Happy National Novel Writing Month!
What with this being a book blog and our involvement with so many wonderful authors, it might not come as a surprise that NaNoWriMo is a thing for us here. All three of us will be participating in this year’s event and are looking forward to all the excitement. As a result, we might be a little more quiet than usual, but with good reason!
Each of us has different reasons for participating in this event, and each of us is approaching it at a different level. Tiara is our resident veteran, with over a decade of NaNo-ing under her belt, Mogsy is an intermediate and Wendy is rolling in for the first time. Here’s what NaNo means to each of us.
TIARA WRITES: This will be my 10th year participating in NaNoWriMo. NaNo started out as something one of my friends mentioned to me way back when I was still in college. She thought it would be a fun challenge to participate in. She was right. My first foray into the challenge was a fanfiction that I jokingly wrote for the friends who were cheering me on. Thing is, that turned into a 70K word monster, but I chalk that up to plenty of time and ideas at the time. Those friends are still in my life, so to celebrate my 10th, I’m going to write a joke fanfiction for them again. I’ve successfully completed every year except one and that year was incomplete only because I had a house fire. I pick a theme every year for my story and work with that. One year it was erotica. Another year it was themed stories that tied together.
I NaNo every year because it’s fun and challenging. It’s like freewriting for a whole month with no reserves and seeing what I produce in that time. It doesn’t matter how well or how horribly I write. I don’t have to worry about revising or spend time obsessing over the details. I can put silly things in my story that may never see the light of day. It’s a bit of a stress reliever that allows me to dump whatever I want into the story and just go with it, and before I know it, I’ve blown through 50k words. It’s not really a big deal to me whether I hit the goal or not as long as I’m having fun with it.
WENDY WRITES: I’d vaguely heard about NaNoWriMo over the years, but never bothered to look into it because I never thought I could write an actual novel. That’s so much more than the short, short stories I’ve written in the past. I’ve scripted graphic novels and wanted to do Script Frenzy, but unfortunately, that’s been cancelled. But this year, I was inspired with the sudden realization that maybe I could write a novel with my friend Deacon in the same manner that I work with artists on my graphic novels. Then I was contracted to write a 20k word short story for a new video game. I was still daunted by the word counts, but as I snuggled up in bed with my laptop and my kitten, the words eventually started to flow and I realized that 20k wasn’t that hard. And if I could do 20k on my own, then why not 40k? 60k?
So this is my first official year doing NaNo despite my 2011 sign up. I’ve got a story outline ready to go that’s been sitting around for over a decade and I’ve got friends to help keep me motivated. I’m looking forward to doing something I never believed I could do and I’m confident that I can do it with the help of NaNo since I’m one of those people who work better with deadlines. Now to make sure I don’t get distr –
So when I first heard about NaNo, I thought, “What an excellent idea!” It provides the two biggest motivations that my personality is apparently wired for — 1) a deadline, and 2) friendly peer pressure. Each year, a bunch of people from my gaming circle and I embark on this journey to write 50K words, watching everyone’s progress on the site and cheering each other on. I’ve managed to reach my goal in both 2011 and 2012 thanks to the encouragement of friends, and I hope to “win” again this year.
As to why I NaNo? Well, besides the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction of finally seeing my ideas written down, it’s a great social activity and a whole lot of fun!
Wendy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars – As far as strong female characters go, I’d put Sookie right up at the top with the best of them.
Sooo a few years back I tried watching True Blood and didn’t get far. Oh it wasn’t just the blood and sex for the apparent purpose of blood and sex. Well, maybe it was, but I’ve long since come to terms with the ways of the HBO. The problem was with Anna Paquin. I don’t know what it is, but since Rogue, I just haven’t liked her. And as Sookie Stackhouse, the Mary Sue every vampire wants, I sufficiently couldn’t stand her enough to not watch the show again. Give me a Lafayette and Tara spin off and I’ll be happy.
