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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Stormcaster – Will You Be Swept Away?

Book Review : Stormcaster
Shattered Realms Series

By Cinda Williams Chima

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

The third book in the thrilling four-book Shattered Realms series from New York Times bestselling author Cinda Williams Chima

The empress in the east—the unspeakably cruel ruler whose power grew in Flamecaster and Shadowcaster—tightens her grip in this chilling third installment in the series.

Vagabond seafarer Evan Strangward can move the ocean and the wind, but his magical abilities seem paltry in comparison to Empress Celestine’s. As Celestine’s bloodsworn armies grow, Evan travels to the Fells to warn the queendom of her imminent invasion. If he can’t convince the Gray Wolf queen to take a stand, he knows that the Seven Realms will fall. Among the dead will be the one person Evan can’t stand to lose.

Meanwhile, the queen’s formidable daughter, Princess Alyssa ana’Raisa, is already a prisoner aboard the empress’s ship. Lyss may be the last remaining hope of bringing down the empress from within her own tightly controlled territory.

Multiple intricately interwoven storylines converge in this gripping novel about a brave, coordinated effort to undermine a horrific tyrant. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

Each new book delves into new characters, and in Stormcaster Chima begins the tale with Evan Strangward and Destin Karn – who we met briefly in Flamecaster. Evan is a pirate who has a secret. When Celestine discovers him on board a pirate ship his life is forever changed as he instinctively draws upon his powers for self-preservation. He hides in a port town under an assumed name until he’s ready to start captaining his own ship. While in hiding, he meets Destin Karn – who nearly killed him on sight. Destin also hides a secret, but his fortune turns for the worse when he is discovered by his father. Sparks start flying between Evan and Destin early in the novel, though other than looks, thoughts and one kiss, their relationship doesn’t develop due to their separation. A gay love story to open the novel will put off some readers. I found I wasn’t as interested in Evan and his background, because he feels like a secondary character. I was anxious to move to the characters in whom I already have a vested interest. Evan is barely found after the first half of the novel.

A little past the first third of Stormcaster  Ash/Adrian sul’Han comes back from the “dead” and returns to his kingdom. While rejoicing over her son being alive, the wolf queen receives the news that her daughter Alyssa has been captured, and though presumably alive, details are scarce.

At the same time, Hal Matelon has returned to his father’s estate to try to convince the Thanes to unite with the king and the wolf queen to defend their home from the threat of Empress Celestine’s invasion. The Kingdom of Arden is oblivious to the threat. However, the Thanes are preparing to march against King Jaret, who holds their women and children as hostages. Robert, Han’s younger brother, is a hot-head and determines to rescue his mother and sister.

Lyss, Princess Alyssa ana’Raisa, joins the story at about page 300. She is in a tight spot. To preserve her life she has agreed to train Empress Celestine’s bloodsworn army. While training them she searches for ways to defeat them. Unexpectedly, Lyss meets Jenna and Cas, who tell her that her brother is alive. They begin to form an alliance, but what can two women and one dragon do against hordes of bloodsworn and a powerful enchantress?

It’s fun to see how Chima begins to pull all the threads together in this epic series. Will the Kingdom of Arden avoid civil war? Where will Lyss get the army she needs to fight the enemy? Will Ash be successful in rescuing the next wolf queen? Do the different types of magic have one source? There is a huge twist – which I’m not mentioning – but I was caught off guard and felt like it changes the direction for the next book!

There continue to be many questions to be answered in the next, and final book of the Shattered Realms Series. I loved the second half of Stormcaster as I could see the characters weaving everything back together. There is no doubt the realm is shattered and I have a feeling it will get worse before it gets better.

Cinda Williams Chima has been one of my favorite fantasy authors since I first found The Wizard Heir, and loved the Seven Realms Series. I love her world building and characters.

 

4 out of 5 stars

4 star

  • Michelle

If you like the Shattered Realm Series try:

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

A Cast of Stones by Patrick W. Carr

The Kingfountain Series or Harbinger Series by Jeff Wheeler

 

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Storm Glass, The Harbinger Series – Can the World Change the Differences of Social Class and Education?

