Saturday, July 29, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo


TITLE: If I Was Your Girl

AUTHOR: Meredith Russo

GENRE: contemporary romance

PLOT SUMMARY: Amanda is a trans girl who is returning to high school for her senior year after beginning hormones. In hopes of making a fresh start, she's moved in with her father, and fully intends to just keep her head down and move away to college at the end of the year. Being in a small, conservative town in the South, she doesn't intend to tell anyone she's trans, until she meets Grant. Grant is unlike anyone she's ever met before, and Amanda quickly finds herself falling in love with him -- but she's scared that if he finds out about her past, he won't want her anymore.

FIRST THOUGHTS: I've been eyeing this book since it came out, and I'm really glad I finally decided to read it. While I won't say it's a fun read -- it's not -- it is an important read. It's not all doom and gloom, but the subject matter does make the mood rather somber, but realistically so. I'm really glad a book like this finally exists, and I hope it paves the way for many more like it. One thing I should note before continuing on with the review is that I am a cis woman, and so my reactions to this book are undoubtedly colored by that. While I am queer, I have no perception of what it's like to be trans. With all that said, I did really enjoy this book, and I think other people will too, regardless of gender or sex.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: The book contains two plotlines; flashbacks to Amanda's life before transitioning, and her new life in her new town. The "main" one, focusing on the present, is mainly about Amanda's relationship with Grant, and how her being trans affects it. I'm not normally too big on romances, but this romance is less about the lovebirds' relationship and more about Amanda's internal struggle pertaining to the relationship, if that makes sense. If we didn't have the flashbacks, however, I probably would've have enjoyed it as much as I did. That said, I did like that the story wasn't about Amanda's transition, but instead, the aftermath.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS:
 I really liked Amanda and Grant -- both were remarkably realistic teenagers dealing with their own issues, and they made for a really sweet couple. Amanda, in particular, is a really likable and sympathetic narrator, one that draws you into her story right away. Grant is also a refreshing change from the bland love interests of most YA contemporary. I also liked Amanda's parents, both of whom are a mixed bag in their own way when it comes to Amanda's identity, but both of whom are very fleshed-out. I especially loved Amanda's dynamic with her father. While not always pleasant, it was always fascinating to read, and sometimes downright heartwarming. Amanda's new friends at her school aren't as well-developed as they could've been, but they make for a decent enough supporting cast. Overall, it's Amanda that carries the book, but she has plenty of help.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: This is a short, short book; I got through it in two sittings, no problem. The writing style is very engaging and easy to get into, and the flashbacks are extraordinarily well-written. A lot of stories that include flashbacks tend to get too confused, or worse, the flashbacks seem unneeded, but that was far from the case here. They fit seamlessly into the story, and the book was much stronger with them than it would've been without.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: This is an #ownvoices novel -- meaning, it was written about a diverse group by a member of that group. In this case, Amanda is a trans woman, and the author is one as well. While the novel is, by the author's own admission, idealized in many ways (Amanda passes with little to no effort, she's conventionally attractive, she obtained surgery and hormones relatively easily, etc.), it still paints an honest picture of what Amanda's been through, and how she continues to persevere even in an environment that seems unwilling to accept her. There are also several queer side characters, and a lot of talk about how gender roles play into various characters' lives. The end of the book also has a nice touch: two notes from the author, one specifically for cis readers, one specifically for trans readers. There, the author notes that Amanda's experiences as a trans woman are far from universal and should not be taken as such, and that she hopes this story will encourage people to seek broader understanding of the trans community. I hope so, too.

10 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: I would highly recommend this book to anyone, queer or straight, cis or trans. It's so refreshing and important to have a mainstream YA novel about a trans person, written by a trans person. My greatest hope is that twenty, thirty years down the road, we'll have more trans protagonists, and we'll be able to point to this book as one of the tipping points for when it became more common to see. Because, fellow cis people, trans people are not nearly as rare as you've been led to believe -- it's time our fiction reflected that.

FINAL GRADE: 7.5 / 10

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Thank you so much for reading this review! If you've read this book, please tell me your thoughts below! I'd love to get a discussion going.

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Friday, July 28, 2017

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Kali Wallace


For most of her life Kali Wallace was going to be a scientist when she grew up. She studied geology in college, partly because she could get course credit for hiking and camping, and eventually earned a PhD in geophysics researching earthquakes in India and the Himalayas. Only after she had her shiny new doctorate in hand did she admit that she loved inventing imaginary worlds as much as she liked exploring the real one. She is the author of the fantastical dark young adults novels Shallow Graves and The Memory Trees, and her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, F&SF, Asimov's, Lightspeed, and Tor.com. She was born in Colorado and spent most of her life there, but now lives in southern California.


"Breezy remembers leaving the party: the warm, wet grass under her feet, her cheek still stinging from a slap to her face. But when she wakes up, scared and pulling dirt from her mouth, a year has passed and she can’t explain how."
What inspired you to write Shallow Graves?

I've always loved stories about monsters and creatures and things that go bump in the night--but most of those stories are about the people who hunt and fight the monsters, not the monsters themselves. I started to wonder what life would be like for those monsters if they were just people like anybody else. Maybe they've got some unique dietary requirements, maybe they've got some odd characteristics that are hard to explain in polite company, but what if they just want to live their lives and work their jobs and take care of their families like everybody does? What if they want to make friends and see the world and not be in danger from angry humans all the time? That's where the idea came from in its earliest incarnation.

If it was 100% up to you, who would you choose to play Breezy in a movie, and why?

I don't have any particular actors in mind, but I would very  much want to make sure the actor chosen was biracial. Breezy is half Chinese, and if it were up to me, my number one priority would be making sure she was played by an actor who was the same. I would also want her to be played by an actual teenager, not a twenty-something pretending to be a teenager, because I think Hollywood's habit of casting much older actors in teen roles can have the troubling effect of helping the audience forget just how young teens are.

Is Breezy based on anyone you know personally?

