Grey Stone – Have You Considered How Your Life Would Change if Werewolves Ruled the World?

Book Review : Grey Stone

By Jean Pace Knight & Jacob Kennedy

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

In the land of the great red sun, dogs sing, wolves kill, humans serve, and wolf-shifters rule with magic and menace. Pietre is a human boy who has spent the last thirteen years afraid of the sunset, the Blødguard, and the wolf-shifting masters who rule his world. Wittendon is a werewolf prince who has spent the last nineteen years afraid of his father, his inability to do magic, and the upcoming tournament he’s sure to lose. But when Pietre finds an orphaned pup in the woods and Wittendon is forced to arrest the boy’s father soon after, both of them begin to realize that keeping the rules might be just as terrifying as breaking them.

Now serf and master must learn to cut through their own prejudices and work together in order to turn their world before it turns on them. Grey Stone is a story of dogs who talk, wolves who kill, and a stone that-for better or worse-can change all that. (Courtesy of Amazon.com)

Adult Point of View

While at a writing conference, I met Jean Pace Knight, one of the authors, of Grey Stone. Even though we didn’t have the chance for an in-depth discussion on life, books or writing at the time – I look forward to interviewing her in the future.

I laughed when she told me that if you love dogs, this is a book you’d enjoy because I don’t love dogs (though rest assured, I do like dogs so long as someone else takes care of them), but I decided to read it because I haven’t read a werewolf book in a long time.

Another hint from the author explained that the hierarchy in this world:
1- The werewolves, call the Verander, are the top dog (terrible pun intended). They are NOT benevolent rulers.
2- Next in the hierarchy are the wolves. They work as the henchmen for the werewolves.
3- Wild dogs are next. They live in their packs and value their freedom.
4- And finally, the humans landed at the bottom of the heap. They are no better than slaves and live in squalor just barely surviving. Half of their crops goes to support the Verander. Their lives are without value in society.

All four species speak, which is important to know.

The Verander (wolf-shifters/werewolves) have a king, who is the embodiment of a dog eat dog world. He would definitely betray anyone to retain his power. The Verander have the ability to shape-shift between their powerful werewolf form, less powerful wolf form and finally into their weak human form. They are the only carriers of magic.

Sometimes I had to double check if it was a wolf speaking, or a Verander in wolf form, however, pretty much if a wolf is speaking it really is a wolf. Whew! The wolves might be bad, but they’re not as ruthless as the king. Even so, I don’t want to converse with either.

The wild dogs and humans are easy to keep separate. The dogs have a very playful nature in their games and speech. The poor humans mostly dwell on survival and there are really only three humans to keep track of – Pietre and his parents.

I was a little overwhelmed in the first twenty pages of the novel because they were many new terms and ideas to wrap my head around. I considered re-reading it, but felt like with the tips from the author I had a good enough grasp to continue. I’m glad I moved forward because everything became much clearer as I became accustomed to the new world. In addition to a lot of creative ideas, the characters were interesting and believable. I felt like each approached their problems in a logical way stemming from their background.

Pietre: He is a compassionate child, who rescues a dog. His family supports him in this even though they understand the deeper ramifications of doing so. I enjoyed Pietre because he isn’t too wise for his years. He truly feels like a little boy, one who has a special relationship with his dog.

Pietre’s mother speaks these words of wisdom to him before she embraces both him and Humphrey. I imagine they both draw comfort from her words.

“No matter what the color the sun might come to, I’ve never known life to be anything other than terrible and wonderful wound together in different ways.” (p. 94)

Pietre has an awakening to the potential power of humans. As part of the downtrodden race he had never questioned his position in the world.

“It was illegal for the humans to own or form weapons when not under the supervision of a Veranderen master. Pietre knew that, but until now, he hadn’t thought that the very tools for form devices and weaponry might be used as weapons themselves.” (p. 126)

Humphrey: Pietre and Humphrey develop a bond with each other quickly. Initially the dog, Humphrey, is also young as a pup, but he quickly grows into a mature dog in his thinking and actions. I thought it was interesting how Humphrey had so much angst over his father and defining himself. This added a level of complexity to his character.

Humphrey shows the advantage of being a dog, the inherit freedom.

“Humphrey did not hesitate. Pietre could feel him running – his feet pounding the ground with a freedom that seemed to surge through him – a freedom at being neither dog nor wolf, a freedom at being bound by non of their laws or restrictions.” (p. 144)

Wittendon: He is the heir to the Wolken kingdom, which had been conquered and subdued by his ruthless father. His mother passed away when he was a young child and he has a younger brother – who is more like the son the kings wants.

