Memories of Ash by Intisar Khanani – COVER REVEAL!!! (+ Release Date, Preorder Info, and More!)

If you’ve followed me (or even just stopped by my blog), you might have noticed how much I loved the fantasy novella Sunbolt, by indie author Intisar Khanani. You can read my review of Sunbolt here. So, naturally, when I heard there was going to be a sequel soon, I was super excited. I have the distinct privilege of participating in a cover reveal today for Memories of Ash, and keep reading for an interview with Intisar Khanani and info on pre-ordering the book!

I’m excited to have Intisar Khanani on the blog today, revealing the cover for her newest novel Memories of Ash. This cover was designed by the amazing Jenny of Seedlings Design Studio. There’s also a Kindle Fire giveaway, so make sure to scroll down to the end of the post to enter.

Describe Memories of Ash in 3 words.

IK: Walk with courage.

What compelled you to write your first book?

IK: I always wanted to write a novel, so my senior year of university I decided I’d better buckle down and try. I chose a fairy tale (The Goose Girl) to give me an over-arching plot and narrative structure, and then went to town with it. I really wrote it as an exercise to test myself, not intending to do anything with it when I finished. But, by the time I finished, I loved my characters so much that I ended up working through over a dozen revisions to take it from “writing exercise” to my debut novel, Thorn.

If you could live in one of your books, which one would you choose?

IK: Definitely the world of the Sunbolt Chronicles. Sunbolt follows Hitomi, a street thief with a propensity to play hero when people need saving, and her nemesis, the dark mage who killed her father. Although there is a lot of darkness in Sunbolt, there’s also a lot of light. It’s a real world, in its way, and I love the diversity and vibrancy of the cultures and creatures that populate it. I’d have my choice of living in a tropical island sultanate reminiscent of historic Zanzibar, or among the nomadic desert tribes that eke out an existence alongside the cursed Burnt Lands, to name my two favorite options. Then again, in Memories of Ash, there’s the decaying grandeur of the capitol of a fallen empire that feels a lot like an Istanbul of old, right at the heart of the Eleven Kingdoms. Plus, I wouldn’t mind having shape-shifting friends and charms to keep my bread from burning.

What authors, or books, have influenced you?

IK: As a young duckling, I imprinted on Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley’s earlier works. I read pretty widely, but those are the authors I kept coming back to, especially McKinley’s Damar books. I am also an incorrigible Jane Austen fan, but my books don’t reflect that very much!

What are you reading now?

IK: I just finished “Kingdom of Ruses” by Kate Stradling. In a kingdom where the eternal prince who rules is just a ruse kept up by the prime minister’s family (and most recently, Viola, our heroine), keeping the peace is a delicate thing. Enter a stranger who manages to take the place of the doppelgänger the family uses, and Viola has her hands full.

Your first reaction to the cover in GIF format.

 

And here it is…

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“In the year since she cast her sunbolt, Hitomi has recovered only a handful of memories. But the truths of the past have a tendency to come calling, and an isolated mountain fastness can offer only so much shelter. When the High Council of Mages summons Brigit Stormwind to stand trial for treason, Hitomi knows her mentor won’t return—not with Arch Mage Blackflame behind the charges.

Armed only with her magic and her wits, Hitomi vows to free her mentor from unjust imprisonment. She must traverse spell-cursed lands and barren deserts, facing powerful ancient enchantments and navigating bitter enmities, as she races to reach the High Council. There, she reunites with old friends, planning a rescue equal parts magic and trickery.

If she succeeds, Hitomi will be hunted the rest of her life. If she fails, she’ll face the ultimate punishment: enslavement to the High Council, her magic slowly drained until she dies.”

Kobo Pre-order | Apple Store Pre-orderAmazon Pre-order | Barnes & Noble Pre-order | Add it to GoodReads

A Special Treat For Those Who Pre-order…

Not only is the pre-order of Memories of Ash on sale for only 99 cents, but anyone who buys the pre-order will receive a free digital art print of Hitomi by artist Grace Fong. Just email your proof of purchase to moapreorder@gmail.com!

Haven’t read Sunbolt (Book 1) yet? It’s been knocked down to just 99 cents to celebrate the release and is available at most major e-retailers. That’s two fantastic books for less than your morning coffee. And don’t forget to check with your local, independent bookstore to see if they can order Sunbolt for you. (I have a physical copy and it’s beautiful!)

