Pure Magic by Rachel Neumeier

Urban fantasy YA novel Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier was one of my favorite reads last year. I have been eagerly anticipating the sequel right after I finished reading that book. So when Rachel offered to send me a review copy of Pure Magic in ebook format, I enthusiastically said yes. I didn’t waste any time and jumped right in. Thankfully, I still remembered most of the story from the first book and didn’t have to do a reread prior to picking up Pure Magic. The books need to be read in order so read Black Dog first before venturing into Pure Magic. There’s also a set of short stories that occurs between the first and second book. I won’t mention spoilers but feel free to skip this review if you haven’t read the earlier books yet.

Pure Magic Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

After Natividad, Alejandro, and Miguel’s victory against their family’s rival, even more dangerous threats emerge, from an increase in stray black dogs to far worse opponents who would tear down the fragile Dimiloc alliance and re-make it in their own image.

I liked being back in the world that Rachel Neumeier created in her urban fantasy series. Where some men and women can shift into these ferocious and aggressive creatures called black dogs, similar to wolves. And where there are also people like Natividad, who are Pure and can create a defensive form of magic mostly used for peace and protection against evil. I think the first book did a good job of laying out the foundation for the worldbuilding and this sequel builds upon that. I liked seeing more of Natividad’s magic and how creative she can get within the limitations of what she can do. Because of the nature of her magic, Natividad has a quiet strength that shines through when the people she cares about are in danger. I think it’s impressive how a normally unobtrusive kind of magic becomes crucial in certain situations. I really liked that the Pure have their own kind of power and the focus of the story shifts between the Pure and black dogs. That is not to say that humans don’t play an important role in this world because they do, as illustrated by Natividad’s twin, Miguel. Even without special powers, Miguel significantly contributes to helping Dimilioc in its efforts to rebuild the clan. A big part of why I enjoy this series is the characters. Aside from Natividad and her brothers, I also liked the various members of the Dimilioc clan, not the least of which is their executioner, Ezekiel. I found the early chapters of the book a bit slow because of the introduction of a new main character and narrator, Justin, but it was soon revealed how he was important to the story so I didn’t mind. Like with the rest of the characters, I just wanted to find out more about him.

While I did feel that Pure Magic had a bit of a slow start, the climax builds really nicely until you reach a point where the characters are in situations where the odds are seemingly impossible. The stakes are high and there’s only so much that the Dimilioc black dogs and Pure can do. It makes for an absorbing read. I was glad I picked this up on a weekend and I didn’t have to worry about work getting in the way of my reading time. I was worried about the characters and I wanted everyone to find a way out of the difficulties they found themselves in. The book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger but keep in mind that there will be more installments in the series and some of the future plot arcs have been nicely set up in Pure Magic. There’s a more global view of the black dog world in this book as compared to the first one, where we mostly saw the focus in the Americas – North America where the Dimilioc strength lies and also Mexico because that’s where Natividad and her brothers grew up. My review of Pure Magic will not be complete if I didn’t mention the slow burn romance. There was just a hint of it in the first book and I immediately wanted A LOT MORE. More scenes with these two potential lovebirds, more dialogue and conversation, and a better idea of what they thought of each other. Pure Magic does not disappoint! I really savored this aspect of the story, although I certainly wouldn’t have minded if these two had more page time in the book. There were too many things happening for them to have a quiet time together. I can always hope for that in the next novel, which I already can’t wait to read even if it hasn’t even been written yet! Similar to Black Dog, Pure Magic was a very satisfying read and I recommend it to fans of YA urban fantasy.

Other reviews:
Random Musings of a Bibliophile
By Singing Light

New Release: Black Dog Short Stories by Rachel Neumeier

YA urban fantasy Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier was one of my favorite reads last year and I wanted to read more from this world as soon as I finished reading the book. Thankfully, a set of short stories, called Black Dog Short Stories, has been released this week! I wanted to give the rest of you a heads up in case you missed it.

Black Dog Short StoriesNatividad is delighted when the Master of Dimilioc gives her permission to go Christmas shopping in a real town, since she definitely needs to find gifts for her brothers. But did Grayson have to assign Keziah to go with her?

Étienne Lumondiere has annoyed Miguel once too often, throwing his weight around and belittling ordinary humans. But Miguel’s going to fix that. He just needs to work out a few more details of his clever plan.

It’s tough for a black dog raised outside Dimilioc to adjust to being a team player. But Thaddeus is determined to impress Grayson . . . until he is unexpectedly confronted by a black dog kid who reminds him a little too much of himself.

The Dimilioc executioner is the mainstay of the Master’s authority, as Ezekiel knows better than anyone. He has never questioned his role in Dimilioc . . . until now.

