Windwitch

29939390by Susan Dennard
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Book 2 in the Witchlands series

If you follow the author at all, you’ll know that she writes amazing monthly newsletters, has a wealth of helpful advice on writing and craft on her website, and this book took her two painful years to write. It is completely, entirely worth it, and I am so grateful she put in the blood, sweat and tears to share this story!

Picking up right after the events in Truthwitch:
-Merik the Windwitch is horribly scarred from an assassination attempt that destroyed his ship and killed all but one crew member. Merik thinks it was his sister’s doing, but his companion Cam is not convinced.
-Safi the Truthwitch is on her way to Marstok with its Empress, Vaness, who is an Ironwitch.
-Iseult the Threadwitch is alone and trying to meet up with her Threadsister Safi.
-Aeduan the Bloodwitch finds himself tracking Iseult again both as a job and to get his missing silver back.

-Added to all that is Merik’s sister Vivia (a Tidewitch) and her attempts to secure the throne.

Given all the intricate plot threads and magic tied to these characters, I think it’s completely understandable that this would be difficult to write. But Sooz makes it look easy! Each arc, each transition between the points of view is so smoothly done. Each character has a different voice as well, which is so hard to do. Characters naturally collide and separate again, and all of them experience such moments of growth. This book is just action-action-action EMOTIONAL PUNCH–repeat!

Without spoilers–we see Merik and Vivia struggling to help their starving nation as tensions erupt all around their borders. The Puppeteer continues to invade Iseult’s mind with disturbing information and hints about Iseult’s potential abilities. Safi continually finds herself among enemies-turned-tentative-allies. All of them are forced to confront uncomfortable truths about themselves and the world around them, and it’s this that keeps you flipping the pages as quickly as possible.

I think my favorite part was Vivia–learning about her motivations, her struggles as she attempts to run a country full of men who think she shouldn’t, and her dedication to her country regardless of what she must sacrifice or who gains the credit was so interesting and inspiring. All the characters make decisions you don’t always agree with, yet their earnest intentions keep you on their side. It’s truly enjoyable to follow their journeys!

This has all the best aspects of a sequel: deepened world-building, more types of magic, more intimate character relationships and interactions, and nonstop action. It’s hard to convey without spoilers, but if you enjoyed the mood and characters of the first, you will find more of that here!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Windwitch is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Sandry’s Book by Tamora Pierce – The Circle of Magic quartet and The Circle Opens quartet features four teens with different types of magic whose intense, unyielding friendships help them defeat evil sorcerers and unite cultures. Adventures abound, and it’s fun watching these characters grow up. These were some of my favorites when I was younger and Pierce is an author worth reading.
  • The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie – Cas is captured by the Pirate Queen Santa Elena to train a sea monster for her (instead of training them to kill pirates). See my review here.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – I recommend this because this story has another awesome female friendship at its heart, but it was much darker than Windwitch. See my review here.
  • Abarat by Clive Barker – Candy Quackenbush finds herself in an archipelago where every hour of the day has its own island and she discovers she is destined to save them all. Beautiful artwork by the author fully illustrates this series.

The Poet’s Dog

28594336by Patricia MacLachlan
Children’s Lit
4 of 5 stars

It would be nearly impossible to write a fictional dog I won’t love. Children and dogs are expected to tug our heartstrings–in fact, typically a protagonist’s humanity and morality is judged by how they relate to children and animals! They are so universally beloved, they can feel like a literary crutch. Yet this story portrays them as you’d expect in ways that do not feel full of exploitative sugar.

When Teddy the Irish Wolfhound finds two children alone in a snowstorm, he leads them back to his cabin. For most of his life, Teddy shared the cabin with Sylvan, a poet who taught him words. Only poets and children can understand Teddy’s words, but he doesn’t mind. As the children keep Teddy company and prepare food, Teddy thinks back on his time with Sylvan and wonders what his future will hold.