No, not at all. I don't base my characters on people particularly. They all contain bits and pieces of real people--that's how writers make characters believable. But she isn't anybody in particular. The only aspect of her personality that comes directly from the real world is her love of science, which is my love of science, but that's more because it feels like the most natural thing in the world to me to create characters who are fascinated by the universe.

Your next book, The Memory Trees, is set to be released in October of this year. How would you sum it up in ten words or less?

Family secrets, feuding neighbors, fierce women, sisters, mothers, trees, magic.

"Sorrow Lovegood’s life has been shaped by the stories of the women who came before her: brave, resilient women who settled long ago on a mercurial apple orchard in Vermont. The land has been passed down through generations, and Sorrow and her family take pride in its strange history. Their offbeat habits may be ridiculed by other townspeople—especially their neighbors, the Abrams family—but for the first eight years of her life, the orchard is Sorrow’s whole world. Then one winter night everything changes. Sorrow’s sister Patience is tragically killed. Their mother suffers a mental breakdown. Sorrow is sent to live with her dad in Miami, away from the only home she’s ever known."

 
Which book was more fun to write? 

Oh my goodness, Shallow Graves was way more fun and also way easier. There are a lot of reasons for that, very few of which actually have anything to do with the books themselves, and I don't know that it shows in the end.

The thing about first novels is that when we're writing them as innocent baby authors who know nothing of the publishing world, we're pretty much only thinking about the story and why we love it and why we want it out in the world. But second novels are different. Second novels happen when we already know all the ups and downs and pitfalls and agonies of publishing--and we're dealing with them at the very same time as we're working on our second novels. So I would say I had a lot more fun with Shallow Graves simple because I didn't know any better!

Which one was harder to write?

I spent 18 months rewriting and revising The Memory Trees, trying to shape it into something I could be proud of. It was the hardest writing I've done in my life so far. I spent a very long time try to figure out what kind of story I wanted to tell and how to best tell is. I got there in the end, I think, but it was an incredibly difficult process.

You also have a middle grade fantasy novel set to be released in 2018. How is writing middle grade different than writing YA? 

I honestly don't approach writing middle grade all that differently from writing YA, except to watch my language a bit more and try to steer myself away from my darker, gorier impulses. (There may have been a moment in an early draft when my agent told me I couldn't put a giant pile of corpses in a middle grade novel. That might have happened.)

But a lot of those differences are also in the nature of the story. City of Islands is a fun, fantastical adventure with sea serpents and magic and pirates, so a lot of the work I did to make it age-appropriate was along the lines of making sure it was full of the right kind of action and character moments to appeal to readers in that kind of story.

Which do you prefer?

I don't really have a preference in terms of what I like writing overall; it's more about what I feel like at any particular time. I also write for adults--I've published several short stories in magazines that have largely adult audiences (although there's no reason teenagers couldn't read them)--and most of what I write tends to be toward an older audience.

But I had a lot of fun writing for a middle grade audience, and I very much plan to do more in the future. It's a decision that comes more from the story itself than from any preference I have for readers. I think about what kind of story I want to tell, who the most interesting character is in that story, and who that character would most appeal to. Sometimes that's teenagers, sometimes it's adults, and sometimes it is very much younger children.

Do you outline? Why or why not?

I never used to. I was the ultimate extreme seat-of-the-pants writer. But then I went through the aforementioned 18-month-long revision agony with The Memory Trees, and I realized I never, ever wanted to go through a process like that again. So with the next book I wrote, I spent a lot more time thinking through the sequence of events, why people were doing what they were doing, what needed to happen to get where I wanted the story to go. It wasn't a detailed outline, but I did plan a lot more than I've ever done before. I guess I'm somewhere in the middle, in that my instinct is still to charge ahead willy-nilly, but I am coming around to seeing the advantages to having a plan.

What was it like when you first got published?

Exhilarating, exciting, terrifying, and exhausting. There is so much build-up to the release of a first novel that it is emotionally overwhelming, and then there is a bit of a roller-coaster drop when you realize the entire world has not changed with the advent of your book.

Most of all, there was a bit of an adjustment period when I had to remind myself why I was doing this whole being-a-writer-thing, because it can't be about the initial flurry of excitement and expectation. It took me a bit to realize it was so much more important to remember the love of stories, love of writing, love of connecting with those readers who are touched by the story. I think that's a process many authors go through with their first book, because the hype and activity surrounding publishing is not the same thing as the joy that comes from writing, and separating the two takes some practice.

I know that makes it sound a bit like I didn't enjoy it, which isn't true at all. It's still about the most exciting thing in the world! But I also think it's important for authors to talk about the emotional downs as well as ups, because it's not healthy to go around pretending to be thrilled all the time when we're in such a challenging and unpredictable line of work.

If you could have lunch with any three authors in history, who would you choose, and why?

Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett for the inevitable laughs and insights, and Octavia Butler to blow all out of minds with her brilliance.

What is your advice for new writers?

Nobody is ever going to give you permission to write what you want to write, so you have to give it to yourself. You may be thinking, "I have this idea that is burning a whole in my heart and I want to write it with all my soul, but nobody is interested in reading it." And maybe that is true. But if you're waiting for somebody to tell you, "Yes, I am interested. Yes, I think it is worth you cutting down on your social life to write. Yes, I think it is worth the risk. Yes, that is the exact story I want to hear," you're going to be waiting for a long time.

The best stories we all have inside us are the ones nobody expects, and the writers who find success--which can be defined in many different ways--are the ones who forge ahead into the uncertainty rather than letting it stop them.

So I guess my advice can be summed up like this: Stop waiting for somebody else to tell you it's okay to write. Just write. And keep writing. Don't stop.

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Kali's website is HERE, and you can buy her books HERE. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Thanks so much to Kali for taking the time for this interview! If you enjoyed this interview, please take two seconds to subscribe to this website (the box for that is at the top of the page), or become one of my Patrons!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

SnarkNotes: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

SnarkNotes: noun. The sort of review Susie does for books that wouldn't mesh with her usual review format. Graphic novels, nonfiction, fiction she's read before, and fiction she simply doesn't have much to say about all fall under the SnarkNotes category. SnarkNotes are usually brief and snide in nature.

