Top 10 Tuesday: Most Anticipated Book Releases for the First Half of 2020

A lot of popular authors are bringing out new books in the first half of 2020, but there are also some debuts and new authors I’m looking forward to discovering.

Top 10 Tuesday was originally created by The Broke and the Bookish, but has now moved to That Artsy Reader Girl. If you’re interested in taking part click here.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins – How could this not make the list? I’ve been waiting for so many years for something new from Suzanne Collins, whether that be in the Hunger Games world or something different. This new book is set before the Hunger Games trilogy. Not much information has been released about it yet. You can be sure I’ll be buying it when it comes out. 

The Deck of Omens by Christine Lynn Herman – I was pleasantly surprised that The Devouring Gray ended up being one of my favourite books of 2019. So of course I’m excited to see what happens next in Four Paths.

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Book Review: The Rose and the Dagger by Renée Ahdieh

9780147513861The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance, Retellings

Publishing Info: April 2017 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons (first published April 2016)

Pages: 422

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad is forced from the arms of her beloved husband, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once thought Khalid a monster—a merciless killer of wives, responsible for immeasurable heartache and pain—but as she unraveled his secrets, she found instead an extraordinary man and a love she could not deny. Still, a curse threatens to keep Shazi and Khalid apart forever.

Now she’s reunited with her family, who have found refuge in the desert, where a deadly force is gathering against Khalid—a force set on destroying his empire and commanded by Shazi’s spurned childhood sweetheart. Trapped between loyalties to those she loves, the only thing Shazi can do is act. Using the burgeoning magic within her as a guide, she strikes out on her own to end both this terrible curse and the brewing war once and for all. But to do it, she must evade enemies of her own to stay alive.

The saga that began with The Wrath and the Dawn takes its final turn as Shahrzad risks everything to find her way back to her one true love again.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that this book didn’t blow me away, considering my fairly neutral reaction to the first book. But I felt invested enough to read the sequel.

It was very slow at first. A quarter of the way in very little had happened. I’m not talking about a lack of action. Action scenes aren’t required to move the story. The problem was that nothing happened to move the plot forward. About a third of the way through it started moving a bit but was still plodding. Perhaps some of the problem was Shazi and Khalid being apart, the spark their relationship created in the first book was missing as a result of them being apart for the first third of the novel.

After a slow start, it picked up half way as more magical elements were introduced to the story and Shazi and Khalid find out how they are going to break the curse on him. This gives them a more defined goal to drive their next actions which made me more engaged in the book.

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Author Interview: Sam Waterhouse

Today, Sam Waterhouse joins me as part of the Of Legend and Lore blog tour. This collection of fairy tale retellings by members of the Just-Us League takes a fresh look at both well-known and lesser known tales.

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Sam Waterhouse is a part-time writer with a full-time imagination from Hobart, Tasmania. ‘Wishes Between Worlds’ is his second published story, a futuristic retelling of ‘The Enchanted Quill’ fairy tale. He enjoys writing unusual characters, so a trickster, genie-esque crow was an opportunity too good to pass on.

Sam also contributed to the previous Just-Us League anthology Between Heroes and Villains with ‘Like You’, an original story where superpowers are treated as a disease to be eradicated.

You can follow Sam on Twitter (@SW_Wordologist).

What inspired your retelling?

I chose to retell ‘The Enchanted Quill’ partly because I like a good anthropomorphic character and partly because of how it portrays the power of the written word. I took a few liberties in the retelling – such as changing the setting to a spaceship during a multi-generational interstellar voyage and having Corvo play the part of trickster – but those were the two qualities I liked most about this particular fairy tale.

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February Book Haul!

I had a good haul of books last month!

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The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

Having read The Wrath and the Dawn, I wasn’t desperate to read the sequel, but invested enough to want to. So when I saw the Kindle edition discounted, I went for it. I’m curious to see where the story goes.

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The Young Elites, The Rose Society, The Midnight Star (Young Elites trilogy) by Mary Lu

I saw these books as a pack of three for less than the price of one – I’ve never been one to resist a book bargain. The series I was originally interested in by Lu was Legend, but having read the back cover of The Young Elites I thought I would give this series a go.

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The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo

I have seen this book so many times in book shops and just fell in love with the beauty of it. It’s a lush hardcover with thick pages that are beautifully illustrated in colour. I loved Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm (I have yet to read the final book in the trilogy!). This book is a collection of short stories that are fairy tales from the Grishaverse.

Author Interview: Kelsie Engen

Today I bring you an interview with author Kelsie Engen, whose story The Bear in the Forest will be published in From the Stories of Old: A Collection of Fairy Tale Retellings by members of the Just-Us League writing group.

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Kelsie Engen grew up in North Pole, Alaska, where the winters are harsh but beautiful. Those winters may or may not have inspired those in Canens and “The Bear in the Woods.” She can be found at kelsieengen.com, and Instagram @kelsiengen, or hunched over her laptop working on her current fairy tale inspired by the other “Snow White.”

