Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Week in Review (or Why I Sort of Reverted Back Into a Hermit This Week)

After a strong run of blogging, I have fallen prey to two weeks of intense work stuff and preparing (feverishly) to go to NEW YORK (screaming inside-in a good way) next week. But in between freaking out and scrambling around the store, I did find a few books to read, and some tv to watch.

I won't bore you with descriptions of all the chocolates/chocolate treats I made [for work] this week, or maybe . . . nah, I'll get distracted if I start with chocolate.

What I read/started reading (all pictures and links are from Goodreads):

I read the first one of these as an ARC, and then was bummed to find out it was a series, and that I had to wait for the next one. They are borderline MG/YA ghost hunting/paranormal mysteries that are surprisingly well written. (Why surprisingly? Look at the cover).
The first one was creepier (so far), but I love the ghost hunting team of the mysterious Lockwood, the talented ghost-sensitive Lucy, and the smart but hardly personable George.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

I picked this up randomly, and it is fascinating so far. As the regulars at the store where I work are mainly seniors, this book is one they have been buzzing about. Gawande tackles tough topics with wisdom and good sense, and he isn't afraid to call people out. That being said, this book isn't ranty, but gentle. He looks at both sides of the medicine debate, as well as end of life care, in an easy to follow fashion.

Expiration Day by Willam Campbell Powell

A great premise: People on earth are no longer fertile, so a tech company bio-engineered robots to act/think/look like kids to stop riots. The catch is that these robots have an "expiration day," after their eighteenth year.

I am still only about a third into this. It is a little boring for me, and skews middle grade in the characters/depth, but the plot is interesting enough to keep me going.

As for these two: I just started The Darkest Minds, so all I can say is that the writing draws me in. I finished The Intergalactic Adventures of Queen Bea, but I am still digesting it, and plan on writing a full review.

In the non-reading, non-work world (small part), I managed to get ten pages of writing logged, which is really good for two weeks of crazy. My current project (post-apoc parody/adventure) is still going strong, and I have very good feelings about it. But I have to be careful, and nurse that enthusiasm to the end of the book.

Pippin is cautiously optimistic for me.

When I wasn't writing, I was finally able to catch up with/finish The Flash Season 1, which was excellent. That finale . . .

^Me, seriously impressed by the finale.
Sacrifice, emotions, courage, bad decisions, *so many emotions,* consequences Time Travel, paradoxes, black holes . . . but no spoilers here, you'll have to watch it yourself. However, I have been really impressed with Flash overall, (especially since it is on CW!), and you should definitely check it out if you're into superheroes. 

In that same vein, I finally got around to watching the Legends of Tomorrow trailer (CW spinoff of both Arrow and The Flash) and it looks epic, and cheesy, and epically cheesy. AND RORY WILLIAMS IS A TIME LORD. I am not kidding (hence the all caps).

Okay, so maybe he's Rip Hunter, time traveller (but we all know what that really means). But it is still Arthur Darvill in a cool coat playing mentor to a strange group of heroes (there is time travel!). I am in. Unfortunately, it doesn't premiere until next year. But it is up there with Captain America: Civil War and Agent Carter Season 2 for me (excitement level).

You can't fool me, Rory. 

I still have to catch up on Arrow S3 (more than halfway through). It has had its ups and downs, but I still am really enjoying it.

I must say that DC has thrown the gauntlet for the superhero shows. I still haven't watched MARVEL and Netflix's Daredevil (high on my to-watch list), but I have heard a lot of good things. In my opinion, MARVEL still wins in movies, but DC is ahead in television (at least for now).

So that was a fraction of my week. How about you? Did you find any interesting books? Did you start any new ones. Do you watch superhero shows, or are you 100% done with superheroes in general. If you are a Whovian, what do you think about Arthur Darvill's newest role, and will you watch Legends of Tomorrow?

I am off to BEA next week, so my blogging will probably be nil, but I'll be back after that (hopefully with pictures and adventures!) with books and thoughts to share.



Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Top 10 Fictional Worlds I'd Like to Visit (Top 10 Tuesday) (with reasons, gifs, footnotes, and theories as to why I'd leave)

It's Tuesday, which means it's time for Top 10 Tuesday with The Broke and The Bookish. For instructions on how to participate, click here.