Today's SnarkNotes topic is... Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett!



GENRE

  • fantasy
  • comedy
  • Bible fanfiction???


SUMMARY

  • How to Completely Fuck Up the Apocalypse Without Really Trying, a novel by Sister Mary Loquacious
  • How to NOT Find the Antichrist, Despite Really Trying, a novel by Crowley and Aziraphale
  • a demon. an angel. they stop Apocalypses. or try to.
  • emphasis on "try."
  • baby switching madness leads to the Antichrist getting misplaced
  • "HOW DO YOU LOSE THE ANTICHRIST?!" "You forget to cherish him..."
  • meanwhile, a practical occultist and a witchhunter cross paths as the occultist prepares for Armageddon, which she knows about thanks to her bitchy ancestor's book of prophecies
  • meanwhile meanwhile, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse prepare for Armageddon, because they are massive pricks
  • (except Death, who's mostly okay)
  • meanwhile meanwhile meanwhile, four children raise hell in their small town, and one of them happens to be the Antichrist. who everyone lost track of eleven years ago. 
  • oooooops.
  • hijinks ensue
  • 7 billion lives are in danger, and it's hilarious

PROS

  • everything
  • seriously, this is my favorite book of all time
  • the dolphins conversation
  • the bit about Crowley's houseplants
  • the character dynamics
  • the comedy is amazing and probably 99% responsible for my sense of humor
  • "All higher lifeforms, scythed away, just like that." "Terrible." "Nothing but dust and fundamentalists." ICONIC.
  • "An angel that did not so much Fall as Saunter Vaguely Downwards."
  • the Horsemen are amazing, even if they are massive dicks
  • despite being a decently long book it's really easy to get through
  • the audiobook is also excellent
  • Crowley/Aziraphale is an excellent ship and there's basically no competition
  • the fandom is tiny as of this writing, so it's not too chaotic
  • (watch some major Good Omens fandom shit happen a week after this goes up...)
  • if you like twists on demon/angel lore or are interested in Christian mythology, you'll probably really like this book
  • and don't worry; it's not anti-Christianity
  • or pro-Christianity
  • it makes fun of absolutely everyone and everything, but it's not for or against religion itself
  • mostly it's anti-humans fucking things up and using religion as a tool to do that
  • which I think we can all get behind
  • also Crowley's boss hijacks his radio and turns into Freddie Mercury to sing demonic instructions at him and if you don't find that hilarious IDK what to tell you

CONS

  • it makes fun of Queen
  • Crowley and Aziraphale aren't canon husbands
  • it ends eventually
  • ????
  • that's it


OTHER NOTES


  • like I said: MY. FAVORITE. BOOK.
  • apparently back when it first came out, some religious fundamentalists didn't realize it was a comedy and thought Gaiman and Pratchett were serious about the Apocalypse coming
  • it's an ensemble piece so it may be confusing at first but it's pretty easy to get your bearings
  • please read it
  • and join the fandom
  • I've read all the good fanfiction and there's no more, I am DYING
  • also, we're getting a TV adaptation next year!
  • Amazon, with all due respect -- DON'T FUCK THIS UP


RATING: 10/10

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This is a first for me! I think this format will be good to talk about non-conventional books, or books I've read before this blog. (And, in the future, I may revisit books I've reviewed on this blog.) If you've read Good Omens, tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Susie's Literary Bucket List


As I'm sure many of you have noticed, there are a lot of books to be read in the world.

And as I'm sure many of you have noticed, we have limited time to read, given that immortality isn't a thing yet.

We all have those books that we really, really want to read, but just haven't gotten to yet, for whatever reason. These are twenty-five books (and plays) that have been on my TBR forever, and I totally, 100% intend to get to. Someday. It's a healthy mix of "classics" and contemporary stuff.

(Fun fact: I've actually read quite a bit of classic fiction already!)

(Second fun fact: a lot of it sucks!)

(Third fun fact: fuck you, Wuthering Heights, The Catcher in the Rye, and everything ever written by Ayn Rand! I will forever resent the English teachers that forced me to read you!)

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

I've tried to read this one soooo many times. It's not that I don't like it -- I do, and it was great fun to read bits and pieces of when I was utterly obsessed with the musical back in 2013. It's just... long. Oh-so-long. (Seriously, I started from the beginning and read for at least half of an 8-hour flight once, and I barely got to the bit where you meet Valjean. You know, the main character.)

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

I'm a huge Janeite, and I've read and loved both Pride and Prejudice and Emma, so this is the logical next choice. I actually don't know the plot of this one -- I knew the plot of P&P long before I read it due to cultural osmosis, but this, I honestly don't have a clue what I'm getting into.

Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice

I love vampires. I do. And while I'm told this series has its ups and downs, I'm looking forward to the day I start at the beginning.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

As mentioned above, I read Charlotte's sister Emily's novel Wuthering Heights, and I was... not impressed. To say the least. (KILL IT WITH FIRE.) But I won't let that taint my view of this novel, which, from all I've heard about the plot, sounds fascinating. My mom owns a copy or three, so I really have no excuse.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Yeah, yeah, I haven't read these yet even though I'm a huge fantasy fan. I'm sorry. Next!

Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Love the webseries based on this one, love vampires, love gothic literature. And the book isn't even that long. I actually tried to get my hands on this one back in high school, but my school's library didn't have it anywhere in the system. But it's never too late!

The Martian by Andy Weir

This is one I've been meaning to read since its release. It sounds hilarious, and all the snippets I've read online have been great. It sounds like really accessible, enjoyable sci-fi -- even for someone like me, who sucks at science and doesn't think about it too hard.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

One thing that always bugged me in English classes was, when it came to classic lit, women kind of got the shaft, with the exception of Jane Austen and Wuthering Heights. (Blech.) Everything I've heard about this book makes it sound like the sort of story I'd love -- even if it doesn't show up on most school reading lists.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Everyone says it's amazing, it sounds amazing, it probably will be amazing. I just haven't gotten to it yet. I'll probably get to it when the hype dies down...

