Thursday, February 4, 2016

Special Guest Danika Dinsmore! on her Narine of Noe Blog Tour

Today we get an author interview AND a book excerpt!

I am very excited to help promote the fourth book in Danika Dinsmore's Faerie Tales from the White Forest series. These are great middle-great adventures about a magical world full of fascinating creatures. Here are my reviews of Brigitta of the White Forest, The Ruins of Noe, and Ondelle of Grioth.

In Narine of Noe, Danika does one of my favourite things: she takes us back in time to to learn the truth about the Ancients and the devastating events that destroyed their world. Narine is a young fairy who thinks she knows her destiny, but when everything she knows is turned upside-down she is suddenly left on her own to figure out how to save the world.

Here's how Danika Dinsmore answered my questions about the book and about herself:

You’ve said that you have a six-book series planned out. Was a prequel always included in that plan? What made you decide to go back 1000 years and tell this story at this stage in Brigitta’s journey?

The prequel was not actually part of the original plan. The idea crept up on me as I was writing the first three books, because I had had to come up with so much back story for those books. As the back story became more and more vivid, I realized it, too, needed telling. 

I honestly can’t say why I decided to write it in the middle of the series. I just knew it was the right time, and I tend to trust my intuition. I think it provides a lot of answers that are important before Brigitta's journey continues. It also helps us realize what great sacrifice the Ancients made and what's at stake if Brigitta should fail in reuniting Faweh. 

Ruins are so cool and evocative. Brigitta visits the Ruins of Noe in book 2, and now in book 4 we get to see what Noe was like. Have you visited any real-life Earth ruins? If you had a time machine, is there a particular set of ruins you’d love to visit in the past to see what they were like?

Ruins are definitely evocative and I've seen my share. My first were the ruins of Ayutthaya in Thailand, which I absolutely loved. I've also visited Athens and Crete and the ruins there were mind-boggling, especially Knossos, Europe's oldest city (first settlement was 9,000 years ago). They made our North American concept of "old" appear so quaint. I also loved Tikal in Guatamala, and I've been to a few Anasazi ruins in Colorado and New Mexico. I'm sure there are more I'm forgetting. I'd love to travel back in time to Ayutthaya or another ancient South Asian culture.  

How do you conceive of the differences between Narine's world and Brigitta’s? Narine's world has different magic (I saw it almost like different technology), different social structures, different architecture and fashion—what did you use as inspiration to create this precursor society?

I can't point to anything specific as an inspiration for the precursor society, other than I knew it had to be more advanced and more connected to the rest of the world. The Ancient Faeries were the keepers of the elements, the caretakers of Faweh. The White Forest faeries were "lesser" faeries who had been rescued by the Ancients during the Great World Cry (which I now refer to as the "faerie apocalypse") and placed in a protected realm. White Forest faeries do not have the magical abilities of the Ancients and are by no means worldly. They are still a young civilization - much more primitive.
Narine lived before and during the "apocalypse," and Brigitta lives in the "post-apocalyptic" world. It would be like if our own world experienced an apocalypse and everyone had to start over in these isolated communities. Since the White Forest Faeries had been cut off, I knew their society would have grown its own way rather than imitating the Ancients' ways. The fun of Brigitta's story is reconnecting all these ancient cultures that existed together in Narine's time.

Your settings are always so detailed and real, despite being completely fantastical. Did you use real-Earth settings as the basis for any of the locations in Narine’s world?

I actually try not to, lol. I have lived among forests for so long that I fear the forests in my stories will "dull" if I use my earthly ones for inspiration. I have to keep re-imagining them so that they appear fantastic in my mind. I guess my "uul trees" were partially inspired by banyan trees. And Lake Indago possibly by Lake Louise in Alberta.

Did you love fairies as a child? Is there a book or movie or painting or anything you remember sparking your fascination? Or did that happen as an adult?

The funny thing is that I had absolutely no fascination with fairies / faeries as a child. I loved stories and I loved fantasy books. I devoured all the Wizard of Oz and Chronicles of Narnia books. And I had no interest in faeries when the idea of the story popped into my head. Brigitta and Himalette just asked to be written. I didn't even consider myself that interested in faeries as I was writing the story itself! I was just interested in the characters and their world. 

