To Reread or Not to Reread: That is the Question

 

I’m a big rereader. More than 10% of all the books I finished in 2015 were rereads. My copy of Farmer Boy has been paged through so many times it is literally disintegrating. At this very moment, I am working my way through the entire Captive Prince trilogy, less than a month after I read it for the first time (I devoured all three in one weekend). Some might say I have a problem. Some days, I might be tempted to agree with them. In many ways, rereading is great. In other ways, it can be problematic. Let me elaborate.To Reread or Not to Reread: That is the Question

Why I Reread:

For the warm fuzzies.

My favorite books are like a security blanket, comfortable and familiar. It feels great to cuddle up with a book I’ve read several times before, returning to characters I’ve missed and am happy to reunite with. It’s like having a joyful reunion with a friend who moved away but has come back for a visit.

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To get out of a book slump.

When I’ve been underwhelmed by several books in a row and am in a reading rut, I return to an old favorite that’s tried and true. It’s a relief not to have to invest time and energy on a new book that may turn out to be a dud.

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For nostalgia’s sake.

I’ll occasionally think back to a book I read a long time ago and feel an urge to crack it open again. I’ll vaguely remember that I really liked the book but won’t be able to recall all the details. In this case, rereading is a little like looking back at an old photo album, reminiscing over scenes I’d forgotten about and smiling as things start to come back to me. Sometimes, if enough time has passed, the book will still be able to surprise.

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To discover new layers of meaning.

I love when I reread a book and notice all kinds of hints, foreshadowing, and symbolism I didn’t pick up on the first or even second time through. Series are great for this – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back to the first book in a series and been bowled over because what I originally thought was a casual detail ended up being a clue to something important later on. It’s evidence of clever and extensive planning on the author’s part. Maggie Stiefvater is the queen of this. Her Raven Cycle books are wonderful individually, but they have so much more power and meaning when viewed all together, when you can appreciate the parallelism and symbolism that Maggie’s woven throughout.

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On the Flip Side…Why Rereading Can Sometimes Lead To Trouble:

It makes it hard to recover from a book hangover.

I go through painful bouts of book depression each time I finish a great novel. I often try to ease this pain by immediately diving back into the book a second time, thinking it will help to re-immerse myself in the world and characters. Wrong! If anything, it’s like ripping a scab off a nearly healed wound. It can’t get better if you keep poking at it!

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I know when the end is coming, and it gives me anxiety.

When I read an awesome book, I like to pretend it’s going to last forever. On my Kindle, I hide the progress indicator so I don’t have to see when I only have 25% left, or 10%, or 2%. With a reread, though, it’s impossible to fool myself. I know what’s coming, and all I can focus on is the fast-approaching conclusion. “Oh no, there are only 3 more major scenes left…now 2…1…oh, it’s almost over! Waaahhh!!!”

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I’m tempted to skip ahead.

Because I already know where the juicy stuff is, I have a tendency to skim over certain sections to get to my favorite scenes. This makes it hard to accurately count how many books I’ve read in a year; if I’m skipping parts, I can’t technically count it as reading the entire book without feeling like I’m cheating. And skimming is just a terrible habit in general. It goes against my grain to read books this way, but sometimes I get excited and can’t help myself.

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Books aren’t always as good as I remember.

There’s nothing worse than returning to a beloved book from your childhood or adolescence and realizing it’s not as amazing as you remember. I recall reading Gentlehands by M. E. Kerr in middle school and thinking it was the best thing ever. A couple years ago I found a copy at a book sale and bought it, excited to re-experience Kerr’s masterpiece as an adult. It ended up being a mistake. The book I’d been so fond of was a letdown the second time around. Sometimes it’s better to let a book remain perfect in your memory rather than risk tarnishing its legacy.

 
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What about you? Do you reread? Why or why not? Drop me a comment below!