MoA_PreOrder Special

About Intisar Khanani

Khanani_Author_PhotoIntisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. She has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. Until recently, Intisar wrote grants and developed projects to address community health with the Cincinnati Health Department, which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy. Intisar’s current projects include a companion trilogy to Thorn, featuring the heroine introduced in her free short story The Bone Knife, and The Sunbolt Chronicles.

Website/Blog | Twitter | Facebook | GoodReads

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Book Review: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin (and Why You Should Read It)

My avalanche of 1-3 star reads finally stopped this last weekend, when I picked up Ryan Graudin‘s Wolf by Wolf. Thank you to Little Brown and Co. Books for Young Readers/Hachette Book Group for this ARC! (Wolf by Wolf will be available October 6th, 2015) Note: Cover and quote might not be final.

Love this cover.
“These were the names she whispered in the dark.
These were the pieces she brought back into place.
These were the wolves she rode to war.” 

I read The Walled City earlier this year, and really enjoyed it. Wolf by Wolf was better, with a tighter story and more developed main characters.  Like with TWC, Wolf by Wolf takes actual history for its inspiration. But this time, there’s a fantasy twist. Here’s a rundown for you:

 

Set in an alternate 1956, Wolf by Wolf imagines a world where the Axis powers reign triumphant, and their victorious alliance is celebrated each year by a cross-country motorcycle race. The 1955 victor was the only girl, Adele Wolfe, and she had a rare opportunity to dance with Hitler himself after winning the race. That up-close look at the elusive Führer is one that resistance groups would gladly die for. But it seems impossible.

Yael, a young resistance member, just might be able to make the impossible happen. A Jewish girl who survived terrible experiments and escaped from concentration camp, Yael can skin-shift, altering her appearance to resemble any girl she has seen. If she can imitate Adele Wolfe, infiltrate the race, and win, Yael might get close enough for a second Operation Valkyrie.

Yael has been trained to fight and survive, and she has spent the last year practicing both racing and imitating Adele Wolfe down to the tiniest detail, but there are two major problems: Luka, who has a bitter romantic history with Adele, and much more serious, Adele’s twin brother Felix. Yael will have to fool them both, and defeat them along with all of the other competitors, if she wants to complete her mission.

 

Alternate history, what-ifs, human experiments, motorcycles, infiltration, how could this not sound amazing? But all that aside, this was a strong novel with an epic concept. And here are five reasons you should read it:

1. Yael. I loved Yael so much. A little Winter Soldier and all survivor, she was sympathetic, hardcore, and brave. She (understandably) had a hard time trusting others, but she wasn’t afraid to love or feel for the people in her past. She wanted to think well of people, and she put her mission ahead of her own interests.

Also, I loved her interactions with Adele’s brother Felix. Felix was brave, adorable, and loyal and Yael really didn’t know how to handle this. Humor, and some surprisingly touching moments, resulted from this. (But she’s not Adele, so, ouch!)

2. The story. I really enjoyed the movie Valkyrie, and I find revolution/resistance novels tend to resonate with me. Wolf by Wolf was definitely character centered, with Yael’s inner war against the Axis ideals, and what it took from her, taking more of the focus than the overall plot. Also, the fact that Yael was Jewish, while important to the story, wasn’t shoved in your face. Likewise with a cast of mainly German and Japanese teens.

3. Alternate history. Though Graudin definitely had to bend and shape history to her story, she did a great job of projecting how the world might have looked if things were different. From the tensions between Germany and Japan, to the disinterest of the US, to the eventual fall of Britain, it felt like she put a lot of time and thought (and research) into this historical fantasy novel.

4. The skin-shifting. I guess this relates to #1. I loved how the story just went with this slightly outrageous premise. I mean, scheming Nazi scientists? But it just worked, and the shifting was worked into the greater themes and character development. Also, Yael’s ability reminded me a bit of X-Men’s Mystique. Yael had similar identity problems due to always wearing someone else’s face. Also like Mystique, she tended to distance herself from her feelings and thoughts because of this.