Have you tried to recreate any fairy food using Earth alternative ingredients?

I have! I've made two different versions of Pippet's pipberry juice and have also made batches of triple lyllium succlaid and gundlebean stew on occasion (I use lentils because gundlebeans are hard to come by)

Well I, for one, would love to see those recipes!

I've got an exciting look at Narine of Noe at the end of the post. (If you've read the other books, you will be intrigued by the character Narine meets in this scene!)

Anyone interested in writing a review for any of the White Forest books may contact Danika at for free ebook copies. Mention you saw this posted on Kim’s site. :-)

You can connect with Danika in the following realms:

Facebook Author Page:
Facebook White Forest Series Page:
Twitter: @danika_dinsmore

Meeting the Drutan Newling

As the two faeries dipped down toward the river, the newly sparkled forest dropped from sight. When they reached the valley proper, they pulled next to a cliff to stay out of the wind. Though Narine could no longer see the glowing section of forest, the sky shone brighter above it. Mesmerized by the peculiar light, Narine nearly missed the oddly-shaped silhouette standing at the top of one of the cliffs, but a howling from that direction caught her attention. She stopped and hovered in the air, watching the strange beast’s movements.
Shaped like a small gnarled tree, it shook in the moonslight, barky branch arms reaching out to the skies. At first Narine thought it was simply the wind shaking and howling behind it, but then she realized the keening came from the tree-like creature itself. It released one final low, haunting moan and pulled back into the forest.
In its place, a wee beast stood at the edge of the cliff, lurching in the wind. Far below it, the river cascaded over a series of slippery rocks. Narine gasped as the creature toppled toward the edge.
"Look out!" she cried, and Thorze turned around.
"On the cliff!" Narine called to her father, pointing to the top of the ridge where the small creature twisted and turned. "It’s going to fall!”
“Narine!" called Thorze, several wingbeats downriver, but she didn’t have time to stop and explain to him that the beast was in peril.
She sped up the cliffside until she reached the top and the strange creature snapped into view. She gasped as the little beast tumbled forward, and she extended her arms to catch it . . . but it didn’t fall.
Like a sapling rooted to the earth, even as it slumped forward it was anchored in place. Its two brown arms embraced its own body, limbs extending into fingers with protruding rootlets winding and tangling around its back. Within the twisted roots, its hard, ridged skin shone in the moonslight.
"There, there." She clasped its barky shoulders.
"No!" her father called to her from below. "Wait!"
But it was too late. As she straightened the beast up again, its eyes popped open. The little thing blinked several times into Narine’s face and then let out a cry. Its black eyes watered over, and Narine was pulled into their murky wetness. Something stirred inside them, and she drew forward . . .
. . . she was gazing down from a crumbling cliff, across a dark and choppy ocean . . . Under the water, a shadow headed toward her . . . No! Not a shadow . . . something solid, massive, and formidable . . .
“Narine!" a voice cut through the darkness, shaking her back to the present.
She swung her head around, not sure where she had just been.
"Are you all right?" Thorze pulled Narine’s face to his, examining her eyes.
"I… I… think so…" She looked back down. The creature was slumped sideways. "What happened?"
"I put her back to sleep," said Thorze gravely. "Come."
"But, what…why…" Narine tried to recall what had just transpired as her father turned her away.
"It’s a newling Drutan." He rubbed her arms. "We must leave her be.”
It took immense effort for Narine not to turn back around again; she felt such an ache for the beast. If she could only look into its eyes again. Maybe even hold it in her arms.
"What’s a Drutan?" she asked instead.
"A very rare creature." Thorze pulled his daughter closer and guided her back off the cliff. Her body, still stunned, let his sturdy one hold them both up. He gave her a squeeze. "Let us hope we have not disturbed her destiny."
"Her destiny!" Narine gasped, now fully awake.
She glanced down at her hands as if they had betrayed her all on their own. Some High Sage Mentee she was. How could she have just grasped the newling Drutan without even thinking?
Thorze stopped several wingbeats away and rotated his daughter around, holding her tightly across the shoulders. She didn’t know whether it was to comfort her or restrain her, but she accepted his warmth gratefully. They watched as a few of the creature’s roots unraveled and gathered themselves up again, twisting around and around and tucking themselves away inside her bound body.
“Drutan newlings soak in the moonslight energies to acquire a destiny," Thorze explained. "When a Drutan first opens its eyes to the moonslight, its initial tears transform to moonstones, which, over time, reveal its destiny."
"I disturbed her sleep!" Narine’s voice caught in her throat. "She opened her eyes!"
"You didn’t know," Thorze said.
She waited for her father to tell her everything would be fine, and her heart sank a little more when he did not.
"Where did her parents go? Maybe we can find them? Maybe they can help?”
He shook his head. "Both her father and mother have gone away. They are solitary beings. They will most likely never meet again."
"But what will happen to her?"
"She will live a very long time, and, as she grows older, her tree energy will emerge, and she will slowly transform, until one day, many season cycles from now, she will root into the earth, as tree-like as any in the forest before you.”
“But won’t she be lonely?" Narine asked. "Won’t she be scared?"
She could not imagine being born into a very long life without any parents or family or friends. What would the Drutan do by itself all day? Who would comfort her? Who would pass on Drutan knowledge and tell her Drutan stories?
"It is their way." Thorze gave her one last squeeze, but it was little solace. "Come, let us continue our journey to investigate this strange shimmering. I promise, Narine, there’s nothing else we can do. All she needs is her moonslight, and the rest will take care of itself. Drutans are born wise.”

