Interview with Maria V. Snyder + Shadow Study Giveaway!

Maria V Snyder

I’m thrilled to have Maria V. Snyder for our next Author Interview! Maria was one of my favorite “new” writers (or rather, new to me) of last year, and her debut novel Poison Study ended up at #2 on my 10 Favorite Reads of 2014 list. Besides Poison Study, I gobbled up the rest of her Study Series (Magic Study and Fire Study), which follows poison taster / magician / diplomat Yelena Zaltana as she confronts her past, learns about her magical powers, and kicks some serious butt. Next week, Maria releases her thirteenth novel, Shadow Study – which means Yelena and her assassin-spy soulmate Valek are back for more adventures! Plus, as you may have noticed from the title, we have a very special contest at the end of this article!

So, read on to learn more about Shadow Study, how it’s different from Maria’s previous Study novels, and a few things about Maria herself, including her writing influences, her favorite literary heroines, and what she’d do – or avoid doing – if she ever visited Yelena’s world. Also, if you’re interested, come back on Monday, February 23rd for my review of Shadow Study!

Continue reading

Stacking The Shelves, Vol. 8: Shadow Study & Author Interview Announcement!

book-stack

Stacking The Shelves is a weekly event hosted by Tynga’s Reviews that shares the books (both physical and virtual) that you recently purchased, borrowed from a fellow reader or the library, won from a giveaway, or received as gifts. Stacking The Shelves will post on Saturdays as new books are added to my shelves.

The post title gives away which novel I’m featuring, so I’ll get right to it! 😉 Continue reading

My 10 Favorite Reads of 2014

It’s here finally: the list of my 10 favorite books I read in 2014! I held off on posting this as long as I could, thanks to a last-minute contender I flew through just before year’s end. Now I feel confident about which books made the final cut – and to be honest, my pick for #1 was a super-easy choice. 😉

With one exception, each entry contains a link to my full review and an excerpt from said review that best explains why I enjoyed the book. I was going to write a new paragraph for each entry, but then I realized I didn’t have anything new to add apart from what I had already said before. So, why repeat myself?

One important note: This list contains books I read this year, regardless of the year they were originally published. I didn’t read enough novels that were published this year to create a Top 10 solely of 2014 releases.

So, here they are, starting with…  Continue reading

Time to Play TBR Book Tag!

Since Anya at On Starships And Dragonwings and Molly Mortensen openly tagged readers on their TBR Book Tags, I thought I’d continue the chain! So, I combed through my physical bookshelves, took some photos, and (finally!) finished updating my “To-Read” shelf on Goodreads to include my home collection. Now I’m ready to play!

For anyone who’s not familiar with the acronym, TBR stands for “to be read.” Therefore, a TBR pile or TBR list consists of the books in your personal collection that you haven’t read yet.

Ready to explore my bookshelves and reading wishlists with me? 🙂   Continue reading

Waiting On Wednesday Vol. 1: “Shadow Study” by Maria V. Snyder

Waiting on Wednesday_1

Today is my first Waiting On Wednesday post! Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking The Spine that spotlights upcoming book releases that I’m looking forward to. My WOW postings won’t be weekly, but will come on Wednesdays that are open in terms of my blogging schedule here and elsewhere and when I add a yet-to-be-published book to my wishlist. 😉

So, here’s what I’m waiting for this Wednesday: Shadow Study, the upcoming fourth novel in Maria V. Snyder’s Study series! Poison Study (Book #1) is one of my favorite books of all time; and while the other two books (Magic Study and Fire Study) weren’t quite as good IMO, I’m still fascinated by the world of magic and constant danger and political intrigue that Snyder’s created. Yelena is also a fantastic protagonist: persistent, clever, resourceful, and loyal to the people she cares about – especially her long-time love, the infamous spy-assassin Valek. And judging from the blurb below, things are about to get interesting once again for both Yelena and Valek. 😀

Shadow Study

Shadow Study
Maria V. Snyder
Fantasy / Young Adult
Publication Date: February 25, 2015
Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Goodreads

Synopsis:

New York Times bestselling author Maria V. Snyder wowed readers with Poison Study, the unforgettable story of poison taster Yelena. Now she’s back with a new tale of intrigue.

Once, only her own life hung in the balance…

Oddly enough, when Yelena was a poison taster, her life was simpler. But she’d survived to become a vital part of the balance of power between rival countries Ixia and Sitia. Now she uses her magic to keep the peace in both lands—and protect her relationship with Valek.

Suddenly, though, they are beset on all sides by those vying for power through politics and intrigue. Valek’s job and his life are in danger. As Yelena tries to uncover the scope of these plots, she faces a new challenge: her magic is blocked. She must keep that a secret—or her enemies will discover just how vulnerable she really is—while searching for who or what is responsible for neutralizing her powers.

