Book Review: O Pioneers!

I have to talk about ‘O Pioneers’, or I am going to go crazy. Let me rephrase that. I already have talked about this book to anyone who would listen, now I need to again or I am going to go crazy. Yep. It was that kind of book. I mean, how could you not talk about a book that has these kinds of quotes?

‘People have to snatch at happiness when they can, in this world. It is always easier to lose that to find.’

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O Pioneers! (1913) was Willa Cather’s first great novel, and to many it remains her unchallenged masterpiece. (I think I like it better than ‘My Antonia’, and I really liked that book) No other work of fiction so faithfully conveys both the sharp physical realities (to be honest, there are not that many of these harsh realities when you get past the first couple chapters.) and the mythic sweep of the transformation of the American frontier—and the transformation of the people who settled it. Cather’s heroine is Alexandra Bergson, who arrives on the wind-blasted prairie of Hanover, Nebraska, as a girl and grows up to make it a prosperous farm. But this archetypal success story is darkened by loss, and Alexandra’s devotion to the land may come at the cost of love itself. (have you read the book? Obviously not, because her cost was not love, not really anyway)

At once a sophisticated pastoral and a prototype for later feminist novels,
(Yeah, right.) O Pioneers! is a work in which triumph is inextricably enmeshed with tragedy, a story of people who do not claim a land so much as they submit to it and, in the process, become greater than they were.

Don’t you love how there is an exclamation mark in the title? It makes the book sound so cheerful and upbeat. To that I say Ha! No no. It was not a tear jerker. But it wasn’t a enjoyable lark through the countryside either.

What I first noticed about this book was how I wanted to write everything. Every quote, every line. I wanted all of it saved forever it my notebook. But if I did that, I would just be copying the whole book word for word, and I already have the book so… The writing was beautiful, no, it was achingly gorgeous. Honestly, I would have read the whole book just for the prose alone.

But the prose wasn’t the only thing worth reading in this book. There were also characters.

This is the book that I want to shove underneath all writers noses and say, ‘This is how you write realistic characters.’

Willa Cather created characters underneath her pen that almost jumped off of the page. I could see them move and breath in my minds eye. Their strengths, weaknesses, foibles and pet peeves. They were all there for the world to see. What I think made each and every character so imminently real was their weaknesses.

While I can not read the authors mind, it seemed to me that Willa Cather did not set out to make you like her characters. She seemed to care less really. It was more like she was focusing on showing you her characters in all of their glorious mistakes. Did it matter that they were all people with blind spots and foibles? No, it didn’t. Despite every failing, I loved them anyway.

The character that the entire story is woven around is Alexandra Bergson. She inherits the farm from her father because he knows that she can run it better than her brothers. And she does. Her farm becomes the most well off in the entire county. She is hard working, diligent, cool headed, and smart. But in the novel what characterizes her most is her love for the land. She loves this Nebraska land that is so hard to farm, and after a while, you wonder if the land knows it, and so blesses her in return. She loves it, and so it loves her.

The other characters in this novel act out a play of love and loss on the backdrop of her steadfastness. She has one love, the land, and one goal, to live on the land. The rest are action to her stillness, the passion to her calmness.

Plot wise, I would not recommend this book to anyone who must have an action plot where things are happening all the time. For one thing, this small book reaches through decades of living to tell its story. For another thing, there is much introspection allowed to the characters. Things happen, and sometimes things happen quickly, but there is always ample time for the characters to think about, and react to, that particular action.

Inside the book events build and become more intense, everything is straining at the seams, until the world snaps in a single moment, and everyone is left stunned.

I will let you read the book to figure out what that event is *evil laugh*

On the whole, I would recommend this book to anyone who liked ‘My Antonia’, and to those who enjoy slower stories with rich characters. Though I would hesitate to recommend to anyone younger than thirteen, because while nothing is explicit, a couple of the things the book deals with are not for the young.

Enjoy!

Shaina Merrick

Favorite Reads of 2019

Fine. Since everyone else is doing it, I will to.

I have been keeping track of what I read, and how much I liked it, since I was… In Middle School? And all of those lists are around here somewhere. Heh. Thankfully, the list for this year is not in the depths of some journal, and easy to get to and finally organized according to month and year. (don’t ask)

I read a bunch of good books this year, so this list is not going to be short. Sorry not sorry.

The Chestnut King by N. D. Wilson

The Chestnut King (100 Cupboards, #3)

The only reason the rest of the 100 cupboards series isn’t on here is because I didn’t read them in 2019, and I had to cut myself off somewhere. This was the finale to end all finales. The perfect wrap up to the series, and a scene at the end that left me crying happy tears. You must read this series. I don’t think I can put into words how much I love all of these characters and the relationships between them. Also, this series is the reason I now like baseball. Thanks Henry.

A Thousand Perfect Notes by C. G. Drews

A Thousand Perfect Notes

This, this is the book that I will fangirl over with anyone, anywhere. I was not expecting this book to bowl me over, but it did. Every scene left an ache in my heart, every word made me fall in love with the main character even more. Beck was so, so wonderful, all I wanted to do was hug him and give him a cookie. Also, there was piano. My other great love in life. This book combined my two favorite things. The way the author explained playing piano was something I knew. This was an experience I could share with Beck because I have done that. Played the song, had the nerves, hoped the soul I was bleeding over the keys would be liked by others. So yeah. It was great.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater

The Scorpio Races

I will shove this book at almost everyone in existence. I will admit, I avoided it for years because it seemed to be a combination of things I didn’t like. Ha! I was wrong, and I have never been so happy about it in my life. Scorpio Races has the most beautiful prose, and her way of describing left me in awe. All I wanted was to learn how to write like that. Well, I also wanted to figure out what happened next. But ya know, priorities.