Book Review: Storm Glass
The Harbinger series #1

By Jeff Wheeler

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

Theirs is a world of opposites. The privileged live in sky manors held aloft by a secretive magic known only as the Mysteries. Below, the earthbound poor are forced into factory work to maintain the engine of commerce. Only the wealthy can afford to learn the Mysteries, and they use their knowledge to further lock their hold on society.

Cettie Pratt is a waif doomed to the world below, until an admiral attempts to adopt her. But in her new home in the clouds, not everyone treats her as one of the family.

Sera Fitzempress is a princess born into power. She yearns to meet the orphan girl she has heard so much about, but her father deems the girl unworthy of his daughter’s curiosity.

Neither girl feels that she belongs. Each seeks to break free of imposed rules. Now, as Cettie dreams of living above and as Sera is drawn to the world below, they will follow the paths of their own choosing.

But both girls will be needed for the coming storm that threatens to overturn both their worlds. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

I received an ARC for Storm Glass from NetGalley, and this is my honest review.

Not that authors generally have much control over their jacket covers, but this art is amazing! I love it! After reading Storm Glass, I love it even more since it could be symbolic of the happenings within the story.

At this point, I feel fairly certain I will thoroughly enjoy books written by Jeff Wheeler. He develops creative worlds and characters that are thoroughly delightful, or despicable, depending on the type required. Fantasy continues to be one of my favorite genres because of the flexibility and the ability to explore social problems in a different environment. Magic is simply a bonus.

In Storm Glass, we are transported to a Regency styled world, where the rules of social class are rigid and absolute. Wheeler creates a nice play between the contrast of the extremes in society that could be seen as a parallel to our own world. The discussions on debt, and how financial concerns could quickly become the downfall of a family – and their floating manor – make it feel real. Anyone with sense can see how debt strangles families today.

In Storm Glass we are introduced to some of the dregs of society. A foster mother has collected a swarm of children to be eligible for money from the government. She, in turn, drinks up the money leaving the children destitute. Two of the older children take a strong role in caring for the younger children by stealing food, protecting and comforting when there is nothing else to be done.

The Mysteries are a controlling force within society. The magic of the Mysteries bleeds into the realm of science. Only the privileged will be educated in the Mysteries, because it’s education that could change the opportunities afforded the poor. The four major schools are the Mysteries of War, the Mysteries of Wind, the Mysteries of Law and the Mysteries of Thought. Cettie appears to be sensitive to the Mysteries, but it has not yet been revealed how her upcoming education will help her bloom.

Cettie Pratt, the mother-figure for the orphans, has a secret. A ghost comes to haunt her, with the intent to harm. With the little ones, the protection becomes mutual – she shelters them and their innocence acts as a barrier the ghost cannot cross. When one of the wealthy, from the skies above, enters the home and witnesses the conditions he uses the Mysteries to banish the ghost. Cettie asks to be taken away – without understanding the ramifications. This powerful man, Vice Admiral Fitzroy, extends himself and brings Cettie to his home where she finds a mixed reception. His wife and youngest are loving to the poor child, but others see her as a threat.

Cettie, is filled with doubts about her worth. She is complex because she is ashamed of her background, but doesn’t feel compelled to mimic high society and fail in the undertaking. Ms. Pullman, one of the most despicable characters I’ve met in quite awhile, plucks expertly at the loose threads of Cettie’s feelings – shredding any confidence the girl might have found in her new home.  Though she is twelve, Cettie, has grown up quickly in a world that thrust responsibility on her and so se evaluates the world through the lens of her experience. I enjoyed seeing how she could be mature, and still cowed by Ms. Pullman. (Cettie reminds me of Sara Crewe from A Little Princess, one of my favorite plucky girls in literature.) Ultimately, Cettie is a hero because she wants to stand up for the down-trodden and create a better world. It will be fascinating to see how she manages to work through her lofty goals.

Sera Fitzempress, lives an isolated life. She has been kept from mingling with society at large, and specifically children her own age. Despite her upbringing, she is fierce, loyal, smart and driven. Her governess, Hugilde – and only companion, easily becomes exasperated with the child but is also the only adult who truly loves her. As more political power comes within grasp of her father, he becomes more controlling. Her mother appears to be powerless, but has secrets of her own. The bickering parents could have ruined Sera, but instead she wants to seek social justice and change the world she lives in. She, however, may truly gain the power to change the world. Associating only with adults is another way for a young person to mature beyond her years. Sera has had to negotiate the relationship with her parents, knows her value is seen – in part – by who she weds for political advantage and her friendship with Hugilde. It feels realistic that Sera would be another mature young woman because of her circumstances.

