Book review: House of Salt and Sorrows

Oh, I liked this book.

House of Salt and Sorrows (HoSS) is a Young Adult fantasy novel written by Erin A. Craig. It is a dark and twisted fairy tale retelling, with elements of mystery and horror woven through that keep you wondering what’s really going on the whole time.

Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.

Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?

When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next.

HoSS is one of the best standalone YA Fantasy books I’ve read, and is one of my top picks so far for this year. Unsurprisingly, I was first drawn to the book because of the title and the beautiful cover. The blurb also had me hooked – it seemed full of mystery and intrigue, and I immediately wanted to know more.

I had high expectations for this story for a few reasons, mainly because of the amount of positive reviews on Goodreads, but also because I’d heard so much about it from other fans in the genre. I’m very happy to say I was not disappointed. HoSS is a beautiful read that incorporates elements of magic effortlessly. These elements become so infused with the story as your progress that it’s easy to miss when this book goes from a creepy thriller to a full-on low fantasy novel, with mischievous forces hovering nearby, wreaking havoc.

Even if the novel is aimed at a YA audience, it deals with very real and very raw issues, such as the loss of a sibling (or rather, several siblings), the death of a parent, and what to do when the remaining parent remarries.

Craig masterfully created tension, friction and emotion through the character of Morella, new wife of Orton Thaumas and now stepmother to his collection of daughters. Morella instantly ignites frustration within the reader, after co-opting the funeral of one of Annaleigh’s recently deceased sisters to announce the happy news that she is pregnant with Orton’s child. She then continues to spark ire when she assumes that her son – as she is positive she is pregnant with a boy – will inherit the Thaumas fortune and estate.

Morella becomes an early target of dislike, however, as tragedy strikes the Thaumas household over and over again, it becomes apparent that there is more to this tale than just an evil stepmother. Soon, Annaleigh finds herself at the center of a high-stakes game played by mischievous divinities, where the veil between what is real and what is imagined wears thinner and thinner.

And as Annaleighs comes closer to solving the mystery of what evil is beseeching her family, her grip on reality also begins to loosen, leaving the reader confused as to what is actually happening. This is emphasized by the fact that Annaleigh is the only character through which we see the story – meaning her perceived reality, be it true or false, is the only one we are subjected to.

As mentioned, HoSS is a wonderfully crafted story with a plot that will keep you on the edge of your seat. One note, however, is that is can sometimes be confusing to remember which sister is which, and distinguish between their personalities. But even with this confusion, it isn’t terribly difficult to keep the characters separate from one another.

Review: Throne of Glass series

There’s no rulebook for what to do once you finish a series that’s so epic that you question your abilities as a writer. At least, that’s how I felt earlier this week after finishing Kingdom of Ash, and therefore, finishing the entire Throne of Glass series for the first time. And let me tell you, it has been a wild ride.

Warning: this series review has spoilers. So if you haven’t read every book, from The Assassin’s Blade to Kingdom of Ash, I strongly recommend you stop reading this review, and instead read the series. Then make sure to tell me once you did, so I can talk to someone about it!

I’ve been very open about the fact that I had a ten-year long reading slump while I was finishing school, and that finally, mercifully, ended last year once I dove head-first into the publishing world and saw the wonderful books, especially in young adult fantasy, that had come out while I wasn’t paying attention.

Throne of Glass was one of the fantasy series that immediately caught my eye, for many reasons. The covers were neat. I heard good things about a strong female lead, whispers of a romantic interest, and a very good friend of mine confirmed it was one of the best series she’d ever read. And that for me was the final push I needed. Plus, the hardcover set was on deep discount, so…

The memory of reading the first book brings back a chuckle, because although I was fairly confident the story would be good, based on the hype I’d noticed for the series, I really had no idea of what to expect. An assassin? A king’s tournament? Alright, fine.

Now here’s an important point I want to clarify. As much as the series was amazing, it wasn’t perfect. But I truly believe that the merits of this series far outweigh any negative points. And the progression of Maas’s writing was something that was also really interesting to see.

It would be impossible to write a fully comprehensible review of the entire series while only having read it once. But there are several aspects that I really enjoyed that I want to focus on, so let’s do that.

The first is a little obvious, but let’s talk about the story for a minute.

THE STORY

The series begins with Celeana Sardothien imprisoned in Endovier, where she undergoes forced labor and whippings for bad behaviour – which is often. It ends with Aelin Galathynius Whitethorn Ashryver, in her palace in Orynth, overlooking a field of Kingsflame flowers – a divine approval of her as ruler of Terrasen.

And there’s a lot that happens in between.

