Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

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Title: A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses #3)

Author: Sarah J. Maas

Pages: 699

Goodreads link

My rating: star1

I’ve been a fan of Sarah J. Maas for a while now, ever since I read Throne of Glass back when that was fresh onto bookshop shelves. Her books just press buttons for me that only the likes of Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and other real bookshelf treasures press for me. Books that I become completely entangled in emotionally, that take me entirely out of reality and into a world that thrills me to inhabit. And I don’t know how she crams so much plot and character and world into such reasonably sized books. I remember turning A Court of Thorns and Roses over in my hands after I first read it and being completely confounded by its TARDIS-esque proportions. Just how?

Incidentally, I acquired A Court of Thorns and Roses at MCM Comic Con 2015 when I got it and The Assassin’s Blade signed by Sarah J. Maas is actual person. I was wearing an Assassin’s Creed outfit at the time, which she recognised immediately. Fangirl moment!

A Court of Wings and Ruin is by no means an exception to the button-pressing phenomenon. In fact, none of her books are an exception. Sarah J. Maas just knows how to write appealing but realistic heroines. Like the rest of us, Feyre is capable of making catastrophic mistakes and being immature and impetuous, but on the other hand, she is also capable of exceptional strength and courage and wisdom – things we are also capable of.

I get very worried about YA with a heavy romantic element because it can very easily be unrealistic in quite a dangerous way. But Sarah J. Maas manages to depict romance that is both swoonworthy but also places the female in a very strong, modern role. Her romance is aspirational, not fantastical.

In this third outing for Feyre, we delve even deeper into the world of Prythian (which looks suspiciously like Britain on the map page!). It’s actually quite a political episode, which does make it a little tedious at times, especially if you’re quite a non-political person like me. However, we do get to know more about the other kingdoms and the personalities that rule over them, which is what I’ve been waiting for in this series. And actually it works really well at the end when all these political threads are tied together.

The ending is really what makes this book, and it’s a full-circle type of ending that makes the conclusion of this episode of Feyre’s life pleasingly satisfactory. I’ve just got a bit of foreboding that the next episode, which we’ve been promised at the end of this book despite it being a nice conclusion, will be a happy-not-so-happy family episode. I’m so not into that, but we’ll have to wait and see. Knowing Sarah, she’ll still have me wanting more, even if it is filled with post-hero bratty children!

MCM Comic Con Swag

Well, I was a very happy bunny to spend my recent birthday at the MCM Comic Con in London. Geek heaven! I had such a good time amongst my clan. It’s just about the only time I can mingle in a huge crowd of people and my social anxiety doesn’t flare up to ruin everything. That’s probably down to the fact that I go in costume, so I can be someone else for the day. This year I went as a female witcher, as The Witcher 3 is one of the best games I’ve played recently. Absolutely love it! I’ve also started reading the books by Andrzej Sapkowski, which I would definitely recommend, even if you have no interest in the games. So here I am in full costume:

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Those contact lenses were a nightmare! They kept rotating around, so the slits were at all angles during the day. It made me look slightly unhinged!

As it was my birthday, I got to bag some swag, which I wanted to share with you. It turned out to be Pokemon themed:

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Snorlax was begging me to bring him home, so he’s now supervising my desk. The bookmarks came from this fantastic stand offering all kinds of artistically rendered gaming characters. I love Eevee because of all the different kinds of evolutions (although I rarely actually have any on my team because their stats aren’t great) and I couldn’t decide which version of Eevee I wanted. So I bought them all! They are now proudly displayed on my bookshelves:

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I’m slightly scared to use them because I don’t want to damage or lose any of them, but I’ve braved it and have deployed Sylveon in A Court of Wings and Ruin, which I’m reading at the moment.

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It’s a book about faeries, so if there are any Pokemon fans out there, you’ll know why I chose Sylveon. You can’t beat a geeky bookmark!

Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

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Title: Shadow and Bone (The Grisha #1)

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Pages: 352

Goodreads link

My rating: star1

The cover image I’ve put on here is the exact cover image of the edition I have, and I have to say I’m sorry Veronica Roth, but I really don’t agree with you. This book is like a lot of things I’ve ever read, but that doesn’t make it a bad book. Much the opposite, in fact.