Usually there is a theme for the list, but this week is a freebie, which means that we have all picked our own topic. My topic: The Top 10 Fictional Worlds I'd Like to Visit (with reasons, gifs, footnotes, and theories as to why I'd leave)

1. Middle Earth (from The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and LOTR)

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As soon as my feet touched that fantastical grass, I'd be off.
The Shire, Mirkwood, Rivendell, Lorien, and Rohan would be top of my must-see list.
Elves, dwarves, hobbits, food, the clothes, roughing it Fellowship style . . . why would you ever leave?

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I have a theory: Basically, it would be like high school, where everyone in Middle Earth would be the "cool kids table," and I'd be that person who everyone felt kind of bad for, but still didn't let sit with them (you know the one, the one trying so hard to be all elvish and awesome, and failing miserably).

That, or I'd get eaten by a spider when I was in Mirkwood.

2. The Enchanted Forest (from the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede)

Artist: Peetasokka Image Credit
If I survived Mirkwood, I think a kindlier, more whimsical magic forest might be in order. Dealing with Dragons was (still is) one of my favorite fantasy novels, and it still cracks me up. Cimorene is a kindred spirit, and I would love to help her make buckets of cherries jubilee for the dragons. After that, I would do some exploring, and hopefully not run into any annoying wizards. I'd be sure to carry spray bottles of soapy water with lemon though, as a precaution . . .
Being polite, sensible, and not prone to eating random plants, I would probably get along just fine in this world. In the end, I'd probably leave because I'd want to see my family.

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3. The alternate 1914 of Leviathan (Scott Westerfeld)

It's Clankers (they use machines) versus Darwinists (genetic manipulation) on the brink of World War I. Though there were parts of these books I didn't enjoy so much, I did love the crazy alternate world. It would be fascinating to explore! I would like to travel the world and compare it to actual 1914. I would probably end up leaving because I'd miss my writing and my books. As much as I like writing by hand, I'll take my laptop back, thank you very much.

4. Camelot (Gerald Morris edition)

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Knights, picking flowers?* I am a King Arthur devotee, in all seriousness. I write retellings, I will read almost anything Arthurian, and I have a passionate love/hate relationship with the stories themselves. That being said, Le Morte d'Arthur is incredibly depressing.** Gerald Morris took all that pathos and ran over it, with scissors and a crazy grin (metaphorically). His knights go on pointless quests, take vows of silence where all they do is talk, and stumble in and out of the Otherworld at random. It is hilarious, and yet it somehow manages to stay true to the spirit of the beloved stories. Also, his version is a little kinder to the ladies. I would probably stick it out here until I was cursed by wandering Fair Folk, or swallowed by an enchanted castle, or something. If I survived that, I'd probably head somewhere a little more "modern" next.

5. Early 1800's England-a la Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke)

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I sat here in a crisis of indecision over including this or Jane Austen's 19th century, only to realize that they were basically the same. But JS & MN has magic. As an American of average looks who is too fond of books and lacks sufficient funds, I doubt I'd have much chance at society (unless my book hopping came with magical powers?). Maybe I would just try to get a job as a servant? Perhaps I could pretend to be an heiress . . .

I would love to snoop on Strange and Norrell (though they'd probably discover me, non-magical person that I am). Assuming I didn't get tired of the mud or my inferior social status (or someone found out I was a fraud), I would explore this version of England until I felt too restricted (or until I got on the fairies' bad side, whatever happened first).

6. New Pacifica (Diana Peterfreund's Across a Star-Swept Sea***)

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The islands of New Pacifica, Albion and Galatea, are stand-ins for London and Paris during the French Revolution. Across a Star-Swept Sea is a retelling of/tribute to one of my favorite novels, The Scarlet Pimpernel. Throw in crazy futuristic elements (the sea minks, the fashion, the tech), class unrest (they have good reasons), and a fascinating future world, and it is definitely a place I'd like to visit. The main thing I didn't like about the novel was the teen romance,**** but if I was exploring the islands, that would be a non-issue. And I really want to see all those lushly described island locations . . . (Pimpernel is a far superior novel, but I don't fancy visiting the actual French Revolution!).

 I'd fully intend on turning smuggler and helping to spirit people away from certain death. Which is how I'd end up leaving (what does happen if you die in a fantasy world?)

