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THE WISH GRANTER review and ARC giveaway!

In early celebration of the release of C.J. Redwine’s latest fairytale retelling, I am delighted to be giving away a SIGNED ARC of The Wish Granter.

Blurb

The world has turned upside down for Thad and Ari Glavan, the bastard twins of Súndraille’s king. Their mother was murdered. The royal family died mysteriously. And now Thad sits on the throne of a kingdom whose streets are suddenly overrun with violence he can’t stop.

Growing up ignored by the nobility, Ari never wanted to be a proper princess. And when Thad suddenly starts training Ari to take his place, she realizes that her brother’s ascension to the throne wasn’t fate. It was the work of a Wish Granter named Alistair Teague who tricked Thad into wishing away both the safety of his people and his soul in exchange for the crown.

So Ari recruits the help of Thad’s enigmatic new weapons master, Sebastian Vaughn, to teach her how to fight Teague. With secret ties to Teague’s criminal empire, Sebastian might just hold the key to discovering Alistair’s weaknesses, saving Ari’s brother—and herself.

But Teague is ruthless and more than ready to destroy anyone who dares stand in his way—and now he has his sights set on the princess. And if Ari can’t outwit him, she’ll lose Sebastian, her brother…and her soul.

My Review

An uncommon fairytale retelling, with an equally uncommon heroine—ideal for fans of Once Upon A Time.

While tied to the first book in the Ravenspire series, The Wish Granter stands perfectly well on its own. It is told in a similar way–primarily dual POV in past-tense, with a smattering of the villain’s perspective threaded through. The resulting effect is consistent and cohesive. Some of the re-imagined elements (i.e. Hansel & Gretel: Monster Wranglers) posed intriguing worldbuilding questions that readers may look forward to being answered in future installments.

The Heroine:
Arianna Glavan never asked to be a princess. When the ruling mantle inexplicably falls to her and her twin brother Thad, she tries to make the best of their newfound responsibilities. But while the kingdom of Sundraille is their home, it doesn’t accept the illegitimate heirs with open arms. Their leadership turns out to be little more than a puppet dictatorship under the thumb of a drug-dealing Fae kingpin named Alistair Teague. Defying Teague means death, but submitting to him means the corrosive destruction of everything good in Sundraille.

Ari is an exceedingly pleasant departure from Redwine’s previous heroines. (As much as I enjoy a no-nonsense kick-butt warrior for a protagonist, it’s nice to see an author flex their range.) She is quick-witted, pithily sarcastic, deeply caring—immediately likeable. She also happens to be plus-sized, ethnically blended, and reeling from a lifetime of being the ignored bastard child of the king rather than a “true” royalty. Never mind the fact that she’d rather be baking up a storm than trying to run an ungrateful, disintegrating kingdom.

Thad: “But this is a boy, and you need to think of your reputation if you’re spending time alone with him—”

Ari: “Learning how to put a man’s eye out or take him down at the knees. Very romantic stuff, Thad. Very romantic. Oh, and we also hid a body together, so we’re practically engaged.”

All hail Princess Sassy-Pants! (I’m looking at you, Disney.)

The Hero:
Sebastian is a sympathetic hero, escaping a dismally awful background in hopes of a better life away from the drugs, abuse, and organized crime that were seemingly his birthright. His new job at the palace lands him directly in the path of the unorthodox—and doggedly determined–princess. Her insistence on treating him as an equal is enough to gradually chip away at his damaged past and sense of inferiority. While the eventual romance that develops between them is the kind that springs forth from a desperate thrown-together situation, it’s all the more believable for it.

My primary qualm with this story was in wishing there was something even mildly redemptive about Sebastian’s mother. I could accept his father being an abusive, 1-dimensional villain… but I was hoping for more depth out of the drug-seeking woman he felt motivated to fund a better life for. (Even just a memory or two of a time when she’d been more maternal, or a theory as to what hurts from her past drove her to this lifestyle, would have probably sufficed.) As it was, I struggled to understand how Sebastian could have turned out as an even vaguely honorable and/or functional human being—given there was no hint of any positive adult influence in his upbringing.