But Audible had the first Sookie Stackhouse book on sale so I decided to check it out. The first thing I have to say is that I honestly wasn’t expecting to like this book. Or rather, I honestly wasn’t expecting to actually like Sookie.
As far as strong female characters go, (the kind Joss Whedon is often praised for single-handedly creating), I’d put Sookie right up at the top with the best of them. She’s brave, as in, she’s willing to defend what is right, even at risk of her own life, but she’s not afraid to admit to her fears. She has standards and upholds them, even when her desires are urging her body to do otherwise. And I like that one of her greatest weapons is her smile.
Despite her disability (telepathy), she maintains a positive outlook and quite often, her smiles are genuine. But when faced with a threat or people who want to put her down, she battles them with a smile on her lips, that thankfully does not make her come across as dumb blond at all. Being able to say “FU” with a smile is a fine art.
Sookie is a waitress at a small town bar where ghastly murders have been occurring. The victims, all female and all a bit promiscuous, bare fang marks, which puts suspicion on the sudden influx of vampires in town. One such vampire is Bill Compton, whom Sookie immediately takes a liking to because she can’t hear him in her mind like she can everyone else. She rescues Bill from a couple intent on draining his blood for profit, and their relationship develops from there. And it actually does develop in a rather nice, old fashioned way (though I eventually did grow tired of the couple. I’m not sure Bill Compton could be any more boring).
There are a lot of interesting characters, though sadly, not enough Lafayette and no Tara at all. The story is told, first person, through Sookie, and her honesty paints interesting pictures for all of them and I liked the way the characters are developed in this way as she interacts with them throughout the story.
There was one questionable moment, where a certain character who cannot be named appears, but I’ll let that slide. Otherwise, this was a surprisingly enjoyable read. Is it enough to make me try out the show again… hmmm…
Genre: Science Fiction Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of The Bone Season
Publisher: Audible for Bloomsbury
Date of Publication: August 20, 2013
I’ve heard so much about The Bone Season, which was quite possibly one of this summer’s most talked about debuts by author Samantha Shannon. Though I’m the kind of person who’s generally wary of the hype machine, I won’t deny I was quite curious to see for myself what all the fuss was about! And now that I’ve had the chance to finish the audiobook, I can certainly understand why readers have been so impressed by it.
Though not officially marketed as a Young Adult novel, I’m also not surprised to see so many categorize The Bone Season as such. The nature of its story, main character and dystopian setting all mingle to give it that distinctive YA vibe, yet that’s not to say that adults won’t be able to enjoy this too. The book’s crossover appeal probably has a lot to do its protagonist and narrator, 19-year-old Paige Mahoney who is a strong, mature and level-headed heroine with whom a wide audience can relate.
Paige is also known as a “Dreamwalker”, in this alternate world set in the future where individuals like her who possess supernatural abilities are called “Voyants”. The book takes place in London, 2059 where the security force Scion holds authority, declaring all voyants criminals simply by existing. Paige is forced to live a secret life, working for the underworld organization where she gathers information by using her rare powers to breaking into other people’s minds.
When an unfortunate incident leads to her arrest, however, Paige finds herself imprisoned at a penal colony in Oxford, a city long forgotten. She finds out that Scion has been sending captured voyants here to become slaves and soldiers to an otherworldly race called the Rephaim. She is assigned to Warden, her Rephaim keeper in charge of her care and training. Now all Paige wants to do is to escape and find her way home, but as the days goes by she discovers there is a lot more at stake than just her freedom.
First, the good stuff: I really liked Paige, a smart and capable young woman who is also not infallible. Her history is well-developed and written in such a way that her past details are revealed gradually throughout the course of the novel, keeping things interesting for those curious about her story. My Audible version of The Bone Season is narrated by Irish actress Alana Kerr, who brings Paige to life with her performance. This was the first experience I’ve had with her work, and I could be wrong but I believe she’s new to reading audiobooks. Generally, I prefer narrators who can do a broader range of voices (because sometimes it was hard to tell which character was speaking) but I probably wouldn’t be averse to checking out her future audiobook performances if she does any. Overall I was happy with her reading, because she did such a wonderful job conveying Paige’s strength and poise.