“Christmas Shopping,” “Library Work,” and “A Learning Experience” all take place between Black Dog and Pure Magic. “The Master of Dimilioc” is a prequel story that takes place several years before the events of Black Dog.

I’ve received review copies of this and the next book in the series, Pure Magic, from the author and I look forward to reading both! I believe Pure Magic will be released sometime in May.

Amour et Florand: Making Great Characterization Look Easy

Rachel Neumeier is the author of fantasy novels House of Shadows, the Griffin Mage trilogy, The Floating Islands, The City in the Lake and Black Dog. Rachel and I chat about the books that we read all the time. She’s recommended some books that have become favorites for me and I’m always flattered when she decides to try a book that I’ve recommended. We both love Laura Florand’s books so we’ve discussed them several times. Rachel is here to talk about what she likes the most in Laura’s writing.
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Rachel NeumeierCade Corey is the uber-rich heiress to the world’s biggest and most powerful chocolate empire, Corey Chocolate. Her sister, Jaime, is a rich do-gooder who travels in the third world to Improve People’s Lives. Summer, their cousin, is luminously beautiful as well as rich. Her father has just bought her a hotel as part of a bribe to get Summer to live her life his way.

Sylvain Marquis is the best chocolatier in Paris (just ask him). He has all the fame one ego can manage. So does his main rival, Dominique Richard. So does Luc Leroi, one of the top pastry chefs in the world, who happens to work for Summer’s hotel.

People, these are not characters just any writer could pull off. I can’t be alone at rolling my eyes when a romance involves the richest girl in the world and the best chocolatier in the world. Isn’t it possible for a romance to involve protagonists a little more… normal?

Yet, in Laura Florand’s hands, these characters are somehow transformed from the cardboard cutouts we might expect into real people that we sympathize with and root for – that we can’t help but sympathize with and root for. This is partly Florand’s beautiful writing – and her writing is beautiful – but mostly it is her talent for establishing a complicated backstory that echoes forward into a character’s present.

Cade Corey is confident of her business acumen, but she’s not at all sure a man could possibly care about her rather than about her money. She knows she can run her father’s company when her turn comes, but she’s not sure she has the right to claim a life of her own. Sylvain knows his chocolate is the best in the world, but success was not something he was born with. He’s experienced plenty of rejection in his life, and he’s not at all sure a woman could care about him as a person.

Which gives rise to one of the best opening lines ever, incidentally:

Sylvain Marquis knew what women desired: chocolate. And so he had learned as he grew into adulthood how to master a woman’s desire.

This is funny and intriguing and a wonderful invitation to read the next line, and the next after that – Laura Florand knows how to draw in a reader, that’s for sure. But it also shows right away that Sylvain doesn’t really believe a woman is likely to desire him for himself. And this is not just something the author tells the reader: Florand makes us believe in Sylvain’s insecurity and Cade’s vulnerability. She really does.

The Chocolate Thief, featuring Cade and Sylvain, is light and fun and charming. But the Chocolate romances gain depth as the series goes on, so that by the time we get to the fourth book in the series, The Chocolate Touch, which features Jaime and Dom, the story is not so light – though it still has plenty of humor – but is truly touching.

Jaime is not some posturing first-world twit showing off her moral superiority with her Causes. We find out just enough about her activities with the cacao plantations to know she is intelligent and practical and has truly been making a real difference in people’s lives. For me, that’s crucial in establishing her as a sympathetic protagonist. And we also know she has recently been badly hurt, not just metaphorically. Her confidence in herself has been shattered. She needs someone to help her regain that confidence.

Dominique Richard is one of Sylvain’s main rivals for Best Chocolatier in Paris, but his background is awful. We all know how violence and abuse in one generation tends to lead to violence and abuse in the next generation, and here is Dom, so determined that he will not contribute to that pattern. He’s got quite a reputation as a tough guy, yet he’s vulnerable in a whole different way compared to Sylvain. And Florand makes us totally buy this with her brilliant writing. Dom is (still) my favorite male lead from the Chocolate romances.

Then we have their cousin, Summer. Summer is the rich girl who is also luminously beautiful: a tough protagonist to handle, because what kind of difficulties can a woman like that actually have? Well, it turns out she does have real problems. She’s in a genuinely painful situation and as that is slowly revealed, well, it would take a pretty hard-hearted reader not to sympathize with her and root for her and join her cheering section.

And Luc! He’s made it to the tippy-top of his profession, but, you guessed it, his life is not actually in perfect order. For him, it’s all about breaking out of his own tight defenses. Summer gives him a reason to do that.

