Thursday, March 27, 2014

War isn't always what it seems

Got a little tangled up in multiple projects again, and actually finished this book a week ago. Sorry if I have missed some of the finer points in my review as I try to scrape it out of the back of my memory. We are continuing our journey through the Republic's underground to destroy the evil Elector Primo in the sophomore novel of the Legend series. 

Prodigy by Marie Lu

This story finds June and Day developing more through tragedy and misunderstanding. Their relationship is very real. They have been wounded, betrayed, used, and misled. Each has their own personal struggles while trying to love each other. And they are young; meaning they do all the wrong things and make developing a relationship almost impossible, yet you keep rooting for them to figure it out. The raw pain and emotion is exposed in the story, but it is not the focal point. These are books that don't over do the romance even though it is a key component to how the main characters react and make choices. I cannot give enough praises to this advanced technique out of a fledgling author.

The picture starts to expand a little further in the second novel. The nefarious plots of the power behind the curtain start to become exposed. The reader begins to be a little more omniscient. We move beyond the Republic's borders into the mysterious and dreamed about Colonies. However, it is just a barely, brief glimpse that makes me want to read more. I am certainly interested in picking up Champion (and even more pleased that I have the entire boxed set to just keep on reading). Marie Lu doesn't use a traditional cliffhanger of action, but more of world development alluding to what is still building kind of cliffhanger. There is clearly an ending (and a tearful one at that so have some tissues on standby) to Prodigy. In case you have lost your mind and want to stop reading here.

This sophomore novel did not make as heavy of an impact for me as Legend, but it certainly is still worth 4 stars. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

It's the End of the World As We Know It

This review will probably not do enough justice to the quality of this novel. The category may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it still remains a book everyone should read. Swallow your aversion to young adult or romance or whatever would usually keep you from picking up a copy and go for it. I promise it will be worth it.

Here and Now by Ann Brashares

If you are familiar with the author, then you are already aware of her style. She is the creator of the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants series, most notably. However, this latest novel is a fresh side to the young-adult-falling-in-love-for-the-first-time theme. I have to admit I really could have gone without this plot device. It wasn't as well developed as her previous stories, though it was an incredibly real ending. Falling in love for the first time is great, but there are more important lessons to learn. Ann shows those lessons for the here and now (hehe, title pun) with gritty realness. 

The characters themselves were well developed with back-story and growth in a short 246 pages. The interactions between all the lead and supporting characters is a bit weak. We get plenty of action between the two lovebirds, but there are so many other dramatic, plot-essential characters. It is a bit of a shame they all don't fit quite right together. 

Now for the amazing plot. Where should I slate this novel? Dystopian, pandemic, teen romance. Sure, that will work. You have the young, naive teenager who starts to realize that her life has been jaded by the superiors meant to take care of her. She falls in love with the boy who has been forbidden by the community rules. Now that all seems cliche and tiresome, but I promise this book has so much more underneath. The actual material behind their exile is just so relevant to our very own time. The overall message this book spreads is fundamentally essential. This is a YA novel, so don't expect to be stumped by the conclusion or have a hard to solve mystery in front of you. I certainly didn't know all the finer details by the end, but I had a 3/4 done puzzle by the half way point. The entire beauty of the story rests solely on what you take away from the pandemic. 

I easily read this book during my weekend break with errands and poodle exercising in between. This book gets 4 stars for sheer importance of the plot (to me). It is a fast enough read you really have no excuse not to attempt the read to broaden your mind (once again, even if it is outside your comfort genre). Learn a life lesson. Pick up a copy TODAY!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Southeast Asia folklore

A collection of Vietnamese short stories releases next week. I have been making my way through them during the weekend. Then I spent the other parts of the weekend totally freaked out. I may have even developed a few new phobias about the other world.

