5 Reasons that Vassa In the Night NEEDS to be on Your Fall TBR List (ARC Review)

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I have been INSANELY busy all summer. It’s left me little time to read, and no time to blog – but I finally managed to squeeze in some reading time, and now I have to tell you all about it 😛

JUST LOOK AT IT – So Pretty

First things first – a huge thank you to ABA Whitebox and TOR/Macmillan for the ARC – this advance copy was provided for free as a bookseller promotion, and this is an unsolicited, unpaid, and 100% honest review 🙂

I don’t know about you, but I have a lifelong obsession with fairytales. Whether it was Disney, a dusty copy of Grimms, Ella Enchanted, a folktale collection I found at the library, or Once Upon a Time, I’ve given them all a shot. However, for all of the fairy tales and folktales out there (and there are thousands), only a handful ever seem to make it into novels. So when I saw the synopsis of Vassa in the Night, I knew I had to read it as soon as possible. (Official Synopsis Below)

In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now, but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won t be playing fair .

Basically, Vassa in the Night is a modern reimagining of Vassilissa the Beautiful (there are a lot of Vassilissa stories out there), set in Brooklyn, NYC.
And before you point out how many fairytale/folktale retellings are out there, scroll down for my

Top 5 Reasons to Read Vassa in the Night:

  1. The Prose is beautiful.

    There are sentences that my writer’s brain was wishing I’d come up with. And Sarah Porter’s “stage-setting” and descriptive writing roots you immediately – just read the first couple paragraphs and you’ll see what I mean:

People live here on purpose; that’s what I’ve heard. They even cross the country deliberately and move into the neighborhoods near the river, and suddenly their shoes are cuter than they are, and very possibly smarter and more articulate as well, and their lives are covered in sequins and they tell themselves they’ve arrived. They put on tiny feathered hats and go to parties in warehouses; they drink on rooftops at sunset. It’s a destination and everyone piles up and congratulates themselves on having made it all the way here from some wherever or other. To them this is practically an enchanted kingdom. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now, but not the part where I live.

Not that there isn’t any magic around here. If you’re dumb enough to look in the wrong places, you’ll stumble right into it. It’s the stumbling out again that might become an issue. The best thing you can do is ignore it. Cross the street. Don’t make eye contact—if by some remote chance you encounter something with eyes.

(Excerpt from Chapter 1, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter)

Porter takes her time in setting the scene, enveloping you in a fantastical, yet familiar version of Brooklyn. Her writing has its own sort of magic, and it will immerse you in the world of the story in no time.

2. Creativity!

Baba Yaga as a demented shopkeeper? Yes, please. Vassilissa as a purple-haired teen from a blended family? Works for me. Demented, bodiless hands for sidekicks? Sure. Another world on the fringe of our own, populated by characters that Lewis Carroll would envy. SOLD. This is definitely one of the more inventive YA novels I’ve read, and I couldn’t wait to see where it would take me next. I also loved seeing how Porter worked elements from the Vassilissa story into the book.

3. It’s laugh-out-loud funny.

There’s a healthy dose of sarcasm, usually provided by Vassa herself, and a borderline-hysterics sort of humor that balances the macabre setting and rather dark subject matter (i.e., severed heads and gruesome, fairytale style deaths) The side characters and bizarre situations also provide a lot of humor. Erg (Vassa’s “doll), in particular, is a source of hilarious one liners and dry observations.

4. Reality checks.

I love how Vassa in the Night doesn’t have a “perfect” ending. Everything isn’t resolved or tied up neatly. More importantly, throughout the book, we don’t forget that Vassa is a young girl plunged into a world far beyond her comfort zone. None of her problems are magically solved, and she has to work for a resolution. Vassa’s relationships with Erg, her stepsisters, school peers, and missing/late parents are all extremely important, and she has to deal with them in “real-world” ways to grow as a character, and accomplish her goals. And hey – if Baba Yaga was real, I could definitely see her setting up a sinister convenience store chain in NYC. And getting away with it.

5. VASSA.

She’s everything I love in a heroine – smart, funny, snarky, empathetic, and believable. Despite her tough lot in life, she is determined and stubborn, and she refuses to give up when it matters the most. Also of note, though Vassa is obviously our heroine, she doesn’t fall into the stereotypical chosen-one mode at all. Her character growth and arc were well done and satisfying.

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars.*
A lush and inventive modern folktale for readers looking for something a little darker and less romantic than the majority of the fairytale retellings out there. A strong heroine, crazy strangeness, and beautiful prose help Vassa in the Night stand out as one of my favorite YA reads of 2016.
*Here are my minor quibbles (which are really only relevant after you’ve read the book:
  1. Was there a point to the whole story about Vassa’s dad (other than showing his extreme immaturity and selfishness)?
  2. I felt that “The Rules” (governing the magical world/characters) could have been fleshed out a little more. Obviously, like Erg, Babs had rules she was following – otherwise, she might have stopped Vassa more effectively at times. It makes it a bit harder to suspend your disbelief if you don’t know the rules that the world operates by.
  3. Babs defeat was slightly underwhelming. It was fairytale-esque, but (see #2) I felt like it would have worked a bit better if we knew how/why she was defeated.

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter will be released in Hardcover on September 20th, 2016.

Do you plan on reading Vassa in the Night? Why or why not? Have you read Vassilissa the Beautiful or any of the Vassilissa stories?

 

May Rewind (Yes, I’m Still Here)

While I didn’t fall off the face of the earth (exactly), I have been pretty noticeably absent from the internet. Not on purpose. I just had such a busy month that it made April (see Aprilpocalypse) look, bland.

An accurate representation of me and May

Not only was I traveling up and down the country in the first week, I have a lot going on. And no internet at home (I’ve mentioned this), which makes blogging tricky if you also have extremely limited spare time. For the record, I had all kinds of ideas for posts – which I didn’t write – and planned to do some tags – which I didn’t finish (does starting count?) – and you’re getting the picture.

