That time I graduated (again).

Trying to hide the fact that I’m hungry and my hood is choking me.

Hi. Hello. It’s me, the person who has gone MIA the last few years aside from sporadic Tweets and even more sporadic book reviews.

I guess this post is meant to serve as a graduation announcement/return to the land of the living. After three years, numerous emotional breakdowns reminiscent of those displayed by the small children I live with, far too many Trader Joe’s frozen meals, and mental health treatment, I’m finally done with my MLIS.

I’m trying to figure out what to do with myself now that I’ve graduated AND I’m on summer vacation. Applying for jobs, obviously. Playing with the Legos that have taken over our living room with the soon-to-be kindergarteners in my life. Caring for the numerous plants I have somehow acquired in the last few months. Eating real food. Figuring out how this whole writing thing works again.

I guess the only real answer I have to what comes next is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. And that’s okay.


Currently Reading: Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding by Rhys Bowen
Currently Listening To: Vitamin String Quartet — “Get Lucky”

Book Review: EMBER

Full disclosure: I’m friends with the author and read multiple drafts of the book prior to its publication. This hasn’t impacted my review at all.

EmberTitle: EMBER
Author: Anna Holmes
Series: Ember of Elyssia, #1
Publication Information: Self-Published, 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 341
Source: Purchased
Genre: Young Adult – Fantasy
Warnings: Light violence (swordplay, magic), maiming
Rating: 5 stars
Recommended For: Fans of the enemies to lovers romance trope (told in dual POV!) and witty banter; fans of The Princess Bride.

The war is over. The island of Elyssia has been freed from the clutches of the Rosalian Empire, power restored to the island’s monarchy. However, after leading the Resurgence from the front, Princess Caelin now finds herself sitting and waiting more often than not. When magical prodigy Alain Flynn breaks into her palace to kidnap her, she hears of a secret slave camp—and forms a plan. Under the guise of a kidnapping, she will investigate the camp, expose the secrets, and take control of the fate of her kingdom.

(Summary from Goodreads)

So, I’ve read this book like three or four times and I’m still not sick of it, so it’s already got that going for it.

So many fantasy books are about defeating the bad guy, and then everyone goes to war to take down the aforementioned bad guy, and everyone is happy when the bad guy goes down, but we don’t get to see very often what happens after the war. What sort of rebuilding goes on? How do the new people in charge gain the trust of the people who fought against them? EMBER, refreshingly, is set during this time of rebuilding. The war has ended, and that’s where the story begins. Caelin has to figure out how to rebuild Elyssia, and how to gain the trust of the people who were on the other side in the war – since a lot of people actually supported the Rosalians. Then, there’s also the fact that, as a teenage girl, a lot of people don’t think she’s up to the task of ruling, so she has enemies inside the palace as well as outside. And, inwardly, Caelin is unsure she has what it takes to be a good ruler. SO MUCH CONFLICT.

Our other POV is Alain, a former Rosalian commander (or Prince, as they’re called) who is put into slavery – a thing Caelin’s advisers are doing behind her back – and, upon escaping his slave camp, decides to kidnap Caelin. He is one of the previously mentioned supporters of Rosalia who hates Caelin and doesn’t want to see her rule. But, all he knows is the propaganda fed to him by the Empire, and when he actually meets Caelin, he starts having conflicted feelings about her as he realizes she’s not the evil person he was always told. MORE CONFLICT.

And then, of course, there is a cast of delightful secondary characters. There’s Riley, my precious brooding child, a palace guard and Caelin’s best friend since childhood; Tressa, a centaur bounty hunter who’s got the best attitude in the world; August, who I just want to hug every time he shows up; and Gavroth, who is The Best. Even the villains are a delight to read, even though they’re terrible people.

John & Hank Green: Turtles All the Way Down Tour

IMG_4548I saw John and Hank Green (for the second time!) when they stopped by my alma mater, Western Washington University, on John Green’s book tour for TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN. Which I haven’t actually read yet, because I’ve been reading library books and also things for class. But SOON.

Anyway, one thing to know about their tours – which they also did jointly for the release of TFiOS – is that it’s really a variety show. John talks about his book and reads from it, but then we also get Hank singing songs about science, and they do things together. This time, they answered pre-submitted questions in a sort of podcast format. (Which – it was news to me they have a podcast now? I’m out of the loop.)

The evening as a whole was really fun. They both do a great job getting the audience IMG_4550excited and involved, despite hating audience participation, according to John. Thinking about it, I guess there really wasn’t any audience participation involved. They just did a great job making it SEEM like we were participating, simply because they made sure we had fun. And I will say, while I felt a little weird being a lone adult attendee, it was cool seeing how many teenagers convinced their parents to take them, and how many of them were singing along with Hank’s science songs, and generally being excited about nerd stuff.