Wheeler likes to interconnect his stories, and there is a thread to connect Storm Glass to Muirwood, but it reads well without needing to have read his previous books.

I was thoroughly entertained and can hardly wait to read more about the Mysteries, ghosts and two girls from opposite sides of society in the Harbinger series.

I highly recommend this series and other books by Jeff Wheeler. He keeps his fiction clean, fast paced and intriguing. Jeff Wheeler is one of the must read contemporary authors of fantasy.

5 out of 5 stars

5 star

-Michelle

If you have enjoyed Wheeler as an author I would highly recommend reading A Cast of Stones by Patrick W. Carr, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. I am confident that you will love their books.

Also, check out the e-zine : Deep Magic

 

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Still Waters – How Does A Swedish Mystery Differ From An American Novel?

Book Review : Still Waters
Sandhamn Murders

e-book

By Viveca Sten

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

On a hot July morning on Sweden’s idyllic vacation island of Sandhamn, a man takes his dog for a walk and makes a gruesome discovery: a body, tangled in fishing net, has washed ashore.

Police detective Thomas Andreasson is the first to arrive on the scene. Before long, he has identified the deceased as Krister Berggren, a bachelor from the mainland who has been missing for months. All signs point to an accident—until another brutalized corpse is found at the local bed-and-breakfast. But this time it is Berggren’s cousin, whom Thomas interviewed in Stockholm just days before.

As the island’s residents reel from the news, Thomas turns to his childhood friend, local lawyer Nora Linde. Together, they attempt to unravel the riddles left behind by these two mysterious outsiders—while trying to make sense of the difficult twists their own lives have taken since the shared summer days of their youth. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

I accepted a challenge to read some foreign authors for a change of pace. It’s been very interesting. In the case of Still Waters I felt I could be reading a detective novel from the United States just as easily as a foreign author- it just happened to be set in Sweden.

Contemporary mysteries aren’t my main course of genre, but I found I enjoyed Still Waters. One of the highlights of a mystery for me is if I can’t figure out the solution until the author has nearly laid out all the pieces. Sten did a fantastic job of setting up the situation, having the investigation progress at a good pace, and having a good solution – which I didn’t solve.

I was yelling at the police officer, in my head, that one of the guys he questioned was too squeaky clean. This is a minor spoiler…. He was innocent. I kind of hoped that either he would have chased after him more as a red herring or that he was guilty of a crime and only appeared innocent. Perhaps police officers in Sweden have such a good gut in being able to determine a person’s innocence or guilt after a few cursory questions. I thought it was fun to hear the investigators draw up different scenarios to solve the crime, searching for a motive and who else could be involved. Some of their theories shot wide of the mark, but eventually they collected enough details to make more concise guesses.

The side stories were just as compelling as the murder mysteries. Tom, the police officer, has been living through a personal tragedy and hasn’t really connected with other people, but has distanced himself from his colleagues, friends and family. His childhood friend, Nora is blind sided when her husband is less than enthusiastic over her job opportunities. It’s discovered in the investigation that Krister led the life of a lonely bachelor. Nearly all the characters have enough side story revealed to make them seem real, maintaining relationships and trying to balance the most important things in their lives. The characters were believable, and that seems critical in a murder mystery.

I would consider this to be a clean mystery because it is free of gregarious sex. There is a little bit of cursing, including a few f-bombs. Still Waters is the first in a series.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Michelle

If you enjoyed this mystery try:

Black Flowers, White Lies by Yvonne Ventresca – a YA thriller

 

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The Gray House – Is The House Sentient?

Book Review : The Gray House

By Mariam Petrosyan

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

The Gray House is an astounding tale of how what others understand as liabilities can be leveraged into strengths.

Bound to wheelchairs and dependent on prosthetic limbs, the physically disabled students living in the House are overlooked by the Outsides. Not that it matters to anyone living in the House, a hulking old structure that its residents know is alive. From the corridors and crawl spaces to the classrooms and dorms, the House is full of tribes, tinctures, scared teachers, and laws—all seen and understood through a prismatic array of teenagers’ eyes.