I also would have loved to see more of that living Fae house that came into play at the halfway point. It is said that a location can be a secondary character if portrayed well, but this reader had never before seen the concept taken so literally!

On the whole, this book is likely to prove an endearing and memorable experience for any medium-fantasy or fairytale enthusiast.

Favorite Quote: 

“Sometimes having courage means the hardest tasks fall onto your shoulders, and those leave the biggest scars.”

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A Book Year in Review

It’s been an eventful literary year! So many series begun and ended. So many promising debut authors, and old favorites offering up new works.

The Young Adult genre has been a particular treasure trove. Thanks largely to my assignments through YA Books Central, I’ve read and reviewed more than 80 books over the last 12 months. I’ve also had the great pleasure of stumbling across several that stayed with me throughout 2016.

And now, I’d like to share with you my top 2 picks!
Because books are kind of like potato chips. It’s hard to pick just one.

Disclaimer: These choices are mine alone, and were not solicited in any way. (Not even with promises of chocolate and/or baked goods.)

Top Fiction Pick: THE FIRE HORSE GIRL

Review: A captivating gem of a story—an absolute treasure. I hated having to put it down to attend to ‘real life,’ and relished the joy of picking it back up again.

“I could feel the beginning of the story gathering in her throat. Stories are that way, like storms. If you pay attention, you can sense them in the air.”

Fire Horse Girl is a highly accessible (and subtly informative) YA historical, steeped in 1920’s Chinese culture, integrated folklore, deft wit, and poignantly beautiful prose.

The tale is told entirely from the 3rd person perspective Jade Moon, a 17-year-old girl whose gender and birth year (according to the Chinese zodiac) leaves her shunned by her village and family—a pariah in a culture that openly considers her “cursed.” When a family business arrangement gives her the opportunity to go to America, Jade Moon is enchanted by the hope of a fresh start in a country where people seem free to make their own luck. But immigration proves difficult and dangerous. Jade Moon’s hopes run aground on the obstinate will of her both her father and Sterling Promise—the young man she’s grown to care for but cannot trust. And her only remaining option may be to defy everything she knows to carve out a place for herself in a world she doesn’t yet understand.

The Characters:
This reader connected with Jade Moon almost immediately. She is what Americans would generally deem a classic ‘Tomboy’—an innately willful, indelicate, opinionated, big-dreaming, and brash young woman. In short, a force of personality to be reckoned with. And of course, none of these traits were considered desirable of a female in Chinese culture at the time. But though she is hurt and isolated by her immediate world’s inability to accept her, her spirit isn’t completely crushed—and she grabs fiercely at hope for change the moment it comes near.

Jade Moon’s personality in an internal monologue nutshell:
“Auntie Wu took special pride in two of her accomplishments–the sons she bore and the flowers she grew. They were equally useless, but the flowers smelled better.”

While some readers may not have as much sympathy for a more aggressive female character, I understood her so deeply it hurt. Jade Moon is every girl who has ever felt like they were too much for anyone to handle. She is every girl who knows they are too bold or temperamental, yet can’t seem to help it. She is every girl who would rather risk the consequences of breaking the socio-cultural mold than to allow the mold to break them.

Obviously, one needn’t be Chinese to be a Fire Horse kind of girl.

Then there’s Sterling Promise… whose name couldn’t be more fitting.
While his personality is nothing like Jade Moon’s, his hopes and goals are very much the same. He is an orphan, forced to grow up working in a sweatshop before being adopted by a man who’d estranged himself from his own family. Like Jade, he belongs nowhere and to no one. Like Jade, he sees America as his chance to start life anew. He’s a level-headed, silver-tongued survivalist—skilled at talking his way in and out of situations.