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

I loved Hurston's short story Sweat when I read it for a class about a year ago -- I even did my final paper on it. My mom actually got me a copy of this book for my last birthday, so hopefully, I'll read it soon!

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman's collaboration with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens, is my favorite book of all time, and I keep meaning to read more of Gaiman's work. I actually read the graphic novel adaptation of this one when I was nine... and it gave me nightmares for a week. As did the movie. But it's a great story, and it'll be interesting to see if it still scares the hell out of me now that I'm an "adult."


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

I read the first book in this series, years and years ago. I need to reread it, since I've forgotten roughly 3/4 of the plot, and go on to the rest of the series, because what I remember was great.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

This plot is one that fascinates me, though I haven't yet read the book or seen the movie. I thought about seeing the movie, but the whole yellowface thing really turned me off to it -- but that's not the book's fault, and from what I've heard, the book is better, anyway.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

I'm not a huge fan of Lewis' most popular books, The Chronicles of Narnia, but this story's premise is one that intrigues me. Lewis was highly religious, while I'm highly... not, so it'll be interesting, at least, to see his portrayal of demons and Hell in his fiction, and contrast it to my own ideas.

No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre

Thanks to popcultural osmosis (and spending too much time on TV Tropes), I know the full plot of this one, but I still want to give it a read. I love reading plays, and who doesn't enjoy some French existentialism? (...Don't answer that.)

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

Yeah, yeah, I'm a theater nerd and yet I haven't read this...

Dracula by Bram Stoker

THERE ARE A LOT OF BOOKS I SHOULD'VE READ BY NOW BUT HAVEN'T, OKAY?

Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan

Read the first book. Loved it. Got distracted. This was seven years ago. I am really bad at staying on top of things.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

I bought this one! Soooooon.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Have you ever had a series that you've never read or seen, ever, but because someone close to you is super-into it, you know a surprising amount about? Yeah, that's the Outlander books for me -- my mom loves them, and everything I've heard has made them sound really, really good. I balk at them for the same reason I balk at Les Mis, however -- and this is a series of not one doorstopper, but eight. And the series isn't done yet.

Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montogomery

I can't really explain why I want to read this one. I've read Anne of Green Gables, and it was okay, but for some reason, this story really appeals to me. I understand it's for a bit more of an older audience than the Anne books, so we'll see how it goes.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Because Gone Girl is amazing. (Breaking news, I know.) I keep meaning to read more of Flynn's other work, and this seems like as good a place to begin as any.

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

I adore fairy tale retellings, and this is a whole series of them! With a semi-active fandom, to boot! I admit the mixed reviews have been part of the reason why I haven't gotten to these yet, but I intend to keep an open mind and give them a shot.

The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero

An autobiography about the making of The Room, aka, the worst movie ever made -- how could I not want to read this one? It's yet another book that I own, but haven't read yet. I think it'll be a good long road-trip book, and it sounds really interesting. Sometimes, reality is stranger than fiction, and everything I've heard about The Room's production assures me that it was a shitshow.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I love the movie, but who doesn't? This is also on here because it's my BFF's favorite book, and I know she'd never forgive me if I didn't put it on here. So, yes, Kat, I promise -- I will read this. Now you have it in ink.



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And that's my literary bucket list! Who knows which of these I'll get to first. Tell me what books have been on your TBR forever down in the comments!

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: As Old as Time by Liz Braswell



TITLE: As Old as Time

AUTHOR: Liz Braswell

GENRE: fantasy, romance

PLOT SUMMARY: Belle is a young woman being held hostage in a castle by a monstrous beast. Yesterday, her biggest issue was being seen as a bit of an oddball. Now, she has bigger things to worry about. But as she gets to know the Beast, Belle realizes he's not as monstrous as he appears, and that he and his servants are all under a curse. Resolving to help, Belle begins searching for a way to break the curse, aided by the Beast. And as Belle digs deeper, she makes a disturbing discovery: the Enchantress that cursed the Beast was her mother.

FIRST THOUGHTS: So if you've been paying even the slightest bit of attention to this blog, you probably know by now that Beauty and the Beast is my favorite fairy tale -- and my favorite Disney movie. I've watched the animated classic more times than I can count, and the 2017 remake is actually one of my favorite films. Ever. So I was really excited to start this book. It was very different from the original film, but in many ways, it felt like visiting an old friend. Every time a line from the original popped up, I couldn't help but smile, and I could almost hear Paige O'Hara's voice in my head whenever Belle spoke. (Though I can't unhear Dan Stevens as the Beast, or Luke Evans as Gaston. Sorry, guys from the original!) It's by no means a perfect book, or a perfect retelling, but I enjoyed it greatly.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: I'll start off by saying that I am not one to get bent out of shape over plot changes in retellings and adaptations. Like, yeah -- if you totally wreck the meaning of the original or twist it beyond recognition, I'm gonna be a bit peeved. But I also understand that when adapting a story, shit's gonna change. Whether it's a result of changing mediums, changing values, or just because if it were exactly like the original, it'd be redundant, changes are inevitable. And I think the idea of Belle's mom cursing the Beast is cool! I liked how the story built on the original, but didn't disregard it entirely. It provided a compelling backstory, as well as filled in a few plot holes from the original. My only real gripe is the ending -- it wasn't bad, and from a completely new Beauty and the Beast retelling, I would've probably liked it. But since this is a retelling of the Disney version, it felt like a bit too much of a departure, at least to me.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: I felt like this book really stayed true to the original characters, while at the same time deepening them, taking advantage of having more time than the movie to get to know them. It also introduced some compelling new characters, and developed some barely-there background characters from the original. I especially loved this book's take on the Enchantress, or, rather, Rosalind, Belle's mother. She's not a blameless martyr, but she's also not an out-and-out villain; she's complex, and simultaneously deeply flawed and likable. It also made Belle a little less perfect, and forced her to undergo real character development -- something the original film did not do.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: This was, for the most part, pretty well-written. It expanded on the world of the original film, while still being very much its own animal. There were some minor pacing problems, and a few grammar errors that bugged me, but nothing too major. Some, I know, may take issue with a good chunk of the dialogue being lifted from the movie, but honestly, that was part of the appeal for me. It left just enough intact that it felt very familiar, but changed quite a bit, keeping us all on our toes.