Just as children have a way of seeing truths with clarity adults don’t always possess, Teddy has equally moving insights about humans. This short book is full of good and bad poetry, and what things or events spur people into creating art (and how lying to yourself makes for bad art). Honestly the only little thing that kept pulling me from the story is that the only color mentioned is red–and dogs can’t really distinguish red…but this is probably something only I would care about!

This is a quick, cozy read for the winter! If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Poet’s Dog is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell – Feo and her half-wild wolves must journey to St. Petersburg to save her mother. Naturally, things do not go entirely according to plan. See my review here.
  • Pax by Sara Pennypacker – The story of a boy and his fox who will do anything to reunite when the boy’s father and war separate them. See my review here.
  • The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo – A brave little mouse teaches everyone he encounters about honor, love, light and dark as he pursues knighthood.
  • Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley – A tear-jerking and hilarious story detailing a lonely man’s relationship with his old dachshund. For any dog-lover. See my review here.

What to read again:

Reading the previous books in a series a second time lets you soak up all the nuances and speculate about what’s going to happen next—I find it makes the whole experience richer and more fun! What am I going to start re-reading?

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

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I adore the beautiful language and imagery in this book! The story has a dream-like quality and Maya’s struggle to unravel the secrets of her past to change her future held me spellbound. (See my review here). Although the companion novel next month focuses on different characters, I still enjoy revisiting the original story so I can see all the connections between them. Gauri and Vikram (who briefly appeared in the first book) are set to compete in a Tournament of Wishes to change their lives and I am so excited to learn more about this world and its magic! Don’t miss out next month!

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Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit

28512466by Jaye Robin Brown
YA Contemporary
4 of 5 stars

On this day of celebrating love in all its forms, I recommend this romantic story of two small-town southern Christian girls falling in love despite doing their darndest to deny their feelings! (Seriously, wouldn’t everyone enjoy Valentine’s Day more if it was a bit more inclusive? Romantic love isn’t the only kind that matters!)

As true winter finally sets in, it was nice to read about the warmth of Georgia for a change! Jo Gordon is an out and proud pastor’s daughter, but now that her father has married wife number three who comes with an ultra-conservative family, he wants to move Jo from Atlanta to small-town Rome, and also wants her to keep her true sexuality under wraps for her senior year. Jo agrees, only if he finally gives her the green light for adding her own LGBTQ-friendly youth radio program to his booming Christian radio ministry. The bargain is struck, and Jo transforms into Joanna, the wholesome girl her new extended family will love. Ten months of passing to get her ultimate wish of running a radio show that could help hundreds of teens like her—but Joanna didn’t count on meeting the girl of her dreams.

I loved everything about this story except the weird bargain between Jo and her father (yes, I know that’s the foundational premise). Her supportive dad asking her to change herself that way feels so wrong, and what’s worse is Jo’s agreement to it. But all that aside, her continued waffling over why she can’t tell her friends (and then her secret girlfriend) the truth makes less and less sense. I don’t enjoy plots that hinge on a Secret, especially when keeping the secret seems like the least logical option.

However, everything else is so well-done that I was able to keep suspending my disbelief. We see both sides of Christianity’s viewpoint on the LGBTQ community, and we see so many characters offering flat-out rejection as well as supportive acceptance. So many misconceptions and stereotypes about lesbians and being queer are hammered out without it feeling like the author is stepping in to present her views. Jo’s relationships with her friends, her father, and her stepmother evolve in wonderfully believable ways. I also liked how the Christian community was portrayed–especially faith’s importance to Jo. Interwoven through all of it is the fierce attraction between Jo and Mary Carlson, and their chemistry is perfect!

The characters are what make this story come alive and I loved their journeys! It’s a cute romance with so many feelings! If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – This came to me highly recommended and I loved it so much! Simon is not out to everyone, but that choice might disappear thanks to another student who threatens to expose Simon’s email correspondence with a boy named Blue. With great sarcasm and poise, Simon deals with blackmail and trying to discover the identity of the boy he loves. See my review here.
  • The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord – This is an adorable high school romance with one of the best girl squads I’ve ever read! See my review here.
  • P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han – First Lara Jean and Peter pretended to be together, now they’re actually together, but high school rumors threaten to end their relationship for good. See my review here.
  • Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch – A rom com set in Italy (prepare to be hungry) and Lina tries to resist the charm of her estranged father, the boy next door, and Italy itself. But family secrets demand she gives everything a closer look. See my review here.

