Romanov Review

I have always loved the story of Anastasia. The lost princess who finds her way home. I even went to see the Broadway production at the Fox in St. Louis over Christmas break. Which was amazing, by the way! But, similar to Fawkes, I have never looked into the true story behind the fairy tale. And then Nadine Brandes wrote Romanov, and I knew I couldn’t go without it!

Synopsis: The history books say I died. They don’t know the half of it. Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them, and he’s hunted Romanov before. Nastya’s only chances of saving herself and her family are either to release the spell and deal with the consequences, or to enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya has only dabbled in magic, but it doesn’t frighten her half as much as her growing attraction to Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her. That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad…and he’s on the other.

Things to Love:

  1. No one is truly vilified. I really appreciated the fact that no group in this conflict was portrayed as fully evil. Even Rasputin, though he doesn’t make an appearance, is not portrayed as the creepy villain of the children’s movie. Instead, both the Romanov family and the Bolsheviks are shown as clearly flawed human beings with both good and bad inside them. My favorite example, of course, is Zash 😉
  2. The family loyalty. I love a book with good family or found-family themes, and this one did not disappoint! It’s so heartwarming to watch the Romanov sisters pull together during such a hard time.
  3. The magic system. Spell ink and magic hidden in dolls waiting to be spoken to life. It’s not very complicated and just makes my writer heart happy 🙂
  4. Betrayal, Forgiveness, Redemption, Hope. These heavy themes are so well portrayed! Even in it’s darkest moments, the light shines through.

A Word of Caution:

As mentioned above, this is a HEAVY book. Unlike other versions of Anastasia, it’s not one to be picked up for light reading or to fall asleep to. This book will wreck you, in the best way, and you need to be emotionally prepared for that.

My Rating: 5/5

Nadine has woven so much truth into this one book. It’s heartrending and at the same time so uplifting and beautiful. I would say her best yet, but it’s hard to judge against the Out of Time series as they are such different books. So, ties for best yet 😛

*Side note: Go read Out of Time if you haven’t already! One of the best Dystopians I’ve ever read!*

Introducing Rae’s Writing

I’m going to start a new thing where I post some of my shorter works every now and then. I really wanted to set this up on it’s own page, but I suck with computers and couldn’t figure out how to have two separate blogs on the same site. So for now, they will go up here and you can find them all together under the category ‘Rae’s Writing’ on the sidebar. Hope you enjoy!

Here’s my first entry. It’s a travel piece I did in college about when I lived in Istanbul.

Finding a Place Among 15 Million

A wail pierced the night and soon became a chant. I was ripped from the thin veil of sleep I had just managed to pull over my eyes. Within seconds, the chant was taken up in all directions. With the wailing came the howling of the stray dog packs that took possession of the vacant lot next door. “Ughh! How will I ever sleep here?” Mosques weren’t exactly a new thing for me, but I had never been near ones fully equipped with very capable loudspeakers. At least three within hearing range, and none of them quite in sync.

            By the time I moved, nearly five years later, I had gotten used to it. There came a point when I would sit near the window through the whole call to prayer and not realize I had heard it until it was over. Nevertheless, those first few nights were rough. Battling jet lag at the same time wasn’t much of an advantage either. It was better during the day. Not that the call was any less earsplitting or disruptive, but it was tempered with the noise of the busy city. I had to listen for it over the rumble of buses and cars as I made my way to church on Sunday mornings with my family.

            Boarding the bus, I would scan my akbil to pay for the ride and try to find a seat. There often wasn’t one. I soon mastered the art of staying upright on a crowded bus that was constantly lurching forward and stopping abruptly. I distracted myself in these less than ideal situations by watching out the window. As I passed the crowds of people and cramped buildings, I realized how lucky we were to have found such a great place to live.

            In Istanbul, a city housing 15 million and spanning two continents, there is not much room for any one person. However, we were blessed with a standalone apartment building containing a small, nicely tended, garden. There was a scrap yard across the street, but at least no windows looking in on us. And though the empty lot next door provided the dogs with a congregating spot (and the stench from the animals housed there at Ramadan was certainly not pleasant) we were far better off than many others.