Luc’s eyebrows drew together. He stared after the barge, profoundly disturbed at the thought that Summer might have needed him and his tangle of pride and hunger had left her unprotected. “Do you really think she’s shy?” he asked after a while…. I failed her didn’t I? I never fail at anything, but I think I keep failing her.

Yes, he does, until he gets it together and begins to really believe that Summer can be hurt and that he keeps hurting her and maybe he should start supporting her instead.

Seriously, any writer could learn a lot from Laura Florand about giving a protagonist a difficult, complicated background that echoes forward to produce real human problems and touching vulnerability. Thus we have:

In Sun-Kissed:

Her isolation itched at him. Mack wanted to reach out and break it, like one of those damn sugar sculptures over on the bridal table, break the translucent pieces of that isolation, say, Hey, did you notice all the world here you’re missing?

In Turning up the Heat:

“You’ve got to admit, it’s a beautiful irony, chérie. I gave myself up for you. You gave yourself up for me. And we’re here scrabbling to find enough of each other we can hold onto.”

In The Chocolate Temptation:

Why was he so bad at this? Surely no other man had to sue a woman just so he could make her put up with him long enough that he had a chance to figure out how to talk to her.

And I haven’t even mentioned some of my favorite Florand titles! Sticking to the Corey family simplified this post, but here I am, and I haven’t had a chance to mention the fairy tales that infuse at least half of Florand’s stories, or describe her beautiful use of metaphor, or discuss the wonderful relationships between her secondary characters that deepen every book, or refer to the lovely hints of magical realism in The Chocolate Kiss, or, or, or…

One of my favorite finds over the past couple of years, Laura Florand is now an auto-buy author for me, even though I’m not a big romance reader in general. I’m definitely right there for whatever she writes next.

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Merci, Rachel! I think Laura does a very good job in fleshing out her characters – I like that she shows us the flaws of these characters. That they’re still vulnerable and insecure even if they’ve accomplished so much in their lives.

Amour et Florand

Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier

I enjoyed reading Rachel Neumeier’s House of Shadows so I jumped at the chance to read Black Dog when I was offered a review copy. I was intrigued when I first found out the premise of the book. Also, I wanted to see how Rachel’s writing will translate from epic fantasy to urban fantasy.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Black DogNatividad is Pure, one of the rare girls born able to wield magic. Pure magic can protect humans against the supernatural evils they only half-acknowledge – the blood kin or the black dogs. In rare cases – like for Natividad’s father and older brother – Pure magic can help black dogs find the strength to control their dark powers.

But before Natividad’s mother can finish teaching her magic their enemies find them. Their entire village in the remote hills of Mexico is slaughtered by black dogs. Their parents die protecting them. Natividad and her brothers must flee across a strange country to the only possible shelter: the infamous black dogs of Dimilioc, who have sworn to protect the Pure.

In the snowy forests of Vermont they are discovered by Ezekiel Korte, despite his youth the strongest black dog at Dimilioc and the appointed pack executioner. Intrigued by Natividad he takes them to Dimilioc instead of killing them.

Now they must pass the tests of the Dimilioc Master. Alejandro must prove he can learn loyalty and control even without his sister’s Pure magic. Natividad’s twin Miguel must prove that an ordinary human can be more than a burden to be protected. And even at Dimilioc a Pure girl like Natividad cannot remain unclaimed to cause fighting and distraction. If she is to stay she must choose a black dog mate.

But, first, they must all survive the looming battle

It’s been weeks since I finished reading Black Dog and I still have fond memories of it. I remember staying up late one week night to finish reading this novel. It didn’t take that much effort for me to be immersed in the story and I found myself absorbed until I reached the end. I found the characters intriguing and felt that the worldbuilding was solid. I like how the reader is thrown into the story without lengthy descriptions, you just learn more about the world as you keep reading. The magic in this world can be found in black dogs and the Pure. Black dogs are shapeshifters who can change from their human to black dog forms as needed. While Pure women are able to wield their magic to invoke peace and to protect other people from malicious magic. The calmness that the Pure can provide serves as a counterpoint to the anger and violence that are part of a black dog’s nature. Natividad is a Pure, her brother Alejandro is a black dog while her twin Miguel is human. I like how these three siblings each have their own strengths and weaknesses. They each have something to contribute to their family, and eventually the Dimilioc clan. Even Miguel, who has no supernatural abilities, has skills in other areas. Aside from having magical skills, I also found it interesting that these siblings are half-Mexican and half-American. They were brought up in Mexico but had to flee to North America to run away from danger, and to hopefully gain allies in the Dimilioc clan. The Dimilioc black dogs also have a mix of interesting characters and I was curious about them as well.

