Top Five Wednesday: Creepy Settings

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Top Five Wednesday is weekly meme hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes over at Goodreads. So, I’m late with this. I know, I know, but this topic was just too good to miss. I adore atmospheric books with creepy, ominous settings that are almost a character onto themselves. These are my favorites.

1. Sorry-In-The-Vale from The Lynburn Legacy

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Small English town with fog, secrets, mansions, and magic? Even if the characters weren’t delightful, I would have fallen in love with this trilogy for its setting alone. If I remember correctly you even get a map!

2. Cabeswater from The Raven Cycle

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I read the entire series, and I’m still not sure of what Cabeswater even is. All the scenes that take place there are eerie and wonderful. Because of spoilers, I don’t want to go too deep into it, but I’m amazed at all the types of magic that come out of Cabeswater. There’s nothing quite like it.

3. Koschei’s country from Deathless

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This book is like a twisted fairytale that just won’t leave my mind. Koschei’s Country, despite being basically the country of life, is sooo creepy. Almost as creepy as the country of death. This whole damn book is creepy in the most wonderful way.

4. Hailsham from Never Let Me Go

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For the entire book, you can guess there is something nefarious going on in this English boarding school. The characters realize this to different degrees, but never quite like one does as the reader. It’s not creepy in the traditional sense perhaps, but I got a sinking feeling in my stomach while reading this entire book.

5. The Moors from Wuthering Heights

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I had to finish with a classic. The moors are as vivid as any other character in this novel. They shape the story and characters in such a unique way, that this novel couldn’t have been set anywhere else. And wow, does Emily Bronte know how to build an atmosphere.

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Beautiful Books: NaNoWriMo edition!

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I’m so happy to be doing this meme again! And about NaNo aka the worst best time of the year!  If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I’m a writer. I’ve actually been participating in NaNo for years, although I won for the first time last year. All of us sensible writers decide that November (aka exam time for me) is the best moment to try to write 50k in one month. It is truly a fool-proof idea!

I’m not a fast writer, but I am steady one. I regularly write from 25k to 40k words a month, so does mean working more. It also means actually being held accountable for writing everyday, which I sometimes struggle with. I’ve also been writing a lot more slowly this year…

No, but seriously, I love watching everyone getting pumped about their projects (and the commiserating together when it all goes to hell) . And ooohhh those pinterest aesthetics are a wonderful thing to behold.

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Now onto the questions…

  1. What inspired the idea for your novel, and how long have you had the idea?

A Harry Potter re-read, if I am being honest though its taken a life of its own (and stolen my life as well) since then. I got the idea OVER A YEAR AGO, and have been dying to write ever since. I’m glad I waited though, because it’s turned into something far more complex (the most complex thing I’ve ever tried to write). IT IS TIME AT LAST.

2. Describe what your novel is about!

It is about magic and language. Also about friendship, grief, and secret cities, and what happens when the world is changing faster than what people keep up (though politics take a backseat for much of the book). Also in this first book (out of a planned four or five), there are a lot of ghosts.

3. What is your book’s aesthetic? Use words or photos or whatever you like!

My aesthetics game is improving a bit!

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You can find my pinterest board here (though it is very incomplete still).

Also since music has been key to the whole development (and I already have over 140 songs for just this book), here are a few songs that reflect the core of the novel:

4. Introduce us to each of your characters!

At the end of my last series, as I struggled to wrap up all the main arcs for my four main PoV characters, I vowed to never have as many main characters again. Now I have six… this is going to kill me.

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Aventine, mainest of the mains (in book 1). Resident ghost girl on a quest.

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Tommy, male lead. Charming overachiever with a penchant for danger. MoC.

 

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Roskva. Tiny ball of anger and inappropriateness with nebulous past.

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Lochlan. Living personification of a puppy (also lives in books). He’s biracial.

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Elsie. The fashionable witch of the group, also very gay. WoC.

