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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Anne’s Book Club 08

SAtrilogycoversSummerset Abbey by T. J. Brown (summary from Amazon.com):

1913: In a sprawling manor on the outskirts of London, three young women seek to fulfill their destinies and desires amidst the unspoken rules of society in this stunning series starter that fans of Downton Abbey will love.

Rowena Buxton

Sir Philip Buxton raised three girls into beautiful and capable young women in a bohemian household that defied Edwardian tradition. Eldest sister Rowena was taught to value people, not wealth or status. But everything she believes will be tested when Sir Philip dies, and the girls must live under their uncle’s guardianship at the vast family estate, Summerset Abbey. Standing up for a beloved family member sequestered to the “underclass” in this privileged new world, and drawn into the Cunning Coterie, an exclusive social circle of aristocratic “rebels,” Rowena must decide where her true passions—and loyalties—lie.

Victoria Buxton

Frail in body but filled with an audacious spirit, Victoria secretly dreams of attending university to become a botanist like her father. But this most unladylike wish is not her only secret—Victoria has stumbled upon a family scandal that, if revealed, has the potential to change lives forever…

Prudence Tate

Prudence was lovingly brought up alongside Victoria and Rowena, and their bond is as strong as blood. But by birth she is a governess’s daughter, and to the lord of Summerset Abbey, that makes her a commoner who must take her true place in society—as lady’s maid to her beloved “sisters.” But Pru doesn’t belong in the downstairs world of the household staff any more than she belongs upstairs with the Buxton girls. And when a young lord catches her eye, she begins to wonder if she’ll ever truly carve out a place for herself at Summerset Abbey.

My Thoughts on SUMMERSET ABBEY and an interview with author Teri Brown:

First, and rather shallowly of me, the covers for these three novels are GORGEOUS! The Belle Époque has always been one of my favorite times in history (though I have many. But, come on, the costumes! Budding technology! Historical amazements!). I haven’t had the pleasure to watch Downton Abbey, but I’ve enjoyed several films and books that take place (and were written) during these years. I was really pleased to see how each of the three main characters navigated the time period growing into strong independent women against an incredible historical background.

Teri writes with such rich detail that I couldn’t help but be swept up and read them all over the span of a long weekend. It’s interesting that I’ve been reading more contemporary lately because as I’ve said before I love fantasy, but I recommend these to anyone who likes this time period, strong heroines, and engaging story-telling. These books are definitely ones that cross the boundary from adult to YA. The youngest protagonist begins in her teens and ends at, I believe, 19. They’re not graphically violent or sexual, and would appeal to readers of all ages. In fact, I think our own Audrey would love them.

Through the power of Twitter I discovered her books. Teri was kind enough to let me ask her a few questions about her Summerset Abbey trilogy. Viva les médias sociaux!

The Summerset Abbey trilogy takes place during what the French call the Belle Époque (Americans call it the “Gilded Age” and the English call it the “Edwardian Age”, but I like the French version best). What drew you to this time period in particular to set your novels?

I’ve always loved this time period even before I knew it was a time period! I look back at the books I read as a child and so many of my favorites take place in the late 1800’s early or 1900’s like, Amanda Miranda by Richard Peck, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith or So Big by Edna Ferber. When I saw Downton Abbey I realized that it was actually the Edwardian Period and I knew I wanted to write a series about it.

The costumes, settings, autos, and jewelry are richly drawn. How much research did you do to write this trilogy?

I did a lot of Research, but I was on a very tight writing schedule as well. I took a class from a woman who was an expert in the period and then hired her to help me with research duties. Whenever I had a question, I would just shoot it off to her and she would get on it. That way I was able to finish the stories and go back in an layer more details. That’s pretty much the way I work with all my historicals… story, characters and plot first, then details.

Throughout each book, Rowena, Victoria, and Prudence take over narrating duties. Did you write the book linearly and change perspectives according to story demands, or … ?

I wrote each book from start to finish. They seemed to come very organically for me. Of course, I was fighting cancer during the writing of these books and with the back to back deadlines, there was no way for me to write any other way! Only a few times would I have to go back and rewrite a scene in someone else’s POV.

This was written as a trilogy, but each book could certainly be read as a stand-alone. However, how much of each main characters’ end journey did you know before you started?

Honestly, I knew very little about their individual journeys when I first started the trilogy. I think of each of the books as focusing on one particular character arc, though they all grow during each book. For instance, The first books was Prudence’s book. The second was Victoria’s and Rowena got the final book, though Kit and Victoria didn’t get their happy ending either until the third book, but I think Victoria did most of her growing in book two.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently researching and working on an adult novel called Saffron Skies which takes place in 1911 India. It’s about a sharp tongued young woman who was a part of the “Fishing Fleet”, which is what they called women who went husband hunting in India during the time of the British Raj. She falls in love with a half English half Indian clerk and all sorts of troubles ensue. The research has been wonderful fun.

Thank you so much, Teri, for talking to me about your process with this trilogy! I also discovered that Teri also writes YA books. Born of Illusion is currently sitting in my tbr pile. Check it, and her historical novels out, at your local bookstore or library.

TJBrown_authorphotoAbout the author: Teri Brown is proud of her two children but coming in a close second is the fact that she parachuted out of a plane and beat the original Legend of Zelda video game.

She is a word scribbler, head banger, math hater, book reader, rule breaker, food fixer, novel writer, kitty keeper, and city slicker. Teri lives with her husband and way too many pets in Portland, Oregon.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Buy SUMMERSET ABBEY Today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Anne’s Book Club 01

goldenjessikirbyGolden by Jessi Kirby (summary from Amazon.com):

Seventeen-year-old Parker Frost has never taken the road less traveled. Valedictorian and quintessential good girl, she’s about to graduate high school without ever having kissed her crush or broken the rules. So when fate drops a clue in her lap—one that might be the key to unraveling a town mystery—she decides to take a chance.

Julianna Farnetti and Shane Cruz are remembered as the golden couple of Summit Lakes High—perfect in every way, meant to be together forever. But Julianna’s journal tells a different story—one of doubts about Shane and a forbidden romance with an older, artistic guy. These are the secrets that were swept away with her the night that Shane’s jeep plunged into an icy river, leaving behind a grieving town and no bodies to bury.

Reading Julianna’s journal gives Parker the courage to start to really live—and it also gives her reasons to question what really happened the night of the accident. Armed with clues from the past, Parker enlists the help of her best friend, Kat, and Trevor, her longtime crush, to track down some leads. The mystery ends up taking Parker places that she never could have imagined. And she soon finds that taking the road less traveled makes all the difference.

My Thoughts on GOLDEN and an interview with author Jessi Kirby …