Interview With Sara McCormick

Today I’m interviewing Sara McCormick, owner of Bella deLuna Designs and her new shop Liber deStella. Sara lives in North Carolina with four cat children and a husband who thankfully loves math so she doesn’t have to. Like me, she gets distracted by shiny things. 

Sara and I met through a secret society for witches who love tea. We had a quick connection based on our love of the same kinds of magical books. When Sara opened Liber deStelltog candle (3 of 3)a, I knew I had to interview her for CBC, because how could I not share the deets on someone making handmade items based on the books we all love? Brew some tea, pull up a cat and join me and Sara for a chat…

Allison: Sara, I’m so happy you could talk with me today about books and your fantastic work. I was so delighted to find out that we read so much of the same stuff! What’re you reading right now and I know you always have a TBR pile going, so what do you plan to read next?

Sara: I’m so glad to be able to chat with you! I never turn down an opportunity to talk about books! Right now I’m reading Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare. I’m only a couple of chapters in, so I’m still getting a sense of the book, but I’ve heard so many great things about it.

Next up on my TBR pile I’ve got Flamecaster, The Glittering Court and The Shadow Queen. I’m waiting for The Star-Touched Queen and A Court of Mist and Fury to come out and as soon as they do, they’ll go to the top of the list.

Allison: I loved Lady Midnight! We’re right in the middle of our Shadowhunters universe weeks and we’ll be talking about Lady Midnight later this week! Have you read the other series Cassandra Clare has written?

Sara: I have! It’s crazy to see all the fanfare the Shadowhunter world is getting right now with the new TV show and everything. I discovered the books in 2009, just when City of Glass came out. I vividly remember curled up in a blanket pile for days reading the first three books, and falling in love with the world Clare had built. City of Bones is still my favorite.

Allison: It’s still my fwild dragonfly bracelet_lobster clasp (1 of 3)avorite too. I think Lady Midnight has that same feel of falling into something cool and new (even though the first half of the book does a lot of looking back). I think it’s something about the vivid role LA plays in setting the stage. New York was just as captivating in The Mortal Instruments. Clare has a way of making things feel real.

I also have The Star-Touched Queen (which I just got my hands on today!) and A Court of Mist and Fury on my list of can’t-wait-to-reads. What’s your favorite new book in the last few months? I confess I’m shamelessly looking for book recommendations!  

Sara: Without a doubt The Mirror King (the sequel to The Orphan Queen) and The Wrath and the Dawn. Both books I read in one sitting. I’ve already created a candle based on The Wrath and the Dawn, and I’ve got a necklace in the works based on The Mirror King. That’s pretty much how you know I absolutely fell in love with a book, I created something inspired by it.

Allison: How fortuitous! I’m reading The Orphan Queen right now. It’s very intriguing so far. I’m enjoying the slow reveal of Meadows’ system of magic. Speaking of new pieces, you just opened Liber deStella as a sister shop to Bella deLuna. How did you get your start selling handmade goods?

Sara: Oh, wow. Well, I’ve always created things, and actually in high school really go into making jewelry, candles and even the photography, but it wasn’t until my early 20’s that I started to look at it as a job. Long story short, my Mom was an artist, a painter, and when she passed away, I just remember standing in her art studio and having this epiphany that I was trying to force myself into the 9-5 desk job box and making myself pretty miserable while doing it. I saw all this art around me my Mom had created and knew I wanted the same thing, to live my life creating.

Allison: That makes so much sense to me, and it’s really inspiring. What made you want to create a shop just for cool book related goods?

mount of adamant wrath and the dawn candle (2 of 3)Sara: There started to feel like there was a divide in my original shop, Bella deLuna Designs. I knew I was heading into more of a feel of metaphysical shop there, with the gemstones and ritual candles I had been working on, and my book jewelry didn’t feel as at home there anymore. Plus, I knew I had these book inspired candles in the pipeline that really would feel out of place. The two shops are really catering to two different audiences, and I felt that in order to give both the room they need to grow and flourish, that they just needed their own space.

Allison: Luckily, I think there’s a lot of crossover between the metaphysical customers and lovers of the kinds of magical books we both enjoy. What are your favorite pieces thus far?

Sara: Yes, and I’m so happy about that! It has made the process of opening a second shop so much easier than it would have been if there was no crossover at all. And everyone has been super supportive, because there was a little shift where items that used to be in my Bella deLuna shop are no longer there, so I’ve done my best to make sure everyone can find what they’re looking for.

