Book Review · Uncategorized

Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

3 1/2 out of 5 stars for Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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As everyone knows, I loves me a reimagined fairy tale, and that’s just what Naomi Novik has given us with Uprooted. However, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I loved this particular fairy tale but there was enough to like about it that I have gone on to buy her second book set in her magical world, Spinning Silver. The protagonist of Uprooted is a village girl named Agnieszka, who grows up on the outskirts of a deadly magical wood and the tower of the realm’s protector, a wizard everyone calls “The Dragon.”

Per the book description:

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

I didn’t love this book, mainly because it would bog down in repetitive descriptions of Agnieszka’s torn and messy clothes and her country bumpkin upbringing. She didn’t really solidify as a coherent character for me until well past the half-way mark of the narrative. What saved this book for me? Well, the story kept giving me surprises just when it was feeling a bit predictable. The author then managed to pull out a hat trick for a very satisfying ending. I don’t want to spoil it for you.

As Uprooted was the first book set in this world, I think the author struggled a bit in the beginning with character development but I have high hopes that the next book. I would recommend Uprooted for a late teen to older reader as it does contain a few sexual situations.

It is back-to-school week here in my hometown and that means more time for my personal pursuits. Happy pumpkin spice to you all!

Kind regards,

Anne

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Art Mosaics · Uncategorized

Summer 2018 Wrap-up

39878849_10156615648969181_4849174109050896384_o (1)My Glass-on-Glass Mosaic Project August 2018

I packed so much into this summer, the only thing I didn’t get to is this blog. I’m sorry about that. I had intended to be a much more frequent blogger than I turned out to be.
I packed in camping trips, family visits, cider pressing, final edits on our latest Renna Olsen manuscript, home improvements, and finished up with a four day glass-on-glass mosaic camping retreat with Kory Dollar of Marvelous Mosaics Fine Art. Now, it’s the final weekend before school starts, and I think we’re ready.

This coming week, I’m back on my head. I’ll be posting a review of the fantasy novel, Uprooted, by Naomi Novik. I’ll also be getting back to work on my current writing project. You can check out my writing wrap-up on our blog: http://litzophreniacs3.net

As for crafting, this week I’m working on tea cup pin cushions. My mom and I have booked our first craft bazaar for later this year and we’ll be working feverishly to get all our projects done before November.

Thanks for your patience. I promise to do better.

Kind regards,

Anne

 

 

 

Book Review · Uncategorized

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

4 out of 5 starsA Darker

Contrary to what my lack of posting implies, I’ve actually been reading books and watching movies these last few weeks. What I haven’t been doing is sitting my butt down at the computer and getting my reviews written down.  I promise to do better. And so this week, I present to you the fantasy novel, A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab. This book is the first in her Shades of Magic series, and it introduces us to a world in which four alternate Londons exist in separate magical realities. Travelling between these realities is a skill only possessed by people born with special magical abilities, and Kell is one such person. Kell is a messenger and ambassador for Red London and he moves between three of the four Londons.

Per the book description:

Kell is one of the last Antari―magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.
Kell was raised in Arnes―Red London―and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.
Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

I really enjoyed this book and I definitely have the next book in the series on my to-read list. I think Schwab does a decent job of world building but, as the story revolves more around the magic systems in each London, as opposed to the locales, I didn’t feel fully invested in the Londons. She does, however, present the reader with a fully fleshed and well-thought out magic system, that varies with each one of the Londons and with the people wielding them. It looks as if the next book in the series will delve more deeply into the actual worlds outside of the Londons and will focus on the character of Delilah Bard.

I’m looking forward to the next installment. This week, I’m reading Mr. Flood’s Last Resort by Jess Kidd. I hope you all are having a good summer. It’s been busy around here, what with a family camping trip and a new puppy, but I hope to be more active online in the coming weeks.

Kind regards,

Anne

Book Review · Uncategorized

Book Review: The Forbidden City by Deborah A. Wolf

The Forbidden City

5 out of 5 Stars!

I just finished The Forbidden City by Deborah A. Wolf, the second book in her Dragon’s Legacy series. This book marks a glorious return to world she introduced us to in The Dragon’s Legacy. The prose is as elegant and artful as the story is raw and bloody. Wolf shows no mercy to her cast of characters, killing them off with abandon (although, spoiler alert, in a land full of dark magic, not all the dead stay that way.) This book will leave you ready for more.

From the book jacket description:

Sulema Ja’Akari is an elite warrior, one of the desert people known as the Zeeranim. She is also the daughter of the Dragon King of Atualon, whose magic is the only thing that prevents the earth dragon from waking. Should the dragon end her sleep, their world will be destroyed.

