Tag Archives: sherwood smith

Stranger and Hostage — Reviews!

I don’t write reviews often.  Review-writing puts me in book-report mode (always hated those in school!), and then I’m certain everything comes out sounded as stilted as a nervous non-actor reading the opening chorus of Henry V for the first time.  But I love talking about books, and deeply truly want to see more readers connect with books deserving of their attention.  So, in the spirit of keeping 2015 as The Year of Giving Up, I present you with an actual review:

Stranger is the first book of The Change series, a collaboration written by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown.  Getting that book in print through traditional publishers was a many-year battle complicated by the fact the YA novel had, as one of its viewpoint characters, a gay teenager.  (Publishers Weekly provided coverage on the matter.  The article and its comments are well worth reading.)  It took an additional three years for Stranger to make it into print.

Stranger gave me a book hangover.  I stayed up way too late to finish it.  It has all the elements I love: real and conflicted characters, a fast-moving plot, and really smart writing.

The relationships between the characters evolved, broke apart, and came together without falling into the trap of melodrama. Rather than rely on a cliché of rebellious young people in conflict with their parents and culture, Stranger shows us working and healthy relationships between the generations. These are real young adults rather than over-the-top caricatures, and it’s refreshing to see them respected by the world’s adults as well. With action that moves so quickly, there’s no time to waste on false conflicts.

The world is familiar enough to feel comfortable, but I learned early on I shouldn’t for a moment let my guard down. I loved the unpredictability. Even in the midst of the novel’s climactic final third, revelations developed that completely changed my perspective on earlier events.

And once I finished Stranger, I wanted to pick up the next book… but it hadn’t yet been released.  How thrilled I was to get my hands on an ARC of Hostage, set to be released on January 6.  (It’s available for pre-order now.)  Why, yes, the sequel is self-published.  Details about the reasons will be discussed by the authors on the release date, and I’ll put up a link when it goes live.

Just like the first book of this series, Hostage kept me up reading far too late. The plot moves quickly and the worldbuilding delivers cool surprises, but it’s the characters who keep me engaged.

I absolutely love that so many of the adults of Las Anclas are determined to include and support the children and teenagers. The society is one where the young people are included as equals-who-are-learning rather than excluded as too-young-to-know-better, and the result is fully realized throughout the story.

And all those young people are clear and distinct people, which makes it easy for the reader to move between multiple viewpoints. I’m used to reading multiple-viewpoint novels, but usually find there’s at least one character whose viewpoint I want to skim. Not in this novel!

I do admit a special place in my heart for Jennie, who must face the emotional wounds she endured in Stranger. Her journey is portrayed with amazing empathy and realism that never slips into convenient resolutions. And she isn’t the only one struggling to figure out who she is in the aftermath of one battle while preparing to fight another.

Most of the major plot threads left open in Stranger are taken up and resolved in Hostage, but there is one notable exception left hanging. That exception is teased out now and then, so I expect it’ll entwine with the new threads that’ll carry forward into the next novel.

I don’t know how many novels are have planned, but do hope the series continues for some time. They’ve established plenty of unknowns to explore, and fantastic characters to do the exploring.


At last!

Sand of Bone is available for Nook through Barnes & Noble.


There’s also a great review by Sherwood Smith at Goodreads.  (Cool news about her upcoming release can be found here.)

My favorite thing about the review?  She discusses her grimdark limits as a reader and where Sand of Bone falls on that continuum — information so important to readers choosing their story experience.

I want the folks who buy Sand of Bone to be GLAD they did so.  I don’t want readers surprised by a book that’s darker than — or not as dark as — their expectation.  As I’ve said before, my goal as a publisher is not to sell as many books as possible.  It’s to sell as many books as possible to readers who will enjoy them.

And folks have been buying Sand of Bone through Amazon and Smashwords!  Hooray and thank you!  (And it’s been nice to see Sword and Chant get a little bump as well.)  Now all you wonderful Nook readers can get in on the action.


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Not-Reviews and Links

100_2354On this snowy day, I’m taking a break from Sand of Bone revisions.  My darlings, I know the revision process has gone on far too long–so long that it feels quite irresponsible to take a break of any sort.  But, well… Here we are.

I’ve been reading and muchly enjoying Kate Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy.  I could go on and on about how much I enjoy the characters and their interactions, or how tickled I am to see the insides of a revolution amidst a realistically convoluted world.  But one of the other things Elliott has done beautifully is measure her characters against the immutability of core morality—but never confuses morality with affiliation.  With our own current political climate utterly polarized by affiliation, it’s refreshing to watch characters find their allies, question their choices, and make externally-conflicting-but-internally-consistent decisions that are adjusted based upon new information.  I haven’t finished the trilogy yet, and so look forward to reading the last third of the third that I find myself purposefully slowing my reading so I don’t reach the end so quickly.

Not too long ago, I finished Pen Pal by Francesca Forrest, recommend by Sherwood Smith.  This, too, deals with revolutions and revolutionaries.  One central character finds the strength she needs to endure and succeed by holding more and more tightly to narrowing set of goals.  The other central character finds her strength though asking tough questions and adjusting her goals and perspectives.  Neither is more right or wrong that the other.  The challenges the characters face, and the settings in which they face them, require wildly different approaches even though their goals are essentially the same.