So while I wasn’t online, I actually have a lot of things to recap in the Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up, hosted and originated by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction. Click through to check out her lovely book blog and join the link-up/read some more monthly wrap-ups.

May started off with a bang – as I had to go on TV. I’m not a TV person. But hey, what can you do *shrugs*. But here it is, if you’re interested 😛

The books I picked/discussed were Jakob’s Colors, The Residence, Thorn, Haymaker, and Finding Winnie. I thought it was a nice, diverse little group – and I didn’t forget what any of them were about!! (I was seriously worried about this – it’s a bookseller’s nightmare)

After I survived the TV – I immediately flew down to Pensacola, FL. Enroute (okay, at O’Hare Airport), my phone crashed and died and was no more (no idea why). So I had no way to contact my family, who had planned on picking me up later in Pensacola, to then drive us to Gulf Shores, Alabama, to meet up with the rest of my mom’s family. This was annoying, but providentially, my sister was just pulling a loop around the Pensacola airport (in my parent’s 15 passenger van, which is unmistakable due to the Oatmeal Savage bumper sticker – see below).

Before we made the 45 min drive to Gulf Shores, we stopped at a magical place – Joe Patti’s World Famous Seafood Market (I’d never heard of it . . .).

Not that kind of magical place!

It’s full of fresh fish, but you can hardly even smell them, which means it’s incredibly clean. Fyi, if I lived within an hour or two of this place, I would shop there at least twice a week. The fish was gorgeous, fresh, and profuse. They also have a sushi bar and a bunch of cool and/or local ingredients. My sister and I purchased everything we needed for sushi (including a beautiful pound of tuna). We packed it on ice, and headed to the gulf.

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I don’t know about you, but the sight/smell of the ocean immediately relaxes me. It’s the real vacation part (Having a dead phone and being <1,000 mi from work/home helps too).

KIMG0240

Of course, there was a “dangerous sea creatures advisory” the whole time I was there (one guy saw a seven-foot shark – thankfully, I just saw a large stingray. Well. Two.) But this didn’t stop me from swimming. Fortunately, I never saw a shark. I’d love to see a shark – as long as I was nowhere near the water. But not in the water with me. No thank you.

At any rate, I ate my fill of fresh fish. And I made sushi! That tuna was so good, guys – velvety smooth and with the lightest taste and texture you can imagine. And now I’m hungry . . .

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SUSHI

Other than my phone debacle (I wasted a couple of hours trying to fix it), everything was pretty good – until my ENTIRE family got really sick. My grandma and I were the only ones who didn’t get it, even though we were exposed to everyone. Because of the sick people, we were put behind schedule, and I ended up driving most of my family to Tennessee. They were all sickly and weak, but we made it. A good music playlist helped 🙂 (And it was hilarious to hear my littlest sister singing along to Bigbang’s If You – which is almost completely in Korean – and I had no idea she knew the song . . .). But my younger sisters’ favorite non-Disney song to listen to is the catchy, feel-good Just Right by GOT7:

Err, yes . . . anyhow – we survived the trip and made it to Nashville. I got to see my precious niece for a couple of hours (but she was sick too), and my brother and sister-in-law. It was still worth it, though. After this, I had my airport—->BEA 2016/Chicago Adventure, which I actually wrote a post about:

After I got back, it was an immediate plunge back into work – with a few too many 12-15 hr work days (if you combine both job shifts) and far too little sleep.

In the meantime, I cram-read some books – here are a few thoughts on them:

Just My Luck by Cammie McGovern – 4.5 stars (MG fiction)

Synopsis: “Fourth grade is not going at all how Benny Barrows hoped. He hasn’t found a new best friend. He’s still not a great bike rider—even though his brother George, who’s autistic, can do tricks. And worst of all, he worries his dad’s recent accident might be all his fault. Benny tries to take his mom’s advice and focus on helping others, and to take things one step at a time. But when his dad ends up in the hospital again, Benny doesn’t know how he and his family will overcome all the bad luck that life has thrown their way.”

Thoughts: Just My Luck was a sweet, touching, and relatable little novel. The tone and writing were fabulous, and Benny’s voice was pitch-perfect. To be honest, I related more to him than I do to most YA/Adult protagonists! It made me laugh aloud, and I really was rooting for the Barrows family to overcome all their “bad luck.”As a bookseller, this is one of my favorite summer picks for MG readers (and their parents).
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi – 3.75/4 stars

Synopsis: “Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire


But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most
including herself.”

Thoughts: I loved the setting and the lush descriptions, but I’ve read so many Cupid & Psyche/Hades & Persephone/Bluebeard type novels that I have trouble keeping them straight. I was far more invested in the mythology and world than the story or romance, but that was to be expected. So I’m not sure if it was the book, or just me. Maya was a wonderful, strong heroine though!!
In Defense of the Princess by Jerramy Fine – 4-ish stars (adult nonfiction/memoir/essay)

Synopsis-It’s no secret that most girls, at some point, love all things princess: the poofy dresses, the plastic tiaras, the color pink. Even grown-up women can’t get enough of royal weddings and royal gossip. Yet critics claim the princess dream sets little girls up to be weak and submissive, and allows grown women to indulge in fantasies of rescue rather than hard work and self-reliance.
Enter Jerramy Fine – an unabashed feminist who is proud of her life-long princess obsession and more than happy to defend it. Through her amusing life story and in-depth research, Fine makes it clear that feminine doesn’t mean weak, pink doesn’t mean inferior, and girliness is not incompatible with ambition. From 9th century Cinderella to modern-day Frozen, from Princess Diana to Kate Middleton, from Wonder Woman to Princess Leia, Fine valiantly assures us that princesses have always been about power, not passivity. And those who love them can still be confident, intelligent women.