The Dragon King is dying. As heir to his throne Sulema must be trained to take his place, yet the more she learns, the less she trusts the sinister agendas that surround her. Knowing that her life hangs in the balance, Sulema seeks to return to the Zeera.

Salvation may lie with her mother, Hafsa Azeina, who walks the dark and deadly pathways of the Dreaming Lands. To save her daughter, the dreamshifter will be forced to strike a pact with her greatest enemy, a huntress who would rather kill her than assist her.

Upheaval stretches far beyond Atualon–to the forbidden city of Khanbul where the emperor rules with an iron hand. An elite cadre of rebel conspirators chafes beneath his rule and plots to overthrow him.

Among them is Jian de Allyr, the half-dae prince born of a human mother and a twilight lord. If they are to challenge the emperor in his stronghold, however, Jian and his co-conspirators must secretly raise an army…

If I have one complaint, it would be that I wished I had discovered this series after it had been completely written. The plot is complex and includes multiple story arcs. I had forgotten a lot of the details from the first book, which made for some moments of confusion on my part. Wolf helpfully includes a map, and appendixes to help you along. Not to mention, just as she did in the last book, she leaves you with many unanswered questions.

I can’t wait for the next book, scheduled for release in May of 2019.  This was a great read, and I highly recommend it.

Kind regards,

Anne

author interview · New fantasy · Uncategorized

It’s Here! The Forbidden City by Deborah A. Wolf

The Forbidden City

Look what came in the mail today! The latest installment in the Dragon’s Legacy series, The Forbidden City, by my friend, Deborah A. Wolf. I am very much looking forward to diving into the second book in her lush series now that it’s here.

In honor of launch day, I’m reposting the author interview I did with Deb on the Litzophreniacs3 blog a few years back before she was a real-live published author.

As I’ve said before, I’ve known Deborah for a very long time and it’s particularly exciting to see friends do great things. I can also attest that Deb should have her own, “Most Interesting Woman in the World” meme. Before publishing, her first book had a working title of The Heart of Atualon but was changed to The Dragon’s Legacy. Here is the interview in full:

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and how your book came about.

Well, I’ve led a weird life, which lends itself well to being an author of speculative fiction. I’ve traveled a bit and always found myself fascinated by people, and cultures, and stories. Add that to a lifelong love of fantasy—I first read The Hobbit at six and never looked back—and you get the perfect alchemy for weird and wonderful stories.

Plus, I’m really no good at anything else. Whenever I try to hold down a regular job like normal people, I start throwing around the word ‘asinine’ and this does not endear me to supervisors or coworkers.

2. What helped you the most in writing The Heart of Atualon, the first book in the Song of the Sun Dragon Saga?

The best thing I ever did was give myself permission to fail. I’ve always wanted to write books, but the fear of not bursting from the starting gate with something as beautiful as Peter S. Beagle’s ‘The Last Unicorn’ had me paralyzed. I finally gave myself permission to write the most suckiful book in the history of books that suck so long as I finished the damn thing.

I then discovered, to my great delight and relief, that writing a good book depends only in small part on innate brilliance; much more skill than talent is involved, and skills can be learned and improved on through hard work.

This is very good news for me, because I love to learn about the craft of writing and I take it pretty seriously, but as far as innate brilliance is concerned I’m in woefully short supply. As you can probably attest, having watched me drink and dance at the same time.

3.What projects are you working on now?

My wonderful new editor at Titan is combing through THE HEART OF ATUALON for fleas. While he does that, and before he sends me two hundred pages of “Fix this, what were you even thinking?” I’m cheating on him with a new series.

SPLIT FEATHER is an urban fantasy set, ironically, in a tiny village in Alaska. Siggy has to discover where she came from in order to understand who she is, and she has to understand who she is before the demon in her head takes control. Also, fish head soup, witches, and bears.

4. Can you describe your writing process? When and where do you do most of your writing? What kind of technology do you use to create and compose?

I tried pantsing once. Not pulling people’s pants down, because that’s rude, but writing without a road map. Thank Cthulhu that beast never got published.

Now I’m a diehard outliner. I have outlines all over my computer…my outlines have outlines, and I’m not even joking. In the case of SPLIT FEATHER, I’ve got a seven-point outline, a fancy outline, a seven points story quotes outline, an extended outline, and a series outline. As I write, I narrow that down even further, detailing and (you guessed it, outlining) every step in my story as I come to it and just before I write, and then I outline each chapter by scene, to the point where great chunks of the story is written before I ever get around to writing.