Writing Update: Draft 2

If you’ve wandered through writing posts before, you will know that Draft 2 is the Beast. The hardest draft because it has you fighting on all fronts: plot holes, character arcs, world-building/setting, and pacing.

Your rough draft attempted to pin a story to paper and it probably resembles the story you intended like you resemble a human when you first wake up—the confusion, tangled hair, and morning breath. Sure, the story is there under all that, but it needs a comb and caffeine.

But before you can even spend time fixing it, you have to make a list of everything TO fix, and HOW you want to fix it!

For me this is agonizing, because hours staring into space chewing on a pen do not feel productive, no matter what I call it. “Brainstorming” “plotting” “revision preparation” “exploring my mind palace”– whatever, it is not a rising word count, and progress is not always quantifiable. It might take days to unravel one problem! And that means nothing on my detailed “Plan of Attack” list gets crossed off for days, leading to anxiety dreams of how I never finished the book because I got so far behind. There is so much to fix, how do you address all of it efficiently?

Well, my lovely CP Christine helpfully reminded me of an important revision tool that I had bookmarked and forgotten about: Sooz’s revision guides!

You really can’t get more organized than Susan Dennard. She has outlined every step of the book-to-query process and you can tailor it to fit your own goals! Highly. Recommend. So I reviewed all these and made my own Draft 2 Plan of Attack in January.

To prepare for February, I had these done in January:

  • Read through my novel and note everything I need to fix
  • Sort these notes into four categories: plot, character, setting, other

So here is what my February looks like:

  • Solve these problems! (done…for now)
  • Go through chapter by chapter (all 43 of them…) and implement my changes (here we go!)

Note: this is still not the line edit, make-it-pretty version. That comes next! For now I just want all the details and beats I need on paper, connecting the dots in the right order, making sense.

You may remember I did a lot of pre-writing for Fox Story last summer. I made a detailed outline for plot, character arcs, and world-building. Everything I did has saved me so much time at this stage! It’s impossible to write a perfect rough draft. But this rough draft resembles draft 2 or 3 of previous projects thanks to all this hard work, so 10/10 I will repeat this process in the future! No, it did not magically eliminate the need to revise, but when I sat down to make my draft 2 notes, I was dealing with a pretty organized story, not a mess of “inspiration” that got out of control by chapter five. I had no extraneous chapters of random events. I did not have to analyze chunks of my book wondering what I wrote it for and how it was supposed to fit in my outline because apparently I thought it was important at the time and now I can’t remember why! Most of my notes were about things I could not have known until I wrote the rough draft! Extra layers to enrich rather than explain the story. Not everyone outlines a story and that is totally all right, but if you do, remember everything you add to that outline is time saved later on! Treat your future self!

I have set the (very) aggressive goal of finishing draft 2 by March 1. We’ll see if I can manage it!

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The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller

1383168by John Truby
Nonfiction
3 of 5 stars

This came highly rec’d from many YA authors and I was excited to dive in! Especially since I hadn’t read a craft book in far too long. (If like me, you are not familiar with the author, here is more about him). What I found was a book that rang truer to the 1970s than today, despite being written in 2008…

Personally, when I am studying the mechanics of storytelling it helps me to have a broad range of examples, especially ones that subvert known patterns. Show me a variety of settings or characters or plots that take the basic principles and explore them in new ways. For a book about coming up with original stories, I found this to be very unoriginal itself, which was disappointing.

