Portal of a Thousand Worlds, by Dave Duncan

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Image belongs to Open Road Integrated Media.

Dave Duncan started out life in Scotland, but moved to Canada as an adult. In addition to working as a petroleum engineer, he has published over fifty books. His newest novel is Portal of a Thousand Worlds.

In an Imperial China in an alternate nineteenth century, murder, shapeshifting, and dark magic are all commonplace things. But the Portal of a Thousand Worlds is about to open for the first time in a thousand years, bringing chaos, rebellion, and natural disaster with it.

Now the Firstborn—reincarnated through countless generations—is the only one who knows the future, and he’s imprisoned at the command of the dowager empress, who is hiding secret so large it would rock the entire nation to its core. Add in a rebel army led by a zealot, and several shapeshifting monks, and the stage is set.

Portal of a Thousand Worlds is not a fast-paced adventure story, yet it is filled with adventure, intrigue, and magic. Rich in historical and cultural detail, the setting takes center stage, and the characters are vivid and full of life. I recommend this to any fans of historical novels, and richly-detailed fantasies.

(Galley provided by Open Road Integrated Media via NetGalley.)

Fits and Starts

Sometimes, the writing comes easily. Sometimes…it feels like running a marathon with 10-pound weights on each foot:  impossible.

This week, it has been both for me.

I did manage to get at least some words written every day Monday-Thursday, although Tuesday and Thursday only saw a handful, nowhere near my goal. Yesterday, I was mentally done with the week, and I didn’t even try.

Today…it’s been going fairly well. I only have 500 words to go to meet my word count goal for the day…which was initially 0, but since Tuesday and Thursday were barely productive, I knew I needed to make them up today. So, 2,000 words so far today, 500 to go.

Feeling a lot less completely overwhelmed with life and work and school as a result.

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee

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Image belongs to Grand Central Publishing.

Min Jin Lee is the award-winning author of Free Food for Millionaires. Her newest novel is Pachinko.

Sunja is the daughter of a desperately poor Korean family in the early 1900s. To her mother’s shame, she ends up pregnant and unmarried:  Sunja didn’t know the father was already married, and walked away from him when she found out. A young minister offers to marry her, and they move to Japan before the baby is born.

Pachinko follows the life of the family as they live as Koreans in Japan. Ostracized and despised, the family struggles to find hope and success amidst prejudice and poverty. Forever despised because of their ethnicity, Sunja’s family retains their pride despite the obstacles they face.

Pachinko is not an easy book to read. The tales of the war and the havoc it wreaked in Japan are horrible, but so are the atrocities faced by Koreans living in Japan during the time, some of who were actually born in Japan but are still identified as Korean and discriminated against. The writing is a vivid description of the poverty-filled life faced by Sunja and her family, but also a moving description of love and strength beyond imagining. I highly recommend this.

(Galley provided by Grand Central Publishing.)

Love

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I don’t own this image.

I hope everyone has a Happy Valentine’s Day, whether you have a Valentine or not. Love yourself. Eat chocolate. Be happy. Love is important, and loving yourself is near the top of the list.

Write something you love today, no matter how simple. Try out something you’ve been meaning to write. A limerick? Haiku? Adventure short story? Cheesy high school romance? If you love it, write it. Worry about the details later.

The Sky Between You and Me, by Catherine Alene

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Image belongs to Sourcebooks Fire.

Catherine Alene is a teacher who has battled an eating disorder. Her new novel is The Sky Between You and Me.

Raesha wants to win Nationals. It’s not just about competing and how great her horse is, it’s also about honoring the memory of her mother and they dream they used to share. This year, it’s also about beating the new girl on the team, who keeps flirting with Raesha’s boyfriend and hanging out with her best friend.

Lighter. Leaner. Faster.

This is all Raesha thinks about. She knows minus five on the scale will give her an edge in competition, will make her horse faster. It will also make her more like her mother. So Raesha focuses on minus five to the exclusion of all else, until she is no longer sure of who she is without it.

The Sky Between You and Me is a free verse novel, which I didn’t realize before I started reading it. I almost put it down, but I’m so glad I didn’t. The free verse puts the reader firmly in Raesha’s head, allowing them to see everything from her perspective, where Lighter. Leaner. Faster makes sense. But the reader can also see the destructive path Raesha is on, and wants desperately for her to fight her way free of the eating disorder that has consumed her whole life. A great read!