I felt like he was one of the most complex characters. Not only is he trying to please a tyrant father, but he is dealing with the loss of his mother, the lack of magic and figuring out his love life. The layers are slowly revealed and Wittendon’s true power is found as he discovers his past and understands the world around him. He is often walking between the accepted lines of society, which causes him to better understand the other races. As the future ruler, he has been trained to understand politics, even if he feels ill-suited for the role.

Wittendon isn’t valued by his father, he is different than the others of his race. He is more likely despised, but he exudes strength they aren’t aware of until much later.

“For most Veranderen, practicing on the hill was exhausting. Wittendon, on the other hand, found it exhilarating. The grass and sky and fresh air, even if it was filled with cracks of thunder – it worked on his nerves to make him feel stronger than he ever felt in the stone-walled pavilion below.”  (p. 55)

The prince sits on an edge of decision, and must make a choice – a choice that determines more than the kind of leader he will be, more than he knew was possible. The crux of his decision comes in a moment speaking to Sadora, the woman he loves.

“Whittendon realized suddenly that he had made very few choices in his short life and none of any importance.” (p. 156)

Whittendon stands in contrast to his father.

“If not loved, King Crespin was respected. If not honored, he was feared. And each Verander depended on the king’s strength, his cunning, and his talent in government. He was a masterful politician, a perfect swordsman, and a magician like none had ever seen.” (p.24)

I’ve tried to be careful and not include any big spoilers. There are big pieces of the puzzle that I haven’t included, and some of them are game changers. I had never considered my life if werewolves ruled, but after Grey Stone I’m convinced I wouldn’t want them as my government leaders.

I recommend this book, it would be considered a clean fantasy and you’ll never look at your dog the same.

4 out of 4 stars

4 star

  • Michelle

I would love to hear your thoughts on Grey Stone, did you find it convincing? Were you surprised with the twists?

If you liked Grey Stone I would recommend trying:

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman – she has a new take on dragons in this book.

A Cast of Stones by Patrick W. Carr – he has a new way for prophecy to be revealed.

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The Great Passage – How Can A Dictionary Change Your Life?

Book Review : The Great Passage

By Shion Miura
Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

A charmingly warm and hopeful story of love, friendship, and the power of human connection. Award-winning Japanese author Shion Miura’s novel is a reminder that a life dedicated to passion is a life well lived.

Inspired as a boy by the multiple meanings to be found for a single word in the dictionary, Kohei Araki is devoted to the notion that a dictionary is a boat to carry us across the sea of words. But after thirty-seven years creating them at Gembu Books, it’s time for him to retire and find his replacement.

He discovers a kindred spirit in Mitsuya Majime—a young, disheveled square peg with a penchant for collecting antiquarian books and a background in linguistics—whom he swipes from his company’s sales department.

Led by his new mentor and joined by an energetic, if reluctant, new recruit and an elder linguistics scholar, Majime is tasked with a career-defining accomplishment: completing The Great Passage, a comprehensive 2,900-page tome of the Japanese language. On his journey, Majime discovers friendship, romance, and an incredible dedication to his work, inspired by the bond that connects us all: words.
(Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

I picked up The Great Passage as part of my summer reading to try more foreign authors. It’s been interesting to read from perspectives other than the American point of view. For some reason, I did not expect to find this book from Japan to be humorous. Too often humor doesn’t seem to translate across cultures. However, I was proven wrong and was laughing so hard at different moments through this book – for that reason alone I would recommend it.

This is one of those silly moments where Majime is reading the instructions for making noodles:

“Five hundred liters of water will reach the boiling point.” “You should break noodles after throwing them in.””Enjoy eggs, green onion, ham, and so forth.” Five hundred liters of water seemed altogether too much, but Majime liked the earnest tone of the instructions, and lately he’d been eating a lot of Nupporo Number One.” (Page 24)

Here is another funny moment that tickled me:

“Of course he’d never been a junior high school girl, so this was pure supposition.” (Page 63)

The overarching theme of The Great Passage would be passion. What is our passion? How does our passion change us? What is life without passion?

“Reading the dictionary could awaken you to new meanings of commonly used words, meanings of surprising breadth and depth.” (Page 2)

“A dictionary is a ship that crosses the sea of words,” said Araki, with a sense that he was laying bare his innermost soul. “People travel on it and gather the small points of light floating on the dark surface of the waves. They do this in order to tell someone their thoughts accurately, using the best possible words. Without dictionaries, all any of us could do is linger before the vastness of the deep.” (page 20)

Several people discover passion while working on creating the new Japanese dictionary. Majime connects with others through the power of words which drives his quest in finishing the new dictionary. His wife loves him because of his passion for the dictionary, while he also respects her for her passion in becoming a chef.

