Thursday, June 28, 2018

Book Review: Bring Me Their Hearts

Book Review: Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf

Goodreads Description: Zera is a Heartless – the immortal, unageing soldier of a witch. Bound to the witch Nightsinger ever since she saved her from the bandits who murdered her family, Zera longs for freedom from the woods they hide in. With her heart in a jar under Nightsinger’s control, she serves the witch unquestioningly.

Until Nightsinger asks Zera for a Prince’s heart in exchange for her own, with one addendum; if she’s discovered infiltrating the court, Nightsinger will destroy her heart rather than see her tortured by the witch-hating nobles.

Crown Prince Lucien d’Malvane hates the royal court as much as it loves him – every tutor too afraid to correct him and every girl jockeying for a place at his darkly handsome side. No one can challenge him – until the arrival of Lady Zera. She’s inelegant, smart-mouthed, carefree, and out for his blood. The Prince’s honor has him quickly aiming for her throat.

So begins a game of cat and mouse between a girl with nothing to lose and a boy who has it all.

Winner takes the loser’s heart.


My Review: I was given a readers copy by the publisher and YA Bound Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. There will be spoilers in this review, but I will flag the paragraph they are in.

For three years, Zera has wandered the forests as a Heartless, an immortal soldier of a witch. She spends her days fending off wound-be assassins and protecting the cottage she calls home, where she lives with the witch who stole her heart and two other Heartless children. Until the day her witch, Nightsinger, offers her a deal: sneak into court and steal the crown prince's heart, turning him into a tool of the witches, and Zera and the other two children can have her own hearts back. Zera will earn her freedom and all she has to do is condemn the prince to her deathless fate. It should be easy-- how hard could it be to tear out the heart of a spoiled, ignorant noble?-- or so she thinks, until she meets Prince Lucien, the tenderhearted boy caught between the court and what he believes is right.

As they grow closer, Zera grapples with the monster inside her. Can she kill the beautiful boy who makes her heart flutter, even so far away in a jar? And if she doesn't, will she be condemning everyone she loves to another war between witches and humans?

Welcome to the city of Veris, where the pampered elite look down on the struggling masses. Where large statues called Crimson Ladies guard the city against witches. And where a new archduke stirs up hatred and fear in hopes of starting another war. Bring Me Their Hearts takes us right into a traditional fantasy court, full of magic, drama, and witches. The book leaps right into action, starting at Lucien and Zera's first meeting, then dialing us back a few weeks to show Zera preparing for when she enters the court. There's an easy flow to the writing with just enough description to get a feel for the scenes without bogging the reader down, which made for a pleasant read.

The characters in this book are its true strength, from Zera to Lucien and even Y'shrennria. I found there was not a whole lot of chemistry between Lucien and Zera, but taken individually I found myself really liking their characters. With Zera, we see a really balanced main character: strong but gets knocked around, bratty but kind, selfish but compassionate. As well, Zera does things to make herself "feel human," when she's stressed, like dressing up in fancy clothes, and does this several times throughout the book, which was a nice touch. I really liked Lucien as well. I feel like much of his personality was purposefully crafted to make him seem more attractive-- his habit of saving Zera, caring about his people to a fault, isn't afraid to get his hands dirty, even his devotion to his sister-- but it still adds together to create a really solid and lovable character. The relationship between Zera and Y'shrennria was also really lovely-- seeing Y'shrennria learn not to be afraid of Zera was touching-- even if the scene where Y'shrennria admits she cares did come down a little heavy handed.

On that note, the book was a little on the nose sometimes with it's narration. As in, when referencing something that had happened earlier, either a character or the narrative would immediately connect it back to that earlier event, without letting the reader make the connection themselves. This might be helpful for younger or forgetful readers, but it takes away the sense of reward of piecing together the story, which I don't think the general YA audience would have had trouble with. It could also be a little cheesy at times, but that wasn't always a bad thing and it made the book more fun in a lot of ways. Still, the cheesiness sometimes took away from scenes that would have had more impact had there been a more genuine approach.