            As the bus crested one of the many hills it traversed every day, I was given a glimpse of the wonder of this city. The buildings, that up close looked dirty with dust and chipping paint, here became a vibrant mosaic: white, yellow, orange, and pink, and brown, all with red tile roofs running down to meet the glistening curve of the Bosphorus. Which I would then cross by boat.

            Another scan of the akbil, a helping hand to board, and a short swaying walk past the enclosed seating of the first level, where one could buy snacks and tea, and up to the top for a clear view and delicious breeze. That is one of the things I miss most about Turkey. The boat ride, but also the food. Toast (more like an English toastie or a grilled cheese than the American breakfast food); pide and lahmacun (the conquerors of all pizza); iskender, döner, and köfte (savory meat dishes); kebaps; and for special occasions, baklava and sütlaç! But I digress.

            Once docked, the ripe smell of the fish market met my nose. From there it was just a short walk to the metro and then onto Istiklal Caddesi (or Independence Avenue). “Now, I heard there was supposed to be another demonstration today,” my mother would say, “so we have to be careful.” Right, because Istiklal wouldn’t be Istiklal without some form of protest. But the protests were generally peaceful, not much more than a small group holding signs and some riot police standing by just in case. More importantly, they generally took place at the opposite end of the street from us. Although, Istiklal has won itself international fame for the demonstrations that became rather violent a couple years back.

            Despite this, I always liked Istiklal. A long, cobbled street, displaying some gorgeous architecture. With quaint red and white trams running through its middle, it is home to some superb restaurants and splendid shops. Most tourists like to visit the grand Hagia Sophia and the fragrant Spice Bazzar. I thoroughly enjoyed my bit of this typical experience; however, I found a shop I much preferred to visit. I only went in a few times and was never able to buy anything, but it was more astounding to me than any amount of refurbished paintings or tasteful cooking supplies. Somewhere in the press of buildings on Istiklal Caddesi is a small second-hand shop most wouldn’t see unless they knew it was there. Inside is a treasure house. A labyrinth of cultural artifacts, lightly coated with dust under dim lighting, and exuding a musty sent. Faded fezzes, rusting swords, tapestries woven in rugs, furs, pipes, and elaborate dresses fit for a sultana. Many of the objects came from the sets of old films, or so I was told.

            Emerging from the magical closet, my path led back to the teeming dock, over the rippling river, onto the bus stocked with a myriad of people, and into the apartment with a yard and empty lot. There to have dinner and listen to the symphony on the loudspeakers once again. And so I adapted to much more than a call from a mosque. I imbibed the sights, smells, tastes, and feelings of this vibrant culture and found my home, my place among 15 million.     

Realm Makers 2019

I just spent an amazing weekend at the Realm Makers Conference! For the uninitiated, Realm Makers is a community for spec-fic writers of faith. The Realm Makers Conference has more the feeling of a con or family reunion of epic proportions than your typical professional conference. And I basically live for it!

A Few Highlights

The Awards Banquet: The banquet is always awesome and a perfect excuse for geeking out with costumes! Pretty much every fandom in existence can be found at some point in the night. I went as Katara from Avatar and happened to meet a Toph 😀

The Swag: I stocked up on all the things! Came home with some great new reads, specialty tea, and a handcrafted mug. I always spend way too much money at these things! But the books are all signed, so it’s worth it 😉

The Pitch: I pitched To Slay a Curse! It wasn’t nearly as scary as I was expecting. In fact it went really well, and a full manuscript was requested! I know it’s a long process and still might not work out, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. More info forthcoming 🙂

Top Books Featuring Cons

It’s con season! I’m headed to Realm Makers, an amazing writer’s conference, in a little over a week and I can’t wait to be back with my tribe! I’ve been way too busy preparing to get out one of my usual book reviews. So instead, I want to highlight a couple fun books about conventions for your summer reading.

