Sunday, 27 May 2012

(Re-post) Book Review: 'Fortune and Fate' by Sharon Shinn

Just a note that this is a re-post of a review that I took down previously; at the time, I was debating the appropriateness of a writer reviewing work written by her peers (especially in similar genres)—I've since decided that I shouldn't stop myself from doing so, especially when it comes to books I adore until today, and which continue to be an inspiration.

And with that out of the way, here's my old review of Sharon Shinn's Fortune and Fate (Twelve Houses). I hope you like it:)

It's been a while since I've had the pleasure of reading a book from Sharon Shinn's Twelve Houses series. And when I recently remembered my still plastic-wrapped copy of Fortune and Fate bundled in an out of the way corner of my room, I felt a familiar thrill of excitement at the thought of venturing into Shinn's fantasy world of Gillengaria once more.

I'd read the first four books of the series some time back and loved all of them. The stories of Gillengaria's mix of defenders, first introduced in Shinn's Mystic and Rider, were continued in The Thirteenth House, Dark Moon Defender, and Reader and Raelynx. Though those first books in Shinn's series are perhaps stronger than her latest, I did find in Fortune and Fate a kind of warm coming home that I didn't even know I'd been missing.

(Warning: Spoilers ahead)

In Fortune and Fate, one finds the story of Wen, a King's Rider (one of the personal guard of Gillengaria's royalty), who is dealing with guilt over surviving an attack in which her King Baryn fell to the enemy. Searching for a way to atone for her failure to protect her King, she leaves the Riders and wanders a Gillengaria newly surfacing from war.

Honour and loyalty are the backdrop to Wen's struggle to find redemption; she couldn't save her King, but she'll damn well save everyone else who needs saving, whether or not she dies in the process. In fact, maybe she wants to die because—to Wen's thinking—no honourable Rider should survive her King's death.

As Wen travels bandit-ridden Fortunalt, her gradual acceptance of her right to experience happiness, love and a new purpose in life is kickstarted once she saves a kidnapped girl (Karryn Fortunalt). It is Karryn who leads Wen to take on a position in the estate of Fortune, which soon becomes a rich backdrop to her search for redemption.

Belonging to the House of Fortunalt (and from which, ironically, stemmed the rebellion which resulted in the death of Gillengaria's King to begin with), Fortune is the home of Fortunalt's heiress (Karryn) and Regent (Karryn's uncle, Jasper Palader). It's Jasper who—impressed by Wen's skill in protecting his niece—persuades a reluctant Wen to form and train the House's personal guard. And thus does her new journey begin.

Along with themes of honour and guilt, Shinn's story explores the importance of family (and finding a home) to help a person heal and find themselves again.  Does Fortune and its inhabitants bring Wen solace, renew her confidence in her worth as a soldier? I have to salute Shinn for keeping the focus on Wen's journey with relative ease, so that we actually want to find out the answer to the question above.

I must say that the beauty of Shinn's writing in this particular story didn't lie in the open conflicts and action-packed sequences that have been strongly present in the previous books. Not that Fortune and Fate doesn't have its share of conflict and action. It does . . . but in a quieter way perhaps; an internal way—a softer way that aptly portrays Wen's internal turmoil with sensitivity and grace. The focus of the story is one of personal redemption, and Shinn wisely allows new characters to reach out to Wen and assist her to move forward while enriching Shinn's already stellar cast of characters.

The character of Fortunalt's Regent, Jasper Paladar, was one that I found well drawn out. His courteous but clever methods to help Wen come to terms with whom she is and what she truly wants out of life made for insightful (and at times humorous) reading. Jasper's attempt to rebuild Fortunalt after the war while caring for his rebellious niece, Karryn, was also given a three dimensional rendering that added depth to the story.

The contrasting views of soldier and philosopher on protecting Fortune and its heiress were perhaps painted rather too stereoptypically for my taste, but provided a rich context from which to understand Wen and Jasper's psychological make-up. The potential to find middle-ground between their very different personalities and positions in society was handled plausibly by Shinn and led smoothly into a relationship that was a pleasure to read.