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Steerswoman series, by Rosemary Kirstein

I wish I could remember which blogger put me on to these books, so I could thank them and send them chocolate and donate to their favourite charity. If you are interested in spec fic that breaks genre conventions and turns tropes on their head, you should look for these books. If you love character-driven stories, ditto. If you like mysteries and books that give you clues and let you put them together yourself, you'll love these. They're adult novels, but not inappropriate for YA readers who like thoughtful stories.

The premise still blows me away: a steerswoman is someone dedicated to the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge; steerswomen travel the world and record their observations, they fill out maps and figure out how things work. Steerswomen are obliged to answer any question with the truth—and in return they demand that any question they ask be answered with the truth. If someone chooses not to answer a steerswoman's question, or lies to one, they are put under ban and no steerswoman will ever answer any question from them again. What an interesting kind of character! What an interesting way to structure the gathering of knowledge!

And what a great inherent conflict between the steerswomen and the wizards, who keep their magic secret and thus are all under ban. When Rowan, the main character, stumbles upon an interesting anomaly that leads her too close to wizards' secrets, they try to kill her. As if that would stop a steerswoman from trying to find things out!

Here's what I had to say on Goodreads about the first book:

An utterly compelling intellectual novel. For me, that's an oxymoron; I'm usually all about the action and adventure. There's action in this one—a bit of swordfighting and things getting blown up, some spying and escaping from castles—but the drama and excitement is all in the main character's thought processes. I love the way Rowan thinks, and I love watching her figure things out! The whole concept of a Steerswoman is just brilliant and lovely and gets me right in the heart. Science, people: this is what science is!

Then there's the delicious dramatic irony when part-way through the reader figures out what's really going on (or, at least, we start to figure it out), but Rowan simply can't—she doesn't have the context required. So there's the plot arc of Rowan doing what she has to do to find out crucial information—information she's interpreting in a certain, dramatically interesting way because it involves a clear threat to her and her way of life—, combined with the fascinating mystery of what's actually going on in the world—which is probably still threatening, but in an entirely different way—and we don't have quite have enough clues to put it all together yet.

I can't be any more specific about the plot without being spoilery, and I think it's fun to stumble upon the truth without being prepared for it. I'm not even using the paperback covers to illustrate my blog post (except for the 3rd one), because I think they give away too much. These are the e-book covers (after they went out of print and she re-published them on her own.)

I also reviewed The Outskirter's Secret, The Lost Steersman, and The Language of Power on Goodreads, if you're interested. I binge-read all four books in less than a week: it's terrible for my personal productivity, but books like this are what I live for!

Rosemary Kirstein deserves to be much better known than she is; I'm perfectly serious when I say she could be the next Ursula K. LeGuin.