The plot is a fairly standard fare and a particularly popular one in YA at the moment: girl is a member of a lower class of citizen, then discovers she has powers beyond anything anyone else can wield and is immediately elevated into the world of the higher class citizens to learn to wield said power. Problems ensue.

But the plot is only the lines of a story, and as many theories have postulated, there are only a certain numbers of lines available to human storytellers. What counts is how you colour in those lines, and it is in colouring in that Leigh Bardugo really excels. She has created a rich world filled with the flavour of a mystical Russia, which is rarely seen in western YA. It’s the kind of world that you want to burrow into, and you find yourself snatching onto the details that the author lets you see. The segregation of magical roles (Corporalki, Summoners and Fabrikators) and the internal hierarchy amongst the Grisha is satisfyingly original and makes for an interesting dynamic between the characters.

The characters themselves are strong, although occasionally verging on stereotypical, and the main character shows great potential for becoming something of a role model throughout the series (but that remains to be seen!). For now, I like her naive wisdom and natural modesty. She is very easy to get on with and empathise with. The characters are supported by some strong and engaging writing that maintains a fantastic pace throughout. At no point was I reluctant to pick the book up and carry on reading. The complexity and higher meaning of the ending is very satisfying. Just when you start to prepare yourself for the disappointment of a very small slice of what could be a very exciting world, the end suddenly opens up the rest of Leigh Bardugo’s creation, which I have seen tantalising glimpses of in the maps of other books.

I love a first book that lets you know that there is so much more to come in the rest of the series. It is engaging in itself but leaves so much more room to grow that it is impossible to refuse the next in the series. I’ve a few more books in my stack to get through first, but I will be suffering from a brain itch that won’t be scratched until I pick up Seige and Storm.

Review: Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

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Title: Snow Like Ashes

Author: Sara Raasch

Pages: 416

Goodreads link

My rating: star1

Now, I really didn’t want to kick of my book reviewing career with a lemon, but, alas, Snow Like Ashes was the last book I read. And I’m sorry to say that this is one of the most lemony lemons I have squeezed in a long time. It took me about three months to finish Snow Like Ashes, which shows how often I was reading in those three months, and when I did manage to steel myself for a squeezing session I was almost convinced on every occasion to do the unthinkable and not finish a book. In fact, the only thing that prevented such a travesty was my deep hatred of unfinished stories.

I think the first sign of an imminent disappointment was that I had mapped out the entire course of the plot by the end of chapter two. A more obvious “twist” you cannot conceive. Despite this, I pushed on through thinking the hype around this book had to pertain to some aspect, but in fact I found Snow Like Ashes to be lacking in every aspect. The plot was profoundly predictable, the main character was unlikeable, the other characters were cliché and superficial, the world building was derivative and delivered in fact dumps, and the writing was utterly unchallenging. It says that the author wrote this story when she was 12 and it certainly reads like it was written by a 12-year-old.

It really grates when YA is patronising, like young adults are somehow literarily challenged and need to be written down to. Twaddle. I struggled to keep in mind that the main character was 17 when her voice was that of a pre-teen. The love triangle, which seems so lamentably requisite for YA novels these days, is cringingly written out with all the subtlety of a saucepan to the face and without anywhere near enough depth as to prompt me to actually like either of the interested parties. Possibly the worst characterisation of all, however, is the bad guys. Not only are they flagrant stereotypes, but I struggled to feel anything towards them other than vague disinterest. So the main character hates and despises them and feels fear at the mere mention of them. So what? Without actually experiencing any of their evil deeds myself, I can’t possibly form the same judgement of them. As far as I can tell, the bad guys are just fools to be casually outwitted by the main character and no more harmful than that. It doesn’t make for a gripping read. It’s just lazy writing. There are no attempts to engage emotionally with the reader, or if there are then I couldn’t find them. I think the overwhelming emotion I experienced while reading this book was a heavy dose of meh.