 

What can you tell us about your retelling and what inspired it?

You know, funny story about that. A group of us writers had agreed to rewrite some fairy tales for an anthology, and I had narrowed my choices down to two stories. I’d been on a fairy tale kick anyway, recently having polished off Grimm’s fairy tales, a few of Andersen’s, and then some others as well. In late 2015, I had started writing a series inspired by a trio of some of the most popular fairy tales, a series I’m still polishing up. But for this anthology, I wanted something a little lesser known.

So I’d narrowed it down to two stories: The Psyche, and Snow White & Rose Red. I had seen someone already mentioned Snow White & Rose Red, so I swear when I put in my choice, I had chosen The Psyche, which I was getting really excited about writing. As I was gearing up to rewrite that, I decided to double check the list and found I had written down Snow White & Rose Red!

I kind of had to change tracks after that, and as the two stories are vastly different, one with a happy ending, the other without, I actually had a tough time getting started. But overall, this story perhaps stretched me more and I’m happy I stuck with the “surprise”!

Well that worked out well! What aspects of writing it did you find challenging?

I think the biggest complaint about Snow White & Rose Red–and one of the problems I’ve always had with it–is how convenient the ending is. I mean, endings are difficult enough, but fairy tales tend to either really nail it or really flop. And SW&RR is frustrating on a few levels, which I think is why it’s been a less popular version of Snow White. So I felt challenged in making the ending work while also being true to the original tale. All too often fairy tales seem to offer limited types of cardboard cutout characters in order to expound upon the moral that the authors wanted to teach, and to make matters worse, they just add a last minute ending that hasn’t been properly developed or foreshadowed. So for me with this particular tale, the ending always felt way too convenient, and I had to really work to figure one out that made more sense and kept the story true to itself.

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So do you like happily ever after endings? Or do you think more complex or bitter sweet endings are more interesting? Even though that might not please all readers.

I don’t know that an ending will ever please all readers. Readers are such a diverse group, it’s impossible to make everyone happy at once, no matter how good a writer you are or how happy your ending. But very rarely do I write a plain, old fashioned, happily ever after ending. While I do sometimes read them, and they have a place in every reader’s life at some point, I much prefer the complexity of a more realistic resolution. In life we don’t get happily every after endings, which I’m sure is why some people love them, as they are a sort of ideal that we all wish for at some point in our lives. But mostly, I find them too simplistic and unsatisfying when I read–or write–them. I like endings that turn expectations on their heads a little bit, and so I try to write stories that may be dark at times, but offer hope out of that darkness. I fully believe that a good ending to a story is more complex than good winning over evil, or the guy getting the girl. We always have to sacrifice and compromise, and we either find happiness in that compromise, or else we start off on a new journey to find that happiness again.

The Bear in the Woods, however (my version of Snow White & Rose Red), is quite traditional and true to the story, so it was a fun challenge to write a different sort of ending, where nearly everyone got what they wanted! I can’t say it will start a new trend with me, but it was actually a challenge for me to write an ending that resonated with the story and within me. In the end, while I rewrote my ending several times, it was a fun process to figure out how this version of “happiness” worked out.

What is your writing process and do you have any writing habits or quirks?

These days, my process is to wake around 4:30 a.m., feed the cats and dog, make myself a pot of coffee, and start writing until my son gets up at 6:30. I can usually push out a thousand or so words that way–more if I’m focused–or get a significant amount of editing done without distraction. Other than that, I’m working nap times and after my husband comes home, or while the two-year-old plays. I’m lucky that I don’t work outside the home, so I get to spend my day with my son and fit in writing where I can. I like to set goals and keep lists of tasks so I know where I’m at in a project. I try to be quite organized, setting personal deadlines and whatnot for myself. I feel quite guilty if I’m not writing or editing on something every day. Writer’s guilt, I guess.

As for writing quirks, I don’t think of myself as particularly quirky. But I do like to try out different writing software. I currently own Ulysses, Scrivener, and Storyist, and some weeks I’m working in all three programs! I find that different projects work best in different programs. But my go-to program is definitely Scrivener. It’s most versatile and can do everything. Other than that, just give me coffee and my computer, and you’ll find me typing away on one project or another.

When did you first start writing?        

I started writing in 5th grade. I remember because we were given a short story assignment for class and of course mine turned into some epic piece. But ever since then, I was always scribbling stories underneath my notes during class. I was one of those students!
Vox audita perit, litera scripta manet.

How have you found the collaborative process of creating an anthology as a group?

