What I Read in October…

I didn’t have much time for reading this month, as I moved to Arizona to start a new job. I only finished three books, unless you count books on crocheting, which are mostly not in English, but a confusing jumble of letters and numbers that barely even make sense to someone who does crochet regularly. This month, I read:

I also finally finished an insanely good Doctor Who/Torchwood fanfiction series that I have been reading for a few months now. Altogether, it was 595,139 words long, which is longer than all four of Tolkien’s books in the Lord of the Rings series combined. It is nearly as long as the first two books in a Song of Ice and Fire combined. These stories were creative, fascinating, and involved an internally consistent set of laws and theories about time travel and the science behind it. The author had clearly spent a lot of time researching, not only the entire Doctor Who and Torchwood canon, but also the audio plays that have been recorded as well. Anyone who doesn’t admire fanfiction authors hasn’t read enough fanfiction. The fact that there are many people willing to write novel length works under a pseudonym, without getting paid or getting credit for doing so, is amazing to me. There are people who love television shows and books and movies so much that they are willing to dedicate hours to reading and writing about those worlds, and they definitely deserve much more recognition than they ever receive.

Book Review – Ana Be Still: Deathly Revelations

I discovered Ana Be Still: Deathly Revelations (Ana Be Still Series Book 1) on Cheap Kindle Books and my interest was caught by the summary and the lovely cover art. There are so many books about vampires lately, but R. Holland seemed to have a new spin on them, so I gave it a shot. Ana Be Still: Deathly Revelations is the first book of three in the Ana Be Still Series.

As he was losing consciousness, he thought to himself, This is it. This is how I die…a slow, agonizing, painful death, all because I wanted to follow three rules. Then he passed out. His name was Simon…and he was a vampire.

Ana Be Stilldeathly-revelations-web

Ana thought that she was just a regular girl, although one touched by grief. Her beloved sister was killed in what she believed to be a tragic accident, but would soon learn was something much more sinister. On her nineteenth birthday, Christmas morning, all she thought she knew is ripped from her as she is taken to a special compound for those who aren’t quite human. Seekers, like Ana, have one purpose: to kill vampires. Ana learns that her parents were killed when she was young and now the ones who raised her as their own blame her for the death of their true daughter, who was murdered by vampires. As she struggles to come to terms with her new reality, and her surprise fiancee, Ana’s world is once more rocked by vampires who have seized control of the government and want only one thing: the death of all the seekers.

 

Holland’s Vampires

I fully enjoyed the world-building done by Holland in this novel, creating a pretty intriguing premise of three races, humans, seekers, and vampires, all living side by side. The vampires never lose the ruthless edge that makes them such staples of the horror genre in the story, but Simon is also a deeply relatable character, one who has a moral code and follows it, even if it is not the same code as the rest of society.

Seekers aren’t fully human. They have abilities that give his kind a disadvantage. Seekers can hide their scent so creatures of the night can’t smell them. They have advanced weapons. A trained seeker that knows how to use these weapons can be big trouble.

Racial Tension

There is an undercurrent of racial tension throughout Ana Be Still: Deathly Revelations. Ana is asked to hate all vampires because they are vampires. Simon has learned to hate all seekers because they are seekers. Watching the two struggle to overcome this learned aversion and see each other for who they really are was one of my favorite parts of the book.

Very Short

The biggest problem with Ana Be Still: Deathly Revelations is that it is only 117 pages and takes a couple of hours to read at the most. This makes it more novella than novel and does not leave Holland enough room to accomplish the scope of what she attempts to convey. The whole plot feels rushed, as do the emotions of Ana, who seemingly leaps from one extreme to the other within a few pages. While the plot is interesting and engaging, the book is just too short to fully explore any of it with any depth and character development is lacking for even the main characters.

 

Triangle Failure

Part of the problem is Holland’s insistence on introducing a love triangle in so short a book, making Ana seem fickle. In the space of time where most books would just be satisfactorily culminating one relationship, Ana meets and develops feeling for two separate characters. It comes across feeling forced and awkward.

Rating

While I enjoyed reading Ana Be Still: Deathly Revelations, I am forced to give it 2 stars. For me, the intriguing premise just wasn’t engaging enough to distract from the short length and the problems that created for the plot. Perhaps buying and reading all three books in the series together, as a cohesive whole, would allow the books to seem like one regular length novel. Anyone looking for vampire story in a hurry should give Ana Be Still: Deathly Revelations a shot.