So as you may have guessed, I didn’t like it. I hate to say this but I bought it because the cover is extremely alluring and perhaps the only aspect of any merit. Yes, yes, that makes me an idiot, but sometimes I just like having beautiful things on my shelves. Not that Snow Like Ashes will be spending much time on there. If I wasn’t so averse to the destruction of books I would shred it for compost, but as I am I will charity shop it with a spoonful of guilt knowing that some other poor reader will have to endure it.

I promise I am not going to disparage every book I read on here. It is, thankfully, very rare for me to read a book devoid of distinction, but it will always be astonishing to me that literary tripe such as this slips through the editorial net and actually ends up asking us to pay good money for it. This, of course, is my own opinion as I can see from other reviews that many people found great delight amongst the pages of Snow Like Ashes. Not I, however. I may be in the minority, but I like something a little more challenging and original.

Virtually Squamish

I have a confession to make. Even though Hidden Dawn is set almost entirely in the BC adventure town of Squamish, I’ve never actually been there. In fact, I’ve never even been to British Columbia or Canada or anywhere in the Americas. It is only through the marvels of Google, local interest websites and travel guides that this book was possible.

I have to say that even though I’ve never been to Squamish, it feels like my home from home. Through the World Wide Web I have walked down the streets of Sky’s new town, I’ve checked out the shops and gazed longingly at the beautiful views. So, I’ve put together a few sights with the help of the lovely Google for those of you who are also unfortunate enough not to have seen this beautiful part of the world first hand.

Here is Squamish on the map. It’s about an hour’s drive north of Vancouver and sits at the northern end of Howe Sound.

It is surrounded by provincial parks and mountains so it’s perfectly situated for outdoor pursuits and exploration. Here’s a rather smashing view from a hillside overlooking the town. Imagine waking up to that every day!

Sky spends a lot of her time trekking through the lush BC forest, which is predominantly coniferous but constitutes some of the most ecologically diverse forests in Canada, ranging from temperate rainforests to alpine meadows. BC also has the greatest biological diversity in Canada with more than half of the country’s wildlife making their homes there. In my book, that makes it a pretty wonderful place. With 62% of BC covered in forest the province is fairly rich in green gold but fortunately forestry is highly sustainable. For every tree that is cut down an average of three seedlings are planted, which has kept CO2 levels in the province at those of 1980 despite a significant increase in energy consumption and pulp/paper production. Go BC! In addition, 15% of forests are in protected areas and only 24% is available for harvesting so the province will stay this green for the foreseeable future. You can find all these facts and more at the Council of Forest Industries website.

Some of the action in Hidden Dawn takes place at Howe Sound Secondary School whose facade has become almost iconic to me now. It has a lovely blue/green roof, epic views and a fairly spectacular entrance.

Around the back you can see the car park where Dawn decided to cause havoc and the little trail leading off to the left where Sky and Connor pedalled like mad to draw the elk away. That was a fun scene to write!

The shopping precinct also features with Connor’s dad’s shop the very useful supplier of camping equipment and bear scarers. And, of course, this was the setting of Sky’s first fateful encounter with the poachers. Boo hiss!

Of course, the story does not take place exclusively in Squamish. Vancouver plays quite a big role and especially the school trip to the Museum of Vancouver. Here is the entrance in all its crabby, space-shippy glory. If I ever do get to go to Vancouver, I would spend an awful lot of time here!

Last, and absolutely not least, I wanted to show you a bit of Vancouver Island, the home of the Kwakwaka’wakw (and, yes, I do love saying that word as often as possible. It is delicious to pronounce!). Here is the view from Shushartie, which is around about the area Sky and Connor visit to test Sky’s abilities. This kind of country is absolutely threaded through my bones, it’s where my heart yearns to be. Dense, lush forest, serene water and rocky shores. I can practically smell the sea, the sky and the forest from here.

One day. One day.

An INFJ Writer: the cons

So, last time I looked into the pros of being an INFJ writer, how various aspects of the INFJ personality can contribute to the writing process. Well, this time I’m going to dig around in the more challenging aspects of the INFJ personality and ponder how these aspects affect my writing, both negatively and positively.