The romance in this book is really awesome, and definitely keeps the story moving. Despite having no real chemistry between love interests, the romantic scenes were well done. By the end I was definitely holding my breath, trying to figure out what Zera would decide. Zera does clue into her feelings for Lucien a little late, which is kind of cute while at the same time it makes her seem a little dense. The tension in this book is also incredible, as you can probably see from the summary. The stakes are very well-established, there's a feeling of time running out, the impending doom of the monster within her, and all of this makes the book very hard to put down. By the end, I was completely glued to my ereader.

There is a bit of Not Like Other Girls syndrome in this book. as Zera is skilled with a sword and "inelegant," unlike all the noble girls around her. It's not completely overt, and will probably appeal to teen readers who feel like the odd girl out, but it's disappointing to see the narrative pit girls against each other in competition for a guy. Grace and Charm, the two other Spring Brides competing for Lucien's hand, are the worst developed characters in the book. Not only do they get barely any page time (which begs the question, what was their point?) but they're portrayed as snide, spoiled rich girls that turn their noses up at Zera. Instead of showing why Lucien would choose Zera over Charm and Grace, the other girls are simply turned into caricatures that disappear from the story shortly after Zera knocks them down a peg.

The only thing about the book that really bothers me, and truly knocked down the ranking for me, was the ending. It does end in a cliff hanger, but the frustrating part is the main conflict of the book-- will Zera take Lucien's heart?-- is never actually resolved. The book ends abruptly after Lucien sees Zera's true nature while she's still grappling with whether to take his heart. It made me feel extremely disappointed, as it felt like I was waiting the whole book for this question to be answered, only for it to be jerked away at the last second.

Despite the above complaints, this is a great romance read for teen readers. It's got a kick-butt heroine that doesn't take crap from anyone, a swoon-worthy lead, and wicked tension that makes this book impossible to put down.

TL;DR: Overall, 3/5 stars. A wickedly fun battle of wills--and hearts-- against a delightful court fantasy backdrop.

About the Author
Sara Wolf is a twenty-something author who adores baking, screaming at her cats, and screaming at herself while she types hilarious things. When she was a kid, she was too busy eating dirt to write her first terrible book. Twenty years later, she picked up a keyboard and started mashing her fists on it and created the monster known as Lovely Vicious. She lives in San Diego with two cats, a crippling-yet-refreshing sense of self-doubt, and not enough fruit tarts ever.

You can find Sara at her website, follow her on Twitter, or check out her Goodreads page.

Blog Tour Organized by:

Friday, June 22, 2018

Author Interview: Alison McGhee

Today I'm stoked to have Alison McGhee on the blog, author of many children's books including What I Leave Behind, a story of trauma and healing through one hundred chapters only a hundred words long. You can find my review of What I Leave Behind here. This book really touched my heart in a way that only words can, and so I'm really stoked to have Alison join us today to talk about her craft and writing for children.

Alison McGhee writes novels, picture books, poems, and essays for all ages, including the forthcoming novel Never Coming Back (out in October 2017) and the #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestseller SOMEDAY, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. Her work has been translated into more than 20 languages. She lives in Minneapolis, California and Vermont.

You can find her at her website here, follow her on Twitter, or check out her Goodreads page to see her incredible list of works.

1) What inspires you to write? 

The experience of living, just being alive in the world and seeing and experiencing everything that goes on, is too intense for me. There’s so much sorrow and joy and love and loss, and it’s almost too much to handle. Writing is my way to translate and transcend what I see and feel in daily life. It’s a way of reflecting on the things that happen, and of trying to figure out how best to live in the world.

2) What draws you to writing for children? 

I began my writing life as a novelist who wrote only novels for adults, and I came later to writing for children. At this point I write all kinds of books for all ages. I think that writing for children is, arguably, the most important writing we can ever do. Children are just beginning to navigate their way in this confusing and enormous world. The books that they read are like blueprints, helping them map their way forward. It’s both a huge honor and a huge responsibility to write for children.

3) You have such a variety of writing credits under your belt, from poems to memoirs to novels to picture books. How do you decide which medium to use? How does changing styles so frequently affect your writing? 