Human being had created words to communicate with the dead, and with those yet unborn. (page 200)

They had made a ship. A ship bearing the souls of people traveling from ancient times toward the future, across the ocean rich with words. (page 200)

The salesman, Nishioka, who didn’t seem to fit in the dictionary department, discovered it had changed him and even when he was sent to a different department, he retained the desire to help the dictionary in anyway possible. He left a “guide” for the next person, had exerted pressure – some would say blackmailed – contributors and marketed the project when it was ready from his new department. I didn’t like Nishioka at first because he seemed so shallow, so it was interesting to see how he changed, but retained his core personality.

“No woman had ever praised Nishioka for his sincerity. He lied when the occasion called for it, and he was tender, or not, depending on his mood. Wasn’t that being truly sincere,” (page 74)

The newest member of the team, Midori Kishibe, who arrives after Majime has worked on the dictionary for over 12 years, doesn’t believe she is the right person to help. Over time, she too discovers a passion for the work. Perhaps one of the lessons learned is that when working with passionate people we discover more about ourselves and want to emulate them in discovering our own passion to live.

I loved The Great Passage for it’s quirky nature, delving into multiple meanings of words, the intense descriptions of working on a dictionary with such dedicated passion, the people who find their life’s purpose and the funny moments that made me laugh. It was like I had stepped into a different world. I recommend this book because it is intelligent and thoughtful.

There are discussions about how to include definitions of love, and how to be politically correct with gays, there are a couple of love scenes, but not graphic and a little cursing.

5 out of 5 stars

5 star

-Michelle

If you want more fun and quirky books to read try:

The Hawkman, A Fairy Tale of the Great War By Jane Rosenberg LaForge

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie By Alan Bradley

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate By Jacqueline Kelly

Moon Over Manifest By Clare Vanderpool

The Lost Book of the Grail By Charlie Lovett

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

 

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The Oddling Prince – What Happens When the Fey Fall In Love?

Book Review : The Oddling Prince

By Nancy Springer

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

In the ancient moors of Scotland, the king of Calidon lies on his deathbed, cursed by a ring that cannot be removed from his finger. When a mysterious fey stranger appears to save the king, he also carries a secret that could tear the royal family apart.

The kingdom’s only hope will lie with two young men raised worlds apart. Aric is the beloved heir to the throne of Calidon; Albaric is clearly of noble origin yet strangely out of place.

The Oddling Prince is a tale of brothers whose love and loyalty to each other is such that it defies impending warfare, sundering seas, fated hatred, and the very course of time itself. In her long-awaited new fantasy novel, Nancy Springer (the Books of Isle series) explores the darkness of the human heart as well as its unceasing capacity for love. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

I received an ARC from NetGalley for my honest review, all opinions are my own.

Historically the fey are nothing but trouble for humankind. In this case, the fey started the trouble, but didn’t necessarily end it. Why do the fey always cause problems? Because they’re immortal and we’re not is the simple answer. Maybe the more complex answer is that they can’t really understand love. So, the moral is when the fey fall in love, mortal better watch out. The whole time while reading The Oddling Prince, I felt like I was hearing a dream while underwater. In other words, it’s strange, but I liked it.

It has a mystical quality from the very beginning when we realize the king is dying not because of a war, assassin or other plague, but from a ring on his hand – a ring that won’t come off and we can guess that’s because it’s from another place, the fairyland.

I love to talk about characters in books, because the most interesting setting will still cause us to yawn if we don’t have someone to read about. I guess we’re fundamentally egocentric and want to read about ourselves in a book by identifying with the characters.

The two young men are different from one another, but fully accepting of each other. Aric, the protagonist, has been raised to be the heir. He feels unprepared to carry on the role with the demise of his father imminent. When he sees a supernatural event, which brings him a young man – obviously someone more than from this world because he is too beautiful – Aric must decide if he should allow the stranger to see his ailing father. The stranger frees the king from the vice-like hold the ring has held over him, but  the king of Calidon doesn’t know who the young man is and dismisses him from his mind. Aric, on the other hand, feels profoundly grateful and seeks out this misplaced youth. He learns that Albaric and he have a strong connection, and he would be willing to die to preserve his life. What could cause such an intense reaction?

Warning!!! Big Spoiler Alert – do not read this short paragraph if you want a surprise!!! ———–I enjoyed their relationship, because they are willing to try to understand each other and express loyalty to each other as brothers. There was nothing sexual in their relationship. It is a very simple relationship, but complicated by their raging father, the king of Calidon. Both brothers are completely transparent and honest. The one is worldly and the other is naive.

Spoiler alert is finished.