7. The Unwelcome Stranger (which is actually a ship in 1712 [seventeen twelvety] alternate timeline Earth)

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Which brings me to piracy. Long before I understood the moral implications, I really wanted to be a pirate. It was one of my favorite things to play/pretend as a kid (after wood elves!). When I was a teenager, I discovered Tanith Lee's wonderfully strange pirate fantasy, Piratica. The pirates drink coffee (instead of rum), some of them are actually traveling players, and they really only rob other pirates (and follow silly treasure maps). In other words, it's all the fun of Treasure Island with none of the serious danger (or scurvy, which is more of a deterrent). I would happily take up with Art and her (mostly) daring crew of ne'er do wells. Always a restless wanderer myself, I'd sail their way until I remembered how badly I wanted an awesome horse.

8. That obscure Caribbean Island from Walter Farley's Island Stallion

I read everything with horses on the cover when I was younger. I always wanted a horse like the Black Stallion, or Black Beauty, or even the Chincoteague ponies. I would visit the Island and camp out until I got a really awesome horse (which I would somehow manage to smuggle back). If I couldn't keep the horse, I'd leave, heartbroken.

9. Discworld from Terry Pratchett's Discworld Series

They made a play in Chicago!
I confess that I haven't read every one, but if I had to pick, I'd join up with the Monstrous Regiment ladies, disguised as a man, naturally. Or I would try to have coffee with Death. Or maybe I would just explore the glorious, ridiculous world and talk to its inhabitants. Regardless, Discworld is full of adventure, satire, looniness, and general chaos. I think I would end up leaving because it made me exhausted (or overstimulated)!

10. Harry Potter's England

I'd want a job at Flourish and Blotts, or failing that, Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. I am not above sneaking into Hogwarts. My top priority would be the library! If I had the great good fortune to arrive and find I had wizardly gifts, I would be transported with delight. If not, I'm sure I could still have plenty of fun. One of the best parts of HP is the fabulous alternate world, existing right under Muggle noses. Diagon Alley almost holds more appeal than Hogwarts, if I'm honest, and I'd love to catch a professional Quidditch match. I think I would leave eventually, and maybe start back at Middle Earth?
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Honorable Mentions: Narnia! (Chronicles of Narnia), New Beijing (Lunar Chronicles), Namid (Others Series), London Below (Neverwhere), The Well of Lost Plots (Thursday Next Series), I could go on forever. There were so many places that I'd want to go that I just went for variety in the end. 

It was hard to pick 10. However, I noticed that a lot of my favorite books weren't represented (I wouldn't really like to live in most of them, I suppose). As much as I love books like Rot & Ruin, The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray, or The Count of Monte Cristo, I am not ashamed to admit that I'd far rather read about a lot of things than live them!

What about you? Are there any fictional worlds you'd love to visit? Do you think you'd actually give up the real one for them (if you could)? How do you think you'd fit into your world choice? Tell me in the comments :)

*Actually from the soul-destroying (but hilarious) musical Camelot. Lancelot's disbelief seemed to fit here.
**I prefer the Celtic tales-less drama
***The companion novel, For Darkness Shows the Stars, is a retelling of Persuasion! I read these despite my dislike (loathing) for the author's other series. 'Nuff said, I'll keep it to myself.
****Despite the fact that it's in essence, a drippy (but not unbelievable) teen romance. I knew that going into it. It says a lot for the book that I liked it anyway.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

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.

*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.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Top 10 Authors I'd Like to Meet (Top 10 Tuesday)

It's that time of the week again: Top 10 Tuesday with The Broke and The Bookish. This week's theme is Top 10 Authors you want to meet. 

Seeing as I live in the backend of nowhere, I haven't met a lot of big time or international authors. On the other hand, I have a bunch of Michigan author meetings. Regardless, most of the authors I really want to meet are dead, which is slightly more backend of nowhere than West Michigan.

Well duh

I'm still waiting on the TARDIS, so while the Doctor is off saving the universe, I'll just content myself with a list of living authors I want to meet.
 If any of you have read previous top 10s of mine, you can probably name at least two of them. So I'll start with one that is not Neil Gaiman or Robin McKinley (though their inclusion is inevitable):

1. Matthew Pearl

If you can't actually time travel, there are a few authors that make you feel like you can. Matthew Pearl is one of them. I love his historical fiction. I'm reading The Last Bookaneer right now and it's really good. I am so impressed with his ability to incorporate historical figures and events into his story without changing or contradicting them. The Dante Club is my favorite.

