A Writing Study on Assassins, Flashbacks, and Emotions (A Guest Post & Giveaway by Fantasy Author Maria V. Snyder)

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Oh, am I excited about our returning guest! Fantasy author Maria V. Snyder stopped by here 2 years ago for an interview on SHADOW STUDY, her fourth Study novel and the return of Yelena and Valek, her two most beloved characters. Today, the series ends with DAWN STUDY, and Maria was gracious enough to take time out of her schedule to write a guest post. So, let’s celebrate DAWN STUDY’s book birthday with a “study” of master spy-assassin Valek, his growth since SHADOW STUDY, and the challenges of writing from his perspective. 

When my first book, Poison Study, was published over (*cough*) eleven (*cough*) years ago, I had no idea I’d go on to write five more Study books and the spin-off Glass Series. Nine total books and four short stories! I’d also didn’t know that Valek would become my readers’ favorite character (according to an unscientific Facebook poll).

While planning Poison Study, I knew Valek would be Ixia’s Chief of Security and the Commander’s assassin. He’d be distant, cold, and good at killing people with all types of weapons – basically, a stereotypical bad ass.  After that, I didn’t really consider him to be more than an antagonist to my main protagonist, Yelena.  In fact, I thought if there would be a romance in the book, it would most likely be between Yelena and the Commander. Yeah, well, I’m not the best at planning books, and I tend to discover the true story as I write.

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Stacking The Shelves, Vol. 23: Mermaids, Fairies, and Magic Galore

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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.

I bet I know what some of you might be thinking: “Huh? She bought MORE books?? Especially after that big haul a few weeks ago?!”

Yep. My bedroom will look like this pretty soon!

Yep. My bedroom will look like this pretty soon!

I know. (*blushes*) But this new haul is relatively small; and as I’d said in January, my reading priorities for 2016 are newly published books and any novels that will help with my two “market research” projects. With that in mind, here are the latest additions to my (still overstuffed) shelves.

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My Eleven Favorite Literary Heroes

After compiling a list of my favorite literary heroines back in March, it’s only fair to devote a post to their male counterparts. Except that, well, I forgot about it for a while, until Sarah J. Higbee recently shared her own list. Thank you for the reminder, Sarah!

Featuring the same number of heroes here as I did with heroines proved tough. It’s not that I don’t like or admire male protagonists. I just happen to be drawn more to stories with female leads. But once I took a close look at my bookshelves, the eleven male characters I eventually picked started jumping out at me. (Not literally, but you know what I mean.) And I’ll admit, some of them won’t surprise you at all. 😉

Here they are, in alphabetical order: Continue reading

My Eleven Favorite Literary Heroines

One of the recent Top Ten Tuesday topics sponsored by The Broke and The Bookish was “10 Favorite Literary Heroines.” After reading several lists by bloggers I follow, I thought I’d share my own. Though as you can tell from the title, I couldn’t stop at ten. 🙂

A number of things intrigued me as I worked on this list. Each character’s story, circumstances, personality, and set of struggles is unique. Despite those differences, these heroines share some common traits. See if you can pick out those similarities as you read along. (You might not even need to read the books to figure them out!)

Here are my eleven favorite literary heroines, listed in alphabetical order: Continue reading

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

Shadow Study Shadow Study
Maria V. Snyder
Fantasy / Young Adult
409 pages

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…

Rating: 4 / 5

Confession: I hugged my copy of Shadow Study when it arrived in the mail. Yes, I was that excited to read it. Then again, Poison Study was one of my favorite reads of last year, and I devoured Magic Study and Fire Study a couple months later solely so I could stay on top of this series starting with the fourth book. So here it is, the newest adventures of former poison taster and current magician-diplomat Yelena Zaltana, and I’m thrilled with how it turned out.

Shadow Study takes place about 6 years after the original conclusion of the Study trilogy. Yelena is acting as political liaison between the countries of Ixia and Sitia and has fully embraced her role as a Soulfinder. She’s also still with Valek, her soulmate and the famed Ixian spy-assassin. No sooner does the couple reunite in Chapter 1 that crisis strikes – literally. Valek is ordered home by Ixia’s Commander to address the country’s growing smuggler network and is confronted by a young, hot-shot assassin who wants Valek’s job. Yelena remains in Sitia to investigate a past enemy’s escape from prison – and is grappling with the sudden loss of her magic. Given how many enemies Yelena has, she’s in great danger if they find out how vulnerable she is.

Like Snyder’s other novels, Shadow Study is impossible to put down thanks to its suspenseful chapter endings and urgent prose. Also, the first bit of conflict pops up within the first couple pages, so Snyder gives us reasons right away to worry about Yelena and the other characters. I was also fascinated by how interwoven the conflict threads became as the story went along. Each chapter drops hints that widen the overall scope. Once I put the pieces together, my mouth dropped open. And for the record, I’m not much of a plot-twist guesser, but there were two in particular that I guessed correctly – and both will have a HUGE impact on the next two Study books.

One welcome change between the three older Study novels and Shadow Study is the POV narration style. From Poison Study to Fire Study, it was from Yelena’s first-person perspective. With Shadow Study, Snyder alternates between Yelena (first person), Valek (third person), and Valek’s assistant and Yelena’s friend Janco (third person). While Yelena’s the one who drew me into this series, Valek’s sections steal the show here. Readers finally learn more about his past, from his early days as an assassin-in-training at the School Of Night And Shadow, to the moment where he enacts his ultimate revenge. It’s a fascinating trip down memory lane that explains Valek’s unique and lethal brew of logic, meticulousness, and cunning. Readers also get to see the beating heart beneath, and feel for Valek as his loyalties become entangled.

Janco’s POV, on the other hand… Sometimes he was so funny that I’d burst out laughing. Other times, he was downright annoying, and I wanted to smack him. Janco’s perspective is necessary, though, since he’s in a number of important scenes where Yelena and Valek aren’t present. But at the same time, I feel like I learned very little about Janco, especially in comparison to what I learned about Valek.

A couple other things about Shadow Study threw me off. First, there were times where the timing for one character’s POV wasn’t synchronized with the timing for another character’s sections. I’m not sure why this caught my attention. It hasn’t for other multiple POV books like George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Fire And Ice novels. But for some reason, I noticed it more with Shadow Study, and it jarred me a little. Also, Yelena’s independent streak drives me nuts sometimes. It’s not a complete drawback; I like that Yelena is decisive and follows her instincts, but she rarely asks for help. So when she strikes out on her own, I always know something bad is going to happen.

I could say so much more about Shadow Study, including the characters who returned from the previous Study novels (and also the Glass trilogy), and the new characters we meet. But the point is, Shadow Study is a fantastic new installment to the Yelena Zaltana saga. It’s tightly written, packed with tension and action, and full of new reasons to love its memorable characters. I’m still reeling a bit from the bombshell ending (“cliffhanger” doesn’t quite fit for this one – trust me) and the other revelations that emerge – but that just means lots of crucial choices and juicy conflict for Night Study and Dawn Study. And I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds from here!

Shadow Study will be out tomorrow (Tuesday, February 24th) in North America. Are you looking forward to reading it? If you’ve been lucky enough to read a pre-pub copy, what did you think of it? Let me know by commenting below or visiting the same review at Goodreads and Amazon.

Also, I’m hosting a giveaway for a signed U.S. copy of Shadow Study! Click here for my recent interview with Maria, then scroll to the bottom for contest details. The giveaway ends Wednesday, March 4th at midnight EST.

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!

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

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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