This is a great question. Some might call me flighty, always zipping from one form to another, rarely settling down on one kind of book for very long. I think of myself as restless and driven. As a reader, I’ll read anything – memoirs and essays and poems and novels and nonfiction –and my own writing reflects those eclectic tastes. Great writing is great writing, and I seek it out wherever it can be found, no matter the form. In my own work I try to divine the secrets, or some of the secrets anyway, of each different kind of book. I love to challenge myself, and writing in all forms is certainly one way to do that.

4) Along with all your writing, you also teach writing workshops to fellow writers. What's the most important thing you believe all writers should know? 

Don’t hide. Put your heart on the line, in both words and life. When you do, your fellow human beings will respond in a profound way.

5) Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you outline beforehand or just see where the story takes you?

Oh, I’m a pantser. The word pantser was invented specifically for me! (Not really, but it sure feels that way.) I’m pantsing my way through writing and life.

6) What's your favourite part of writing?

My favourite part of writing is before I’m actually writing. When that beautiful, imaginary book is shimmering in the air before me, just waiting to be written. The reality of actually writing it is much, much different.

7) How do you balance writing and life to be so productive?

Another great question, and one for which I don’t have a good answer. The most important things in life to me have always been family, friends and my writing. I try hard to intertwine all three in a seamless way. When my kids were little I used to clatter away at my keyboard while they played/argued/whined around me, and I trained myself into a sort of “have laptop, will write book” mentality. Consequently, I can and do write anywhere – on a plane, in a hotel room, at dawn on my living room couch, at midnight with a whiskey by my side. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to write, or have kids, or be a loving and available friend. I’ve never closed off one part of my life to another. Which is kind of an exhausting way to live, but since I’m not about to give up anything I love, I make it happen.

8) What was the most difficult part of writing What I Leave Behind? 

The most difficult part of What I Leave Behind was writing about such painful subjects –suicide and rape—and figuring out how to do so in a way that left the reader (and me) filled not with despair and sorrow but with hope and love.

9) When did you decide to become an author? What influenced you to take this path?

My earliest memories are of wanting to be an actor. Then a ballerina. Then a singer/songwriter. When I physically learned how to print, at age six in first grade, I instantly wanted to be a writer. Looking back, I think what I really wanted was to center my life around art. The actual form of it –writing or music or dance—probably wouldn’t have mattered much. But I’m glad I chose writing.

10) What kind of feedback have you gotten from fans? Any stories? 

I treasure the notes I get from fans, both adults and children, and I keep them all. What an honor, to have a book resonate so strongly with a reader that they actually sit down and write to you. One of my favourite stories came from a librarian I met a few weeks ago. She told me that one of her students had withdrawn my novel from the library and flatly refused to return it. “I can’t,” the student said. “I just can’t.” Makes me want to put my arms around her and give her a hug.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Author Interview: Gabrielle Mathieu

Hey all! Today I'm excited to have Gabrielle Mathieu at The Underground, author of The Falcon series. You can find my review of her first book, The Falcon Flies Alone, here. The Falcon Soars, the third book in the series, just released with Five Directions Press.

Gabrielle Mathieu lived on three continents by the age of eight. She’d experienced the bustling bazaars of Pakistan, the serenity of Swiss mountain lakes, and the chaos of the immigration desk at the JFK airport. Perhaps that’s why she developed an appetite for the unusual and disorienting. Her fantasy books are grounded in her experience of different cultures and interest in altered states of consciousness (mostly white wine and yoga these days). The Falcon Flies Alone is her debut novel.

You can find the series on Amazon, and to make it super easy, here's The Falcon Flies AloneThe Falcon Strikes, and The Falcon Soars. As always, if you have read it, please leave a review to share the love and help other readers find it too!

1) What was the inspiration for The Falcon series? 

I had a vivid nightmare when I was in my twenties. The horror of the poisoning and the resultant madness, during which people tore each other apart, was balanced by the sweet thrill of turning into a spirit falcon and flying behind the world, into a place I couldn’t describe.