2. Erik Larson

Larson is Pearl's nonfiction equivalent. Erik Larson writes about history like it's a first-rate thriller, weaving events together in a way that only a master of research and words can do. With my keen interest in the past, I love any book that makes you feel there, and Larson's books always do. I would love to learn about all of the things he's researched for his books. (My favorite is Devil in the White City)

3. J. K. Rowling

Do I have to explain? Is there a reader/writer out there who wouldn't like to pick Rowling's brain? Frankly, I'd like to know more about her rejection letters, some of the responses she got from publishers, and why she kept plugging on. I know she's under a lot of popular pressure now that she's crazy famous, and it would be interesting to know if she ever misses anonymity.
This is an awesome Zelda cosplay, btw

Naturally, my favorite is Harry Potter.

4. Marissa Meyer

When I randomly picked up Cinder (confession, it was the cover) and saw that it was a cyborg Cinderella, it was a rare insta-buy moment for me. I hadn't heard anything about it, but you can't get more up my alley than a cyborg, fairytales, and space combo. The anime influences were a bonus. I'd like to meet Marissa because we like a lot of the same things, and she seems like such a cool person, so open and fun. I'm not sure which one of the Lunar Chronicles I like best, but I am very excited about Winter, and I can't wait to see what Meyer comes up with next.
Awesome picture credit here
I envy every one of you that lives in a major city, because you've probably had a chance to meet Neil Gaiman. Honestly, I'd rather have tea and chat with him than most authors. He is fabulous on the radio, so funny and engaging. I love his novels, and I would be honored to "talk shop" with him. But I'd settle for just meeting him and telling him what an impact his words have had on me (I'm sure that gets old, but what can you do?).

This picture is epic
Jonathan Maberry convinced me to read not one, but 5+ zombie novels. I liked every one of them. That was a major accomplishment. The mixture of action, thrills, philosophy, humor, heart, and wonderful characters in his novels got me (even though I don't care for zombies). I would like to hear more about why Maberry likes zombies (who knows, he might convince me?), his thoughts on real-world Bushido and samurai history, and I'm not sure if I want to thank him or curse him for Tom Imura.* 
Even if you are a very casual Robin McKinley reader, I dare you to not enjoy her blog. She is a fabulous writer, and her wry sense of humor is in full force on her blog. 
As for her novels, there isn't much I haven't already said: I love them. They are lifelong favorites, and I'd love to tell her that in person. My favorite is still The Hero and the Crown, although Chalice is a close second.

8. Susanna Clarke

Susanna Clarke, of course, wrote one of my all-time favorite novels, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. If no one has convinced you to read it, then read this lovely BBC article and reconsider. Susanna Clarke is funny and smart, well read, loves magicians, and is very interested in history. Why wouldn't I want to meet her?

For more of his work click here

9. D. M. Cornish

Though he is currently in between projects (I think), I love the layered world of Cornish's Monster Blood Tattoo series.

In addition to writing a fantasy series with a rich world and fascinating characters, D. M. Cornish can draw. The series ( a bit like Oliver Twist with monster hunters and the moors of a Bronte novel) is completely illustrated by Cornish. Which is awesome.

I don't really know much about Megan Whalen Turner besides the basics. What I do know is that she wrote one of my favorite series in the history of the world: The Queen's Thief series. I love her characters, her writing style, and again, her love of history. I'd like to sit down and get all the details on the series, the characters, and her inspiration. 

So that's all for this week. Did you have any of the same authors, or have you met any of them? Which authors would you like to meet and why?



Monday, May 11, 2015

Happy 20th Anniversary Sabriel! #SabrielDay

“Death and what came after death was no great mystery to Sabriel. She just wished it was.” Sabriel, Garth Nix

20 years ago, Garth Nix published Sabriel, an incredible fantasy novel about a girl who is destined to put the dead in their place and save her world. Pretty awesome, right? 

I didn't stumble across Sabriel until I was almost eighteen.* I was going through a fantasy "dry spell,"as I call them, and I purchased Sabriel on a whim at an indie bookstore. 

