Wintersong Duology

Before the review…

I would like to apologise for the gap in reviews. I have been reading! But, I have been very, very….well…sick, tired, busy. Because…

I am happy to announce that I am expecting my first child in April!

The last few months have been challenging. Between bouts of morning sickness, work, and sleeping, I have had little time to write or anything, really. I have been getting my energy back, a bit at a time, so I ought to be a bit better from this point forward.

Thank you for your gracious patience and for reading!

-A Bookish (future) Mum?

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Release date: 07 Feb 2017 and 06 Feb 2018
Author: S. Jae-Jones
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books and Wednesday Books
Genre: Young Adult
Rating: 4/5 and 3/5
One-sentence review: A beautifully composed story of love, in many forms, that will sweep you away.

Summary: The oldest sibling of a poor innkeeper’s family is swept into the dark world of tales from her childhood to save her sister, and later, herself. Upon returning to dull reality, she must restore her relationship with her brother and battle her own consequences, which are coming to call her back to the underground.

(Not my best summary, but I am trying not to spoil anything.)

Jae-Jones writes a story about a composer filled with musical prose that is beautifully poetic. (While I found this enchanting, I imagine someone with a less musical background may find this frustrating.) The consistent presence of music in scenes, as well as the language, acts as a constant reminder of the soul and very foundation of the main character. Given she spends some time finding herself in this story, it is nice to have a secure handhold during the tumultuous trials of self-discovery.

Shadowsong is a letdown when it is read directly after Wintersong. The musical and poetic writing style is at times abandoned and at others heavily concentrated. Where Wintersong feels rushed and hasty in the final half of the book, Shadowsong drags long after you’ve lost interest in certain events. The most compelling character in the novels is the Goblin King. His absence for much of Shadowsong left the reader a bit disappointed. Especially, when the alterations and emotions he was experiencing would have been a very intriguing storyline to follow.

I do have one kind of major issue with Wintersong. There is a very uncomfortable and horribly handled obsession with virginity and sex throughout the novel. I have read very few books that I feel need to come with a heads up, but this story could not be less healthy for young adult readers new to sexual relationships to read. (Given many of us started reading young adult in middle school, I don’t think it is unfair to assume some readers may just approaching thoughts about all “that stuff.”) I don’t think parents need to prevent their children from reading anything, so I am not discouraging it. However, it is important for a child to have a healthy grasp on what sex is, what to expect from a sexual relationship/encounter, and virginity before reading this book. It is not subtle about these topics and it does address them in a healthy manner, so be aware.

Having said my piece, I did prefer Wintersong to Shadowsong. I enjoyed the romantic relationship. The Goblin King is the shining star to the series. I believe some entertaining fanfictions and spin-off novels could be written centring around his backstory. It is my adoration for his character that forced me to finish the second novel and enjoy the first despite its flaws.

-A Bookish Girl

 

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Dragon’s Code

Dragon's Code

Release date: 2 October 2018
Author: Gigi McCaffrey
Publisher: Penguin Random House/Del Rey
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
One sentence review:  A coming of age story that brings the magic of Pern back into the imaginations of readers of all ages.

Summary: A young, unlikely hero stumbles into a plot that could tear Pern apart.

I only lightly ventured into the world of Pern as a young adult. (Three or four books, maybe?) I think my lack of clear memory of Pern really helped me enjoy this story. Rather than comparing Gigi’s voice to that of her mother’s, I read a story about dragonriders and a magical world that I recalled vaguely from high school.

Gigi did a wonderful job building the world of Pern to a newcomer to the series. She opened the world often visited by her mother and brother to a new generation of readers without requiring prior entry. Her invitation is written with love and that translates to the reader.

Gigi’s writing shines with the character development of the protagonist of the story. The characters feel very human and very real. While they are not quite as…complex?… as I typically enjoy, they are wonderful and stick with you after you’ve finished reading. (Let’s be honest, I like a bit of darkness in my heroes. I call it complexity, but it might just be a touch of shadow. Given this is a Noble-bright sort of fantasy,  the characters are as natural for the genre.)

I think fans of Pern and newcomers, alike, will enjoy this addition to the Pern world.

-A Bookish Girl

Writing is not about Words

Today, I have a very special surprise. Given I am the absolute worst at surprises (my husband gets to open his presents the day they arrive because I get too excited to wait), I am proud of me for keeping this secret.

Tara Gilboy, the author of the charming book Unwritten (my review), has written a post for your enjoyment about writing and stories. 

I hope you enjoy this little treat and break from my own ramblings and reviews.  Now on to the words of Gilboy, herself.

