Mini Reviews: The Chimes by Anna Smaill & This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura

I’ve been a little MIA (thanks, reading- and writing-intensive college classes for eating up my pleasure reading time), but I’m back today with mini reviews of two books devoured over fall break! (Also, can we take a moment to appreciate how fantastic both these covers are?)

23523012

The Chimes is set in a reimagined London, in a world where people cannot form new memories, and the written word has been forbidden and destroyed.

In the absence of both memory and writing is music.

In a world where the past is a mystery, each new day feels the same as the last, and before is blasphemy, all appears lost. But Simon Wythern, a young man who arrives in London seeking the truth about what really happened to his parents, discovers he has a gift that could change all of this forever.

A stunning literary debut by poet and violinist Anna Smaill, The Chimes is a startlingly original work that combines beautiful, inventive prose with incredible imagination.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that The Chimes is probably the most imaginative dystopian I’ve ever read (and maybe ever will read). The world of The Chimes is one that has been monumentally altered by a mysterious catastrophe, a world without solid memory or history, a world ruled by music and the mysterious order that enforces it. Even the very language of The Chimes is different than ours, slang consisting of musical terms slipped among familiar words to signal that nothing remains the same in this futuristic, dazed London. In terms of world-building, it’s truly a refreshing story, albeit one that takes some time to get into. When Simon, the main character, arrives in London with no memory of why he’s there, neither does the reader. While he stumbles through an eerie world where memory is wiped clean every evening, trying to puzzle together the truth, you’re just as much in the dark. Smaill’s language, however, wove an exquisite, inventive spell that kept me trapped, and the larger mystery pulled me onwards.

The first half is slow, strange, and lyrical. It felt like being plunged into an alien world as I was left to adjust and wonder how our world became the one between these pages. (I’m not gonna lie, the first half was a little tough to get into.) But then the second half arrived, unraveling conspiracies, providing some answers, and plummeting into some heart-stopping action and I found myself staying up until one in the morning to finish it. The Chimes may not be the easiest book to get into, but it’s worth it once the story sucks you in. (Also, the blurb doesn’t make it clear, but this book is gay!)

If you’re in the mood for a lush, unique dystopian that’s challenging yet rewarding, you probably can’t do better than The Chimes.

Diversity notes: Central M/M romance, blind love interest

 

36220348._SX318_

Katsuyamas never quit—but seventeen-year-old CJ doesn’t even know where to start. She’s never lived up to her mom’s type A ambition, and she’s perfectly happy just helping her aunt, Hannah, at their family’s flower shop.

She doesn’t buy into Hannah’s romantic ideas about flowers and their hidden meanings, but when it comes to arranging the perfect bouquet, CJ discovers a knack she never knew she had. A skill she might even be proud of.

Then her mom decides to sell the shop—to the family who swindled CJ’s grandparents when thousands of Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during WWII. Soon a rift threatens to splinter CJ’s family, friends, and their entire Northern California community; and for the first time, CJ has found something she wants to fight for.

I’ve been excited for This Time Will Be Different ever since I saw the gorgeous cover, and thankfully the inside lives up to the exterior. Sugiura’s sophomore novel is successful in so many different ways, from the authentic portrayal of teenage messiness to the many sensitive issues tackled without becoming preachy. This is the kind of book I want to hurl at people who claim that YA contemporary can’t be interesting or deep.

There’s a lot to praise about This Time Will Be Different, but one thing that stuck out to me is that it has one of the best depictions of modern teenagers in in a YA contemporary that I’ve read recently. They make mistakes, they fight with their parents, they hold grudges, and they question their place in the world and who they want to be. (And they even vape, which is the first time I’ve ever seen that in a YA contemporary?) While CJ wasn’t always a totally likable main character, I always felt for her as she struggled to define herself and her future.

Like the title implies, This Time Will Be Different deals a lot with legacy and history. There are very few YA fiction books about the internment of Japanese American, and I think this one might be the first I’ve ever heard of that deals with the ramifications today. There are nuanced, timely discussions about the legacy of oppression and teenage activism that helped this make this book a standout. In addition to the legacy of Japanese interment, This Time Will Be Different also discusses teen pregnancy, anti-Asian racism, complicated family dynamics, sexuality, and more without ever feeling overstuffed or preachy. The overall result is a nuanced, realistic YA contemporary that I hope everyone will pick up.

Diversity notes: ownvoices Japanese American main character, bisexual Japanse American love interest, Korean American lesbian major side character, side F/F romance, cast consists almost entirely of people of color (mostly Asian-Americans)

The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta: Community as Magic

35053372._SY475_-1

The spellbinding tale of six queer witches forging their own paths, shrouded in the mist, magic, and secrets of the ancient California redwoods.