Don’t Cosplay With My Heart

Telling the story of Edan Kupferman, a girl who uses cosplay as an escape from her messy life, this book explores the reasons humans are drawn to storytelling. Filled with the fun of fandoms while not being afraid to deal with the harder things in life, this is a great look into the comic-con scene.

The Pros of Cons

When bags are mixed up at a busy convention center, three girls from very different walks of life are thrown together. A truly hilarious story of unlikely friendship, competition, and the chaos of cons.

Geekerella

I honestly haven’t read this one yet but have heard great things! This unique Cinderella re-telling features food trucks, cosplay contests, and teen heartthrobs.

Life Update and Indie Reads

Hi, everyone! I’ve been out for a while, so I just want to give a quick life update. Work is out for the summer and I just got back from a trip to Italy!

We spent about a week with lovely friends in Belluno and took day trips to the Dolomites (part of the Alps) and Verona! Highlight for me was, of course, Juliet’s house. Even though it was crazy crowded. I even tried a coffee. It was ok with enough sugar but I think I’ll stick with tea. Their hot chocolate, however, is amazing!

Now that I’m back, I’ve got to really crunch down on the writerly things. I’ll be giving my first pitch for To Slay a Curse at Realm Makers conference in about a month, and there’s tons of stuff to get ready by then. I’m freaking out a little, but really excited.

Now, on to what you’re really here for: books! I did get through two great indie reads during travel time and just want to give a mini review here.

If Wishes Were Curses by Janeen Ippolito

Janeen’s new series has all you could want in an Urban Fantasy: shifters, snark, mystery, and mayhem! What’s more, the sequel Wish You Weren’t Here just dropped!

Blurb: So, I accidentally killed a shifter. On purpose. With genie powers I shouldn’t be able to use, thanks to my curse-mark. In my defense, the damn grizzly was threatening civilians and might have been a vampire as well. Pittsburgh is safer without him. Only the Fae court doesn’t believe my story, and the shifters are out for blood. Now I’ve lost my job as a romantic investigator, and I’m on death row. My only hope is an oddly outgoing vegetarian vampire lawyer who seems strangely familiar. Too familiar. Almost like we’ve met before, and this whole thing was a set-up to take us both down. Wishing won’t get us out of this mess. But my forbidden wish magic just might.

The Electrical Menagerie by Mollie E. Reeder

If you like The Greatest Showman and Sherlock Holmes you will love this steampunk adventure! Can’t wait for the sequel slated to come out later this summer!

Blurb: The Electrical Menagerie, one-of-a-kind robotic roadshow, is bankrupt. Sylvester Carthage, illusionist and engineer, has the eccentric imagination the Menagerie needs to succeed creatively–but none of the people skills. Fast-talking Arbrook Huxley, meanwhile, has all the savvy the Menagerie needs to succeed commercially–but none of the scruples. To save their show, Carthage & Huxley risk everything in a royal talent competition, vying for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to perform for the Future Celestial Queen. In this stardust-and-spark-powered empire of floating islands and flying trains, The Electrical Menagerie’s bid at fame and fortune means weathering the glamorous and cutthroat world of critics, high society, and rival magicians–but with real conspiracy lurking beneath tabloid controversy, there’s more at stake in this contest than the prize. Behind the glittery haze of flash paper and mirrors, every competitor has something to hide…and it’s the lies Carthage & Huxley tell each other that may cost them everything.

Overall, both were thrilling fast-paced reads great for on the plane, at the beach, or just whenever!

Meet Giselle!

Thought I’d post about my own work for once! I finally figured out how to make these collages and have been working on some aesthetics for To Slay a Curse. Here’s one for Giselle, the MC.

Meet Giselle. Quiet and often overshadowed by her energetic best friend, she thinks herself weak and worthless. Yet she hides an inner strength few could boast of, along with a dark secret. A parasitic monster lives within her mind controlling her every move. Will this worthless girl find her strength in time for one last chance to be free?

*Pictures abducted from Pinterest. Holding hostage for a ransom of cookies.*