6 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: Like many other fairy tales, this is a very white, very straight book -- which makes sense, seeing as how it's an adaptation of a very white, very straight movie. That said, it does hold the feminist themes of the original, and none of the female characters are forced into stereotypical roles, so that's a plus. There's also a very deliberate racial/religious persecution metaphor with the way magical people are treated in the story. I'm of two minds about that, just as I usually am with these things. The pro-tolerance theme is admirable, but those metaphors always get a bit confused or fall a bit flat when there are no real-world minorities in the fantasy setting.

5 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: Overall, while I didn't enjoy this reimagining as much as I enjoyed the original film, or the 2017 remake, I did have a ball reading it. It was a great expansion on the movie I loved as a kid, and I think the premise of the entire "Twisted Tale" line is intriguing. I'll definitely be checking out other titles in the series. It'll be interesting to see how my reaction will be affected when it's not a retelling of my absolute favorite fairy tale.

FINAL GRADE: 6.7 / 10

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And I have completed by summer 2017 reading list! I am impressed with myself -- and eager to see what else I can finish before I go back to school. If you've read this book, please tell me your thoughts below!

If you enjoyed this review, please subscribe to this website so you can get updated on when I post new reviews and columns! You can also give me a bit of financial help by either becoming a Patron by clicking HERE, or buying me a coffee by clicking HERE. Every little bit helps! Thanks!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY: Children's Books

Top 5 Wednesday is a Goodreads group that posts a weekly "top 5" list for book reviewers to tackle! If you'd like to join in, the group is HERE.

This week's topic was children's books!

This can include Middle Grade (but try to recommend more than just Harry Potter and Percy Jackson!) Feel free to talk about your childhood faves or more recent reads. 

I was always a big reader, even back when I was a kid, so this was an easy one. And yes... I am recommending stuff other than Harry Potter. Try not to faint.

5. Tales of the Frog Princess by E.D. Baker


Put this one relatively low on the list, because it's middle grade, not children's, but it was still really important to me as a kid. A series of chapter books focusing on Princess Emma of Greater Greensward, the story begins when Emma kisses a prince-turned-frog... and turns into a frog herself. The series served as the (very, very, very loose) inspiration for the movie The Princess and the Frog, and it's one of my nostalgic favorites. For my money, the first four are the best, but each book as something to enjoy, blending fantasy and comedy exceedingly well.

4. Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss


A classic by Dr. Seuss, this is a popular one for both kids and new graduates. A simple rhyming book about beginning your life's journey, it's uplifting and very sweet, and gives you a good feeling about your future. I'd say to go read it, but I'm willing to bet that you already have.

3. The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak


Some books break the fourth wall. This one smashes it with a wrecking ball, and sets the remains on fire. Designed to be read to young children, this is exactly what it sounds like -- a book with no pictures. What it has instead are words for you to read aloud... designed to make you look and sound as ridiculous as possible. It's very simple, but very funny -- my friend and I read it when we found it in a bookstore when we were 17 and 19, respectively, and we were laughing our heads off the whole time. It's newer than other stuff on this list, but it deserves the spot.

2. The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone


You know this one, don't you? This one is very similar to #3, but I put it a bit higher on the list for nostalgia value, as it's one of the very first books I can remember reading. Serving as a lot of kids' first introduction to the fourth wall, this book stars Grover from Sesame Street, as he urges the reader to stop reading the book, as there is a monster at the end, and he's afraid of monsters. It's adorable and hilarious, and great fun to read aloud to younger kids.

1. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


This is one of my favorite books of all time. A melancholy fantasy story about a pilot who crashes in the Sahara and meets a mysterious little boy who claims to be from an asteroid, this book examines adulthood through a child's eyes, and what it can mean to grow up. I first read this in fourth grade and loved it immediately, though a lot of the subtler themes went over my head back then. It's a great story for kids and adults alike, one that I've read and reread multiple times, and intend to do so many times more.

There are a lot of other great books that deserve mention, so here are my runners-up:

  • The Princess and the Pea by Lauren Child -- the art is beautiful, seriously, check it out.
  • The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka -- it's friggin' hilarious.
  • The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka -- ditto, and I just realized it's the same author.
  • The English Roses by Madonna -- cute, funny, pretty art, and the chapter books that followed were pretty good, too.
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak -- it's a classic for a reason.
  • Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni -- really underrated, but very, very sweet.


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Thanks for reading this list! What are some of your childhood favorites? Tell me about them in the comments below!

If you have a dollar to spare and want to help me further my writing career, you can support my creative endeavors by becoming a Patron by clicking here, or buying me a coffee by clicking here. Every little bit helps, and I really appreciate it! And even if you can't donate, you can scroll up to the top of the page to subscribe to get alerts on new posts. Thanks!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge




TITLE: Cruel Beauty

AUTHOR: Rosamund Hodge

GENRE: fantasy, romance

PLOT SUMMARY: Seventeen years ago, Nyx's father struck a bargain with Ignifex, the demon that rules their land. In exchange for his wife bearing healthy twins, one twin would be wed to Ignifex on her seventeenth birthday. Nyx is the twin that got chosen, and since childhood, she has been training to kill Ignifex, freeing her people. Nyx goes to his home determined to bring him down once and for all, but things get incredibly complicated when it becomes apparent that the demon won't be slain easily... and that he's not quite the soulless monster everyone says he is.