I like how the point of view shifts from Natividad to Alejandro, giving us a better understanding of what this world is like from both Pure and black dog perspectives. I did wonder if the story would have been richer if we also got Miguel’s POV but it wasn’t a major issue. Black Dog was such an enjoyable read for me. I liked how the story progressed until the climax was reached. So many things happened in a short span of time but I thought the events were paced well. I really wasn’t able to predict how things will go, so I kept turning the pages to find out. It’s a good introduction to the world in this series and it made me want to read the sequel even though it hasn’t even been released. I would be more than interested to find out how the members of the Dimilioc clan will adapt based on recent changes that they’ve implemented. The world is on the cusp of change as they enter a new age where vampires no longer exist. I found that aspect of the story intriguing, as well as the history and culture of black dogs. There’s also a tentative romance in the first book that I’m hoping will be further developed in the sequel. I felt that the love story was barely there and would have loved more scenes between the two characters. I also thought that Black Dog had beautiful writing – here’s a non-spoilery snippet to illustrate my point:

“Out there in the cold, mountains rose against the sky, white and gray and black: snow and naked trees and granite and the sky above all… The sky itself was different here, crystalline and transparent, seeming farther away than any Mexican sky. The sun seemed smaller here, too, than the one that burned across the dry mountains of Nuevo Leon: this sun poured out not heat, but a cold brilliant luminiscence that the endless snow reflected back into the sky, until the whole world seemed made of light.”

Further proof of how much I enjoyed reading this book was that it reminded a little of the World of the Lupi series by Eileen Wilks, which was one of my favorite discoveries last year. I’m happy to report that I feel like Rachel Neumeier made a successful foray into urban fantasy with Black Dog. Like I said, I look forward to reading the next installment in the series.

Other reviews:
Random Musings of a Bibliphile
By Singing Light
Charlotte’s Library

EWein Special Ops: Pushing the boundaries of Young Adult

Rachel Neumeier is the author of fantasy novels House of Shadows, the Griffin Mage trilogy, The Floating Islands and The City in the Lake. I love chatting with Rachel about the books that we love because I feel like our tastes in books overlap. I knew I had to ask her for a guest post for EWein Special Ops since I know she enjoyed reading Elizabeth Wein’s novels.

Give it up for Rachel!

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Elizabeth Wein: Pushing the boundaries of Young Adult

Rachel NeumeierI should start with a confession: I haven’t read CODE NAME VERITY. Nor have I read ROSE UNDER FIRE.

But I have an excuse! See, if I am working on a new book of my own, I really can’t read anything that is too emotionally compelling. Because if I start a book like that, I am going to be forced to drop everything and finish it, and that kind of compulsion is not your friend when you have work to do. Plus, a truly brilliant story lingers for days or weeks in my mind, its characters and story and setting suggesting different characters and stories and settings I would love to write. This makes it much, much harder to get back to my current work-in-progress.

No, the right choice when I’m busy is a book I’ve read several times before, or else nonfiction.

Books like CODE NAME VERITY and ROSE UNDER FIRE are the ones I set aside as a reward for finishing a major project. With any reasonable luck, I expect to read both of them, plus a couple of other special titles, somewhere in the second half of February, once I’ve finished the first draft of my current WIP.

And how do I know that these two titles are worth holding out as a special treat? Particularly as I have been avoiding reviews of them, since I don’t want to be deluged with spoilers? Well, because they’re by Elizabeth Wein, that’s how.

The first book I ever read by Wein, just a year or two ago, was THE SUNBIRD. I think I must have picked it up at a library sale or something, which goes to show why library sales are worth checking out, because THE SUNBIRD immediately wound up on my (very short) list of Truly Perfect Books.

Telemakos is simply one of the great YA protagonists of all time. He is clever and kind, but you will never confuse him with all those other clever, kind YA protagonists. We first meet him like this:

Telemakos was hiding in the New Palace. He lay among the palms at the edge of the big fountain in the Golden Court. The marble lip of the fountain’s rim just cleared the top of his head, and the imported soil beneath his chest was warm and moist. He was comfortable. He could move about easily behind the plants, for the sound of the fountains hid any noise he might make. Telemakos was watching his aunt.

And if that doesn’t immediately make you curious, I don’t know what will.

Telemakos has a very good relationships with his aunt, by the way. His whole family is fascinating and beautifully drawn, all the family members sympathetic but far from perfect, all the relationships strong but complex.

I will just mention here that this story is actually part of a five-book set which begins with an Arthurian story before heading off in its own direction, so that various members of Telemakos’ family have actually stepped directly out of Arthurian legand. THE SUNBIRD is a fine place to start and stands alone just fine, but the series as a whole consists of THE WINTER PRINCE, A COALITION OF LIONS, THE SUNBIRD, THE LION HUNTER, and THE EMPTY KINGDOM. Each leads to the next but stands alone, except for the last two, which together comprise a single story.