The story, from start to finish, was always engaging and interesting. And it was really refreshing that the series had an ever-evolving goal, that changed with the information that was made available to the reader. It made sense for the goal to change, because our understanding of the world of Erilea changed. And while the goals themselves were lofty and grand (killing the king, bringing magic back, wiping Erawan out of existence), the obstacles that were in the way of the goals were equally just as insurmountable.

One thing I also appreciated about the series is how everything tied in together. Characters that we met in passing in The Assassin’s Blade suddenly became really important in Empire of Storms. Conversations and threads that were spun in Throne of Glass kept re-appearing throughout the series, such as the Wyrdmarks, Wyrdstone, or tales of great shadows and evils of the past.  

So yes, the story remained fresh over the course of eight books, which is a huge undertaking. And each book was its own self-contained narrative, while also fitting into the broader series ecosystem. The planning that author Sarah J. Maas had to do before even laying pen to paper must have been incredible to see.

Now on to the second part of what made this series so awesome: the characters.

THE CHARACTERS

As with most fantasy stories, there are a ton of characters in the Throne of Glass series. Some are part of each book, some only make a brief appearance. And then some come to play a much larger role than anyone would have thought. But there are two particular strengths that applies to all of these characters that I was to draw attention to.

For one, each of these characters is vastly different. Aelin is a much different person than Sorscha or Elide, for example. And Chaol is different from Aedion and Rowan. This is really a testament to Maas’s character-building skills. It’s difficult to write so many characters and have each one feel like a real person with goals and aspirations. And in a world with as many characters as the Throne of Glass series, it can be difficult to remember each of their names. But if each of these characters feels like its own unique person, then it’s easier to distinguish them.

For example: I cannot remember each name of the Khagan’s children. But I recognize their personalities enough to know who the Ruk-rider one is versus the horse-rider one. And that in itself is an important accomplishment, because it is difficult to make an entire cast of characters all feel different from one another. Some characters are deeply flawed, but those flaws make them who they are and help in turn to advance the narrative.

Secondly, nearly every single important character goes through a change. If characters did not change over the course of eight books, then the series would have been stagnant. But miraculously, every single character goes through a drastic arc, some even going through multiple changes over the course of the series.

This development, to me, was crucial in keeping me glued to the series and reading as fast as I could. Character arcs like Manon’s, for example, made me feel invested in the series. And her redemption arc, if you will, was one of the strongest. Even Aelin goes through a host of changes, some brought about by internal goals, some by external circumstances. These character arcs kept the reading fresh and went hand in hand with what they were experiencing around them in the story.

So what does one do, after reading an epic series of this magnitude?

I’m asking for myself, because I’m not sure what the answer is. As a reader, the series was incredible in ways I never could have anticipated. But as a writer, a not insignificant part of me is jealous. Jealous of how this series came together, and concerned that I might never be able to tell as good a story.

Oh well. Brooding on that point won’t accomplish anything. I’m better off honing my craft and sharpening my skills.

On to the next read, right?

If you’re curious, I did find that Maas’s writing style, and mine, are similar. So if you’re looking for a high fantasy read, consider giving the Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past a try!

Win a FREE copy of A Forgotten Past!

Question: do you set yourself a reading goal for the year?

This year, my goal is to read 25 books. I’m currently making my way through my 11th book, and I’m super stoked that I’m way ahead of the goal I set for myself!

In other fun news: I’m super thrilled to be hosting a giveaway on Instagram! This week I reached 3000 followers, and to celebrate I’m giving away one free eBook version of The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past!

Check out the rules here. Entering is super easy. Make sure to tag all of your bookish friends!

And hey, if you did happen to read the Sapeiro Chronicles, consider leaving a review on Goodreads and Amazon. Each review helps get my book in the hands of someone else who enjoys reading YA Fantasy!

Hurry up! Giveaway ends on April 16th!

Sapeiro Chronicles wins Silver in Literary Titan Book Awards

Some good news for 2021…The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past has officially won Silver in the Literary Titan Book Award!

This award makes my little Author heart ever so happy. It’s a small recognition, but one I am very proud of nonetheless. Not to mention that it starts the year off wonderfully!

You can read their full review here, as well as an author interview I did here.

Have you read A Forgotten Past yet? Get your copy on Amazon today: https://amzn.to/2V79PPO

SALE ALERT! Get your copy of A Forgotten Past now for 99 cents!

SALE ALERT! SALE ALERT!

Great news! For a limited time only, The Sapeiro Chronicles, A Forgotten Past is ON SALE at the Kindle store for $0.99. Get yourself a copy, or better yet, get a head-start on some Holiday shopping and get a copy for the Fantasy fan in your life. It is reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, with a tinge of Hunger Games and a dash of Throne of Glass. A perfect holiday read!