But student deaths and mounting pressure from the Outsides put the time-defying order of the House in danger. As the tribe leaders struggle to maintain power, they defer to the awesome power of the House, attempting to make it through days and nights that pass in ways that clocks and watches cannot record. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

As with all Russian novels, I was overwhelmed by the vast breadth of The Gray House. Pin pointing my emotions first include, being mesmerized, sickened, fascinated, questioning and confused. Exhausted. Addicted. Ponderous. Poetry. Intense. Thought provoking. Obtuse.

If anyone says they understand this novel, I wouldn’t believe them. It took the author 18 years to write and with all the symbolism, nuances and themes I don’t believe even she could remember all the details without an extensive chart. In my first read through, I made over 145 notes. In an 800 page book I would usually make around 20 notes, so Petrosyan definitely made a herculean story.

One of my remaining questions after reading the synopsis and the entire book remains, is the House sentient? Are we meant to have a definite answer? Probably not. Black, who still struggles with his identity around Sphinx indicates the House’s draw was more imagination than reality. But, he’s a biased witness.

I’ve seen many reviews comparing The Gray House to other authors, and I agree one cannot help but see Lord of the Flies, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and the stream of conscience moments like The Sound and The Fury. Some even say it could be seen as Harry Potter’s Hogwarts – though I would disagree with that one. There is even a reference to 1984 with Big Brother. Even so, The Gray House is a stand alone.

What I wish I’d had while reading was a list of some of the main characters, just to give me some anchors in the maelstrom novel. With any luck this small list will be of help.

Smoker: He has been in the Pheasants, the predictable (accountant type), steady tribe, however, he has been kicked out because he dared to wear red shoes. (Very Ayn Rand where the individual is the important one compared to the collective.) Smoker is the character I feel like I most relate to because he is always asking questions. He is also the innocent character, who is forced into losing his innocence. He hadn’t realized he was being cynical at the time.

Tabaqui the Jackal: He is part court fool, part philosopher and all collector of oddities. Another character advises Smoker to listen to Tabaqui because he tells the truth – and he does, it’s just been rolled in beads, feathers and guano before being presented to the audience. He is probably my second favorite character.

Blind: He is seen as the leader of the House. Even though he is part of fourth, he has another role over all the tribes, though not talked about directly. Blind eats the plaster of the House to have it become a part of him. He is the best argument for the House being sentient. Blind is also able to move between realities. He occupies the forest as well as the House. Blind shows very little emotion. He carries out the Law dispassionately. He changes the Law when it suits him, after his contrived encounter with Gaby. He is the most disappointed when the Leaders don’t conform to following him into a different reality at the end of the year. He is the Peter Pan of the lost boys, he cannot grow up.

Noble: He is seen as handsome, and noble. Like the other children in the home he struggles with many issues, but when he is taken from the House and later returned his personality has changed. Noble moved from a strong character to a passive character. He serves as proof of the affects of being on the Outside, like a morality play for the observers. I thought Noble seemed like a decent person the way he treated Smoker.

Sphinx: At one time he tortured Noble, which is why Noble was so fast at moving without his wheelchair. He was a Jumper between realities. Sphinx is said to have been given a choice that no one else had been given. Smoker resented him for being given a choice. Black tried to emulate Sphinx, and also came to resent him. Sphinx seems the most closely associated with Blind.

Black: He had been under Sphinx in the heirarchy in the fourth. When the Dog tribe lost their leader he changed tribes, to become their new leader. It made it so that he and Sphinx were no longer at each others’ throats. He was seen as a black sheep by Smoker, and so, Smoker felt like he could relate to Black when all the others were acting crazy.  Black seems like a realist by the end.

Grasshopper: Though not a main character, he acted as a foil to Blind. He seems to maintain his innocence, because of his youth. He is the only one who liked Wolf, while all the others see Wolf as one of the most depraved.

Ralph or R One: He is the poor councilor who knows more than the other adults. Ralph is also a nickname, one he didn’t like. He wondered how the kids knew he was coming back, when he had barely decided and saw his name written on the walls like a message board. He recognizes the graphite as a source of news in the House. He worries and frets over what may happen based on previous graduations. He genuinely wants to help, but he is blocked – either by the boys or the House.