FIRST THOUGHTS: This book is the literary equivalent to your favorite junk food. It's not of the highest nutritional value, and you may feel a little guilty for gorging yourself on it, but it's just so good. It's trashy and ridiculous, but it's a lot of fun, and I enjoyed every page. Just because a book isn't great literature doesn't mean you can't enjoy it, and this book is a prime example of that. I really, really enjoyed this one -- every last, indulgent bit of it.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: This is, of course, a "Beauty and the Beast" retelling. Being my favorite fairy tale, I'll jump on any retelling of it. While the plot of this book can get a bit silly and melodramatic and convoluted, it's incredibly engaging, and it's obvious the author put a lot of thought into all the twists and turns, as well as the world this book is set in. It's very easy to lose yourself in the story, and it's great to see all the nods to various versions of the fairy tale. Some of the magical aspects of the book got a bit confusing, but the assassination plot is exciting, and it all moves incredibly quickly -- I read most of the book in one sitting.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS:
 I've always said I can withstand the most ridiculous plot in the world if I like the characters, and this holds very true for "Cruel Beauty." I loved the main character, Nyx. I loved her strength, and the fact that she's a very atypical fairy tale heroine. While she tries her best to do the right thing, and is capable of being very caring, she's allowed to be resentful, angry, scheming, and brooding -- something that YA paranormal romance usually leaves to the dudes. Sometimes, Nyx can be a downright bitch, but that's okay. She always keeps that likability to her, and frankly, given her situation, it'd be unrealistic if she wasn't a darker character. Ignifex was also very likable and charming -- even when he's still in "jerk" mode. I won't pretend he's an ideal love interest; in real life, I'd punch him in the face. (Which Nyx does... multiple times.) But as a love interest in a "turn your brain off and enjoy the fun" book, he's perfect. There's also Shade, Ignifex's shadowy servant, and Astraia, Nyx's better-fated twin sister. They're both surprisingly deep characters, and provide greater insights into Ignifex's and especially Nyx's characters. Most of the book rides on Nyx and Ignifex and their interaction, and they both do a great job at holding the reader's interest and keeping the action going. It can be really hard to keep a story compelling when most of it rides on just two people, but Hodge makes it work.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: As I mentioned above, this book is addictive. I was sucked in from the very first page, and I couldn't wait to find out what happened next. Even the book's most tropey and fanficy moments were enjoyable. (And, yeah -- this book is very fanficy. In the best way. ...I write fanfic, and lots of it, so I can't judge too much.) I'm very invested in this world the author's created, and I'm curious to see what else she does with it in future works. The story is quite dark, but the reading experience is light and fun.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: ...Yyyyyyeah. I'm not gonna lie; this is not a book for expanding your mind or thinking about challenging social issues. It's a book for pure, indulgent fantasy. As such, the political aspects are lacking, for lack of a better word. There are no POC or queer characters, which is a bit disappointing -- I'm gay, and frankly, I demand my mindless, trashy paranormal romance. DEMAND. That aside, there is a refreshing lack of female stereotyping. Nyx and her sister Astraia aren't stereotyped in that typical "bad girl vs. good girl" fashion -- Nyx, for all her anger and resentment, has moments of genuine softness and kindness, while Astraia, despite being the "good" daughter, isn't all sweetness and light. I also liked that Nyx isn't a typical emotionless action girl. She tries to be, but she has several minor breakdowns over what she has to do, and the pain she's been through hits her hard. It's small, but it's refreshing.

4 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: This is a fun, indulgent summer read. It's great for a long plane ride or a trip to the beach; you don't have to think too hard, but you're totally immersed and completely entertained. I really, really liked it -- I actually went and bought another book by the same author, Crimson Bound, and look forward to reading it soon. I know it may seem like I'm damning this one with faint praise, but I really did enjoy it wholeheartedly, in spite of its flaws -- hell, because of them. It's a great spin on a great fairy tale, one that I will probably revisit sometime soon.

FINAL GRADE: 6.25 / 10

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Thanks for reading this book review! If you've read "Cruel Beauty," tell me your thoughts in the comments below. If not, what are some of YOUR favorite guilty pleasure reads? I'd love to check them out.

If you have a dollar to spare and want to help me further my writing career, you can support my creative endeavors by becoming a Patron by clicking here, or buying me a coffee by clicking here. Every little bit helps, and I really appreciate it! And even if you can't donate, you can scroll up to the top of the page to subscribe to get alerts on new posts. Thanks!

Friday, July 7, 2017

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Suzanne M. Sabol



Suzanne M. Sabol is an author of Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance. She is married to her wonderful husband, Ross, who makes sure her books don't have too much gore... because there could be more. They live with their daughter, Scarlett, in Columbus, Ohio.

Suzanne M. Sabol is a member of Romance Writers of America; Central Ohio Fiction Writers; North East Ohio Romance Writers Chapter; Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal Chapter of RWA.


What made you get into writing as a career?
I had been writing since I was in high school. Mostly for my friends and myself. I liked putting stories down on paper and watching them grow into something more than just an idea. I liked writing the stories I wanted to read. It was my friends how pushed me to submit my manuscripts for review. My husband encouraged me to join a writing group and I found that I wasn’t alone and that gave me a better understanding of writing, of the business, and how I could be one of the people with their work in someone else’s hands. That was exciting to me. 

What book of yours was the most fun to write, and why?
I think Golden Anidae (#4 in the Blushing Death Series) was particularly fun. In that book, I was able to pull my heroine out of her comfort zone, break her down, and build her back up again. I was able to create some genuinely unique characters that you don’t normally see in Urban Fantasy novels which was great. I took all the alpha expectations out of the supernatural beings and really looked at what’s left when they’re gone. 

Who are your biggest inspirations, as a writer? 
When I was in my teens, I loved Ian Fleming. I couldn’t get enough James Bond. I loved his damaged character and the idea that he would sacrifice everything he was for the mission. His hero was so well developed and straddle the line so well between hero and anti-hero. I didn’t realize that same type of character could not only be in fantasy but a woman until I found Laurell K. Hamilton in the early 2000’s. 

