new apprentices that have been chosen to be trained for the purpose of defeating these shadows. Suddenly called upon to become a knight’s understudy, she is escorted to the palace by two older apprentices. Along the way, she is attacked by the shadows, much to the apprentices’, knights’, and even the major generals’ confusion.

While Kanna is figuring out why the shadows are targeting her, something else occupies her mind. Every time she is knocked unconscious by a shadow, she has familiar visions about a little boy she vaguely recognizes. Kanna eventually finds the boy that keeps appearing in her dreams. However, she meets him at a price due to the presence of a darker, more powerful entity: the Dark Irregular.

Insights

Indie Authors: A Community of Support

As a part of my launch event this past weekend, I interviewed and featured a handful of authors, all of whom represent different factions of the indie author community. One thing is universal among everyone I spoke with: we are a community. It is our job as indie authors to support one and other, because authors are not just authors…they’re readers too.

Indie authors get flack for not publishing traditionally. We all had our reasons though, and very rarely does it come down to our idea was rejected by agents. That’s not the case. We wanted to independently publish for a reason. Whether it was to get the story out there, having control of the process, or something else entirely.

I had the honor to meet a group of wonderful independent authors over the last week. You can meet them all below:

Eme’ Savage

Eme’ is the author of Echoes of the Gidat and Tetarul Parallel. We had a wonderful discussion about her novel and process, as well as self doubt and how that comes into play while writing.

Cody Blake Wilson

Cody is the author of The Awakening, the first in his series. We discussed his first novel as well as LGBTQ+ representation in media.

Rachel Garcia

Rachel is the author of Illthdar: The Guardians of Las, the first book in an anticipated 10 book series! We talked about how she handles her wide array of cast, as well as diversity in writing.

Rachel Shaw

Rachel Shaw is the author of Last Memoria. We spent time discussing her duology, as well as how biology and memory comes into play in her novel. In addition, we also discussed how to produce an audio book.

Lane Northcutt

Lane is the author of the upcoming novel, The Delivery Co. We had a fantastic conversation about his experience as both an actor and writer, as well as his process. Unfortunately, technology got the best of us, crashing post interview and deleting the video.

That being said, you can still read about our discussion HERE.

Lori Yerxa

Lori is the author of the non-fiction book, Pushing Through, which is about Rex Patrick, Paralympic Medalist. We discussed the differences in writing a non-fiction novel, and what she learned about herself along the way.

Sterling Blue

Sterling is the author of This Isn’t the Zombie Apocalypse. We discussed her novel, her creative process, and her current work on a graphic novel.

Kaitlyn Legaspi

Kaitlyn is the author of The Dark Irregular Trilogy. We spent time discuss her trilogy as well as her countless number of projects that she can handle all while in college!

Yet, with all these interviews, I didn’t just stop there. I featured a few other authors throughout my launch.

All of these authors combined gave away 10 books in total, reaching readers whom they might not have due to indie authors supporting one and other. And I am so glad to have spoken with all of them, since each of their stories sound unique and have made it to my “to-read” list.

Speaking with each of these authors has helped me find a new sense of community among indie authors. It’s why I am trying to start up a book club, and will continue to read and review books written by my peers.

So I implore you, please check out all these authors! They’re amazing!

And I will continue featuring and supporting them, and I hope you will as well!

E.S. Barrison

Featured Author

Feature Friday: Author Kaitlyn Legaspi


For my first ever Feature Friday, I have the opportunity to feature a student at my Alma Mater, Kaitlyn Legaspi, a student at the University of Florida. Today she is launching the final book in her Dark Irregular Trilogy, so why don’t you find out more about her and her path to publication below!

Kaitlyn Legaspi is the author of the young adult fantasy trilogy Dark Irregular. Writing passionately on a daily basis, she is publishing the third book in the series…today, May 1st! She plans to add more to her repertoire in the near future. Kaitlyn is entering her junior year as a business undergraduate student at the University of Florida, in addition to writing. Kaitlyn enjoys singing, studying in the nearby boba tea shop, and reading whatever has catches her interest.

Why did you choose to Indie Publish?