Romanov by Nadine Brandes

Romanov

I know I have done a review on this book somewhere on this blog. But I am too lazy to look it up and link to it. Anyway. This is one of the few historical fiction I read this year, and it was also a fantasy. Two of my favorite genres! What I really loved about this book was the way she handled the Romanov family itself. I loved the relationships between them all, and how they were compassionate even in the midst of cruelty. The father showed forgiveness in the face of men who hated him, and even though in the terms of the world he ‘failed’. I think the story showed how such acts of compassion and forgiveness change people, and the world. Go read it! And bring a box of tissues with you.

Fireborne by Rosaria Munda

Fireborne (The Aurelian Cycle, #1)

Enter tears, chills of awe, and a stupid grin. I don’t think my heart will ever recover from the emotions of this book. Up and down, and down some more, and then back up we went as I followed the characters around. I literally stopped in the middle of an intense scene and started trying to figure out why I was feeling so much emotion. (yay logic) I might have figured it out. Sorta. I couldn’t believe all the things this book covered when I stepped back and looked at it. Love, friendship, politics, family, this book covers it all. Yet never feels overly full or preachy or that things are going at a breakneck pace. I adored it.

Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

Taran Wanderer (The Chronicles of Prydain, #4)

The best word I would give this book is melancholy. The whole book was melancholy. But I loved it. Every melancholic word of it. Somehow, Taran’s journey became a rippled reflection of mine this year. Trying different things and hoping that one of them will work out. Only to realize that the one skill I ache to have may not be within my grasp at all. Can we discuss the ending for a moment? Where everything is answered and yet nothing is at all? There is inward screaming right now. I wish more books could pull off that kind of ending.

The High King by Lloyd Alexander

The High King (The Chronicles of Prydain, #5)

Yes, I am allowed to have a two books by the same author, and both in the same series, in my list. It’s my blog. Anyway, what would a list of 2019 favorites be without the last/best book of the series that made me rethink everything I thought I knew about fantasy? It wouldn’t be a list, that’s what! This book perfectly wrapped up every loose end in the whole entire series, yet still reminding you that there are more adventures to come. Every question was answered, yet there were still questions. But good questions, the ones that make you think about the book long after it has finished. The characters all came to their poetic justice, though mercy was shown to those who didn’t deserve it, yet you were glad they got it anyway. I better stop while I am ahead.

There you have it folks! A by no means complete list of my favorite reads of 2019! What did you read, and love, this year?

Shaina Merrick

Know the Novel Linkup: Part Two

This is the story of how I died. Also the story of how I can’t remember much about November except the fact that I have written so, many, words. As of at this moment I am at 30k. Whoo! Not totally sure how I made it, but, hey I’m here so why not have some fun.

Christine has posted the next part of her Know the Novel Link up! You should totally join if you are doing Nano, or if you have a WIP you want to showcase! Go check out the details here!

And now for…

Within Valai

1. How’s the writing going overall?

Bwahaha! You mean how the story is actually going? Or how I am feeling about it? Cause… There have been a few days where I wanted to throw my story out the window and never write again!

Confession, I hate writing beginnings. It isn’t the first line that bothers me so much as the first 20 pages. Yup. Writing those few twenty is like pulling teeth. It is awful and it happens every. Single. Nano. I actually ended up completely stopping one day and going to another project altogether because I hated my story so much.

But I did come back. I did make it through those first twenty pages, and I am enjoying my story again! I am suspiciously thinking that my main problem was that I started my story in the wrong place. Namely way too early. Because now that things are actually happening it is fun!

So, I guess overall it has been good, and I like where the story is going so far.

2. What’s been the most fun aspect about writing this novel so far?

Terrence and Kerina! Their interactions are the absolute best. My favorite scenes are when the two of them are together. I have to work really hard to make sure that my whole book is not just the two of them talking…

Their relationship has begun to take on a life of its own. AND I LOVE IT! It isn’t quite what I expected, but it is more than I had hoped. Terrence loves to spend time with her, but while Kerina likes his company, she also spends every moment terrified that he will learn her terrible secrets. So all the subtext behind what they say and the hidden emotions are just so fun! And their banter, and the way Kerina is like the only person able to make him laugh and… Yeah, I should move on now.

3. What do you think of your characters at this point? Who’s your favorite to write about?

Kerina is finally becoming a regular person! Yay!!! Ever since I started this story sooo many years ago, Kerina has always been my trouble child. I found it hard to latch onto her motivations, her emotions, and basically everything about her. She just always felt so flat. And I couldn’t find a way to bring her to life. Now, that is not to say that I have finally found the perfect piece that totally brings her to life, she is still a little flat and totally angsty and girl would you please lighten up?! But it is getting there. She feels more like a real character than she ever has, and I might actually like her now!