As far as my favorite pieces, I have to include my Outlander dragonfly bracelet, as that was the first book inspired piece I ever created. The Six of Crows necklace is another favorite, as it’s a completely different design than anything I’ve ever done, and I love that it can be worn with anything. But I do have to admit, I’m really obsessed with the book candles right now. I’ve always made notes of scents described in books and how the surrounding landscape shapes the book, so I was really excited to sit down and really do research on how I could create candles that reflected that.

Allison: I just got my Rattle the Stars candle today and it smells amazing. It really does remind me of Celaena. I saw you added a candle for The Wrath and the Dawn to the shop recently, any plans for jewelry inspired by tsix of crows necklace (2 of 4)he book?

Sara: Yes! I’m working on a bracelet inspired by The Wrath and the Dawn right now. I’m hoping to finish it and a few other pieces this week! (Click here to see the finished beauty!

Allison: I need to be saving my pennies… I loved The Wrath and the Dawn. And I already have a strong, strong desire to have that Six of Crows necklace. I love the book so much. For some reason I was a little worried about Leigh Bardugo expanding the Grishaverse, but it blew me away. Yet another series that has me impatiently waiting for the next book…

Sara: I had the same reservations about Six of Crows. Before reading it, I had heard it was from multiple points of view, and for some reason books written in multiple POVs can just rub me the wrong way. If there’s one character’s voice that I don’t like, I don’t like the rest of the book. So I was nervous about Six of Crows, but once I read it I absolutely fell in love.

Allison: I’m with you on the multiple POVs, it can be a risky move. But it turned out to the be thing that kept me on the edge of my seat. I can’t wait to get to know all the characters better in the next book. Sara, thank you again for having this fun chat with me today, I’m so blessed to know you.

Sara: Anytime! Thanks so much for inviting me to chat!

Pssst, before you go…Sara writes about the books she loves all the time on her blog. And if you want to see what her cats are up to, follow her on Instagram (or here for Liber deStella related goodness). Biscuit is my particular favorite. Like Twitter best? Follow her here. Facebook more your style? Keep up with Sara here. By the way, you can click on any of the above images to go right to Sara’s shop!

Double psssssst…. We’ll be back later this week for our talk about Lady Midnight and next week we’ll discuss the Shadowhunters universe as a whole!


Winter 2016 YA Fantasy Debut: Assassin’s Heart, by Sarah Ahiers

21421609Attention Throne of Glass fans, there’s a new female assassin in YA fantasy!  Like Celaena Sardothien, Oleander “Lea” Saldana, the seventeen-year-old heroine of Sarah Ahiers’s Assassin’s Heart (the first book in a planned duology), is a kick-ass, mask-wearing, revenge-seeking assassin. But the similarities between Maas’s and Ahiers’s series end here.

Pitched as The Godfather meets Romeo and Juliet, Ahiers’s debut takes place in a unique, imaginative world–reminiscent of Renaissance Italy–that’s very different from Throne of Glass‘s setting. In the kingdom of Lovero, nine Families are allowed to commit murder as a way to worship Safraella, the goddess of death and resurrection. The most powerful Families–the Saldanas and the Da Vias–are bitter enemies, yet Lea Saldana and Val Da Vias are in a secret relationship. Lea and Val understand, however, that Family loyalty always has precedence over everything else…even love. But Lea still doesn’t expect to be betrayed by Val.

In a surprise attack, the Da Vias murder Lea’s Family, leaving her the only surviving Saldana besides her estranged uncle Marcello. How will she escape the rival Families (the Da Vias, especially) who want to kill her and the murderous angry ghosts that exist in the dead plains and surrounding countries (such as Rennes), beyond the protection of Lovero’s walls? Will Lea find her exiled uncle and convince him to return to Lovero to help her avenge their Family?

High-stakes adventure and romance, along with heart-wrenching guilt, betrayal, and retaliation, make Assassin’s Heart a great choice for Throne of Glass fans.

Alyssa recommends new and upcoming releases in young adult fiction (and occasionally middle grade and adult). She thanks Edelweiss and HarperCollins for providing her with a digital review copy of Assassin’s Heart, for review purposes only. Please follow her on Tumblr and Twitter.


Love For Feyre (and Celaena too!)