John also took some time to talk about his OCD, and how it made him less creative because not taking care of it made it harder for him to write, and he urged the audience to get help if they, like him, felt like their brains were spinning out of control and were feeling scared. Given how many people in the audience were teenagers, I’m glad he spoke about his experience so honestly, because a lot of those kids who were there really look up to him, so his words have the potential to have a really big impact on them.

Book Review: OF SCARS AND STARDUST

OSaSTitle: OF SCARS AND STARDUST
Author: Andrea Hannah
Publication Information: Flux, 2014
Genre: Young Adult – Mystery
Rating: 4 Stars
Recommended For: People who love them some plot twists with a heaping side of guilt.

After her little sister mysteriously vanishes, seventeen-year-old Claire Graham has a choice to make: stay snug in her little corner of Manhattan with her dropout boyfriend, or go back to Ohio to face the hometown tragedy she’s been dying to leave behind.

But the memories of that night still haunt her in the city, and as hard as she tries to forget what her psychiatrist calls her “delusions,” Claire can’t seem to escape the wolf’s eyes or the blood-speckled snow. Delusion or reality, Claire knows she has to hold true to the most important promise she’s ever made: to keep Ella safe. She must return to her sleepy hometown in order to find Ella and keep her hallucinations at bay before they strike again. But time is quickly running out, and as Ella’s trail grows fainter, the wolves are becoming startlingly real.

Now Claire must deal with her attraction to Grant, the soft-spoken boy from her past that may hold the secret to solving her sister’s disappearance, while following the clues that Ella left for only her to find. Through a series of cryptic diary entries, Claire must unlock the keys to Ella’s past—and her own—in order to stop another tragedy in the making, while realizing that not all things that are lost are meant to be found.

(Summary from Goodreads)

Why I Picked It: I follow Andrea on Twitter and Instagram (which didn’t influence my review at all). Also, the cover is gorgeous.

First of all, I want to talk about how well the cover ties into the book. We’ve got the two girls clutching each other, which accurately speaks to the fact that this is a story about two sisters. Then, the sisters are standing in the middle of some really creepy looking trees, which I think accurately reflects the feel of the book since it definitely had me on edge the entire time I was reading it.

The book started off pretty slow for me. The entire first section of the book shows up what happens before the main story – the part where the main character, Claire, is trying to find her missing sister, Ella. I understand that the information we get from that part is important to understanding Claire’s mental state and Ella’s motivations later on in the book, but I have to wonder if it needed to be presented that way since I felt like it slowed the pace down a bit toward the beginning.

Once I got through Part One, though, and the mystery really kicked into gear, I was in. OF SCARS AND STARDUST is full of twists and turns that had me saying “NO WAY!” in multiple places. As soon as Ella goes missing and Claire and Graham start looking for clues and start uncovering the truth about certain past events, the book is fast-paced and never slows down.

I also loved how well Hannah presented Claire, whose sanity is in question throughout the entire book. The entire time I was reading, I had to question if certain things were actually happening, but at the same time, I really wanted to believe Claire because it was so clear how much she cares about Ella and feels responsible for what happened to her. Claire may or may not be experiencing delusions, but she always felt fully formed, which I feel is important when dealing with a character like this.

Another thing I really loved is the setting. OF SCARS AND STARDUST takes place mostly in a small town in Ohio, and captured that small town feel. But at the same time, it was really atmospheric and because of that – as well as how Claire perceives her surroundings – it added a lot of tension to the book.

TL;DR: OF SCARS AND STARDUST starts off slow, but once the mystery element of the story comes into play, it’s a fast-paced story full of twists and turns that’s hard to put down.

My Writing Process

Last week, one of my CPs, Liz Parker, tagged me to post about my writing process. Here we go!

What Are You Currently Writing?

Right now I’m working on the second draft of FIRE, a YA apocalyptic epic fantasy about an eighteen-year-old girl named Aimee who has to take her mother’s seat on her city-state’s oligarchic ruling Council after Aimee turns her mother in for practicing illegal witchcraft. I first got the idea for it when I was writing a paper about medieval inquisitions, and while it was originally supposed to be a dystopian, I realized pretty quickly that I sort of suck at writing things set in our world so I ended up repurposing it for a high fantasy. I’ll end up retitling it at some point since there’s already a pretty well-known book named FIRE, but for right now I’m not even worrying about it.

I’m also continuing to query SHARDS. Which mostly consists of sending emails and sitting around, so it would be a pretty boring thing to blog about.

What Makes Your Work Different?