There are some good tips and nuggets of wisdom here, but the scope of “good storytelling” is so narrow it becomes distracting. Aside from a couple of Jane Austen’s works, the examples you study in each chapter are mostly white male-centric stories from the ‘70s or older. Tootsie, Casablanca, The Lord of the Rings, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Godfather, Star Wars…these are all good stories, yes, but they begin to blend together when you are discussing character arc. How many rising king/wise mentor/bromances do we need? This would bother me less if the critiques of poor storytelling were not confined to female authors (i.e. Jane Austen and Emily Bronte let their emotions get in the way of satisfying endings). Or if the only character not assigned an archetypal role in Star Wars was Princess Leia – deemed “The Princess,” which was not an archetype on Truby’s list, when it arguably could be, feminism aside. (Even R2-D2 – who does not speak – was designated a prince-magician-warrior archetype).

The eponymous 22 step process is a little muddy, mainly because 22 steps is a lot of steps, and because they can be moved around in nearly any order. (Again, I would have liked a few more examples of this bit). Studying the 22 steps individually and reviewing the prewriting exercises are the most useful things in this book. It is easy to see where your own manuscript might be lacking when you look at the key points, and there are some excellent brainstorming tips for each step.

I read this as I was beginning revisions on my rough draft, and I didn’t feel that I missed out too much. I tend to discover themes and connections through writing the first draft that I can’t plan in advance – this is a book that I think you can approach for prewriting work on a story or while you are revising to get some fresh ideas, depending on your own approach.

I found myself drawn to the key points called out in the text, and the helpful exercises at the end of each chapter and skimming the rest. Overall this was very similar to my college courses in writing. I guess I just expect a little more now!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Anatomy of Story is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood – A collection of photos and prompts to help you scribble down a scene or short story whenever you feel like writing but do not have a guide. I love this little book!
  • The Positive / Negative / Emotion Thesauruses by Angela Ackerman – These are three invaluable guides to psychology and character motivations! Also a good way to find the most accurate and interesting way of writing your characters’ emotions and plans as they try to survive your story’s plot.
  • The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, Brenna Yovanoff – This presents several short stories in various states of revision with notes from real-life critique partners, so you can see how a story goes from draft to finished product.

Lily and the Octopus

27276262by Steven Rowley
Fiction
4 of 5 stars

Debut novel: June 7, 2016

Obviously, I grabbed this book because of the cover and the funny title. As a dachshund lover with my first dachshund, this is an incredibly endearing, emotional story about a man and his dog that had me crying buckets and laughing at dachshund quirks (although I think any dog lover would appreciate and love this book)! My dachshund Kiwi endured all my Emotions as I read this curled up next to me with heavy sighs and side-eye.

Ted’s only enduring companion is his aging dachshund, Lily. But one day he notices an octopus on her head, and their lives take a dramatic turn as he must confront her health and age, and what mortality means for both of them. I hoped that I’d find this story moderately engaging, but the first chapters had me engrossed! The voice is so distinctive, and Lily’s presence so heart-felt, that I had to know what happened next.

Told in both present day and flashbacks through the lens of Ted’s anxiety and depression, we see the entirety of his relationship with Lily, as well as the volatile nature of his romantic relationship with Jeffrey (now ended). Lily and the octopus reveal his struggle to find happiness again when it’s so much easier to isolate himself with his dog.

Lily is a perfectly loveable, perfectly accurate, perfectly unique dachshund. The octopus is sinister in the way that only impersonal attacks can be. Ted tells this story with the shock, heartbreak, and humor we all feel in terrible situations. The author’s personal material shines through in the best way and the story’s pacing unfolds at a good clip. Be prepared to laugh, cry, and hug your pet until their eyes bulge and they wriggle in protest.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Lily and the Octopus is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – An aging bookstore owner on an island finds his life changed in surprising ways when his prized copy of Tamerlane (his retirement plan) disappears and a baby turns up on his doorstep. See my review here.
  • The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings – Even Hawaii can’t provide comfort when it comes to death. Matt must tell his two girls that their comatose mother’s will orders him to take her off life support. At the same time, his family’s valuable land has a buyer, but only he can decide to preserve or develop the pristine wilderness. This is darkly funny (all the good parts in the movie come from this) and a fast read.
  • The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick – Pat is on probation and determined to reinvent himself so that his estranged wife will fall in love with him again. But fate and the widowed neighbor girl Tiffany might upset his master plan.

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