Thoughts: While I never really disagreed with Fine in the essentials, I thought her take on things would be interesting. Regardless, this was a really fun read, and it was so hilarious that I kept stopping to read lines to my sister. I had definite ambitions to be a princess (specifically Princess Jasmine) when I was little too, and I completely understand the “longing to find the place where you belong, or your ‘people,’ so to speak” that Fine describes so authentically. The most interesting part was her bio list (at the end) of real world princesses. These women don’t sit around on their hands and look pretty!! In other words, this is my pick for a beach read 😛
A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavalaero – 2.75/3 stars (YA Contemporary/Mystery)

Synopsis: The last thing Jamie Watson wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. From everything Jamie has heard about Charlotte, it seems safer to admire her from afar.

From the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else. But when a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Jamie and Charlotte are being framed for murder, and only Charlotte can clear their names. But danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.

Thoughts: I really wanted to like this book. And to be honest, the mystery and setting were kind of interesting, so I finished it. But it didn’t work for me on any other level. Jamie was ok, but I found his admiration of Charlotte to be a bit more slavish than sympathetic . . . Granted, I love the original stories (and the show Sherlock), so I’m a tough customer. To be honest, just read Cait @ Paper Fury‘s review here. She’s 100% right about this book.
Memories of Ash (Sunbolt #2) by Intisar Khanani – 5 stars (YA Fantasy)

Synopsis: 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.

Thoughts: You can read my full review here – but I loved it! If you haven’t read these books, you need to. Memories of Ash was basically everything I was wanting (only it wasn’t about 600 pages longer). And I’m not complaining about length here, because it was already novel sized, which fulfilled my wish from Sunbolt.
Noragami, Stray God Volume #1 – Manga – 3-ish stars

Synopsis: Yato is a stray god. He doesn’t even have a shrine, not to mention worshipers! Hoping he’ll eventually raise enough money to build himself the lavish temple of his dreams, Yato accepts all kinds of jobs. Of course, he can’t afford to be picky; from finding lost kittens to helping a student overcome bullies, no job is too small for Yato, the god-for-hire! An eccentric story with a charming cast of characters!

Thoughts: Meh. It was funny and the art was good, but I just didn’t care. But that seems to be the case with a lot of first volumes in manga. I might read the second one, but I won’t go out of my way to try . . .

The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan – DNF

Urgh. Cutesy, kitschy, trite, twee, tepid – I could go on with the adjectives, but there’s a reason I didn’t finish this one. Adult Contemporary is the new YA – unrelatable characters, randomness, and everyone is stupidly attractive. And we’re supposed to swallow all of this with heaping tables of sugar. No. Thank. You.

Currently Reading:

The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye – I’m finally getting into it after several misfires. Once I got over the angsting and being-beautifulness of the first few chapters (and the magical duels started), the story really took off.

Your Lie in April, Volume #1 by Naoshi Arakawa – I got this for free, so I’m reading it. I don’t know how I feel about it yet. The art is cute though. And I’m extremely confused by the title.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – I just started this, so I don’t have any opinions. The first chapter is good! Regardless, I’m extremely excited about this one.

My novels:

I’ve been tapping away (a bit) at Red as Blood, and I featured secondary protagonist Mollie in May’s Beautiful People. I plan on using another one of the Seven Sisters for June’s BP, so I’m looking forward to that.

I’ve been reading through The Last Coffee Shop, and been pleasantly surprised – for a NaNoWriMo project, it isn’t nearly as terrible as I thought it would be!! That’s always awesome. At any rate, if I can get my act together, I might be ready for a few betas sooner than I thought – maybe this fall :0 I still love the world, story, and characters, and I want other people to make me more rational about it . . .

Other than that, I haven’t had much time to write (as my lack of blog posts will attest to).

Movies, Music, and More:

I saw Captain America: Civil War twice, and loved it both times. I think it did a great job of incorporating all the characters, the previous movies, and paying tribute to the comics. The acting was spot-on, Black Panther was epic, Bucky and Falcon as rivals/friends/enemies, and I love how the Russos write Black Widow. Now if we could just get that Black Widow movie . . .

I also saw X-Men: Apocalypse, which was a lot better than I was expecting. It wasn’t as good as the animated comic arc from the 90’s, but it was entertaining. And I loved Storm. Professor X and Magneto’s bromance was good as usual, and Cyclops was probably the least annoying he’s ever been, and Quicksilver was the best part of the movie. Period.

At the end of May, my sister and I went to see the touring production of The Phantom of the Opera. I’ve loved the musical since I was little, but I’ve never had the chance to see it live. It was incredible!! The staging and effects, in particular, blew my mind. There wasn’t a weak link in the cast, and everyone did a great job putting their own spin on these familiar songs and characters. FIVE STARS.

As usual, I’ve listened to a bunch of music, and while I didn’t discover much new stuff, I remembered why I loved 90’s Celine Dion so much (on that long car ride). OH, THE DRAMA!

But in all seriousness, her slower songs are so perfectly crafted for her voice. She’s a master of emotion, that is for sure.

I’ve been on the nostalgia train a lot lately, with mid 2000’s pop/rock and a lot of 80’s stuff on my current playlists. Here’s one of my favorite songs as a kid (my dad had a cassette tape with it that I would always request)

It’s still a favorite of mine <3

But because I am a complete and utter goofball, I will leave you with another frequent song on my playlists – Look at me, Gwisun by Daesung (a.k.a D-Lite) from Bigbang. It’s in Japanese, but if you look at a translation, you’ll see that the (hilarious) MV is basically interpreting the lyrics – literally. And be warned, this video is really, really, goofy (don’t blame me if it scars you for life, lol).

This is basically something you watch if you’re having a really bad day. (And what’s with the X-Men suit? Okay, not really X-Men, but that’s what it looks like . . . And GD’s cameo is my favorite thing)

I’ll stop with the videos so you can actually load this post, but there are lots more where those came from. They’re much better than cat videos, trust me.

Looking Ahead:

I’m probably going to be a sporadic poster for the near future. I found out that my sister and I have to move out of our rental by the end of June, and we aren’t sure where we are going. So this has definitely upped my distraction and stress levels. Also, the summer tourist season is upon us at both jobs, so I have no idea how much blogging or blog reading I can do. We’ll have to see.