Terrence is a bit different than I expected him to be. A little less preoccupied with stuff and more focused on the here and now. I had created him to be a bit more introspective, but he refuses to spend hours thinking about stuff. Soooo. Yeah. He is still my favorite though! I love spending time in his head, and his chapters are always waaay longer than Kerina’s. (oops.) He is so much easier for me to write. I dunno, the words just flow easier. He has also become more fleshed out in this draft, and is more like a living breathing person than this weird ink and paper doll.

4. Has your novel surprised you in any way?

Considering how much planning I have done for this, one would think that nothing would catch me by surprise. Well. I still was.

They have all been little things though. Little nuances of characters here and there are different then the way I expected them to be (looking at you Kerina). My first plot point may have ended up being something different, and an event I thought would be a huge deal ended up not being such a big deal after all. Ya know, normal writer problems.

5. Have you come across any problem areas?

You mean other than wacky characters, plot holes, and terribly slow beginnings? Um. I am beginning to realize that some of my side characters, and all of my side plots, and not as fleshed out as they should be this far along in my novel. As in they have barely made an appearance. Too many characters, not enough brain space.

I am going to try to give my characters some more screen time, esp. the ones who come more into play later. But I have a feeling that all of those are going to have to be fixed during the editing stage. (sorry future self) Ah well, Nano drafts are supposed to be messy, right?

6. What’s been your biggest victory with writing this novel at this point?

Kerina is not a paper doll! After so long with struggling to find this character, I love that I have begun to see into her character. Though less bubbly than I imagined her, she has become more convoluted and interesting, while still keeping to a more artistic personality.

She is less of a puzzle to me than she was before I started. If that is the only thing that happens during Nano, those thousands of words will be worth it.

7. If you were transported into your novel and became any one of the characters, which one do you think you’d be? Would you take any different actions than they have?

I would be Kerina. Hands down. Though I wouldn’t say we are exactly alike. She is the only girl in the novel so… Yeah. (I am still trying to decide if that is a problem) We also share a rather important trait. We both worry waaay too much. Worry about what other think of us for the most part. She is terrified that if anyone else finds out who and what she is they will hate her. So she has built up a mask to show to the world, hoping that they will accept her.

If I was her, I think I would worry less and do more. But maybe I am just kidding myself and I would still worry too much.

8. Give us the first sentence or paragraph then 2 (or 3!) more favorite snippets!

Phooey. Consider yourselves lucky because I never share my unedited stuff. *deep breath* Here we go! (please excuse any weird grammar, I try but…)

‘If they were lost, then Terrence had failed. Again. Or he was reading the map spread out on the table in front of him wrong. He glanced at Colen and Wizard Gyre. If either of them were confused, it wasn’t showing on their faces. Maybe the squiggles and lines made sense to them, while he was wracking his brain trying to remember map class all those years ago. Was that one of the ones he had skipped?’

‘Terrence scrambled up the hill that guarded the end of the valley. The place where mountains made way for the plains. He couldn’t reach the peak fast enough. The rest of his men were far behind, their steps slowing as they reached the extent of their territory. The moment familiarity ended and the unknown began.

A few more steps. He could see his goal. Stumbling over a rock, Terrence reached the summit. There it was. The sight he had been dreaming of. Stretched out before him was the plains of Sunlight. Nothing but grass reaching out towards the horizon. The horizon. The place sky reached down to touch the land, its blue arc glorious to see.

An unfelt wind swept over the prairie, bending the tall grass to show their golden sides to the sunlight. Sunshine from above meeting sunshine from below.

He sighed, this was home.’

‘“When was the last time you saw the plains?” Kerina asked.

“A week after Torroc came to power,” Terrence replied. He had entered the mountains for the first time with Gyre as a mourning boy who dreamed every night of his sister and of flames. Only the smallest hope of coming back kept him going.

Now he was leaving with a battalion of men at his back, and a way to take back his country. Something he had barely hoped for all those years ago.’

9. Share an interesting tidbit about the writing process so far! (For example: Have you made any hilarious typos? Derailed from your outline? Killed off a character? Changed projects entirely? Anything you want to share!)

I have not actually killed off a character as of yet. I have had a bad habit of that lately, so I am very proud of myself!

So, I think I mentioned earlier that I took a day off because I couldn’t stand the sight of my story anymore. Well, during that day off I went a finished a novella that I have been writing for months. I had tried to finish it before Nano, but it hadn’t worked out. I took that day to finish my novella. Finishing that gave me the momentum I needed to get back into Valai and chop half a chapter so that I could get back to the story I wanted to write. Let me just say that there were many, many words written in those two days.

‘Valai’ isn’t actually the title of my story. It doesn’t have one. But since I needed to call it something I decided to give the name of the country the book is set in to the novel. Because to be perfectly honest, the only thing I hate more than beginnings is having to title things. So until further notice, my story is called Valai.

10. Take us on a tour of what a normal writing day for this novel looks like. Where do you write? What time of day? Alone or with others? Is a lot of coffee (or some other drink) consumed? Do you light candles? Play music? Get distracted by social media (*cough, cough*)? Tell all!

I work every morning from 8:00 to 1:30 so needless to say, I don’t write in the mornings. I try to write as soon as I can in the afternoons. But lunch comes first. Then a couple life things like do laundry or something like that. So often I don’t get started until 4ish. (awful I know) I also have to work myself up to a writing session so sometimes I procrastinate a little too much.

I will write for a while, have dinner, then sit down and write some more! I try to finish writing by about 9:00, 9:30. Well, I tend to run out of ideas by then and am ready to wrap up so I can go to bed. Like I said, I work in the mornings so a good nights sleep is really helpful!