Her books are not expensive on Kindle—and I have an ulterior motive in convincing you to buy them: she's still working on Books 5 and 6, and we need to make sure she has food and rent money so she can focus on writing! (I really, really want books 5 and 6!)

I'm making lamb tagine for dinner tonight, and it's a perfect food metaphor: rich, meaty, spicy, complex, interesting enough to be memorable but comforting enough to eat often.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Thousand Nights, by E. K. Johnson

E. K. Johnston is a unique voice in YA fantasy. When I heard she was doing a retelling of the story of Scheherazade I knew she was just the writer to attempt it. It's a story that pretty much demands compelling prose—prose that could save someone's life.

A Thousand Nights is a beautiful book. The writing glows. The voice resonates like a legend; it reminds me of Robin McKinley's early writing, that sort of fairy-tale cadence that lifts every-day actions into greater significance:
Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to my village looking for a wife.
She that he chose of us would be a hero. She would give the others life. ... She that he chose would give hope of a future, of love, to those of us who stayed behind.
She would be a smallgod for her own people, certainly, in the time after her leaving. She would go out from us, but we would hold on to a piece of her spirit, and nurture it with the power of our memories.

In the hands of a lesser writer, this kind of narration gets old rather quickly. But right after that opening passage, just when I might have rolled my eyes and put the book down, we learn that
parents would bring sweet-water flowers, even in the height of the desert wilt, and pickled gage-root to leave as offerings. She that he chose of us would never be forgotten.
She would still be dead.
Johnson gives us the little details that bring a world to life (what on earth is pickled gage-root? but I can imagine what it tastes like), plus a glimpse into the narrator's attitude that convinced me her story would be worth following. She's a determined young woman who knows her own worth, and her story is vibrant with detail about the world she loves.

She's never named. No character other than Lo-Melkhiin is given a name. People are referred to as "Lady Mother," "Daughter of my heart," "Sister of mine," and I thought this was beautiful and in keeping with the tone of the narration. It's also thematically significant, as the protagonist's relationships with her family and community are what give her strength.

I loved the notion of becoming a smallgod. I have lots of things I could say about the way A Thousand Nights explores the nature of power, but what I loved was the way our heroine gained her magic from little, every-day tasks, unnoticed, discounted by the villain. Women's work. The love and care that hold a community together. This is what saves her. And everything described in such evocative prose that even though I've never spun or woven I could feel the thread beneath my fingers, and completely believe that magic could arise from it.

This is not a book to read for plot. There's hardly any action, and the conflict plays out straightforwardly, no twists or sudden revelations. This is a book to savour for its descriptions, for the  sensory world it builds. I delighted in the sisterhood and the friendships, and I was compelled by the heroine's quiet defiance, her determination to live, and her pleasure in the power that Lo-Melkhiin doesn't understand.

Very dark, smooth chocolate, possibly with an unusual spice like cardamon, or maybe ginger. Eaten one square at a time, with the flavour lingering on your tongue for the rest of the evening.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Wrap-up of Recent Books Read: WURBR*

I'm busy reading the seven books on the Middle Grade Spec-Fic Cybil's shortlist, and I'm not allowed to talk about them until we decide on a winner. So in the meantime, some quick reviews of my holiday reading: light, fun, adventurous YA fantasy.

Winter, by Marissa Meyer. The conclusion to the sci-fi fairy-tale Cinder series has all the rousing escapes and battles and turning tables and stirring speeches and noble sacrifices and facing-off with villains you could possibly want from it. Plus spaceships and androids and mind-control and experiments with wolf-people and weird Moon fashions. And romance. Everything, really. Cinder is Cinderella, of course, (and I still get a kick out of the fact that she left her cyborg foot behind at the ball) Scarlet is Red Riding Hood, with her soldier Wolf, Cress is Rapunzel, rescued from her spy satellite, and now we get to meet Winter, a wonderful, broken but fiercely good Snow White, slowly going mad because she refuses to use her mind manipulation powers. All four kick-ass heroines converge on the Moon to defeat Queen Levana and save Earth from the Lunar armies. It's a little unwieldy to have so many protagonists, but they all get their fist-pumping moments, and the pace is nice and breathless all the way through. Meyer even made me believe in all four romances. (And I liked that everyone's happily-ever-after was more complicated than they had imagined.) I think my favourite character of them all is Iko, the artificial intelligence who gets several different forms through the series. She's just a hoot!