In the meantime, thanks to everyone who reads these wandering posts and tolerates my erratic attention! I love you guys and hope you are having a wonderful and productive June so far!

<3 R

6 Reasons You Need to Read Memories of Ash by Intisar Khanani

First off – A huge thank you to Intisar Khanani for allowing me to read an advance copy of Memories of Ash! This was a free copy provided in exchange for an honest review – which in no way affected my review 🙂

 

Memories of Ash, the sequel to Sunbolt came out a couple days ago- have you ordered your copy yet? If you haven’t read Sunbolt, don’t worry – it’s quite short, and very good – so fix that first 🙂 You can also click through above to read my review of Sunbolt, and to get an idea of the story.

Memories of Ash picks up immediately where Sunbolt left off – so some minor spoilers for Sunbolt follow in the synopsis (pinched from Goodreads):

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.

Since I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone I’ll follow the same format as I did with reviewing Sunbolt, and give you 6 reasons why you need to read Memories of Ash, ASAP.

6 Reasons to Read Memories of Ash

  1. The World and Characters.

    If you love fantasy, you know that a fascinating world and colorful characters are extremely important. In the Eleven Kingdoms of Sunbolt and Memories of Ash, Khanani has created a world so vivid and interesting that you won’t want to leave. Her worldbuilding is fabulous, with so many (effortlessly) diverse and multifaceted cultures and places. In Memories of Ash, the Mage School and the magical wastelands (both mentioned in Sunbolt) are the primary new locations explored, and there are a handful of new characters introduced as well. As with Sunbolt, the characters are varied and well-developed, with Hitomi always at center stage (as she should be). Val isn’t forgotten either, and the ramifications of their alliance (friendship) are further explored and complicate the story.*

    2. Hitomi. 

    I know I used her as one of my reasons for reading Sunbolt, but I’ll shamelessly repeat myself: Hitomi is just the sort of strong heroine that we need more of. She isn’t fearless or invincible, but she’ll go to (believably crazy) lengths to save the people she cares about. In spite of this, she won’t trample people or intentionally cause harm (which creates a few moral quandaries to spice up the plot). She’s moral herself, but she isn’t judgemental, and she is both a likable and relatable young woman. And of course, Memories of Ash just made me love her more.

    3. Consistency rules. 

    When I started Memories of Ash (hereafter known as MoA), I was immediately plunged back into the world of Sunbolt. Khanani’s characters, facts, magic systems, locations, and details are so seamless that you don’t feel disconnected at all. With fantasy, this is pivotal to the reader’s experience of the book.  Characters from Sunbolt mixed with new characters, and at the center, Arch Mage Blackflame seems to have an even more complicated scheme than we all realized

    4. The Writing. 

    This is another point I’ve brought up – but Intisar Khanani’s prose is fluid and beautiful to read. She blends humor, intrigue, and just the perfect amount of description. Her plotting and pace are wonderful, with a good mixture of adventure, action, and a few twists. I could immediately visualize all of the different locations, though the descriptions were never long.

    5. Thorny Morality Questions: Met head-on.

    Have you ever watched an adventure film or read a book and thought “where are the consequences?,” or, “do they even care about collateral damage?” Well, morality (interestingly enough) comes up rather often through the course of Memories of Ash. Hitomi is confronted with several pivotal decisions that make her put her own freedom/safety/happiness up against the lives and livelihood of others. And she doesn’t just make these decisions by flipping a coin or shrugging it off with a “ends justify the means” mentality. It’s refreshing to see a character dealing with the real fallout of their decisions, and Hitomi’s struggles just made me more invested in her.

6. It’s BOOK SIZED.

Did you love Sunbolt, but wish it was longer (I did!)? Memories of Ash is book-length, which takes away my only complaint from Sunbolt. A longer novel was definitely worth the wait, as it allowed Khanani to further develop and enrich the fascinating world and characters.

Did I convince you yet? Then what are you waiting for?! Go purchase a copy (you can download it through Kobo, Nook, or Amazon, or ask your local bookstore to order you a physical copy!**)

Have you read/do you plan to read Memories of Ash and/or Sunbolt? Scroll down for more info and a GIVEAWAY!

Footnotes:

*Don’t you just love complicated relationships (in fiction)? And Hitomi and Val’s whole connection is so interesting to me. I can’t wait to read more about Breathers (yeah, I’ll keep bringing this up . . .)

**I’ll be ordering physical copies for the store I work at!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Info:

Title: Memories of Ash

Series: The Sunbolt Chronicles, Book Two

Author: Intisar Khanani (http://booksbyintisar.com)

Cover Designer: Jenny Zemanek (http://www.seedlingsonline.com/index2.php#!/HOME)

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Release Date: May 30, 2016

Publisher: Purple Monkey Press

Price: US $3.99 (eBook), US $TBD (paperback)

Author Bio:

Intisar 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.

 

 

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 doppelgĂ€nger the family uses, and Viola has her hands full.

Your first reaction to the cover in GIF format.

 

And here it is…

MoA_FC_FNL16_BN

“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-order | Amazon 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.

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Top Ten Tolkien Tribute for Hobbit Day 2015 (Quotes, Feelings, Fanart, and More!)

 
“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say”
J. R. R. Tolkien – The Fellowship of the Ring
(All quotes and images are copyrighted to Tolkien’s estate, unless credited otherwise)
Have you ever heard a beautiful melody or song, forgotten to note it down, and then tirelessly searched for the half-remembered piece? Maybe you find it, or maybe you find other lovely songs that distract you momentarily. But eventually, if you look hard enough, you stumble across that first piece you were looking for, and it’s like losing something and finding something all at once. Because the searching was half of what you were chasing.
Maybe that doesn’t make any sense, but it’s as close as I can come to putting my feelings about The Lord of the Rings (and all of Tolkien’s works), into words. Which is a strange place for a writer to be! But regardless, every time I pick up The Lord of the Rings, it’s like coming home while catching an even worse case of wanderlust. But maybe I should clarify – it isn’t just LOTR that does that to me – I feel the same way every time I come back from a trip to someplace exciting.
You see, I’m a wanderer by nature. I don’t like to sit still, and as much as I love my home and my kitchen, I am endlessly fascinated by the thought of what might be outside my door. And Tolkien understood that feeling, and put it into words, better than I ever have:

“He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” The Fellowship of the Ring – J. R. R. Tolkien

But a love for wandering isn’t the only writer’s legacy that Tolkien left us. In fact, some of the things that I love best about him are just the things that get him criticized in modern circles. He wrote about the pure and the good, the truly evil, the morally complicated, and he had a deep understanding of the importance of all of those things. In other words, he was quite old-fashioned. And frankly, anyone who says that he had little variation/representation of female characters is only partly right – they’ve obviously never read The Silmarillion.