Danny didn’t know what she was looking for when she and her mother spread out a map of the United States and Danny put her finger down on Tempest, California. What she finds are the Grays: a group of friends who throw around terms like queer and witch like they’re ordinary and everyday, though they feel like an earthquake to Danny. But Danny didn’t just find the Grays. They cast a spell that calls her halfway across the country, because she has something they need: she can bring back Imogen, the most powerful of the Grays, missing since the summer night she wandered into the woods alone. But before Danny can find Imogen, she finds a dead boy with a redwood branch through his heart. Something is very wrong amid the trees and fog of the Lost Coast, and whatever it is, it can kill. Lush, eerie, and imaginative, Amy Rose Capetta’s tale overflows with the perils and power of discovery — and what it means to find your home, yourself, and your way forward.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

I think it says something about The Lost Coast that before I was even done with this book, I had a list of friends begging to borrow it. And I can’t blame them because “queer Californian witches” is really an irresistible pitch. (Seriously, is Amy Rose Capetta reaching into my brain and plucking out exactly what I want to read? First a theater murder mystery, then the magical mafia, then King Arthur, and now this…) The Lost Coast is an ethereal story of witchcraft and community set among the Californian redwoods following a girl who falls in with a coven of witches known as the Grays, only to learn that one of them has gone missing and they’re desperate to get her back.

  • Danny: The new girl in town, a wandering soul, and a big fan of redwood trees. Queer (like girls & guys but prefers the label queer over anything else) and white.
  • Rush: The girlfriend of the missing witch who feels some romantic sparks with Danny. Queer, fat, white, and has synesthesia.
  • Hawthorn: The quiet-yet-strong one of the group, raised by a witchy single mother. Black & bisexual.
  • June: Fierce witch with knife magic! Filipina lesbian with chronic leg pain & Lyme disease.
  • Lelia: Tree magic witch who’s prickly on the outside but soft towards her friends. Nonbinary (she/her) and asexual-spectrum (and maybe aromantic-spectrum as well?)
  • Imogen: Formerly a water witch and Rush’s girlfriend, she’s gone missing. While her body is still present, her eyes are vacant and she’s left the coven.

The Lost Coast is particularly strong in two aspects: the writing and the sense of community formed by the characters. Capetta’s writing is just as dreamlike and misty and the forest setting, perfect for a lyrical story of magic and mystery. (Yes, mystery: this story has more murder than I expected). Jumping around the timeline and perspectives could easily have felt disjointed or awkward, but instead it felt seamless and fit with the magical atmosphere. I loved getting inside the heads of the different members of the coven and flashing back to their formation and complicated relationships. While The Lost Coast features romance, mystery, and magic, the writing style made it stand out from the many other YA paranormals out there.

Capetta’s portrayal of magic and community is what really made me love this book. Magic isn’t something whimsically fun, but a powerful force that can destroy just as easily as it brings together. In the case of the central coven (who call themselves the Grays), they’re united by both their magic and their shared sense of community over identity. Danny finding her place among the Grays is just as much about embracing a sexuality she had to hide in a small town as it is about discovering her innate magical ability. There is romance in the book, but the real heart of the story is the friendship among the Grays, witches and outcasts who clutch each other tight in a world that rejects their magic and their identities.

There were a few things The Lost Coast could have done better–I would have liked more of Hawthorn and less of a particularly bad metaphor during a sex scene–but they’re not huge complaints. (Also I’d totally be up for a sequel, though it does work fine as a standalone.) Other reviews have mentioned The Lost Coast as a F/F alternative to The Raven Cycle, and I really second that. This book is a story that’s magical–literally, writing-wise, and in the friendships among the characters. From the engrossing atmosphere to the portrayal of community and friendship, The Lost Coast is a book I won’t hesitate to recommend.

 

Finally Fall Book Tag

Hello, hello! Yes, I’m back after a month of radio silence (college is chaotic and wonderful, but doesn’t leave much free time for blogging). Today I’m doing an autumn-themed book tag (even though the whether where I am hasn’t gotten the memo that it’s fall) after seeing @Aquadimore answer it on her blog. Considering I haven’t read much this month (big understatement) and I’m really missing proper New England falls, an autumn book tag seemed like a great way to get back into the blogging swing of things.

Untitled design

The air is crisp and clear

Name a book with a vivid setting

10626594

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. This is…probably one of the books that has influenced me most as a writer and I adore the island setting (bonus: it also takes place during autumn). I love the rugged setting of Thisby with its undercurrents of violent and old magic, infusing every aspect of the story. I haven’t reread this book for a long time, but the setting has stuck with me.