So, Telemakos. Telemakos reminds me of Megan Whelan Turner’s Eugenides, but he’s not the same – his strengths are different, and so are his weaknesses, and so is his family and the world through which he moves. Most of all the world, which informs all the rest. Because though THE SUNBIRD draws on Arthurian legend, it is set in the African country of Aksum.

Aksum is simultaneously engaging and fascinating and charming and terrible. Generally an author of historical novels ratchets back the sheer horror of so much of history in order to appeal to modern readers. There may be slavery, for example, but we aren’t generally shown the sheer unutterable dreadfulness that attends some kinds of slavery.

If Elizabeth Wein pulls back from showing us horror, I sure can’t tell. Two of the scenes in THE SUNBIRD are among the most intensely horrific scenes anywhere. Those scenes would be unbearable in the hands of another writer. Yet Wein pulls them off – even for me, and I have a fairly low tolerance for grim – through her sheer skill with language and by creating a story whose overall structure and themes are thoroughly positive.

But still, intense is definitely the word.

And that is why I am waiting for a break before I read CODE NAME VERITY and ROSE UNDER FIRE.

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Thank you for the lovely words, Rachel! I’m pretty sure you’ll love both Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire when you get the chance to read them.

EWein Special Ops

House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier

I’ve heard so many good things about House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier from other bloggers. I borrowed it from the Singapore public library last year but didn’t get a chance to read it before the due date. Which is why I decided that it would be better to just get my own copy – that way, I could read it when I felt like picking it up. A few weeks (months?) ago, I noticed that I haven’t read fantasy in a while so I thought it would be good try this one. Can I just say that I think it’s great that House of Shadows is a standalone? Most fantasy novels are part of a series so it’s always refreshing to come across a fantasy book that stands well on its own.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

House of ShadowsOrphaned, two sisters are left to find their own fortunes.

Sweet and proper, Karah’s future seems secure at a glamorous Flower House. She could be pampered for the rest of her life… if she agrees to play their game.

Nemienne, neither sweet nor proper, has fewer choices. Left with no alternative, she accepts a mysterious mage’s offer of an apprenticeship. Agreeing means a home and survival, but can Nemienne trust the mage?

With the arrival of a foreign bard into the quiet city, dangerous secrets are unearthed, and both sisters find themselves at the center of a plot that threatens not only to upset their newly found lives, but also to destroy their kingdom.

You know when you feel like you read a book just when you were in the right mood for it? House of Shadows was exactly what I needed, it’s the kind of epic fantasy that I enjoy reading. Magic, intrigue, a world I can get lost in and characters I had fun getting to know. The premise suggests that the main characters are sisters Nemienne and Karah, but we also get the points of view of Leilis and Taudde. It was easy enough to like all four of them, plus the secondary ones within the story, but I feel like it was Leilis and Taudde who stood out from everyone else. It may sound a bit confusing to read about so many individuals but I didn’t have a problem with it, probably because I usually focus more on characters than anything else in the books that I read. The switching points of view gave me a better understanding of the different types of people who inhabit this world. I also really liked the idea of the keiso, modeled after the Japanese geisha. The keiso choose to devote their lives to their art (e.g. dancing, singing) and they are well-respected for that. Living as a keiso is considered an honorable way of life, which I think gives them a higher status than geisha. Instead of becoming mistresses, the keiso can choose to marry men (who are usually powerful or wealthy) and become flower brides if they wanted to. Children of flower brides are recognized by their affluent fathers.

Aside from the characters, I enjoyed reading about the world in The House of Shadows – where there are different kinds of magic and there’s a brewing war between two nations. I liked how the political intrigue added to the character development, how the different layers and motivations behind everything that they do were shown. To be honest, I’m having a hard time pinpointing what worked for me in The House of Shadows. I just feel like all the details came together to produce an enjoyable fantasy read. I was absorbed by the story and I read the whole thing fairly quickly. There are times when I really like a novel but I find it difficult to explain why – I kind of just want to say that I enjoyed this, maybe you should give it a try as well. It’s been months since I finished reading it and I still I haven’t found the right words to articulate my appreciation of this book. And yet I want to post a review so I can recommend it to other readers. If you’re a fan of epic fantasy, then you will probably enjoy reading this just as much as I did. Although I probably wouldn’t recommend this to non-epic fantasy readers, I don’t think this will be a good introduction to the genre if you’re not familiar with it. I really like how pretty and eye-catching the cover is, I think it suits the story even if the dress the girl is wearing wasn’t described in the book. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked The House of Shadows and I’m delighted that I have a copy of The Floating Islands waiting on my TBR shelf. I hope it’s just as good as this one.