The queen also recognizes the value that Albaric brings to the kingdom. Not only has he saved Calidon, the king, but he supports Aric as the heir. He proves his loyalty time and again without expecting a reward, but hopes that the king will remember him. The king of Calidon is obtuse and refuses to acknowledge Albaric and his goodness, but instead, sees him as a threat to his son. The king not only sees Albaric as a threat, but also other shadows and ghosts from the past – including his own son, Aric, as a potential enemy. The madness that shapes the king of Calidon defines this book as being different than other tales about fairies. If the father had just accepted and loved Albaric for all the good he had done the story would have been flat.

It is more of a psychological fantasy than an action fantasy. There are action scenes, arrows and swords, political maneuvering, but I think these are all overshadowed by the psychological exploration of characters between Aric, Albaric and the king of Calidon.

It’s very small complaint, but I thought the word “troth” was over used. Springer uses some beautiful language that adds to the other-wordly feel. Just too much troth for me.

Aric does mention casually that he could visit the girls in the kitchen to fulfill his desires as needed. There isn’t really much more than that in a sexual nature in the book.

I ended up liking this book and recommend it.

3.5-4 out of 5 stars

4 star

  • Michelle

 

If you would like to read more books with a surreal or fairy-like quality try:

The Hollow Kingdom byClare B. Dunkle

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

 

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The Hawkman, A Fairy Tale of the Great War – When Do Men Become Beasts?

Book Review : The Hawkman
A Fairy Tale of the Great War

By Jane Rosenberg LaForge

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

A great war, a great love, and the mythology that unites them; The Hawkman: A Fairy Tale of the Great War is a lyrical adaptation of a beloved classic.

Set against the shattering events of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, at the tale’s heart are an American schoolteacher—dynamic and imaginative—and an Irish musician, homeless and hated—who have survived bloodshed, poverty, and sickness to be thrown together in an English village. Together they quietly hide from the world in a small cottage.

Too soon, reality shatters their serenity, and they must face the parochial community. Unknown to all, a legend is in the making—one that will speak of courage and resilience amidst the forces that brought the couple together even as outside forces threaten to tear them apart. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

I received an ARC from NetGalley for my honest review, all opinions are my own. Thank you NetGalley for the opportunity to read modern literature! I would consider The Hawkman a modern classic because of the use of classic literary themes like forgiveness and redemption.

The Hawkman focuses on two characters, with only a few minor characters entering the scenes. Known as the Hawkman, the Irish musician suffering from the after-effects of the war, Mr. Michael Sheehan, and Miss Williams, the American teacher dominate the fairy tale.

Even though the novel introduces the Hawkman first, I’m going to focus on Miss Williams as my introduction. She is faced with prejudice against women, is seen as an old maid and yet, she continues to extend kindness. I felt like she had a backbone and would do the right thing under any circumstances. She seemed like a person to be admired, though she would never be famous or important by the standards frequently eschewed by the world. Even though her mother had warned her as a child to never touch a bird, she feels prompted to extend her kindness to the broken man on the street. After she chose to reach out to him, she realizes that she needs to continue because he is now dependent on her.

Through the trauma of WWI, and his reception back in polite society of Great Britain, Mr. Sheehan has been transformed from a man to a beast. His eyes are yellowed, his hands like claws and his steps mincing and uncertain like a bird. He is feared and hated by his fellow men. I had to ask myself, when do men become beasts? Is it when they are no longer seen as human? Does the transformation take place internally or from external forces. I feel like Mr. Sheehan became a beast because of the way he was treated by others. Miss Williams is the first to see him as a broken man rather than a creature to be shunned. Once he is adopted by Miss Eva Williams, she becomes his entire world and he will do whatever he must to protect her.

I enjoyed reading The Hawkman with its beautiful prose and veiled hints. If I were to make an editorial change, it would be to break up some of the scenes where the reader learns the history of both Mr. Sheehan and Miss Williams. I was so intent on what was happening in their current situation, I desperately wanted to know more and receive the background a little more slowly. With that said, I can’t remember more poignant and stunning descriptions of war. How can one write something so beautiful about something so awful? Both of their backstories are critical to understand the motivation behind each of the characters. Even minor characters, like Christopher Thorton being reticent, receive a quick fleshing out. Each person felt like they had a full life backing up their actions.

It was interesting to view this story as a fairy tale. The moment I finished the epilogue, I returned to the prologue to link the scenes together. It was within the last few chapters and the very beginning where I felt the connection to a fairy tale. It was surreal and sublime.