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Rik. Rich asshole who is having a hard time adjusting. The one no one likes.

5. How do you prepare to write? (Outline, research, stocking up on chocolate, howling, etc.?)

Outlines save lives, people. I literally cannot live without them. Also I’ve bought a ton of folktale books for research and read none so far (kill me). There has been a ton of fretting and thinking done over the last year. Also I need to buy more chocolate.

6. What are you most looking forward to about this novel?

The magic! It actually takes place in the same world as my other series, but the magic system has evolved a ton and will now carry all kind of metaphorical weights. It’s a more intangible sort of magic.  I can’t wait!

7. List 3 things about your novel’s setting.

  • There is a secluded centuries-old college, which means tons of books and chalk.
  • Beneath it, the ruins to a lost city (or are they?)
  • Have I mentioned the mossy woods that surround the college?

8. What’s your character’s goal and who (or what) stands in the way?

Well, Aventine is looking for a very specific ghost, but gets caught up in something far more ancient and unknown, not to mention people which remain eternally challenging. There is a murder mystery in this first book, but there are far more things at play. (Also the rest of the main characters get their mini-arcs or not so mini).

9. How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?

I would love for the change in all main characters to be somewhat noticeable by the end of the book and  to set up their personal arcs, but they still have a long way to go. The real core of this book is their burgeoning friendship (or enmity as the case may be). But, oh, I have plans.

10. What are your book’s themes? How do you want readers to feel when the story is over?

Is saying the power of friendship too cheesy? Because honestly that is my favorite topic to write! That is really half the core of the entire series. The other half is probably language and the power to create. In this world, language can literally alter reality so… #metaphor #ain’tIclever

As far as this book, it deals heavily with different kinds of grief. Every character has lost something and is still struggling to come to terms with that, in very different ways. Their ghosts are both literal and metaphorical, but they all have them. Tied to that, it is also about how important it is to let yourself be vulnerable sometimes, to trust that your people will catch you.

I hope that if anyone reads this, they leave with some sense of hope. Yes, life comes with a lot of pain, but also the good things are there to be found and claimed. That a little kindness can go a long way.  Also I hope that they cry at some point because that’s the sort of writer I am.

Book Review: The Final Empire

68428Title: The Final Empire

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Series: Mistborn #1

Genre: Fantasy

Release Date: October 1st, 2009

Publisher: Orion Publishing Group Limited

Format: Audiobook narrated by Michael Kramer

Rating: ★★½☆

Synopsis

In a world where ash falls from the sky, and mist dominates the night, an evil cloaks the land and stifles all life. The future of the empire rests on the shoulders of a troublemaker and his young apprentice. Together, can they fill the world with colour once more?
In Brandon Sanderson’s intriguing tale of love, loss, despair and hope, a new kind of magic enters the stage— Allomancy, a magic of the metals.

So, I have mixed feelings.

First of all, the worldbuilding is probably the best aspect of this book. Sanderson creates a very vivid atmosphere for the world, and well, his magic systems are famous for being intricate and fun. I was not disappointed on either count. The violence against women, though, that I always hate. Like in so many books, here it is used to make the world grittier and not much else. Well, it is used for the backstory of many of the male because of course.

Also, even though one of the two leads is a teenage girl, there are barely any female characters at all. Aside from Vin, we have the dead wife, the scorned ex-fiancée, the wily women of the court (only one of which gets a vague-ish personality), a bunch of nameless dead moms, aaaand that’s pretty much it. Vin doesn’t bond with a single woman in the whole book. Everyone else, every rebel soldier, important noble or character with dialogue is a dude. Honestly, I expected better. Like, I’ve criticized The Lies of Locke Lamora for its treatment of women too, but at least there were women in the background in all sorts of jobs. Lynch made his world brutal without having to recur to this tired way of treating women which rarely gets truly challenged. I’ve heard that Sanderson gets better in later books, and I truly hope that he does because I don’t know how much more I can take.