As long-time fans of Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass series, we couldn’t be happier that her new series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, has taken off with such success. At the time of this posting ACOTAR was at the #2 spot on the New York Times Bestseller list for YA Lit. If you’re not familiar with Maas’ work, or the new series, here’s the rundown:

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin-one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin-and his world-forever. 

Today, Nicola, Alyssa and Allison are dishing about their reactions to the first book in what is sure to be a wildly successful series. There may be some minor spoilers ahead in the first half of our conversation, but nothing that would ruin your reading experience. The point in which our conversation moves toward major spoilers is clearly marked!

16096824Alyssa: Since we’re all TOG fans, I don’t think we could read ACOTAR without wondering: How similar are these two series? How much does ACOTAR draw from myths and fairy tales compared to TOG? How alike are Feyre and Celaena? How do their worlds relate?

Nicola: The Fae in both worlds draw on Celtic mythology and fairy tales, but that relationship is a lot more apparent in ACOTAR. It has a more fairy tale quality to it, with riddles, curses, and tasks that come in threes, and even the map itself resembles the British Isles, with Hybern being clearly derived from Hibernia, the Latin name for Ireland.

Allison: Yes, I thought ACOTAR was more faithful to its original “sources,” in general. ACOTAR sticks really closely to its roots as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, whereas TOG was only very, very loosely about Cinderella. The biggest difference between TOG and ACOTAR for me is that the tone is really different. I see Throne of Glass as pure adventure and though there are definitely some steamy and/or romantic moments, the plot is mainly driven by adventure and politics. There’s elements of that in ACOTAR too, but the plot is mainly love driven and the sexy scenes have leveled up quite a bit. One reviewer called it “soft core erotica.”

Alyssa: Yes, it’s interesting to compare the romance/sex in TOG (YA) and ACOTAR (New Adult). While TOG is for a more mature audience than a lot of YA and has sex scenes, Feyre’s passion for Tamlin is much more fiery, bold, sexy, and all-consuming. ACOTAR is still very much an adventure, like TOG, and the romance doesn’t occur until halfway through the book. Yet, even though there aren’t a lot of romantic/sex scenes, they are much more explicit and sensual than in the TOG books. I really like that ACOTAR is a love story that evolves from a strong heroine’s adventure rather than strictly an erotic romance. Like the male heroes in traditional fantasy/adventure stories, Feyre fights the major battles (and survives against many odds) to save those she loves.

Nicola: Yeah, the romance/sex in ACOTAR permeates the narrative in a way it doesn’t in TOG. It’s a more defining part of the narrative. In both books, there are three elements that are important, but given different weight: plot (by which I mean antagonist- or otherwise externally-driven events that push the story forward), character, and relationships. In TOG, plot and character development have roughly equal weight, with Celaena’s relationships, including her romantic ones, supporting and defining those two elements. In ACOTAR, on the other hand, Feyre’s relationship with Tamlin is the main element, with the plot elements and Feyre’s character development supporting and driving that relationship.

Allison: Exactly, well put!  At first, I thought that Feyre and Celaena were a lot alike. Feyre starts off as this emotionally tough huntress, protecting her family and then in the second half of the novel falls deeply in love and we seeHeir of Fire another side of her. I really liked this, because I think lots of times we think that the “strong” female character won’t be so driven by love, but Feyre unabashedly loves Tamlin and will go to any lengths to save him.

Alyssa: I love comparing Feyre and Celaena. Yes, they are similarly clever, adventurous, brave, independent, angry, and fierce, but they also have many differences. Feyre doesn’t enjoy hunting and she kills out of necessity (in order to save herself and her family), while Celaena thrives on being the best assassin. Feyre doesn’t want anger and hate to motivate her to fight and kill, and she seeks acceptance and love. Celaena, however, is driven by revenge, as well as a sense of justice, to fight and kill. She is also Fae and can be ruthless and arrogant (characteristics of Fae), while human Feyre is more vulnerable, compassionate and open. She has fewer emotional barriers and she wants to understand and forgive. I also like that Maas chose first-person narration for ACOTAR, which not only distinguishes it from TOG but makes Feyre a more intimate and emotionally compelling character. We really get inside her head, which we don’t always do with Celaena.

Nicola: I also think Feyre has much better self-image than Celaena. She’s insecure about being illiterate, and she feels guilt over mistakes she makes in her estimation of the Fae and treatment of Tamlin, but the things she feels guilt over are things she should feel guilt over, and she is driven to rectify her mistakes for their own sake. Celaena, while arrogant and apparently self-assured, seems to use this more as a cover for self-hatred, and when she tries to fix her mistakes it’s more because she made them than because they need fixed.