I didn't know what to expect, but I had re-read The Hero and the Crown for (possibly) the twentieth time, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy for the eighth or so time, and I had started and stopped so many new fantasy novels in between. I was starting to think I'd read every awesome fantasy novel ever, and that no books were going to get me like my favorites again.**

So I picked up Sabriel with zero expectations It had the cover at right--> which is pretty cool, and (bonus) has  a fully and functionally clad female character on the front!

From the opening paragraph, where Sabriel brings a friend's rabbit back from death, I was hooked. I read the book in one sitting, ignoring food, vacation activities, and everything else, absorbed in the Old Kingdom and invested in the characters.

When I was done, I shoved it into my younger sister's hands and told her she had to read it too, so we could discuss it. When I got back from vacation, I did the same to my friends.

And then it wasn't until years later, when I took a job at an indie bookstore, that I met anyone else who had heard of/read Sabriel. I have been doing my tiny part to fix that ever since.

So what is it about Sabriel that makes it so good? This is something I ask myself every time I read a book and love it that much. I'm a writer as well as a reader, and I study my favorites in hopes of someday writing a book that affects someone else in the same way.

“Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?” Sabriel, Garth Nix.

Sabriel has a young heroine with untapped powers and an intimidating destiny-typical epic fantasy material-but there is a lot more here.So this doesn't get even soppier and meander everywhere, I'll summarize in a list:

My 5 Favorite Things About Sabriel (a.k.a. 5 reasons you should read it)

  1. Sabriel herself. I related to this serious, responsible girl with a deep love for her father, commitment to duty, and drive to do her best as the world gets crazier around her. And she is an Abhorsen (basically an anti-necromancer) which is, in my opinion, one of the coolest "powers" of any character ever.
  2. The magic system. Fantasy is and always will be my first love as a reader/writer, so I have read a lot of books with magic. The ancient Charter magic/innate power, binding words, and most of all, the bells, are an intricate, beautiful web of magic that feels natural.
  3. The world. The Old Kingdom seems to be dripping with history. You feel like you are barely scraping the surface of something ancient and fascinating. The other books in the series explore the world a bit more, but still leave you wanting to know more of the lore and geography. It is a fantasy world in the best since, familiar enough to be believable, and fantastic enough to lose you in it.
  4. Mogget and Touchstone.*** As "sidekicks" go, these two make great foils for Sabriel. Touchstone, far from just being a plot device or just the love-interest, is a dry, bitterly funny character in his own right. And Mogget manages to walk the fine line between hilarious and creepy, with his sarcasm and sinister undertones. And he's in the form of a white cat. (When Sabriel first rescues Touchstone is one of the funniest parts of the book.)
  5. The Abhorsens. They are basically silencers for the dead (or as above, anti-necromancers). Using their bells and Charter magic, they basically keep the balance, so that the dead stay dead. Death, in the world of Sabriel is made up of 9 precincts before a final gate. Abhorsens (at varying degrees of personal risk) can cross the borders of life and death to enter the river of Death. Sabriel inherits this position (eventually) from her father, who is mainly referred to as "the Abhorsen"in the book. This doesn't really tell you how cool the Abhorsens are, so you'll have to read and find out

I could go on, but I want you to actually read Sabriel if you haven't already. If you like high fantasy, strong heroines, or interesting magic systems, Sabriel is a must-read.

So, have you read Sabriel or anything else by Garth Nix? What is your favorite female fronted fantasy novel?


*Coincidentally, Sabriel's age ;)
**It was a bit naive of me, but still, it gets harder and harder to find books that are so absorbing.
***One of several subtle nods to Shakespeare. A bard geek like me gets excited about things like that.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Catching Up With What I'm Reading

Back on April 20th, I posted a list of books I had just started/planned on reading. It finally occurred to me to write an update. Sadly, I only really liked one out of three. Here is a short rundown (if I feel mean I might write complete reviews, who knows):

HERE BE SPOILERS. You have been warned.

1. Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I wanted to love this book, and up until about 3/4's through, I did. I had two complaints, and while one of them was major, the other was personal. Novik's prose is elegant and her worldbuilding is (as always) very good. I loved the Polish fairytale bent, and the nod to Baba Yaga, and I really liked the heroine, Agnieszka (easier to say than spell). The idea was great, and I didn't mind the romance until later. So what was my problem? Two things:

I. The scene with the Dragon, toward the end. I'm trying to avoid spoilers, but their whole relationship was pretty carefully balanced (with her being so much younger and inexperienced), and this bit kind of destroyed the whole balance, to be honest (and it was unnecessary [read more like fanfiction] really). I've already said I have a weak stomach for romance, but this was a skip-the-page moment for me. I like my fantasies to stay epic, thank you.

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II. My major complaint is super spoilery, so read no further if you HAVE to read this book: The book's climax fell COMPLETELY flat for me. Everyone (basically) turns on each other and dies, corrupted by the darkness in the wood. And then, we find out that the wood's darkness is not only understandable, it's the sad moaning of a betrayed and mistreated forest queen, and takes away any of her power to threat or frighten. It basically reduces the fantasy "big bad" to a sort of eco-virus, that you can't blame or hate because it was a natural sort of purging.

I basically put down the book thinking, "Oh, so in the end these people were all just as infected by the wood, they all kill each other and the wood is healed, and then the 5 or so survivors put up "Don't hurt the trees," signs, and we're all okay now?" Where is the threat, the danger, the peril that I was feeling up until then? Who could be mad at a bunch of sick trees?

Sorry, I'll quit ranting. But I couldn't be sad, mad, or even satisfied with that resolution. I just stopped caring altogether (and don't get me wrong, I love trees).

OVERALL: 3 out of 5 stars

The second misfire was the gorgeous Bitter Greens, by Kate Forsyth, which was far more like its title than its cover.

I'm actually surprised I finished it. It was basically a story about a mistreated author who is "empowered" by making seriously idiotic romantic decisions (especially for her time period), who then throws a hissy fit, gets mad at God and the king, and then gets thrown in a nunnery (that was like something out of Oliver Twist). She spends most of the time in the nunnery daydreaming about her former paramours and fancy clothes, until a strange old nun tells her a story. That story was the only redeeming factor (and probably why I finished the book). Since I basically despised everything about the book, I will spare you the rant and give you the only two good things I could find:

I. The descriptions of Venice, and the entire setting of 16-17th century mainland Europe was lush and well researched. You really felt like you were there (except for the one time when children were referred to as "kids," which jarred me a bit). Everything from the masks to the boats was rendered in vivid detail. The plight of women, as well, without personal freedom, and very little say in their lives, was explored in a historically accurate manner.

II. Margherita (the actual Rapunzel of the story) was sweet, charming, and I actually cared about her and her story. I found it compelling enough to slog/skim through the rest.

One final ranty bit:
I am tired of "people of faith (any faith, mind you)" being reduced to "I'm a ________, but I don't actually follow my beliefs, oh look, God didn't do what I wanted like a private magician, *faith lost* but I'm still loyal to my faith." This is not authentic, and it isn't character development. In Bitter Greens, the people in question were the Huguenots, a brave group of Reformers who died for what they believed in and lived out. In my opinion, Bitter Greens cheapened that, by styling the main character as one of them, and then having her not follow a single aspect of their faith, then renounce that faith, and then have the gall to think how she was still loyal in her heart, though her Huguenot faith had "done nothing for her." At least have her call a spade a spade and claim she never believed nor cared to.

THERE! That felt good. If you are still with me, you can see what I thought of Ross Poldark (below) and what I am currently reading.

The last book, Ross Poldark, was pretty enjoyable. It made me want to go to Cornwall more than I already did, and if this book didn't do that to you, look at this:
DailyMail UK
Poldark was basically a historical family drama/romance involving quite a few characters. Like Downton Abbey with a lot more dirt and mining, and poverty. It was hard to get into at first, but once I got caught up in the story, I liked it a lot. Still, I don't feel the need to read the (11!) sequels.

I am fatigued by the ranting, so here are the books I am currently reading:

Thorn by Intisar Khanani

The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl

A Grave Talent by Laurie R. King

Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat? by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella

Chances are, there won't be a lot of ranting this time, as I'm far enough into all of them to think I'm going to like them all okay (at the very least).