I absolutely love the culture of these stories and Violet Kupersmith bringing them into the modern era. The lessons that grandmothers have been teaching their grandchildren in Vietnam are now polished up for everyone to enjoy. I am a huge fan of cultural myth and folk tales. This was definitely a book for me, but I think that everyone can enjoy the stories. Keep your lights turned on! Get your copy pre-ordered here, or ask your local, indie bookseller to get an order.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Final climb of the rollercoaster

Back to the world of D&D. I have received the fifth installment of The Sundering series. We are starting to really draw to the end of this rollercoaster. We are looking at the last incline before the great, exciting plunge at the end. So far, I have enjoyed only the even numbered authors. Will Troy Denning break the pattern?

The Sentinel by Troy Denning

Unfortunately not. With the fifth installment of The Sundering series, I feel like I have stepped into a separate world again. Byers was starting to put all the pieces together for me. He even had a character bleed forward from Evans's novel. A world was building and a picture was developing in my mind. 

With the The Sentinel, I felt like I spilled developer solution all over the beautiful picture and now have big splotches covering up half the frame. We have a new cast of characters that seem to have no relevance to the previous books. They are just yet another group of Chosen for yet another group of gods I don't recognize. We are still in the Forgotten Realms, but suddenly we are in yet another part of it. I went back to having no clue where I was. I understand they are each stand-alone novels telling the story to bring the Forgotten Realms forward to modern readers, but there should be some kind of cohesion. Shouldn't there? Or am I just picky? I do have to lay some blame at the fact that I know nothing of Dungeons and Dragons; where this story is certainly meant for the fandom of D&Ders out there. I just don't like reading a book with a wiki permanently open on the computer screen to know where I'm coming from or going to; so take my rant with a grain of salt. 

Unfortunately, the lost feeling was not my only disappointment with the story. There were a lot of ups and downs for me in the actual plot and character development. The point of view switches at random with no segue. I stumbled over that hiccup too many times to enjoy the story. The characters themselves are caught up in a rather unusual love triangle that is there one minute and gone the next. Is the romance aspect really supposed to be there or did the author feel forced to add it for an expanded reader base? The whole development was stunted and butted into the story in a jarring way. 

It does seem that Shar, the goddess of destruction, plays some kind of overarching role in all the novels. Each author has mentioned her in some way. They all seem to be involved with avoiding, manipulating, or destroying her nefarious plot to swallow the world. I guess I will have to wait for the last book to see how this game plays out, because I have to admit I am at a complete loss after I felt like I was starting to get it.

Now for some things I did enjoy about this book. I really liked Arietta, but that could be contributed to loving archery (and therefore almost every character who uses it). The action scenes were very well paced and exciting. A rather limited list I admit after looking at my rants.

I rate this book 3 stars. Sometimes I felt like it was a four, others time only a two. I ended up not being really sure if it was worth the read or not. It comes out in two weeks, so visit the amazing Wizards of the Coast page to make the call for yourself. For the individual book: here. For the overall Sundering series: here.

Friday, March 14, 2014

I pledge allegiance

My husband is wonderful. For Christmas, he surprised me with a complete set of hardback copies of the Legend series. He had read about the impression they were leaving in the literary industry and thought I might enjoy them. I love that he supports my reading addiction, and that he knows me well enough to buy me a set of books I couldn't put down. My to-read is realistically stacked so high I have just cracked open my Christmas gift.

Legend by Marie Lu

I was initially hesitant about reading an urban fantasy since I prefer the completely unrealistic to the very possible dystopian future America. I am certainly an escapist in loves with magic and elves. Don't misunderstand, though. I enjoyed The Hunger Games but am not as fanatical about them like I am about Harry Potter. These books have been classified as the competition to Hunger Games. And boy, do I think they wallop them into the ground. 

This is a YA novel that probably could have easily succeeded without such young protagonists. They are wise well beyond their years (though I guess that makes sense with the militaristic zone they live in) and, to me personally, would have been a little more enjoyable as older teens and/or adults. Though, there are some great moments were the naivete and innocence of a young teen shows through. But if my biggest complaint involves the balance of the characters age to their actions, I'm throwing it out the window in lieu of great writing and enthralling story.