Allison: Yeah, Celaena is really driven by ambition in a way that Feyre is not. Celaena has an obsession with being the best. So like you said, if she makes a mistake, she fixes it out of a strong sense that she needs to find a way to align her actions with her “cover.” Yet, sometimes Celaena reminds me of Black Widow in the way where she feels a lot of guilt about the things she’s done and she’s wiping her “ledger” clean, slowly but surely. I think that’s where the hardness comes from, being alone and being forced into such a violent life from a young age.

Alyssa: Those are really great points you both make about Celaena’s guilt, self-hatred and ambition. The Black Widow comparison makes sense. Celaena is blessed and cursed by her abilities. And like you said, she’s been alone and experienced so much violence, so she’s had to shut off her emotions and compassion in order to survive.

Nicola: Feyre has a much more compassionate reaction to taking a life than Celaena, who has built up walls around her emotions so that she doesn’t feel guilt over murder. At first, of course, killing one of the Fae is, to Feyre, no worse (and possibly better) than killing an animal, but as she gets to know them better her attitude changes and, for her, it’s like killing another human being – which is entirely different than Celaena’s attitude towards killing another human.

Allison: I think for me, this was one of the most important differences between ACOTAR and TOG: Feyre’s story is so much more emotional. Don’t get me wrong, I adore TOG (you know how much I love Celaena!), and maybe it’s the first-person narration that does it, but holy crap, ACOTAR has a lot of emotional depth. I like to be drawn into a story, but I literally couldn’t put ACOTAR down. I was completely immersed in Feyre’s perspective. The time Feyre spends Under the Mountain is emblazoned on my mind, like, permanently. I think about it all the time.

Nicola: Yes, in ACOTAR we’re deep inside Feyre’s head the entire time. I know she’s a minor character, but I really like the development of Nesta. There’s so much nuance in her relationship with her sisters, and I love how she’s so strong-willed a faerie glamour doesn’t work on her! And how she wants to see the world! I would totally read a book from her POV, seriously.

Alyssa: Me too. I hope we see more of Nesta in the next two books. I really like that Feyre has two sisters and a father. That she’s not an orphan, like Celaena is, makes Feyre have more emotional depth than Celaena. She can’t behave selfishly or impractically, like her sisters can, because she’s promised her mother that she would care for her family.

Allison: I completely agree with you both about Nesta; she has the makings of a quiet badass — one of my favorite ways for ladies to be badass. I love the she learns from her mistakes. The short time Feyre spends at home before returning to Prythian is so great because Feyre gets to make up for lost time with her sisters. When Nesta reinforces the idea that Feyre should never come back, that she should move on, I totally teared up! I think it’s great that Maas gave Feyre such a complex family life. That’s something Caleana doesn’t get much of until Heir of Fire, with Rowan, who becomes her family.

!!Our conversation shifted a bit here and fair warning there are MAJOR spoilers ahead, so don’t read on if you haven’t read the book yet!!

One of the things I couldn’t stop wondering about while I read ACOTAR was if Feyre’s world butts up against Celaena’s. Like, could you get there through a wyrdgate?

Nicola: That’s an interesting point about the wyrdgates, Allison. It didn’t even occur to me while reading, but I think it would be interesting to see Celaena and Feyre interact with each other. I imagine Celaena would feel inferior next to Feyre, seeing her as someone who managed to retain humanity and compassion in bad circumstances, while Feyre would admire Celaena’s strength.

Alyssa: That those series’ worlds and characters could intersect didn’t occur to me either, but I like that idea. I think you’re right about about how Celaena and Feyre would view each other and interact. They would understand each other because they both have experienced a lot of pain and anger. They have overcome difficult circumstances, but they still have more suffering ahead. Feyre’s situation is more hopeful than Celaena’s, however, and she has a better chance of a happy ending. Even if Celaena is victorious at the end of TOG, she has a much darker past. It will be difficult for her to feel truly happy.

I think Celaena would envy Feyre’s ability to love Tamlin unconditionally (and vice-versa) and find true happiness. Despite all that’s been up against them (and there’s the whole question of what will happen with Rhys), Feyre’s romance with Tamlin is much less complicated than Celaena’s romantic relationships. Celaena can’t be open to loving and trusting someone like Feyre can (and she’s essentially alone), so Celaena would probably envy Feyre’s faith in true love and partnership. Feyre, on the other hand, might want to be more emotionally and physically tough like Celaena. That would be very cool if the two series interconnect!