Other reviews:
Bunbury in the Stacks
Random Musings of a Bibliophile
Charlotte’s Library
The Book Smugglers
By Singing Light
Specfic Romantic

Chasing Dreams: Guest Post by Rachel Neumeier

Chasing Dreams logo

Chasing Dreams is a feature about pursuing a career path that you’re passionate about and going after your dream job.

Rachel Neumeier is the author of several fantasy novels such as the Griffin Mage series, The City in the Lake, House of Shadows and The Floating Islands. In a previous Chasing Dreams guest post, she mentioned in a comment that what worked for her was to let her hobbies take over her life. I was immediately curious and of course, I asked her if she’d be willing to write a guest post for the blog. She graciously accepted so here we are with some lovely words from Rachel.

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Rachel Neumeier

Photo from Orbit Books

Chasing your dreams is probably better than standing still, all things being equal. Doing stuff to make your dreams come true seems decidedly more likely to get you somewhere than just sitting around waiting for the universe to drop ’em in your lap, all wrapped up with a nice bow.

But having said that, I’m not a hundred percent sure that it makes sense to chase all your dreams. At least not with equal dedication.

Modern American culture tells us that we can have it all – that any Real Woman can have a perfect relationship / fabulous kids / beautiful Martha Stewart home / amazing career. You know. Have it all. Which sort of implies that there must be something wrong with you if you can’t seem to get your life to be quite that perfect by the time you’re, say, thirty – American culture also suggesting pretty strenuously that the young are definitely more perfect than the middle-aged.

I’m pretty sure modern society isn’t doing us any favors by pretending all this is actually achievable. I’m not so sure it makes sense to even try to have it all. I wonder whether it might be more sensible to treat life a bit more like everything in it comes with both costs and benefits, and a bit less like it’s perfectible.

Now, I would hate to be stuck in a job I loathed. That’s why I backed away from getting a PhD: after doing a pilot study on female choice and male competition in fungus beetles, and a project on pollinator arrays of black mustard, and spending a summer looking at progression order in troops of black saki monkeys in Venezuela – anyway, after all that, I could be pretty damn sure that I truly hated doing research and that this wasn’t going to change. I mean, if you are deeply bored while studying monkeys in Venezuela, what kind of project is ever likely to work for you, right?

That’s why I switched from my PhD program to a Masters, so I could just get done and then take my life in a different direction. But that’s also when I quit worrying about finding a truly fulfilling job; all I wanted, after I finished writing my master’s thesis, was a job that would pay the bills and not be too insanely boring. And here I just want to mention that it might be worth keeping in mind that hardly anybody in all of human history has ever looked for the fulfillment of their soul from their job. That’s nice if you can swing it. But you can pour your heart and soul into plenty of other things besides your job. Your family, for example. Or, as in my case, your hobbies.

After I got my masters, I was an adjunct instructor at a community college for a few years, teaching biology and botany and horticulture. Later, I switched to working for a tutoring program, which I still do now. I help supervise the peer tutors, and I do various kinds of statistical analyses and reports, and, of course, I do a lot of tutoring – algebra, mostly, and chemistry and other sciences, and (yes) English composition. This pays better than adjuncting, and takes up less time, and I have total control over my schedule, which is a huge plus. I enjoy it, mostly, though I would be happy never again to be required to teach a college student how to add fractions. Don’t get me started, seriously.

But this is also the period in which I started to focus seriously on my hobbies. A stable part-time job that provides enough to live on? That is just perfect for letting your hobbies take center stage in your life. I started cooking in earnest, for fun as well as just because it’s so much less expensive to cook for yourself than to eat out all the time. (I think I have about seven Indian cookbooks now, and the last time I checked, I had nine kinds of rice and seven kinds of lentils in the pantry to go with them. Just for example.

And I garden. My parents (they live across the street) and I have, between us, a small vegetable garden, a small orchard, and a huge landscaped area. I’m especially proud of the magnolia walk, where we have, so far, a saucer magnolia, a Yulan magnolia, a stellata x loebneri hybrid, a M. sieboldii, a ‘Butterfly,’ and an ‘Ann.’

I also show and (attempt to) breed Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, which, for a hobby, is rather too often a brutal, heart-destroying activity, but that’s a whole different story, I guess.

And, of course, I write. Not every day. I’ll take a break for months, sometimes (assuming I don’t have an urgent deadline). But after the first press of gardening tasks has simmered down in the spring, and the semester has ended, and provided as I’m not up every two hours for weeks on end trying to save the single puppy from a litter – he died at three and a half weeks, and I can’t even tell you how horrible that was – anyway, yes, sometimes I write.