And while he comes to care for Jade, he remains an enigma for much of the story—a wild card. Both Jade and readers are never quite sure if will do the right thing in the end… or if he’ll go no further than doing what is right for himself.

The Plot:
The first sixty or so pages take place in a small village in Guangzhou, China—where readers are given a vivid look at the rural life of our heroine. Jade Moon’s oppressed state is palpable, but her story unfolds with no easy answers. For every constraint she attempts to shed by leaving China, she is confronted with a new obstacle or artifice in an unwelcoming America. All the while, readers are treated to a matter-of-fact look at events and policies that seem largely overlooked in most U.S. History textbooks: An in-depth look at the prison-like conditions on Angel Island, the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco and the subsequent fire that destroyed citizenship records, the concept of “paper children,” the infamous “Hatchet Men,” and non-graphic yet plain-faced look at prostitution in 1920’s Chinatown…

This book hit literary happiness buttons I didn’t even know I had.
I’m always excited about a strong female MC and cultural/historical insight that’s done well enough I don’t notice how much I’m learning… but I’d forgotten how much I appreciate co-experiencing the challenges of a female who is compelled to cross-dress (for survival, not fun), or a romance that initially doesn’t work because one or both parties realizes that, while the other does love them, they don’t love them enough.

Though there is a thread of hate-to-love romance, it takes a far backseat to the greater storyline. The ending is balanced and satisfying. While the book stands perfectly on its own, it also leaves open the possibility for more of Jade Moon’s story at some later date.

Thank you, Kay Honeyman, for such a remarkable work of heart. Books like this remind me why I love to read.

Favorite Quote:

“You can love someone as many ways as water falls from the sky. Sometimes it falls with thunder and lightning; other times it falls silently. Sometimes it falls as cool snow, and other times hard balls of ice beat down. If you want the water, you don’t get to choose how it falls.”

Top Non-Fiction Pick: TAKING FLIGHT

Review: Extraordinary!

TAKING FLIGHT is both potent and potentially worldview-expanding. Whether you’re interested in ballet or not, this YA memoir is a stirring must-read.

Let me start out by saying that this reader, personally, has no particular interest in dancing of any kind. But when I came across a news article several years ago detailing some of Michaela DePrince’s life, I was immediately drawn in. Her background and force of personality were uniquely captivating, and her physical ability was ethereal. I had to know more about her. This memoir provided exactly the resource I was hoping for to that end.

Micheala DePrince’s life story begins in a war-torn Sierra Leone—a brilliant, headstrong child born to doting parents who are in the severe cultural minority in regard to their value for the female gender. Tragically losing both of her parents proves to be only the beginning of her hardships. Micheala’s spotted skin pigmentation marks her as a “devil child” and she suffers tremendous abuses at the hands of cruel and superstitious caretakers—beginning with her own uncle and continuing on as she becomes the least-favorite child at the orphanage she is sold to. She somehow survives horrific war violence, trauma, neglect, starvation, disease, abuse, and the brutal misogyny of Sharia Law—before being adopted by a big-hearted American couple at the age of 4. And a chance encounter with a magazine cover (featuring a prima ballerina) becomes an unlikely focalpoint that hones her new life.

Michela DePrince’s mere survival defies all probability. The fact that she has also excelled in drive and discipline to the point where she is currently a renowned classical ballerina with the Dutch National Ballet is beyond inspiring—bordering on the miraculous.

DePrince’s writing is strong, straightforward, and devoid of frills—effective and sometimes blunt in conveyance. She lays out her story like dance steps. Precise and intentional, acknowledging pain without faltering or dwelling on it any longer than necessary. The first 70 pages are dedicated to sharing her pre-adoption childhood, and while the content is often difficult to read, it makes her current triumph all the more sweet. Her challenges don’t end simply because she’s given 1st-world opportunities. Instead they change form—appearing in her initial struggles with adapting to her adoptive country, in the heartbreak of losing a beloved sibling, in the effects of residual PTSD, in her own self-consciousness over her skin condition, and eventually in confronting the many faces and forms of racism in everyday life as well as the realm of professional ballet.

