Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Pinterest Storyboards

One of my New Year's resolutions was to blog more. Since I'm making my first post of 2017 in the latter half of February, you can see how well that's going. However, Elisabeth Grace Foley is hosting a Pinterest storyboard party that invites authors to share their visual inspiration for stories they've written or hope to write. That sounds like fun, and seems like a good way to ease myself back into blogging, so I've joined in!

I tend to gather images as inspiration fairly early in my writing process. (Actually, I've started saving them to my computer, rather than Pinterest--less chance of distraction that way). My storyboards are a hodge-podge of images and ideas to draw from as I plan the story, not necessarily a strictly accurate picture of the story that springs from it.

That said, here are my storyboards!

The first is from a high fantasy novel with the working title Star of the Sea. It revolves around an arranged marriage between a woman who comes from a culture that lives on sailing ships and a prince from a small land nation. There's a lot of focus on culture clash and religion, and the story draws inspiration from The Little Mermaid, Joan of Arc and the biblical story of Joseph. My Pinterest board contains ocean images and sailing ships, as well as clothing and jewelry from Ancient Rome, Byzantium, and medieval times as I try to nail down the visuals for the three main cultures of the book. This story's run into some plotting issues, and is currently on the back burner, but I hope to return to it later this year.

My second board is from Stargazer, a retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" that takes place on a space station. This board is kind of crazy, because I have sci-fi concept art for the space opera aspects, fairy tale pictures for the retelling aspects, and lots of random pictures of girls to inspire the looks of my twelve princess characters. This is another story I hope to write later this year, once I resolve some plot and pacing issues.

My final board is from The Fairy's Daughters, another retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses". It was inspired by Rilla of Ingleside, and takes place in a fairy tale version of post-WWI Prince Edward Island that has fairies, sea monsters, giants, sylphs, mermaids, pixies, and all sorts of other creatures and characters. I wrote 75,000 words of the story before I abandoned it to work on my entries for Five Magic Spindles. Coming back to it after that experience, I realize that the story needs a complete rewrite, and I'm not certain that I'll ever finish it. However, I still love this universe and I really like this Pinterest board, so I want to share! Who knows, I might return to it someday (and this board is reigniting my enthusiasm for it).

Elisabeth's storyboard party continues until tomorrow. Stop by her blog to see the other great storyboards, and join in if you feel so inclined.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Favorite Books of 2016

This has been an interesting reading year. I read over 90 books (most of them short, as I struggled to keep up with my Goodreads Challenge), but I was in a bit of a reading slump for a good portion of the year, and had trouble finding books that really kept my interest.

I'm linking up with the Broke and the Bookish for this week's topic of "Top Ten Books Read in 2016". I was a bit afraid that 2016's lack of reading enthusiasm meant I wouldn't find ten books that rose above the others. Instead, I had the opposite problem, and couldn't narrow it down to only ten. So instead, you get my Top 12 books of 2016.

Listed roughly in the order I read them:

Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery

One of L.M Montgomery's lesser-known works, and in my opinion, one of her best. After Jane's parents separated, she went to live on the Canadian mainland with her mother in her grandmother's dreary house. When Jane is invited to spend the summer with her father on Prince Edward Island, she blossoms as she's given more freedom and discovers the beauty and happiness of the island. Jane of Lantern Hill tackles some slightly darker subjects than Montgomery's other books, giving it a bit more realism, but is also a bright, sunny, cheerful and charming bit of escapism. (Bonus: Jane enjoys housework so much that I became enthusiastic about cleaning). 

A Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. Anderson

A middle-grade fantasy version Lord Peter Wimsey. (This book was tailor-made for my tastes.) In a fantasy version of 1930s Canada, Isaveth (a sort of twelve-year-old Harriet Vane) works with a mysterious boy to clear her father of charges of murder. All the characters--down to secondary and tertiary characters--have memorable and distinct personalities, and Isaveth's relationship with her sisters is heartwarming and realistic. The worldbuilding is great, with two different, non-mystical magic systems and more cultural details than I expected from a middle-grade books. I especially liked the author's exploration of religion (Isaveth's family follows their world's version of Judaism and is oppressed for it) which was sensitive and added a lot of depth. 