Here’s what readers have to say so far about A Forgotten Past:

“When I say, I was hooked… I mean, procrastinate, stay up late, could not put it down hooked! Jumping into the Sapeiro world has been one of the best highlights of quarantine life. I need to know more; Lily is an amazingly written heroine who is both strong and vulnerable. I was kept guessing the entire book and NEED THE SECOND BOOK TO COME OUT ASAP!!!!! Highly Recommend!”

“Fast-paced story with lots of twists and turns. Very exciting read. Can’t wait for book 2.”

“A very well-written novel with an intricate story and surprising, unexpected twists! The author introduces a lot of different characters in this first volume, but still manages to establish each of their distinct personalities without entirely revealing their motivations; I found myself rooting for, suspicious of, or despising certain characters before I was even halfway through. The sheer scale of the world is also impressive; I felt like we only got a small glimpse of Sapeiro in this book, even though we’re introduced to many different places. Can’t wait for the second book to come out!”

Curiosity piqued? Here’s the blurb:

Beast Whisperer – that was Lily’s special talent. Or so she thought. When she was a child, Lily had washed up on the riverbank near Basolt, with no memory of who she was. Taken in by the couple who found her, she was raised as their own, alongside their new baby. Years later she does something extraordinary. And word spreads of a new Spirit Hopper, someone who can enter into and control not only beasts, but people. Someone who can change the land of Sapeiro. Someone who is supposed to be dead. The rumors catch the attention of those who would control her power. Those who would use Lily for their own purposes, no matter how many lives it costs. They set their plots to capture her in motion. But Lily discovers there is at least one group who might hold the key to her real identity. One group who would protect her. But trust does not come easily for Lily. And her would-be saviors have secrets of their own.

Hurry, this sale won’t last forever! Get your copy now before it’s too late.

ON THE PATH TO YOUR FIRST DRAFT: FIGURE OUT YOUR WRITING STYLE FIRST

Maybe you have an idea for a story that’s been kicking around in your head, screaming to be let out, nurtured, and put on paper. It might have come to you just as you were falling asleep, or as you were on your fourth kilometer while jogging around the block. But now, it’s here and it isn’t letting you rest easy.

It’s time to write it down and make the jump from half-baked idea to a full-fledged narrative. Cue the sudden realization that writing a whole book is…well, it can feel overwhelming. The first milestone is hammering out that first draft.

Here’s where it gets tricky, and this is where a lot of fledgling (and even well-seasoned) writers get stuck: writing the ominous, terrifying first initial draft.

But how does one write a first draft? Surely there are steps that must be accomplished before sitting down with your hot beverage of choice, a solid amount of motivation, and a healthy amount of optimism.

I’m here to tell you that yes, yes there is. There are indeed many things to consider before putting pen to paper for the first time. Character sketches, maps, floor designs, plotting the narrative, story development are but a few things to consider working on before writing.

It may seem like a lot. Take a deep breath. Good. Now, here’s the question of the day for you: what kind of writer are you?

It may seem innocuous enough. And may also seem completely irrelevant to writing a first draft. But determining what kind of writer you are may help in figuring out what kind of planning you need to do before sitting down to write.

From my musings with other writers, I’ve noticed there are two overarching ‘types’ of writers: those who write without a plan, and those who write with one.  

Both are equally good ways of writing a story. Personally, I’m a planner who writes. I don’t feel comfortable writing unless I have over-analyzed the whole world I’m trying to build. But Stephen King is perhaps the best-known writer who just writes, without tethering himself to a plan. And to give complete credit where credit is due, I think Mr. King has written enough stories at this point in his career that he can absolutely do whatever he wants.  

Before sitting down and working on your story, determine which type of writer you are. There are pros and cons of each style, and becoming familiar with the pitfalls or advantages will really help determine how to approach your first draft.

The ‘just do it’ writers

These writers don’t plan. They have an idea and execute it as the story evolves in their minds. After a first draft is written, they reexamine their story and try to find common threads that can be tied together and exploited to strengthen the storyline.

The advantage of this approach to writing is that the absence of a plan can feel liberating. You can do whatever you want! Your muse will guide you! The characters will speak for themselves! The story may even feel more authentic because even you, the writer, are flying by the seat of your pants!

There may not be much room to plan in this stage, and so the prevalent concern is to keep writing. Not having a story outline may feel freeing, but the weight of the blank page staring back at you feels a lot heavier when you don’t have a captain to steer the ship.

What’s important to keep in mind when pumping out your first draft is that the quality really doesn’t matter much. The longer you stay stuck in a particularly knotty area of your story, the longer you’re ignoring the rest of the narrative.

And here’s where the downside of this technique comes in: when you don’t know where you’re going, it’s easy to get lost and lose sight of the big picture while you agonize over details. Or, even worse, lose motivation to write after you’ve written yourself into a corner and can’t see a way out.