Here are a few quotes for your enjoyment:

“But she had not found the England she expected when she arrived. The place and its people were impenetrable in all aspects: the tart curve in their speech, the defeated fabric of their clothes, the sallow nature of their complexions.” (Loc. 202)

“His fingers were like leaves, their reach toward the sun and meaning. She saw no harm in touching him, although she knew the danger of touching birds, particularly hatchlings.” (Loc. 233)

“Their bodies could be next on that pile. He resolved, if not for himself, then for Altman, to never alter his appearance. If he lived to grow out his hair, a beard, his fingers and toes to claws, until he was ape, or bear, or anything more natural than he was.” (Loc. 813)

“He could provide each note with the isolation it deserved, before it was grafted onto the next; he could make way for the slip of an instant, so the phrase could be savored, without his crushing it. This was a compromise, between music and vacuum, and he would jeopardize neither if he could keep what his hands and body had suffered away from the instrument.” (Loc. 912)

“She was about to leap from underneath the blankets the nuns had piled atop her when she was suddenly in a larger room – the dormitory in the children’s asylum. She had been stripped of her blankets, and given an anemic substitute that did nothing to keep out the consuming winter temperatures.” (Loc. 1628)

“Sheehan jammed the letter his mother had written into his fist, and then he picked it apart, as if dressing a chicken.” (Loc 2315)

I recommend The Hawkman, and look forward to more books by LaForge.

4 star

  • Michelle

I would love to hear your thoughts on The Hawkman, did you find it convincing, surreal or obtuse?

 

If you would like to read more books with a surreal quality try:

The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan

Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

Trick of the Eye by Dennis Haseley

The Girl In Between by Laekan Zea Kemp

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A Time of Love and Tartan – Does Bertie’s Life Get Better?

Book Review : A Time of Love and Tartan
 44 Scotland Street

By Alexander McCall Smith

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

When Pat accepts her narcissistic ex-boyfriend Bruce’s invitation for coffee, she has no idea of the complications in her romantic and professional life that will follow. Meanwhile, Matthew, her boss at the art gallery, attracts the attention of the police after a misunderstanding at the local bookstore.

Whether caused by small things such as a cup of coffee and a book, or major events such as Stuart’s application for promotion and his wife Irene’s decision to pursue a PhD in Aberdeen, change is coming to Scotland Street. But for three seven-year-old boys–Bertie Pollock, Ranald, and Big Lou’s foster son, Finlay–it also means getting a glimpse of perfect happiness.

Alexander McCall Smith’s delightfully witty, wise and sometimes surreal comedy spirals out in surprising ways in this new installment, but its heart remains where it has always been at the center of life in Edinburgh’s New Town. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

Even though I like many of the characters in the 44 Scotland Street series, the one who keeps me coming back for more is Bertie. I always wonder, will his life get better or worse this time around? Connected to Bertie are the characters we also love to hate; Olive, Pansy and obviously his “cow” of a mother, Irene. At times I even want to slap Stuart (Bertie’s father), just enough to get his attention and to tell him it’s time to grow up and at the same time grow a spine. (Since he’s fictional there is no danger of me actually slapping anyone.) His mother says much the same thing, though with little hope. Though I won’t give away a spoiler, I will say I always feel hopeful for Bertie, and maybe that’s because he is so filled with hope that his life will be better when he grows up.

Why do we love books like A Time of Love and Tartan or The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency written by Alexander McCall Smith? I believe the answer is simple, we see something of ourselves in the characters, something of our neighbors and the foibles of society become clear. We wish things could wrap up nicely, that we could gain wisdom and that our lives were a little more simplified. For example Big Lou sees everything through the lens of her upbringing and it makes her decisions clear for her. She cares for the people she likes, she takes care of those who need care, she reads and serves coffee and bacon rolls. If she has too dark of a dilemma she can fall back on her upbringing.

“Och, away with all that,” said Lou. “What’s wrong with bacon? I know plenty of people who ate bacon every day of their lives. My Uncle Willy, for example…” (p.68)

See how easy that was? According to Lou we can all eat bacon!

Here is a bit of wisdom from the Duke given to Matthew.

“You’re right, of course – every generation thinks its situation is uniquely worrying – but the world has always been on the brink of disaster. Yes, that’s right, but that doesn’t detract from the particular difficulty of specific times.” (p.123)

I love it when Ranald Braveheart Macpherson and Bertie have been exploring in the park. They still have vivid imaginations.

“Bertie did not reply. He did not think it likely that his mother would allow him to keep a body in the flat; there were so many restrictions in his life, and that was just one more of them.” (p.136)

How about the title for one of Pat’s chapters? Doesn’t it show the state many find themselves in, whether they admit it or not? Chapter 36 She Wanted A Man So Desperately

Stuart receives an unexpected invitation, because of his difficult wife.