I put a really big focus on setting in my stories. Setting is usually the first thing that comes to me when I’ve got a new idea; everything else that comes after is just a product of whatever my setting is.

Also, even though my fantasy worlds are strongly grounded in history, I usually blend a few different periods together. For example, the politics and religion in SHARDS are rooted in medieval history, while the social aspect is based on Victorian England. In FIRE, the city-state idea is based on Ancient Greece; the mage trials are inspired by the Spanish Inquisition; and the technology, fashion, and so on will be based on the Old West (although I need to do a lot more research so I can flesh that aspect out).

Why Do You Write What You Do?

I write fantasy because those have always been the books I’ve gravitated toward. I love being able to explore different worlds with their own sets of rules. And studying history game me a lot of ideas because I can take different things that interest me and go “what if?” with them. I guess I could easily do this by writing historical fiction, but I have too hard of a time sticking to one time period and not including some fantastical elements.

I write YA because of how interesting that age is. There are so many things you’re just starting to figure out, and often you feel so alone. I write YA so teenagers can hopefully see themselves in these characters and feel less alone.

And finally, I write about women because there are so many conflicting messages for young women from all directions. I would hope that if I’m lucky enough to have teenage girls following my characters’ adventures someday, they will realize it’s okay to think for themselves, trust their instincts, and that there are all kinds of ways to be strong.

What Is Your Writing Process?

Like I said, I usually start with the setting. I actually have a Word document for future ideas that is made up of ideas for future settings. Then, I build up my main characters and the conflict around that. My plot then follows, built around questions such as what my character wants and what her main conflict is.

When I write the first draft, I only know the beginning, the end, and maybe a few key plot points in between. I don’t outline until after I’m finished, and my first draft is usually only a glorified outline that I use to get inside my MC’s head and explore her world. I outline on index cards so in the next draft, I can get the plot sorted out. I use revisions to flesh everything else out – subplots, characters, setting, etc. And then once I’m feeling pretty good about those and I’ve got a thumbs up from CPs and beta readers, I go through one more time and focus on the little things like sentence structure and grammar and word choice.

Rewriting is my least favorite part, so I’m progressing really slowly on FIRE because of that. I usually send out a few chapters at a time to CPs because I know they’ll keep bugging me for me. My favorite part is revisions, because now I’ve got the hard part done and now I can flesh things out! I tend to write very short drafts, and then flesh things out a lot in revisions. (SHARDS, for example, went from 49k to 70k. I’m aiming for 50k with this draft of FIRE, but I could see it easily being 80k when I’m done with it.)

Thank you for tagging me, Liz! Next Monday, two more of my CPs will share, C.E. Darrell and Ifeoma Dennis!

Cover Reveal: Heirs of War, Crown of Flames

Today I’m super excited to be helping reveal the cover for Mara Valderran‘s HEIRS OF WAR, CROWN OF FLAMES, the sequel to the awesome HEIRS OF WAR.

I’ll let Mara take it from here!

Book two of the Heirs of War series is right around the corner! Heirs of War, Crown of Flames is set to be released this summer, and we have the first look at the cover for the book today! If you haven’t already read Heirs of War, it is on sale this week for $0.99 cents from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and other retailers. Here’s what you have to look forward to in book two:

Weeks have passed since Ariana and Alec escaped from Kellen’s dungeon, but danger isn’t far behind them. As they travel through unknown lands and encounter multiple threats, their biggest challenge might be trusting one another.

Despite the danger and the war closing in around them, all of Anscombe seems to be more interested in the upcoming Imbolc festival than rescuing Ariana. Well, not everyone

Tired of waiting for the Duillaine to help her twin, Zelene starts plotting on her own and finds a surprising ally in Rhaya, even as the Cynewards prepare to make a move of their own. But Zelene’s plans go awry when she finds herself with a new ability, a mysterious new friend, and more enemies within the walls of Anscombe than she thought.

Add it on Goodreads
Read the preview chapters on Wattpad

About Mara

Mara Valderran is not just an author of young adult and new adult novels. She has dabbled in screenwriting, retired from acting, and drawn some pretty mean stick figures in her time. She is an avid reader and loves all things fantasy. She contributes to the fantasy blog There and Draft Again: A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers. 

Her debut novel, HEIRS OF WAR, has been met with great reviews and was featured on Wattpad in 2013, raking in over 600k reads. The series continues with the second book, HEIRS OF WAR, CROWN OF FLAMES to be released in Summer 2014. Her short story “The Austenation” will be included in the Borderlands Anthology and she is looking forward to publishing her young adult dystopian ALTAR OF REALITY with Curiosity Quills Winter 2014. 