I don’t want to babble on endlessly about this, but I will just say that the same week I got the news from my agent that Harper Collins and Random House were arguing over who got my first book, THE CITY IN THE LAKE? In the news that very same week, there was a story about a guy who won millions in a lottery, and I can tell you, I wouldn’t have traded places.

One last thing. You may have noticed the lack of an important romantic relationship in all the above. I am actually so far outside the American mainstream when it comes to relationships, I would not dare suggest to anyone how to prioritize that aspect of their lives. I won’t say that it’s impossible I might someday meet someone and totally change my mind. But, see, I realized more than a decade ago that whenever someone asks me something like, “Hey, would you like to… do something, go somewhere, act like a normally social person?” My answer is basically, “Well, not really.” It turns out that I am truly very solitary by nature. My twenties and thirties would have been significantly easier if I had already recognized solitude as a legitimate choice. Being a writer helps with that, too, since now I fit neatly into a category that society does recognize – the category of “writer, eccentric.”

So it’s not that I’ve got it all. The thing is, I’m happy with what I have, and okay with not having the things I don’t have.

I definitely do not “have it made” as a writer, by the way. I don’t think there is such a thing as “having it made” for a writer these days – unless you’re JK Rowling, and I’m not sure about her. But I like where I am, as a writer. I feel reasonably confident about the future. Like everyone else, I would like access to a time machine: I would like to know now how some things I plan to try are going to work out. More specifically, I want to know that they do work out, and that I am as satisfied with my life in ten years, and twenty, as I am now. But, right now, at this moment? I still wouldn’t trade with that guy who won the lottery. Even though there is almost literally nothing about my life today that I would have predicted when I was twenty-five.

Except the dogs. There were always going to be dogs.

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The Griffin MageThe City in the LakeHouse of ShadowsThe Floating Islands

Thank you for sharing your thoughts about what it’s like to let your hobbies take over your life, Rachel. I get excited whenever I see a Chasing Dreams guest post in my inbox because everyone handles their career path differently. It’s always interesting for me to hear how other readers and writers go about this. I do agree with what Rachel said: if you don’t love your job, you can find happiness and fulfillment in other aspects of your life. I may not have my dream job at the moment and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get lucky enough to find it but I do have friends, family, my blog and my books. I would like to think that there will always be books in my life.

Book Haul: A Package and Some Galleys

I haven’t done a book haul post in a while and even though I haven’t received a lot of books lately, I thought it would be fun to highlight what has been added to my TBR pile. Rachel Neumeier and I were chatting about some of our favorite comfort reads and she mentioned Gillian Bradshaw.

RachelNeumeier_on_Gillian Bradshaw

I’ve never read any of Gillian Bradshaw’s novels and Rachel very generously offered to send me one of them. Because she’s so nice, she threw in a copy of one of her books and I received a lovely package containing these:

Package from Rachel Neumeier

The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier
The Beacon at Alexandria by Gillian Bradshaw

Here’s a funny story, I gave my office address to Rachel because it’s easier to receive packages in the office. If a package doesn’t fit in the mail slot for our flat, I’d be given a slip and I have to pick the package up from the post office (which only has extended hours on Wednesday nights). So it’s more convenient to use my office address, but I had to give my full name and Rachel signed the book with both my nickname and full name:

The Floating Islands signature

My index finger is there to hide my full name 😛

Can I just say that getting packages in the office considerably brightens up my day? Even better when a co-worker mentioned that it’s cool that I get packages with books inside them. I have to agree that it’s pretty awesome. Thank you SO much for these, Rachel. I look forward to reading them! I’ve also been approved for some titles on NetGalley, which is note-worthy since my requests usually get rejected.

Flirting With DisasterBrooklyn GirlsThe Chocolate Touch

Flirting With Disaster by Ruthie Knox
Brooklyn Girls by Gemma Burgess
The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand

I’ve read all of Ruthie Knox’s novels and I haven’t reviewed any of them on my blog. I really should work on that. I’m looking forward to Brooklyn Girls since I enjoyed reading A Girl Like You by the same author. If you’ve been following my blog for some time, then you would know that I haven’t stopped talking about Laura Florand since I discovered her work and it’s not surprising that I was super excited to receive The Chocolate Touch. I’ve been waiting for it to go up on NetGalley for weeks now. Thank you, NetGalley and publishers, for giving me access to these titles!

