Book Recommendation: Melina Marchetta (@MMarchetta1) — Finnikin of the Rock, Froi of the Exiles, Quintana of Charyn, and Jellicoe Road

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ImageImageImageImageOk, so that’s a lot of cover photos.  And they’re all Fabulous!  (Well, I haven’t read Quintana yet because it hasn’t been released in the United States, but still…)

The first three (Finnikin, Froi, and Quintana), are part of a series called the Lumatere Chronicles.  They are right up my alley because they’re fantasy and romance all mixed together.  Here’s a blurb for Finnikin from Amazon:

Finnikin, son of the head of the King’s Guard, has been in exile for a decade, after the violent takeover of his birthplace, Lumatere, by a usurper, followed by a curse by a priestess that has effectively shut the kingdom off from the outside world. He meets a mysterious young woman, Evanjalin, who claims that Finnikin’s friend Balthazar, heir to the throne, is alive, and sets in motion a complex and stirring series of events that lead Finnikin to confront his destiny. Evanjalin uses her ability to “walk the sleep” of others, or share in their dreams, as well as her own boldness and sense of purpose, to push events to a climax so that Lumatere can be freed. This novel begins at a slow burn: there are many details to absorb, and the well-drawn maps are a necessity. Then, suddenly, the action turns white-hot and the intricate plot plays out at a pace that keeps readers mesmerized. This is fantasy grounded in a kind of realism seldom seen in the genre.

Froi is one of the more minor characters in Finnikin, but his story is still intertwined with all the main characters in Finnikin.  Froi’s story is both tragic and tender, and the book is wonderful.  Quintana, the other main character in Froi, is the conclusion to the trilogy (as far as I know), and I truly can’t wait to read it.

Jellicoe Road is an entirely different kind of book — at least on the surface.  It’s a contemporary story about high school aged kids that all come together every summer.  Here’s a blurb from Amazon:

Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven, Taylor Markham, now seventeen, is finally being confronted with her past. But as the reluctant leader of her boarding school dorm, there isn’t a lot of time for introspection. And while Hannah, the closest adult Taylor has to family, has disappeared, Jonah Griggs is back in town, moody stares and all.

In this absorbing story by Melina Marchetta, nothing is as it seems and every clue leads to more questions as Taylor tries to work out the connection between her mother dumping her, Hannah finding her then and her sudden departure now, a mysterious stranger who once whispered something in her ear, a boy in her dreams, five kids who lived on Jellicoe Road eighteen years ago, and the maddening and magnetic Jonah Griggs, who knows her better than she thinks he does. If Taylor can put together the pieces of her past, she might just be able to change her future.

Ok, honestly, I’m just impressed they could compress the entire book into those two paragraphs.  But in all honesty, this is an incredible book.  Emotional and heartbreaking.

Now, I said Jellicoe was a completely different kind of book.  And it is, on the outside.  But here’s where Marchetta is just brilliant.  Her books tell stories of people, of human emotions, and despair.  Jellicoe may be more contemporary, and the Lumatere Chronicles more fantastical, but at their heart, they tell stories about people.  You will love the characters, cry with them, and ache for them.  The next chapter you will want to strangle them, to yell at them what they should do — or shouldn’t do.  And you will truly want them to succeed.  Sometimes you will understand why they react a certain way, sometimes you won’t.  But it’s ok because it’s real.  It’s how people are.  It’s how we’re made.  And that’s why I think Marchetta’s books are so popular.  They tell truths.  Sometimes hard truths, sometimes hurtful truths, but truths.

So now that my fan girling is over, I do have a few caveats.   First, with Jellicoe.  I have a number of friends who have given up early.  I totally get that.  The book is very confusing at first.  There are characters from the past and scenes with them, and then there are a group of characters in the present.  Sometimes it’s hard to keep them and their histories all straight.  I kept having to turn back pages to remember who did what.  If I knew someone was picking this book up for the first time, I’d recommend keeping a list of the characters and one thing that will allow you to remember who they are.  If I remember right, during the first part of the book, you don’t even necessarily know which group is past and which is present.  Just write the names down and then add past or present later.  And sort the characters into the two groups they interact in.  It will make it a lot easier.  But my best advice for this book:  perservere!