I’ve noted some reviewers take issue with the credibility of DePrince’s memories from the age of 3-4 while she was still in Sierra Leone. But considering she could read and write by age 3 and spoke five languages (thanks to both her biological parents’ attentiveness and the nature of their merchant livelihood), the degree of trauma she endured, and her exceedingly advanced talent and aptitude in spite of all odds, this reader can’t see any reason to find fault with her recollections. If anyone is a clear exception to the norm, it is this astounding young woman.

Highly Recommended For: Anyone and everyone.
Don’t wait to get a hold of this book. Come and dance a mile in this girl’s pointe shoes.

DePrince’s story doesn’t merely fly, it soars.

Tell me your favorite ready of 2016!

Playlist Poetry

So… the vibrantly charming H. C. Palmquist had the inspired idea to convert song titles from her randomly shuffled playlist into a poem. I thought it sounded like a fantastic writing exercise—not to mention a much-needed brain break for those of us in the throes of their manuscript’s black moment.     *Bleak stare–raises hand*

Jinxie then took that idea and leveled it up, with stunning results: https://jinxiesworld.com/2016/07/02/out-of-the-black/

So… here’s my attempt. Not randomly shuffled, but purely derived from my personal playlist.

I’m not okay

Hanging by a moment
Lost in the echo
Waiting for the world to fall

Sleeping awake
Jar of hearts, Between you and me
First world problems
Welcome to the masquerade

Whispers in the dark
Jekyll & Hyde
Madness in me

I’m so sick

Don’t let me get me
No thief like fear
Remind me who I am, Once and for all

Better sorry than safe
With arms wide open, Nothing is wasted
The art of breaking
Worth the pain

The sound of silence
Fully alive
My heartstrings come undone

So what?

Pressing on
Forward motion
No plan B

Breaking the habit
Castle of glass, World inside my head
Feel invincible
The wound is where the light gets in

Stand up
Raise your glass
The end is where we begin

Let’s roll

(Curiously psychological? You betchya. >.> But also quite invigorating! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to tackle my WIP. Feel free to comment with your own version of this exercise, and be sure to check out H.C. Palmquist’s blog!)

Book Giveaway : The Shadow Queen!

Enter below for your chance to win an ARC copy of C.J. Redwine’s new YA fantasy: The Shadow Queen. Read it before the 2/16 release date!

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Blurb: 

A dark epic fantasy inspired by the tale of Snow White, from C. J. Redwine, the author of the Defiance series. Perfect for fans of A Court of Thorns and Roses and Cinder.

Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.

In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic of his own—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman—and bring her Lorelai’s heart.

But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.

 

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My Review:

4.5 Stars

As YA fairytale retellings go, this one is a thoughtfully crafted fantasy smorgasbord.

Redwine’s alternate version of Snow White isn’t some waifish, naive songbird—sleeping off her questionable life choices while waiting on a rescue.

(Sorry, Disney fans. Please don’t troll me.)

Here instead we have a cunning rebel sorceress for a princess, who’s been secretly training for a decade to overthrow her murderous, throne-stealing aunt. Did I mention she’s also a kick-butt falconer who excels at parkour? Oh, and the handsome prince is a freshly orphaned dragon shifter, who is trying desperately to save the kingdom he doesn’t feel worthy of leading.

That’s right… the prince/huntsman is also a dragon. You’re welcome.

The Shadow Queen is written in third-person past-tense, from multiple POVs (primarily Lorelei and Kol’s, but with crucial perspective snippets from queen Irina.) The pacing moves along at a rapid clip, complemented by snappy dialogue and well-rounded characterization. Redwine’s prose itself is strong both in conveyance of emotion and the sound handling of frequent action scenes.

Above all, this tale carries the persisting theme of doing what’s right–even when it costs you more than you want to pay.