Yes, the days of tasting poisons were much simpler. And certainly not as dangerous…

What book(s) are you waiting on this Wednesday? Are you also looking forward to Shadow Study?

Recent Reads: “Fire Study” by Maria V. Snyder

Fire Study cover

Fire Study
Maria V. Snyder
Young Adult / Fantasy

Summary:

The apprenticeship is over – now the real test has begun.

When word that Yelena is a Soulfinder – able to capture and release souls – spreads like wildfire, people grow uneasy. Already Yelena’s unusual abilities and past have set her apart. As the Council debates Yelena’s fate, she receives a disturbing message: a plot is rising against her homeland, led by a murderous sorcerer she has defeated before.

Honor sets Yelena on a path that will test the limits of her skills, and the hope of reuniting with her beloved spurs her onward. Her journey is fraught with allies, enemies, lovers, and would-be assassins, each of questionable loyalty. Yelena will have but one chance to prove herself – and save the land she holds dear.

Rating: 3.25 / 5

The best way to describe how I felt when I started reading Maria V. Snyder’s Fire Study is “cautiously optimistic.” I adored Poison Study, the first novel of her best-selling Study series; and while I generally liked the sequel Magic Study, I was disappointed by its inconsistencies and overwhelmed by the staggering number of antagonists. Yet I didn’t want to give up on this series. So, I plunged into the concluding Fire Study – and came away relatively satisfied with the ending.

Fire Study tells a stronger, less congested story than Magic Study. The main conflict is clearer, the number of villains more manageable, and Yelena’s inner turmoil more palpable. This novel shows Yelena at her worst sometimes, which can be frustrating for the reader. Characters who are stubborn, dismissive, and constantly pushing their loved ones away aren’t easy to root for. But trust me when I suggest – no, urge – you to stick with Yelena and finish the book. Her turnaround starts with about 100 pages left, and the payoff is both a reward and a huge relief.

Also, I admire how Snyder walks a fine “relationship tightrope” throughout Fire Study. She forces Yelena to screw up, raise her guard, and find reasons to distrust just about everyone, even the people she cares about most. The friction between Yelena and Valek at one point is so thick, I was afraid they’d call it quits! Funny thing is, I enjoyed that kind of tension between them, especially since their relationship seemed too smooth and perfect in Magic Study.

I can’t explain how annoyed I was by Yelena’s behavior toward her mentor Moon Man, however. Yes, his advice was often cryptic, and I can see how it would take time to appreciate his kind of guidance. But, the biting sarcasm and immaturity Yelena would spout in response was grating on me well before the halfway point. Eventually Yelena learns to accept and interpret Moon Man’s ambiguity, but I wish it happened a little sooner.

Even though Fire Study tells (in my opinion) a better story than its predecessor, the writing in this final book is the weakest in the trilogy. There’s an alarming lack of variety in word choice; Snyder often repeats phrases to describe certain physical or vocal reactions that convey emotion. Many of the chapter transitions threw me off as well. Some felt forced or jarring; others just… didn’t seem like appropriate spots to split chapters. Usually an author’s writing improves with each novel, but Fire Study feels lazy in technique compared to the first two books. And as a writer who pays attention to technique, this was a huge disappointment for me.

Ultimately, however, Fire Study brings Yelena’s tale to a climactic and compelling conclusion. It’s a trial by fire, literally for Yelena as she tests the limits of her powers and the heights of her courage, and figuratively for the reader. For the first time, we truly see Yelena as her own worst enemy – and the trick is to continue caring about her, even when we want to reach through the pages and wring her neck. Personally I’m glad I kept my faith in Yelena and in this story despite the aggravation. And though I hope next year’s Shadow Study improves on Fire Study, my anticipation for the new Study novels hasn’t been swayed.

Have you read Fire Study? What did you think of it? If you haven’t read it yet, do you think you might check it out based on what you’ve read above? Let me know by commenting below or visiting the same review at Amazon or Goodreads.

Recent Reads: “Magic Study” by Maria V. Snyder

Maria Snyder Magic StudyMagic Study
Maria V. Snyder
Young Adult / Fantasy

Synopsis:

With her greatest enemy dead, and on her way to be reunited with the family she’d been stolen from long ago, Yelena should be pleased. But though she has gained her freedom, she can’t help feeling isolated in Sitia. Her Ixian background has changed her in many ways – and her newfound friends and relatives don’t think it’s for the better….

Despite the turmoil, she’s eager to start her magic training – especially as she’s been given one year to harness her power or be put to death. But her plans take a radical turn when she becomes involved with a plot to reclaim Ixia’s throne for a lost prince – and gets entangled in powerful rivalries with her fellow magicians.

If that wasn’t bad enough, it appears her brother would love to see her dead. Luckily, Yelena has some old friends to help her with all her new enemies….

