Anne’s Book Club 11

TheStrangeMaidcover

The Strange Maid by Tessa Gratton (summary from Goodreads.com):

Fans of Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, and Maggie Stiefvater will embrace the richly drawn, Norse-influenced alternate world of the United States of Asgard, where cell phones, rock bands, and evangelical preachers coexist with dragon slaying, rune casting, and sword training in schools. Where the president runs the country alongside a council of Valkyries, gods walk the red carpet with Hollywood starlets, and the U.S. military has a special battalion dedicated to eradicating Rocky Mountain trolls.

Signy Valborn was seven years old when she climbed the New World Tree and met Odin Alfather, who declared that if she could solve a single riddle, he would make her one of his Valkyrie. For ten years Signy has trained in the arts of war, politics, and leadership, never dreaming that a Greater Mountain Troll might hold the answer to the riddle, but that’s exactly what Ned the Spiritless promises her. A mysterious troll hunter who talks in riddles and ancient poetry, Ned is a hard man to trust. Unfortunately, Signy is running out of time. Accompanied by an outcast berserker named Soren Bearstar, she and Ned take off across the ice sheets of Canadia to hunt the mother of trolls and claim Signy’s destiny.

My Thoughts on THE STRANGE MAID and an interview with author Tessa Gratton:

Full disclosure: I’ve been reading Tessa’s prose since 2008. I’m a huge fan. I had the pleasure of listening to her recite a few pages from Beowulf in Old English. The memory still gives me elf-kisses. As an English Literature major, Beowulf was one of my favorite projects. Grendel by the late great John Gardner is one of my favorite books. Both play a part in this sweeping tale. Norse mythology, monsters, love, and layers abound in THE STRANGE MAID, the second book in the United States of Asgard series.

What is truth? Is truth the words we write or say, or is it the meaning behind those words? Is it both? Is it neither? Signy Valborn can see a rune in another’s eye and know their truth. But these runes change, just as our truths change given the situation we find ourselves in. Signy’s given a riddle from Odin: The Valkyrie of the Tree will prove herself with a stone heart. After years of trying to figure out what it means, she meets Ned ‘the Spiritless’ Unferth who tells her he knows the answer. In his eye she reads Truth, while in her own she reads several different runes.

Ned is key to helping Signy both figure out the riddle, but also all the meanings of the runes. Even the one given to her in the form of a scar on her palm has layered meanings. The fact that Signy not only needs the help of others but asks for it, makes her a very realistic character. Her thirst for battle and madness in a world that’s tamped down those ideals into politics and order seemed perfectly logical. (Maybe I’m more than a little mad myself.) The relationship between Signy and Ned was a slow, believable burn. And the riddle is resolved in a beautiful and unique way that left me very satisfied. Although, I’d love to see another trilogy set in this world.

“… the troll mother’s marble skin captures all the dying light, and her shifting muscles are a kaleidoscope of color, like the northern lights dancing against her stone flesh.”

Though the entire story stands-alone from THE LOST SUN, several characters visit the pages of both. As a reader, I’m always fascinated to see how characters we loved in one book are perceived by other characters in a new book (or point-of-view). It plays on the theme of truth. Your truth is not mine. Your perception is not mine. So, what is truth?

Wouldn’t it be great if we all had a destiny to follow, no matter how difficult it was to tease out the riddle of it? Maybe that’s exactly what we’re doing.

What was the seed idea/scene that set this story in motion for you as the author?

I was in grad school and took a class in Old English. As I fell farther into the poetry of the Anglo-Saxons and their neighbors the Vikings, I realized how much modern US culture still shares with them. War and religion and politics are still intertwined just like in Viking and A-S literature. So for this series, it was a thematic spark, it was a desire to create an alternate world where I could play with my thoughts and feelings about American Warrior Culture in particular.

You studied Beowulf—and even translated your own version— at university, but outside of required reading for study, how much research did you do to create the United States of Asgard?

Oh, for another guest post I counted 43 books I bought specifically for USAsgard research over the past 5 years. I’ve read at least parts of all of those books, and most of most of them. I did some traveling around the USA, too, though most of my location inspiration came from family road trips when I was a kid.

If you lived in the United States of Asgard, which god/goddess would you belong to and why?

Odin, unfortunately. 😉 He’s the god of poetry and sacrifice, in addition to having a fluid sexuality and a violent streak. It’s not a coincidence most of the USAsgard stories I’ve told revolve in some way around Odinists. I’m writing about those themes because I have so many questions about them myself. As a writer, the link between creation and violence really fascinates me.

THE STRANGE MAID is the both the prequel and the sequel to THE LOST SUN (2013) with a completely new main character, Signy Valborn. Why did you choose to structure your trilogy this way?