Masque by W.R. Gingell

A fantasy murder-mystery version of "Beauty and the Beast". The plot gets tangled in the end, and there are some unbelievable events in the middle, but it's one of the best retellings I've ever read, with great characters, unique twists on the tale, and a well-built world. It also encouraged me to seek out other indie books, which have included some of my favorite reads of the year.  

Revenge of the Sith novelization by Matthew Stover

This is a novelization of a Star Wars prequel. It should be drivel, a simple cash grab. Instead, it's beautiful literature. It uses literary devices and poetic language to delve deep into characters and themes and the battle of good versus evil. It made Anakin Skywalker's fall tragic, made me cry over Obi-Wan's despair, and just plain made me jealous that a Star Wars novel is so much better than anything I could ever write. I listened to the audio version narrated by Jonathan Davis, and his spectacular voice acting brings all the characters to life and adds a lot to the book (I think I like his version of Obi-Wan better than Ewan McGregor's). 

Psmith in the City by P.G. Wodehouse

Mike Jackson and his eccentric friend Psmith graduate from public school and must work at a bank in London, where they get caught up in all sorts of craziness. Mike and Psmith's friendship is one of the greatest in fiction--Psmith livens things up when Mike gets too dull, and Mike pulls Psmith back down to Earth when he gets too over-the-top. This book isn't the pure farce of Wodehouse's later works, but it's still a fantastically funny book, while also providing characters I care about.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

The ending was underwhelming, but I was drawn into the world and characters of Mistborn. I loved Vin, the young thief discovering her magical abilities, Kelsier, her charming, morally-gray mentor, and the colorful cast of characters they interacted with as they worked to dethrone the evil overlord.
The Andari Chronicles by Kenley Davidson

I've already done three posts about this series, so I won't say much more. But these four books fit my tastes perfectly. They're creative fairy tale retellings with layered characters, fascinating political intrigue, and just a touch of magic. I've already read Pirouette twice, and really want to reread Traitor's Masque and The Countess and the Frog soon.

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

I'm not as enamored of the Queen's Thief series as some fans are, but these books are fantastic, and this is the best of the bunch. We watch Gen struggle to adapt to new roles in a nation that's hostile to him, through the eyes of a guard who thinks he's a blundering foreign idiot. This book has some of the most stunning plot twists I've ever read.

The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

I didn't fall in love with this book the way I did some others, but it's the only book I've read this year that lacks obvious flaws. The Emperor's Soul accomplished everything it was trying to do. It follows a woman who must use her knowledge of a stamp-based magic system to recreate the mind and memories of a brain-dead emperor--the greatest forgery of all time. The main character and a government official have some fascinating conversations about the nature of art and truth, and there's an exciting climax that leads to a thought-provoking ending.

 Plenilune by Jennifer Freitag

This book breaks tons of writing rules and has lots of flaws. The main character's motivations and actions make little sense, the world-building's not well-explained, some plot twists are confusing, I don't buy into the villain's "love" toward the main character, and the ending is violent and confusing and disappointing. Yet somehow these flawed parts make a beautiful book. Its lyrical prose and loving descriptions of a beautiful world drew me in, and turned this into one of the most captivating and immersive reading experiences of the year.

The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers

I can't stop thinking about this book. Sayers explores the nature of the Trinity by comparing it with the creative writing process, making for a fascinating exploration of theology and art. The metaphors provide useful ways to approach writing, and new ways to think about God. Dorothy's a delightfully spunky narrator who doesn't suffer fools, and the book also has some behind-the-scenes glimpses into the Lord Peter Wimsey series.