Blog Tour, Giveaway, and Review: The Midnight Sea by Kat Ross

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About The Midnight Sea

Book cover for The Midnight Sea by Kat RossThey are the light against the darkness.

The steel against the necromancy of the Druj.

And they use demons to hunt demons….

Nazafareen lives for revenge. A girl of the isolated Four-Legs Clan, all she knows about the King’s elite Water Dogs is that they bind wicked creatures called daevas to protect the empire from the Undead. But when scouts arrive to recruit young people with the gift, she leaps at the chance to join their ranks. To hunt the monsters that killed her sister.

Scarred by grief, she’s willing to pay any price, even if it requires linking with a daeva named Darius. Human in body, he’s possessed of a terrifying power, one that Nazafareen controls. But the golden cuffs that join them have an unwanted side effect. Each experiences the other’s emotions, and human and daeva start to grow dangerously close.

As they pursue a deadly foe across the arid waste of the Great Salt Plain to the glittering capital of Persepolae, unearthing the secrets of Darius’s past along the way, Nazafareen is forced to question his slavery—and her own loyalty to the empire. But with an ancient evil stirring in the north, and a young conqueror sweeping in from the west, the fate of an entire civilization may be at stake…

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Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

three stars
(Actual rating: 3.5 stars)

The Midnight Sea is a tale of magic and forbidden love, set in ancient Persia. Let me repeat that. Magic. Forbidden love. Ancient Persia. Need I say more?

For those of you who need just a little more information before you run off and grab a copy of this book, allow me to set the stage. The book’s protagonist is Nazafareen, a young nomad whose life is forever altered when her sister is possessed and killed by a Druj, a kind of demon. Devastated, Nazafareen devotes her life to eradicating Druj from the land and joins the Water Dogs, a special force that harnesses the powers of chained Druj – daevas – and uses them to fight their evil brethren.

“It had been five years since the wight took my sister, but the flames of my guilt and hatred had not dimmed. If anything, they burned hotter than ever. I had fed them everything I was, everything I had. In many ways, they were all that was left of me.”

Nazafareen is assigned to a young and mighty daeva named Darius. The two are bonded to one another so that Nazafareen can wield his power, a necessity that both parties resent. It facilitates a flow of thoughts, emotions, and sensations between the two that’s disorienting at best and panic-inducing at worst.

“I wasn’t alone anymore. Floodgates opened in my mind, releasing a torrent of alien emotions. Next to me, Darius drew a sharp breath as the same thing happened to him, although I barely heard it. Panic surged through me, followed by an aching loss so deep it tore a hole in my heart. I didn’t know if it was mine or his, or both feeding off the other. And I felt his power, a deep, churning pool of it, held tight in my fist.”

As you can guess from the book’s synopsis, the intense dislike Nazafareen and Darius feel for one another eventually morphs into acceptance, then into grudging respect. They begin to see each other as more than vicious daeva and tight-fisted master, and the more time they spend together, the more they’re forced to question everything they’ve been taught about the conflict between their races. Their doubts are further amplified when the Water Dogs are dispatched to track down a group of escaped, rampaging daevas, a journey that brings several unpleasant revelations.

I thought I would be most captivated by the forbidden romance in The Midnight Sea, but what ended up being even more compelling was the theme of repression that runs through the book. Darius has been raised in captivity, conditioned to believe he is twisted and sinful, redeemable only through discipline and control. He must suppress his “wicked nature,” just as he and Nazafareen must reject their “unnatural” feelings for one another. These two aren’t the only ones battling against themselves. Ilyas, the Water Dogs’ captain, is also waging an internal war, one I found endlessly fascinating and that made him one of the most interesting characters in the story.

“We all had our ghosts, I thought. People we had loved – or hated – so much that they had become a part of us. No one’s choices in this life were really their own. Even our brave captain was driven by desires and insecurities that had more to do with the accident of his birth than anything else.”

I was enamored of the book’s setting as well. The story takes place in a fantasy version of ancient Persia, a backdrop to which I haven’t had much exposure. Not everything is historically accurate, and in her author’s note Ross admits to placing real people and events in contexts that aren’t necessarily factual, but that didn’t hamper my enjoyment. It was refreshing to read descriptions of religious practices, scenery and climates, dietary norms, and other cultural matters that I haven’t seen a thousand times before. Hurray for originality!

All in all, The Midnight Sea is a promising start to this new series, and I have high hopes for the sequel. Ancient-Persian fantasies with conflicted characters may not have been my standard fare in the past, but I’m thinking I need more of them in my future!

Author Bio

Author photo of Kat Ross

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Kat Ross worked as a journalist at the United Nations for ten years before happily falling back into what she likes best: making stuff up. She lives in Westchester with her kid and a few sleepy cats. Kat is also the author of the dystopian thriller Some Fine Day (Skyscape, 2014), about a world where the sea levels have risen sixty meters. She loves magic, monsters and doomsday scenarios. Preferably with mutants.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads 

Giveaway

Xpresso Book Tours is giving away a $30 Amazon gift card to one lucky winner. The giveaway is open internationally and can be entered via the Rafflecopter form below.

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Click here to check out other stops on The Midnight Sea tour.

Review: The City’s Son by Tom Pollock

The City's Son Book Cover The City's Son
Tom Pollock

Tom Pollock's debut novel and the first volume of the Skyscraper Throne series, The City's Son is an imaginative tale of adventure set in a city that is quite literally alive.

Beneath the streets of London lies a city of monsters and miracles, where wild train spirits stampede over the tracks and glass-skinned dancers with glowing veins light the streets.

Following a devastating betrayal, Beth Bradley, a sixteen-year-old graffiti artist, is suspended from school. Running from a home that she shares with her father who has never recovered after Beth's mother's death, Beth stumbles into the hidden city and meets Filius Viae, London's asphalt-hued crown prince. And her timing couldn't have been more perfect. An ancient enemy is stirring under St. Paul's Cathedral, determined to stoke the flames of a centuries-old war, and Beth and Fin find themselves drawn into the depths of the mysterious urban wonderland, hoping to prevent the destruction of the city they both know and love.

Review:

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The City’s Son is the essence of urban fantasy: a tale of wonder, set in a city whose very foundations are alive with magic. In Pollock’s novel, London is the domain of Mater Viae, a powerful goddess who rules as Lady of the Streets. After reigning for centuries, Mater Viae has been mysteriously absent from her realm for nigh on 16 years, and a usurper is gathering his forces to take control of the city.

Reach, the Crane King (we’re talking the machinery crane, not the bird crane), is slowly overtaking London, increasing in power each day. A force of urban sickness, Reach is the “city’s own greed, killing itself in its haste to grow.” With Mater Viae gone, the only person left to defend London is Filius, Mater Viae’s 16-year-old son. The task seems impossible until Filius’ path crosses that of Beth, a lonely human teenager whose recently-widowed father is too sunk in his grief to properly care for his daughter. Beth joins Filius in his quest to battle Reach and his minions, and The City’s Son chronicles their attempts to recruit the various magical beings living in London and wage war against the Crane King.

The City’s Son reminded me very much of The Night Circus, in that I enjoyed its creativity and imagination but wasn’t sold on the characters and plot. What first drew me to this story was the promise of London being “a city of monsters and miracles,” and in this matter Pollock certainly delivered. Unbeknownst to most of London’s human inhabitants, nearly everything in the city is alive, animated by magic. The trains are powered by Railwraith spirits, and the streetlights are illuminated by glowing lamp people who communicate by blinking in flashes of semaphoring light. There are Scaffwolves – vicious metal beasts formed of construction scaffolding – and glass Pylon Spiders that scurry about the city via Internet/telecom wires and feast on people’s voices.

Pollock’s got a vivid imagination, and he fills his pages with inspired creatures and striking language. Filius has skin the color of cement, sweats oil, and has arms that can crush steel girders. Another character gives the impression that his “smile was indestructible, that you could put [his] smile through a car-crusher and his grin alone would come out whole on the other side.” Mater Viae is said to have “laid the foundation of the streets[…] and the bones of the roads buried under them. She stoked the Steamwraiths’ engines and gave the lamps their first sparks. She forged the chains that hold old Father Thames in place.” The City’s Son is a fantastical, wondrous world in which anything is possible.

As creative as the world building is, the plot and characterization leave something to be desired. Beth’s allegiance to Filius, in particular, felt like a stretch. Beth meets Fil in the street one day and decides almost immediately to not only join his cause, but to forsake her father, home, and life to do so. I realize the two of them are supposed to be kindred spirits, drawn to one another because they both know what it’s like to feel lonely and abandoned, but Beth’s instant and unwavering devotion felt unnatural to me.

I wasn’t impressed by Filius, either. He is foundering under the weight of his subjects’ expectations, unable to measure up to his beloved, mighty mother. Although I usually root for underdogs, the problem with The City’s Son is that Filius isn’t just perceived as inept by other characters; he’s seen that way by the reader as well. I like my crown princes brave and heroic and powerful; Filius is none of those things. He lacks experience, has no clue what he’s doing, and especially doesn’t know how to lead an army against a force of evil.

The City’s Son is great in terms of imaginative magic and creative world building, but if you’re looking for something more I’m not sure this book will provide it. It does have great quotes, though, so I’ll leave you with a few of my favorites:

“Only the people you love can scare you witless enough for true courage.”

“Graffiti tangled over the wall, but there was nothing interesting, only messy, graceless tags. Beth had no time for signatures like that. Bricks were a journal for her, not a megaphone; she didn’t paint to shout about her impact on the city but to show the city’s impact on her.”

“‘Inseparable, they used to call us,’ she said, ‘like it was ordinary. Like it wasn’t a bloody miracle to have someone who can tell you’ve got a broken heart by the way you button your coat.’”

Book Blitz, Giveaway, and Guest Post: The Midnight Sea by Kat Ross

Blog tour banner for The Midnight Sea by Kat RossBook cover for The Midnight Sea by Kat RossThe Midnight Sea by Kat Ross 
(Fourth Element #1)
Publication date: May 10th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult

They are the light against the darkness.

The steel against the necromancy of the Druj.

And they use demons to hunt demons….

Nazafareen lives for revenge. A girl of the isolated Four-Legs Clan, all she knows about the King’s elite Water Dogs is that they bind wicked creatures called daevas to protect the empire from the Undead. But when scouts arrive to recruit young people with the gift, she leaps at the chance to join their ranks. To hunt the monsters that killed her sister.

Scarred by grief, she’s willing to pay any price, even if it requires linking with a daeva named Darius. Human in body, he’s possessed of a terrifying power, one that Nazafareen controls. But the golden cuffs that join them have an unwanted side effect. Each experiences the other’s emotions, and human and daeva start to grow dangerously close.

As they pursue a deadly foe across the arid waste of the Great Salt Plain to the glittering capital of Persepolae, unearthing the secrets of Darius’s past along the way, Nazafareen is forced to question his slavery—and her own loyalty to the empire. But with an ancient evil stirring in the north, and a young conqueror sweeping in from the west, the fate of an entire civilization may be at stake…

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Despicable You: Writing Great Villains

By Kat Ross

I have a confession to make—one that some of you might share. My favorite characters are usually the awful ones. The ones who do terrible things without a shred of remorse. The ones that I’m dying to see get their comeuppance, but not before they push our beloved protagonist to the very edge and nearly destroy everything in the story we care about. Yes, I’m talking about the villains.

Think the viscerally creepy Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. The icily elegant Mrs. Coulter from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Elizabeth Wein’s SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden in Code Name Verity, who we only meet second-hand but is terrifying nonetheless.