I never intended for this to be a trilogy. Originally I was writing short stories in this world for my story blog (www.merryfates.com), then the story that became THE LOST SUN was born, and it truly functions as a stand alone novel because I didn’t know if I’d write more. When I decided to expand, I imagined a 5 book arc. For a lot of reasons that didn’t happen. THE STRANGE MAID was always book 2, and what will be Book 3 used to be pieces of book 5. I took my ideas for the middle books and am writing novellas using those ideas and characters.

Basically: I am a messy writer. I go where the story leads me, and in the case of THE STRANGE MAID, that was a sprawling timeline that forced the book to be both prequel and sequel.

One of my favorite Songs of New Asgard short stories is Date with a Dragon-Slayer.

“This infinitely exciting tale’s twist and turns highlight the characters’ missions as they decide which identity to choose: hero, martyr, or villain.” (School Library Journal) What are you working on now?

I love that SLJ review! Thanks for quoting it. 😀

Right now I’m working on a bunch of things. I’ve drafted what I hope will be my next novel (a stand alone dark fantasy), so I’m writing some novellas in the USAsgard world, and two other secret novels. ONWARD AND UPWARD!

Thank you so much, Tessa, for letting me take a peek at your process! Tessa is also the author of BLOOD MAGIC, the novella CROW MAGIC, and THE BLOOD KEEPER. If you enjoy love, family, and fate, then you should definitely check them out!

* I received an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tessa Author Pic Fall 2011 2MBAbout the author: Tessa Gratton has wanted to be a paleontologist or a wizard since she was seven. She was too impatient to hunt dinosaurs, but is still searching for someone to teach her magic. After traveling the world with her military family, she acquired a BA (and the important parts of an MA) in gender studies, and then settled down in Kansas with her partner, her cats, and her mutant dog.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitter | Tumblr | Goodreads

Buy THE STRANGE MAID (Book 2) Today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Buy THE LOST SUN (Book 1) Today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

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“The Song of Wandering Aengus” by WB Yeats Inspires Anne

The Song of Wandering Aengus © Copyright William Butler Yeats, 1899. All rights reserved. Used by permission of the Creative Commons License.

The Song of Wandering Aengus © Copyright William Butler Yeats, 1899. All rights reserved. Used by permission of the Creative Commons License.

Paper Goblins

Japanese tradition says when you finish folding one thousand paper cranes your wish comes true.

I’m only half-Japanese. I plan on folding two thousand cranes to be double sure my wish will come true: that Colten will fall madly in love with me. It’s not because we’ve been thrown against each other since he moved here in second grade. Sure, alphabetically Colten Adams always sat next to me, Piper Allen, in class, but that’s not the reason. It’s because he’s stormy-eyed and swollen-lipped. Sharp-cheeked and soft-spoken. He’s the most beautiful boy in all of Portland. No! In the entire world.

I want him to notice me before he falls for someone else, and I’m tired of waiting around for him.

When Bachan bought me dozens of packets of beautiful, colored rice paper at the Cherry Blossom Festival. She told me she’d folded a thousand cranes back in Miyako, met Ojichan, and the rest is history.

It’s time I folded myself a little history.

* * *

336 cranes are tucked into a shoebox under my bed when I find out through the gossip chain that Colten asked Harlow Rivers to homecoming.

“She’s not even that pretty,” I complain, folding over my math quiz diagonally.

As my friends poke lettuce and cucumbers around on their plates or sip at diet drinks, I crease the bottom strip and wet it with my tongue, tearing away the rectangle shape to give me a nice square to work with.

Veronica Wiseman — best friend and enemy since pre-school —nudges my shoulder. “Harlow’s really nice, Pipe. She let me copy her history notes this week.”

“I love Harlow,” says Molly. Molly Larkin loves everyone, bless her. She comes from a family of thirteen, and they all get along. It’s how cults get started, I’m sure of it. “I don’t even care. She’s super nice and super smart.”

I ignore them both to fold and crease, fold and crease. If I finish these cranes faster, maybe Colten will forget about Harlow by winter break. Maybe he’ll notice me.

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Anne’s No Rules Friday 10

This is a companion piece for In Repair. You don’t have to have read that one to read this one. 😀

Motorbike "Indian Scout" (1929) © Copyright Joachim Köhler, 2006. Used by permission of the Creative Commons License

Motorbike “Indian Scout” (1929) © Copyright, Joachim Köhler 2006. Used with permission. Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 United States License.