Karryn Fortunalt was perhaps not drawn out as fully as I'd have liked, but she was an innocent, mutinous counterpoint to Wen's stern and experienced/cynical view of the world—it was often a relief to experience her youthful view of life in comparison to, say, Wen's or Jasper's.

One of the more delightful characters in the book was of course Karryn's love interest, the mischievous and wistfully aimless Ryne, whose careless behaviour might just prove to be Karryn's destruction. The two orphaned siblings Wen saves, and whose names sadly escape me at the moment, are two more characters that I couldn't help thinking could be fleshed out to greater purpose in later stories.

Ultimately, I can't say that Fortune and Fate is the best amongst the Twelve Houses series, but it's definitely a good read. Perhaps my slight feeling of dissatisfaction stems from the fact that I was expecting a story with familiar characters and was disappointed not to find them. But if Shinn's intention was to move her world beyond the familiar medley of players into other stories, other characters, this newer view of Gillengaria and its dangerous politics does, I think, succeed admirably. Certainly, Fortune and Fate is for me a welcome addition to an intriguing fantasy world.

For readers of high fantasy who are looking for something with an emphasis on characterisation and relationships, do give Shinn's Twelve Houses series a try. For the sake of continuity, I'd recommend Mystic and Rider to start with (my personal favourites are Mystic and Rider and Reader and Raelynx), but each of the books do stand on their own.

Share/Bookmark Subscribe

Friday, 25 May 2012

Sanctuary (Mesmer, #1) free for a day on Saturday, May 26th!

Don't you just love freebies?:) For some fantasy, adventure and romance, pick up Sanctuary (Mesmer, #1) this Saturday May 26th, free on Kindle for a day! Have fun:)

A hidden kingdom in a forbidden forest. A realm she can’t escape without the trust of a mage. But trust and magic make complicated allies – when time is running out.

When Lea escapes ruthless pursuers within the shadows of a dark forest, she unwittingly stumbles upon an enchanted kingdom. But Verlaine is not the sanctuary it appears to be. And when its magi sovereign refuses to let her leave, her encounters with strange sorcery and malicious fey become the least of Lea's problems. Soon, Lea must find a way to outwit Gabriel Amarinth’s web of enchantment without betraying who – and what – she really is; and before a traitor can destroy all she’s fought to protect in her beloved home kingdom of Lorien.

Kindle US    Kindle UK

Share/Bookmark Subscribe

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Writing For Your 'One Reader'

I was re-reading a post recently on the Shrinking Violet Promotions blog, a post by Mary Hershey on Elizabeth Gilbert's approach when writing her book Eat, Pray, Love. It seems that Gilbert's audience—in her mind—was simply her friend, Darcy. She'd targeted her book to only one reader... and that made all the difference.

I remember how much of a 'wow' moment that post was for me when I first stumbled upon it. I've always had this habit of juggling multiple audiences in my head while catering my story to all of them. I try to make my work funny, witty, romantic, adventurous, fantastical... I want so much to provide a feast for a rich banquet hall that sometimes I forget to focus on creating a single meal for that someone who really needs it.

The merits behind this philosophy are remarkably straightforward. Such focus would, more likely than not, create an authentic voice in the story, as Mary Hershey notes in her post. That Gilbert sold a million copies of her book makes perfect sense because the voice of her writing was true, real. It was, ultimately, honest. And Gilbert's honesty resonated with a waiting audience who could recognise something true when they saw it.

These past few weeks, I've been working hard on revisions for Mesmer, Book #2: Favoured. It's been really tough sometimes. Life has a way of throwing you curve balls when you least expect it, and it seems (as usual, for me) that it's gonna be a race to the finish line with this one:) But re-reading Mary Hershey's post has been quite timely; it's reminded me to focus on telling the story that needs to be told, to render the magical realm of the Three Towers as authentically and truthfully as I can for my readers to enjoy just like my 'one reader' would. 

I think Elizabeth Gilbert got it right: eat, pray, love... and let the honesty of your voice carry your story to its rightful end. Only then can your story find its destined audience out there, all waiting to lose themselves in a moment of authenticity...