So now I am tired, and I am going to go watch White Collar. Did you read anything good (or bad) this week? Have you discovered any new reads that look exciting?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Beautiful People for Writers

Image Credit:

via photobucket.c

Today is Thursday, so I am trying something new (to me)

It is a fun meme over at Paper Fury and Further Up and Further In, called "Beautiful People for Writers." According to them, you answer a group of questions about one of your characters. Find out more here.

It sounds fun, so here we go. The character I decided to pick on  is Madeleine (Mads) Capot, the protagonist of my current project. She is twenty-seven years old, and she owns a coffee shop in the last human settlement in a post-apocalyptic world. She has an uncanny knack for predicting what drinks people will order before they do it, but she tries to think nothing of it. When Mads is inadvertently kidnapped by a mysterious bounty hunter in pursuit of the galaxy's most notorious (dancing) criminal, she finds herself far in over her head in a deadly world of thieves, killers, magical relics, and really bad coffee.

1. Do they get nightmares? If so, why or what of?
    No. Mads doesn't really have nightmares, and she rarely remembers her dreams. After she is kidnapped, things change a little [she realizes that the world is bigger than she liked to think, and that there is real suffering outside]. After that, she doesn't sleep so easily.

2. What is their biggest guilty pleasure/secret shame?
   Mads is pretty straight-laced and disciplined. She has a huge weakness for sugar, so that's her guilty pleasure. As for a secret shame, she discovers that instead of being horrified by her own kidnapping, the danger and excitement, and the thought that she matters, is pretty addictive.

3. Are they easily persuaded or do they need more proof?

  Why are you asking her this question? What are your motives? Mads is stubborn and suspicious, and you basically have to use her store or family as leverage to persuade her. She needs a lot of proof before she trusts someone. On the flip side, she also needs quite a bit of negative proof before she'll denounce someone.

4. Do they suffer from any phobias? Does it affect their life in a big way?
  Mads doesn't like a lack of showers, and she is beastly without coffee. She is more afraid of what's in front of her (knife-wielding alien, bounty hunter with a bloody sword, giant tough) than any particular thing. So no, no phobias. Actually, before she leaves her isolated life, she didn't really have anything (other than bill-paying, taxes, and health inspectors)* to be afraid of.

5. What do they consider their “Achilles heel”?

   Her store. Mads will basically do anything to keep her business afloat. She will ignore her solid morals and her own principles at times. The family legacy, her pride, and her livelihood are tied up in it, so it is the one place where she can really be hurt.

6. How do they handle a crisis?

  Mads is pretty calm, but she can freeze up in a crisis. If her friends or family are in danger, she will act immediately and without thought of consequences.

7. Do they have a temper?

  This is related to #6. Mads has a legendary temper, but she knows that and she has learned to keep it under wraps. If she starts getting acerbic and snappish, you're on your way to a level 1 Hulk-out.

8. What are their core values and/or religious beliefs?

    The apocalypse happened, surviving life went on, and Mads has had several generations between the survivors and herself. She doesn't know what she believes about the universe, and she is pretty focused on her life and shop. She has a very strict moral code, and she usually listens to her conscience. Religion and spirituality have very little to do with her life, until she runs into a death cult, and has to confront her own vaguely unnatural abilities.

9. What things do they value most in life?
    I think this is pretty clear from the other answers, but Mads values her family (best friends and grandmother) and her shop/land more than anything else. She also values her life and lifestyle. She is threatened by anything that might change it.

10. What is one major event that helped shape who they are?

      Mads mother died when she [Mads] was very young. Mads father left before she was born. Mads has struggled with this in various ways all of her life. Even as an adult, she has trouble understanding and forgiving her parents, after all, she never knew them. Instead, she was raised by her grandmother, a vain, but kind and well-meaning woman who is free in all the ways Mads never has been, so the parent dichotomy has always been a bit on its head. Mads obsessively mothers the people around her, and she is both responsible and reliable.

There, I did it! Sheesh, Mads sounds a little stiff (she is). However, don't let that deter you. If getting kidnapped taught her one thing, it's that no one is ever who they say they are . . .

Smooth criminals always seem to end up in my books somehow. It's amazing that I didn't discover White Collar until last month!

So that is Madeleine Capot, fearless barista and local food enthusiast. My book (tentatively titled as "The Last Coffee Shop"), is a sci-fi adventure/parody, and I started it for NaNoWriMo 2014. It has exploded beyond my original intentions, and the storyline got way more complicated. I work in a coffee shop, so I am finally writing what I know (like teachers always advise)! I just added aliens, magical relics, super-criminals, and the apocalypse. Not a stretch, right?