Big Spoilers Upcoming! Don’t read if you want to be surprised! You have been warned! Imagine this as graphite warning away the uninitiated! I have done my best to give you a chance to stop reading and so here continues my review…
 The Gray House doesn’t break down into the same points as an American novel. Even so, it helped me to look at it under this microscope. The first section seems to revolve around Smoker; his innocence and being a fish out of water. The inciting incident is when Smoker is kicked out of the Pheasants. The next catalyst is when Smoker witnesses a murder with the other students. Each student has touched hands, as though they are all in this action – no one is innocent any longer. The second section, shows the decline of the tribes – each is unique and rife with their own problems (accept for the Pheasants, the most “normal” of any of the students). As an example, one tribe is always trying to cut themselves with razors, some are more militant, others have bizarre rules to follow. A frenzy towards to the end of this section has two members of a tribe trying to kill Red. He is inadvertently saved, while the other two run. The runners both seem to be punished, one is gone to the Outside – the same as death, and the other ends up in the basement barely subsisting on charity. Next, Blind has been sequestered with Gaby – purple lipstick marks seem to glow on his skin. After this encounter, Blind changes the rules and the girls are allowed to visit. No longer are the boys isolated, but with this comes a new onslaught of problems. Jealousy. Love affairs. Lack of privacy. Not only is the House full of alcohol and drugs, now sex is added to the mix. (The sordid details are not explained, just the bare bones of the facts – which is disturbing enough among this house of lunatic children. It seems like many of the characters are about 14 or 15, but the ages vary.) The final section of the book obsesses over graduation. How in the past there were savage deaths and mayhem. Ralph is particularly concerned since their is a two faction House at the moment. The roller coaster ride to the end had me worried about death. Rather than an outright mass murder, some of the students disappear on a bus, others go into a coma by choice while a few disappear – presumably into the forest. Later we hear that Elk, another councilor died, but without an explanation except it sounded like an accident. Finally, the novel jumps forward and we peak into the adult lives of the few of the characters. Smoker is a painter – the bear Ginger held continues to show up in his art. Red is at a commune, and a father. Sphinx is a child psychologist. Black remains the realist. The last scenes are of Stinker throwing confetti, a new twin boy with his facilities awakened and realizing he is so happy (a product of being in the House) and finally, of a boy walking to the school ready to enter the doors. Another offering to the House.

End of spoilers!

A couple of quotes, to give you the flavor of the writing, if not the context:

“The snails clung to the tops of the weeds and knocked against each other, sounding like hollow walnuts.” (Kindle location 2239)

“When a person turns into a patient he relinquishes his identity. The individuality sloughs off, and the only thing that’s left is an animal shell over a compound of fear, hope, pain and sleep. There is no trace of humanity in there. The human floats somewhere outside of the boundaries of the patient, waiting patiently for the possibility of a resurrection. And there is nothing worse for a spirit than to be reduced to a mere body.” (Kindle location 3356)

“Wolf had been one of those who’d changed reality around them. One of the strongest in that regard. A potential challenger.” (Kindle location 4997)

“The game was boring if he regarded it as a task, and exciting if he just played it. It made his eyes hurt and filled his dreams with jittery flashes.” (Kindle location 5557)

“The House demands a reverent attitude. A sense of mystery. Respect and awe. It can accept you or not, shower you with gifts or rob you of everything you have, immerse you in a fairy tale or a nightmare. Kill you, make you old, give you wings…It’s a powerful and fickle deity, and if there’s one thing it can’t stand, it’s being reduced to mere words. For that it exacts payment.” (Kindle location 9531)

“Because whoever’s telling the story creates the story. No single story can describe reality exactly the way it was.” (Kindle location 9826)

“Life does not go in a straight line. It is like circles on the surface of the water. Every circle, every loop is composed of the same stories, with very few changes, but no one notices that. No one recognizes those stories. It is customary to think that the time in which you find yourself is brand new, freshly made and freshly painted. But the world only ever draws repeated patterns. And there aren’t than many of them.” (Kindle location 12101)

“You should always smell of things that surround you, that’s one of the Forest survival tricks. Becoming a part of it reduces the danger. It’s a bit like copying the inflection.” (Kindle location 12428)

 

Whew! And that’s just a short review! As you can see, this book is not for the faint of heart. One needs to be willing to run the course, with obstacles and serpentine storytelling. I enjoyed it, but frankly I would have cut 200 pages. I know if you are one of the cult fans, you’ll think I’m wrong and wish she had added another 500 pages. If you have read this interesting book, please leave a message. I’m anxious to hear what other people think!