The struggle for what is right and wrong on top of learning the dark truth about her posh life makes June one of my all time favorite characters. She manages to be so human despite being raised so mechanically. She has a trusty companion dog, a protective big brother, and creepy admirer. There is a lot to learn about her character through the interactions she has with these support characters. Marie Lu does an amazing job of showing, not telling with her character development. Her dynamic with Day is easy to sympathize with my own life. They keep the story pulsing along. Before you know it, you will be at the end of the book. Everything moved along too quickly for me to really lock onto the details I actually felt surprise at the ending, though I easily could have seen it coming. Excellent distraction tactics Ms. Lu.

The supporting cast is almost too big for the shadows of the leading duo; I enjoyed the interaction and play between everyone. No one really could have been left out in the editing process. There are so many dynamic personalities floating about the book that every reader should find a character to connect with.

This is definitely a 5 star book. Don't worry about buying one book at a time to see what you think. Just go out and buy the whole boxed set

Thursday, March 6, 2014

You might think it is an April Fool's Day joke...

but it isn't. The fifth installment of The Sundering series will be releasing on April 1st. Troy Denning adds his voice to the series in The Sentinel. My full review will get published later this month, but my first impressions are a little hazy. I'm still processing what I read, I think. I have two weeks to process and write my review. For Now:

Visit the amazing Wizards of the Coast product page for more details. Visit the expansive Sundering website for the synopsis of all the stories, maps, apps, and other multimedia goodies.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Back to chatting with Anna Kashina

As I continue my way through The Sentinel, I will give readers a chance to enjoy another author interview. I have really enjoyed being a part of this author's journey and hope you readers are trying out some of the books I have reviewed and recommended. 

Blades of the Old Empire: Book I of the Majat CodeWe are back with Anna Kashina again for some more fun interviewing. This time about her amazing new action adventure novel Blades of the Old Empire. Her new novel has been in stores for six days and has already entered the top 100 in the World Literature category. That is a strong opening for a strong book. 

The questions in this interview round are distinctly different from Anna's last interview because the two novels have a different feel and tone. The questions were a lot of fun to come up with, and Anna bounced back some excellent answers. Our interview below:

Amy) To me, it seems that every classic adventure fantasy has a great map. How did you develop the map for Blades of the Old Empire?

Anna) This map was developed in stages. First, I started with an overall sketch of my world. I aimed for an enclosed area equivalent to or slightly larger than Europe, because that, for me, made for a manageable setting for a series. To make it enclosed, I surrounded it with oceans on the west and the south, and mountains on the north and the east. Of course there are kingdoms that lie beyond these mountains and oceans—and they may surface later in the series—but at least this gave me a correctly sized world for what I had in mind. I populated it with cultures I wanted to have in my story, a desert Arabian kingdom in the south, a nomadic area in the east, Slavic-type people in the center, northern warriors, and others.

The next level of detail came when I started working on the story. When the characters traveled somewhere or mentioned a place, I put this place on the map to have a reference point. I was working with a horrible hand-drawn sketch, but it served the purpose. Putting places on the map added authenticity to the writing, in my mind they became real places and I could then build up their culture, history, etc. I am a visual writer, and I always have a very detailed view of every scene in my mind. Having a map helped me anchor these scenes into a “real” world.

In “Blades of the Old Empire” people travel long distance, and at some point in the story there is a race between two groups of characters trying to get to the same spot at the same time from two vastly different destinations. When I wrote this, my map work came down to details, laying out roads and trails, measuring distances, devising means for people to cover these distances in the same amount of time by using different mounts and transportation means. It had to be timed to the minute, and it did work out well.

I submitted a roughly sketched map to my publisher after signing the contract. When they told me they are commissioning an artist to draw the map for the book, I was thrilled. But the highlight of it came when I actually saw sketches and got to give feedback on them. The map artist was amazing in his knowledge of geography and the fine aspects of map drawing for fantasy books. At some point we were e-mailing each other all day to polish the details. When I saw the finished map I felt very gratified. It gave an additional anchor to my world, made it even more real in my mind.