Allison: I’m sure I’m reaching, but a girl can hope. Even a hint that they exist in the same multiverse would be cool. I know that Sarah and Susan (Dennard) have hinted that the world in the Truthwitch series somehow butts up against the TOG world… I know that’s totally inside jokes between besties, but the wyrdgates are essentially portals, sooooo… On another note, do you think Feyre is going to lose it now that she’s Fae? Nicola mentioned earlier that she’s more sensitive than Celaena, due to her humanity, is she going to go all crazy with her new Fae emotions?

Nicola: I’m wondering that, too, Allison. In a lot of traditional faerie myth, they’re not exactly the most compassionate beings – at least, not how we’d understand it. You know the gentleman with the thistledown hair in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell? He thinks it’s totally reasonable to save someone’s life at the cost of her having to spend every night dancing at his balls, and doesn’t understand why anyone would have a problem with that. That’s pretty typical of the kind of stories both Jonathan Strange and ACOTAR are drawing on. Some of the Fae in ACOTAR, like Tamlin, seem much more human than that, but then there’s Rhys. Rhys is just so typically faerie. He objectifies Feyre (I think at one point he even refers to her as his property), but then at times he also chafes under Amarantha’s thumb and seems to have genuine ethical issues with her behaviour – ethical issues that we, as humans, share.

Alyssa: Rhys will certainly wreak havoc on Feyre’s and Tamlin’s relationship in the next book. His deal with Feyre draws on the Persephone myth, and he objectifies Feyre while Tamlin doesn’t. Rhys is more of a “bad boy” than Tamlin and, like you said, more Fae; I think when he does act more human, he’s motivated by practicality and a sense of what’s best for himself and the Fae. Rhys seems to think it’s okay for humans to be their slaves and property, while Tamlin feels remorse for the past and wants to be more compassionate and human. It’s possible that Tamlin has a dark secret that will complicate his humanity, though. We’ll see. Also there’s likely going to be a bigger conflict between the mortal and immortal realms in the next books. That will really test Feyre’s and Tamlin’s loyalties and how much they identify as Fae vs. human.

Allison: I am so looking forward to seeing what happens between Feyre and Rhys. I dig Tamlin (a lot), but I love a complication and Rhys is that 100%. I think that Maas makes it hard to tell how much of his objectification and questionable behavior towards Feyre is a part of the cover he develops for her, to protect them both from Amarantha, and how much he actually feels. I wonder about that last moment between them in the book where he sees something in her that rattles him a bit. I’m really looking forward to seeing where that and all the rest of this goes. Three cheers for ACOTAR, TOG, Celaena and Feyre!

Alyssa is head witch at our sister site, Spellbinding Books and you can read all her fantastic posts for CBC here. Catch up with her on Twitter on her personal account or that of Spellbinding

Nicola is one of CBC AND Spellbinding’s regular contributors. You can read her insightful CBC posts here. Catch up with her at her personal book blog, The Prattle of Hastings or on Twitter

Allison is the humble head witch around these parts and you can holler at her on Twitter.

ETA: Allison apologizes that Celaena’s name was misspelled in the title of the original run of this post! Too many vowels for her feeble brain! 

“We Love Lila!”: A Darker Shade of Magic

As it happens, Allison and Alyssa read V.E. Schwab’s new novel, A Darker Shade of Magic. Rather than have a “Lila-like” fight over who would recommend it, we’re joining forces to discuss it together.

A Darker Shade of Magic is Schwab’s second adult novel (she also writes for YA and MG audiences), which is important to note because the book can get, well, adult at times. Schwab spends a good portion of the beginning of the novel establishing the dynamic between four parallel Londons. In Red London magic exists harmoniously with the mundane.  Most readers will recognize Regency era Grey London, where magic has died out. White London is ruled by tyrannical siblings who savagely abuse magic. And Black London is a mystery; Schwab only lets us know that its citizens were destroyed by magic and that the doors in and out have been sealed. It’s to Schwab’s credit that she can make four distinct Londons come alive.