5. Nothing was neat, tidy, or easy. Everything from the motorcycle race, to the ending, to Yael herself unraveled a bit. There was no quick fix. Especially when it came to playing Adele while dealing with Luka and Felix. Yael was always teetering toward failure, and I really wasn’t sure (till the end) how things would pan out. That’s a rare occurrence.

Minor Quibbles:

Yes, I loved this book so much, but I did have a few tiny issues. Like with TWC, the characters (other than Yael) were a bit thin for my liking. In particular, I would have liked to read more about the Japanese racers (there was some, but I wanted more).

Luka was a James Dean meets Thor type, and I wasn’t particularly interested in reading about him, but that’s purely personal. However, I did like how Yael handled his interactions with “Adele.” Talk about an interesting situation there.

Other than that, this was one of my favorite books this year, and I am so thrilled that she is writing a sequel! The fallout from the ending just begs another round, and Yael is a heroine I would gladly read a series about.

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars. An exciting alternate history with a strong heroine, lots of action, and a fascinating premise. Recommended for fans of The Hunger Games, Valkyrie, The Scorpio Races, The Maze Runner, Code Name Verity and X-Men.

Book Review: Thorn by Intisar Khanani

The artist is Jenny from Seedlings Design

I stumbled across Thorn on Goodreads and the gorgeous cover art caught my eye. When I realized that it was a retelling of The Goose Girl and written by indie author* Intisar Khanani, I purchased a copy. 

The cover is even more beautiful up close. However, like the best fairytales, the beauty of Thorn isn’t just skin deep.

Princess Alyrra is the ignored and neglected princess of a backwater kingdom. Her only friends are the servants and a playful wind. Still, she is content enough until the powerful neighboring King of Menaiya shows up with a startling proposition: he intends to bring Alyrra home as a bride for his son Kestrin.

Alyrra has no idea why a powerful prince would want someone like her for a bride, but it doesn’t matter, as she has no choice. Or so she thinks. When a sudden betrayal turns Alyrra’s life inside out, the princess must choose between doing (what seems like) the right thing, or pursuing the life she makes for herself.

Thorn is a beautifully written book, and a thoughtful take on The Goose Girl. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but if you’ve read the original fairytale, you should be familiar with the basic plot. There was so much I enjoyed about it, but here’s a quick 5 reasons you should buy a copy:

1. Alyrra was very different from your average YA fairytale heroine. Accustomed to both abuse and hard work, she relishes the position of a lowly goose girl. The hard work is fulfilling to her, and she has chosen it for herself, which makes it better than her life as a “useless” princess. Her character arc and development was logical and well done, and I love how her hidden strengths bloomed and truly made an impact on the plot.

2. The “romance,” is much more mature and believable than most YA novels. Kestrin and Alyrra’s relationship was slow-burning, and fraught with (understandable) conflict and deception. Where it ends, in particular, was realistic and a bit messy, not tied in a perfect bow, and it made a lot of sense.

3. The writing. I cannot say this strongly enough: Intisar Khanani has a gift for language. Her prose is elegant and descriptive without being flowery. It immerses you in her world.

4. The serious plot elements are well-handled and thought out, not just thrown in for pathos or shock value. Some truly terrible things happen to these characters! Khanani touches on topics from physical abuse to murder, The characters have to deal with these things, and they retain both baggage and scars that influence them and those around them.

5. The characters. Even the “villains” were nuanced, with histories and motives that helped you understand them, even if they deserved their fates. Characters grew, changed, and had to deal with real consequences from both action and inaction. Kestrin was an interesting foil for Alyrra, and a complicated character in his own right. However, none of the characters were just throwaway or fillers.

I only had one real complaint: It was too short! I would have loved to read more about this world and its people, and I want to know more about the mentioned Fair Folk. There were so many elements hinted at in the story that, while not bearing on the plot, intrigued me.

In summary: 4.5 out of 5 stars. This was a brilliant Goose Girl retelling from an author to watch. I will definitely be reading her other books.

Have I convinced you yet? Here is a link to her books so you know where to buy them. I ordered mine through the indie bookstore store where I work (and I plan on stocking a copy). Have you discovered any fabulous indie authors that we should check out? Sound off in the comments.

Footnotes:
*Thorn was self-published. I don’t just buy any book, self-published or otherwise, but I strongly believe in supporting the brave, independent people who take their own path. On top of that, this book is very good, which makes it even more deserving.