I chose to indie publish because compared to when I had traditionally published with a small publishing company, I have a lot more freedom when it comes to how much I can spend on certain services such as editing and getting a book cover, and I can keep track of everything and how much time and money is spent on certain things. I like the control I have over it. It’s a lot of work, but I definitely believe it’s worth it.

What are some of your current projects?

Currently, I am working with a really close friend of mine, editing the first book of a new series I’m hoping to put out within a year. In addition to that, I am also writing my first YA romance novel featuring two different first-person perspectives. It’s not something I have done before, and it is difficult to do, but I’m having a lot of fun with it.

Why did you start writing?

At first, I started writing because I thought it was a super fun thing to do, and it really is. When I was in middle school, I was in an online writing community where we’d post a chapter on our own threads as often as we wanted. We’d read each other’s stuff and comment how much we liked it, and it was such a supportive community.

Who do you hope to inspire with your writing?

I’d hope to inspire the young adult readers with my writing because they are in the age group my main characters usually tend to be in. In the first book of the trilogy, Kanna is 14 to 15 years old. If you strip away the fantasy and adventure aspects, she goes through the same things that a 14- to 15-year-old teenager goes through in the real world. She’s insecure, unsure of herself, has trust issues, is self-conscious, and a whole lot more. Long story short, she’s not perfect. It’s okay to have flaws and be vulnerable, because realistically there is not a person out there who doesn’t have them, and I think it’s an important thing to see.

Who is your favorite author and/or book?

My favorite author is Eoin Colfer, and the Artemis Fowl series is my favorite. I love his writing because he’s able to insert humor into his books seamlessly, even in the most serious of situations. He has the humor I wish I had, because I can’t make a good joke to save my life.

If you could apologize to one of your characters, what would you say?

Hey, Kanna, my beloved first main character, I want to apologize to you for a lot of mean things I’ve done. I’ve nearly killed you maybe ten times, probably more, throughout the entire trilogy. You basically lose your memories twice, and I almost have you lose them a third time. You were bullied a lot as a child, which led you to have plenty of trust issues that most likely played a part in preventing some good friendships before you met Kenneth and Neel. I’m sorry for all of that, and I hope the ending of Gray Heart is enough to make it up to you.

If you could give one piece of advise to your past-self about writing, what would it be?

Always be open to criticism. It’s what helps the stories we want to put out to the world become better. It’s what makes our work ready to be published. There’s a reason why people go through multiple edits before they even think about publishing their book. Now, with that being said, there is a difference between constructive criticism and an attack. If someone has read your book in the early stages and their negative comments aren’t the least bit objective and have no solid base for why they’re being made, ignore them. That’s not necessarily going to help you. That’s going to hurt you.

Kaitlyn also wanted to give the following shout out…

Shout out to @primo_paints for his amazing character art and helping me out with the last two book covers of the trilogy! I love your work, and it’s been a joy working with you!

Follow Kaitlyn Legaspi

Books

A world consists of two planes of existence. There is the world of the living, where humans, elves, and every whole-spirited creature breathe. Then there is the Void, where demons and beings made of pure darkness, shadows, live.

Almost fifteen years ago, these shadows brought the deaths of the Kingdom of Sylenia’s beloved king and queen and the disappearance of their newborn baby. In the present day, the kingdom remains in the capable hands of a young queen, her major generals, and their knights but is constantly threatened by the growing number of shadows that enter the living world.

A secluded young orphan named Kanna is one of the new apprentices that have been chosen to be trained for the purpose of defeating these shadows. Suddenly called upon to become a knight’s understudy, she is escorted to the palace by two older apprentices. Along the way, she is attacked by the shadows, much to the apprentices’, knights’, and even the major generals’ confusion.

While Kanna is figuring out why the shadows are targeting her, something else occupies her mind. Every time she is knocked unconscious by a shadow, she has familiar visions about a little boy she vaguely recognizes. Kanna eventually finds the boy that keeps appearing in her dreams. However, she meets him as a price due to the presence of a darker, more powerful entity: the Dark Irregular.


Currently, I am not accepting any more applications for Feature Friday. Follow me for updates regarding when I will be reopening the application. Until then, signing off.

E.S. Barrison