The world Samantha Shannon has created is also amazingly detailed, but this also means an almost overwhelming amount of information to take in. This does cause some hitches in the pacing, especially during the first half of the novel which didn’t flow as well as the second half. I also had to go back several times at the beginning to learn and familiarize myself with all the different names and terms of people, places, organizations, voyant types, and slang. Doing so wasn’t easy with an audiobook, but it was also absolutely worth it in order to get the full impact of the setting, and I got to appreciate just how rich it is.
In the end, I felt The Bone Season was an incredibly impressive debut novel from a 21-year-old new author. Hype can be a dangerous thing sometimes, and though it was impossible to ignore the comparisons calling this book the next Hunger Games or Samantha Shannon the next J.K. Rowling, I think going into this book with realistic expectations helped me a lot. I came out of this one pleasantly surprised, and I’m definitely open to reading more from this author and series.
“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that lets us feature upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!
Kaden, the heir apparent, was for eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, where he learned the inscrutable discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power which Kaden must master before it’s too late. When an imperial delegation arrives to usher him back to the capital for his coronation, he has learned just enough to realize that they are not what they seem—and enough, perhaps, to successfully fight back.
Meanwhile, in the capital, his sister Adare, master politician and Minister of Finance, struggles against the religious conspiracy that seems to be responsible for the emperor’s murder. Amid murky politics, she’s determined to have justice—but she may be condemning the wrong man.
Their brother Valyn is struggling to stay alive. He knew his training to join the Kettral— deadly warriors who fly massive birds into battle—would be arduous. But after a number of strange apparent accidents, and the last desperate warning of a dying guard, he’s convinced his father’s murderers are trying to kill him, and then his brother. He must escape north to warn Kaden—if he can first survive the brutal final test of the Kettral.”
Series: Book 1 of Elemental Wars
Publisher: Angry Robot
Date of Publication: October 29, 2013
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars – “An ambitious novel that takes some time to build up, yet ultimately an impressive feat of storytelling featuring rich world-building and a story on an epically massive scale”
Featuring exotic lands, magic and adventure and warrior knights embarking on sacred quests, Heartwood had everything I like going for it. Now that I’ve finished this book, I’m still amazed at the sheer scope of the story; epic doesn’t even begin to describe it. Though as I soon found, “epicness” could also be something of a double-edged sword.
The book opens with a scene at the Congressus, a conference of peace talks in which representatives from all across Anguis come together in an attempt to negotiate and maintain stability between the many nations. Chonrad, Lord of Barle, joins the holy knights of Heartwood to oversee the talks in the fortified temple, where the great tree called the Arbor stands. Congressus does not go well, however, and then the gathering is ambushed by an army of warriors who seem to have materialized from the water of the river itself. In the ensuing battle many are killed, but it is the Arbor with its massive trunk split and its heart stolen away that is the worst blow of all.
Because the great tree is what binds the land and all its people, it must be saved. First, the Arbor’s heart must be retrieved, but five Nodes located in five different hallowed sites across the land must also be activated in order for the tree to heal. In addition, a powerful magician called the Virimage must also be found, brought back to Heartwood so he can lend his abilities to the mending. Thus it begins; we have seven different groups, each on their own journey, each tasked with a special Quest.
Like I said, the scope of this is massive. It’s what I loved best about this book, and the author Freya Robertson pulls off an impressive feat of storytelling by weaving no less than six or seven different plot threads together into a one big whole. She’s also done incredible things with world building, creating this land made up of many different nations, all with their own unique population and cultures. The characters featured in this book all have ties to their own homes and histories, which also reflects in their personalities, motivations and value systems. I liked this last point a lot too, reminding me very much of the worlds in the role-playing games I like to play.