Overall it’s been a great process. Being able to get feedback from a group of writers all working on similar projects, all with the mindset of improving each other’s work as well as their own is a special place to be. Writing is challenging no matter how you go about it, but sometimes it’s really nice to have that encouragement from a group of writers when you’re feeling discouraged by your work or when you don’t know how else to improve it. And the writers in this anthology are all talented and creative individuals that went out of their way to help one another make this project amazing. Even though it was a challenge, and there were times I contemplated backing out for some personal reasons, working in a group like this was extra special.

What are you working on outside of the anthology?

I’m currently working on a fairy tale series inspired by the other Snow White. In my story, she is sold into slavery by her evil stepmother the Queen, and brought to a Manor where she is trained alongside other slaves in many jobs. After several failed attempts at escape, her master decides to teach her a lesson she won’t forget.

Quick fire questions!

Favourite genre to read: Ugh… too many to pick from! Lately I’ve really gotten into YA fantasy and fairy tale retellings (understandably). But my personal, go-to favorite is literary fiction.

Favourite genre to write: is fairy tale–is that a genre? No? Okay, fairy tales for adults! Fantasy?

Favourite writing spot: is the living room chair by the fire. Preferably with the fire lit! With a cup of coffee.

Favourite reading spot: Same chair, fire lit.

Favourite book: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

Favourite film: The Odd Couple.

Favourite character: I actually LOVE Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series. Kindred spirit.

Writing or editing: Can I say both? I spend more time editing, and I’ve learned to love it, but I also love putting new words to the page… It’s a tie. Can’t choose. I love it all.

Thank you, Kelsie for answering my questions!

And here is the georgous cover!

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Check out The Bear in the Forest and all the other retellings in From the Stories of Old, due out on 7th December.

 

Cover Reveal! From the Stories of Old

Today I’m revealing the cover for From the Stories of Old: A Collection of Fairytale Retellings. The book is an anthology of stories by members of the Just Us League writing group.

In this international collection, new life is given to fairy tales, both classic and obscure.

Mythical creatures put the fairy in Fairy Tale. Mermaids, selkies, and ocean guardians experience the best and worst of humanity; sisters encounter an unusually friendly bear; a brave bride meets a silly goose; and a spinner of gold sets the record straight.

Urban fantasies modernize classics: a Frenchman learns the truth about magic, his past, and his girlfriend; a girl sets out to find love but receives a curse; and today’s naughty list makes Old Saint Nick not-so-jolly.

New worlds bring a fresh sense of wonder! In the future, a young woman fights for her people and herself; a bastard son finds acceptance in a world ruled by women; and a farmer’s wits win the heart of a frosty king.

Discover unexpected twists on old favorites, and fall in love with new tales and worlds to explore!

The beautiful cover is designed by Louis Rakovich of Indigo Forest Designs.

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On Sunday I’ll be posting an interview with one of the authors – Kelsie Engen.

The book is available on 7th December 2016 in paperback and on Kindle!

Book Review: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance, Retellings

Publishing Info: April 2016 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (first published May 2015)

Pages: 416

Star Rating: 3/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

One Life to One Dawn.

In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad’s dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph’s reign of terror once and for all.

Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she’d imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It’s an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid’s life as retribution for the many lives he’s stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?

Inspired by A Thousand and One Nights, The Wrath and the Dawn is a sumptuous and enthralling read from beginning to end.

 

At the start, I wasn’t very keen on this book. I had problems with it in the first few pages. As it went on and I got to know the characters it grew on me. Although I wasn’t completely gripped, I did want to know what was going to happen. By the end I liked it, but didn’t love it.

At the beginning of the book it feels like being dumped in the middle of the story. I guess I liked that it got straight to the point and didn’t dawdle with stretched out set-up, but this also meant that I didn’t get a chance to know the characters before they were thrown in at the deep end. The first time we see Shazi is in the palace, and there are hardly any thoughts and emotions from her for the reader to be able to get to know her before things get going. All the characters felt bland in the first couple of chapters. I didn’t care about any of them, and maybe that’s because the reader isn’t given a chance to get to know them before stuff starts happening.

The characters were okay once the book got going. There was a serious lack of thoughts and emotions from the characters most of the way through though. This meant that sometimes I didn’t understand what they were thinking and why they were doing the things they were, which just resulted in me getting frustrated. I liked that the protagonist, Shazi, was a strong character, however she came across as too bratty sometimes which annoyed me. As ‘love interests’ go, I thought Khalid was good. I liked that there was more to his past and his personality than the cool exterior he presents (not that this is anything new for a love interest mind you).

I don’t really know much about A Thousand and One Nights (which is what it is a retelling of) so wasn’t really sure what sort of thing to expect (or, having finished The Wrath and the Dawn, how it compares to the original source material). I liked that the setting was quite different to most YA fantasy stories as it was something different to read.

Overall I liked it, but I had some problems with it. There were a few instances of head-hopping which was very off-putting as that should have been ironed out in the editing process. I found the ending annoying because it didn’t tie things up so now I feel inclined to read the second book, even though I didn’t love this one, just to find out what happens.