1) Sensitive

Yes, yes, I know. Being sensitive is usually seen as a positive trait but there’s sensitive and then there’s INFJ sensitive. We have all the feels all the time and are highly sensitive to the world. Whereas most people’s brains filter out a lot of sensory input, INFJs suck it all in and then overthink everything to the nth degree. We are constantly brewing about the world. It causes us a lot of trouble. Expect a very strong reaction if you criticise an INFJ, not because they don’t receive criticism but because they over-receive it. Even the slightest, most well meant comment can have a huge impact on us and haunt us not just for days but for years. So being an author is not only an ideal job for an INFJ but also a pretty dangerous one. By putting our work out there we are opening ourselves up to unlimited criticism that can do some serious damage to our sensitive minds. I know it took me years to come to terms with exposing myself to potential emotional landmines and I think I will always live in fear of them. A thick skin does not reside in the armoury of an INFJ.

That being said, there is a positive side to this extreme sensitivity. It allows us to perceive the world to a greater depth than many others. We see and understand things that perhaps others miss: nuances in expression, subtle body language, hidden intentions betrayed in the slightest movement or comment. We read people like books. You can’t lie to an INFJ. You can’t deceive us. We know exactly who you are. And this all gets translated into writing: into the characters we shape, into the world we create, into the stories we narrate. I like to write genuinely, perceptively, sensitively. When you read my books, you are reading me and my interpretations and translations. It may be fiction, it may be fantasy, but it’s always real.

2) Extremely private

Yikes. Yeah, a lot of good people have been left perplexed at how little of myself I will reveal to them. It takes years, and I mean years, for me to trust anyone enough to disclose what lies beyond the iron wall of my life. And, to be honest, I’ve no idea why. I’m just an intensely private person. I simply don’t want other people, even those I consider to be my friends, knowing everything about me. Perhaps I don’t want to give them ammunition to judge and criticise me but then if you are my friend, then you are not the kind of person to do that because I filter out the deceivers and negative forces. It’s weird. I don’t understand it.

But, this was a huge influence for my main character, Sky. She also has an iron wall around her mind that repels anyone who tries to get in without an invitation. Unlike me, Sky constructed her wall in response to extreme emotional trauma but it’s absolutely written from the heart; it is part of the infrastructure of my mind. I’m horribly familiar with mental protection, so Sky and I very much see eye to eye.

3) Perfectionistic

Mmmm. This is the one that everyone gives in their job interview when they’ve been asked to identify a weakness. It’s a weakness that, handily, will prove very beneficial to the company. Ha! But if anyone out there is a perfectionist you will know just how frustrating everything you do in life can be. This is because perfection can only be achieved within a frame of imperfection. You are striving for an unobtainable ideal which means everything you do is just not good enough. I, personally, have been plagued by this phrase my entire life: not good enough. I am forever falling short of my expectations, which means I don’t respect my achievements all that much and give overwhelming precedence in my mind to my failures. They are far more important to me. On top of this, I am never satisfied. I run under the constant impression that there’s a better option out there, which means I am always looking to an unfulfilled future rather than recognising the merits of the present. So, you can imagine how healthy my thinking patterns are. I am a weapon of self destruction.

This has a huge impact on my writing as I am always striving for a better way: a better way to express something, a better way to present a character, a better way to develop a scene. Does this make my writing perfect? Well, writing perfection can only be achieved within the imperfect frame of your writing ability and this is different for everybody. So the answer is yes and no. It’s about writing the best you can, doing something to the best of your ability. That’s how we can all achieve perfection within the frame of our own imperfection. Welcome to the human race.

4) Always need to have a cause

Gah! Yes, this is why chores and mundane tasks can push me to within an inch of my sanity. If I’m not doing something to change the world then there’s no point in doing anything! Okay, that’s probably taking it to the extreme. I have been known to push the vacuum around and even go food shopping but such activities are not in any way fulfilling to me. Their mundanity drains me and makes me restless, unless, of course, they are contributing to a greater cause. INFJs are like knights errant, constantly wandering the Earth in search of chivalric adventure. Whatever we believe in, whatever we are passionate about, we pursue it to the nth degree.