Right now, I can't wait for Mesmer, Book #2 to be out and in the hands of those whom it is meant to inspire, if only because the 'one reader' I've always had in my mind—my sister—would, I know, be inspired by it:)

Ciaos, and happy reading—and writing—to all:)

Share/Bookmark Subscribe

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Poetry ebook "As the Moon and the Sun" free for a weekend on Kindle!

If you enjoy love poems or spiritual/inspirational poems, do grab a copy of my poetry ebook As The Moon And The Sun: Poems Of Love, Faith and Dreaming (Rhyme Whisperer Series),free on Kindle US and Kindle UK for the weekend (May 19-20)!

Have fun:)

Share/Bookmark Subscribe

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Reflecting on the atozchallenge

When I signed up for the AtoZ challenge this April, I remember feeling really excited. I hadn't done a blog hop before, let alone updated my blog daily. The thought of completing 26 posts in a month was intimidating... but also a welcome challenge:) There was a sense that I would learn lots of new things, find out about blogs that hadn't popped across my radar yet, and maybe even find new blogging buddies who'd enjoy my posts:)

All this did happen (well, except my 26 posts) and more, so here are some reflections - some lessons learnt - from my experience in 2012's AtoZ Challenge:

1. Finish the ride if you can, but if you can't, at least make sure you enjoyed it. I guess I knew by the second week of the challenge that I just couldn't produce the kind of posts a day that my theme (and writing style) demanded. And I have to say it was a downer to think I'd 'failed' at the challenge.

But the enthusiasm of the other participants was infectious, and I soon found myself visiting more and more of the participating blogs each day, cheering everyone on and enjoying myself hugely, regardless of not completing my own 26 posts by the end of April.

Along the way, I discovered just how much my theme (fairy tales) for the AtoZ challenge resonated with the writer and blogger that I am, so that it is now a subject I intend to blog on actively:)

Lesson learnt: don't push yourself too hard and plan ahead if you can; but if all else fails, remember to enjoy what you can - even of an 'incomplete' experience - because each cog in a wheel can be as valuable as the wheel itself if you give it the chance to be.

2. Make a house into a home. Given my adventures as an indie author self-publishing her first full length fantasy novel this year, it occurred to me that perhaps success would storm its way into my little indie heart... and up the book charts. Hasn't happened yet:)

But what gives me hope is: making a house into a home doesn't happen overnight. And this is something I learned a lot about during the AtoZ Challenge.

It's all the little things - usually over a long period of time - that create the perfect mix of happiness and warmth in what can otherwise be a cold, sterile structure. And like the daily posts that are the building blocks of the AtoZ Challenge, putting in the time to create an intriguing theme, having fun in executing your theme even if you know you may not complete what you set out to do, and visiting the blogs of other participants... these were all elements that couldn't be thrown by the wayside in the pursuit of a perfect 26 posts in April, not without sacrificing a great part of the fun that was AtoZ.

Lesson learnt: there are no shortcuts in creating a home, whether online or off; but as long as you give your heart the time it needs to find its most genuine form of expression without sacrificing all those little things that it holds dear, you've already succeeded:)

3. If you don't try, you'll never know. As I mentioned above, this was my first experience blog-hopping. Spending lost of time blazing a trail through random blogs never quite appealed to me. I've always been a bit of an introvert (yes, really!), and engaging with others on quite such a constant, daily basis was something I've always shied away from.

But this challenge was a pleasant surprise. A blog hop wasn't tiring at all; it was illuminating without being intrusive. I found kindred spirits. I dare to think some found in me a kindred spirit:)

It turns out that engaging on a daily basis with thoughts and comments online was not the chore I thought it would be; it was a pretty neat form of friendship, unobstrusive and fun. I gained followers for my blog who actually think I'm saying something worth listening to (always a plus), and I found so many others whose words touched my heart.