Villains can make or break a book. When they’re boring or one-dimensional or clichéd, there’s no tension and the plot deflates with that sad wheezing noise balloons make when you stick with them with a hatpin. But when they’re done right, meaning that they are an actual character and not simply a clunky device to test the hero, they help keep the stakes of the story high and the reader turning pages late into the night.

In The Midnight Sea, King Artaxeros II is the obvious villain, but he’s also a bit abstract—you don’t meet him until more than halfway through, and then only briefly. So I needed another antagonist. One who you really get to know. One who has some admirable traits but, as the pressures of the plot slowly pile up, becomes something much darker. Without giving away too many spoilers, I’ll just say that I spent as much or more time thinking about him as about my main characters, Nazafareen and Darius. If you’re going to have a colossal betrayal, the reader had better care about everyone involved or it just won’t have much emotional impact.

So here are a few tips on writing unforgettable villains.

First off, all this is very subjective. What gives me cold sweats might make you laugh yourself silly. So you might start by think about which villains in film, TV, books, wherever, have resonated the most and why. Is it the prosthetic hook? The creepy Malkovich-esque voice? The mask of sanity they wear with their family when they’re not committing grisly deeds? Once you know what disturbs you in the deepest, most primal part of your monkey brain, channel that quality in your own bad guy.

Okay, this one I cannot emphasize enough: give the villain motivation that readers can relate to, even if it’s totally twisted. So they’re power-hungry. Why? Is it because they have a secret crush on someone they want to impress? Or maybe they’re compensating for a horrible childhood, or their dog needs an expensive operation, or their ideas of right and wrong are simply skewed beyond repair? I like to think that even the worst villain has something they care about. Balthazar, a necromancer who gets a starring turn in the second book of my series, is madly in love with his wicked queen. Yes, he does terrible things. But everything he does, he does for her.

Rachel Aaron has an awesome blog post on character development where she breaks it down into the deceptively simple formula below. The key is to understand that what a character wants and why they want it are two separate things and as a writer, you need to be very clear on both.

What do you want? (Goal)

Why do you want it? (Motivation)

What’s stopping you? (Conflict)

If you have trouble, you can also try flipping the story and imagining it from the villain’s point of view. You might be surprised at what you discover. Setting aside hockey-masked killers and comic book arch-bad guys, a good villain could potentially be the protagonist if he or she weren’t quite so extreme.

In my first book, the sci-fi thriller Some Fine Day, one of the most despicable characters is a military doctor who’s deliberately infected innocent people with a super-nasty Level Four virus. But as she calmly explains to the main character, the project is simply a response to their enemies engineering a similar plague. From her point of view, it’s a matter of self-defense.

Effective villains often embody an exaggerated version of the same things your hero is conflicted about. That’s very much the case in The Midnight Sea, where both Nazafareen and her antagonist face a similar choice but react in opposite ways. This is where we dig down deep and see what our characters are made of. Often, it is the villain’s inability to change and grow and face the truth (external or internal) that proves to be their undoing.

So now that you’ve got a fantastic, fully fleshed out villain that rivals Moriarty or Lecter, what’s the best way to get them across to the reader? Well, if the story is third person, you can give your villain their own POV. Jack Torrance in The Shining is one of my all-time favorites because we get to watch him slide slowly into madness over the course of several hundred pages. But the scariest part comes just before he’s lost it completely. We know he’s probably going to do some very bad things, but there’s still an unpredictable quality to him. In our hearts, we still vainly hope that his love for his wife and kid will somehow triumph over the evil ghosts running the Overlook Hotel, which makes it SO much worse when Jack finally, irretrievably snaps.

As King says, “This inhuman place makes human monsters.” And those are always the scariest kind.

Anyway, thanks for reading! For tons more on villains, I highly recommend Bullies, Bastards And Bitches: How To Write The Bad Guys Of Fiction by Jessica Morrell.

