Sunday, April 16, 2017

Ireland Travel Series: Cork, Ireland: Blarney Castle

This is the sixth installment in the Ireland Series about studying abroad in Galway, Ireland. Read Part I here.

ONE OF THE LAST ADVENTURES we took in Ireland was a weekend trip to the city of Cork in the far southwest. Visiting Limerick and Cork is nice to pair together. We had no problems catching a bus cross country. Two popular bus services are CityLink ( or Bus Eireann ( and takes a couple hours. Traversing the green pastures and villages dotting the moors makes the journey pass quickly.

In Cork, we set up shop in a dorm room hostel. It’s definitely recommended to take advantage of the cost-saving hostels throughout Ireland, and choose a room arrangement that is right for your group. We were feeling particularly thrifty and tried out a 12 person mixed dorm. The room consisted of only bunks, but there were locker options to keep valuables safe. There was also a communal room to cook your own breakfast.

However, we didn’t plan on spending much time inside. Our main attraction was Blarney Castle, a towering fortress of rock and limestone surrounded by a garden of hedges. The Castle is open year round, and you can view a list of admissions pricing here:

The castle originates from around the tenth century and holds the famous Blarney Stone, whereby kissing it, you will be blessed with “The Gift of Gab,” i.e., eloquence. The castle is a series of levels that spiral ever upwards until your reach the battlements. The Blarney Stone is conveniently located in the wall on the outer hub of the battlements. There’s no standing upright to reach it—you have to lay down and grip two iron bars while lowering your upper body into midair to kiss the stone, that has received the attentions of thousands of visitors before you, including statesmen, council members, and celebrities. It’s still great fun, although there are no guarantees that you’ll leave the castle being able to rap Shakespeare. There are many legends surrounding the Stone; some claim it to be a war prize, others that it is of Biblical origin, and others still that a witch revealed the Stone’s power to the castle’s owners upon being saved from drowning.

Looking up at the Blarney Stone. Visitors lay down and suspend themselves in mid-air to give it a kiss. 

This is a classic castle and you can easily spend hours exploring here. We branched off into the gardens and found several amusing stops, such as a sacrificial alter and a dungeon (we were way too fascinated by the dungeon). After roaming the grounds in the brisk air, we stopped off at the Stable Yard café and indulged in ham-and-cheese pizza rolls, Guinness Irish stew, homemade cakes with cream, scones with jam, and washed it all down with a Bailey’s coffee. There is nothing like warm, hearty fare to stave off the chill.

Then it was back to Cork where we found the nearest pub to our hostel to pass the night away. Often the pubs are welcome to newcomers coming on stage to join a circle of musicians, whether you’ve brought your Irish bagpipes or fiddle along, and tonight was no exception. After returning back to Galway, I looked forward to backing my bags again, this time to visit family in Sligo. 

Read Part V of the Ireland Travel Series here.

Disclaimer: the above is presented as fiction, not fact.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

April 2017 Book Review: The Wrath and the Dawn

By Renee Ahdieh
~Book Review~

*Minor spoilers*

PAYING HOMAGE to 1001 Nights and Beauty and the Beast, The Wrath and the Dawn is a stunning portrait of imagery. If you like purple prose (which I do!) then there are plenty of descriptions to savor as the characters’ every thought, dialogue, and action is described in painstaking, colorful detail. Sometimes it was to the point where I thought get on with it. Then Ahdieh would shake things up with an assassination attempt, and I would be dialed into the story again.

There was one major area the story missed the mark for me: the magic. It just didn’t quite have that “spark” of originality, given that it is, on certain levels, drawing very obvious parallels with the aforementioned tales and the stakes never felt as gripping as in those original tales.

On the surface, The Wrath and the Dawn has it all. There is a grim and secretive “boy-king” Khalid who has murdered his way through forty wives for reasons no one knows why (ugh, I hated that he kept being referred to as “boy-king” – I feel the story would have worked better and been more seductive if he was called how he acted – a man. I never got the impression of him as a young boy). There is a feisty and proud heroine, Shazi, who volunteers to be his wife with a secret mission of her own: revenge. There is an aspiring magician who cackles and waves his hands at the skies as he grows his dark powers in a way that made it impossible for me to not think of Jafar from Disney’s version of Aladdin. There is Shazi’s childhood sweetheart, Tariq, who is hellbent on saving her from marrying the monster boy-king. There is the wholesome and supportive handmaiden, Despina. And there is an evil Sultan.

And the story works, for what it is – a slow-moving, lush romance. The secrets behind why Khalid is killing off his brides are unfolded one by one, and we see multiple viewpoints of a nation building toward revolution. It almost reminded me of watching a musical. Each scene is neat, packaged, and executed like a scene on stage, although the writing lingers a bit too much on excessive detail to explain to the reader why the character is feeling that way. We are told innumerous times that Khalid is a monster but I never got that impression because none of his actions really made me that scared for Shazi. It seemed like he fell for her charms too easily.

However, I didn’t feel a connection to the main characters. The story just never really caught fire or had me brimming with curiosity over what came next. The reason behind why Khalid killed off his brides made me sigh. Really, where the story shone for me were the smaller moments: I loved the Rajput and Omar, who perhaps because their roles were much smaller, conveyed so much more of their character in what they didn’t say. I loved the two tales that Shazi tells Khalid to spare herself from death, and I was kind of interested more so in how those stories wrapped up. And I was really excited for one particular fight scene, but then Khalid didn’t even get a chance to show why he was the “second best swordsman” grrrr. I loved the world-building descriptions as well, but after a while, I began to dread each new scene with Shazi, because I knew I was about to receive a speech about what she was wearing down to the last amethyst earring.

There is a second book, The Rose and the Dagger, that wraps up this duology. Fans of slow-moving romances will want to check it out. Overall, a heartwarming and luscious story that exults in the power of love.

Recommend for fans of: Rosamund Hodge, Kristin Cashore, Marie Rutkoski, Amber Lough

Upcoming Book Review: Alpha Goddess by Amalie Howard 

April 2017 Book Review: Fate Fallen

By Sharon Stevenson
~Book Review~

THE TWINS ARE BACK and their demon tracking world grows darker still. Shaun learns it is a bad idea to bring a date to a haunted house when a murder mystery quickly spirals into a cat-and-mouse game with a deadly Fae. Sarah and Ray’s relationship is put to the test with Ben and an even greater threat: Sarah’s mother. The ass-kicking in this installment is in prime form, and Stevenson knows how to write at a rapid pace to keep you turning the pages. My favorite Dev cracks me up as usual, and the end is a tantalizing peek into what further challenges away the twins. The wry humor, twists and turns, and secondary characters who constantly keep the twins on their toes make this a great urban fantasy series to return to again and again. 

Recommend for fans of: Kim Harrison and Supernatural 
Upcoming Book Review: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh