My journey through the world of writing and everything that lies in between…

Summary from Goodreads:
In a city-state known for magnificence, where love affairs and conspiracies play out amidst brilliant painters, poets and musicians, the powerful and ambitious Alfonso d’Este, duke of Ferrara, takes a new bride. Half of Europe is certain he murdered his first wife, Lucrezia, the luminous child of the Medici. But no one dares accuse him, and no one has proof-least of all his second duchess, the far less beautiful but delightfully clever Barbara of Austria.

At first determined to ignore the rumors about her new husband, Barbara embraces the pleasures of the Ferrarese court. Yet wherever she turns she hears whispers of the first duchess’s wayward life and mysterious death. Barbara asks questions-a dangerous mistake for a duchess of Ferrara. Suddenly, to save her own life, Barbara has no choice but to risk the duke’s terrifying displeasure and discover the truth of Lucrezia’s death-or she will share her fate.

Review:

The story is based off real people–Barbara of Austria and Alfonso II d’Este as well as the famous poem  by Robert Browning called “My Last Duchess.”

The beginning started off a little slow, but picked up once Barbara, the main character, started having questions about her new husband and his involvement with the death of the previous duchess, Lucrezia Medici. The characters were very three-dimensional; I especially loved how Loupas gave Barbara a little nervous habit–it made her seem more real.

Alfonso’s character–well, let’s just say he was typical for someone with a lot of power and control. At first I couldn’t stand him at all, but as the book progressed, I really started to see that he wasn’t ALL bad–just egocentric and a typical European prince 😛 I grew to like him as Barbara did.

Even Lucrezia, the last duchess, plays an important role as a character–even though she’s dead. I won’t go into much more about her–you’ll have to read it to see–but she definitely was a princess used to doing what she wanted regardless of the consequences.

This book is ultimately a historical mystery as Barbara tries to piece together how exactly the last duchess died (since she was only 17 when she did). There were lots of twists and turns that I certainly didn’t see coming. Loupas definitely kept me wondering.

The only main issue I had was the amount of detail. Don’t get me wrong–I love the detail because it makes it more real–but sometimes with all of the Italian terms, I got a little lost. There wasn’t a glossary so some of the words that were used threw me out of the story temporarily as I tried to figure out what they meant in the context of the sentence. That was my only problem though and it was mostly in the beginning where things were just getting set up. By the end I didn’t notice it as much.

Also, there are a few steamy scenes, but nothing too over-the-top, just as a warning. 🙂

Overall, 4/5.

Fury of the Phoenix, the sequel to Cindy Pon’s amazing fantasy novel, Silver Phoenix, releases today!

I have been looking forward to this book since I finished the last one. I’m so happy it’s finally here!

Also, Cindy is having a contest over on her blog to celebrate the release. To enter, you have to read the book first though. 🙂 Prizes include some amazing original brush paintings by Cindy herself. Check out the official rules here.

You can get some amazing swag just by posting or tweeting about the contest. I have to say, those postcards are seriously amazing.

Congrats, Cindy, on your second book release!

How Much is Too Much?

Being a huge historical fiction fan as well as a writer in this genre, I’ve often wondered: when does the detail become too much?

I know as a writer I often go between the two extremes, either putting way too much detail in and diverting from the story, or not putting enough in and making the setting non-existent.

I’ve recently been reading two historicals (both which I’ll review here when I’m done, so you’ll just have to guess for now :P) and both have so much detail in them that I’m sometimes overwhelmed. Both also take place in different cultures and also employ foreign words a great deal. One of the books has a glossary in the back, while the other doesn’t and sometimes makes it hard to figure out.

When I’m writing my Japanese historical novel, I often have to find a way to describe whatever foreign word I’m using to make sure the reader doesn’t get lost. I know my critique group has gotten me on some instances when I don’t give the context of what it means in the following sentences. At the same time you don’t want to make it too obvious because it can throw the reader out of the story too. It’s a precarious position 🙂

The best thing we can do as a historical writer–or any writer really–is just keep practicing–and reading other novels–to see how other authors craft their stories and to either follow their example or avoid any pitfalls they may make.

Summary from Goodreads:

From the day she arrives at the Biltmore, Tillie Reese is dazzled—by the riches of the Vanderbilts and by Mack Danvers, a mountain man turned footman. When Tillie is enlisted to help tame Mack’s rugged behavior by tutoring him in the ways of refined society, the resulting sparks threaten Tillie’s efforts to be chosen as Edith Vanderbilt’s lady’s maid.

But the stakes rise even higher when Mack and Tillie become entangled in a cover-up at the town orphanage. They could both lose their jobs…and their hearts.

Review:

I’ve read most of Deeanne Gist’s other books in the past and loved them and this one certainly didn’t disappoint. In fact, I think this one ranks up there as my favorite of hers that she’s written.

I loved how quickly and efficiently she introduced Tillie, the main character, and her love interest Mack. Their truly three dimensional and I had to keep reminding myself that I was reading about fictional people.

Though this is classified as Christian fiction/romance, Gist does a great job in making the characters’ faith not come across as sermonizing. I know I’ve read some Christian fiction where it seems like there’s a sermon on every page. The story takes precedence here, thankfully, while the characters’ faith is interwoven with their personalities.

For those who are uncomfortable with graphic love scenes, no worries here. Gist makes sure to tease us just a little, and swoon at the secret kisses and caresses, but keeps the “act” behind closed doors.

Only a few problems I had with this book:  first, the “bad guy” seemed like a bit of an afterthought. The story with him and how it affected Tille and Mack’s relationship didn’t really pick up until the second half of the book. But it wasn’t something that I thought took away from the story too much; there was enough tension and conflict between Tille and Mack earlier on to keep the pace going and the reader interested.

Second, though it’s a typical romance ending, it seemed a little too neatly tied up. Everything seemed perfect at the end, and I sort of wish there was just a little bit of something hanging…but that’s just me and my personal preference.

Overall, highly recommended, especially if you like turn-of-the-century romance.

4.5/5 stars

 

2011 Reading Challenges

So, I stumbled across a few reading challenges that I just had to participate in–even if a quarter of the year is almost over. 🙂

The first is the Classics Challenge over at Stiletto Storytime’s blog. You have to read anywhere from 5-40 classics from Jan.1-Dec. 31. I chose the easier “Bachelor’s Degree” level–10 classics between now and the end of the year. Classics have been harder for me to read just because of how many of them are written (despite the fact I was an English major…heh). I may end up going to the “Master’s” level if I finish before the end of the year, but for now I’ll stick with 10 that I’ve chosen…and that may change as the year goes on (check my tab at the top if you’re curious).

And there’s one other challenge I simply had to sign up for: Historical Fiction Reading Challenge! How could I miss that?! Most of the books I read are historical in some way (fantasy, YA or traditional) and I’ve already read two this year (though not counting them on my list). I signed up for the highest level on that one: Severe Bookaholism, 20 books. I’m pretty sure I can hit that before the end, or at least make a good effort!

Are you participating in any reading challenges this year? It’s not too late to sign up!

Word Count Misconceptions

I’ve been working on a basic summary for my short story for the Writer’s Digest competition. As much as I wanted to just throw myself into it and write, I couldn’t do it 😛 I guess I’m a plotter at heart, even when I’m writing a story less than 10K.

I used to write flash fiction–less than 1000 words–and those I generally just threw myself in and wrote, but much more than that and I find I need a basic map.

Of course, after I came up with this “map” for the short story (tentatively titled “The Bog Witch”) I realized it was much too long–and detailed. I threw too much into a story that has a max word count of 4K–which is only a little over 10 pages double spaced. That’s really not that much when you think about it. I somehow thought that 4K was a lot longer than that but no 😛

I’ve had misconceptions about my word count before too. For example, my first NaNo draft of The Scarlet Daughter ended up being over 100K–and I still had a good quarter of the book to reach “the end.” I’ve gotten a little better at judging word count, realizing that I tend to venture into the “too wordy” category all too often. Still, I think I may be a little off in estimating word count in the beginning.