What's the most challenging aspect of your job?
I think keeping the story lines fresh and new. It’s true that everything has already been done and several times before any of us even got to it. Making a story engaging, fresh, and exciting is hard. I think that’s a problem we all struggle with at some point while writing. 



How do you cope with writer's block?
I always take a break in between my projects to recharge. I take a month or so and read as much as I can in that time. That puts some distance between me and the last work, as well as letting my mind wander into someone else’s world for a bit.

What was it like when you first got published?
It was very exciting. The rush of knowing that someone loves your work – your baby – as much as you do is and incredible feeling. I celebrated for an entire week.

Do you outline? Why or why not?
I actually used to be a “pantser” which basically means you sit down to write without a plan or direction. I found it more interesting and since I didn’t know what was coming next, I was always excited to write. That eats up a lot of time and your story – sometimes – isn’t so coherent. Once I had to write and rewrite a full manuscript of 75,000 words three times to get it right, I decided that maybe I would start plotting. That has made all the difference in the overall quality of the product and cohesion of the plot arch. 

How is writing a series different from writing a stand-alone?
Writing a series is much more involved and complex than a single book. In the single book, you have to close the arch and find a satisfying conclusion for the characters, the readers, and yourself all in about 300 pages. In a series, you have to create an arch and stretch it, not only in the plot but in character development as well over multiple books and sometimes multiple characters. Tension has to carry from book to book and escalate with each new installment. It’s a lot of work and a lot of planning but when it all comes together, it’s amazing and a whole lot of fun.

Who is your favorite character that you've created, and why?
I love a really good villain and I’ve had some really good ones. There was the female vampire ninja assassin in Midnight Ash, the vampire human servant who sold his own daughter for immortality, the man-eating pixies, but I have two that really stand out. My representation of Baba Yaga. She is evil. No really, the essence of evil. Her goals and plans are so far above my heroine’s understanding that it has become a cat and mouse game and Baba is the cat. A very large cat. The second is Isidro Grimaldi, The Game Maker. This vampire is always playing both sides against the middle for his own purposes. He’s smooth, cunning, and a predator in the best sense of the word. 



What advice would you give to new writers?
Don’t stop. If you want to, write. If you have a story to tell, tell it. It may not be publishing caliber the first go around or even the third, but you should still do it. You’ll get better with practice, with patience, with interactions with other writers, and with honest critique partners. 

When I first started, I thought everything I wrote was gold. It wasn’t. I had to take a hard look at my manuscripts and figure out what worked and what didn’t. I read a lot and at some point I stopped reading simply for pleasure and began to analyze how those authors were making me so engaged.

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Suzanne's website is HERE, and you can buy her books HERE. You can also follow her on the following social media platforms: Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Thanks so much to Suzanne for taking the time for this interview -- and for our mutual friend Tiffany for introducing us! If you enjoyed this interview, please take two seconds to subscribe to this website (the box for that is at the top of the page), or become one of my Patrons!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Carolyn Lee Adams






Carolyn Lee Adams is originally from the Seattle area, breeding ground of serial killers and those who write about them. She attended USC Film School and graduated with a BFA in screenwriting. RUTHLESS (Simon Pulse, Summer 2015) is her first novel. When she isn’t exploring the dark side of human nature in her writing, you’ll find her on stage as a stand-up comedian. Because those things go together.

A book trailer for Ruthless, a YA thriller, is below. I also reviewed the book here.



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What inspired you to write Ruthless

I dreamt the first three chapters. When I woke up I knew I had to write the book. I'd been watching a lot of the Bio Channel's very awesome show, I Survived, which undoubtedly fed the dream. I was also in a dying marriage, which was extremely stressful. About 2/3 of the way through writing the rough draft I realized I was writing an allegory. Ruth's fight for survival was my fight to save my marriage. When my ex-husband left I realized what I was doing. From that point forward, I remained conscious of this fact, and it was at that juncture that I wrote about Ruth facing mortality. I'd been with my ex for 18 years, so the death of my marriage was a profoundly traumatic life experience for me and I'd fought so, so hard to save my marriage. But I was the only one fighting.



Who was harder for you to write -- Ruth or the Wolfman? Why?
Wolfman. The thing is, there is a lot of me in Wolfman. I tell people he is amalgamation of various serial killers, which is true. I grew up in the Green River Killer's hunting grounds and it made a huge impact on me. But the fact is, when I wrote Ruthless, I thought I was over my own misogyny. Turns out I was not. I wrote Wolfman's scenes very slowly. I'd write a couple of lines, walk in circles in my living room, feel sick to my stomach, then write a couple more lines. It was ultimately a cathartic experience--writing is great therapy, I've found. I'd been bullied severely growing up, always by girls, and I had a lot of anger to work through. Writing Ruth was difficult for the opposite reason--there wasn't as much grist for the mill there and I had to dig deep to find it. 



Did you outline the book?
*throws head back and laughs* No. I am a confirmed pantser, although successful efforts require that I know the ending. I always know the beginning, and if I know the end, I can work my way through the dark middle.



How long did it take to write?
Not long at all. I wrote from May 2012 to about July. I took a break as my marriage fell apart. My ex left in mid-November. I finished the rough draft in December. It's why "O Holy Night" is in there, because I was writing during Christmas time. In January, I added the flashback scenes. I then kinda sorta not really revised it (but mostly not really) and sent it out to agents in May and June. September 30th, Mandy Hubbard called me and offered representation. She had a couple of small suggestions, but I took a week to read it a few times over. It went out and we had an offer the following week. It sold in 9 days for six figures. Meanwhile, I have been working on it's follow up since 2010. 



Ruth is a very unique, yet very realistic main character. Did you base her on anyone you know in real life?
Ruth, more than any other character I've ever written, is just me. There are some differences, of course. My mother is very different from Ruth's mother and would never have tolerated me bullying other equestrians, for example. But if I'd had Ruth's mom I'm sure I would have been just like her. Our cores are the same, but we've been shaped by different experiences. I feel like horsewomen are a breed apart, and it was important to me to capture what I feel to be the hallmarks of our kind. We are tough people, no doubt about it.  