Untitled design

Nature is beautiful…but also dying

Name a book that is beautifully written, but also deals with a heavy topic like loss or grief

35429999._SY475_

Wild Blue Wonder by Carlie Sorosiak immediately came to mind for this prompt. It’s actually one of the first books I ever reviewed for this blog and it’s a fantastic YA contemporary that explores grief and guilt. It’s a nonlinear story that follows the main character in the aftermath of her best friend’s death and the summer leading up to it and manages to be both heart-wrenching and heart-warming. (The setting of a Maine summer camp is also fantastic.)

Untitled design

Fall is back to school session

Name a book that taught you something

18240213

The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence, and Depravity in an Age of Beauty by Alexander Lee is the most recent nonfiction I’ve finished and I gotta say, it was a WILD ride. It explores the sordid underbelly of the Renaissance, from political corruption to vicious rivalries to sex scandals. The Renaissance fascinates me and I love reading about dramatic parts of history, so I tore through this book even though it’s over 400 pages and fairly dense. (Not being an expert on the Renaissance, I don’t really know how accurate or sensationalist it was, but it was very interesting and revealing.)

Untitled design

It’s good to spend time with the people we love

Name a fictional family/household/friend-group you’d want to be a part of

33602144._SY475_

There are plenty of books featuring great groups of characters I love to read about, but would never want to actually be a part of (Six of Crows, for instance.) But I think I’d get along great with the friend group in Not Now, Not Ever by Lily Anderson, a YA retelling of The Importance of Being Earnest. It’s set in an intensely nerdy summer camp and the characters are very reminiscent of friends I’ve made at camps and schools (they geek out over N.K. Jemisin and reference Young Avengers!) While Camp Onward is a lot more intense than any camp I’ve ever been to, I think I’d get along great with the characters.

Untitled design

The colorful leaves are piling up on the ground

Show us a pile of fall-colored spines

IMG_0384

So unfortunately, I think this photo illustrates why I’m not a bookstagrammer (dorm rooms are also not great places for photoshoots), but it turns out that several of the books I brought to college happened to be autumn-colored. I’ve owned Empire of Sand for a couple months, but there’s a readathon for the series coming up in November and I hope to get to it then. King of Scars has basically been sitting on my TBR since it was released, but I’ve sworn to my sister I’ll get to it soon. How Long ‘Til Black Future Month and Trick Mirror were both gifts I got before going off to college!

Untitled design

Storytelling by the fireside

Share a book wherein somebody is telling a story

34328664

It would literally be impossible for me to give and answer other than A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland. (You can read my glowing review of it here!) Following a wander storyteller imprisoned on charges of witchcraft and forced to survive on only his wits, A Conspiracy of Truths actually fits this prompt in multiple ways. The overall format of the book is in the style of Chant the storyteller recounting the events, but there are also some wonderful stories-within-a-story. And to top it off, the whole book is really an exploration of the power and influence of stories.

Untitled design

The nights are getting darker

Share a dark, creepy read

32941909._SY475_

Look, horror isn’t really my thing (I’m a major scaredy-cat). But The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé is so fantastic that it started to change my mind on that. The Dark Beneath the Ice is a YA horror about a teenage ex-ballerina being haunted (or maybe possessed?) and it was excellent. It’s atmospheric, psychological, and also features a F/F romance!

Untitled design

The days are getting colder

Name a short, heartwarming read that could warm up somebody’s cold, rainy day

tumblr_pvsk2pIhsB1uapgz3o1_1280
i also made this edit in an attempt to get more people to read it

Epistolary by Sacha Lamb is an adorable short story that features haunted stuffed animals, hot chocolate, an internet meet-cute between two trans, Jewish kids. It’s very cute and you can also read it online here! (Then you can join me in praying for a full-length Sacha Lamb novel.)

Untitled design

Fall returns every year

Name an old favorite you’d like to return to soon

23437156

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. It’s an all-time favorite of mine, but I haven’t read it since probably 2016, when Crooked Kingdom came out. I’d really like to do a reread because a) rereading books is nice when I’m busy because I already know I’ll like them and b) the Shadow and Bone TV is coming along and I want to revisit the Grishaverse world before the show airs.

Untitled design

Fall is the perfect time for cozy reading nights

Share your favorite cozy reading “accessories”

Fingerless gloves! I have perpetually cold fingers from basically October to May and tend to wear fingerless gloves when I’m at home relaxing. Fingerless gloves, a cup of tea, and a good book is really peak cozy autumn reading…

Untitled design

I’m fairly terrible at tagging people, but if you see this and want to answer the questions, consider this a go-ahead!