[stars color=”blue” number=”two” width=”150px”]

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Author Interview with R. Holland

I am currently reading Ana Be Still: Deathly Revelations, the first book in R. Holland’s series, Ana Be Still. The author was kind enough to grant me an interview about her book and her writing process.

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Ana Be Still: Deathly Revelations

What inspired you the most while writing this book?
I remember listening to Scream and Shout by Britney Spears on the radio and the idea of the story came to me. It was the first novella I had written and was merely for fun.

Which character in your book do you relate to the most? Why?
Ana Still of course. She’s strong and continues to grow throughout the series. She’s tries to do the right thing but still knows how to make a mercy kill if needed.

What is the most important thing that you hope readers take away from your book?
Honestly, I hope they just find the story entertaining. I hope I was able to create characters that they want to keep reading about.

Holland’s Writing Processdeathly-revelations-web

Which other authors have inspired or influenced you the most?
The last book I read was Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. I started writing soon after that. Music inspires me the most. Music is what writes each page and changes what happens to each character.

Can you share a little bit about your writing process?
Yes. I listen to music when I can’t write. Then I download the song that helps me think of a certain part to write. I may play that song over and over to remember that particular part of the story. I write late in the night and early morning. It’s best when I have no interruptions. Before I start back writing on a piece, I read it from the beginning, adding more each time.

Tell us about your next book.
Currently, I am working on a few. For some reason I have become a little more meticulous about what I publish to make sure readers are getting a quality read. I am finishing up the fourth book of the Ana Be Still Series and the fourth book of the Wings of Beasts Series.

In the fourth book of Ana Be Still, Ana meets new characters and must come to terms with her new unforeseen enemies.

In the fourth book of Wings of Beasts, Amyna Carter must come to terms with being a slave and her new master.

Good Advice

What is the best piece of writing advice that you have ever received?
Write what you want to read and hope the world enjoys it with you.

Currently Reading: Ana Be Still

The next book that I am reviewing is Ana Be Still: Deathly Revelations, which is the first book in a paranormal romance series by R. Holland. I found the book browsing on the Cheap Kindle Books reading list and am looking forward to getting started on it.

 

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Her sister’s death was no accident.
Her parents are not her own.
And someone or something wants her.
Analisa Still is taken to a seeker’s compound for training. There, she is told the truth about her sister’s vicious murder, her birth parents’ death, and that is just the beginning. As she learns more about what she truly is, Ana realizes that there is more outside the compound that thirsts for her blood and will stop at nothing to get it.

Book Review – The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky

I discovered David Litwack’s novel The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky on Book Club Reading List. Be sure to check out my interview with the author here.

The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky

At it’s core, it is Daughter of the Sea and the Skya story about loss. This touching fantasy novel follows Helena, Jason, and Kailani as their lives become steadily more intertwined until they have to make an impossible choice together. Helena goes to the beach to grieve the loss of her father, a brilliant scientist who taught her the importance of reason and logic. Jason, her childhood sweetheart, goes to the beach to run and to relive his memories there of all his big plans. As their paths cross, a forbidden boat comes ashore from the Blessed Lands, containing only a young girl, claiming to be The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky. From that point on, none of them will ever be the same. They must fight to keep Kailani safe and free in a world that doesn’t understand her and sees her as a threat. Through it all, they wonder: who is Kailani really? Is she a prophet of change or a traumatized little girl? Can she be both?

 

“I am Kailani, the daughter of the sea and the sky.” Then slowly her lids closed and her body went limp. Helena looked to Jason. “Dear reason, is she…? He probed the hollow along the girl’s neck with two fingers and found a pulse. “Just exhausted. She’s passed out.”

 

The Blessed Lands and the Republic

The Blessed Lands and the Republic are an embodiment of two warring impulses of human nature, faith and reason. The Blessed Lands are home to all of those who value faith and believe in the power of myths to provide comfort and a better life. The Republic, on the other hand, has forbidden proselytizing and public displays of faith, maintaining that such things are a personal matter and lead only to strife and war. They rely on reason and science to guide them, and are therefore much more advanced than their devout counterparts. While the people of the two lands have tried valiantly to remain apart to keep the peace, it is clear that human nature is a duality and the separation is doomed to fail. There will always be true believers even among men and women devoted to pure science and logic, while trying to live on faith alone proves to create a difficult and primitive existence for those isolated from scientific advances. Only together can they thrive and be truly happy.