“Stuart read the print on the card. Men Underground, it said. And then, under that, The Male Resistance. He saw a telephone number.” (p.231)

I always enjoy this series, and even though this is book 14, if you haven’t met Bertie and the rest, pick up the first book. They are a fast, delightful read. I highly recommend them.

4 out of 5 stars
4 star

  • Michelle
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The Opposite of Here – Is A Cruise For You?

Book Review : The Opposite of Here
By Tara Altebrando

ebook

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

Natalie’s parents are taking her and her three best friends on a cruise for her seventeenth birthday. A sail-a-bration, they call it. But it’s only been a few short months since Natalie’s boyfriend died in a tragic accident, and she wants to be anywhere but here.
Then she meets a guy on the first night and sparks fly. After a moonlit conversation on a secluded deck of the ship, Natalie pops down to her cabin to get her swimsuit so they can go for a dip. But when she returns, he’s gone. Something he said makes her think he might have . . . jumped? No, he couldn’t have.
But why do her friends think she’s crazy for wanting to make sure he’s okay? Also, why do they seem to be hiding something from her? And how can she find him when she doesn’t even know his name? Most importantly, why is the captain on the intercom announcing the urgent need for a headcount?
With her signature thrilling storytelling, the author of The Leaving and The Possible explores our vulnerability to the power of suggestion-and the lies we tell others and ourselves-in a twisting, Hitchcock-inspired mystery with high stakes and dark secrets. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

Thank you to NetGalley for an advance copy of The Opposite of Here, in exchange for an honest review.

Once again I am stuck with writing a less than stellar review. In the books’ defense, I don’t believe I’m the target market and a teenager would probably enjoy it more than I did.

The format of the story is blocked out with the itineraries for the cruise ship’s activities. After reading through the first few studiously and not finding clues to the mystery, I started skimming these parts, and so, if there were clues for upcoming events I missed them. I was left with never wanting to go on a cruise if this is the approach to herding people around for fun.

Natalie is interested in Hitchcock movies and the scenes are interrupted with notations as if it’s a movie script. The denotations were not always clear and it became confusing if Natalie was relating an imaginary scene or something actually happening. This may be the fault of my reading an ARC and hopefully is fixed in the final version. There were other mistakes where the “movie scene” in Natalie’s head flowed right into a paragraph that was actually happening. I had to read those twice, which always annoys me when reading a novel, and affects my overall rating.

I didn’t love the characterization. Natalie was whiney – and I know she was getting over her boyfriend who had died, but I needed more empathy for her. However, I did like her explanation of why she wasn’t as broken up over him as she “should” have been. Several boys were mentioned on the cruise. I felt like Ray, the darkest character, was the most interesting because we slowly learned his motivations for his actions. He is fascinated with hypnotism and shows his skills at a talent night on the boat – but his act has an undercurrent of danger.

Nora was the most interesting of Natalie’s friends because of her flaws. I’m not convinced that Natalie could forgive her easily for those flaws, but Nora certainly stirred the pot in an interesting way. I would have liked to feel more connected to any of the friends. I thought the bit with the necklace was interesting – it seemed like Nora had considered pretending that the necklace had been a gift, but Natalie would know that wasn’t true from first hand experience. I thought this was a point where the two friends could reconnect more deeply after being hurt by one another.

The end could be seen as a big plus or a minus. After some consideration I’ve decided I’m on the plus side. So as not to give away the twist and spoiler, I will only say that the final details tie up the plot ends neatly like a package (which is why some won’t like it), but it also provides the motivation for the majority of characters as a big reveal (which is why I decided I liked the end). Regardless, the final twist is what made this book memorable.

I haven’t read many contemporary mysteries with teens as the protagonist, so this could cloud my point of view. I was also offended when Natalie has a huge epiphany about her identity and doesn’t need her dead boyfriend or any boy as the measure of her value, and then she jumps right into bed with a guy. What’s up with that? It seemed like her actions took away the life lesson learned that she was actually valuable for more than her body.  I can’t really recommend this mystery.

 

2.5 – 3 out of 5 stars

2 1:2 star

-Michelle

I would recommend trying Black Flowers, White Lies by Yvonne Ventresca.

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Interview With Jennifer Nielsen – Author of The Traitor’s Game

Interview With Jennifer A. Nielsen

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Jennifer A. Nielsen is the New York Times bestselling author of The Ascendence Trilogy and a two time recipient of the Whitney Award in 2013 and 2014.

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She is also the author of the The Mark of the Thief Series.

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Michelle:

Hello Ms. Nielsen, everyone who reads Tales Untangled is thrilled to have the chance to hear from you today. It always feels like a special event to hear from busy authors.