Schwab’s worldbuilding is sublime in this novel, but her characters make it a book we were both dying to recommend. The novel’s protagonist Kell is Red London’s royal emissary and one of the few magicians left in the world who can travel between the Londons. When he crosses paths with Grey London’s Lila Bard, a cross-dressing thief, the story really starts to get interesting.

Allison: I’ve been pretty open about the fact that I love Lila Bard on Twitter. What did you think about her?

Alyssa: I love Lila too! She’s stealthy, clever, witty, tough, independent, confident, and brave. Lila is an ideal heroine, but she’s not perfect (a good thing). She’s authentic and unique, but she also reminds me of other fictional “kick ass” heroines I’ve grown to love: Buffy, Celaena (Throne of Glass), and Katsa (Graceling). But Lila’s perhaps more lovable than those characters because she’s not an assassin or a slayer.

Allison: I totally agree. I think it’s her vulnerability that really gets me. She’s not Buffy, Caleana or Katsa in that she doesn’t have any “chosen one” special powers for most of the story (though I’m wondering if that’s going to change in subsequent books). All of her power comes from hard won experience on the streets.

I read a review where someone called her “unsympathetic at times” and I didn’t find that to be true at all. Maybe it’s because she’s so ruthless? I don’t know, I kind of loved that about her. To me, Lila is what every good pirate or thief should be: arrogant and smart-mouthed. I think when thieves and pirates are men and are those things we call them “dashing” — I’m willing to  say it: Lila is all kinds of dashing.

Some of the reviews I read talked about her “ambitiousness” in a slightly negative way. I feel like what lots of people are reacting to is that there’s some big gender role-reversal going on. I think you could switch Kell and Lila’s names around and the novel would fall into something most people would recognize as a typical fantasy adventure, albeit a progressive one. Kell isn’t weak, but he’s certainly more sensitive than Lila.

Alyssa: I agree with you. She is ruthless, but she’s had to be to survive — and to survive on her own. And I don’t think she’s an unsympathetic character either. I like that she’s not consumed with shame and self-doubt. She believes in herself and in her abilities to survive, and she’s strong-willed, unapologetic, and doesn’t feel sorry for herself. I think those are positive attributes in this case; especially considering how women are supposed to behave in this society.

I love this book’s gender role-reversal and that she subverts female stereotypes. She craves adventure above all else, and, you’re right, if she were a male character this would be a typical fantasy adventure. She gets into plenty of scrapes, but she’s never a “damsel in distress” and she often fights off her foes or comes to Kell’s rescue. She’s willing to fight or even kill anyone who threatens her or stands in her way, but she also develops more of a conscience as her friendship with Kell develops.

Allison: I could talk about Lila for hours, but I’m dying to know what you thought of Kell, since the story is ostensibly about him.

Alyssa: In some ways he is more stereotypically female, and he’s also had a cushier upbringing (even if he doesn’t always see it that way). One of my favorite parts in the book is when Lila gets annoyed at Kell for feeling sorry for himself. He views himself as the royal family’s prized possession, but Lila insists he is part of a family — and a royal one at that — which is more than Lila can imagine for herself.

Allison: Another thing to love about Lila, she’s not afraid to snap Kell back to reality! Even though Lila is certainly not as well traveled or educated as Kell, I feel like he’s the one that sometimes needs to have his worldview rearranged. Overall, I like Kell. I think Schwab is building something with him that will get more complex as time goes on.

Alyssa: Me too. Especially considering he smuggles forbidden magical objects, making him morally complex as well. It’s interesting how I feel about Kell. I like him too, but Lila is the more dashing character. I didn’t fall for Kell like I do some of the swoon-worthy male characters in books. Nor did I want him and Lila to necessarily develop a romance, and I enjoyed their adventurous friendship.

Allison: I know, right? I like their slightly chaste “kiss for luck” tradition. It feels friendly and not particularly sexy. Even if a romance develops later on, I love reading a story about men and women where they can be friends and partners, without being in love right away.

Allison Carr Waechter has never felt the urge to sail the high seas, but if she shoots you in the leg, it’ll be for a Lila-like reason. This week she’s stuck in mundane Grey St. Louis, watching the rain wash away the snow as she grades resumes and cover letters for her business writing course. If you want to help her procrastinate, hit her up on Twitter.

Alyssa Raymond is dreaming of faraway places as she awaits yet another snow storm. In the summer she would rather steal treasures that have washed ashore than sail amidst the many sea monsters that invade Marblehead Harbor. As soon as the snow banks melt, you’ll find her hanging out with the witches in Salem. Until then, she’s on Twitter.

February Favorites: YA Adventure

I know there’s a lot of hemming and hawing over whether or not grown ups should read YA or if it’s good for them. To that I say, “Eh.” Frankly, I find the conversation a little boring. People should mind their own business more. That being said, instead of harkening back to my childhood for my next two February Faves posts, I want to talk about some awesome YA I’ve read recently.

I love adventure stories with lady-leads and I’m a sucker for magic. I’ve found that the YA genre seems to house a ton of great stories like this and they don’t all have a sappy love triangle at their core (though I’m a sucker for all manner of love triangle — I like a lot of stuff, ok?). These are my picks for recent YA series that focus on adventure, rather than a love story.

Here were my qualifiers for what made it in and what you’ll find in common in each series:

  1. Adventure is the primary focus. There might be romance involved, but that romance isn’t a crucial aspect for the adventure storyline, it’s just something that happens along the way. So for instance, I adore the Daughter of Smoke and Bone books by Laini Taylor and they are all sorts of adventurous, but a love story is central to the adventure, so they don’t qualify. Same goes for Leigh Bardugo’s excellent Grisha series.
  2. The lead character is a lady and she’s either got magical powers or lives in a world where they exist and are central to the story.
  3. It’s YA. It’s not that I don’t think there are books that fit into these qualifications in adult lit, it’s that I think they’re harder to find.

Here’s my first pick for my February Favorites: YA Adventure:

Throne of GlassThrone of Glass, by Sarah J Maas. When I picked up the eponymous first book in this series, I liked it enough to read the next book, Crown of Midnight, which is where I think Maas’ characterization and story-building begin to meet up with her world-building. In the Throne of Glass series, much of the world has been stripped of magic, the Fae have retreated and an objectively evil dictator is busy enslaving as much of the world as possible. Maas’ main character, is the world’s best assassin, and a drop-dead gorgeous one at that. Throne of Glass sets the stage for the series, but I’ll admit, I didn’t care for Celaena Sardothien all the much until Crown of Midnight.

Here’s why: Celaena is a character that genuinely grows as a person, which means she’s kind of a jerk in the first book. If you get put off by her vanity and arrogance in Throne of Glass you’ll miss all the good stuff. In Throne of Glass and even somewhat into Crown of Midnight, she’s spoiled, arrogant, self-centered, a coward and hiding some nasty secrets. There are times whecrown of midnightn she’s genuinely unlikeable. Then at the end of Crown of Midnight and in Heir of Fire, she begins to grow and it’s honestly a really gratifying character arc because it’s so hard-won.

Plus, the supporting characters are completely amazing. Even if you never like Celaena, I promise you’re going to love Nehemia, Celaena’s best friend and Prince Dorian (I’m a little iffy on Chaol, so I’m not making you any promises). Heir of Fire introduces two of my favorite fantasy characters of all time: Manon Blackbeak, a truly terrifying witch and Rowan Whitethorn a Fae soldier-prince. One of the best things about Maas’ work is that she focuses so much on relationships. Celaena’s friendships and familial ties are just as important to the story as her romances.

The adHeir of Fireventure itself is great stuff, full of twists and turns as Celaena unwinds the secrets of her childhood and figures out how she fits into the world. There’s never any doubt that Celaena is a kick-ass lady, but whether or not she can be brave enough to face the past is another thing altogether. Maas makes it clear that until she faces up to all she’s done as Adarlan’s Assassin and the depths of her early years that she can’t be the hero Erliea needs, so it’s a race against time.

My advice is to pick up Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight at the same time and read them like they’re one book. There’s a series of shorts called Assassin’s Blade, which flesh out just how Celaena became Adarlan’s Assassin and I think I’d recommend reading that right after Crown of Midnight.  Then you can move on to Heir of Fire and I’ll let you sit by me and weep when you realize there are three more books coming in this series and you’re gonna have to wait.

Next Monday, I’ll talk about Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season, another series with a bad-girl lead.

If you like books about assassins, you might also like Robin LaFevers His Fair Assassin series and Kristin Cashore’s Graceling Realm. I give both series super-high marks.

Allison Carr Waechter is a writer, a tea drinker and a secret Blackbeak witch. Rowan Whitethorn is her book-boyfriend and she’ll totally punch you if you try to get in the way of their love. If you want to bring Allison back to reality, hit her up on Twitter or check in on her website.