For ‘just-do-it’ writers, it’s important to remember that what counts is to keep writing, no matter how thorny or difficult the task may seem. Things can be altered, and since you haven’t adhered to any firm plan, everything can be changed anyway. But the crucial bit is hunkering down and pecking away at the keyboard, stringing sentences together so they make sense.

A good tip to unstructured writing is to structure your time. Set yourself a goal for how long you want to write, undisturbed, and then stick to it. And no matter how eloquently the siren of distraction calls, keep your butt glued to that writing chair until you’ve completed the required time to do so. Best to fit it into your schedule, or risk being at the mercy of ‘inspiration’.

The planners

As a planner myself, this method is what I subscribe to and fully endorse. I’ve tried the unstructured writing, but to be completely honest, I find it stressful. So I’ve always over-planned my stories, going into the nitty gritty of character development and plot structure before ever considering putting pen to paper. I draw maps, sketch out characters, and concoct whole backstories for my main characters, including the antagonists.

The planning method of writing means exactly that: planning the nitty-gritty of the story, the narrative arc, and plot structure so you get an idea of the big picture before sitting down to write.

The advantage of the planning method of writing is that staring at a blank page isn’t as intimidating, since you already broadly know what you want to say. It’s just a question of how you want to phrase it. By breaking it up into little chunks, it also minimizes the burden of knowing you need to write a whole book, because you can take the story one chapter at a time. It’s a nice way to confidently chug away at the narrative that was oh-so-brilliantly charted out by a past version of yourself. This way, you can blindly follow along to the arc that was pre-determined and concentrate on throwing words on the paper.

The downside of planning so much of the story ahead of time is that it may result in the story feeling forced, or at some point the narrative may outgrown the arc you’re trying to force through. In these instances, it’s totally okay to switch up the plan you had on the fly and spend some time re-charting your course, if you know it isn’t going anywhere anymore.

So, what now?

Hopefully, by this point you’ve giving some thought to what kind of writer you are, and what steps you may need to take before sitting down and typing out the first draft of your masterpiece. And don’t forget, you are also free to combine the two methods to create your own hybrid version that works perfectly just for you! Nothing is stopping you!

When I was writing the first draft of my Young Adult Fantasy novel, The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past, I first spent countless hours delving into the culture, religion, and structure of the land. Then I agonized over character development and sketched out key locations. After that, I loosely plotted out what I wanted to happen, and used that plan to then section the whole novel into chapter blurbs. These chapter blurbs were the foundation of the first draft, and although the final result was immeasurably different from that initial first 50,000-word draft, sectioning it as I did helped in taking it one step at a time and, more importantly, see the big picture.  

CANADIAN THANKSGIVING SALE – A FORGOTTEN PAST FOR ONLY 99 CENTS!

This weekend is Thanksgiving in the Great White North, and for a limited time you can get The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past for less than a toonie! Better hurry though, sale ends on Monday, October 11th.

Curious to know more about the land of Sapeiro? Here’s the book blurb:

Beast Whisperer – that was Lily’s special talent. Useful, but not as flashy as some. Or so she thought. When she was a child, Lily had washed up on the riverbank near Basolt, with no memory of who she was. Taken in by the couple who found her, she was raised as their own, alongside their new baby. Years later she does something extraordinary. And word spreads of a new Spirit Hopper, someone who can enter into and control not only beasts, but people. Someone who can change the land of Sapeiro. Someone who supposedly died years before. The rumors catch the attention of those who would control her power. Those who would use Lily for their own purposes, no matter how many lives it costs. They set their plots to capture her in motion. But Lily discovers there is at least one group who might hold the key to her real identity. One group who would protect her. But trust does not come easily for Lily. And her would-be saviors have secrets of their own.

Get your copy here: https://bit.ly/34NcYIM

The Sapeiro Chronicles, A Forgotten Past now released!

The day has finally come! The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past is now available in print and eBook format!

It’s been a wild ride, but I am so very excited to show you the world of Sapeiro and the magic that exists in it. It’s an old land, with a rich culture and long, bloody history.

Beast Whisperer – that was Lily’s special talent. Useful, but not as flashy as some. Or so she thought. When she was a child, Lily was found washed up on the riverbank near Basolt, with no memory of who she was. Taken in by the couple who found her, she was raised as their own, alongside their new baby. Years later she does something extraordinary. And word spreads of a new Spirit Hopper, someone who can enter into and control not only beasts, but people. Someone who can change the land of Sapeiro. Someone who supposedly died years before.

You can order your print or eBook copy on Amazon or Indigo. And don’t forget to leave a review on Goodreads if you enjoyed the story!

And if you want to make sure that you are always in the know about news and announcements, make sure to join my newsletter! Just pop your email below!

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