4 out of 5 stars

4 star

  • Michelle

Even though there is nothing quite like The Gray House, here is a list of some other books to give a try:

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

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

 

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Interview With Alan Bradley, the Author of the Flavia de Luce Mystery Series – A Must Read For Mystery Afficionados!

 

Alan Bradley

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Alan Bradley is the New York Times bestselling author of THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE and recipient of the Dagger Award in 2007.

This interview contains some spoilers, though I have tried to avoid significant spoilers.

Michelle:
Hello, it’s a delight to have an opportunity to interview you for www.talesuntangled.wordpress.com.

I originally discovered Flavia in I AM HALF-SICK OF SHADOWS and loved her for her clever mind and perspective on the world. I had to go back and start the series from the beginning with A SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE because I didn’t want to miss a moment of the undaunted, poison mistress – Miss Flavia.

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(The first book introducing Favia, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, in the series and the fourth book, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, the one I read first with a dramatic cast of characters.)

I’ve always thought characters make or break a novel. I love the fact that you are a mature man writing a young female character as the protagonist. Can you share with us how you developed Flavia?

Alan Bradley:
It’s a strange story all round. As I was writing an entirely different mystery novel, Flavia appeared on the page as if from nowhere, and demanded attention. I did not consciously create her, and cannot take any credit whatsoever for her coming to life. I can only presume that she was lying in wait for years waiting for someone with a pen, or a pencil, or a keyboard to come along.

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The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, the second novel.

Michelle:
That gives hope to me that there are other amazing characters out there ready to be discovered!

I’m also fascinated with your other characters like Flavia’s father, and her surrogate father, Dogger. They are complex and I can feel their backstory pushing to get on the page. I’m rooting for Dogger to have a love interest in the future – there was a hint in THE GRAVE’S A FINE AND QUIET PLACE that he has loved in the past. How do you decide how much of their backstory to include?

Alan Bradley:
I merely eavesdrop on Flavia’s conversations with Dogger. I am always aware in their scenes together that I must keep very still and listen attentively. It’s like snooping on strangers at a railway station.

 Michelle:
How fortunate that you are such a skilled eavesdropper! I’m sure it’s a talent many authors wish to acquire.

Another reason I believe your series resonates with readers is the unvarnished relationship between sisters. The deadliest of enemies, and friends at times.

When the house was willed to Flavia, I gasped, unable to imagine how her sisters would react. How do you find a balance between their vicious attacks on one another and still have them care for each other as siblings? Did you have character models from real life? (If so, that may be a question best left alone!)

 Alan Bradley:
Someone pointed out early in the series that I had two sisters precisely the same number of years older as Flavia does. Coincidence? Ridiculous! But I’ve always been aware that intense cruelty and intense love can and do co-exist.

Michelle:
After reading your series, I’ve wondered if I was better off with only my brother as a sibling! Even so, he was probably grateful not to have a sister interested in poisons.

After a career in television broadcasting, visual story-telling must have come naturally to you as a writer. When did you decide it was time to start writing? Had you always wanted to write novels?

Alan Bradley:
My television career was devoted to electronic systems: the cameras, recorders and millions of miles of wiring beneath the floor; the anatomy of TV, if you like. Still, I was always keenly interested in the stories taking place in front of, and behind, the lenses, and was sometimes even asked to step across the line and consult on scripts, etc. As a very early reader, I was always devoted to literature, and began writing my first novel at about five years of age. It didn’t come to much. In later years, I published assorted children’s stories and newspaper articles, but didn’t take up the art of the novel until taking early retirement.

Michelle:
You are masterful at plot development, and slowly revealing clues to the readers. Do you have a method to make each book blossom so effortlessly? How do you choose your red herrings? I’m always so engrossed in the story I never realize you’ve sent me on a false path. I love being surprised by a book!