Touched by Tragedy

Nearly all of the characters in The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky have been touched by tragedy. Much of the novel takes place on a farm near the border of the two lands, which has become a haven for those unable to cope with their lives of pure reason. Helena’s mother retreated there after the death of her father, and most of the characters are there to adjust to a loss of some kind. This is the thread that ties them all together and showcases what makes them human. Together, they must explore the role that faith plays in the grieving process, even within the most rational of minds.

She stretched her mind beyond its rational limits, trying to see the universe through Kailani’s eyes, to touch her father’s spirit and ask forgiveness. Feeling weak-kneed, she sat on the ground, reaching out with either hand to steady herself. She held her breath and listened for a response.

Worldbuilding

For me, the only thing that keeps The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky from earning five stars is the vagueness behind the world these characters inhabit. The idea behind a world with only two landmasses, interconnected only by a narrow land bridge was in interesting one, as was the concept of the two populations being so vastly different from each other. I couldn’t help but feel, however, that Litwack’s attempt at world building fell a little flat. I never felt like I fully understood the way these lands came to be or how the history had unfolded to lead up to the point in which the story takes place. Much of the plot is dependent on the distinction between the two types of people, the true believers and the purely rational. To have the back story there so nebulous was the only blight on an otherwise stellar novel.
[stars color=”blue” number=”four” width=”350px”]
Overall, The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky is a fascinating novel, both well written and deeply thought-provoking. The characters are relatable and will continue to tug on your heartstrings long after you finish the last word. I give it four stars.

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What I Read in September…

The books that I review here are only a small portion of the books that I read overall. To give you a better sense of what fills my bookshelves and keeps me up at night, here are a list of the books I have read this past month.

In addition to the two books featured here on my blog, I finally finished off Kerrelyn Sparks’ series Love at Stake and read books 27 and 28 of J.D. Robb’s In Death series, as well as revisiting the first book of the series.

Author Interview with David Litwack

As you know, I am currently reading David Litwack’s book, The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky. Since I am still in the process of reading and writing the review, he agreed to answer a few questions for me about the book and his writing process. Keep an eye out for the upcoming review, but for now, enjoy this brief interview.

David Litwack

The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky

What inspired you the most while writing this book?
We live in an increasingly polarized world, where too many of us see things in black and white and take hardened positions. In The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky, I thought I’d take this problem to the extreme, by creating an alternate world with two lands that each rigidly enforce their opposing points of view. Then I asked the question: what if this strict separation is violated, not by fanatics but my ordinary people? Would dogma win out or does humanity prevail. As one of the characters says about the other side: “We all love our children and mourn for our dead.”

Which character in your book do you relate to the most? Why?
Kailani is my favorite, a mysterious little girl who has a profound impact on everyone she meets, healing their pain, while hiding a pain of her own that she cannot heal.

I probably relate more to Helena, whose life has been thrown into turmoil by family tragedy. One of the threads of the story is Helena’s fighting her way through that dark period of her life to find the light on the other side–with the help of Jason and Kailani. Like most people, I’ve dealt with family tragedy and can relate to Helena’s struggles.

What is the most important thing that you hope readers take away from your book?
Ultimately, I see myself as a storyteller, so I hope readers will see the book as a good story, well told. I hope they’ll been able to identify with one or more of the characters, so they can fully experience what the characters are going through. And I hope weeks after finishing the book, it has affected them in some way, so that they continue to think about it now and then.

As Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

David’s Writing Process

Which other authors have inspired or influenced you the most?
There are so many I love that have influenced my writing. I have always read cross genre. When I became an avid reader in my teens, I devoured fantasy and science fiction, but also literary fiction. I loved the works of Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and of course, Tolkien, but also of Hemingway and Steinbeck.
If you forced me to name a book I wish I wrote, I think it would be a composite of Clarke’s The City and the Stars and Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls—a story beautifully written, with a fantastic alternate world, lofty themes, and intense characters who believe passionately in their cause.