So to celebrate Hobbit Day (Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday) here are my

Top Ten Favorite Things About Tolkien’s Writing (with quotes and illustrations)

1. Middle Earth

I dare anyone to make it through his books and not be in love with Middle Earth. From Hobbiton to The Lonely Mountain, to Ancient NĂșmenor, Middle Earth is the mythical place I “miss” the most. And I confess that New Zealand is on my top 5 places I must go, because of the movies.

“He is a great enough magician to tap our most common nightmares, daydreams and twilight fancies, but he never invented them either: he found them a place to live, a green alternative to each day’s madness here in a poisoned world. We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers – thieves planting flags, murderers carrying crosses. Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams.” ― Peter S. Beagle, The Tolkien Reader

 

2. Elves

People who know me were probably surprised that this isn’t the first one on the list.
http://dalomacchi.deviantart.com/art/Brothers-in-Beleriand-289711180
©2012-2015 daLomacchi Brothers in Beleriand by daLomacchi on Deviantart.com

I want to be an elf. Specifically, one of Tolkien’s elves. Wise, deadly, gracious, elegant, enigmatic – I think you get the point. A little bit of the Celtic fay folk, a little bit of every wise but dangerous counselor in fairy tales, and a dash of danger make Tolkien’s elves THE BEST. Even when parts of The Silmarillion practically had me shouting at them in anger (I’m looking at you, sons of FĂ«anor!), it was only because I loved them so much.

‘And it is also said,’ answered Frodo: ‘Go not to the Elves for counsel for they will answer both no and yes.’
‘Is it indeed?’ laughed Gildor. ‘Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.” The Fellowship of the Ring

3.  Tolkien’s Quiet Wisdom

I’ll let him speak for himself here:

“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” The Hobbit

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” The Fellowship of the Ring

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” The Fellowship of the Ring

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.” The Two Towers

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end
 because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing
 this shadow. Even darkness must pass.” The Two Towers

“But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.” The Return of the King

“A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it.” The Children of Hurin

4. Tolkien’s Love for Language and Words

http://www.buzzfeed.com/lorynbrantz/not-all-those-who-wander-are-lost#.arRMMY0by
Source

See #3 for examples. But what else would you expect from a philologist? The man was in love with language. And I have yet to read anyone who topped him in the invented languages department. It’s more like he rediscovered something forgotten.

And speaking of languages – his translation of Beowulf is splendid (naturally). And if we’re talking poetry and language, look at The Fall of Arthur, or The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun.

And the Tengwar – so gorgeous! Source

5. HOBBITS

I personally think that Freeman is a fabulous Bilbo.
No tribute to Tolkien would be complete without mentioning the small, brave, and simple folk of the Shire. Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippen – they’re wonderful characters, and they have more heart and courage than most. And they really do appreciate the good things in life. I’d like to be an elf, but deep down, I know I’m more of a hobbit. I suspect that goes for all of us!

“Good morning!” he said at last. “We don’t want any adventures here, thank you! You might try over The Hill or across The Water.” By this he meant that the conversation was at an end.“What a lot of things you do use Good morning for!” said Gandalf. “Now you mean that you want to get rid of me, and that it won’t be good till I move off.” The Hobbit

6. All the Characters

From Tumblr.
I’ve mentioned elves and hobbits, but I haven’t specifically mentioned Faramir, Eowyn, Boromir, Thranduil, Aragorn, Luthien, FINROD, Galadriel, Gandalf, Elrond, Elwing, and I could go on . . . Even the more evil characters (especially in the Silmarillion) are fascinating. And they’re all epic. And epic = good.

7. The Aforementioned Values

“It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.” 

Tolkien had an immense appreciation for all that was great and good in the world: Courage, Honor, Duty, Fidelity. Call me Captain America, but I think we could use some more of it all. And Tolkien’s characters always made me want to be noble, big-hearted, and selfless. There’s a lot to be said for doing your best, being your best, and seeking the best in others.

8. Tolkien’s Love for Nature

Tolkien was a self-proclaimed “tree-advocate.” And all you have to do is read a few chapters of his works to see his love for the natural world. Just contrast the Elves and Orcs, and you’ll see something interesting: Orcs rely on war machines and contraptions, while Elves tend and revere the earth. I don’t know if I was always a nature girl, or if I can blame Professor Tolkien for that too, but it really doesn’t matter. Tolkien was a great advocate of stewardship – of treating Creation with respect instead of taking it for granted. And I don’t know if he really gets enough credit for that.

The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadow shimmering.

9. The Worldbuilding

He is the Master of Worldbuilding. See #1. In fact, I was actually thinking of Tolkien when I named this blog. He’s the worldbuilder I aspire to be like.* Look at 1-8, and you’ll see evidence of this. Middle Earth is so vivid and real that thousands of us are homesick for it.

“Home is behind, the world ahead,And there are many paths to tread
Through shadows to the edge of night,
Until the stars are all alight.
Then world behind and home ahead,
We’ll wander back and home to bed.
Mist and twilight, cloud and shade,
Away shall fade! Away shall fade!”

10. The Heart

I dare you to have dry eyes. One part that the movie did so well.
Again, I think this is pretty obvious from some of the other numbers on this list. But there is love for life, people, culture, history, lore, and all good things in Tolkien’s writing. Don’t believe me? Look at Sam Gamgee.