Author Bio

Author photo of Kat Ross

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Kat Ross worked as a journalist at the United Nations for ten years before happily falling back into what she likes best: making stuff up. She lives in Westchester with her kid and a few sleepy cats. Kat is also the author of the dystopian thriller Some Fine Day (Skyscape, 2014), about a world where the sea levels have risen sixty meters. She loves magic, monsters and doomsday scenarios. Preferably with mutants.

BEA For Beginners: 5 Tips To Maximize Your Experience at BookExpo America

With BookExpo America 2016 just a week away, I thought it would be a great time to share some tips for first-time attendees. I was a newbie myself in 2015 and had the time of my life, walking away with a ton of books, lots of new friends, and plenty of great memories. Now that I’ve got one year under my belt and am OFFICIALLY a BEA expert, here are a few kernels of wisdom that will help you make the most of your time at the show.

1) Research galley drops.

Fangirl signing with Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl signing with Rainbow Rowell, BEA15

In the days leading up to BEA, many publishers provide schedules of what galleys and ARCs they’ll be releasing when. Social media, especially Twitter, is a great source for this information, as is Publisher’s Weekly.

Some publishers only release their galley drop schedule the morning of. In that case, the first thing you’ll want to do when you arrive each day of the event is to swing by the booths of your favorite publishers to see if they have the day’s printouts. ARCs and galleys tend to go pretty quickly, so you definitely want to make sure you know when to show up for the books you want the most.

2) Make a plan (with back-ups).

Once you know what galleys, author signings, and speakers you’re interested in, I recommend creating some kind of plan. On my map, I circled and highlighted the booth numbers of keypublishers where I knew I had important signings. I also made up a simple paper schedule listing the times and locations of events that caught my eye.

In addition to keeping track of your can’t-miss events, I suggest noting several back-ups in case your first choice doesn’t pan out. Last year I was interested in getting an ARC of Six of Crows but learned that all its previous galley drops had been mob scenes. I decided I didn’t want to wait in line with no guarantee of getting a copy, so I checked my schedule, found a signing going on during the same time slot, and went to that instead.

3) Bring a rolling suitcase.

Book Haul From Day 1 At BEA15

Book haul from Day 1 of BEA15

At the end of my first day of BEA, I was downing extra-strength Tylenol to deal with the pain in my neck and shoulders from toting around the 20+ free books I’d collected in my backpack. Then a friend shared a secret for days two and three – bring a rolling suitcase!

 

Suitcases are prohibited on the show floor but can be deposited at the bag check. I collected books in my backpack in the morning, transferred them to my checked suitcase during a lull in the action, and gathered more books in the afternoon. It lightened my load, and my back was grateful.

4) Don’t be afraid to talk to people.

I understand that walking up to a random person at an event and striking up a conversation may not be the most comfortable thing in the world. Do it anyway! One of the coolest things about attending BEA is the camaraderie and kinship that comes from being surrounded by people who have the same passions you do. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself, talk about your favorite authors, or request book recommendations.

Don’t shy away from asking questions, either. Stop by publishers’ booths to ask what galleys they’ll be offering and when. Query seasoned veterans for tips and advice. Ask people in line who/what they’re waiting for – you may want to queue up, too. The more you ask, the more you know, and the more you know, the better your experience.

5) Bring business cards.

Anatomy of Curiosity signing with Tessa Gratton, Brenna Yovanoff, and Maggie Stiefvater at BEA15

Anatomy of Curiosity signing with Tessa Gratton, Brenna Yovanoff, and Maggie Stiefvater at BEA15

I learned this lesson the hard way. BEA is a great way to network and build relationships, and just about every person I met last year had a business card to give me. It was awkward and a little embarrassing that I didn’t have one to give in return. It may be just a little piece of paper, but it’s an important way to get your name out there, share contact information, and leave a lasting impression.

 

There you have it – 5 easy ways to ensure you have the best time ever at BookExpo America! Now go out, make new friends, and read on!