Lesson learnt: sometimes, it is the unknown that holds within it the most important piece of a puzzle; though the world can be your oyster, perhaps it is only so if you decide to explore it - and maybe let it explore you a teeny bit... a delicious little sample at a time...

And with that, my reflections on the A to Z Challenge are at an end:) I'll conclude by saying that I enjoyed the experience hugely, and I do hope to take part next year as well, maybe even complete the 26 posts required next time! Until then, I hope you enjoyed my reflections on the challenge this year:) Happy blogging to all:)

Share/Bookmark Subscribe

A Summer in Xanadu: Revisiting Coleridge's "Kubla Khan"

This would have been a post in the A to Z Challenge if I'd gotten closer to the end (X is for Xanadu, after all)... but that ship has sailed, and as *shameless plug* my poetry ebook As The Moon And The Sun is free for the weekend (May 12-13) on Kindle,* what better time could there be to revisit the world of dreams and fantasy that Samuel Taylor Coleridge crafted so well in his poem "Kubla Khan"?:)

Kubla Khan is a poem that intrigued me, fascinated me, from the first moment I read it. Said to have been written under the influence of an opium-induced dream, the gradual descent into the supernatural takes place very quickly within Coleridge's imagined pleasure dome. He is after all the creator of the now famous 'suspension of disbelief', so I suppose this was to be expected:)

We are first given a depiction of Xanadu, the summer palace of the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan (grandson of Genghis Khan), which is imagined as an utopian realm with a sacred river, measureless caverns, fertile ground, gardens and ancient forests... But Coleridge doesn't stop there. A reader enters utopia only to succumb to an otherworldly, savage version of Nature shortly after. There is, you see, a certain dark chasm neighbouring the pleasure dome, from which bursts a powerful fountain that travels through the sacred plains of nature, leaving chaos in its wake, only to sink ‘in tumult to a lifeless ocean’.

The chaotic tug of war between Nature and Man - Man and Nature - in Kubla Khan seems reasonable enough when seen against Coleridge’s views of reality impinging on man’s ability to transcend it; I believe his own creative imagination was frequently at war with the demands of a non-creative reality in his lifetime.

But of course, the intrusion of reality into the creation of Kubla Khan was more marked than usual if Coleridge is to be believed; it seems that Kubla was an unfinished poem, a ‘fragment’ as Coleridge called it, due to the interruption of an unexpected visitor while Coleridge was in the midst of writing his opiate-induced dream down. Once the infamous Person from Porlock left, Coleridge was sadly unable to recollect his entire vision of Xanadu. And so, instead of the apparent 200-300 plus lines that should supposedly have made up Kubla Khan, we are left with a measly 54...

Suffice to say, 'the Man from Porlock'  (or 'Person from Porlock') has since became symbolic of unwanted disruptions of creativity. No doubt many of us will always wonder just who the notorious - and unnamed - visitor really was, and what his visit to Coleridge deprived us of. Certainly, I believe the poem's final stanza expressed Coleridge's own wistful yearning for inspiration to revisit him just one more time with visions of his fantastical Xanadu...

Well, at least we still have those 54 lines, lines which are full of imaginative power and strange allusions to creativity, imagination, Man, inspiration, prophets and Nature...

I could go on; there is a lot to be read into - and out of - Kubla Khan... But I should let the poem speak for itself. So here it is in all its glory, the famous poem Kubla Khan for your reading pleasure; I hope it captures your imagination and curiosity as it did me the first time I read it:

Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me
That with music loud and long
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

*The free promotion for my poetry ebook has been cancelled/postponed due to a glitch in the Kindle US system this weekend. Apologies!

Share/Bookmark Subscribe

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Cover Reveal - "Mesmer, Book #2: Favoured"

Apologies for the constant posts on my newly/soon to be released books, but it's just that time of the year for me:) And now, let the curtains rise to reveal the cover for Book 2 in the Mesmer Trilogy, "Favoured"!

Coming soon in June/July 2012, Mesmer, Book #2: Favoured

A hidden kingdom in a forbidden forest. A realm she can’t escape without the trust of a mage. But trust and magic make complicated allies – when time is running out.