I have my water bottle nearby and music going most of the time. Though I might try writing without music today, because sometimes I get more done if I don’t have that distraction. Other than that… I write alone, with my sister, I write at the dining room table, on the couch, on my bed, wherever the mood strikes me that day! I will say that some of the best writing times have come at the dining room table. (don’t ask why I don’t know)

Phew! That was more than you probably wanted to know about my trial and tribulations while trying to write 50,000 words in a month. Unfortunately, I will not be finished with this novel by then. It has decided to turn into a monstrosity that will most likely be around 100k by the time it is finally done. (somebody help me)

How are you all’s Nano’s going? Or if you aren’t doing Nano, how is your lovely stress free November going? 🙂

Shaina Merrick

Book Review: Romanov

I love history, I love books, so when someone decides to write a historical fiction, I grumble under my breath and roll my eyes. My mother lovingly calls me a history snob. Usually with a laugh, because it is right after me ranting about how this movie or that book got some history wrong. I really hate it when books get history wrong. I mean, a detail here or there isn’t so bad, but most of the time authors take the general idea of the era and then do whatever they want. Ugh.

You are probably expecting this to be a long rant on how much I hated this book. Wrong!

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The history books say I died.

They don’t know the half of it.

Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. (might be?!? It is the only thing giving them hope at the moment!) But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them, and he’s hunted Romanov before.

Nastya’s only chances of saving herself and her family are to either release the spell and deal with the consequences, or enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik (heh, later on anyway. At first though? Bolshevik through and through). Nastya has only dabbled in magic, but it doesn’t frighten her half as much as her growing attraction to Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her (one of my favorite romantic arcs ever).

That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad . . . and he’s on the other.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my opinions on ‘Romanov’ by Nadine Brandes.

I loved it. Review over.

Or not. Because I can’t help myself, and because this is such a lovely book.

For one thing, Nadine Brandes actually did her research! Don’t laugh. You would be surprised how many authors don’t research. And it shows. She, on the other hand, wrote a book that was at the same time fantasy and true to history. It was fantastic. I loved how rich in detail the book was. Everything from the setting down to their clothes had the perfect details. I knew how worn their clothes were, and what the apartments looked like, and she never had to bore me with a long page of description.

It was those details that showed the era and climate the characters lived in far more than the date and place.

That, writers, is why you research.

It can be tricky to write any historical novel, especially one that deals with such high profile people as the Romanov family. Yet once again, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of research Nadine Brandes did. I felt like I knew these people. I felt closer to them that I would have if I had picked up a biography (and believe me, I had). Yet I knew the family had been portrayed correctly. There was no let down later when I realized that she had mussed with peoples personalities and beliefs. Yes, the story was fictional and some of the scenarios. But she had drawn from real life people and events, and did those people and events justice.

I think my favorite part of the book was the characters. Each and every character captured my attention and held it. I miss those people and I have never even met them! Oh, the woes of a bookworm.

Nastya has three sisters, and each one of them has an integral part to the story. Far from being nameless backdrops to her own story, their lives and stories intertwine and intersect with her own. But by far, other than Nastya, my favorite character was her father, Nicholas Romanov. The strong man who loves his enemies and sees the good in people. He is the one who makes friends with his guards, even if his guards hate him. He is the one who strives to understand his captors. Nicholas Romanov is the rock of his family, the one who keeps them all together.

No I didn’t cry. No I am not crying. Be quiet.

I loved Nastya. The precious little person who is trying so hard to help her family. Her struggles with being gracious to her captors and not being bitter tugged at my heart. It was so hard for her to be friendly to those who obviously hated her, but she got up and did it anyway. When anything was hard, Nastya did not back down. She did it. Whether she liked it or not, she did what needed to be done to help her family.

Lets talk plot. This is by no means your typical fantasy novel with epic journies and huge battles with world wide stakes. This is a story about a family put under house arrest. A family trying to come to terms with a country who now hates them. A country they had dedicated their lives to serving.

As a result, the plot does not go swiftly. And I loved it. The long periods of rest and reflection in between the bits of action revealed the characters. You got to know them, their dreams and wishes, and why each one acted the way they did.

This isn’t to say that the book dragged on. Definitely not. Each period of rest was preceded by a tense bit of action where you are holding your breath the whole time hoping against hope that things turn out alright.

That doesn’t even mention the tension through out the whole book as the reader is wondering if the family will escape or not. Will this work? Will it not? Will they ever get out alive!?!

SPOILER ALERT: I have to say that after the Romanov family died, I was a little bit bored. I was mostly reading it for the family, and when they were gone, I felt like quite a bit of the tension leaked out of the story. It did still keep my attention though. SPOILER OVER

The pacing was very well done throughout the book. It didn’t drag at any points, and didn’t rush along helter skelter either. Each point of high stakes and heart pounding chases was tempered by a point of character interaction. Yay for balance!

Oookay, I have to touch on the romance before I leave. When Nastya and Zash meet. He immediately hates her. She is wary of him and frustrated that her attempts to befriend him fall flat. He has preconceived notions of her, she decides very quickly who he is. Obviously, they are both wrong. Here is the thing though. It doesn’t go from enemies to lovers within a chapter. They are friends first. Friends before romance, imagine that!