(Galley courtesy of Sourcebooks Fire via NetGalley.)

What I Read in January

January was a pretty good month for keeping up with my goals. Well…most of them, anyway. I did keep up with my writing and reading goals, so I’m calling it a win. I read 12 books for the month.

  1.  The Fifth Petal, by Brunonia Barry. (Read to review.) I liked this book a lot:  elements of the supernatural, a mystery, and a town so vibrant that I want to visit.
  2. A Mad Zombie Party, by Gena Showalter. (Read just because.) Loved this series. Loved these characters. Loved this book.
  3. The Road to Enchantment, by Kaya McLaren. (Read to review.)  The New Mexico landscape is as much of a character as the actual characters. Deals with difficult times in an almost-lyrical way. Well-worth reading.
  4. Dawn Study, by Maria V. Snyder. (Read to review, and because I love this series.) Very sad to see this series end. The wold, characters, magic system…everything is fantastic! Highly recommended. (But please, start with the very first book, Poison Study.)
  5. Firstlife, by Gena Showalter. (Read just because.) It occurs to me that I had a thing for Gena Showalter this month…Fair enough. Unique concept, compelling characters, and awesome worldbuilding. I want to be Gene Showalter when I grow up (as a writer)!
  6. Ink and Bone, by Rachel Caine. (Read just because.) I’m a huge Rachel Caine fan, and when she did an event nearby, I was so there! This first book was so good I had to hide the second one from myself (or I’d never get anything else done)!
  7. Unpunished, by Lisa Black. (Read to review.) Not a bad book, but I would have been better off reading the first novel in the series…first.
  8. The Sky Between You and Me, by Catherine Alene. (Forthcoming review.) So…I didn’t realize this is written in a sort of free-form/free-verse, stream-of-consciousness style. At first, I was off-put by this, but then the story really drew me in, and I enjoyed it a lot.
  9. The Edge, by Fleur Camacho. (Read just because.) This has been hanging out on my Kindle for a while. I liked the premise, but the delivery felt a little bit patchy and underdeveloped. Plus, the world is based on something that I have a fundamental problem with—which is my problem—but did give me some reservations about the story when I realized it.
  10. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad. (Classic book of the month.) Um…this pretty much made no impression on me.
  11. Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue. (My different-culture book for the month.) I’d heard some good things about this novel, and, for personal reasons, wanted to read it. I found it both inspiring and a bit sad, but very evocative. The dialect is so well-done and musical, that I could almost hear it! In my experience, it captures the Cameroonian mindset extremely well (Makes sense, since the author is from Limbe.).
  12. Uninvited, by Lysa TerKeurst. (Spiritual book of the month.) Really fantastic book, about dealing with all sorts of rejection.

Unpunished, by Lisa Black

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Image belongs to Kensington.

Lisa Black has worked as a forensic scientist. Unpunished is the second novel in the Gardiner/Renner books.

Maggie Gardiner is investigating the death of a copywriter at The Cleveland Herald, whose body was found late one night hanging from the printing machinery. Instead of a suicide, like first suspected, the death turns out to be murder, and is followed quickly by others, leaving Maggie no choice but to put her trust in the one person she doesn’t want to:  detective Jack Renner, whose dark secret haunts her every second.

For Maggie knows this dark secret:  that Jack is behind the vigilante killings that have eliminated murderers and other horrible criminals, criminals the law never gave justice to. But Maggie insists Jack stay on the right side of the law now, a pact that may haunt her, as Jack’s abilities may be the only thing that helps them solve the newspaper murders.

Unpunished was a new-to-me series. I love crime/forensic novels, and enjoy guessing the most unlikely characters as the murderer. While this novel had an interesting backstory, I think I probably would have enjoyed it more if I’d read the first one.

(Galley provided by Kensington.)

The Road to Enchantment, by Kaya McLaren

 

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Image belongs to St. Martin’s.

Kaya McLaren is a former archeologist turned author. Her newest novel is The Road to Enchantment.