Amy) Each character seems to bring a certain "magical" strength with them. How do you keep all the details of your magic system organized? Do you develop it in advance of writing, or as does it develop as the characters get written?

Anna) A little bit of both, I think. Generally I believe it makes for a much clearer story if each character has a defined magic skill, with its strengths and limitations, so that this character can win or lose depending on the situation and the opponents’ strengths or weaknesses. I actually studied some role-playing games to see how this works, and it helped me to some extent to set the boundaries.

Even with all this planning, many things about my characters’ magic came as a surprise. Kythar’s gift was very challenging to write. His overall strength is focus, an ability to either focus an external power (e.g., the wind) to aid him, or to focus his mind. This protects him against his enemies’ mind control magic, which works exactly the opposite: de-focusing the opponent’s mind, making people lose concentration to the point that it becomes physically debilitating. But to convey it clearly to the readers and to define the boundaries was hard. An additional difficulty came from the fact that Kythar is just learning to use his magic, and he is the main point of view character, so when we are in his mind we don’t even know for sure what he can do until he tries it and either succeeds or fails. His magic developed in parallel with the Kaddim’s when I wrote the story.

And then there is Ellah’s gift of truthsense. This was an easy one to define, but it came as a surprise to me. Ellah is a headstrong girl who often rubs people the wrong way because of having opinions about everything. She is not particularly good-looking and is the essence of what we think of as a “normal” person. When it is first brought up that she has magic, Ellah’s first reaction is “no way!”, and so was mine. But then, as she started learning to use it, it fell into place perfectly. I realized (and she did too) that she is opinionated exactly because she sees the truth where others don’t, even if up to a certain point she is not aware of it. It made her magic so clear in my mind and in the end I think it also made her one of the strongest characters in the book.

In a way, the Majat’s ability to fight is like magic too, strength and speed far beyond that of a regular person, and I am exploring this notion further in book 3 of the series.

When I wrote “Blades of the Old Empire”, I got so tuned in to each character that I did not have to make a conscious effort to keep track of the details. It just worked.

Amy) You have the peoples of Cha'ori, Illitand/Dorn, ShayilYara, and Forestlands romping around the story. What inspired the diversity of your characters?

Anna) I find the societies that blend distinct influences from different cultures very interesting. On one hand it provides for hidden tension and conflict, which are the cornerstone elements of suspense. On the other hand, aspects of different cultures add authenticity, color, and depth. To me this whole book is about blending diverse cultures: eastern style of fighting in a western medieval setting, matriarchal elements in an intrinsically patriarchal society, etc. Some of these things are not even visible, but I think they feed both the visual aspects of my book and the fun of it.

Amy) I am really hoping we get to learn more about the separation of the Keepers and the Kaddim. They seem like they have a shared history. Will their story be further developed in the forthcoming novels?

Anna) I definitely hope so. Some of it is glimpsed into in book 3, the as-yet-unnamed sequel to “The Guild of Assassins” I am currently working on. Going into greater detail would, of course, require going about 500 years back in history.  I do have a novel planned out, which is set all the way back then (actually my currently available short story, “The Majat Testing” is a direct prequel to that novel and features some of the same main characters). This planned novel will hopefully address many of the questions posed in the current book. How and why did anti-magic laws come into place? What happened to the old empire? What are the roots of the Order of Keepers, the Kaddim, and Ayalla the Forest Woman? Of course this book would have a different set of main characters, since it is happening so far back in time, but some of the secondary characters, the slow-aging ones, will be around. I hope the Majat Code series will be successful enough to enable me to write and publish that book.

You can learn more about Anna's works from her website, . Connect with Anna through Facebook and Twitter. Her next Majat Code novel, Guild of Assassins, will be coming to stores in July.