Viewed as a whole, however, the massiveness of Heartwood — both its length and scale of the story — can also make things a little problematic for the reader. When you have so much going on, such as half a dozen quests occurring all at once, that’s a lot to take in. First, we have the introduction to the characters, of which there are many, and that shouldn’t be a surprise given the intricacies of the plot. Still, I like to see momentum build in the first quarter of a book, because that’s generally when I expect to be pulled in by the story as well. In Heartwood, much of the first 100-200 pages is given to establishing the characters and world, which made for a slower-paced beginning. It felt sometimes like I was encountering a new character and his or her long and detailed back-story every few pages, when what I wanted very much was for the story to move forward. Structurally, I think if some of the information could have been edited out or even just spread out more evenly, it might have improved the flow for the first part of the book.
These insertions of character history and moments of information dumping persist throughout the novel, but I think they are the heaviest in the first half. The good news is, I think the story picks up considerably in the second half, after we have the all the introductions and necessary details established. Though a little patience and determination was required of me to reach this point, I have to say it was worth it in the end. I’m still astounded by the way Freya Robertson was able to make all her quest stories come together. She manages to keep all the threads in line, never once letting any of them get away from her, and keeps up a steady level of suspense for each group throughout. With all the perspective changes and jumping around in places and time, I would have expected this book to be way more disjointed than it is, but surprisingly it wasn’t, at least not for me.
I didn’t get to connect to all the characters equally, since one of the downsides of this format is having to spread my attention between a whole bunch of different players. And some like Chonrad, for example, disappear for a chunk of time after Part I as the book shifts focus to the people on other quests. But over time, I did develop a few favorites. The writing is admittedly not very subtle when it comes to revealing their every thought or emotion, but regardless I came to enjoy Heartwood‘s female characters a lot. Their depth made them memorable, and the holy knights Procella and Beata stood out for me in particular. Both are strong leaders who are capable and competent, and yet also have their own personal battles between duty and love, what’s insides their heads versus what’s inside their hearts. On that note, I also want to say how much I appreciate a little romance in my epic fantasy. There’s definitely an element of love here, and Freya Robertson is so good at creating passion and sexual tension between couples. I was not surprised when I found out that she has also published a number of romance novels under a different name.
Ultimately, my overall feelings towards Heartwood are positive, though it did take a little time for me to get into the flow of the story. It is, after all, an ambitious novel, and despite a few hitches in its structure and pacing, for a first book in a series I think this one does an admirable job in establishing the world and characters. The way the story unfolded and came together in the end made me curious enough to want to read more from this series and author, and I’ll most likely be picking up the next book.
With goblins hot on their heels after escaping the Under King’s clutches, Edmund, his loyal friend Pond and the unruly puppy named Becky try to maintain their tenuous hold on freedom, only to come face-to-face with the troll Edmund met when he’d started his ill-fated search for Iliandor’s treasure. But if there’s one fantastic thing about Evert’s atypical hero, its been Edmund’s journey from middle-aged, stuttering, self-doubting librarian to middle-aged, stuttering, one-eyed survivor who’ll risk his life to keep even a troll from standing in his way or hurting those he cares about.
With the wealth Edmund and Pond abscond with after defeating the troll, they are able to find temporary lodgings as noble adventurers to the south. Not long after their arrival, a mysterious letter warns of great peril and soon, Edmund learns that Norb, now married to the love of Edmund’s life, has been spilling Edmund’s secrets back in the Highlands. One of those secrets is the fact that Edmund is a magic user, a group that continues to be persecuted.
Edmund, joined by a couple more companions, must make his way back to Rood to stop Norb, avoiding goblins and a deadly new enemy who wants the secret of the riddle in stone along the way.
The best part about the previous book, Riddle in Stone, was the goblins and Edmund’s struggles while in captivity. He had to learn to rely on his wits and his meager magical spells and he had to learn to make some very difficult life and death decisions without anyone but himself to rescue him.