Twelve Dead Princesses by Eleanor M. Rasor: A Gothic YA Retelling

47877913._SY475_.jpg

Twelve Dead Princesses is a dark retelling of the classic fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Shortly before Lark, soon-to-be-queen of Belmarros, comes of age, she and her eleven sisters fall ill. On the brink of death, they are saved by Sol, a tattooed stranger with powerful magic, and find themselves owing him a debt. Sol, however, is more than meets the eye, and he wants the princesses to dance for him at night in his otherworldly kingdom. As they dance, Larka finds it increasingly difficult to balance their secret visits, her responsibilities as future queen, and her growing attraction to Sol.

screen-shot-2019-08-23-at-2.37.48-pm

Growing up, I devoured any retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses I could find. I loved the original fairy tale–the otherworldly balls and metallic forests, the mystery, the promise of sister relationships that weren’t simply evil stepsisters–but I always found the original rather lacking on details. Despite the title, the story focuses on a young soldier who marries the eldest princess, leaving the sisters themselves enigmatic blanks. Why did the sisters dancing, anyway? Where were they dancing and how did they get there? So I turned to retellings to find some answers. (Anyone remember The Princess Curse? Or Princess of the Midnight Ball? Or Entwined? Or the Thirteenth Princess? Or One Hundred Nights of Hero? Oh, nostalgia.) In middle school, I even played around with writing my own retelling for a while. (Unfortunately, my sister beat me to it. But her version is so good, I can’t even be mad.)

Eleanor M. Rasor’s retelling puts any suitors or soldiers in the background, choosing to focus on the eldest sister. Princess Larka of Belmarros is an orphan, responsible for her eleven younger sisters and, soon, the throne itself. When she and her sisters contract a fatal illness, they’re saved from death’s door by Sol, a mysterious stranger with hundreds of tattoos and powerful magic. Sol’s terms for this cure are simple: in exchange for saving their lives, the princesses will dance in his underground kingdom every night, bringing life and joy to the darkness. 

“Maybe someone else would have seen a princess and a worthy heir to the throne of Belmarros, but all Larka could see was a frightened girl playing dress-up and being thrust into so many responsibilities at once that even thinking about them made her feel as if she was drowning.”

Unfortunately, her debt to Sol isn’t the only thing on Larka’s mind as she dances. The legacy of the former king, her recklessly lavish, irresponsible father who left the kingdom a wreck when he died, casts a long shadow as she prepares to take on responsibility as queen. At only eighteen, Larka is expected to ascend the throne and find a suitable husband within a matter of months. Dancing in Sol’s kingdom soon becomes not only the payment of a debt, but an escape from the world above and her growing, heavy responsibilities as Larka finds herself drawn to Sol himself. (If you’re a fan of romances in books like Wicked Saints or The Bear and the Nightingale, I think you’ll really enjoy the romance that springs up in Twelve Dead Princesses.)

But truly, one of my favorite parts of the book was Larka herself. I loved that she felt like a realistic teen protagonist in fantasy. Despite being raised to become queen, she has thousands of worries about whether she’ll be good enough and about whether she will become a bad ruler like her father. Even the romance really ties in Larka’s arc of self-empowerment, which I loved.

“The War of the Gods was an undeniable truth: the gods had fought, and the gods had died. Their battles had raged in the seas and in the skies, and one by one they had been cut down, falling from the heavens to land on the world they had fought over, their skulls becoming hills and their spines mountain ranges.”

Rather than simply being a generic fairy tale world, the world of Twelve Dancing Princesses is set in a unique, gothic fantasy world I loved watching unfurl on the page. In Larka’s world, the gods killed each other thousands of years ago in a terrible war and the repercussions of their deaths resonate across the culture and world. (For example, the island capital is Belmarros is built on the skeleton of a dead god! Human magicians use tattoos to tie the remnants of magic to themselves! There’s an invisibility cloak made from god hair!) I mentioned in my review for The Priory of the Orange Tree that I loved the conspiracy that emerges about whether the very foundations of the world are true, and Twelve Dead Princesses has a very similar one that I also enjoyed a lot. (Yes, I’m keeping this vague. Read the book if you want answers.)

There are a lot of others things I could talk about liking–how this book makes twelve sisters by the same king actually make sense or my love for the side characters like Larka’s sisters–but then we’d be here all day. Overall, if you’re looking for a good gothic YA fantasy of a unique retelling of a classic fairy tale, you couldn’t do better than Twelve Dead Princesses.

Diversity notes: Larka’s sisters Gwynna, Rhiannon, Katharine, Kristina, and Karoline are biracial Black/White (their mother was a princess from an island nation that seemed Caribbean-esque to me). Rhiannon is also a lesbian and Gwynna is bi. Larka’s uncle/regent, Stefan, his gay, and his husband is Black. (Also, there’s no sexism/homophobia/racism in this fantasy world.)

screen-shot-2019-08-23-at-2.37.48-pm

Freepik attribution

So…I Published a Book?!