Because many readers dream of becoming authors, it’s inspirational to hear your story of becoming a successful author. How and when did you decide to start writing?

Jennifer:

I never intended to be a writer. I always had stories in my head and enjoyed writing, but it had never occurred to me that I could be a writer. When my oldest child was born, I quit my job teaching to stay home with him and…it turns out, new babies are rather boring. I felt like my brain was melting, so I began reading a ton, which was great, but I enjoyed every book a little less than the one before it. I wished the author had done something different, or I felt a scene was predictable, or I thought if I had written this book, here’s what I would’ve done.

One day I realized that the only way I would get the exact story I wanted, was if I wrote it. So I began to write, just for fun. and midway through that first, truly horrible manuscript, I realized that someone had to be publishing all these books I’d read. And if they could do it, why not me> That’s when I became serious about writing.

Michelle: 

One of the things I love about you becoming an author is that you didn’t just know you would write from the moment you could first string a sentence together. It sounds like you have taken your time to learn the craft to become successful.

Recently you released THE TRAITOR’S GAME, another New York Times bestseller.

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(I’m hoping the next will be out soon.) It pulled me in multiple directions and I couldn’t put it down. Sometimes I was laughing and sometimes screaming. What was your original inspiration to write a novel about the dilemma of becoming a traitor?

Jennifer:

Many inspirations came together for THE TRAITOR’S GAME. We own some property in Wyoming and the summer I was working on the book, a fire tore through the land leaving large acres completely burnt. Those images became the inspiration for All Spirits Forest. I was also heavily inspired by the song “Run” by Snow Patrol, a song about two people who clearly loved each other but were being forced apart. I wanted to know more about them and the answers led me to Simon and Kestra. Finally, I studied the true stories of people in history who were considered traitors, looking at who was later considered a hero, and who was a villain.

And since you asked, the second book of the series, THE DECEIVER’S HEART, will be out in early 2019. I know it’s still a long time to wait but I’m very proud of this story, and really push Simon and Kestra to their limits, so I hope readers will think the wait is worth it.

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Michelle:

I love how you have more than one inspiration for the book; that explains why it is multi-dimensional. I’m marking my calendar for THE DECEIVER’S HEART. It is worth the wait!

I’ve liked your characters in previous series, and also love the dual point of view you’ve used this time between Kestra and Simon. Starting with Kestra and Trina, how do you create strong characters and differentiate them from each other? Especially when two characters have similar circumstances which have isolated them from others. I easily could have hated Trina, but I actually felt compassion for her even though she is abrasive to Kestra.

Jennifer:

I think it’s easy for me to differentiate characters because in my head, I treat them like different people. They each have such different backgrounds and motives and wounds, that they would also naturally have different voices. Trina and Kestra interest me too, since in slightly altered circumstances, each of them might have become the other and no wonder Trina resents Kestra for that. Their relationship will continue to evolve in THE DECEIVER’S HEART, and they will discover that for better or worse, their fates are bound to each other.

Michelle:

I’m even more interested to see what happens with these two women. Next, we have to talk about Simon. Talk about a guy to swoon over!

I loved how you give us one small, seemingly insignificant piece of information at a time with Simon. Too often, characters can become a cookie-cutter of the hero, the country bumpkin or the villain. How do you flesh out a character like Simon to make him unique and have layers of depth?

Jennifer:

I adore Simon as a character. He is passionate and committed about his beliefs, intelligent, and willing to take risks to get what he wants. But he can also be ridiculously stubborn and often becomes so entrenched in what he believes that he is blind to other realities around him. Those opposing traits give me so much to work with in his scenes, and they only become richer the more I get to know him. Simon will eventually have to choose between his heart and his destiny, just as Kestra will have to decide who she intends to be, and what price she will have to pay to become that person. Suddenly, that Snow Patrol song begins to make sense.

Michelle:

It’s so interesting that as the author you also have to get to know your characters. Secondary characters play a pivotal role, which can be seen in your novel with the twists created through their machinations.

Captain Tenger, the leader of the Corack rebellion, and Sir Henry Dallisor, Kestra’s father are both motivated by a desire for power – and big game changers in THE TRAITOR’S GAME. Under different circumstances do you think they would work together or tear each other apart? Are they more similar than they know or more different than we might guess?

Jennifer:

Captain Tenger is one of my favorite characters, because I don’t think it’s entirely clear whether he can be trusted, or whether he should be trusted. You’re right – just like Sir Henry, Tenger desires power and believes the ends justify his means, but if he ever attains that power, would he be any better a leader than Sir Henry? Through the end of THE TRAITOR’S GAME, Simon has been a bit of a buffer between Kestra and Tenger, but that will begin to change as her role in the future of Antora changes.