Back to You

Five months ago, I tricked Rosa into kissing me. I’ve been lying to her ever since. That’s not entirely true. They’re not lies. They’re omissions. I omit pieces of the truth because she hunts creatures like me. So far she doesn’t know what I am, so well rehearsed are my stories. I kill hunters like her, but none of them ever caused my pulse to thrum at the base of my wrists. None of them had salted caramel taffy skin, sun-warmed, and soft. Soft in the way only a fawn’s coat should be soft.

“C’mere.”

We sit shoulder to shoulder at the edge of a neighbor’s pool, water laps against our knees, passing a cigarette back and forth. Sunlight glints off the water, off the drops running down her bare arms. Over the sharp chlorine and cloves, she smells like a field of sunflowers and coconut sunscreen. Rose kicks a leg and water sparkles in an arc. The splash silences the hum of cicadas for a split second.

It’s taken five months to convince her to break into backyards with me. The danger didn’t keep her away, no. She stayed out because she respected the people that live here. She hid her Scout motorcycle along the side of the house. Rosa relaxes against me. Like she’s home.

“Ever been skinny-dipping?”

Rosa laughs in that deep throaty way that’s only for me. I kiss her neck, drag a canine along the tender skin at her throat. Her laughter catches between my teeth.

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Anne’s Book Club 10

I love reading trilogies, tetralogies, and series. If you don’t want to wait a year (or sometimes two) between books, here’s a list of trilogies that are coming to an end, sadly, this year (in order of release):

daughtersmokebonetrilogy
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
, Days of Blood and Starlight, and Dreams of Gods and Monsters (Apr 2014) by Laini Taylor is a gorgeous sweeping story of monsters, love, teeth, lies, hope, and reincarnation. Laini Taylor is one of my favorite YA authors. Her writing is rich and lyrical. It will transport you from a magical Prague to a deadly land of dust and starlight. These books will leave you breathless and aching in all the right ways.

Note: I first fell in love with Laini Taylor’s writing when I read Lips Touch Three Times. Audrey reviewed it here after I foisted it on her to read.

grishatrilogyShadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising (17 Jun 2014) by Leigh Bardugo is a unique and wildly imaginative tale of summoners, sunlight, darkness, beauty, ugliness, friendship, and romance.  Leigh Bardugo writes magic that sparkles on the page. Her world is enriched by Russian language and folklore, but it’s all her own. The Darkling is sinister and trapped by his own lust for power. Alina and Mal are mismatched and matched brilliantly.

Note: I picked up the first book at the library completely based on the cover. I’m so glad I did. It was a thrilling read. (Also, a New York Times Bestseller, but I didn’t know that at the time.)

strangedeadlytrilogy
Something Strange and Deadly, A Darkness Strange and Lovely, and Strange and Ever After (22 Jul 2014) by Susan Dennard is sprawling epic that weaves zombies, spirit-hunters, steampunk, necromancy, love, and demons. Susan Dennard writes some intense action scenes. Anyone who enjoys historical fantasy will inhale these books. The settings of Philadelphia and Paris are delightful. I can’t wait to read about Egypt in the third book!

Note: Something Strange and Deadly is the first book in the trilogy. I put it in the middle of my collage so it looks like the other two cover girls are looking at her.

throneglasstrilogy
Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight, and Heir of Fire (2 Sep 2014) by Sarah J. Maas is an epic fantasy that brings together assassins, political intrigue, sexy heroes, castles, mystery, and one of the baddest-ass female protags in Celaena Sardothien. Sarah J. Maas also writes terrific fight scenes. Each book is told from three points of view: Celaena, Chaol, and Dorian. Each of them are hiding something exquisite, and the twists and turns to reveal these things are divine.

Note: Sarah J. Maas and Susan Dennard are critique partners. It’s no wonder I like both of their trilogies, which are wildly different and amazing.

lynburnlegacytrilogy
Unspoken, Untold, and Unmade (23 Sep 2014) by Sarah Rees Brennan is a quirky story with a diverse cast, a quaint English town, magic, mystery, family legacies, and a plucky heroine. Sarah Rees Brennan is known for her humorous voice, and she certainly delivers in these books. However, there’s a darker side too, filled with need and murder. The two main protags have been able to communicate psychically since they were little things. I loved being in Kami’s head, which is funny because I’m pretty sure Jared did as well.

Note: Sarah Rees Brennan also wrote the delicious The Demon’s Lexicon trilogy, which I highly recommend. The twist in book one was perfect. It made me question things. Things I can’t tell you because I’m not going to spoil it.

darkestmindstrilogy
The Darkest Minds, The Darkest Minds Never Fade, and The Darkest Minds Never Fade In the After Light (28 Oct 2014) by Alexandra Bracken is a page-flipping thriller that deals with powers, a sadistic government, escapes, road trips, creating family, and hard choices. Alexandra Bracken writes about a future where a disease has killed most of its children. Those that did live are burdened with powers that many adults think made the kids monsters. In a world of brutality, Ruby finds love and answers to long-guarded secrets. But will she survive?