My other main problem was how repetitive the prose could get. You know those first few chapters of books where every other sentence is dripped in exposition to remind you of what had happened? Well, this book felt the necessity of reminding you every chapter. Like, in the climax itself, the narrator would remind you of what iron and steel do, stopping the momentum of the scene on its tracks. Even though, you know, by then you’ve read about a half dozen fights where iron and steel are used. Overall, the prose was mostly utilitarian and unobtrusive, not the kind that draws attention to itself, and that’s not my favorite thing but I’m fine with that. However, this needless repetition just made me snap out of the story every time.

But, I swear I didn’t hate this book.

There are good witty characters and a ton of banter which I always love (even if you know, they’re all men except for Vin). I listened to audio, but even without the voices you could tell who said each thing. Kelsier in particular won my heart from the start. This book reminded me of why I love reading about crews and the like.

The book is pretty slow, too. I struggled through the first third but once I was in, I was really in. Watching the plan unravel and come together definitely made the build-up worth it. Sanderson manages to weave everything together only for it to come back in unexpected ways. I get why it is so hyped in that sense. I did see many of the twists coming, but there were still a few moments that left me going oooh that was clever. And I admire how Sanderson makes the most of his magic system. Also many other author would use the ending of this book as the ending of a trilogy, which was also why I didn’t expect for Sanderson to take things all the way there.

It sounds like I disliked more than I liked, but that isn’t true. It was just that the good elements were consistent throughout the book that the bad one jumped out to me all the more. I will be continuing with this trilogy as I’m eager to see where Sanderson takes things after that ending.

Stray observations

  • The audiobook narration was really good!
  • I did cry at certain points, which is a good indication that I’m invested in a story.
  • Omg Sazed was the best out of the crew, though I have soft spot for Ham too. And Elend was my favorite non-crew member.
  • Well, Kelsier was my favorite overall.
  • I don’t think this, a six-hundred-page book, passes The Bechdel Test.
  • There were soooo many training montages… though Sanderson did manage to make most interesting enough.
  • I’m not invested in the main ship though I do like both characters separately. I don’t know hopefully The Well of Ascension will change my mind.

September Recap

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I don’t know where to start. September didn’t feel like a month, it felt like six month’s worth of things just shoved one after the other. So in this single, 30-day month, my best friend left for another continent, the area where I live flooded because of the heavy rains, my city and country got hit by a massive earthquake, I went to New York City for five days, then my country got hit by an even more destructive earthquake and many buildings in my city fell, and I don’t have classes to distract me until further notice.

Yeah…

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Book Review: In Other Lands

31944679.jpgTitle: In Other Lands

Author: Sarah Rees Brennan

Genre: YA, Portal Fantasy, LGBTQIA+

Release Date: August 15th, 2017

Publisher: Big Mouth House

Rating: ★★★¾

Synopsis

The Borderlands aren’t like anywhere else. Don’t try to smuggle a phone or any other piece of technology over the wall that marks the Border—unless you enjoy a fireworks display in your backpack. (Ballpoint pens are okay.) There are elves, harpies, and—best of all as far as Elliot is concerned—mermaids.

Elliot? Who’s Elliot? Elliot is thirteen years old. He’s smart and just a tiny bit obnoxious. Sometimes more than a tiny bit. When his class goes on a field trip and he can see a wall that no one else can see, he is given the chance to go to school in the Borderlands.

It turns out that on the other side of the wall, classes involve a lot more weaponry and fitness training and fewer mermaids than he expected. On the other hand, there’s Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, an elven warrior who is more beautiful than anyone Elliot has ever seen, and then there’s her human friend Luke: sunny, blond, and annoyingly likeable. There are lots of interesting books. There’s even the chance Elliot might be able to change the world.

This is a book made for those of us that grew up loving portal fantasy, but it is not quite like any other portal fantasy book I’ve read.