Are you writing a novel? Check out the links at the top if you'd like to participate in the fun meme.

Happy Thursday!

*These things are scary. Anyone who thinks otherwise is selling something.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Will Never Read (with gifs!)

As always, Top Ten Tuesday was brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish. Details here.
The theme this week is Top Ten Books I Will Never Read, which was harder to narrow down than you think. (all images belong to respective Copyright holders)

If you are a reader, you know that what you read/don't read will eventually come under scrutiny. Whether it's a staff party, a rehearsal dinner, or just me trying to make myself talk to a stranger, talking about books makes me more comfortable in uncomfortable (read:any) social gathering. It can show you common ground, give you fodder for debate, or make you a new best friend. And it's also a good way to get introverted bookworms (like me) talking with confidence.
But sometimes it doesn't go so well.

Usually, if EVERYONE is reading a book, we (friend, acquaintance) have conversations like this:*

Person: "Have you read ______? OMG, so amazing!"
I give a blank stare, then an unsure shake of my head, "Uhm, nooooo."
They give ME a blank stare, then start to gush, "But you HAVE to! You are such a reader, how can you not have read ________? Seriously, you work at a BOOK STORE and you haven't read _________? Shouldn't you at least know why everyone loves it, so you have something to talk about? Don't tell me you're judging it WITHOUT reading it first?"**

And it goes on.

This is what happened with Harry Potter. In HP's case, I didn't read them until a year and a half ago. I can admit when I was wrong, and I was wrong about Harry Potter. Still, I don't feel like I missed out on life because I didn't read them till 25, but I did enjoy them. So I know my aversion to pop fiction/non fiction can be a weakness. In other cases, I try SO HARD to read/like a book, and it doesn't happen.

Life is too short to waste on books you don't like, especially when there are so many other books out there, so here's my Top 10 Popular Books that I Will NEVER Read, in no particular order:

1. Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin

PSA: Just because someone likes LOTR and fantasy does not mean they'll enjoy Game of Thrones. It doesn't mean they don't like realistic fantasy either. Thank you.

I tried. I really tried. While I admire his extensive worldbuilding, I couldn't stand his characters. There are precious few books that I have finished where I couldn't care less if everyone jumped off a cliff. I could rant, be mean, and scream in print, but it isn't worth it.

2. The Notebook or anything else by Nicholas Sparks

Again, not my thing. I have read a total of one paragraph. It was more than enough. I have seen five minutes of the movie. Ditto.

3. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

I read an interview of Dan Brown's once. I think he wanted us to be impressed with how smart and scholarly he was. I was so bored, I didn't even finish the interview. Sorry Dan.

4. Anything by David Levithan

See #2. I don't do mushy, sappy, overly romantic, sentimental, or otherwise. Contemporary YA is really not my thing either. I don't like John Green either. No, I don't want to fight about it.

5. Any/All erotica (50 Shades, Maya Banks, etc) 

I'll let Tina handle this one:

6. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

You can add every personal finding yourself saga to this list. This was just the first one I thought of. Chances are, I won't read it.

7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Nope. Not interested. To be fair, any and all high school books are a hard sell for me.

8. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

I only singled this book out because my sister read me some of the purple-as-Barney prose.*** It was a YA bestseller, and not really on my radar otherwise, but the prose was that, well, silly. But I laughed so hard I cried, so I don't hate, despise, or otherwise have any bad feelings about this book.

9. Fallen Series by Lauren Kate

I picked a random angel book, because I won't  read any of them. All angel romance YA or Adult can be added to this one. The guardian angels who are "tortured soulful young men" with wings need to go away. They can go join the teenage vampires.

10. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I started this book. Romance novels disguised as historical fiction, brutish heroes, and annoying female leads are a good way to get me to drop a book. Needless to say, I dropped this one.

This is one of those reading black sheep things, where I know I go against the grain. What books do you never plan to read that everyone talks up? Do you have those awkward conversations with people too? Sound off in the comments.

*Names and places have been removed to protect the innocent.
**Free country.
***Don't believe me? Check out the Amazon reviews. Like this one.