The brother/sister dynamic between Lorelai and Leo was spot-on endearing. Fierce loyalty, with an authenticating touch of mutual annoyance.
——
Lorelai smirked at Leo, who raised a brow and then glared up at the sky. “The two of you are conspiring against me again, aren’t you?”

“She just wants to share her lunch with you.”

Leo blanched. “Last time she shared, I got a face full of rabbit guts from above. Tell your bird to keep her victims to herself.”
——

The worldbuilding in this stand-alone is fairly extensive, with an array of adjoining kingdoms (complete with map!) that are likely to receive individual play time in future books within this series. Much of the names and terminology carry Slavic-sounding underpinnings, the extent of which this reviewer isn’t qualified to analyze. All I can say is that the usage was vaguely guttural, consistent without being overwhelming, and overall appealing in the medieval-fantastical atmosphere it conjured.

This reader would have been interested to see a little more detail on whether lifespans vary between differing peoples, and whether Human/Eldr pairings were at all unprecedented in this world’s history. But perhaps more intricate matters of biologic compatibility will be addressed in future installments.

If you’re a fan of retellings that manage to turn a classic on its head in all the right ways, this book may be right up your alley.

Favorite Quote:
“You don’t go into battle because you’re sure of victory. You go into battle because it’s the right thing to do.”

 
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Just In Time For Your Holiday Reading…

I am pleased to announce that the ebook version of Once Upon A Road Trip has dropped to just .99 cents from now until January 4th, 2016! 😀

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This limited time deal is available in all countries, but I’ve got a few quick-links for North American readers here:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Once-Upon-Road-Angela-Blount-ebook/dp/B00E91R8NS/

Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/once-upon-a-road-trip-angela-blount/1117303842?ean=2940149012985

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/once-upon-a-road-trip

Of Planets and Pufferfish

Gifts are nice. At their best, they’re a thoughtful token of esteem or affection.

But sometimes the best kind of gift you can give someone is an experience.

My husband gave me a unique experience recently that I wanted to share, in part because it directly pertains to the book series I’m working on. And in part because…well…it’s straight-up awesome.

I visited hubby’s office last week to take him to lunch, and he first took me on a detour into the studio to see the new “toy” his company has been working on for NASA. This, ladies and gentlemen, is called a Pufferfish. A touch-responsive spherical display.

PufferSphere M(i.e. crystal ball)

The image you see here is a projected compilation of satellite imagery.

Not only was it an accurate representation of the Earth set in a glass globe too large for me to put my arms around, it was also rotating on its axis and responsive to me “tilting” the projection with a flick of my finger. For a moment in that darkened studio, I felt like cosmic giant. My sci-fi obsessed inner child may have squealed. A lot.

But that wasn’t the coolest part.

Earth isn’t the only celestial body that’s been thoroughly mapped, after all. When I casually mentioned to my husband how neat it would be if I could see Mars in the same “light”, he disappeared for a few minutes and then convinced the magic ball to give me THIS:

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I have to admit, I got a little choked up.

I’ve been studying flat maps of Mars for several years now as part of my research for the sci-fi series I’m writing. It has about 1/3rd the gravitational pull of Earth, but a huge percentage of my personal affection. Seeing the whole of the red planet up close…

Let’s just say, to me, the experience was about a thousand times better than a bouquet of flowers. ^_^

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To give a better feel for scale, here’s me pointing out the more precise location where the first book in the series is set. That’s Olympus Mons, in an area called the Tharsis region.

Seeing Mars in all of it’s 3-dimensional glory was inspiring. To turn and tilt and get an almost literal “feel” for the geography of another planet was certainly one of the more memorable experiences I’ve been given as of late. It brought me closer to my story.

Maybe a little too close.

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And here I am, hugging a planet.

I couldn’t resist the opportunity.
(My apologies to whoever had to Windex away all evidence of me afterward.)

Oh, and kudos to my dear, wise husband for not doing THIS to me:

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I know it must have taken all of his self-control… and most of his self-preservation.