As for the Lumatere Chronicles, the caveat is for my more conservative readers.  Sex is a theme in both of the books I’ve read.  It’s not that it’s an erotic book or has sex scenes strewn throughout (I think one in each book without a lot of detail), it’s just that sex is a reality in Marchetta’s world.  In Finnikin, it’s a kingdom struggling to go back to their homeland.  They’re exiles.  They’re lost.  They find love where they can.  And the love story in the book is truly magnificent.  In Froi, it’s even more than that.  There, the kingdom of Charyn has been under a curse for 18 years.  No child has been born during that time.  It has been prophesied that Quintana (a last born) will bear the next king and the father will be another one of the last borns.  You can see where that might go.  Added to that, in both of the books, there are characters who were raped or “kept” by the king.  So you can see how sex is a theme.  However, there is nothing too graphic or descriptive.  I just wanted you to know going in.

I love all of these books (enough that I have an actual hard copy of them all).  I think the stories are amazing, the characters are so real it hurts sometimes, and the love stories are beautiful (and hard and fought for).

Book Recommendation: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

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So, I’ve been gone a long time.  Too long.  In my defense, I have been working on my book.  The draft I finished is now beta read, revised, and completed.  I’ve even queried it.  I’ve had a fantastic response but no agent or publisher yet.  I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll hear something good soon.

But my writing career is not why most of you come to this blog.  It’s really for book recommendations.  Since I may have a bunch of new traffic, let me explain what I do.  I don’t really review books.  I feel like it’s so subjective, and often I can’t exactly put my finger on why I did or didn’t like a book.  I can only tell you which ones I did like and would recommend.

I’ve read A LOT of books over the past year.  Some of them I’ve already posted about.  But one I haven’t (and that really deserves it) is Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas.  LIke a lot of the books I read, it’s a fantasy.  But this one truly is different.  Not so much magic.  A lot of beauty in the world and the culture and society created.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon

After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince.  Prince Dorian offers her freedom on one condition:  she muust act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.

Her opponents are men-thieves and assasins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king’s council.  If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.

Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating.  But she’s bored stiff by court life.  Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her…but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her the best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead…quickly followed by another.  Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim?  As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

Great, huh?  Well, it gets even better.  Maas wrote four novella prequels to Throne of Glass.  They are:  The Assassin and the Pirate Lord, The  Assassin and the Desert, The Assassin and the Underworld, and The Assassin and the Empire.  And I have to say, I almost enjoyed the novellas more than the actual novel.  Now, you could read the novel completely separate from the novellas, but I think if you read the novellas first, you’ll get a much better understanding of Celaena.  (Plus, they’re awesome!)

Throne of Glass is one of my favorite books of the year.  If you like fantasy, and a bit of a love triangle, I think you’ll really enjoy this one.

Why you still have to cut your favorite parts…

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So, I’m revising part of my latest book.  I’m trying to delve deeper into the characters and their world without giving a bunch of backstory or too many details.  I don’t want it to get boring.  I don’t want to lose my readers. 

However, in that process, I have to cut passages I LOVE.  This go around, one in particular is causing me grief.  And yet, it doesn’t feel right where it is.  The story flows better without it.  Although, I’m still trying to find somewhere to put it.  We’ll see…

Anyway, I loved this particular passage so much I thought it needed to be printed somewhere, so here it is for your reading pleasure — or not.  :)

“Only a hardness around his eyes and an edge to his voice gave any indication to the depth of Philip’s emotion.  Maren felt a chill pierce her.  She wasn’t sure what scared her most:  the intensity of the hatred she sensed from Philip, or the other feelings she knew he’d buried beneath his too-calm exterior.”

Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

I’m not sure what to say here.  I bought the book.  I finished.  And… I don’t know.  I really enjoyed the first two books in this series.  The third one I liked, except that I thought it was too long (yea, I’d cut at least a third).  Still, I loved the story and the characters and the world.  I felt this book had the same problem with wordiness (yes, I skimmed large sections), but like before, I was all into the story.  And then it ended and I was like “what??????”  Maybe it’s just me because I know why he did what he did and I understand it even.  I just didn’t like it.  Especially after investing so much time into such a huge book.  *shrugs*  I don’t know.  If you love fantasy, especially complex world building type fantasy, read it.  You’ll like it.  Just be prepared for a lot of words and an ending that might not be as you expected.

Book Recommendation: The Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima

So, yes, I’ve been gone for a while, but it’s for a good reason.  I’ve been reading, and reading, and reading…oh and writing.  I’m going to try to catch upon all the books I’ve read, but I wanted to start with a series that I really loved.  It’s called The Seven Realms by Cinda Williams Chima.  There are three books so far:  The Demon King, The Exiled Queen, and the Gray Wolf Throne.  A fourth book comes out in Fall 2012.

Here’s a blurb for The Demon King:  Times are hard in the mountain city of Fellsmarch. Reformed thief Han Alister will do almost anything to eke out a living for himself, his mother, and his sister Mari.  Ironically, the only thing of value he has is something he can’t sell.  For as long as Han can remember, he’s worn thick silver cuffs engraved with runes.  They’re clearly magicked—as he grows, they grow, and he’s never been able to get them off.  

While out hunting one day, Han and his Clan friend, Dancer catch three young wizards setting fire to the sacred mountain of Hanalea.   After a confrontation, Han takes an amulet from Micah Bayar, son of the High Wizard, to ensure the boy won’t use it against them.  Han soon learns that the amulet has an evil history—it once belonged to the Demon King, the wizard who nearly destroyed the world a millennium ago.  With a magical piece that powerful at stake, Han knows that the Bayars will stop at nothing to get it back.  

Meanwhile, Raisa ana’Marianna, Princess Heir of the Fells, has her own battles to fight.  She’s just returned to court after three years of relative freedom with her father’s family at Demonai camp – riding, hunting, and working the famous Clan markets.  Although Raisa will become eligible for marriage after her sixteenth name-day, she isn’t looking forward to trading in her common sense and new skills for etiquette tutors and stuffy parties.  

Raisa wants to be more than an ornament in a glittering cage. She aspires to be like Hanalea—the legendary warrior queen who killed the Demon King and saved the world. But it seems like her mother has other plans for her–plans that include a suitor who goes against everything the Queendom stands for.

The Seven Realms will tremble when the lives of Han and Raisa collide in this stunning new page-turner from bestselling author Cinda Williams Chima.

Now, I will admit that the first book took me almost half of the way through to decide I really loved it and wanted to keep reading.  And yes, I am one who will persevere even though it may be a bit slow.  I’m not sure why I didn’t connect immediately.  I just didn’t.  That being said as a warning for anyone who feels like putting the book down early on…DON’T.  It’s well worth it to keep going.

The two main characters are interesting and unique, neither being a carbon copy of something that’s been done before.  Han, especially, is a fascinating character — even more so as the books progress.  Chima also paints a detailed world that is clear but not overly descriptive to the point where I started to skim.  (Another of my bad habits when I’m not invested.)

And most of all, I LOVED the story.  I love good characters, but I’m not a character drive book lover most of the time.  I want a plot driven book that has great characters.  And I got all of that here.  I would recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy.  If you aren’t a huge fantasy reader but love a good story and are willing to read until you’re hooked, it would be a good fit for you, too.

Oh, I almost forgot…I love these covers.  That alone makes me want to put them up on my bookshelf.

So….I finished!!!

Late Saturday night I finished the first draft of a new novel.  Yes, it’s YA.  And yes, it’s fantasy (with a lot of romance).  I’m super excited for this one.  I’ve written a draft of a query letter that’s gotten great feedback on various writing forums.  I’ve had a few early readers who have really loved it.  And I even posted the first 250 words at on online writers conference and an agent bothered to comment, telling me it was a good start.

