WHOA! If January felt like it dragged on, then February FLEW BY. How is it already March? February is usually a slow and gross month for me – mainly due to the lack of sunshine – but to my surprise, I got a hell of a lot done. So this is a longer blog than normal, but keep reading to hear about some great books you should add to your list AND some tools that I’ve used to enhance my writing.
What I Read
GRAND TOTAL: 5
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black ★★★★☆
I was hesitant to read yet another faerie book (mainly because of my love for ACOTAR and ToG) but I am so glad I did. First of all, the world is very very different, and the faeries in this novel have their own distinct taste while staying true to the legends. From the brutal murder in the opening pages to the shocking twist at the end, I was enthralled.
Our main character Jude is not what you’d expect from a human stolen away to live in the faerie world. She’s smart, reckless, brave and a little nasty at times. I loved her. Her sister was a little annoying but well-developed. In fact, now that I think about it, all of the characters were flawed. I hate when characters come across as too perfect, and that definitely didn’t happen here. I did want a little more from Cardan’s band of followers, but hoping there’s more to come in the second book.
The drama is well-done without being cheesy, and the action kept coming. As Cait over at Paper Fury said, “this is the ultimate Slytherin book.” Dark, twisty, witty and wonderful.
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah ★★★★☆
So I never read The Nightingale (because I am SO sick of WWII books) but I may have to go back and do so now. The market has always been inundated with books about men who abuse their wives, a sad fact but there it is.
But this one was totally different than the norm. Hannah took an age old story and added an extremely fascinating setting – Alaskan wilderness, 1974 – and an extenuating circumstance that had me conflicted throughout the entire novel. Yes, Ernt abuses his wife and child, but he hasn’t always been that way. Only after being a POW for six years. For someone who has the utmost respect for our military, this was crushing for me.
Leni is our narrator, and she tells the story through the eyes of a child who loves both of her parents unconditionally. Until enough is finally enough.
Important lesson? Don’t ever move to Alaska on a whim. The beautiful danger of the setting is really what drew me in, coupled with the societal pressures of a crazed time. I felt connected to each and every character as they quite literally fought for their lives. Toward the end, things started to get a little sappy and sentimental, but I didn’t mind. Hannah nails emotionally compelling fiction, and I strongly recommend.
Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict ★★☆☆☆
A mistaken identity leads a poor immigrant posing as a lady’s maid to the historical Carnegie family. But Clara is more than she appears and possesses a sharp mind for business, eventually earning the love of Andrew Carnegie. She’s the woman behind his transformation from ruthless businessman to one of the world’s greatest philanthropists.
It’s a somewhat unbelievable premise, but I am willing to suspend reality for a while. That’s the whole reason I read, right? The writing was simple but enthralling. The history and business strategy accompanying the Carnegie family AND the immigration issues was fascinating. I loved the romance between Clara and Andrew, one built on mutual understanding and intelligence, not just passion. And Clara’s hidden identity – taking the place of a dead girl to pose as a maid – added the needed suspense.
I was well on my way to giving this three if not four stars. But the ending absolutely ruined it for me. SPOILER ALERT: As expected, Carnegie’s mother discovers that Clara is not who she says. She threatens her, and Clara just gives in, runs away and leaves Andrew with a broken heart. I get that to stay true to history, they couldn’t have ended up together. But for a firm believer, that love always finds a way – and for someone with the ambition and means of Andrew Carnegie – Clara’s behavior left me disgusted.
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton ★★★★★
So most YA fantasies these days are the same. The main character finds something out about themselves, develops a new set of skills and then there’s some kind of war. Don’t get me wrong, I love those stories. But this one was a breath of fresh air.
In the world of Orléans – a heavily French fantasy world – we meet Camellia and her sisters who are not only the sole people born beautiful but they have the power to transform others into the body and beauty of their dreams. They are competing to become the Favorite, the Belle who serves the Royal Family. But the enemy here isn’t a single character, it’s the human need to be beautiful. And the ugliness that dwells beneath. I simply loved it.
The world was wonderfully developed, the characters were likable yet flawed. The writing was in itself beautiful, and the nastiness inside made a wonderful contrast. Twist, turns, you name it. Overall, a great debut and I can’t wait for the next installment. Also there are teacup animals, so that’s a major plus.
Honeymoon by James Patterson and Howard Roughan ★★☆☆☆
This was actually my first read by James Patterson, and I chose it because I have been taking part in his Master Class. He uses this book as an example, so I figured I’d read it to better understand his methods.
For an international bestseller, I felt pretty “meh” about the whole thing. The chapters were extremely short and well-paced, but the whole thing had a very soap opera quality to it. The characters felt like cookie cutters – the femme fatale and clueless FBI agent – although they were interesting enough to keep me reading. There were lots of twists and turns but frankly they felt more like plot devices than anything. The subplot with the briefcase made zero sense to me and felt convoluted. The writing was easy to read but cheesy. As my first James Patterson novel, I’d have to say I’m not inclined to read more. But as a textbook for his Master Class, I’d recommend reading. While it wasn’t my favorite, it does give a good example of how to pace a novel well.
What I Wrote
I accomplished a lot this month, although I am still sticking to my mantra of “slow and steady wins the race” with this WIP. I have rushed projects in the past, and I think you can tell by the story. So this time I am taking my time and letting things come organically.
However, I am still taking steps forward, getting organized and honing my craft while tiny bolts of inspiration hit.
I started this month off with James Patterson’s Master Class, an online course that the master himself teaches on all things writing – from inspiration to outlining to publishing. Now I have taken several writing classes in my time, so I will say that I haven’t learned anything particularly new. But the odd nugget of wisdom and the free outline example made it worth it. I haven’t finished yet – gotta have my own outline ready – but I look forward to the second half of the course.
I also self-taught myself a little something by rereading an old favorite novel – A Court of Thorns and Roses. I’ve always been in awe of Sarah J. Maas’ style and pacing, so by studying when the big events occur and how she moved the story forward, I hope to emulate the same in my new novel. You can learn more about how reading can help you as a writer with my new series.
The third big thing I did was finally cave and download Scrivener. If you haven’t heard of this phenomenal writing application, check it out. I am hooked already. It’s the perfect way to store all your research, character sketches, locations and pictures while also letting you organize and write the story itself.
These three activities did wonders for my storytelling, and I am thrilled to announce that Act 1 of my new novel is PLOTTED and ready to write! I’m loving it so far.
So exciting news: this afternoon I am leaving for France for two weeks!!!
Which means that there will be no new blog posts – and less activity on social media – until I get back. I’ll be too busy eating croissants, drinking wine, and following in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. But I promise to take lots of picture and give full update when I return.
That being said, I am going to try to continue work on my new WIP by either outlining Act 2 or developing some of the secondary characters. It’s going to be a busy month, so we’ll see.
The trip will give me ample time to read (gotta love nine hour flights), so here’s by TBR list for March:
- Circe by Madeleine Miller (almost finished!)
- Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
- Sunburn by Laura Lippman
- Furyborn by Claire Legrand
- Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
What do you have coming up this month? Can you believe March is already here?