They talk, laugh, argue, he builds a swing for her, all things that friends do. Well, except maybe for the heated arguments about her parents.

I actually really liked those arguments. Because each of them had a valid point. Neither side had a weak argument. And they both presented them well. You were forced to see both sides of the question they were arguing, and decide for yourself who was right. Because the characters did not necessarily do that for you. Zash and Nastya pushed each other to think, to see another side, and to truly decide for themselves instead of buying into whatever they had been told. And it is out of that friendship that a romance is born.

If you love historical fantasy, and are curious and or fascinated by the Romanov family and the Russian Revolution, definitely pick up this book!

I would recommend it to mid to late teens and above, while nothing is graphic, there are many of tense situations. And one scene with quite a bit of death.

All in all, ‘Romanov’ was one of my favorite reads this year. It most definitely earned its five stars. * * * * *

Shaina Merrick

Book Review: A Foreshadowed Way

Hello hello! The book I have for you today was given to me in exchange for an honest review. May I introduce Jorgan the Sphere by Patrick Lauser. It is a self published novella you can find on Amazon. All opinions on the book are quite mine own.

Jorgan the Sphere: A Foreshadowed Way by [Lauser, Patrick]

It is about a little ball who lived in a flower. (don’t freak out, it is an insanely interesting little ball)

One day he went across the meadow and had many fine adventures. (I wouldn’t call them fine, but they were adventures)

This is not a story for the faint of heart.

A dark fairy-tale, a gray-scale fantasy, a simple, surreal vision. (I have never heard the term gray-scale fantasy before, but it really does fit this little book)

Jorgan the sphere in his hunger follows a shadow into shadows, and seeks an end to his longing in lands full of cruel and indifferent creatures. He meets those who even in the darkest places work goodness, those that are strong, those that are weak, and those that are quite odd. (lots and lots of odd)

From a breathless sky to a bottomless pit he seeks rest, passing through blood and fire, toil and snares, otherworldly wastelands, and the forbidden world of spirits. He finds and loses friends, and makes an enemy that will hunt him through the worlds to draw him lower than death.

Yet in the darkness he finds the shadows of light, and the truth of the hunger that leads him.

First off, let me just say that there had better be a second one. That ending left too many questions for there to be only one! I think there is a second one planned, which makes me feel slightly better. Only slightly.

At first, I thought this book was a picture book. You know, the kind that you find in the children’s section. There were a few words, and then a picture of Jorgan the Sphere. Then a few more words, and another picture. And just as I was thinking how quick and easy this book would be to read, there came a whole page of words. Followed by a few more pages like it. It is not a kids picture book.

Yes, Jorgan is a real sphere. It is not a metaphor. Personally, I tended to think of him as a marble. He rolls through his entire journey and can traverse places others might fear to tread. He also catches things though, and I am thinking it is something like Veggies Tales where things float in the air around them and you just pretend you can see limbs.

I liked the characters, Jorgan was an interesting hero in that he had a very simple goal in the beginning. He is hungry. But that goal, and hunger, morphs into something bigger as the stakes grow larger and larger until they envelop not only him, but his friends and his world.

My favorites were the side characters, the wise hour glass who knows so much but is not allowed to sleep and Sky, the odd bird who always did the opposite of what you expected it to.

Lets talk plot. What started as a simple story about a little sphere builds over the length of the story to a multi faceted story that you begin to realize has a deeper meaning other than a cute story. Okay, cute is the wrong word. But you get the idea.

At first, all Jorgan wants to do is eat. And hey, why not eat that shadow over there? Logical choice. So he follows the shadow into another shadow, a big one. That shadow is hiding a whole world full of strange creatures and people trying to survive.

Creatures that stalk you in the night, birds with maces as heads, and an hour glass that talks, it is all rather odd. Jorgan keeps traveling on, keeps searching for the shadow he followed there.

The search eventually brings him to one of the creepiest characters I have come across yet. The Swan Child. Literally half child and half swan. This particular being claims to heal people, and even be able to raise them from the dead. He does this by sprinkling his own blood on them. Except, there is a catch. And this catch is the death of many.

When Jorgan finally escapes the Swan Child, his search changes. I got the idea that he wanted to go home now, but I was a slight bit confused. I knew he wanted to leave the shadow of the dark side of the sun, but to get there he had to go to the shadow of the dark side of the moon. I think.

He is no longer seeking the shadow, he wants to escape from it. A decision I backed up whole heartedly. Unfortunately, to do so he has to cross even more of this strange and dangerous world.

And that end! Ugh. He gets so close to what he desires, only to realize that he is farther away from it than before he started. And then there is the whole thing about being outside of one shadow, but still inside another… I would have preferred a bit more closure at the end. But I really like tied up endings, where the plot threads are all tied off nicely with nobody missing. It is also a first book so… Other people may like the end. It just was not my favorite.

Also, it would have been nice if a little bit more explanation was offered. There was explanation of what exactly Jorgan was after, and some wise people gave him the way to find it, but much of it was bound up in allegorical riddles, and I am bad at riddles.

However, I did like how the story went from simple to complex in a gradual fashion. There were no sudden jerks or places where the plot dragged. It all went smoothly from one scene to the other with a slow raise in tension and stakes.

What I really liked about this book was the prose. Everything was described beautifully and I especially loved the way he wrote the journey scenes (something I have trouble with). It was almost graceful, the way the prose lilted from sentence to the next. I would pick up the authors next work for the way he wrote alone.

