Fire and Thorns Trilogy (Wherein, I make my feelings clear.)

I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about Rae Carson’s PHENOMENAL Fire and Thorns trilogy since I finished reading an ARC of The Bitter Kingdom a couple weeks ago. Then I got sidetracked with my own writing dramas and nearly forgot.

Never fear, I am here now to talk about these books and why I think you should all pick them up pronto. No excuses.

Oh, the romance I have with these books! It’s been a little over a year since I first picked up The Girl of Fire and Thorns — on a whim due to a particularly glowing review from a fellow YA fiend — and I have salivated for each subsequent sequel since.

As series go, this one starts off at a wonderful place. Elisa — magic stone entrusted princess and role model for all girls who’ve glowered in the shadow of a gorgeous and slim sibling — is married off to the a rather handsome, but slightly weak spirited king, at sixteen. Her life quickly turns upside down and sideways as everything she ever knew about herself is brought into question. The first book, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, is an introduction to Elisa, the magic in her world, the stakes against her, and the beautiful tentativeness of first love.

The journey continues in The Crown of Embers. Elisa is now Queen Regent, her understanding of the power in her Godstone grows, just as her responsibility to her people in the terrible war against the Inviernos and their black-magic. In the midst of grappling with all this, Elisa is falling in love with someone she really can’t have, and we all suffer right along with her. Note: I have discussed this many times on my blog. The make-out scene in this novel is deserving of a re-read. Or ten. I read it again just now.

In the final chapter of this saga, The Bitter Kingdom, we follow Elisa to the gate of the enemy, as she wields a dangerous and volatile power with grave and unpredictable consequences, all to save her land and her love. It’s harrowing, certainly, but mixed with such heart and vibrancy I was invigorated until the wee hours of the night reading. I especially enjoyed the relationship she develops with a horse she wants to hate, as well as a slave girl she takes under her wing. It’s a satisfying end to a series I didn’t want to see end. There is also plenty of delicious romance to make your toes curl and your stomach flip-flop. Ya know, if you like that sort of thing.

Elisa is a heroine I love and admire. Her evolution over the series created an allegiance few have managed with me. In fact, her fierce loyalty and sense of duty is a quality I am drawn to in real life, and something I long to exhibit more accurately myself.

As a writer, I choose books for all sorts of reasons. Research. Swoony boys. World-building. But above all, a book must make me feel. It must take me out of my own world, and the ping of my pinball thoughts, long enough to stop picking my nails and start smiling again. If a book can do that, I will love it forever. I will carry it with me into conversations. I will push it into hands, and write about it on my blog.

Rae Carson managed that so beautifully with these books, that my conscience won’t allow me not to talk about it. And it’s why I’m threatening you (however emptily, because hello, this is the internet) to read them or else.

Read them. They can be found through Indiebound.org as well as most larger online retailers. Or go to your local bookstore. If they don’t have it at your local bookstore, demand why. I did this at mine, and the bookseller kindly explained they had sold out. OK, acceptable.

Write me when you get to that scene in The Crown of Embers. We’ll swoon together.

Irving Library Beneath the Surface Author Panel and site of utter fangirl overload

Nova and Me

It is hard to know where to begin this post because I am still mulling over my magical evening.

Last night, we assembled (we being a bunch of readers from North Texas) to soak in the glorious genius of: Nova Ren Suma —lovelier than I even thought possible and so filled with knowledge and incredible stories, Tessa Gratton — hilarious and witty and I’m glad she is not a politician, Ransom Riggs — very tall and not terrifying like his book but undeniably interesting, Tahereh Mafi — stunning and engaged to Ransom Riggs but is an elegantly normal sized wordsmith, Rae Carson — blows me away with her awesome and is a reformed beauty queen who loves Star Wars and the intersection between literary and commercial fiction so…good taste, and Aimee Carter — accessible and honest and dry, which are some of my favorite things. The panel was wonderfully moderated by local author, Jenny Martin, whose book Tracked debuts next year.

The Irving Public Library is sprawling book-haven. I’m accustomed to libraries being a normal size and I always find my way to the end of them before I’m ready. Irving impresses. The event featured tons of freely given swag, a tower of cupcakes and a candy bar. My phone was nearly dead because I used the voice prompts in google  maps to get to Irving, and earlier in the day I was compulsively checking email because…well, I do that…so I took almost no pics.

You can take my word for it, and also, Twitter has pics. I wanted to buy all the books, but alas money and responsibility prohibited. I did get a handful for signing, which was giving me social anxiety during the panel. I was determined to quell my urge to be nervous and weird.

Before the event, I planned to meet up with Nova, but her travel arrangements went haywire and she barely made it to Dallas in time for all the Library revelry. Timing was on my side, as well as nature, when I stopped into the bathroom and in came all the authors —including Nova — freezing me by the trashcan. We laughed and gabbed and talked about how sucky Delta Air is and how wonderful it was to meet, and she graciously introduced me around and exclaimed positives about my book.

It is almost too exciting to write about, that I really, just, can’t.

Author panels are always incredibly fascinating to me. As an aspiring author, I watch and learn from them. I glean knowledge about the business I want to be a part of as well as the task of writing books readers will love. But as a reader, I gush and laugh and want to jabber about the books they’ve written that I love and will love in the future.