“Come, Mr. Frodo!’ he cried. ‘I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go” The Return of the King

Honorable Mention: Tolkien’s great appreciation for food. This shouldn’t be undervalued, for sure.

So there you have it: My Top 10 Favorite Tolkien Things! Happy Hobbit Day! (Going to watch Return of the King now)

If you’re a Tolkien fan, what’s your favorite thing about him or his books? Feel free to gush away in the comments (I’ll join you).

Footnotes:
*In case you wondered, the Wordsmith I thought of [when naming my blog] was Shakespeare.

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 FĂŒhrer 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.

Tale as Old as Time

The timeless appeal of an enchanted dude with an awesome library . . .

It’s a truth to be universally acknowledged- we love Beauty and the Beast – whether it’s the Disney movie or a retelling of the Cupid & Psyche myth. 

Even at its most subversive, the story is still powerful. And it really is a “tale as old as time,” with hundreds of similar stories found in cultures all over the world.* Sometimes, the story is even found in the real world (it’s certainly more common than Cinderella!)

I was thinking about this as I finished my latest read, the (excellent) Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodges. I had finished numerous novels in the past three months, and [at least] four of them were basically retellings of Beauty and the Beast. 
I decided to look at my Goodreads page and see just how many distinct retellings I had read, and came up with over thirty. There were the straight up retellings, and the ones that were too close to leave out. There were also stories that were basically the same thing, just hidden under other plot threads (i.e. Jane Eyre).** If you think about it, Pride and Prejudice could even fall into this category (“beastly” guy, spirited and intelligent heroine who has to make personal sacrifices/lose everything before she wins his hand, etc.)

In its most basic form, the “Beauty and the Beast” story is this: 

1. We have a girl who is smart and principled (but not always physically beautiful or moral, per se. The ‘Beauty’ can refer to her mind or strength of spirit).
2. And whether she is naturally so (or forced by circumstances), she sacrifices herself for a lapse in judgement (hers, her parents, etc), and gives herself as a “bride” or a “gift/sacrifice” to a Beast.
3. The Beast is often a prince in animal form, but he might be a god or minor deity. The reason for his “Beast” form is one of two: either he was “beastly” in nature and offended a powerful woman, or he (or someone close to him) is testing his bride.
4. How it pans out here is always a little different, but either the girl fails the test and gets to go through trials to reclaim the beast (that she has grown to love), or she leaves and comes back at some personal loss (there always has to be a sacrifice) and her love restores his human form/proves she’s worthy to be his wife.

Somehow the story never gets boring.

So here are a few standouts:

Favorite Retelling: This is hard! Probably Till We Have Faces, by C. S. Lewis, with Robin McKinley’s Beauty as a very close second.

Worst Retelling: Beastly, by Alex Flinn

With Scottish Highlands and a Werewolf: By These Ten Bones by Claire Dunkle

When the Beast Doesn’t Get the Girl: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

More Like Tam Lin (basically the same story): The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

Where the Girl is the One Under a Curse, and the Guy is Beastly Anyway: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Needless to say, there are a bunch of retellings that I’ve never read. And I will probably never get sick of them (and I’ve written a few of my own!). If you’re interested in the more scholarly look at Cupid and Psyche, there are some good essays here.

So do you have a favorite Beauty and the Beast/Cupid & Psyche retelling? Do you think the library scene (in Disney’s B & B) is basically the best Disney scene ever? Sound off in the comments, and brownie points for retellings that I’ve never heard of.

Footnotes:
*SurLaLune Fairy Tale Blog has a nice list of variations here.
**There is a huge list of B & B retellings on Goodreads.

Book Review: Fairy Keeper by Amy Bearce (YA Fantasy)

Happy Monday 🙂

I read quite a few Advanced Reader Copies, due to generous publishers and the wonderful people at Netgalley.com. A lot of these books are from major publishers, such as Tor or Random House, but I also like to mix it up with independent publishers and self-published authors. As anyone who reads this blog will know, I love fantasy , so that is often my go to for self-pubs.

Today I’m featuring Fairy Keeper by Amy Bearce (Curiosity Quills Press 2015), a fantasy adventure aimed at teens.

(This ebook was provided by NetGalley and Curiosity Quills Press in exchange for a fair and honest review)
Here’s some of the official blurb from Netgalley.com:

“Almost everyone in the world of Aluvia views the fairy keeper mark as a gift, but not fourteen-year-old Sierra. She hates being a fairy keeper, but the birthmark is right there on the back of her neck. It shows everyone she was born with the natural ability to communicate, attract, and even control the tiny fairies whose nectar is amazingly powerful.

     Fairy nectar can heal people, but it is also a key ingredient in synthesizing Flight, an illegal elixir that produces dreaminess, apathy and hallucinations. She’s forced to care for a whole hive of the bee-like beasties by her Flight-dealing, dark alchemist father. 

    Then one day, Sierra discovers the fairies of her hatch are mysteriously dead. The fairy queen is missing. Her father’s Flight operation is halted, and he plans to make up for the lost income by trading her little sister to be an elixir runner for another dark alchemist, a dangerous thug. Desperate to protect her sister, Sierra convinces her father she can retrieve the lost queen and get his operation up and running.

    Sierra journeys with her best friend and her worst enemy — assigned by her father to dog her every step — to find the missing queens. Along the way, they learn that more than just her sister’s life is at stake if they fail. There are secrets in the Skyclad Mountains where the last wild fairies were seen. The magic Sierra finds there has the power to transform their world, but only if she can first embrace her calling as a fairy keeper.”

Amy Bearce’s debut novel was one of the more unique fairy stories I’ve read. The characters were well-developed and thought out, and the world was well rendered. And the Fairy Keepers – everything about this concept was interesting to me – the book definitely delivered in that respect. Sierra was a believable character, and her struggle with her lack of choices, her relationships, and her antipathy for the fairies she is bound to were well thought out.