I haven’t talked about my writing much on this blog, but I figured this deserved a post with a little explanation (and celebration). Here’s the cover and description because that seems like a good place to start:

ophelia

Wicked stepsisters. Beautiful princesses. Heroic warriors. Everyone grows up on fairy tales and mythology populated by these characters, but what perspectives are omitted as these stories pass from generation to generation? An Open Letter to Ophelia gives voiceless women of ancient myth and medieval lore a chance to speak.

Poet Lulu Rasor asks what these witches, queens, saints, and monsters would say if given the chance, and how they would fit in the modern world. In prayer, sleepover confession, and love letters, this collection begins to imagine new sides to familiar and ancient tales.

I figured that people reading this blog might have a couple questions about this coming out of the blue, so I arranged a little Q & A to clear some stuff up. With myself as both the interviewer and the interviewee, because I’m classy like that.

Q: Is this self-published? I didn’t hear anything about you getting a book deal…

A: Actually, nope! I wrote and published An Open Letter to Ophelia through the Telling Room, a nonprofit organization that works to empower teenagers through writing (they’re super cool). Specifically, I was part of the Young Emerging Authors fellowship, which allowed me to write, edit, and publish a book over the course of a year alongside a few other selected young authors.

flower

Q: Where can I buy this?

A: An Open Letter to Ophelia is available from the Telling Room’s online store here. (Bonus: proceeds from my book go towards their programs!)

flower

Q: Is this on Goodreads? Because I need to, like, meet my reading challenge and stuff.

A: Yes, you can find it here. Go wild.

flower

Q: Wait, when did you even write this? You kept this pretty quiet!

A: While I started writing a few of the poems included in this back in 2017, I wrote the majority of An Open Letter to Ophelia during 2018-19 (over the course of my senior year, actually). I didn’t talk about it much here because I was still working on it, but now it’s out in the world so I’m not going to shut up!

flower

Q: Where did the inspiration for this come from? Last time I heard you were writing a YA contemporary novel with zero plans for publication?!

A: Well, if you know me, you know I’ve been a huge mythology geek almost as long as I’ve been able to read. When I started writing poetry, I was automatically drawn to writing interpretations of fairytales and mythology focused on the female characters. This is because as much as I love mythology, it’s certainly true that female characters often get the short end of the stick or reflect outdated archetypes. I wanted to imagine what they might say if given a chance in the spotlight and grapple with how they fit into my modern world.

flower

Q: Did you do research for a book about mythology/history/fairy tales or is your brain just a natural encyclopedia of all that?

A: I actually did a ton of research for this book (and yes, this question is just a plug to talk about it). A sample of the stuff I read as research includes:

  • Beowulf, an Old English epic poem about a monster-slayer
  • The Oresteia, a trilogy of Greek tragedies by Aeschylus about a cursed family
  • The Iliad, the über-famous ancient Greek epic about the Trojan war
  • The Táin Bó Cúalinge, an early Irish epic about demigods and cows and all that fun stuff
  • Bits of Metamorphoses by Ovid, a Latin collection of myths

All of this stuff I read for the purpose of being able to write about the female characters, but I gotta say some of those myths are also totally wild. (I wrote some of my favorite anecdotes from the Táin down on Tumblr because they were simply too wild to forget.)

Anyway, I also watched Troy (2004), which was a Big Mistake.

flower

Q: That research list is so intimidating! Can people without a background in mythology and/ history understand or enjoy this?

A: Yeah, I tried to make An Open Letter to Ophelia accessible to people who didn’t have my nerdy background. My intention was to make the origins and inspirations kind of a second layer that’s cool to understand, but not necessary. I’ve also had various people who aren’t really versed in mythology say they enjoyed it. Don’t be scared off!

flower

Q: Are you going to stop being a book blogger now that you’re also a published writer?

A: Heck no! I have a lot of fun working on this blog (otherwise, why would I do it?), and I don’t have any plans to stop soon. Actually, being done with this book probably means I’ll blog more because my non-school time won’t be taken up with this project! However, I am going to college very soon, so I will be taking a little step back from this blog to focus on schoolwork again.

flower

Q: Mythology can get pretty dark, are there any content warnings for this book?

A: Yes, this book comes included with a warning for themes of suicide, drowning, murder, rape, and gun violence. Stay safe!

flower

Q: Is it true that you gave Percy Jackson *two separate* shout-outs in your acknowledgements?

A: Yeah, and what about it?!

flower

Freepik attribution

So, yeah, I have a book published! I hope this cleared some stuff up about a) where the heck it came from and b) what the heck it’s about.

Are any of you huge mythology nerds? Who are some of your favorite female characters from mythology?