-A Bookish Girl


I teach creative writing, and one of the first things I tell my students when they ask about writing and publishing Unwritten is that it took me one year to write it, and TWO years to revise it. That means I spent twice as much time revising as I did drafting.  I did not spend those two years adding a sentence here, changing a word there. I was doing deep, deep revision, cutting a hundred pages, changing locations of scenes, adding completely new scenes and settings, making huge changes to character motivation that completely altered the direction of the story….

However, I know many aspiring writers resist this kind of deep revision. (I certainly used to!) Instead, when I give them feedback on a manuscript, they send me their revisions one day later, changing a word here, adding a sentence there. If I tell them their protagonist’s motivations are unclear, they will add one sentence that explains it and consider their revision done.

I once had a student say to me: “I really enjoyed your class, but when are we actually going to talk about writing?” We had been talking about character motivation and conflict and structure, but he thought novel-writing was all about word choice. With enough practice, anyone can write pretty sentences with little trouble. It takes much harder work to tell a good story.

I’m not saying this to criticize my student because I used to believe the exact same thing. I think a big part of the problem is the pressure we put on ourselves as new writers. We want our first drafts to be close to perfect. Many writing classes tell their students to “bleed on the page,” and many new writers do something close to this, attempting to write perfect prose and becoming so married to their words and sentences that they have difficulty revising. (Or worse, they spend so much time polishing their sentences that they never reach the end of the story.) After all, how can you delete an entire chapter in order to fix a plot and pacing problem if you’ve spent hours polishing those sentences until they sparkle?

My advice to writers is this:

Write bad sentences. Then you can delete them easily when you need to. Once you’ve got all the important structural stuff in place, then you can polish and shine those sentences. That’s all surface-level revising. It’s the wallpaper.

Drafting is all about getting your ideas on paper. A first draft is just “stuff,” your building materials. You cannot create and shape a novel unless you have a big pile of material to work with. My first drafts have a lot of great things in them. I develop my characters, who often do and say things I didn’t expect them to. Sometimes great and interesting things happen. Conflicts emerge. My characters develop goals. But these things are all unformed, unmolded. They don’t always happen in the right order or for the right reasons. They often read like they were written by a first grader. My sentences ramble all over the page. I am often missing detail. Settings. Dialogue. Sometimes I ignore body language altogether and sometimes my chapters are spotted with sighs, stomping, eye-rolling, and other clichés. This stuff will get fixed later in revision. But if I don’t let myself write this messy draft first, I will have nothing to work with. You cannot revise what does not exist.

In our first drafts, we should consider ourselves “storytellers” rather than “writers.” Let the story happen. There is plenty of time later to decide what words you will use to best put this story on the page. But you have to get the important things right first. What does my character want? Why does she want it? What’s at stake? What will happen if she doesn’t get what she wants? How does she pursue this goal over the course of the novel, and what stands in her way? What is her deepest emotional wound? How will she confront this wound in the climax? How does she change over the course of the novel? The answers to these questions are what will hook our readers, more so than pretty sentences.

As writers, often our most important job is to disappear, so that the reader forgets she is being told a story at all. So that when readers open our books, they see worlds, rather than simply words.

Redemption’s Blade

Redemption's Blade (After The War, #1)
Release Date: 31 July 2018
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Publisher: Solaris
Genre: Sci-Fi &7 Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
One sentence review: A grim look at the aftershocks of war on a country and the life of a hero after the battle.

Summary: We follow a war-hero and her unlikely gang a decade after the war.

It took me a bit longer than usual to settle into this story. I don’t know why; the writing isn’t bad and the story is interesting. I just struggled to lose myself and felt I had to fight to keep interested to keep reading. Perhaps, this struggle is a side effect of marathon-reading young adult novels. (This doesn’t knock the book or the writing in any way. I have this same issue with the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. It is a very rewarding struggle.)

The world-building and storytelling far outweigh the character development throughout the story. The non-human races of the novel are vivid and distinctive, which can be difficult to find in a lot of fantasy novels. And, the world feels uniquely enriched as a result of this variety.

Overall, the story is challenging and rewarding in a unique way. I plan on pursuing more Tchaikovsky novels in the near future.

NetGalley provided an ARC of Redemption’s Blade. Thank you to the publisher, author, and NetGalley for my first exposure to this great fantasy author.

-A Bookish Girl

 

 

Vicious

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Release date: 
24 Sept 2013
Author: V.E. Schwab
Publisher: Tor
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 5/5
One sentence review: A great story that will make you question, well, everything.

Summary: College roommates conduct an experiment which gives them extraordinary abilities and leaves them on opposite sites of morality.

If you’re new to my reviews, you may not know that I adore Victoria Schwab. I fell in love with her books after A Darker Shade of Magic (which became the first series I have ever reread). She has this ability to look at our world, add a splash of magic and transform your perspective from page one until forever.