My outlines are all done in MS Word, but the bulk of the story is composed in Scrivener, without which I would cease to function. I mean it, too; without Scrivener I’d just stay in bed all day with the covers over my head, wondering what I needed to do and in which order.

So, yeah. Word, Scrivener, and coffee.

I use Aeon Timeline software to keep stuff straight because I have a dismal memory, and the Pro Writing Aid plugin to help with editing because otherwise I’d use ‘just’ and ‘now and again’ so much my readers’ eyes would implode.

I get up at four in the morning to write and no, I am not a morning person. (See: Coffee, above). I do this because I haven’t figured out how to live without a paycheck, and most of the normal living hours of my day are already spoken for. I have a beat-up leather chair and ottoman at home for writing, and I can be found sitting in a corner at a local bookstore or upstairs at a local college. Found, but not disturbed. I get pretty bitchy when I’m writing and someone interrupts.

5. What or who inspired you to begin writing and for this book in particular?

I wrote my first fantasy story at the ripe old age of seven; my second grade teacher told my mother that I was possessed and needed exorcism.

She’s dead now.

THE HEART OF ATUALON came to me in a daydream—I daydream pretty much constantly—and I spent the next couple of weeks drawing maps of this fantastic new world that had exploded into being inside my head. A desert world with a matriarchal warrior society that broke pretty much every SFF trope I could find, and a king who abused his control of magic to the detriment of indigenous cultures, and a dragon at the heart of the world who was about to hatch and destroy everything.

Also giant cyborg spiders.

I struggled for a while over what form I wanted to use to tell this story…I love single-character epic fantasy with first person POV, and I love multi-POV epics with everything AND the kitchen sink stuffed into it. I thought at first this would be a simple sword-and-sorcery in the desert romp with Sulema as the only POV character…

…cue hysterical laughter…

…because that’s what a debut author should write. Master the simpler story forms, and then attempt the larger, more ridiculously unwieldy projects.

So anyway, eight POV characters and a fucktillion subplots later…

6. How do you generate ideas for your book(s)?

I broke the valve off my idea generator and the basement is completely flooded. I generate ideas constantly, whether I’m awake or asleep…it’s turning those ideas into stories of merit that’s the tricksy part.

7. How many hours a day do you devote to your writing?

All of them.

If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about my story. It’s first thing on my mind when my eyes open, and the last thing I think of as I crawl into bed.

Physical writing gets anywhere from an hour to twelve hours plus, depending on what else I’ve got going on. And most of those hours feel like work, it’s not like some unicorn came over and farted inspiration dust all over my head. Hard work, and worth every headache, stiff neck, and swollen wrist.

8. What were the major barriers you overcame to complete your book project, if any?

The absolute and utter conviction that I could not do this amazing thing that I was dying to do. I was too mired in a defeatist mindset to fully commit to living my own authentic life. My best friend and alpha reader, who I am claiming as my sister, encouraged me and cheered every paragraph I wrote until I’d pounded out ‘The End’. I would never have finished my first book if it weren’t for her unconditional love and unflagging support.

Poverty is a real mood killer, too; it’s grindingly difficult to write anything, even a grocery list, after slogging away forty hours as a wage slave, and then raising a house full of kids. I’ll admit to stretching out my college studies and existing mostly on student loan refunds and store-brand spaghetti so I could finish my first book.

So I’m still poor, but knowing I can do it enables me to get up before the birds and the bees and work at my writing…which then makes all the wage slavery, mundane chores, and northern Michigan traffic bearable.

9. What are you reading now? In your opinion, what constitutes good writing or conversely, bad writing?

I read all the books. Last weekend I was ill, and read all seven of Diana Rowland’s Kara Gillian books. In my opinion, her urban fantasy—especially her White Trash Zombie books—are beautifully and cleverly structured, so much so that they should be required reading in writing classes. Her prose is strong and clean too, and her zombie premise is awesome.

Pat Rothfuss’s prose is so beautiful it has made me cry.

Robin Hobb’s characters live on in my mind and my heart as if they were dear friends of mine and not fictional characters at all. No other writer has ever accomplished that.

George Martin is unmatched, I think, in his ability to create and maintain the biggest, baddest epic fantasy ever.

Bad writing: cardboard characters, Chosen One storylines with no further thought put into telling something new, sexist drivel that casts women as cardboard backgrounds to the male characters’ lives, and characters who jump onto stallions and gallop for three weeks straight, pausing every other Tuesday to feed their unnamed mount a nose-bag full of grain. For Google’s sakes, people, make an effort.