Equally complicated will be the relationship between Kestra and Sir Henry. If not for Lord Endrick, Henry would be king, so there is always a question of just how far his loyalties go.

Michelle:

I’m loving the clues for the next book. You novels have an element of magic within your world building. How do you guarantee that the magic is essential to the plot?

Jennifer:

I look at magic as another element of world-building, of equal importance to the history of the world, its current conflicts, its governmental structure, and so on. I don’t want it to feel like magic was tacked on to the world, but rather that it’s inherent in that world, as natural to the interplay of events as any other facet of life.

Except with this series, magic is viewed with deep suspicion because it is believed to have a corrupting element, to work against a person’s normal instincts toward right and wrong. This skepticism over magic will play an increasing role in the series and threaten to shatter several relationships and bonds of trust.

Michelle:

I can tell the stakes are being raised as you continue this series. When you lay out the plot for a book, where does it fit in during the initial planning stages? Do you have method that works particularly well for you as you develop the plot to arc over several books in a series?

Jennifer:

I start with the general story concept and spend time to find my main characters and define the central problem of the book or series. From there, I jump to the very end (or in the case of the series – there are two jumps. One to the end of the book and the other to the end of the series) and make myself come up with five possible endings. The reason for this is that it forces greater creativity than if I’d simply picked my first idea. Once I have my ending, I start to fill in the gaps of where the story begins and how to get to that ending. Anytime I hit major scenes, I repeat the same idea of five possibilities, which is how I keep the plot twisting.

Nothing I outline is ever written in stone of course. Characters are very alive to me and so I listen to them as I write and often they will lead me in directions I had not intended, or reveal secrets in bits of dialogue that I must explore. In fact, discovering those unintended secrets is one of my favorite parts in the writing process.

Michelle:

My first reaction is “Wow”, five possible endings and repeated for every major scene. That completely changes the way I see writing.

Your books always have comments that make me laugh, usually in the dialogue. Are you simply a born stand-up comedian? How do you write such funny moments, and make it work, through battles and other angsty situations?

Jennifer:

Thank you, though my kids would say I’m not nearly as funny as I think I am. A lot of the humor gets added in during the editing phase. As I read through certain scenes, sometimes they’re just so intense that a little humor is necessary to allow the reader to breathe. I also believe the humor is a great way of helping the reader bond to the characters, to say to themselves, “That’s how I’d have responded (or how I wish I would respond) too.”

Michelle:

My kids never think I’m funny, so if your think you’re funny sometimes that’s a win!

Please tell us about upcoming project with a few tidbits to peak our interest.

Jennifer:

OOh – so much excitement! I’m already at work on TRAITOR’S GAME 3, which is going to be epic! Then on Aug 28, I’ll release another historical novel, RESISTANCE, set in World War 2 Poland. It is based on the true story of the Jewish teenagers who fought back against the Nazis. And I’m outling a duology that – if I can pull it off – will be incredibly cool. Titled BLACK INK, all I can say about it for now is that it’ll involve a boy with no memory of who he is, a Boggle set with dice that occasionally communicate to him, and an international conspiracy that will take the reader out of the pages down a rabbit hole that will be far bigger than a book alone can contain.

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Here’s Jennifer’s first historical novel, A Night Divided.

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Resistance can be pre-ordered! It’s getting amazing reviews.

So much to look forward to!

Michelle:

I’m so glad you have plenty in the works to keep me reading! It sounds like a lot to keep track of – you must keep extensive charts.

What advice do you have for other aspiring authors?

Jennifer:

My suggestion is to decide now who they want to be and then to make the writing choices that will get them there. Do they want control in their career, do they want to be considered for major awards, do they want a movie deal, or to write on important niche topics suited for small audiences? Do they want to hit bestseller lists, write books primarily for friends and family, or have the freedom to write anything they want and release it at any time they want?

There is no right or wrong career choice, but there are hundred of choices offered to writers these days and not all choices lead to the same destination. So if the aspiring author can focus on where they are headed, the only remaining question is what is the best route to get there. If an opportunity arises, they can ask, “Does this get me closer to my goal, or is it a distraction from my goals?” Staying focused will help the aspiring author make only their strongest personal choices.

Michelle:

That is valuable advice. I think some of those questions are things a writer could ask of their characters. I really like the goal oriented approach.

I appreciate all your time spent on answering questions and look forward to your next book! And the next, and the next…

Thanks,
Michelle


For additional writing helps I highly recommend you check out Jennifer’s website, jennielsen.com and specifically read through the For Writers tab. She has included many pitfall inexperienced writers tend to use and helps for what a writer should do to become successful.

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