Schwab recommends this book to those who like X-Men. I think that is a fair recommendation. The abilities of ExtraOrdinary characters are similar to those of the mutants in X-Men. The world where the story plays out is similar to our current one. And, some of the characters echo the strengths of the most beloved X-men characters.

For example, I have always enjoyed Wolverine, the anti-hero with a flair for the dramatic, a bit of a violent streak, and yearning for a bit of love (that he would never accept if it were offered to him). In many ways, Victor Vale is similar to Logan. However, Schwab has a magical way with characters. So, this typical anti-hero is anything but typical. And, I think he’ll find his way into your heart on his own merit.

We don’t get any throw-away or half-baked characters in this story. Even characters we only have a glimpse of are well-imagined and thought out. The villain is the perfect kind of villain, one who knows he is right and following the path of the greater good. I do love a committed, self-proclaimed hero who sacrifices his own soul to save our own in his own, horrid way.

The sequel is released tomorrow. So, you have plenty of time to catch up and be ready for the release if you start now.

-A Bookish Girl

 

In Death Series

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Release date: July 28, 1995
Author: Nora Roberts as JD Robb
Publisher: Penguin Group
Genre: Detective Fiction
Rating: 4/5
One sentence review: This series is pure brain candy and I love it despite its flaws.

Summary: Eve Dallas is a homicide detective in New York in the mid-twenty-first century. Once an abused and shattered child, she has grown into a woman of her own definition. She is a passionate cop who believes in standing up in death for those stolen from their lives.

Roarke is a multibillionaire, who owns most of the world and several off-planet businesses. Once a street urchin in the rough, after-war streets of Dublin, Roarke has stolen, conned, and stealthily fought his way to having everything he was denied.

Together, they make an unlikely pair to outsiders, but a perfect union to tackle life together and take down their share of murderers.

Review
I often refer to the In Death series as my guilty pleasure. It is not particularly well-written. That is not to suggest they are poorly written. Merely, you won’t read this series and feel the Earth move. (Well, the first time you really get to experience Roarke, it might.) The books have a common formula and pacing that makes reading them continuously a bit challenging because deja-vu is a real phenomenon.

However, the characters and their relationships are addictive. I liken this series to a TV programme; the episodes (books) are fairly predictable, but you need to know if Jim and Pam will ever figure their relationship out; if JD ever gets that hug from Dr Cox; if Rory will ever figure out that she needs Logan (or Jess – but definitely Logan). Whatever that part of our brain is, it devours these books. It compels you to read the next one and the next one and the next one until it has been a month and you’ve read a book a day and you still have not posted a review. Your struggling blog is abandoned, your house hasn’t been cleaned, when did you last eat?

If you are looking for a book husband to fall in love with and some really great friends that will make you laugh and drive you a bit crazy, give this series a try. But, be warned. It is like Moose Tracks, you may not be able to stop once you dig in.

Thank you for your patience with me,
A Bookish Girl

(Note: I also have been taking a bit of medical rest the past ten weeks. I should be back to reviewing on a more regular schedule in the future. Thank you for reading. It means the WORLD to me.)

The Poppy War

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Release date: 01 May 2018
Author: R.F. Kuang
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Genre: Sci-fi && fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5
One sentence review: Kuang introduces a beautiful new voice to the traditional coming-of-age fantasy novel.

Summary: A war-orphaned child seeks freedom from an abusive family and a horrible arranged marriage by testing into the highest military university in the country. At the academy, she learns warfare strategies, martial arts, and about the ancient gods, forgotten by many.

When an invading army annihilates much of her country, she is faced with the decision to let her country be destroyed or release chaos into the world.

Review
The Poppy War is a different kind of fantasy for me. Rather than taking place in a world similar to medieval Europe, Kuang’s debut novel is influenced by Asian histories and societies. This unique voice in fantasy is simply incredible. The familiarity of a coming-to-age journey is enriched with Asian mythologies and histories, so the book feels like a completely new story (despite being rich with history).

Kuang is a skilled storyteller. Between her beautiful language, the pacing of events unfolding, and the character development of some of the minor character that I loved, I could not set The Poppy War aside.

This is the first grimdark newcomer this year that is properly grim and properly dark. There is a trigger warning for about anything that would require a warning. Drug abuse, sexual violence, self-harm are the ones that stick out to me a week after completion. I am sure I have overlooked a few. There are moments so bleak, inspired by known historical events, which leave the reader wondering if anything is as brutal as humanity.

I look forward to the upcoming books in this series and more writing from Kuang. If you were considering this new release, and you want something dark and beautiful, go ahead, pick it up.

Cheers,
A bookish girl