Can you share a little bit about your writing process?
I usually conceive of a new book as a series of images and scenes, daydreaming about them while I finish work on the prior novel. I maintain a notes file for the new novel and do a rough draft of these scenes—a very rough draft, what some people call “scaffolding” or “riff writing” like improvisation in jazz. The file can get pretty chaotic. Every now and then I make a feeble attempt to organize it (when I’m finishing up a novel, I try to avoid distractions and stay focused on getting it out to the publisher). By the time I’m ready to start the new novel, I usually have about 20,000 words of loosely connected prose—20-25% of the eventual novel but probably 80% of its essence. I take a couple of months to read, edit and organize that file into a dense plot outline. Then I start a new file from scratch, cutting and pasting prose as appropriate.
It’s messy in the early going, but unlike those who start with a more organized outline, I need that amount of writing to get to know the characters and live in the story.

More to Come…

Tell us about your next book.
My next project after The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky is the Seekers dystopian trilogy. The first book, The Children of Darkness, was published this past June. The second, The Stuff of Stars, is at my publisher in final edits and scheduled to come out in November, 2015. I’m about two thirds done with a first draft of the third and final book, targeted for late 2016.

The trilogy is about a society devoid of technology, the result of an overreaction to a distant past where progress had overtaken humanity and led to social collapse. The solution—an enforced return to a simpler time. The seekers of the series title are young people, newly come of age, who bristle at the limits set on them by their society. When they stumble upon a truth from the distant past, they realize much of what they’d been taught has been lies, and they set out to change their world at the risk of their lives.

Good Advice

What is the best piece of writing advice that you have ever received?
I take to heart the words of Justice Louis Brandeis: “There are no good writers, only good rewriters.” If you want to become a better writer, read lots and rewrite until no unnecessary word remains.
Assess every word, phrase, sentence, paragraph and scene objectively. Remove what’s not necessary, even if you love it. I have a favorite quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery (author of that gem of a novel, The Little Prince): “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Polish each and every word until all that’s left sparkles.

Currently Reading The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky

I recently received a copy of the fantasy novel The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky by author David Litwack. I discovered the book on Book Club Reading List and am reading it now. I will be posting an interview with David Litwack shortly, but in the meantime here is a brief summary of the novel to tide you over.

Daughter of the Sea and the Sky

After centuries of religiously motivated war, the world has been split in two. Now the Blessed Lands are ruled by pure faith while, in the Republic, reason is the guiding light.

Two different realms divided by more than an ocean.

Children of the Republic, Helena and Jason were inseparable in their youth, until fate sent them down different paths. They are reunited when a tiny boat from the Blessed Lands crashes onto the rocks near Helena’s home after an improbable journey across the ocean. On board is a single passenger, a nine-year-old girl named Kailani, who calls herself “Daughter of the Sea and the Sky.”

A new purpose binds Jason and Helena together, as they vow to protect the lost innocent from the wrath of the authorities. But is the mysterious child simply a confused little girl longing to return home? Or is she a powerful prophet sent to unravel the fabric of the Republic, as the leader of an illegal religious sect would have them believe? The answer may change them forever…and perhaps their world as well.

Book Review- Willows of Fate

Suzanna J. Linton’s Willows of Fate caught my eye immediately when I came across it on Book Club Reading List. The cover is gorgeous and evocative and the summary promised a fantasy story linked intrinsically to fairy stories and other realms. I was definitely not disappointed.

Check out my interview with author Suzanna J. Linton here.

“I know the hooded man is one of the phantoms only I can see and not some costumed crazy. It’s like knowing there is a fire because of the heat against my skin.”

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Ever since she was a little girl, Desdemona has been able to see things that other people can’t. She tries to ignore them: the girl with three eyes by the bus stop, the centaur in the church, the knight in shining armor at her birthday party. After the death of her father as a teenager, she ran away from home and turned to alcohol and sex to cope with the things she sees. Now, she finally has her life together. Des has a good job and is going back to school when she gets the news that her mother is dying. She takes a trip back to her childhood home to say goodbye and then arrange her mother’s funeral, putting into motion a series of events that changes her life forever.

She begins to interact with her phantoms in new and frightening ways. There is Martin, the seemingly heroic knight from her childhood, Anselm, a Robin Hood type figure who fires arrows at her from the shadows, and the scholarly Edmund, who seeks to persuade her to follow her destiny. Between the three of them, Des is transported through the Willows to another realm. There, she discovers that things are not as they seem and that she alone holds the key to saving both this new world and her own.