Note: I was a huge fan of comics/superheroes as a kid. These novels hit all the right buttons for me. I can see this set of books being turned into a Hollywood franchise.

Are there any trilogies, tetralogies, or series ending this year you think I should read? Let me know in the comments!

“King and Lionheart” by Of Monsters and Men Inspires Anne

Of Swords and Other Things

I watch from atop the fences as two lanky boys kick up clouds of dust under shuffling feet. The sword master and a group of five other boys line the practice circle. The reek of unwashed bodies made worse by vigorous thrusts and parries catches on the breeze. Lantsida and her twin, Basina, escaped inside to finish their needlework rather than be subject to the rank odor for one instant longer. I’ve grown used to the musky roughness of young men. It sings of hard work and determination, an outlet for frustration and anger.

It’s home. It’s Hal.

The layered fabric of their practice doublets blunts the sound of a solid hit. Hal always wins and gives a raucous cheer, which most of the boys echo. He raises his arms in celebration, reveling a strip of bare skin that sends waves of delight through me. Even missing his left eye, Hal never fails to strike a killing blow. Basina says the other boys let him win because he’s their One True Prince. Mama slapped the back of her hand with a wooden spoon the last time she said it. We’re not to speak of Hal as anything other than the orphan boy we took in nearly ten years ago. He’s not His Royal Majesty Prince Henry Louis Philip Charles Valois. That name is supposed to taste like ashes in our mouth.

Instead, it tastes like hope. The royal line didn’t all expire in that tower.

Hal’s taller and more slender than most boys his age. Raven-haired and gray-eyed like his mother. The shape of his full bottom lip closely resembles his father’s mouth. Anyone who worked in the palace would know him, even with the ragged scar that mars the perfect symmetry of his facial planes. He wears his hair longer on the left side to hang down over the deformity.

He’s beautiful in ways that other boys will never be. His kindness shines like the stars at night: quiet and delicate.

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Anne’s Book Club 09

Bernie Wrightson's FrankensteinFrankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (summary by Amazon.com):

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of the masterpieces of nineteenth-century Gothicism. While staying in the Swiss Alps in 1816 with her lover Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and others; Mary, then eighteen, began to concoct the story of Dr. Victor Frankenstein and the monster he brings to life by electricity. Written in a time of great personal tragedy, it is a subversive and morbid story warning against the dehumanization of art and the corrupting influence of science. Packed with allusions and literary references, it is also one of the best thrillers ever written. Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus was an instant bestseller on publication in 1818. The prototype of the science fiction novel, it has spawned countless imitations and adaptations but retains its original power.

My Thoughts on FRANKENSTEIN:

The first time I read this book I was thirteen. It was the hardback with wood-carvings by Lynd Ward. I remember being inspired by Shelley’s use of “big words” that I had to look up in a dictionary. She was eighteen when she wrote it, which meant, I had time to expand my own vocabulary. I remember the swelling feelings of compassion for Victor’s creature as I read. Somehow, I’ve been rooting for the monsters for a very long time.

I picked up the book again when I was a senior in high school. I received the illustrated version for Christmas. Bernie Wrightson’s artwork was as moving as the text. I spent hours pouring over every minute detail. Having been a comic book fan for as long as I could read, I treasured this version. (And when a classmate knocked a glass of water across the table and ruined my book, I felt the loss in a profound and deep way.)

“It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things, or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or, in its highest sense, the physical secrets of the world.”

So much of the text that I didn’t grasp as a thirteen-year-old suddenly became as clear as the black and white illustrations. Bernie’s style is made-up of artists that came before, patched-up into this gorgeous movement of shadow and light — just like Frankenstein’s creature. It’s interesting how many of Lynd Ward’s wood-carvings depict the same moments as Bernie Wrightson’s drawings, as if they both felt the same thing in reading the same words. As Mary admits in her forward, she was inspired by The Iliad, Shakespeare’s Tempest and Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Milton’s Paradise Lost. I finally believed that words had the power to create/inspire. When we write/paint/sculpt, we’re all Victor Frankenstein.

Finished reading Frankenstein again this week. I’m older. I’m not sure if I’m wiser, but I have more experience now than at thirteen or seventeen. I still feel for the creature though. He murders a number of characters throughout the novel, but I forgive him. I understand why he did it. I don’t know if that makes me monstrous. Both creator and created are social outcasts: the creature for his exterior, the creator for his arrogance at playing God. They’re well matched. But after reading, I’m not entirely sure who is the man and who the creature.

What do you think?