Between those two novels, I’ve tried repeatedly to sink into Ancillary Justice.  It isn’t that I haven’t liked it—I’ve really been taken by the concepts, in fact—but I haven’t found it as compelling in terms of story.  I’ll likely return to it after I finish Elliott’s trilogy in the hope the story will catch me.

On the nonfiction side, I’ve been reading The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back.  It’s as long and detailed as an epic novel, and I’ve been very pleased with the data used to back up the claims and proposals, but is too much for me to read and process all in one fell swoop.  Even so, I’m repeatedly struck by how we continuously make programs and policies bigger and more complicated in an attempt to make life simpler and easier.  It’s essentially investing millions to teach people to do more with less, rather than investing thousands to ensure there is more to do more with.  Forex, when I was living on a thousand dollars a month, I didn’t need an expensive training program to help me land a new job.  I needed six hundred dollars for new tires so I could drive to the job I was already trained to do.  Alas, I qualified for a training program, but there wasn’t even a “buy new tires” program to which I could apply.

Next up on nonfiction is How Can You Defend Those People? recommended by Nancy Jane Moore over at Book View Cafe.  The work of criminal defense attorneys fascinates me.  (In fact, when I looked into law school, it was with the goal of working as a defense attorney.)

And now, for a few links:

Hackschooling Makes Me Happy is a TEDx talk from teenager Logan LaPlante.  I love what this kid is saying, and adore the “structure” of his education.  If I had to do it all over again, I’d have homeschooled more fully along those lines.  Really, it wasn’t until this year that I completely let go of the curriculum-driven mindset.  Would that I had dumped it two years ago!

Fit and Feminist on the neurosis that has permeated The Biggest Loser.  I can’t tell you how many folks I’ve seen who are so obsessed with the notion of “healthy weight” that they’re driving themselves into illness to get it.  An extra ten or twenty pounds is not nearly as unhealthy for a person as a sedentary life or a diet devoid of essential nutrients.  And people look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them that, if they eat stuff like “healthy” granola and yogurts, they might as well chow down on a candy bar.

Over at Books by Women is an article on coming to writing with a theater background.  I love and can relate to her discussion of using the tools of compelling theater to write compelling fiction.  There is cool stuff there that made me think more about how I use my own theater background.

Lastly, there is The Destructive Power of Publishing.  I’ve never been one to completely and utterly dismiss all that Big House publishing is and can be, but I think I’ve made it clear why Big House publishing is not for me.  For more on that, check out Judith Tarr’s series on Escaping Stockholm.  This article speaks to those reasons.

I like getting my validation directly from readers.  Every sale is an acceptance letter!

Reading Redemption

Based on a recco from Sherwood Smith at the beginning of September, I picked up Lindsay Buroker’s The Emperor’s Edge. Today, I purchased the sixth book in the series, and should likely just pick up the seventh now so I’m not left without it should my Kindle be beyond internet reach when I finish Book 6. (Click! Done.)

Why, yes, I have enjoyed these books immensely.

I’m not alone in my liking. The series has been quite successful. So much so that I also invested some time reading the author’s blog, which then got me taking a peek at Wattpad, which then got me thinking about whether Wattpad might fit what I’m looking for as a reader and writer.

But that’s all provender for future posts.

I’ve been trying to put my finger on why these books have a unique appeal to me. The writing style is spiffy and easy, the plotting clipped, the world interesting, and the characters a great deal of fun… But the true underlying reason for my liking? I’m a fervent lover of redemption stories. And I’m fascinated by those stories that examine redemption from the perspective of an externalized wide lens rather than an internalized dialog of regret and self-loathing. I love stories that approach a character’s life with the understanding that behavior is a continuum rather than an event, that tackle the interplay between forgiveness, condemnation, and acceptance. Stories that admit redemption is messy and irrational—that granting redemption is always risky, and withholding it sometimes damaging.

A redemption story is different from the “overcoming the past” tale. We all have a past to overcome—a challenging childhood, a severe trauma, a bad decision, a death in the family, a big disappointment, a dream unfulfilled. Big redemption, on the other hand, starts with a character who made choices and took actions that were both outside the bounds of what most would consider acceptable behavior and were harmful to innocents. And those characters are people we’d avoid in real life, people we’d warn others about, people we’d never believe could change.

But redemption isn’t about who someone was. It’s about who someone strives to become when most folks don’t give a damn.

Katherine Kerr’s Deverry series is a redemption story told over generations. Harry Connelly’s Twenty Palaces trilogy is a redemption story that seems obvious on one hand, but sneaks up on you on the other. Sherwood Smith’s Inda series is redemption on a societal, as well as personal, level. And Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge series gives me a redemption story as well. The four authors differ greatly in style, scope, and storytelling methods. But they all challenge the reader to understand at least one character who ought to be condemned, and (here’s the important part) provides other characters the opportunity to change their minds and him or her.

As interesting as it is to look at redemption in fiction, it’s difficult to discuss the topic in real life. Some will see it solely through the lens of religion while others confine it to seemingly measurable comparisons. Its dynamics are incredibly personal. Its consequences are far-reaching. Perhaps fiction gives us a sheltered place to experiment with the practice in order to become more comfortable with it in reality.