Fairest is a novella that "bridges" between Cress and Winter. It's a character study of Levana, giving interesting insight into her motivations and her relationship with Winter and with Cinder. It's the strength of Meyer's characters that make this whole series work for me. The plot and setting are a little silly (in a very enjoyable way), but the story is grounded by people with real needs and flaws who grow into trusting each other—or not.

Madly, by Amy Alward is a light-hearted adventure/romance in which an alchemist has to save a princess from a love potion. The fun twist is that it's a modern society with cell-phones and airplanes. (Think Harry Potter world except the Muggles know all about magic.) The Talented are the elite, the celebrities, particularly the royal family, of course. But magic screws up potion ingredients, so an alchemist has to be un-Talented. Samantha comes from a famous line of alchemists fallen on hard times, and saving the princess could save their family's fortunes. She has to get ingredients from all over the world (like yeti hair), so there are lots of adventures as she races against the other alchemist families—particularly her family's worst enemy the Asters. Too bad Zain Aster is so good-looking . . . I wasn't actually sold on the romance (it seemed to rely entirely on Zain's good looks, on Sam's side, and Zain was far too nice to be an arch-rival), but I really liked the world, and the focus on alchemy was fun. A fast read; if she writes more in this world I'd read it.

(Amy Alward is the Amy McCulloch who wrote The Oathbreaker's Shadow. And she's Canadian!**)

Jeweled Fire, by Sharon Shinn, is the third book set in the world of Elemental Blessings. Shinn's books are ultimate comfort reads for me. I love her storytelling, and I love this world—everyone is divided into earth, air, water, fire and wood personalities, with their associated magic, and there's an interesting interplay between fate and free will everytime people draw random blessings for themselves.  I really enjoy the way each book so far has explored the world from a different perspective: a water character, an air character, and now a fire character. Corene came across as a bit of a brat in the first two novels, and I liked the way Shinn got her out of Welce so she could recreate herself, figure out how to use her assertiveness and temper to work with people instead of against them. We also get a new kingdom to explore, with lots of intrigue and conspiracy. The romance was predictable, but sweet; the female characters were all strong and interesting, and developed believable friendships with each other. There was less interesting magic in this book; it turned out to be more of a murder mystery. This was an excellent plane read: light and enjoyable.

*So what do you think: WURBR. Is it one of those amazing acronyms that's going to catch on like wildfire? 'Cause that's what I was going for!

**This is my 10th of 13 in this year's challenge. For more awesome Canadian writers (because the world needs more Canada, am I right?), head to John Mutford's patriotic blog.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Favourite Reads of 2015

Okay, everyone is doing this, I guess I can too; I've got one day left in 2015!

I'll keep it brief, with links to my reviews.

Favourite Adult Books:

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison
Uprooted, by Naomi Novik
The Shadow Throne, by Django Wexler

Everyone loved these, so I don't have to explain why I did too!

Favourite YA Books:

The Perilous Gard, by Elisabeth Pope. A book I should have discovered as a teen but missed somehow.
Black Dog and Pure Magic, by Rachel Neumeier. Original take on werewolves, great characters.
The Scorpion Rules, by Erin Bow. Lots of buzz about this one, all deserved.
Orleans, by Sherri L. Smith. Very original post-apocalyptic. Worth looking for.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness. Awesome premise, and Jared. That's all I'm sayin'.
Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon. So sweet!

Favourite Middle-Grade Books:

The Jinx series, by Sage Blackwood. Fairy tales remixed into awesomeness.
The Lie Tree, by Francis Hardinge. Because it's by Francis Hardinge.
The 100 Cupboards series, by N.K. Wilson. A new favourite author. Narnia, updated.
Harriet the Invicible, by Ursula Vernon. She's a hamster princess, and she kicks butt.
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, by Jeanne Birdsall. Wonderful, funny family dynamics.

Friday, December 18, 2015

What's on my Kindle for holiday reading

I've been saving a few sequels for the long plane trip I'm taking, so I'm excited about getting to the airport! Here's what my e-readers look like:

I'm going to re-read the first two before diving into Mercy. Can't wait to see how Leckie finishes this series!