To begin with, the protagonist, Elliot, is not the chosen one. There is no world to save, no looming threat, no Evil Lord who must be overthrown. Instead, you get to see Elliot grow up and deal with many of the corresponding conflicts (and magical creatures of course). In that sense, it’s a more quite sort of book, very character-driven—though there is a lot of action—, but all the more satisfying.

The whole book challenges and plays around with tropes. Elves, for example, have matriarchal society where men are treated as women are in ours. It’s such a simple flip that leads to many hilarious situations. Yet, it also makes you question why in so many fantasy novels just go for the default of making things terrible for their female characters just for being female and never dare do the same to the male one. Honestly, this book is the polar opposite of grimdark fantasy, which don’t get me wrong I like a lot, and so utterly refreshing.

The characters are my new found children and I’m proud of them. Elliot starts off as a jerk, though this is one of the few times that the jerk-with-a-heart-of-gold is done well, mostly because he learns. He never stops being witty and sarcastic though, also the most stubborn and irreverent (take a drink every time he sneaks somewhere he shouldn’t be). Luke, aka “the intense gay kid”, is the golden boy whom everyone admires, yet he is shy and awkward and just such a pure soul. Finally Serene, our “murderous, man-hating elf girl”, is such a loyal friend, and very often saves Elliot from whatever problem he got himself into this time.

At the core of this book is the friendship that forms between Elliot, Serene, and Luke. They are all outsiders (making up “the weirdo table” of the school) for different reasons and complement each other beautifully. Another things is that their relationships change and develop throughout the book, and Brennan handles it masterfully.  The banter between them is precious, but there are also heavy-hitting moments just as friendships in real life. What is so great about these relationships is that you truly get to see how they care for the others, in their own ways.

Now, there is romance. It never completely overtakes the book, but as the characters mature it makes sense that they would explore that too. That said, love is never presented as an end-all. You won’t find instalove, the relationships are flawed, and sometime they don’t work out, because, you know, the characters are in their mid teens. Also Elliot is bisexual, which is hinted from the beginning and later outright said (in a fantasy book!) and you get to see him date girls and boys. The bi rep was handled beautifully: whenever someone did make the occasional biphobic comment they got called out either by Elliot or the narrative, often both. There is also gay representation!  If you like slow burn, then this book is for you.

Another thing I loved about this book were the messages (often feminist!). I can only describe them as wise. Brennan depicts such realistic situations and people within her fantasy stories that I’m always in awe; it’s like realizing what you’ve always been missing. The characters screw up many times in love and in friendship, but they learn!  For example, after Elliot realizes that a girl he is been pursuing sees him as a friend, he comes to see that “the only possible response to someone telling you that to be friends, or that you were a great friend, was gratitude.” That’s the book equivalent of a mic drop.

This story was originally written and published serially, so the pacing is… different to that of other YA fantasy books. I wouldn’t call it wonky, but it takes time getting used to the rhythm. There are few recurring sort of antagonist, but they are never very prominent or overarching; the true ones are the characters’ flaws. Battle sequences and the process of putting on play are more or less given the same importance because of the effects both have on the characters. So if you’re looking for an action-packed, quick read, I wouldn’t recommend that you pick this up right. Wait till you’re in a mood to laugh at witty jokes and appreciate dynamic characters! Trust me, this book is worth it.

Minor details I adored and deserve a shout out!!!

  • Elliot’s undying hatred toward exercising.
  • The minor characters have lives too! You also get to see them grow up along the main one!
  • The voice of the novel is also super witty, so typical Brennan.
  • Serene’s comments about men. They never got old! #bless
  • Actual use of the word “bisexual” in a fantasy novel. Like… why can’t they all be like this? Double points for acknowledging how dumb it is not to mention it.
  • The play!
  • Elliot always stowing away.
  • Captain Woodsinger!
  • “They’re like—boxes of infinity. And! You keep the wikipedia in them!” Oh Luke you cinnamon roll.
  • Mermaids!!!!
  • Obviously everything about the main romance was precious and so well earned!