The Chocolate Touch ebook

I devoured The Chocolate Touch as soon as I could and I just finished reading it tonight. Hopefully, I can review it soon. Last but not the least, here are some postcards that I’ve also recently received:

Postcards 20130613

Thanks to Steph and Flannery for some of these postcards! What about you, any new books added to your pile?

Want Books: House of Shadows

Want Books? is a weekly meme hosted here at Chachic’s Book Nook and features released books that you want but you can’t have for some reason. It can be because it’s not available in your country, in your library or you don’t have the money for it right now. Everyone is free to join, just grab the image above. Leave a comment with a link to your post so I can do a roundup with each post.

I’ve only read one Rachel Neumeier novel, which was The City in the Lake. I didn’t love it like I expected but I keep hearing good things about her other books so I’m still curious about them. House of Shadows has gotten rave reviews from some of the bloggers I follow, which is why I chose it as my Want Books pick for this week. I haven’t seen it in the bookstores here so I will probably just wait for it to become available in the library. There’s a copy of The Floating Islands in the library so I have a feeling they will also get House of Shadows. This seems like the type of epic fantasy novel that I’d enjoy reading.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Orphaned, two sisters are left to find their own fortunes.

Sweet and proper, Karah’s future seems secure at a glamorous Flower House. She could be pampered for the rest of her life… if she agrees to play their game.

Nemienne, neither sweet nor proper, has fewer choices. Left with no alternative, she accepts a mysterious mage’s offer of an apprenticeship. Agreeing means a home and survival, but can Nemienne trust the mage?

With the arrival of a foreign bard into the quiet city, dangerous secrets are unearthed, and both sisters find themselves at the center of a plot that threatens not only to upset their newly found lives, but also to destroy their kingdom.

Looks intriguing! What about you, what book is in your wishlist?

The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier

The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier is a booked that I bought based on the joint recommendation of the Book Smugglers. The premise was interesting and based on the Smugglers’ review, it seemed like the kind of YA fantasy that I could really sink my teeth into. Plus, I heard from both Charlotte and Chelle that they also enjoyed reading this one so that sealed the deal.

Here’s the summary from Rachel Neumeier’s website:

The Kingdom’s Heart is the City. The City’s heart is the King. The King’s heart is the Prince. The Prince is missing.

Ever since the Prince disappeared, nothing has been right in the Kingdom. Something has disturbed the strange, old magic that whispers around its borders… something cunning and powerful. And the disturbance extends to the farthest reaches of the Kingdom, including the idyllic village where Timou is learning to be a mage under her father’s tutelage.

When Timou’s father journeys to the City to help look for the Prince, but never returns, Timou senses that the disturbance in the Kingdom is linked to her – and to the undiscovered heritage of the mother she never knew. She must leave her village, even if it means confronting powers greater than her own, even though what she finds may challenge everything she knows. Even if it means leaving love behind.

The City in the Lake is a quest-type YA fantasy novel. The whole kingdom starts to fall apart with the disappearance of the young Prince. Magic starts to go awry and mages have no idea why. Timou is a young woman raised by her mage father in an isolated village. When trouble reaches even their remote area, her father goes back to the city to investigate. When he doesn’t return, it’s up to Timou to discover what happened and she knows that her quest is tied with her search for the mother that she never knew. I’m going to start with the things that I liked in this book. It was easy to fall into the world created by Rachel Neumeier, I didn’t have a hard time reading this book. I liked both Timou and the Bastard as characters, which is a good thing since the point of view of the story changes from one character to another. Timou isn’t your typical YA fantasy heroine because her strength lies in her powers as a mage. I enjoyed being inside Timou’s head because I think the author did a good job of portraying how a mage’s mind works – how a mage sees his or her surroundings and how that is tied to the magic in the world. I also liked the Bastard because he was such a subtle character – he’s powerful in his own way and the people aren’t sure what to make of him, they don’t understand whether he’s good or evil and if he has anything to do with the disappearance of his half-brother.

However, I was already halfway through the book when I realized that it wasn’t as compelling as I would’ve liked. I kept waiting to be blown away but it just didn’t happen. It’s really a shame because when I think about it, there isn’t anything wrong with the book, it’s just that I didn’t feel like it was strong enough to pull me in and hold me, you know? I knew it wouldn’t have much staying power and I guess I was right because it’s been a few days since I’ve read this and I can’t recall all of the details anymore. I don’t know if it’s because my expectations were too high but I’m sad that I didn’t like it as much as I was hoping to. As always, I encourage the rest of you epic fantasy readers to give this one a try even if I had a lukewarm reaction to it because based on the other reviews that I linked below, I’m in the minority with how I felt.

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers
Charlotte’s Library
Tempting Persephone

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This book is one of my entries in the Once Upon a Time challenge.