I want Winter in hardcover to go with all the other pretty books in the series, but I don't want to lug a hardcover to Germany and I want to read it! I just re-read Cress to get me up to speed, and I'm looking forward to having fun with the conclusion. (This is the final book, right?!) I also have the e-book of Fairest out from the library, so maybe I'll read it first.

I've also got the third Elemental Blessings novel; a world I always enjoy returning to.

And everyone's been saying such good things about Kate Elliot's YA novel that I decided to go ahead and buy it.

Monday, December 14, 2015

MMGM: Book Scavenger and The Spotted Dog Last Seen

A couple of mystery/puzzle books for those who loved The Westing Game, The Mysterious Benedict Society and Blue Balliett's books.

Book Scavenger, by Jennifer Chambliss Berman, has the best premise: a book-hunting game like geocaching except when you hide a book you create a puzzle someone has to solve in order to find it. I badly want this game to be real, and if you're in the States you can participate in Bertman's version of it. I think everyone should go join up right now, because this needs to become the next big thing!

But the book. It's a fun scavenger hunt through San Francisco as Emily tries to solve the last game created by eccentric entrepreneur Garrison Griswold. She's chased by a couple of nasty henchmen, determined to get their hands on whatever the prize turns out to be, and she's aided by her new neighbour and equally keen puzzle-solver James.

As in all puzzle books, there were plot aspects that seemed contrived, but I enjoyed the trip through San Francisco's geography and literary history. There were fun juicy tidbits about Edgar Allen Poe and his friend/nemesis Griswold (a real historical character); Bertman has an afterword in which she explains what she took from history. (I didn't know that Poe invented the detective-mystery genre.)

Emily is an engaging protagonist, and I liked her developing friendship with James, complete with misunderstandings and Emily learning what friendship means. Emily's family plays a realistic role,  with an older brother who used to play Book Scavenger with her but is now obsessed with a rock band, and her parents who make a living based on their goal to live in every one of the 50 States (the reason why Emily has moved nine times in her twelve years and therefore has such a hard time making friends).

Book Scavenger is nominated for a Cybil award in the Middle-Grade Fiction category. I think I'm glad I'm not judging that category, because it would be hard to judge between the more serious, issue-based, Newberry contender novels and more fun ones like this. (I myself prefer the fun ones!)

My son is making my microwave caramel recipe right now, and he's planning on pouring the caramel over Rice Krispies. That sounds like a good comparison for this book: chewy, sweet and crispy.

The Missing Dog is Spotted is another Middle-Grade Fiction nominee. I love the pun in the title! My library didn't have it, but I did find Jessica Scott Kerrin's earlier novel, The Spotted Dog Last Seen. The two books are connected but each stands alone.

Dog Last Seen is a quirky mystery about death, gravestones, accidents and responsibility. Derek gets stuck with cemetery duty for his community service. Who knew there was so much to know about gravestones? Then there's a library book with a secret code pencilled inside it that Derek and his fellow cemetery duty friends are determined to solve. The librarian knows more about it than she's saying. But the real mystery is the nightmares Derek keeps having about a car accident.

Everything turns out to be connected, and Derek is able to lay a ghost of his own to rest by the time all the mysteries are solved. I think one of the satisfactions of fiction—and of puzzles—is discovering that everything fits together. Nothing is random. Dog Last Seen plays with connection and coincidence to get at the deeper theme that everyone is significant. Although on the surface this book seems quite similar to Book Scavenger, there is more going on here; like its title, The Spotted Dog Last Seen yields more meaning the more you think about it.

I am eager to get my hands on The Missing Dog is Spotted and find out what new interesting characters and mysteries Kerrin has in store. If it's anything like Spotted Dog, I think it should be a strong contender for the Cybil award. (And I'm not just saying that because Jessica Scott Kerrin is a Canadian author!)

I am now completely stuffed with caramels (they turned out delicious, but slightly overcooked so impossible to get out of the pan!), so I can't think of any other food analogies. Something savoury, though, with enjoyable flavours in unique combinations.

Don't forget to visit Shannon Messenger's weekly round-up of Marvelous Middle-Grade books. And for more Canadian books to try, go to John Mutford's truly northern blog.