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A Red Herring Without Mustard, the third book in the series.

Alan Bradley:
I begin each novel with only a general idea of the main theme or setting, and launch into the actual writing with no other plans. As with Flavia, I let the characters materialise and walk onto the page by themselves. The red herrings appear spontaneously, arising naturally out of the story. I am always happily surprised as each new twist reveals itself. I realise that this is the complete mirror-image of how most writers tackle about a book, but it works for me. Charts and graphs and lists of plot points and scenes would drive me gaga.

 

Michelle:
Your titles tickle me – they add the whimsy inherit to Flavia even though the story always revolves around murder. I love the moment when I see the reference for the title. I can only imagine the research needed for the titles. My kudos also go to the illustrator of the jacket covers.

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Speaking From Among the Bones, the fifth book and The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, the sixth book.

In the most recent installment, THE GRAVE’S A FINE AND QUIET PLACE, there is a moment when I laughed for five minutes. Dogger has just explained to Flavia the chemical reactions within a body, due to exertion, in great detail. Flavia responds, she had never had such a simple explanation before and now it all made sense to her.

Before reading your books I never liked chemistry. It would seem you have an extensive background in chemistry, or are all the references also the work of laborious research?

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The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse is a short story and number 6 1/2 in the series. You won’t want to miss the information on chemistry in this one, though not an experiment you would want to try at home! It’s currently only .99 and worth more than its weight in copper pennies.

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As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, the seventh book, takes place in Canada while Flavia is sent to a boarding school.

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Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mewed, the eighth book, where Flavia returns to England to discover her father is seriously ill.

Alan Bradley:
I know nothing whatsoever about chemistry. In school, I frittered away my chemistry classes by reading Steinbeck, largely ignored by the teachers. Flavia, on the other hand, knows everything about the subject that can be known. If I dare say, “Gee, Flavia, I don’t know if that’s actually possible,” she snaps her fingers and says, “You can look it up in your spare time.” Maddeningly, she is always right. I don’t pretend to understand this process. Actually, the most recently published book is “The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place”, and the one before that, “Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d”.

 I’m glad to hear that Flavia made you laugh. She makes me laugh, too – especially when she rhapsodises about corpses and churchyards. My wife says she can always tell when Flavia has done or said something outrageous because she can hear me laughing in the next room.

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The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place is the ninth book in the series and Flavia is in true form solving mysteries that have layers of deception!

Michelle:
Do you have a secret for your success? The publishing industry is known for being cut-throat, what is your advice for unpublished authors?

Alan Bradley:
Write the best prose of which you are capable. Keep personal seat applied to chair seat. Write. Never give up. As somebody wisely said, it takes ten thousand hours.

Michelle:
I’m hoping for another Flavia de Luce mystery, but I would read anything you write at this point. What upcoming projects do you have?

Alan Bradley: Flavia will next appear in February 2019 in “The Golden Tresses of the Dead”. I’ve just handed the manuscript to my publishers in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.

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The Golden Tresses of the Dead can be ordered on Amazon to see how a finger in the wedding cake is only the beginning!

Michelle:
I can hardly wait for the next book!

Thank you for sharing your insights with me today.

Alan Bradley:
Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts, Michelle. I’ll be looking forward to appearing on Tales Untangled, which is a great title by the way!

Michelle:
You are too kind! Keep in touch!

To follow Alan Bradley you can find him at http://alanbradleyauthor.com/

 

 

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The Wounded Shadow – Do the Ends Tie Up In A Satisfactory Manor?

Book Review : The Wounded Shadow
The Darkwater Saga #3

By Patrick W. Carr

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

The kings and queens of the northern continent lay siege to the Darkwater Forest, desperate to contain its evil. But rumors of gold and aurium have lured deserters and the desperate into its shadow, creating a growing army held in its sway. Desperate after the death and dissolution of their greatest ally, Willet and the Vigil seek the truth of what lies at the heart of the evil they face. They delve the mind of an old enemy and find an answer far worse than they could have imagined.