Betrayal in the Highlands spends most of its time with Edmund hoping for a quiet life and deliberating this with his inner voice and with his companions. Unfortunately, for a book about adventurers, there is far too much time spent talking instead of adventuring.
Still, there is an excellent story hidden away in there if some of the conversations could be cut down. When we finally get to the meat of the story, we also get back to Edmund’s continued character development as he grows from survivor into leader and hero, leading into a third book that promises a lot more goblin time. And I do so love Evert’s goblins…
With thanks to NetGalley and Diversion Books for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Genre: Middle-Grade fantasy
Series: Book 1 of The School for Good and Evil
Date of Publication: May 14, 2013
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars – “An original and magical take on fairy tales that will enchant you and make you smile.”
Technically, this one is considered more Middle-Grade than Young Adult, but really, I don’t see why it can’t be enjoyed by all ages. I’m a strong believer in that fairy tales are not just for children, that the stories and characters in folkloric fantasy can appeal to a much wider audience — and it’s especially entertaining when familiar concepts like “fairy tale romance” or “happily ever after” are being parodied or turned on their heads.
That’s the idea behind this book; in a village called Gavaldon, two children are kidnapped every four years, never to be seen again. One was always beautiful and good, the other an outcast and strange. It didn’t take long for the village children to speculate where these missing boys and girls go. They say a mysterious schoolmaster takes them to the fabled School for Good and Evil, where storybook heroes and villains are made.
For as long as she can remember, Sophie has dreamed of being whisked away to the School of Good, imagining a magical world of pretty dresses and handsome princes. On the other hand, she figures her friend Agatha with her homely face and frumpy black clothes would be a perfect fit for the School of Evil. So it’s no surprise then when the two were the ones taken way this year. However, when they arrive at the Endless Woods, Sophie is dumped into the school for Evil, while Agatha ends up in the School for Good! This has to be just a terrible mix-up, right? Or is it?
How cool is this idea? Let’s face it, traditional fairy tales aren’t about character development; off the top of my head, Prince Charming and others like him are good examples of characters that don’t go beyond being a mere caricature. We don’t tend to think beyond what is presented, and that’s what makes this book so great. You know the kind of satire we see in Shrek? It’s similar here, poking fun at how shallow princesses must be for obsessing only about their beauty and who will take them to the formal ball. It also makes you wonder about the villains, like, do any of them have hopes and ambitions other than cooking up nefarious schemes? Who gets to determine what is good and evil, anyway?
Obviously, there also some good messages here. “Beauty is only skin deep” and “believe in yourself” are only a couple amongst many, but it’s presented very well in this original and magical tale, all wrapped up in a whimsical package. There are lovely illustrations scattered throughout the book as well, and I can’t help but feel grumpy now about the lack of pretty drawings in my adult fantasy novels. Is there a rule or something that pictures can only belong in children’s books?! Regardless, this book is so much fun. At once ridiculous and full of heart, I couldn’t help but melt for this story and its characters. Oh so cute at times, but sinister and dark at others, this book will enchant you and make you smile.
Yeah okay… I did grab a few digital and audiobook titles for myself too… damn Amazon sales…
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic, Zombies, Survivalist Adventure, Gaming
Series: Last of Us (video game tie-in)
Publisher: DarkHorse Comics
Date of Publication: July 2013
Nineteen years ago, a parasitic fungal outbreak killed or infected almost everyone. Those that remain are sequestered within military-run quarantine zones. Not everyone is pleased with the arrangements, and various groups have arisen with their own plans for survival.
Among them are the rebel group known as the Fireflies, led by Marlene, whom players of the game this graphic novel is based on should recognize. Players will also recognize Ellie, one of the main characters of the game. Here, she is 13 years old and unhappy in the orphanage. She meets fellow inmate Riley, who has dreams of joining the Fireflies. Ellie reluctantly joins her in tracking them down, a process which involves a few misadventures and dangers for the young teens.