By: Michael Bentley

Like a Fairy Tale

Throughout Linton’s novel, there are persistent elements that put readers in mind of fairy tales and popular legends. There is a knight in literally shining armor, an archer wearing a green hood, and a magical boundary into another realm. While these are all familiar to readers, Linton does an excellent job of keeping the story fresh and exciting. There are echoes of Narnia and Wonderland, but I was most reminded of Neil Gaiman’s novels, and his adroit skill at weaving the fantastic and the mundane together in a way that makes you question whether or not the events are really happening or the main character is having some sort of extended mental breakdown.

 

 

“ For a moment, I hang in clouds of mist, suspended. A resounding crack and blinding flash and gorgeous gold envelops me. Green tendrils wrap around me, lift me, draw me close to I’m not sure what. The heart of it, if such a thing as this glorious barrier could have a heart. The extra sense growing in my heart swells and possesses me, like a fierce first love. I am myself. I am everywhere.”

 

Coming of Age Tale for All Ages

Willows of Fate reads a bit like a YA novel for twenty-somethings, in the best way possible. It is at heart a coming of age story or rather a story about coming to terms with yourself: who you have always been and who you have become. Desdemona is not a child. She has been through quite a lot in her young life, from surviving as a teenage-runaway, overcoming alcoholism, and facing unimaginable loss. The unfolding of the story is a reminder to everyone that we never really finish growing up. There are always more things to discover about ourselves and new ways to grow. In effect, although Desdemona is undergoing many strange new experiences and learning new things about herself over the course of the novel, it is nothing new. She has remade herself many times before and she continues to grow and evolve, just as we all do in real life.

Crazy or not?

By: Kamal Aboul-Hosn

She has coped with all of this while fearing that she is crazy, that the things she has seen all her life are nothing more than the delusions of a sick mind. This has been a fantasy trope since Through The Looking Glass, however Desdemona’s age adds another layer to the tale. Most mental illnesses manifest and are diagnosed during a person’s 20s, which makes Desdemona the age where schizophrenia often begins to present itself. Compounded with the trauma she has faced, this gives her increasing contact and interacting with her phantoms an edge that it might otherwise lack.

Well written and Intriguing

Willows of Fate is a well written and highly polished work of fantasy. Linton has done an excellent job building a unique world populated by intriguing and complex characters. The story is part of a series, entitled The Lands of Sun and Stone. Despite this, the book ends with a satisfying resolution, leaving readers with an understanding of how events unfolded. There are questions left to be answered, but readers don’t have to worry about a cliff-hanger.

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I give Willows of Fate five stars. It is one of the best fantasy novels that I have read this year and I can’t wait for Linton to continue the series with these characters.

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//

Author Interview with Suzanna J. Linton

I recently had the opportunity to interview Suzanna J. Linton, author of Willows of Fate and three other fantasy novels.  My review of Willows of Fate can be found here. For now, enjoy the full interview below.
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1) What inspired you the most while writing this book?
My childhood. I felt very isolated as a kid and that sense of isolation really influenced how I wrote Desdemona.

2) Which character in your book do you relate to the most? Why?
I relate to Edmund the most. His personal choices have put him on the edge of his family and I know what that feels like.

3) What is the most important thing that you hope readers take away from your book?
I hope they take away a sense of hope that, no matter how strange they think they are, they still have a place and a role in this world. And that they should have the courage to be who they are.

4) Which other authors have inspired or influenced you the most?
Robin McKinley, Anne McCaffrey, and Dean Koontz are my biggest inspirations. McKinley because of the fairy tale quality of her work. McCaffrey because of her strong female characters who aren’t always easy to like. Koontz because of the way he infuses his work with spirituality.

5) Can you share a little bit about your writing process?
I usually get any paperwork or blogging done in the morning so my afternoons can be free. Sometimes, I’ll listen to music if I need some inspiration. If I can’t get my thoughts in order, I’ll make a pot of tea. Something about going through the motions of making tea helps my mind to settle. Also, I try not to edit as I write. The point is just getting the story down. Then I can go back to add the flourishes.

6) Tell us about your next book.
Right now, I’m working on the sequel to CLARA, my debut novel. The sequel is called CLARA’S RETURN. At the end of CLARA, the main character goes off on a quest to discover and understand her origins. In CLARA’S RETURN, I follow Clara’s personal quest, as well as write about the aftermath following the first book’s civil war. And there’s a new villain that needs to be dealt with!

7) What is the best piece of writing advice that you have ever received?
To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway: The first draft of anything is crap.