As for the other primary characters:
Sierra’s father, Jack, is a horrible, twisted man, and he constantly uses her younger sister, Phoebe, as leverage against her. This keeps Sierra under his thumb, and helps her rationalize how she harvests nectar for him. 
Corbin, Sierra’s older best friend, is nerdy and gentle. However, he also harvests nectar from his fairies without a second thought, because his parents are healers who can use it to help people.
Nell, the “worst enemy” in the description, reminded me of Astrid from How to Train Your Dragon [Movies]. She was prickly, grim, and capable. However, traveling with Corbin and Sierra drags out Nell’s back-story, and reveals that she and Sierra have more in common than they think.

Five things I liked:

  1. The Characters. They were (for the most part) well-developed and thought out.
  2. NO LOVE TRIANGLE.

    There are moments when it could have gone this way and it didn’t. The issues of attraction, different kinds of love, and feelings were all dealt with in a mature and realistic way.

  3. The whole morality issue with the Fairy Keepers’ positions: did they have any right to take the nectar, what was it doing to the world, etc., was never dropped and was a major aspect of the story.
  4. In that same vein, I felt like the world and its magic system had a lot of interest and depth. I would love to hear more about it.
  5.  There was a great underlying message about being a steward and caretaker of the land that was never preachy.

Five things I didn’t like so much:

  1. The tone was a bit uneven, especially at the beginning. All of the stuff with Jack and Flight was dark and very YA, but most of the remainder was a little more Fablehaven. I would have trouble deciding exactly what group to recommend it for. Too old for middle grade, maybe 12 to 16 year olds? (This might be a marketing problem-I don’t think it’s an author problem)
  2. My usual complaint. The world seemed like it had so much to offer, and like Bearce had put a lot of work into it, so I would have liked to read more about it.
  3. Micah wasn’t my favorite. He was the least necessary and least developed of the characters.
  4. In that same vein, I felt like Sierra and Micah’s relationship was a little off. She was only fourteen, after all, and still confused by all of her feelings about everything else. Her yo-yo back and forth from: Who is this random dude and why do I care? And I feel fuzzy when he’s around, to Maybe we have something *starry eyes*  and I don’t know anything about him but there’s this connection I can’t ignore (NOT ACTUAL THOUGHTS OR DIALOGUE-hers was much better). Or maybe it’s just because I was even less interested in romance at fourteen than I am now, and my own perceptions are coloring this.
  5. I felt like the ending was a little too easy. But this is really minor, as it all made sense, and played into the themes of making the harder, right decision, and doing right by the land and its creatures.

OVERALL: 4 out of 5 stars. Give this to teen girls who enjoy relationship centered stories, or liked Fablehaven and Inkheart (especially if they are looking for something shorter than both of those).

“In Which I Am Flummoxed by Beach Reads (and Excel at Creative Procrastination)” – A Love Letter (not the title of a Panic! at the Disco song)

All of the images in this post are copyrighted and belong to their respective owners. I am making zero money off of this blog, and off of them. And MARVEL, if you ever see this. I love you.

I could say that I’ve been neglecting my blog because of New York. That would be true. 

I could also say that it’s because I’ve been crazy busy since I got back, which is also true. However, I’ve been avoiding the Internet because I’ve been trying to read as many books that could possibly pass for beach reads as possible.

Confession: I never read at the beach, I swim

Confession: I have no real idea what people read at the beach

I assume it’s a lot like what people read on vacation, but I’m not sure. When I’m on vacation, I’ll read whatever I was reading before I was on vacation, be it an ARC from work or a dry tome on genetic engineering, or whatever subject I happen to be researching for a novel.

Anyhow, I’m supposed to be writing reviews and recommending beach reads. Not for my blog, but for the women’s magazine that I contribute to on a monthly basis. It’s aimed at professional Michigan women of diverse tastes, so I always try for maximum variety in my book suggestions. This is great: it makes me read outside of my normal taste zone, and makes me better at my job (bookselling!). I really do understand that not everyone has reread The Lord of the Rings almost every year, and even more so, I understand that not everyone wants to read gritty, post apocalyptic novels with gallows humor and dry social commentary.* This is a wonderful thing-we are all different.

So today I had the day off from my real job, and I made myself stay home and read. This sounds wonderful, until you realize that I was trying to read about ten different books that I had zero interest in. They were not bad books. Someone would be interested in them. That someone was not me.

I succeeded in finishing a couple, which is a testament to the writers’ skills. I can freely add these to my recommended beach reads, no reservations. But now that I am sitting at the computer, I don’t feel like writing reviews at all. I’d rather work on my current project-a post apocalyptic humor/adventure novel that is silly and snarky and full of duels (wits and weapons), sci-fi tech, criminals, and coffee love.

Or I could be watching Daredevil (the Netflix series, not that dreadful movie). I only have 1.5 episodes left, and I am constantly distracted from what I am doing by wondering what will happen in that finale. It is pathetic.

But this post was not supposed to be about Daredevil.

I Googled beach reads (I do this every time), and found the answers unsatisfactory and banal: Gone Girl,** Beautiful Ruins,***The Notebook, ****The Fault in Our Stars*****

I could go on, but you could probably fill in the rest of this list with most of the pop book hits of the past decade. Some of the suggestions were interesting (And the Mountains Echoed and Where’d You Go Bernadette? for example, both of which are on my to-read list). But the problem was, even the interesting ones aren’t sitting on my floor, waiting to be grabbed. So I considered going to the library.

But no, I was wearing holey jeans and a scrub top******and I didn’t want to change. [As excuses go, this is pretty bad, but there you go]

I also knew that when I got to the library, I would see all the shiny books, forget which ones I wanted, and grab shinies like a magpie in a silver shop. And they would be about monsters, or chosen ones, or ninja assassins, or flying people. They would not be books that land on Real Simple‘s beach reads, or even BuzzFeed.

I try to limit myself to only one book about ^^^^^ per month. Variety, remember?