As Lea races to outsmart Gabriel Amarinth and escape his magical kingdom, her stubborn loyalty to her home realm begins to waver. To her dismay, she finds herself turning fascinated by her charmed sanctuary – and its magi master. But when strange accidents and deadly disasters begin to stalk her through the halls of Gabriel's castle, it’s obvious that someone in Verlaine isn't happy with Lea's change of heart.

Ooh, can't wait for this one to be out!:) Ciaos to all, and it's back to work on Book #2 for me:)

Share/Bookmark Subscribe

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Sanctuary (Mesmer, #1) will be on a '99 cents' sale this weekend:)

As a result of the great fun I had with free giveaways last weekend for the launch of Mesmer (Book #1: Sanctuary) (A Three Towers Fantasy) - and maybe because I do feel that an indie author like me must perhaps prove herself more than most (especially when it comes to a first novel) - I'm going to run a 99 cents ebook promotion for Mesmer (Book #1: Sanctuary) (A Three Towers Fantasy) this weekend (Friday, May 4th - Sunday, May 6th).

I hope that those who didn't catch the one day free promotion last week will have a chance to bag the book this weekend instead!:) Happy reading to all:)

Share/Bookmark Subscribe

Fairy Tale Review: 'Puss in Boots'

In the spirit of all things cats, partly inspired by Ursula Le Guin's very nice post Chosen by a Cat, I'm going to feature today that seminal classic, Puss in Boots (also known as Master Cat).

Right, I'm an animal lover through and through, and this is probably attributable in part to all the fairy tales I read growing up that portrayed animals as helpers to our poor heroes and heroines. Very few animal helpers made the impression that the cat in Puss in Boots did though; simply because the cat in this tale was everything that was mischievous and trickstery (yes, I made the word up:D) and charming, and somehow symbolised exactly that brand of lazy, mysterious elegance that cats big and small possess.

All right, I'll stop waxing lyrical about felines and get to the story. Puss in Boots tells the tale of three brothers who are left three very different inheritances by their miller father; the eldest son gets the mill, the second his father's donkey, and the third *lucky chap in my mind* - gets a cat!

The cat soon proves the best inheritance a poor miller's son could ever get. Right after he's passed down to our hero, the small feline requests a pair of boots and pouch and - armed with such - proceeds to trap game which he hands over as gifts to a very appreciative King, always stating that the gifts were from his master, the 'Marquis of Carabas'. One day, when the cat hears that the King would be driving by a riverbank with his beautiful daughter, he 'arranges' for his master to be bathing naked nearby, and proceeds to call for help when the King's carriage draws near, asserting that a certain Marquis of Carabas was drowning in the river after being robbed.

Suffice to say, the King stops to help the Marquis, the princess falls in love with him during their carriage ride, and Puss's machinations later on result in his master not only owning a castle (taken from a shape-shifting ogre whom Puss tricks into becoming a mouse and who is subsequently eaten) but also in marrying the princess.

There is a charming, playful tenor to the story. Puss's efforts to ensure his master succeeds in life are remarkably endearing and can't help but make one root for him to succeed. I did squirm a bit at the manner in which he trapped game (other animals) as part of his plan to curry the King's favour, but at the same time, this was perfectly in character for a cat - not to mention inventive; he actually plays dead to catch a rabbit...

In case you're wondering if cats do such things in real life, I can say unreservedly that they do. Such intricate (and hilarious) manouvering is nothing to a cat - heck, I once knew a cat who imitated the chirping of birds to get them near to him... Didn't work though... Poor little feller was so disappointed... *ahem* To return to what I was saying...

Yes, I suppose what impressed me most about this tale was that the characteristics of Puss were honestly portrayed - he is mischievous AND cunning, resourceful AND ruthless, loyal AND manipulative...

But ultimately, Puss is unapologetically himself, and that kind of truth in a tale can do no less than inspire devotion in this reader:) I just had to cheer inside when the cat finally "became a great lord and never again had to run after mice, except when he wanted to amuse himself". Go, Puss!:)

Share/Bookmark Subscribe