Staying within the limits of word count guidelines, whether for contests, freelance writing, agent/editor submissions, etc. is extremely important. An agent does not want to see in your query that your romance novel is 250K long. And for contests and submissions to magazines or other literary journals, going over word count is a sure way to receive an automatic rejection. Yes, there are some exceptions, mainly when it comes to novels, but I’d still be wary of having a 300K novel, especially if you’re a first-time, unpublished author.

Do you ever over or under estimate your word count?

Heavy Heart

My heart is breaking for Japan this morning. They were hit with a massive 8.9 magnitude quake off the coast of Sendai (northern Japan). It’s the biggest in the 140 years they’ve been keeping records. Much of the damage was caused by the 23-foot monster tsunami that hit the coast near Sendai.

From what I’ve read, trains, flights and most public transportation has been stopped–something that almost never happens in country dependent upon it. Millions of people are without power and thousands more have lost their homes along the coast. Unfortunately the death toll will be rising over the next few days and weeks 😦

Here’s a site I found that gives the truly heart stopping truth with pictures of the devastation. I’ve been crying on and off all morning…Japan is a nation that’s had my heart for awhile (if you haven’t noticed…). Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

New Page Added

I don’t know how I didn’t see this before in the two and a half years I’ve had this blog, but I’ve never put up a contact page with my email 😛 It’s thanks to agent Rachelle Gardner’s post about making sure you put your contact info out there, especially if you’re out there networking (or attempting to network) within the publishing industry. You just never know when an agent might want to contact YOU because of something interesting they read on your blog. (I’ve actually had this happen to me once before, about a year ago, but I wasn’t ready to submit anything to them yet).

Anyway, go and check your blog/website and make sure that email addy is somewhere visible! 🙂

Returning…Again

So, I was sick for about a week and a half and that pretty much zapped any desire to do anything. I’ve also been so caught up reading; I haven’t done that in forever and I’ve read six books in the last two weeks so that took me away from writing. Now I have to get back into the swing of things and it’s HARD. It always is…

But then once I jump that initial hurdle, I realize how much I’ve missed it. So…I’m back again, after yet another absence 😛 Today I’m working on making my chapter summary somewhat readable for my crit partners (which shouldn’t take that long–it’s only a basic summary after all) and then I need to jump back into actually writing the story. I need to also work on editing the 2nd chapter since I’m up again at my local crit group in another week and half. But I have to get this thing done, at least the first draft, before June.

And I still need to start that story for the Writer’s  Digest Contest. I’m nervous about it though because my MC is coming out a lot more…um, deranged…than I thought and I’ve never written a character like that before. I guess the only thing I can do is throw myself into it right?

I hope everyone’s writing ventures are going well!

1st Draft Doubt

I’m in the dreaded middle of my current WiP. The place where I inevitably lose steam and become frustrated with the story’s direction.

I need to push past it though. I need to stop looking for excuses and just write the darn thing. It’s a first draft–so it’s going to be bad–and I need to realize this already. I’m one of those who always struggles with unrealistic expectations for myself, especially when it comes to writing. I know a lot of writers do this but sometimes I let it stop me.

Anyway, I shouldn’t be stopped this time at all. Especially after my local critique group read the first chapter of the first draft and LOVED it. Like, I don’t remember a time I’ve ever had that much praise for something I’ve written, especially an unedited first draft! So why have I stopped?

Maybe because I’m scared. Scared that I’ll butcher what they saw. It’s that writer’s fear once again…and that dreaded middle that’s stopped me in my tracks.

I need to join up with my writing sprint buddies again. I need to leave the fear behind and conquer the middle. And to any other writer out there who is in the same spot–or close–we need to leave that inner editor locked away and turn off the voices telling us we’re no good. Or else how can we continue?

Here’s hoping I’m successful in this and that you are too! 🙂

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