I would hesitate to recommend ‘A Foreshadowed Way’ to any one younger than thirteen because the world that Jorgan passes through is dark. Which you would expect, it being under a shadow and all, buuut. It is definitely a mature book, and I think an older teen and adult would understand the book better and therefore get more enjoyment out of it.

Quick piece of advice, don’t read the part about the Swan Child at night. Just, don’t.

If you like lovely prose and interesting worlds, I would definitely recommend this book. Enjoy your reading!

Shaina Merrick

Writing Contest!

Hello everyone! I hope your creative juices are full, because I am here to announce a contest!

My friend Cassie Hamm has created a desert theme writing prompt contest! Every two days she will post a prompt on her Facebook and Instagram pages. In those two days you have the chance to post a 100 word or less piece of flash fiction (aka a teeny tiny story).

The contest starts tomorrow on the 11th! It goes through the weekend and ends October 16th. The first day she will post a prompt, and then you will have that day and the 12th to think up a little story and post it in the comments! The next prompt will go up on the 13th and you will have till the 14th to come up with a story. And then the last prompt will be posted the 15th and you will have that day and the 16th to come up with one last story. You can choose to use Facebook or Instagram to post your story in the comments, depending on which platform you like best. 😉

The semi illustrious me will be joining the very illustrious Cassie in judging the contests. No, I will not be taking bribes. (unless they are in chocolate of course) This is Cassies third story prompt contest, so this one promises to be a great one!

I hope to see your stories there!

Shaina Merrick

What a surprise, it wasn’t accurate.

Image result for Hamilton Broadway

Who here has listened to Hamilton? Ya know, the Broadway show about one of our Founding Fathers that every one was obsessing over a few years back. Well, I am still obsessing over it. Slightly.

It was the music that inspired me to go find a biography of Hamilton, and one of Hamilton’s wife. Let me just say that her biography was the more interesting of the two. It could have been author differences, style differences, or that she was a more interesting person even though he changed America. It is still a toss up in my mind.

Now, any time Disney does a ‘historical’ movie. You just assume that they messed up something. It seems to be almost against the rules to keep any history they tell (or any story for that matter) intact and without alterations. However, this wasn’t Disney, and I was willing to give the writers of Hamilton a chance.

News flash, they got some things wrong. Surprise surprise.

For the most part, it hasn’t bothered me much. The main events are still correct, the stream of things just the same as it actually happened. There are just a few things off. And of course, I am going to tell you what they are.

For the most part, the ‘errors’ (most likely on purpose for the stories sake) all involve the love story between Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Hamilton.

In the Broadway show they are engaged within two weeks of meeting each other. Two weeks. Seems a little short don’t you think? Even for that era. If you happened to think that, you are correct.

Alexander and Eliza’s courtship was short, especially in comparison to modern standards. A few months to get to know each other before he popped the question.

And that Winters Ball? That was where he proposed, not where they met. In fact, in preparation for that ball Eliza’s sister Angelica and a family friend wasted no effort on making Eliza as beautiful as possible. Basically they were trying to make this match happen. Aren’t sisters wonderful?

Another big piece of the Broadway show is the idea that Angelica liked Alexander first, and may have married him if not for the fact that her beloved sister had not fallen head over heels with him.

While this made for some great tension and my favorite song (‘Satisfied’). It isn’t quite true to how it happened.

Angelica was married and had a toddler son in tow when she met Alexander. Not exactly marriage material. Also, the first time she met Alexander he was courting her sister and completely off limits. Less a love triangle and more a helpful sister who became great friends with her brother-in-law.

Yes, there were wild rumors at the time of who Alexander was actually in love with. But let me remind you that rumors are not necessarily true, and that Alexander had many enemies who would say and do anything to pull him down.

In short, he was in love with one woman. And that woman happened to be his wife. Novel idea, isn’t it?

The last thing I wanted to point out was that his whole scandal with the infamous Mrs. Reynolds may have in fact been a cover up for something else entirely.

The statesmen had come to Alexander to accuse him of misusing his position to make other family members financially well off. His defense? He was having an affair. He proved his story by providing letters. We have never been able to find the original copies of those letters. They were burned, along with any other evidence that may have proved or disproved his story.

There were people at the time who did not believe his story of an affair, and were convinced that he was hiding something else. What they neglected to see was that Eliza Hamilton herself said nothing. Only that she despised the men who seemed obsessed with ruining her husbands reputation.

So either she was a fool, or there was something else going. Yet, how could the wife of a statesman, beloved mother to 8 children, and wise homemaker, be such a fool over love?

When the whole affair became public she neither railed upon her husband nor left him. In fact from the surviving letters we have of the period they seemed as much in love as ever.

History also seems to forget that the Mrs. Reynolds in question denied the affair until her death. In fact she divorced her husband after the affair become public. In tears, she told whoever would listen that she had been wrongly accused. Some people believed her, some did not.

What truly was the Reynolds affair? In truth, we will never know. Everything that could have pointed up to the right answer was burned after Alexanders death. Historians have pondered this question for years, and we are no closer to the answer. Perhaps he did have an affair and was able to patch things up with his wife. Perhaps it was all an elaborate story to hide abuse of his position. We will never know.

Regardless of wrong facts, I would still recommend the show. It’s a Broadway show about one of the most fascinating periods in history. What is there not to love?