And I personally, LOVE it!  Even though I’m just starting the revision process and I KNOW there are some needed changes.

Anyway, I thought I’d share my first 250 and get any feedback from all of you….

 

BLIND MAGIC

The siege had ended.  Lord Kern, the dark mage, was dead.

Maren pushed her forehead against the warm glass, straining for a better view of the commotion below.  A cheer went up from the crowd and Maren searched for any sign of the man making his way to the castle.  The man who’d saved the city — and the kingdom.

All she could see was a mass of bodies, crowding the way leading up from the city gates to the castle.

It wasn’t uncommon to see people in the streets.  They’d come every day for the past two and a half years, standing in subdued silence as they waited for the daily rations that grew more and more meager as the weeks went by.  But today the crowd wasn’t silent.  Today was different.

Maren raised her eyes.  The tent cities beyond the wall, once teeming with the soldiers draining the city of life, were now abandoned, destroyed, thin plumes of smoke the only movement.  Against that backdrop, the charred, barren fields look even more desolate.

“Anything?”

Maren jumped back from the window and felt the color rise to her cheeks.

“It’s all right, Maren,” Queen Adare said, trying to get her own view of the street below.  “We’re all curious.  And you have more right than the rest of us.  You knew him better than anyone.”

The dull, familiar ache in her chest forced Maren to hesitate until she was sure she could speak without her voice breaking.  Even then, she couldn’t meet the queen’s eyes.  “I’m not sure I knew him at all.”

Self-publishing is actually getting some legitimacy…sort of.

So there’s been a lot of talk lately about whether to self publish or not.  I even attended a writers conference where an agent actually said there are two legitimate ways of getting published:  the traditional method with an agent, etc. and self-publishing.  It was the first time I’d actually heard self-publishing referred to as legitimate.  In the past everyone’s kind of steered clear.  It was only the desperate ones who couldn’t find an agent that went this route.  Things have changed.

With the big publishers accepting fewer books, and consequently agents signing fewer clients (at least that’s what I’ve heard), there are some legitimately good books that are being self published.  And some of the authors have made in the millions of dollars.  Sounds great, right?

The problem is that there is still a lot of terrible stuff out there in the self publishing world.  Often it’s never been seen by an editor.  And the bigger problem:  no publicity.  How do you get your book name out there?  How do you advertise?  How do you attract the right audience?

So it may all boil down to a few simple things.  Hire a freelance editor.  Hire a publicist (or at least have some idea of what you’re doing and come up with a plan).  OR still go with an agent.  Not surprisingly, with the change to digital media (and all the monetary issues writers and publishers have been fighting about) and the ease of self publishing, there are agencies who are starting to guide their clients through the self publishing arena instead of just submitting to big traditional publishers.   But then again, you have to attract an agent first.  Are you starting to get as confused as I am????

Who knows where the future of books is going.  Even Toys R Us is going to start selling the Kindle.  Books at the push of a button?  Sounds good.  I’ve even done it.  Maybe that should be my next post.

Family Vacation: Yellowstone

So we took the kids to Yellowstone over the Fourth of July weekend.  It was awesome, and beautiful, and…great!  The kids weren’t always big fans of the driving, but the animals, waterfalls, geysers, springs, mud pots, sulfur smell (and yes, the boys did make “boy” comments about the smell :) ), and being stuck behind a herd of buffalo blocking the road for an hour more than made up for it.  If you’ve never been, I totally recommend it.  It truly is one of the most beautiful places in the country.  Here are a few of our pictures.  The first is a picture of Great Fountain Geyser erupting, and which we were really lucky to see since it only erupts ever 12-13 hours.  The second and fifth are some of the hot pools.  The third, is of course a bison (a.k.a. buffalo).  The fourth is a picture of the Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  And the last is a picture of the Grand Tetons, which we drove through on the way home.  They are truly spectacular, and this is coming from a girl who’s been surrounded by mountains her entire life and lives in a mountain valley.  Truly spectacular.

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