2) What was the most difficult part of writing The Falcon Flies Alone? Your favourite part? 

The hardest part was how to structure the beginning. I wanted to open by placing my heroine, Peppa Mueller, in a dangerous predicament. Yet, I knew if I included no details about who she was and what she wanted, readers wouldn’t care that she was about to break her neck sliding off a roof.
I loved the plot complications that emerged after the first drafts. I admire crime and mystery writers like Elizabeth George, and it pleased me to be able to introduce some twists and turns as well.

3) What draws you to writing historical fiction?

I combine historical fiction with fantasy. I like nuanced writing, and write for adults or mature teens. This doesn’t mean I make my novels gruesome, with only sadistic characters.  I just want things to be complicated, not in a dense, “tricked you now” way, but in a way that echoes our real lives and our understanding of events. I hope that the events I describe seem almost believable.

Using a historical setting gives a somewhat enchanted sheen to a reality-based story, and allows me the pleasure of visiting older neighborhoods in European cities.

4) Are you a planner or a pantser with your writing? Do you outline or just let the story guide you? 

I’m a bit of both. As my writing has evolved, I’ve become more of a plotter. Initially, most of us are finding our style, and discovering our themes, so it’s hard to outline the first novel. It comes with practice.

5) What has been the hardest part of your publishing journey? 

The biggest challenge writers face is finding their readers. Readers have a banquet of books to choose from, and the selection can be overwhelming. Getting the right book to the right reader used to be an art. Now it’s an algorithm.

6) What goals do you have for this series? What would be your "dream come true" moment? 

I try not to have goals, because that sets you up for disappointment. Obviously, I, like most writers, would like to have a larger audience, but that audience connection is something I can only nourish, not command. Really, I’m grateful for every person who bothers to write a review and tells me how much they enjoyed the book.

7) What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Decide on your genre. Then read, read, read. Read widely, and sample various authors and styles. Find a good critique group. Learn the difference between someone who is offering critique constructively, and someone who wants to hurt you. And please do pay attention to grammar. You can still break the rules once you know them.

8) How much of yourself do you see in your characters?

Like Peppa, I was an only child who was rewarded only when I demonstrated adult behavior. I had a lot of book learning, but was somewhat isolated. I did want to make Peppa different from me in some ways though, so I had her be very self-conscious about her looks. Unlike Peppa, I never worried about finding boyfriends. I also initially wanted to be a doctor, like Peppa, but I didn’t have her math or chemistry skills.

9) How do you approach research for your writing? 

Research gives me a great excuse to travel. It’s hard to say whether the locations inspire the book’s setting, or whether I seek out places as great backdrops. For The Falcon Flies Alone, I started out just researching areas in Switzerland, where I live. I looked for a remote village in an alpine setting, where the terrifying experiment takes place in my novel. Most of those places have barely changed since the fifties, and it was easy to imagine my recently orphaned heroine stepping off the train in the village of Gonten, uncertain and desperate.

I knew my third book in the series, The Falcon Soars, would take place in the Himalayas, since it involves Peppa’s failed romance with Tenzin Engel, who comes from India. In that instance, my plan for the book inspired our trip to Nepal and hike up to Annapurna base camp. Now I know what it feels like to walk until you almost drop. I never did find a real-life Tenzin though, which my husband probably appreciated. You can read about our real-life adventure here.

10)  Is there anything you can tell us about the finale, The Falcon Soars, releasing soon?

My third book is set in Munich and the Himalayas, in 1967.  I would have loved to see Kathmandu then. It must have been a paradise.

While hippies are lighting up in Munich’s English Park and protesting the Vietnam War, Dr. Peppa Mueller has put her nightmare past behind her and gotten her life firmly on track. There will be no more mistakes like the bloodbath in Ireland. No more occult drama. No more family secrets.

But there’s always calm before a storm. The final leg of Peppa’s difficult journey will take her to the snowy Himalayas, where she will rediscover old friends, confront her lingering heartache, and gain a new understanding of—and appreciation for—the spirit world.