Shaina Merrick

Book Review: The Old Man and the Sea

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Welcome to the latest edition of book reviews. Where I talk about a book that broke a bunch of writing rules and still ended up becoming a classic. Without further ado, let me introduce you to ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ by Ernest Hemingway.

The last novel Ernest Hemingway saw published, The Old Man and the Sea has proved itself to be one of the enduring works of American fiction. (as in people actually know it exists after the author died? Or that people sort of know the plot so many years later?) It is the story of an old Cuban fisherman and his supreme ordeal: a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. (you are being dramatic, it was only agonizing at the end and it wasn’t that far out in the gulf stream.) Using the simple, powerful language of a fable, (best part) Hemingway takes the timeless themes of courage in the face of defeat and personal triumph won from loss and transforms them into a magnificent twentieth-century classic.

Note: I apologize for the terrible summary, but they were all terrible and this was the best I could find without having to write one myself.

One of the best parts about this book is that it is short. I was able to read it in an afternoon. Yay! Though I have a feeling that I would have read it even if it was a thousand pages long. You kind of get sucked in…

Yes, the book really is about an old man. And that is what he is called for the entire book, the old man. The only other character who makes multiple appearances is called the boy. They do have names, Hemingway just didn’t bother to use them. As a writer who tends to forget to name her characters until half way through the novel, I appreciated that part.

Please don’t think that because the novella is about an old man that you won’t be interested, that it will be boring, and that it won’t be relatable. To that I say, Ha! I am neither old, or a man, and I was sucked into Santiago’s story from chapter one. I found myself hoping that he would be able to get his hand un-cramped in time. Cheering him on during his battle against the sharks.

Santiago is more than your average grandfather puttering around his house. He is strong, strong enough to keep fishing even though he hasn’t eaten anything all day. He is also stubborn, and willing to keep going even though the odds are against him. In a younger man those two character traits would be coupled with pride. But you get the idea that he lost his pride long ago. It was burned out by the hot tropical sun and washed away with the waves. The boy does so much for him, and he doesn’t complain. He is grateful for the boys help, and misses him when he is gone.

If Santiago is the heart beat of the story, the sea is the body. I don’t know the author very well, but I have a good guess that he was familiar with the ocean. He knew its colors and its moods, he knew which fish liked what depth of water and what it felt like to lose sight of land.

The whole story was there for Hemingway to describe the ocean. Any narrative pieces were quickly got out of the way so that he could get back to his favorite topic. Which is where he broke the rules.

All writers are told this over and over and over again to ‘show, don’t tell’. Show the characters emotions, show the world, show the characters, don’t tell unless you absolutely have to. It is great advice, but I present to you an entire book that took that advice and put it on its head.

If Santiago was hungry, Hemingway said he was hungry. If he was scared, that was told to you to. No, the author never sat down and sketched out exactly what he looked like and what his character was, he let you figure that out yourself. He kept all his telling to the narrative bits, the bits that he got out of the way as soon as possible so that he could get back to showing you the ocean.

Which isn’t to say that the whole book was a disguised essay on ocean life. There was plenty going on, he just didn’t waste a bunch of words on it. Even though I would think it is a big deal when Santiago finally gets that fish, Hemingway just lets you know it happened, then moves on with what is happening next. It isn’t a breakneck pace, but it isn’t slow either. The pace is a steady walk through the story, ending when you suddenly turn a corner and realize that you have arrived at your destination.

If you are interested in reading something that takes the conventional way of novel writing and bends them, give it a try! At least its short, and if you hate it you won’t have spent an entire day on it. But I don’t think you will hate it.

It is clean as far as content goes, and I would be happy to recommend it to an age.

I think ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ deserves its five stars: * * * * *

Shaina Merrick

Book Review: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club

I just stayed up waaay too late finishing this book. Even though I was tired, even though I had work in the morning. I couldn’t put it down. I either found out what happened to Jo and her sisters, or I had a sleepless night wondering about it! Either way, I wasn’t going to sleep much, so I may as well satisfy my curiosity.

To satisfy your curiosity, here is the blurb!

Jo, the firstborn, “The General” to her eleven sisters, is the only thing the Hamilton girls have in place of a mother. She is the one who taught them how to dance, the one who gives the signal each night, as they slip out of the confines of their father’s townhouse to await the cabs that will take them to the speakeasy. (in case you don’t know what this is, in the 1920’s alcohol was illegal. The only way you could drink was to go to a night club, or speakeasy) Together they elude their distant and controlling father, until the day he decides to marry them all off.

The girls, meanwhile, continue to dance, from Salon Renaud (once) to the Swan (once) and, finally, the Kingfisher, the club they come to call home. They dance until one night when they are caught in a raid, separated, and Jo is thrust face-to-face with someone from her past: a bootlegger named Tom whom she hasn’t seen in almost ten years. (yeees, loved this part and the backstory that came with it!) Suddenly Jo must weigh in the balance not only the demands of her father and eleven sisters, but those she must make of herself. (yeah yeah, it wasn’t that hard of a decision to make, stop playing it up for tension)

With The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, award-winning writer Genevieve Valentine takes her superb storytelling gifts to new heights, joining the leagues of such Jazz Age depicters as Amor Towles and Paula McClain, and penning a dazzling tale about love, sisterhood, and freedom. (mostly sisterhood, slightly less freedom, and not really about love at all)

This book would not be every ones cup of tea. It moves slowly, even as it is building to the climax. There are a few bits of quick action, but they disappear as soon as they come. There is a lot of backstory, especially in the first half of the book.