Rating: 3 / 5

After devouring Poison Study earlier this year, I’m on a mission to finish Maria V. Snyder’s first Study trilogy. (That way, I’ll be caught up before the second Study trilogy kicks off in February 2015.) Like with its predecessor, Magic Study was impossible for me to put down. However, unlike Poison Study, this book sucked me into a love-hate relationship. Not a fun bond to have with a book, but the “love” side (well, “like” is more appropriate) tips the balance in the end.

Magic Study continues the story of former poison taster Yelena Zaltana as she returns to her birthplace of Sitia to reunite with her family and begin her magician training. Within a few chapters, all hell breaks loose. Yelena endures conflict after conflict with countless Sitians, each with their own agenda or negative judgment of her. She also faces her own struggles, from naivety about magic and her homeland, to learning who she can trust. How does she overcome it all? Without giving away much: By being the brave, resourceful, persistent, and resilient heroine who won over readers the first time around.

Magic Study can be overwhelming at times, however. Certain characters completely drop out of the story after Yelena rescues them, and Snyder’s reliance on torture as plot-fuel is starting to curdle my stomach. Not to mention the sheer number of antagonists that Yelena’s forced to deal with here made my head spin. After a while, it was hard to tell what the story’s main external plot was. I do have a favorite Magic Study villain, though: Cahil, the young man who claims to be a descendent of Ixia’s last king (who was slain by Yelena’s soulmate, the infamous assassin-spy Valek). Cahil is brash, proud, and an inexperienced leader. Yet he’s also vulnerable and loyal to his family and country. There was a point in Magic Study where I thought, “Hey, he’s not such a bad guy after all.” Then he’d revert to idiotic madness and vengeance when things didn’t go his way, just to prove me wrong – and I loved it. *lol*

One aspect of Magic Study I enjoyed was the change in setting. Sitia has more diverse terrain and a more tropical climate than Ixia. Deserts, striking colors, and jungle treehouses don’t appear in fantasy stories very often. The Citadel and the Magicians’ Keep are fascinating as well, with ornate architecture, lavish decorations, and a massive market that introduces Yelena to disparities in wealth and social class that didn’t exist in Ixia. My mind’s eye thrived on these visual exercises, yet my brain couldn’t grasp Snyder’s method for naming Sitians. Some citizens have exotic names (Esau, Zitora, Tula) that matched the vibrant, magical culture. Others (Dax, Cahil, Fisk) don’t fit it at all. Some readers may not mind this, but as a fantasy writer I think it’s important that every aspect of a story’s world-building makes sense – and when inconsistencies like this pop up, it forces me to start questioning the story as a whole.

A number of reviews I’ve read on Magic Study voiced their disappointment with Valek’s limited involvement. As much as I adore Valek, I see why his absence is necessary. Yelena needs time and distance away from her beloved to find her life path. Even Valek acknowledged this just before Yelena fled for Sitia at the end of Poison Study (“Yelena, you need to learn… you need to spread your wings and see how far you can fly.” Love that quote, by the way!) Funny thing is, I’m not a huge fan of Yelena and Valek’s relationship in Magic Study. Whenever they’re together, they’re either plotting Yelena’s next move, engaging in combat, or making love. Sure, it moves the plot along – but don’t they do anything else??

I apologize if reading this review feels an awful lot like a seesaw ride – but that jarring rhythm mirrors my feelings about Magic Study. At times I liked this book a lot. Other times, something irritated me and made me wonder what possessed Snyder to put it in the story. For the most part, though, I was happy to return to Yelena’s world and follow the next phase of her journey. That might be why I refuse to give up on Snyder and her Study series just yet. Fire Study is next in my TBR pile, and I’m still excited about Shadow Study coming out in a few months. So, I’m just going to hope that Magic Study is a case of the “middle-novel syndrome” and things improve from here. I guess I’ll find out soon enough, won’t I?

Have you read Magic Study? What did you think of it? If you haven’t read it yet, do you think you might check it out based on what you’ve read above? Let me know by commenting below or visiting the same review at Amazon or Goodreads.

Playing Harry Potter Spell Book Tag!

Sumaira at Hyper About Books recently shared her Harry Potter Spell Book Tag list and challenged anyone who read it to take part in the game. Well, I couldn’t resist – I mean, we’re talking about Harry Potter, folks! So, here are the ten books I’ve chosen for my round of Harry Potter Spell Book Tag.