Twelve Questions With the Author of Twelve Dead Princesses

tdp.jpg

Twelve Dead Princesses is a dark retelling of the classic fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Shortly before Larka, soon-to-be-queen of Belmarros, comes of age, she and her eleven sisters fall ill. On the brink of death, they are saved by Sol, a tattooed stranger with powerful magic, and find themselves owing a debt. Sol, however, is more than meets the eye and he wants the princesses to dance for him at night in his otherworldly kingdom. As they dance, Larka finds it increasingly difficult to balance their secret visits, her responsibilities as future queen, and her growing attracting to Sol…

Today I’ve got something new for the blog: an author interview! I’ve got twelve questions with Eleanor M. Rasor, the author of the new release Twelve Dead Princesses. I’m really excited to chat with her today because 1) her book is a fantastically unique, gothic retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales and 2)…she’s my sister! Keep reading to hear about her writing process, inspirations, and what brand of shoe a death god might wear!

Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 2.37.48 PM

Describe your book in five words.

Death. Gods. Romance. Dancing. Gothic.

Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 2.37.48 PM

What was the inspiration for Twelve Dead Princesses? How did you come up with your unique spin on a classic fairytale?

When I was a kid, I adored fairy tales and used to read them constantly. One that I used to read over and over was The Twelve Dancing Princess which, for anyone unfamiliar with it, is about a king with twelve daughters who go to a mysterious ball every night and dance their shoes to pieces. The story never properly explains what this ball is or why they’re dancing there, and I always felt unsatisfied by it. I’ve read a ton of retellings of the story and I wanted to write my own. At some point I thought to myself, what if the land they’re dancing is in the underworld? And so the idea for my book was born.

 

Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 2.37.48 PM

What was the writing process like? Specifically, tell us about the program you were a part of that allowed a teenager to publish a fantasy book?

I started writing Twelve Dead Princesses during my sophomore year of high school as a short story for my creative writing class, but it quickly spiraled out of control. I tried to do it for 2016 NaNoWriMo but didn’t finish and I just kept writing it in between other projects. Eventually I decided to apply to a program called Young Emerging Authors, run by an amazing nonprofit called the Telling Room, where four teenagers are selected to write, edit, and publish a book over the course of a year. I got in, and I finished writing and revising my book with the help of a really great mentor. The program forced me to write much quicker–it took me almost three years to write the first draft and about ten months to edit it–and I learned a lot about writing and editing over the course of this book.

Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 2.37.48 PM

I know the final version of your book is pretty different from the initial concept. How did your story change during writing/revisions?

Oh boy, it changed a lot. My first draft was 127,000 words long (for reference my final draft was about 90,000 words) and had the points of view of the three eldest sisters. When I stepped back and looked at the book, though, I realized that it was way too long. Since two of the points of view weren’t adding much to the book, just spiraling out into increasingly random plot lines, I ended up deleting them (and one of my favorite side characters, sadly). The finished version has a single point of view, focuses much more on the retelling aspect, and also has a completely different ending.

Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 2.37.48 PM

What was your favorite part or character to write?

My favorite part to write was probably anything set in the underworld. It’s a totally different world than the living one, with different rules and inhabitants, and I liked slowly unspooling the mystery of it at the same time the main characters are learning.

Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 2.37.48 PM

Tell us something about your book that isn’t in the description!

This is really an extremely minor detail, but the god of death never wears shoes. I couldn’t decide what kind of shoes he would wear, so he’s just barefoot during the whole book.

Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 2.37.48 PM

Who do you think Twelve Dead Princesses would appeal to?

I think it’ll appeal to fans of fairy tale retellings with a slightly more gothic air. Also anyone who enjoys the types of romance with a little more darkness, like Wicked Saints by Emily Duncan or the Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden.

Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 2.37.48 PM

Retellings seem to be a staple of YA books. Why do you think retellings keep resonating with people?

I think it’s because fairy tales are so classic and well-known that retellings always hit certain beats, but the author also has to add something new in order to make it theirs. It’s always fun to see how someone else retells and interprets a story.

Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 2.37.48 PM

Obviously, no writer exists in a void and we all have our influences. What books/authors have influenced you?

Diana Wynne Jones, Leigh Bardugo, and Juliet Mariller are three authors that I read at a  young and impressionable age so they left me with a love of magical houses, villains, and books with lots of siblings.

Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 2.37.48 PM

Twelve Dead Princesses takes place in an original fantasy world. How did you go about constructing the world?

Rather haphazardly, to be honest. I plunged into writing it with pretty much only the ideas that it was a fairytale retelling and that there would be a pantheon of gods who were all dead except for one. Things started to develop more during revisions. I started with questions–what are the politics like in this country? How did the loss of their gods affect the culture? What kind of magic remains and who uses it?–and tried to work the answers into the book.

Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 2.37.48 PM

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on the rough draft of a new novel featuring a living house, a lot of messy family dynamics, and dragons. After that, who knows? I have a ton of other ideas bouncing around. But mostly, college!

Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 2.37.48 PM

Describe your book in one meme!

Here’s one featuring most of the main characters!

Image 8-23-19 at 1.32 PM.jpg

 

Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 2.37.48 PM

I’m so happy I could share this interview with you all! I think Twelve Dead Princesses is super cool (and, fair warning, I’m prepared not to shut up about it for quite a while). If you enjoyed this interview, you can buy Twelve Dead Princesses from the Telling Room’s online store here and add it on Goodreads here. (Bonus: buying it from their store means proceeds go to fund more young writers programs!)

Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 2.37.48 PM

Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 1.27.30 PM

Eleanor M. Rasor has been writing stories filled with things such as magic, dragons, and girls with swords for almost as long as she can remember. When not writing, she can be found reading, swimming in the ocean, riding her bike, or over-analyzing action movies. A Mainer at heart, she plans on attending Mount Holyoke College in the fall, where she hopes to keep writing.

Freepik flower attribution

Three Thriller Reviews: Temper, Keep This to Yourself, and Deposing Nathan

42063845

For fans of the high-stakes tension of the New York Times bestsellers Luckiest Girl Alive and The Lying Game, a razor-sharp page-turner about female ambition and what happens when fake violence draws real blood… 

After years of struggling in the Chicago theater scene, ambitious actress Kira Rascher finally lands the role of a lifetime. The catch? Starring in Temper means working with Malcolm Mercer, a mercurial director who’s known for pushing his performers past their limits—onstage and off.

Kira’s convinced she can handle Malcolm, but the theater’s cofounder Joanna Cuyler is another story. Joanna sees Kira as a threat—to her own thwarted artistic aspirations, her twisted relationship with Malcolm, and the shocking secret she’s keeping about the upcoming production. But as opening night draws near, Kira and Joanna both start to realize that Malcolm’s dangerous extremes are nothing compared to what they’re capable of themselves.

An edgy, addictive, and fiendishly clever tale of ambition, deceit, and power, Temper is a timely, heart-in-your-throat psychological thriller that will leave you breathless.

Despite barely ever setting foot on a stage, I’m always drawn to stories featuring theaters, whether it’s YA rom-coms or middle grade fantasy comics or adult thrillers. So when I saw that Temper revolved around a theater, I was immediately interested.

Fargo–who I believe has experience as an actor in Chicago–absolutely immerses the reader in a gritty world where violence and deceit aren’t limited to the stage. If you’re a fan of books like M.L. Rio’s If We Were Villains that explores the tempestuous and twisty lives of actors, I’d definitely recommend Temper. From backstage secrets to staged violence becoming all-too-real, Fargo’s tale of was engrossing and intense.

Temper, as it turns out, isn’t just a nail-biting thriller about ambition. It’s also a very timely exploration of the terrible men whose actions we excuse in the name of their art. The two protagonists–Joanna, Malcolm’s partner in the theater and Kira, the lead actress in Malcolm’s new play–both grapple with Malcolm’s insufferable actions. An infamous director with dozens of critically acclaimed productions under his belt, he’s also known for pushing his actors to the breaking point. Their respective ambitions setting themselves on a collision course, Joanna and Kira find themselves forced to contemplate how much of Malcolm’s behavior they can excuse. Fargo’s writing is tense and psychological, the clashing dual perspectives pushing the narrative towards an inevitable, awful climax that I saw coming like a car crash, yet couldn’t look away from.

I also just wanted to take a second and highlight the fact that Temper features multiple #ownvoices bisexual characters (Joanna, Malcolm, and the side character of Kira’s roommate, Spencer), which was kind of a nice surprise. Being a thriller, none of these characters are exactly good peopleper se, but given the author’s identity, the representation across several characters seemed nuanced.

Honestly, even though I saw the ending coming, this book had me absolutely riveted anyway, and I think that’s pretty high praise. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for Fargo’s next work.

Diversity notes: Bisexual main character and side characters (#ownvoices), gay mentally ill side character.

41967043

It’s been a year since the Catalog Killer terrorized the sleepy seaside town of Camera Cove, killing four people before disappearing without a trace. Like everyone else in town, eighteen-year-old Mac Bell is trying to put that horrible summer behind him—easier said than done since Mac’s best friend Connor was the murderer’s final victim. But when he finds a cryptic message from Connor, he’s drawn back into the search for the killer—who might not have been a random drifter after all. Now nobody—friends, neighbors, or even the sexy stranger with his own connection to the case—is beyond suspicion. Sensing that someone is following his every move, Mac struggles to come to terms with his true feelings towards Connor while scrambling to uncover the truth.