When they do meet Marlene and the Fireflies, it is, unsurprisingly, not what they expected. Moreover, Marlene knows much about Ellie from her mother, adding a bit of mystery to an otherwise fairly straightforward story.
I considered whether the fact that I have not yet played the game would negatively impact my appreciation for this, but, as a prequel, I felt it ought to be able to stand on its own and entice me to get off my guns and go buy it. Having read other game tie-in books and comics, I don’t feel there was enough meat in this one.
The art was very gritty, despite its childlike appearance. I’m a fan of anime and manga, so I’m not at all opposed to the large-eyed style that lends itself well to younger characters. It still strongly conveys the necessary emotion.
With thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read an advanced copy of this graphic novel in exchange for an honest review.
Genre: Dystopia, Horror
Date of Publication: September 11, 2012
In the previous volume, the walls that separated humanity from the titan were breached by a colossal titan standing more than 50 meters in height. Five years after that breach, Eren, Mikasa, and Armin have just graduated training to become full-fledged soldiers. During that time, Eren is even more resolved to join the scouting team, especially after the huge loss he suffered with the attack. Humans now live within two of the three walls after abandoning Wall Maria (Wall Rose and Wall Sina are the two remaining walls standing) to the titans. Humans lost 20% of their population and a massive amount of land in that attack, but they are still packed together behind the smaller walls.
Not even a full day past their graduation, Wall Rose is breached by the colossal titan. When faced with this threat again, Eren responds in kind, trying to stay true to his vow to kill all the titans. While his companions are taken aback by the reappearance of the colossal titan, Eren takes the helm and attacks, hoping to end the aberrant once and for all. However, things can’t go that easily, and just as Eren is about to make his fatal strike, the titan vanishes–just as it did five years earlier.
The fight isn’t over, though, as titans once again begin to terrorize the people within the walls. Here we witness an astounding transformation in Eren as the energy he’s fueled with all his anger and desperation come back to aid him and his comrades in an astonishing way. Even though these books and the anime pretty much mirror one another (with the anime adding just a bit more padding, naturally), I was just as caught up in the story and the plight of Eren and his comrades, even though I already knew the outcome of this particular battle.
|Mikasa Ackerman, Queen of Everything|
Eren may be at the center of it all, but a win won’t be possible without the people rallying around him and the strength and trust they’re placing in him. Part of me believes, and I could be wrong since this is on-going, that even once this is all said and done another character will probably have a bigger impact on the outcome. Even though this is largely Eren’s story, there seems to be another important story playing along beneath it in more subtle ways. More characters are coming into play who display characteristics that will be necessary for humans to win this fight.
Isayama seems to be setting up the story in a way that Eren will need the support of these characters to be successful.They’re not given these talents just for show. Their talents round them out for sure, but they also play an integral part in the story, as well. Eren will need Mikasa’s strength and faith in him. He’ll need Armin’s strategic intelligence. He’ll need Jean’s ability to command, even if Jean still isn’t sure of himself. This has already been proven. I know all these characters will not make it out of this alive, but they will still contribute in their own way.
Many of these characters are coming into their strengths during this battle. They’re learning things about themselves in the urgency of the moment that they might not have been aware of before the latest attack. Many of them joined the military to live a comfortable life, especially those who were refugees. They were tired of doing without and being treated like second class citizens because their arrival behind Wall Rose made things more difficult for everyone due to things like food shortages. However, they’re more capable and resourceful than they could’ve ever imagined despite their youth and inexperience.
They understand that they’re going to have to rely on unconventional methods to get through that hell. To quote Aristotle: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” They group is beginning to understand this to be a fundamental truth for them as they begin to rely on one another and work together in Trost. I really like that brute strength and Eren screaming he’ll kill all the titans will not be the only thing to win this war. This volume stirred up all the proud feelings that I remember having the first time I watched the anime as these characters start to evolve.