This definitely shows itself in my writing and forms one of the solid bases for my love of stories. Stories are where we INFJs can live out causes that may take much longer or be impossible to do so in real life. They give us short term relief for our long term frustrations. Making my own story is therefore very satisfying and contributes towards my greater cause of becoming an author. More than that, I am hyper focused on the cause of my story. It’s something I’m very passionate about and I hope that passion leaks through to the reader. Not in a preachy way, which I strive to avoid, but in a more subtle way as the reader lives the story from beginning to end.

5) Can burn out easily

All this sensitivity, protection of privacy, lack of patience, passion and dissatisfaction can very easily lead to the depletion of mental energy. Constantly striving for an ideal means we are often frustrated by the real and you may know just how exhausting that can be. Sometimes I need to retreat from the world for long periods of time. If I could I would be a total recluse but that’s not always practical!

This recovery time, however, is when I do my best writing. It’s when I’m dwelling over the world and within myself and can lead to new insights and better understanding. I’m fortunate enough to have people around me who understand the burning out process and my need for lengthy periods of introversion. It’s not you it’s me, kind of thing. I don’t enjoy burning out but I have learnt to make the best of it and doing something creative and productive can help to restore me again.

So there you have it! Now you know what it’s like to be an INFJ writer. It can be tough; the world can be very overwhelming and frustrating but I think that helps us to write with sensitivity and insight. At least, that’s what I hope I’ve done! But if I haven’t, please criticise carefully 🙂

An INFJ Writer: the pros

About a year ago I was going through a bad patch with myself. It wasn’t the first time I’ve fallen out with myself; I am often frustrated with my own mind, the way it works and the way it’s very proficient at obstructing my contentment. I just find life very overwhelming and the amount of information I receive too great to process. It was at this point that a good friend of mine sent me a link to a personality test based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. And suddenly it all made sense! I came out as INFJ, “the Advocate”, and it fits my personality exactly, the pros and the cons. INFJs want to help others to help themselves, getting to the heart of issues, and are very determined in their altruistic quests. Think Jon Snow, Aragorn and Aramis.

I’m 98% introverted, which I would say is very accurate as I struggle with all social interaction. It’s not that I’m antisocial, it’s just that socialising tires me out, especially smalltalk. Talk to me about the deeper meanings of life and I’ll natter on for hours quite happily but ask me what I do for a living and all my internal organs groan, chief of all my brain.

Being an INFJ is all well and good, and I’m glad that it’s a very rare personality type because it can make life very uphill at times, but on top of that I’m also a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). This means that I process and react to external stimuli to a greater extent than the average person. The consequence of this is that I need to spend a lot of time in a controlled environment, such as my home and particularly my geek den, in order to recharge my emotional batteries.

This makes me sound like a proper dysfunctional and socially handicapped individual, right? Not quite true. I have friends, a few very close people who I trust and confide in, I have a partner of ten years and I do go out and engage with the world. I just have to recharge in my den in between interactions. But that’s okay: some people are dolphins, some people are bears, but it takes many species to make an ecosystem.

So, what kind of writer does all this make? For now, I’ll talk about the pros of being an INFJ writer.

1) Creative

Well, this is a big plus for a writer, right? INFJs are super compassionate and highly imaginative which makes both for adept problem solving and also engaging storytelling. Being compassionate means that I am always sympathising, if not empathising, with my characters and their choices. I make that sound like I, as the author, am not making their decisions for them but really I’m not. I don’t write prescriptively with tight constraints on each scene but instead let the characters guide the flow of the story, putting myself in their position and imagining what they might say or do. It can actually make storytelling quite easy by letting the characters guide me.