Mara is more than just a madwoman with a writing box. She loves roller skating and movies, though typically not together. She lives in Las Vegas with her husband and demanding cat. She hopes to one day meet Daniel Jackson from SG1, or at least the actor who played him. When she’s not writing, you can find her reading, playing video games, or spending time at her favorite local coffee shop.

For more on Mara or her latest projects, check out her website

Follow Her On Social Media:

Facebook   Twitter   Google+

Don’t forget to enter the Fan Favorites and Shipping Wars contests running on her website! By choosing your favorite character or you favorite relationship in the Heirs of War series, you can win a chance to star in a brand new scene with those characters or help bring them to life in a new scene. Just fill out the forms and you will be entered to win!

And if all of that wasn’t enough, here’s the book trailer:

That time I accidentally finished writing a book.

Before I start a first draft, I sketch out a rough outline with a beginning, an end, and a couple major plot points in between so I at least have some vague idea of where I’m going. I got to a certain point in FIRE and realized it just wasn’t going to work as one book – I had way too much story for that. If I want to tell the story I envisioned, I’m going to need to split it in half.

At that point, that left me with only a chapter or two to finish out this part of the story. Which is how I accidentally finished the first draft of FIRE.*

FIRE is the third book I’ve completed (hooray!). And, like the others, I’ve learned a lot from it.

  • My first book, AN UNFORGIVING LAND, I finished during NaNo in 2007. It taught me how to finish something. (And it will never see the light of day, at least not in the form it’s in.)
  • My second book, SHARDS, taught me how to stay committed to something. It was the first time I bothered getting feedback/rewriting/revising/editing etc.
  • FIRE is teaching me that this whole writing thing doesn’t get any easier, and that each book has its own set of challenges. I struggled with Calanthe’s voice in SHARDS, but Aimee’s voice came to me really easily. World building came to me ridiculously easily with SHARDS, but I’ve got a whole lot to figure out here with FIRE.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t take me as long to get FIRE in a not-crappy state as it did with SHARDS!

*I have a tendency to do things on accident. Like graduating from college. I did that on accident. It’s just a gift, I guess.

YA Book Club: Allegiant

Allegiant (Divergent, #3)Allegiant by Veronica Roth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To be totally honest, I was initially a little disappointed with Allegiant. The beginning, as many people have already mentioned, was a little slow-moving, and after that ending to Insurgent, I expected something a little more explosive than what ended up happening. Fortunately, things did eventually pick up, and I enjoyed the back half of the book a lot more because it was a lot more like the previous books.

As far as the alternating perspectives, I wasn’t sure at first as to the reason for that, but it didn’t bother me too much because I ended up liking Four’s chapters more than Tris’s. It was interesting to get inside his head more and learn more about him, as well as watch him wrestle with his demons.

What I really want to talk about, though, is the ending. I know all the signs pointed toward Allegiant ending the way it did, but it still caught me by surprise. But not in a bad way. I think having things end the way they did was actually the most appropriate ending; it suited the tone of the series, and ending things any other way would’ve just felt like a cop out. (I mean, I probably wouldn’t have minded, but it wouldn’t have felt completely right, either.)

After having some more time to think about it, I formulated some further thoughts about the ending. [You can read my full review with spoilers here.]

Allegiant wasn’t my favorite of the books, but it’s still worth reading for the ending alone.

View all my reviews

Book Club ButtonHosted by Tracey Neithercott

 

Review: Heirs of War

Heirs of War (Heirs of War, #1)Heirs of War by Mara Valderran

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Note: This review is based on an ARC I received from the author. I also read part of an earlier version of the manuscript. Neither of these swayed my review.

One of the things I was most excited about with Heirs of War is the fact that all five of the main characters are women, which is always something I love to find in epic fantasy novels like this. I also love how even though we see all five of their points of view, it’s never confusing, and each character has her own personality. They were all fully fleshed out, instead of just being token female fantasy characters.

I also liked how the world the girls find themselves in comes to life, with a hint of political tensions under the surface that I hope explode in the next book. It might feel sometimes like there’s not much happening, but that’s because we’re getting immersed in the world – there’s so much going on under the surface, and we’re discovering it through the eyes of the main characters. With such a central role, I could sense that everything was just building to something and I can’t wait to find out what happens!

The only thing I wanted to see more of was a little more activeness from the characters. Sometimes it felt like they were letting things happen, as opposed to making things happen. Like I said, though, I got the sense we were being set up for some big things to happen in the next book, so I’m sure there will be more making things happen soon.

There were some really interesting things going on in Heirs of War, and I’m sure they’re only going to get more interesting from here. I can’t wait for the next book!

View all my reviews

Currently Listening To: Lorde – “Tennis Court”
Currently Reading: Divergent by Veronica Roth