So instead, I starting reading a book about a woman who was fifty-six and had a falling out with her daughter about a television show. There was architecture, and family drama, and there were bizarrely attractive men sprouting out of the ground, like daisies (not exactly, but you get the point).

And I thought “How is this any more plausible than Harry Potter? How are these financially stable, uber-talented, attractive and successful people any more relatable than Bilbo Baggins or Elizabeth Bennet?

Answer: No. They are not.

I am twenty-six. I work at a bookstore. I write books, read books, and will watch (almost) anything MARVEL. I live with my sister, and if I don’t budget scrupulously, I will not be able to pay my rent or buy food. I chain-drink tea and coffee, and sometimes I wear make-up.

Of the above characters, I relate the most to Bilbo. He’s cranky, he lives in a hole, and he’s enamored with elves [see my other posts]. I love adventures, but I am usually burned out before I embark on one, and decide to stay home instead. I have waited roughly twenty years for a stubborn wizard and a pack of dwarves to show up, but if they did, I would probably be a perfect beast, and if they raided my (lean) pantry, I would be irate. But I would go with them anyway.

This is probably more than you ever wanted to know about me, and if you are still reading, you get a gold star. 

But back to the point (I know there was a point): all novels are fantasy!

And before you wave that super-realistic holycrapsorelatable! thisbookjustgotme! or that thisbookissogritty! sorealandraw! can’tyoujustfeelthedirtthroughthepages,man? at me, hear me out. (I’ll restrict myself to two examples)

EXAMPLE 1: I have never met a bizarrely attractive man in my life (sorry, every man I have ever met). They might exist, but they don’t grow out of the ground, fall from the sky, hang out in my library, or live anywhere near me.*******In fact, sometimes I suspect that they are brewed in a secret S.H.I.E.L.D facility. And the women in the book never seem to notice that this is strange and unusual, instead they spend pages staring at the guy in excruciating, TMI, cringe-inducing detail . . .

AND DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON UNREALISTIC WOMEN! THIS IS OLD NEWS AND HAS BEEN HOTLY DEBATED ELSEWHERE. I am specifically addressing the book I just read.

EXAMPLE 2: Most twenty-somethings through thirty-somethings that I know are:
A. Back in school because paper DECREES they need more if they want to get their dream job
B. Only wish that they were financially secure enough to have their own studio/fancy car/condo/dream house
C. Have student loans
D. They are married/engaged-to [if they aren’t single] absolutely normal (wonderful) people who aren’t secretly spies/master hackers/wizards/billionaires or whatever, and would never concoct schemes to kill them [this is something I’m sure we’re all grateful for].

So those are examples directly addressed to the contemporary realistic fiction that I just read. There are more, but I could write an essay and I have not done enough research for that. I need way more footnotes, and quotations.

But my point remains: regardless of why or what you read, all fiction is fiction, and all fiction is fantasy of a sorts.


Even if we lived a world where we got Hogwarts letters or visits from Gandalf, we’d have to obey the rules of that world, just like ours. I always think about this while reading Jasper Fforde’s lovably loony Thursday Next series. They are crazy and chaotic and wonderful, and I would love to live in them. But what if that meant I couldn’t have other worlds too? What if books there weren’t books here? Call me crazy, but I’m a writer, and this is the sort of thing I like to consider when I’m supposed to be writing reviews.

If you had to give up every book you’d ever read, and the whole world you’ve experienced, but you could have a totally uncertain life in a book-world of your choosing [no guarantees that you would survive, meet Mr/Mrs. Right, be chosen for an adventure, etc], would you actually do it?

Think about it.

Say what you will, we read for a lot of reasons. To know that we’re not alone (you saw that coming, I’m sure). To experience things we’d never want to (really, who wants to be kidnapped and slung over an enemy horse, headed to who knows what terrible fate?). For sheer entertainment. But at the end of the day, if the book is scary, or miserable, or crazy, we can leave. It is the ultimate no-strings relationship. Books never ask for anything, but they give a lot. And after the book, there are people to talk about it with, there is an author to doggedly follow (stalk), and there are often feelings to deal with. There are Pinterest boards and Tumblr posts, and whole websites to make.

I love fantasy-as-a-genre because it is shameless. It says, “this isn’t real, but I can make you believe it.” It challenges your perceptions of reality, and often exposes deep, universal themes and truth. And it is fun.

But I will not force anyone to read it.

And because I know that not every successful, professional woman would like to read about monster hunting, I will read more books about successful, professional women. I will evaluate writing and plots and characters, and be better able to relate to more people.

All of this will help me as a bookseller (and I hope, as a person). But when I finally hit “send” on those reviews, I will dig under my bed for the first book with a monster or a wizard on the cover, and I will forgive every single overly-gifted orphan or bizarrely attractive man, and it will be wonderful.

So, do you have any good “beach reads” to recommend? Do you believe a beach read is anything more than just a book you bring to a beach?

 And how do you feel about the fantasy genre? Do you think that all novels are fantasy novels? Have you ever met a bizarrely attractive man, or are all your twenty-something acquaintances financially stable and ridiculously accomplished? I NEED TO KNOW

FOOTNOTES:
*I honestly love books like this. That may mean I have issues. But even I get tired of them sometimes.
**Really? I couldn’t stand that book. I figured it out by chapter three, then made it through pages of vomit-inducing characters to find out that I had been right about the plot all along, and that there was no plot twist at all. Made me so mad.
***Sooooo boring. We read it for book club. It was sentimental and full of annoying characters and I Just. Didn’t. Care.
****Never read Nicholas Sparks. Never seen one of his movies. Never plan to. But I know why Ryan Gosling is iconic.
*****Preposterous, pretentious, sentimental, and over-rated. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great, and yes, I read it for book club. I felt horrible because I was the only one present who hadn’t felt a thing the whole novel.
******I do not work in the medical field. My dad had to wear scrubs when I was born, and he gave me the top as a momento (sweet, huh?). No, I don’t look good in them.
*******In this respect, I refuse to believe they exist until I’ve seen one. Not on TV. In real life. If they are hiding in basements, I don’t think I want to meet them.