Danger stalks the cities of the north, striking at the rulers of the kingdoms. As Willet and the rest of the Vigil seek to find answers, the group is scattered with an ever-growing darkness around them. Will they discover a path to keep their land safe, or will an ancient evil reclaim the world it once called its own? (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

I think one of the hardest challenges of a series like The Darkwater Saga is pulling everything together to create a satisfying ending. I feel like Carr does a great job answering questions I’ve had since the very beginning while still leaving some elements a mystery. I will not discuss all of the conclusions because it’s better when read.

Characters are key for a book. We have to like some, hate some and know their quirks and personalities. Once members of the urchins joined the Vigil, the way opened up for all kinds of exciting dialogue, events and turns. In addition, we can see a lot of character growth in them and how they affect the members of the Vigil. I’m just going to touch on a few of the characters, but they help show the complexity of this epic fantasy series.

Mark, the chosen apprentice of Pellin (Eldest in the Vigil), has struggled through the series because he witnessed man’s inhumanity to man as an urchin. He saw the falseness of the priests directed by the church. Vigil members have felt like he was disrespectful and didn’t belong. Pellin discovers Mark’s depth of humanity as he cares for Elieve, the first to rebuild a personality after a vault was destroyed within her mind. Further, the Eldest realizes that Mark is the way he is because of his depth of belief in Aer (God) compared to the shortcomings of those who profess to follow Aer.

Cesla, the former Eldest of the Vigil, started the entire epic battle with the Darkwater forest – which is really the ancient, poisonous god-like entity imprisoned within the forest. More than Cesla’s character, the thoughts of how the other characters perceive him is interesting. Obviously, Pellin recognizes his hubris to believe he could access the power, but over time Pellin also can still feel love for his brother instead of hatred. I also felt like Willet could pair his deep sorrow with compassion for the man and his mistakes.

Willet, the main protagonist, started as being recalcitrant and glib, now he is humble and devoted to stopping the evil of the Darkwater forest. Through the course of the series there were several key events that changed Willet’s perspective. The first has to be receiving the gift of domere. The gift changed the course of his life. Second is the love of his fiancé, Gael. Willet felt he wasn’t worthy to be loved, and yet her love supersedes the bounds he had come to expect. The next forces of change are his interactions with Ealdor, the priest he communed with. Willet is first devastated to discover Ealdor is a product of his mind, and then is justified when it is revealed that he is from the Fayit – the previous god-like race which inhabited their earth. Working with the Fayit, and witnessing Ealdor’s sacrifice teaches Willet to be humble. Willet also learns to forgive when he thinks of Volsk as a friend, even though this man had previously tried to kill him. Forgiveness is a theme found in many works of classic literature.

Bolt has always been an enigma. Even though we learn more about his role as an Errant, he remains reticent to interact with others. He is probably the least changed of the characters because he had gone through his growth as a person prior to this series. I like him because he expects the worse and stirs the pot, at least in regards to Willet. He also snookers Rory into working harder to train as a guard, which had me laughing. Bolt has a dry sense of humor.

Toria Deel, who was so opposed to Willet, goes through another personal crisis, while working with Brekana and recognizes she doesn’t feel worthy to be a leader within the Vigil. She comes to realize that Willet makes choices based on his moral code and she loses her distrust of him. Toria Deel and Fess also come to a better understanding and the reader is left with a hope for something better in both of their lives. Fess moves from being critical of Toria Deel, to understanding her actions, and gives her comfort in his lack of condemnation. Toria wonders how an urchin could offer such grace in complete amazement.

Even minor characters like King Rymark are transformed. He no longer has a thirst for war after the battle against the Darkwater that stole so many lives. Jeb, the prison guard from The Shock of Night, is happy raising his adopted daughter. Custos is one of the few characters that feels exactly the same, he loves knowledge and a packet of figs.

I highly recommend Carr as an author for anyone who loves fantasy and a story well-told. I consider the prequel, By Divine Right, for The Darkwater Saga to be a must, it’s a short gem. He is also the author of The Staff and the Sword series, which you won’t want to miss. Check out A Cast of Stones! It’s one of my all-time favorites.

5  out of 5 stars

5 star

  • the Mother

Fans of Brandon Sanderson will enjoy Patrick W. Carr’s books and vice-versa.

I would also recommend trying Cinda Williams Chima, The Demon King and Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron. An older book to read, with a similar theme of forgiveness is Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.

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