I am also SO OVER rapey rapey rape culture in fantasy writing. If you use a woman’s rape to show me the man-pain of your male character, I’m going to burn your book and bury the ashes in my cat’s litter box. I’ve actually quit watching the Game of Thrones HBO series because ugh, over it.

10. What advice can you give to first time authors?

As great as you think it might be to get an agent and sell your book, the real deal is a fucktillion times better. Just sit your ass down and write.

I hope you enjoyed a peek into how Deborah thinks and works. If you want to follow Deb yourself, you can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and her blog at http://www.deborahwolf.com/.

I’ll be posting my review of The Forbidden City as soon as I’m finished with it. I’ve got high hopes!

Kind regards,

Anne

 

Book Review · Uncategorized

Book Review: Eve of a Hundred Midnights by Bill Lascher

3 1/2 out of 5 starsEve of a hundred midnights

In Eve of a Hundred Midnights: The Star-Crossed Love Story of Two WWII Correspondents and Their Epic Escape Across the Pacific, Bill Lascher chronicles the lives of journalists Mel and Annalee Jacoby and their first-hand coverage of WWII in the Pacific Theater and subsequent escape using letters, articles, books, photos, and recollections from their families. I struggled with this book which is why I gave it 3 1/2 stars.

From the back cover description:

“The unforgettable true story of two married journalists on an island-hopping run for their lives across the Pacific after the Fall of Manila during World War II—a saga of love, adventure, and danger.

On New Year’s Eve, 1941, just three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese were bombing the Philippine capital of Manila, where journalists Mel and Annalee Jacoby had married just a month earlier. The couple had worked in China as members of a tight community of foreign correspondents with close ties to Chinese leaders; if captured by invading Japanese troops, they were certain to be executed. Racing to the docks just before midnight, they barely escaped on a freighter—the beginning of a tumultuous journey that would take them from one island outpost to another. While keeping ahead of the approaching Japanese, Mel and Annalee covered the harrowing war in the Pacific Theater—two of only a handful of valiant and dedicated journalists reporting from the region.

Supported by deep historical research, extensive interviews, and the Jacobys’ personal letters, Bill Lascher recreates the Jacobys’ thrilling odyssey and their love affair with the Far East and one another. Bringing to light their compelling personal stories and their professional life together, Eve of a Hundred Midnights is a tale of an unquenchable thirst for adventure, of daring reportage at great personal risk, and of an enduring romance that blossomed in the shadow of war.”

I have to admit that I have a love-hate relationship with Bill Lascher’s book. I loved the story of Mel and Annalee but for large portions of the book, it felt like an information dump and I prefer more of a storyteller approach to my reading. It might have been easier to parse the information if the book had included a dramatis personae (to keep all the key players straight) and a map. The sheer number of names, both foreign and English, and their nicknames, kept me thumbing back and forth to see who the author was referring to again and again. I wanted to love it but I just couldn’t fall into the story for any length of time. My father, on the other hand, loved this book. He was the one who recommended it to me in the first place. So, I’ll pass on his high recommendation in place of my own tepid review.

Thanks for stopping by!

Kind regards,

Anne

Book Review

Book Series Review: The Flavia de Luce novels by Alan Bradley

I give this series Four out of Five Stars.

flavia books.jpg

I’ve just finished the fourth book in Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mystery series and I’ve already put in my order for the fifth book. This is a delightful series, full of eccentric characters and intricate plots. It’s funny, too!

Alan Bradley’s main character is a brilliant 11 year old chemist and amateur detective growing up in post-WWII Britain. Flavia has an unhealthy fascination with poisons and death, a fascination that puts her squarely in the middle of a various murder investigations. She lives with her father, her two older sisters, and her father’s handyman (but so much more) Dogger, in their crumbling mansion called Buckshaw.

In the first book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Flavia finds a dead body in the kitchen garden at Buckshaw. Not rattled in the least and wanting to solve the murder herself, she embarks on her own investigation into the death. The local police aren’t too keen on her involvement but her discoveries turn out to be invaluable in the end.

The fact that Flavia is a child does nothing to detract from the books, and in fact, allows for a bit of ridiculousness that you wouldn’t believe if it came from an adult. I have to admit that I do tend to glaze over a bit when she gets into the detailed chemistry bits but that is due to my own lack of knowledge and not any failing on the author’s part.

If you enjoy a light-hearted, intellectual mystery then the Flavia de Luce books are for you.

This weekend, I’m off to a glass mosaic workshop to get my art on. I’ll be learning the techniques and creating my own masterpiece to take home at the end of the workshop. I’ll keep you posted. Wish me luck!

Kind regards,

Anne