Do you think your future works will be in a similar genre, or do you plan on foraying into something completely different?
Unfortunately, I do a lot of genre-hopping, which makes it hard for my lit agent to sell my stuff. For example, I wrote a rom com as a follow up and Simon and Schuster was like, "This is really funny...how do you propose we market this as a follow up to Ruthless?" They didn't buy it. I still think it's really funny, though. One day maybe someone will buy it. My big epic saga, The Book of Ezra, is a horror set in 1894 in a poor house/insane asylum. 



You're also a stand-up comedian. Do your two jobs influence each other at all, and if so, how?
My jobs actually get in the way of one another. Comedy Carrie is an intense extrovert with a very short attention span. Being on stage is just a whole different part of the creative self than the long, slow, hermit-like introversion required for writing novels. Because of this, I've taken an extended hiatus from comedy, during which time I've been writing a lot of short stories for Amazon (check out their app "Rapids" - it's designed to get kids reading) and I've started a couple of novels. Novelist Carrie is a very different beast. I like a lot of silence and alone time when I am writing a book. Also, I go by Carrie. I just realized that might need some explanation. Fun fact - I was born on Halloween the year the movie Carrie came out - on Halloween weekend. When people ask me how I spell it I either say, "Stephen King Carrie" or "Pig's Blood Carrie." Once I asked my parents if they thought people would forget about the character Carrie when they were naming me that, and they said, "Nope." No other explanation, just "Nope." Perhaps also worth noting, my mom started reading me Edgar Allan Poe when I was 5, so my future was pretty much set at that point.



What was it like when you got published?
It was a relief. I graduated from USC Film School in 1999. My very small graduating class (there were about 16 of us) turned into the most successful class in USC history. Watching my friends turn into entertainment industry writing moguls was an interesting life experience. I learned very early on that jealousy is a waste of emotion--it's so much better to root people on and be happy for them when they succeed. To quote Teddy Roosevelt, "Comparison is the thief of joy." That said, there is something very difficult about it as well. I have an analogy that is probably pretty alienating, but I still think it works. You know how there are terrorist sleeper cells out there? How an organization such as Al Quaeda will train terrorists then send them to the USA and they'll take up a completely normal life. They'll live that normal life for years and years. You'd never know that they have this mission burned deep into their soul and that they won't consider their time on earth complete until they've, you know, blown up a bunch of people. It's the same way with USC Film grads, only the mission isn't to blow up people (thankfully), it's to sell something. A screenplay, book, etc. So for me, selling Ruthless was a relief. I finally got to complete my mission. It took me fourteen years of writing to get there, so it was a long, long haul.



What was the hardest part of the writing process?
Ruthless was really pretty easy. I mean, I spent more time than I'd like to admit crying hysterically while I wrote it (and I am not a crier), but it wasn't a hard book to figure out. Writing Wolfman was hard, for the aforementioned reason, but once I figured it out I knew what I had to do, it just wasn't easy. To me, hard writing is when you can't figure out what is supposed to happen. A lot of The Book of Ezra is that way. I'm not sure exactly how the villain is supposed to be. Being adrift in your writing is what makes writing hard. If you know where you're going it may be unpleasant, or emotionally charged, but that's only fuel for the fire. Big emotions while writing is a good thing. When I write a rough draft, I feel everything my characters are feeling. I know I look like an absolute crazy person, because I'll laugh and get choked up and the whole nine yards, even if I am writing in public.



If it was 100% up to you -- who would play Ruth and the Wolfman in a movie?
I'd like it if Ruth was played by an unknown. Much the same way Jennifer Lawrence was an unknown when she was in Winter's Bone. Also, I see Ruth clearly in my mind's eye and I've never seen an actress that made me think, "She's Ruth!" The film rights have been optioned, so if it does get made I hope they cast someone who is 18 and looks younger. Ruth's size and age put her at a disadvantage and I want the audience to feel the full brunt of that. As far as Wolfman goes, I'd say Viggo Mortensen (although I wish he was physically bigger). 


If you could have lunch with any three writers in history, who would you choose, and why?

First and foremost, Oscar Wilde. I love Oscar so much! What a wonderful wit! He is such a wise and entertaining soul. I have read everything he ever wrote. I am a huge, huge fan. C.S. Lewis would be next. About 98% of my own personal theology and philosophy is based off The Chronicles of Narnia. I understand it is for children, but it speaks to my soul and has hugely informed my understanding of what is good. Finally, I'd like to meet Albert Payson Terhune, but only if the lunch was at The Place, and only if the collies were there. Terhune is not as famous as the other two, obviously, but he made a big impact on me. He wrote in the early 20th century about his collies. Lad: A Dog is his most famous book. The Place was his family home in New Jersey. The site still exists, as does the graveyard for the collies. Terhune was not nearly as good of a man as Lewis, not as smart, or wise, or loving. His outlook was confined by the times and his class, but even so these books also gave me a sense of what is good. His books also defined for me what is beautiful. His descriptions of The Place and its environs still live in my imagination. I think in many ways I would have been happier in the past. As a child I looked through my parents' library and checked the publishing dates, always looking to read the oldest books they had. If it was old, I was bound to love it. Luckily, they had a good number of old books. 



What advice would you give to new writers?
If you don't have to write, don't. There are much - MUCH - easier ways to make a living or spend your time. Only write if you can't avoid writing. It's a lot like St. Paul's advice on marriage. If you do choose to become a writer, be prepared to work. Just like marriage, it is a commitment and it is hard. But there are great rewards in store if you choose it and keep on choosing it, even when the going gets hard. 

Carolyn's official website is HERE, and you can buy Ruthless HERE!

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Not too bad for my first author interview, right? If you enjoyed reading Carolyn's answers as much as I did, why not subscribe to this blog so you can see future author interviews! You can also support me by clicking the "become a patron" button at the top of the page, or by clicking HERE. Patrons receive exclusive benefits like free books and voting rights for what sort of content you'll see next on this website! Thanks!