Honestly, I barely read thrillers but this is the second in a string of three that I really enjoyed?! Who am I?!

Anyway, Keep This to Yourself is a tight-paced YA thriller with some excellent twists that I had a lot of fun reading. Even though I was exhausted from my new job when I picked this book up, I tore through it as past as I could.

I really enjoyed the small-town mystery atmosphere. Keep This to Yourself is set in Camera Cove, a small seaside Maine town on the coast and Tom Ryan did a great job evoking the setting. Usually a summer tourist attraction, Camera Cove was wracked by a spree of serial killings a year ago that has left the inhabitants shaken and grieving. Even though he’s about to leave for college at the end of the summer, Mac can’t move on from the untimely murder of his childhood friend, Connor, the final victim of the never-caught killer.

Grief is a strong theme throughout Keep This to Yourself, giving the book more depths than a typical thriller. Mac’s childhood friend group was shattered by Connor’s murder and he also witnesses the family and friends of other victims processing their own pain as he investigates. I wouldn’t have minded for that to be delved into a little more, but on the other hand, the quick plot pretty much made up for that.

Keep This to Yourself is one of those books that just feels effortless–breathlessly paced and engaging. I usually pride myself on being able to somewhat guess the twists and turns of a book, but I can honestly say that I did NOT see the ending of this one coming, satisfying though it was. I loved that.

Mac is also gay (#ownvoices) and though his sexuality in a small town and potential feelings for Connor are a part of his story, Keep This To Yourself isn’t a coming-out story, which was nice to see.  He’s a likable protagonist who quickly had me both rooting for him and fearing for his safety. I do feel that his romance with Quill (the cousin of another murder victim), could have been fleshed out a little bit more because it was pretty quick. (Just a note regarding Quill: I admit to being a little suspicious when Quill, the single Black character in the book, was introduced in a poverty-stricken trailer park, but Ryan ended up subverting that with the reveal that he’s is from a well-off Portland family and was just visiting, so that’s good.)

But that ending. Seriously. I’m still in shock.

Diversity notes: Gay main character (#ownvoices), biracial Black/White love interest, M/M romance

41150338

Nate never imagined that he would be attacked by his best friend, Cam.

Now, Nate is being called to deliver a sworn statement that will get Cam convicted. The problem is, the real story isn’t that easy or convenient—just like Nate and Cam’s friendship. Cam challenged Nate on every level from the day the boys met. He pushed him to break the rules, to dream, and to accept himself. But Nate—armed with a fierce moral code and conflicted by his own beliefs—started to push back. With each push, Nate and Cam moved closer to each other—but also spiraled closer to their breaking points.

What you have to understand about Cam–and this is important–is that up until he jammed a shard of ceramic in my gut, he was the best friend I’ve ever had.

As soon as I read the first sentence of Deposing Nathan, I was hooked.

Deposing Nathan is really the least traditionally thriller of these three novels. Sure, there’s an unreliable narrator and a trial and some twists, but I’d really describe it more as Autoboyography with some thriller trappings. It’s a gut-punch of a story exploring sexuality and abuse and I read the whole thing in one sitting.

This is not a simple, easy story. This is a story in shades of gray about an unreliable narrator who makes bad choices, about a relationship that could be live-saving or toxic or both.  Deposing Nathan begins with Nathan giving his statement in court after his former best friend, Cam, stabbed him, but this story far from a straightforward testimony. At the start, Nathan is hiding things from both the court and himself–truths that will end up dragged out of him by the end of his testimony. I thought the format of a deposition was absolutely genius because it sets up a very complicated situation and promises the reader the through on how it unfurled, making me read faster and faster for the hope of a cathartic conclusion.

This book really left me emotionally wrecked. As Nathan explores how his relationship with Cam spiraled into violence, the reader is plunged into a heart-wrenching, raw story about the struggle between faith and sexuality. Nathan is not always a pleasant person, but his actions always felt raw and real as he was caught between friendship, the possibility of more, and a tumultuous home and religious struggle. Child abuse and religious homophobia are two prominent themes throughout this book, but to me they seemed handled with care rather than exploitative.

This book is by no means short, but I devoured this book. I became totally engrossed in the characters and their tangled lives and emotions, the short chapters and emotional rollercoaster helping the pages fly by. And the ending was absolutely perfect. I won’t give away spoilers, but it instead of going in a typical direction, it ended on a note that was part pain, part healing, and all satisfying.

If you think you can handle the content of Deposing Nathan, I’d definitely recommend it for those in want of a gritty, complex story exploring real-world struggles.

Diversity notes: Bisexual main character & major side character (#ownvoices), side character with anxiety, side character who is Black and uses a wheelchair.