1. Expecto Patronum — A childhood book connected to good memories

Magic Locket cover

Elizabeth Koda-Callan’s Magic Charm Books: Each story tells of a little girl’s struggle to believe in herself using examples such as learning to dance, being cast in the lead role of a school play, and coping with the birth of a new sibling. As a child, I felt connected to the main characters because they were about my age and I could relate to their experiences. What made the Magic Charm Books so special, though, were the necklaces that came with each book. Koda-Callan obviously knew that children often need something tangible to help them apply the lessons they learn. What better – and prettier! – way to help little girls remember the Magic Charm Books’ messages of courage and self-confidence than by offering a necklace with a charm that symbolizes each book’s unique story? Continue reading

Stacking The Shelves: Volume 2 – Post-Birthday Fantasy Haul

book-stack

Welcome to the latest volume of Stacking the Shelves! This meme is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may those books be physical or virtual. This means you can include books you buy in a physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts, and e-books.

Volume 2 of Stacking The Shelves includes one gift (yay!) and three book purchases since Volume 1. Here they are! Continue reading

Recent Reads: “Poison Study” by Maria V. Snyder

Poison Study cover

Poison Study
Maria V. Snyder
Young Adult / Fantasy

Summary:

About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She’ll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace – and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia.

And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly’s Dust and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison.

As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can’t control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren’t so clear…

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Normally I’m a slow reader. I like to take my time with novels, even when I enjoy what I’m reading. But I was so engrossed by Maria V. Snyder’s Poison Study that I finished it in 3 days. Does the word “unputdownable” exist? If it didn’t before, it does now!

Poison Study introduces readers to Yelena Zaltana, a young woman unaware of her origins and about to be executed for murdering her benefactor’s only son. At the last moment, she’s offered a choice: die by the noose, or take on the position as Commander Ambrose’s food taster – and risk potential poisoning each time. As you can tell from the book’s official summary, Yelena accepts the job offer but with additional consequences. The story then quickly morphs into a constant fight for survival for Yelena, from stomaching the food-tasting / poison training to fleeing her former benefactor’s henchmen to simply figuring out who she can trust. In the meantime, she finds herself caught in political mysteries and grappling with the knowledge that her greatest strengths may in fact be magical powers emerging. Not to mention that magic is forbidden in the land where Yelena lives – so if the wrong people discover her powers, she could still be put to death. How’s that for continuously raising the stakes?

Yelena herself is one of the most fascinating literary heroines I’ve “met” in a while. She’s curious, resourceful, observant, persistent to the point of stubbornness – and she’s not without her flaws and emotional wounds. As Poison Study goes on, readers learn more about Yelena’s past and what drove her to kill. The terror in her flashbacks was so palpable that I was frightened for Yelena even though I knew she had already survived the abuse. [WARNING: Some of the torture descriptions are quite graphic.] Thus, Poison Study becomes a tale of rebirth and finding the inner strength to exorcise one’s demons.

What surprised me most about Poison Study is how multifaceted it is for a YA novel. It’s got action, suspense, humor (there are some great laugh-out-loud lines from Yelena’s friends and self-appointed bodyguards Ari and Janco), political intrigue, and romance. That last element comes quite late in the story, but readers can see it coming. Snyder offers peeks of Yelena’s blossoming feelings for Valek, her boss and Commander Ambrose’s security and intelligence chief, as well as hints of Valek’s genuine concern and fondness for her. As a result, the love story never trumps the rest of the plot. Instead, it’s delicately woven in, with moments in the spotlight when necessary. It gives the impression that Yelena’s not head-over-heels obsessed with Valek in a sexual or juvenile way, but embracing real love with maturity and nervousness given the circumstances.

The criticisms I have for Poison Study are few and relatively minor. First, while Snyder shines when it comes to description and showing (as opposed to telling), she does over-show at times. One sentence for a physical or physiological reaction to something is plenty, in my opinion. Also, some of the threats by the novel’s antagonists seemed over-the-top or too melodramatic. Lastly, to echo one critique from my review of Snyder’s Storm Glass, I was confused about Poison Study’s time period. The modern language jarred a bit with the more primitive elements such as forms of transportation (walking, horse-riding) and lack of technology. Maybe it’s an alternate current-day reality?

Otherwise, I absolutely adored Poison Study. Even days after I’ve finished the book, my mind wanders back to the story and I find myself picking it up and re-reading certain passages. I guess I’m going to have to read the entire story again! By the way, don’t let Poison Study’s classification of YA Fantasy fool you. The emotionally raw subject matter – and the deft, graceful manner in which Snyder handles it all – transcends the expectations of typical YA literature. Yes, fans of YA fantasy will love Poison Study, but this book has enough cross-over appeal that I’d recommend it to adult readers of fantasy as well.

Oh, and yes, I plan to read the rest of the Study trilogy – as soon as I get my mitts on the other two books!

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Deciding whether to buy Poison Study from Amazon? Let me know whether you found my review helpful by clicking here and selecting either “Yes” or “No.”

Coming Soon: Come back Monday for my new Grub Street article on manuscript critiques!