2) Insightful

Since I was first aware of myself I have always had a spooky ability to suss people out from the moment I meet them. I can tell instantly whether a person is genuine and trustworthy or if I should be on my guard. It makes me a salesperson’s nightmare customer! INFJs are great at seeing the connections between people and events, which is quite handy when putting together a story. It means I can look both at the bigger picture and the relevance of the scene I’m currently working on. There are many levels of meaning in The Tenants of Earth and parallels to historical events. Are the poachers just poachers or do they represent something more? It’s up to your interpretation!

3) Inspiring and convincing

If nothing else, I hope I am this in my writing. INFJs are fluid and inspiring in their writing and appeal to the idealist in their audience and I would say this is what I hope to achieve. I am not an idealist myself, I know too much about the world to be that, but I think in stories it is much safer for us to indulge our inner idealist. To see the world as we’d like to see it: fraught with challenges that our protagonist eventually overcomes to find a greater meaning to their existence.

4) Decisive

Okay, if you talk to anyone I know they will tell you I am anything but decisive. But that’s not because I don’t know what I want, it’s becuase I am afraid of offending or upsetting someone in the process of achieving my goal. So really it’s diplomatic indecision not real internal ambivalence. In what I believe and what I want I am utterly convicted, which means I know the ending of the story long before I determine the beginning. I am goal-oriented in my writing. I think this helps to cut out the waffling and the meandering, which is particularly useful in writing YA fiction. There’s a momentum in INFJ writing because we are driven to see an idea through to the end.

5) Determined and passionate

Which leads nicely into this little pro. I write about what I’m passionate about because what’s the point in doing otherwise? In The Tenants of Earth you’ll notice some key themes such as conservation, equality, unconditional friendship and inner turmoil. These are all subjects I am very passionate about and I cannot help but be convicted in my writing about them. That’s not to say the books are preachy. In fact I’ve worked hard to keep my own voice to a minimum but my characters carry my passions with them as they navigate my story.

6) Altruistic

Which again leads nicely into this last pro. I write not to advance myself but to advance an idea that I think is important. The Tenants of Earth addresses a lot of current issues that are making the world a poorer place. We are losing our environment, our heritage and our connection to nature and we are growing to fear diversity which, in my opinion, is what makes us strong. It’s what puts the wealth into our species – the real wealth, not the material kind. One of my favourite things is to walk amongst old trees and feel distant from the hustle and overwhelming pressure of the modern world. For me as an HSP, being among nature is where I find solace because I don’t feel overwhelmed there. I feel connected and like I understand my surroundings. It’s why I get along with animals much better than humans. And I hope that even just a little of this idea seeps through to my readers because it’s so important that we keep and treasure our green spaces. Not just for my sake but for all of us who could do with rediscovering our connection to the earth and the relevance of our lives.

That’s all for now. Next time I’ll be looking at the cons of being an INFJ writer. Eek!

If you want to take the personality test (and I highly recommend you do as it enabled me to come to terms with myself), you can find it at: www.16personalities.com

You can read more about INFJs here: www.16personalities.com/infj-personality

Hidden Dawn is on preorder!

Well, this is surreal. I can see my book on actual retailers where people can actually buy it! I never thought I’d see that.

Official publication date is 1st January 2017. I decided to publish it in 2017 seeing as 2016 was such a poor year for the world. I don’t want to risk the 2016 Curse! New year new start and all that.

Hidden Dawn can now be preordered globally on Apple iBooks, Google Play, Kobo and B&N. It will be available on all these retailers plus Amazon on 1st January 2017. Exciting!

I’ve used a company called Pronoun to distribute my ebook. They are relatively new but I like their philosophy: author-oriented publishing. It’s completely free to distribute your ebooks with them and best of all you get to keep 100% of your net earnings from retailers. They don’t take a cut like most other distributors. Their interface is wonderfully simply and is geared towards intelligently placing yourself amongst your competition with stats on search terms, categories and pricing, etc. So far so impressed. They seem to be very ambitious for the future too so I’m excited about new features yet to come.

Pronoun also create a lovely book page for you with buttons to the five top retailers where they distribute your ebook. You can see mine at the link below where there’s also a link for more information about Pronoun.

books.pronoun.com/hidden-dawn/