When Willow was a girl, she watched as her mother set a mattress on fire in the front yard, roasted marshmallow Peeps over the flames, and said goodbye to Washington and her cheating husband, dragging Willow with her all the way to New Mexico and a new life next to an Apache reservation. At first, Willow struggled to fit in, then she just couldn’t wait to leave. Now she loves her new life in L.A. But one phone call from Darrel, her best friend back home, and everything changes:  her mother is dead, her boyfriend dumps her, and she finds out she’s pregnant.

Now Willow finds herself back in New Mexico, sorting through the memories of her old live, and trying to figure out how to pay back what her mother owed on the DeVine Winery and goat ranch so she can escape back to L.A. Now the small community she grew up in feels more like home than Willow ever imagined, and she must reevaluate what is truly important in life if she is ever to find happiness.

The Road to Enchantment is filled with the magic of an everyday life, with the simplicity that brings happiness, and the realization of deep truths present in every person. Willow is trying to find herself—without realizing it—and what she finds is not what she expected. I’ve never been to New Mexico, nor do I have any experience with life on or near a reservation, yet this book brought it to vibrant, shimmering life, tempting me to light my old life on fire and run away to a new life. A beautiful, evocative book!

(Galley provided by St. Martin’s.)

Whose Line is it Anyway?

(This show used to crack me up. I just don’t think fast enough on my feet to be able hold my own on a show like that, but it was hilarious.)

I’m not sure if the first line of a story causes me more fear and second-guessing, or the last line, but I’m leaning towards the first line. Think about it:  you’re trying to set the tone for an entire novel (or novella or short story or essay or paper…), and you want to capture your audience’s attention as well as the feel of the entire novel. In that one sentence. That’s a lot of pressure for one measly sentence, a mere handful of words.

So which tone do you take?

Iconic? “In the beginning…”

Fantastical? “Once upon a time…”

Historical? “It was the best of times…”

Character-driven? “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful…”

(True story:  I actually know the entire first half-page or so of Gone with the Wind by heart. It’s my favorite book ever, and while stylistically it’s not something I can emulate, it certainly paints a vivid picture of Scarlett right off the bat.)

I mean, if we were watching a movie, that opening shot would be—comparatively speaking—much easier to establish setting, world, character, and plot. You’ve got visuals. You could use Johnny Depp against the ocean, or bright words rolling up against a backdrop of stars. There’s an immediate feeling of place.

But what’s the literary equivalent of that opening shot?

My advice is not to worry too much over it when you’re writing your fist draft. (Are you listening, self?) If you have a brilliant idea for the perfect first line, use it. But write the entire piece or novel, and when you go back to revise, get your story in the best possible shape you can, then take a look at your first line. Chances are good that your story will have changed so much that that “perfect” first line is no longer even relevant.

But you’ll have a much better feel for the story and what you’re trying to say, and I’m betting that crafting that elusive perfect first line won’t be quite so hard with that in mind.

Dawn Study, by Maria V. Snyder

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Image belongs to MIRA books.

Maria V. Snyder is a meteorologist turned best-selling and award-winning author. Dawn Study is the third book in the Soulfinders series, but also the sixth (and last) book in the Study series, and the ninth book in the Chronicles of Ixia series. It hits shelves on January 31st.

Yelena and Valek have come a long way from their beginnings in a cell in Ixia. Now their bond goes beyond borders, and their family—both blood and heart—evokes loyalty even in the most trying situations. With their homelands on the brink of war, they must use magic and skill to stop Ixia from invading Sitia when nothing is as it seems.

The Cartel is determined to keep magicians and those in power under the spell of Theobroma—and to keep Yelena as far away from their plots as possible, despite her determination to beat them. With bounty hunters dogging her steps, she is forced to make a dangerous deal, while Valek investigates the layers of deception surrounding the Commander. The fate of both countries—and Valek and Yelena—rests on the most unlikely weapons, one that can help them, and one that may destroy everything they hold dear.

Dawn Study is the final Study book, which saddens me, since I’ve been reading this series since the beginning. The way Yelena and Valek have grown and changed since the beginning—a prisoner sentenced to death and the super spy who offers her a chance at redemption, as a poison-taster—is astonishing. Their relationship grew with each novel, and the bond between them now is rock-solid. They spend most of this book in water so hot I had no inkling how they’d escape. Even the “minor” characters in this series are memorable and vibrant. I cannot recommend these books highly enough. I’m sad the series is ending.

(Galley provided by MIRA books.)