One of my favorite moments during the panel was when they each told their unique “road to publishing” story. Some had always known novels would find them, some began in screenwriting, pursuing film, pursuing extensive education, pursuing politics and world-changing and wizardry. For most, it was a road littered with rejection and agony, as well as a road of self-discovery.

The panel ran long, but not a single person in the room cared. I was sad it was ending, actually. And then, even though it went late, the authors kindly chatted and listened to all of us thank them for their books and pose for a picture and tell them about our Twitter. (Me, I did that. Because I am hopeless.)

I got to hang with friend and 2014 debut author Lindsay Cummings and fellow bookworms — particularly Cherie, a girl almost as tall as Ransom Riggs who I’m nicknaming, ironically, Little Libba — and talk only books. My favorite kind of talking.

Support your local library by going to events such as this one wherever you live. A huge shout-out to Half-Price Books for selling me too many things, and all the clever booknerds I met last night in Irving!

The Austin Teen Book Festival

September 29th was an especially awesome day in Austin for teen readers (and adults who pretend to be teen readers) and writers who want to write for those teen readers. I am the latter, and since my visit to Texas coincided with the festival, I thought, “What the heck?” Over 3,000 other truly cool people like me felt the same way, despite the soggy Austin weather. The Palmer Event Center was adorned in Texas stone and filled with lots of bathrooms (this may not seem like an important detail, but shove that many teens into one space and it totally becomes one).

My husband, as I said in my Keep Austin Weird! post, attended with me. He was cute, with his total oblivion to these books and really kickin’ Adidas tennis shoes. He sat with me, courteously listening and only getting on his computer when no one was looking. I owe him a thanks, because he also allowed me to wander and fidget around as necessary, preserving our awesome front row seats.

We got there on-time, 9 am, me still sucking down coffee and trying to pretend I was awake. Me and rainy mornings are not best friends. I like bed. I had received an email from the Festival staff that Neal Shusterman would not be giving the Keynote due to a family emergency. I was disappointed, and come the announcement to the kids, my feelings were shared. But, not to worry, Libbra Bray (check her out on Goodreads, and send me a friend request while you’re there) courageously stepped up in his place.

I had not read any of her books yet, after her speech I added like all of them to my TBR list. She was brilliance in the flesh. She opened her speech by donning a cape and wielding a light-saber to duel her quite theatrical husband in the dark. She then got serious, and thirsty, stating, “I need a little water. It’s thirsty work spearing people with a light saber. They don’t show you that in Star Wars, how dehydrated you get.”

She called her speech, which had 20 bullet points, “the complete history of everything I have ever learned to date, abridged.” With silly points like: “Change your underwear” or “When in doubt, Let’s order pizza, is probably a good answer” or the well received “Farts are always funny”. Within those, she also said things that carried weight for writers and readers alike.

One of my favorites was when she boldly informed everyone that “Tests are Bullshit!” Teens loved this, for the cussing and the content. When she began to talk about writing and revision saying, “First drafts are like presenting a false front. Revision is like your very best friend cutting that away. Writing is digging down to the very deepest, darkest place and then putting that on a page for everyone to read.” (That quote is slightly paraphrased.) When she segued into a personal anecdote about the time in her life when she experienced a horrific car accident that resulted in her face being almost irreparably wounded. This story was met with silence and awe, and then roaring support and understanding. She told it as a way to show how you can return from truly being broken, and it was powerful.

The Keynote speech ended with us (the teens, not me personally) putting on a rendition of Total Eclipse of the Heart, accompanied by a fog machine. It was thoroughly special.  Libbra Bray had a lot to say that was valuable and super entertaining. Also, she wore a DR.WHO t-shirt. This made her innately cool in my book. I did hear a few parents say, “She said bullshit a lot,” accompanied by their giggling teen, “Libbra Bray said Bullshit!”

I also attended the panel called “We’re not in Kansas Anymore”, featuring Bray, Sarah Rees Brennan, Leigh Bardugo, Rae Carson, Kami Garcia, and Margaret Stohl. This panel was exactly what I needed to hear. These authors discussed creating imagined worlds and how they formulated the magical forces in their worlds. They talked about research. They talked about Star Wars (Rae Carson is a Luke fan, as I was as a child. The others fell firmly on the side of Han.) One of my favorite quotes came from Margaret Stohl. She was discussing her readers. Her books are published in 48 countries, and when she was in Malaysia doing a panel much like the panel she was doing for these Austin teens, she met a sixteen year old girl who was about to be sent into an arranged marriage. She said, “As much as you guys here are my readers, this girl is too.” That was profound to me. A girl, living under law we in America would write fiction about as loathsomely barbaric, is reading and connecting with this literature. She is finding herself there. That is a testament to the power of the written word.

I volunteered in the afternoon, but as expected, the Teens had the blogging, twittering, tumblring down to a fine art, so I ended up directing traffic. I was just glad to lend a hand, and chat a little with the teenagers and observe them like the total weirdo I am. I especially liked to watch the Dads who had been dragged their by their daughters. It was adorable. (And not unlike my knight-in-shining-armor husband.)

Overall, the Festival was a great experience, and one I hope very soon to be experiencing from the other side. Thank you Austin Public Library Friends Foundation and Book People for putting on such an awesome, free event! Here are pics. I didn’t get a lot because I was recording voice memos in my phone while listening to the panel, and I am a socially awkward penguin when it comes to asking for photos. I putter and blush.

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