I enjoyed it, I thought the backstory and flash backs were woven in well. It was a flow of thought that made sense. Rather than wondering how the character had gotten from point A to point B.

Most of the story is from Jo’s point of view. A great choice, because she is the one making the decisions and pushing the plot along. Yes, there are other people making decisions around her, and doing things that affect her, but she is the one that moves the plot.

Jo is the perfect illustration of an active protagonist. One who acts rather than reacts. When her father decides to attempt to marry them all off, she tries to get on top of the situation. She is trying to keep her sisters safe, and knows that to do that she will need to control as much of this as possible.

She is a strong character, without being able to beat up anyone who crosses her path. She doesn’t go against the ideas of the time, much anyway, she is strong enough without having to push against the grain. Which, honestly, is a relief. A breath of fresh air in a world full of heroines that can do everything. Save the guy, flirt with the guy, and get the guy. She has her points of weakness, and learns what they are.

A main theme of the book is that Jo can not do everything. Her sisters are their own people, who must make their own decisions. She learns, slowly, that the more she tries to control them, the easier it will be to lose them.

However, this book was not focused solely on Jo alone. There are twelve girls. Twelve characters each with their own motivations and dreams. Somehow, Genevieve Valentine made each one of the girls come alive. They all got a little snippet of the story that wove itself into the plot as a whole, she didn’t leave you wondering why the plot had stopped in order to characterize.

I loved the characters, Jo mostly, but like I said. The plot is slow. I enjoyed the slow pace that explored the ins and outs of Jo’s decisions. However, not that much happens in the first bit of the book. I never did feel like the plot was dragging though. It slowly picked up steam in a very satisfying way, ending in a BIG event that shakes everything up. Then is all calms back down again for a while.

I did feel like the end dragged a bit though. It was a good wrap up, but it took such a long time from what felt like the climax was to the end. It was a good end, an end that caused a sigh of happiness. But a long ending, so both good and bad I guess?

I would recommend this book to late teens and up. There are a couple of content issues, such as a romantic scene (mostly off screen, but it still happened), and a couple cuss words.

Over all, I would give this book 4 stars. * * * *

What have you guys been reading lately? Anything good? Anything gag worthy? I would love to make my tbr list bigger! 😉

Shaina Merrick

The Fantastic Realmies (and books)

Every year a bunch of crazy writers get together to celebrate their mutual craziness. We call it Realm Makers. At this conference they also learn how to be even crazier. Those particular people are called Realmies. The ones who are so crazy that there is no hope for them. If you like being crazy, it’s a fun time! If not, well, maybe you should stay far, far away…

I decided to go to this conference, and risk coming out crazier than before. Whether I escaped successfully or not is for you to judge.

So many things happened at Realm Makers. So. Many Things. My poor brain is so full, and it is worse because I haven’t journaled yet…

I attended classes that have taken me one more step in my writing journey. I learned about my craft, and what it takes to get published. I learned how to plot a short story in the same weekend that I learned to plot a series.

I was encouraged beyond belief by the keynote speaker. He reminded me how important this career can be. That our words can touch other people. I was reminded that this is something that God has called me to do, and that this calling is a grand and wondrous thing.

I came back home ready to write again. Ready to grab my time by the horns and force it to produce a novel.

Unfortunately, I also came back to a day job, which puts a damper on a few things. So it’s a good thing I took that class on balancing life and writing!

I bought lovely, gorgeous books. Which I can’t wait to read! I also can’t wait to figure out how I will fit them all onto my shelf…

Gorgeous covers! I almost don’t want to read them, just stare at them…
You can’t see it in the picture. But Kings Folly is actually humongous.
Even more lovely books! Where will I find the time to read them all?

Like I said, I did lots and lots of things. But the classes I went to, the books I bought, the things I did, all of those paled in comparison to who I met.

Courage is going up to an author, sticking out your hand, and saying, “Hi, I’m Shaina.” But if you drum up that courage, you find out that those authors you are star struck by are friendly people happy to talk with you

Wayne Thomas Batson. Teacher of my favorite class. 🙂
Jill Williamson. I was definitely star struck when I asked her to sign my book.

This last weekend I finally (finally!) got to meet my pen pal. We have been writing, and emailing, back and forth for years. And I met her for the first time a week ago. To say that it was great would be an understatement. It was awesome. I was able to put a person to the words I have read. A voice behind the emails. Unfortunately, we both forgot to get a selfie together. Whoops!

I also met the voices behind the articles and blogs that I have been reading for so long. People I never thought I would meet in a million years I was suddenly shaking hands with.

Gabrielle.
Rolena. One of the sweetest people ever!

I would have been content with just meeting those people. To hang out with them the whole weekend. But instead, I was blessed with a friend. We clicked, bonded over conversation and pizza (a perfect combination). Before I knew it, we were hanging out all the time, chatting about writing, school, jobs, and anything else we could thing of. She became my friend, one I hope to keep for a long time to come.

Cassie. My favorite person at the conference.

So there you go, a mini recap post of the fantastic, wonderful, crazy time that is Realm Makers. If you happen to make your way to it next year, I hope to see you there!

Shaina Merrick