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

For twenty years, Tolkien wrote yearly illustrated letters to his children from Father Christmas. The world-building--complete with elves and ancient Cave Bears and wars against goblins--provides a charming and fascinating North Pole. But it was almost more fun to read between the lines to piece together the life of the Tolkien family as the children grow up and Christmas is affected by the Depression and World War II. The love and devotion that went into these letters is astounding. This is probably going to turn into a yearly reread.

What were your favorite books of the year, readers? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Reads

Halloween's ended, Thanksgiving has passed, and now we're well into December and its Christmas preparations. I've got my Christmas shopping done, and I hope to find a little bit of time in the next few weeks to curl up by the tree with some Christmas-themed books. I've already finished a few of them, but I still have a decent-sized list that should carry me through to Epiphany.

The Grift of the Magi: A Heist Society Novella by Ally Carter

I've aged out of the target audience for these books, but I was still excited to stumble unexpectedly upon a new Heist Society novella, showcasing a new adventure for Ally Carter's team of teenage thieves in which they try to steal back a Faberge egg that's been stolen from a charity right before their Christmas auction. The story's frothy and unrealistic and would probably work better as a TV episode than as a book, but it was still nice to get back in with the characters.

Some Christmas Stories by Charles Dickens

Is there any author as Christmassy as Charles Dickens? The man's almost single-handedly responsible for spreading the modern notions of Christmas. I read this a couple of weeks ago, wanting to experience some of Dickens' non-Christmas-Carol Christmas writings, and found it charming. Some of the writing is saccharine and overwrought, but the stories are all sweet and seasonally appropriate. (Except for that one with the sad ending that made me yell at the book, but all the rest are cute).

The Seven Poor Travelers by Charles Dickens

The frame story of this short story/novelette revolves around a young man who provides a Christmas meal to six poor travelers at a charity that provides free lodging. This part's plotless, but it's brim-ful of Christmas atmosphere, and is my favorite part of the story. The middle section ou contains the story that the young man tells the travelers, all about his uncle who joined the army and had various life-changing adventures. This part's interesting enough, but a bit melodramatic and not at all Christmassy, and I was glad to get back to the seven poor travelers.

The Twelve Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen

I found this at a library book sale for a dollar. The dust jacket is 60% of the reason I bought it--in person, it's silvery and shiny and like Christmas in physical form. In this mystery, a young aristocrat travels to spend Christmas an English country village, where she investigates several maybe-not-accidental deaths. I'm about 2/3 of the way through the book, and it is possibly the lightest book I've ever read--even though about four or five deaths have occurred so far, it remains sparkling and enjoyable and without an ounce of depth. A frothy Christmas confection.

Jane and the Wandering Eye by Stephanie Barron

The Christmas season is my favorite time to read mysteries, and this one stars Jane Austen! All I know is it places Jane in Bath at Christmas time, where she investigates a murder. 

The Father Christmas Letters by J.R.R. Tolkien

One of the cutest premises ever! Every Christmas, Tolkien wrote his children letters from Father Christmas, telling them all about his life at the North Pole, complete with illustrations and even writings in the Elvish alphabet! I've been wanting to read these for a long time, and luckily my library has a collection of the letters. The few pages I've read so far are adorable, and Tolkien's building one of my favorite versions of the North Pole.

The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens

Rather than re-reading A Christmas Carol yet again, I want to branch out and read some of Dickens' other Christmas novellas, and general consensus points to these as two of the finest. The Chimes is actually a New Year's story that's reported to be somewhat spooky, and The Cricket on the Hearth is a Christmas tale told from the point of few of, yes, a cricket living on the hearth. 

The Flying Stars by G.K. Chesterton

This Father Brown story has become my Boxing Day tradition. In this short story, Father Brown foils the great thief Flambeau's attempt to steal some jewels from an unsuspecting family at Christmas time, and maybe even saves his soul in the process. A fun, clever and heartwarming tale that's about much more than just solving a mystery. 

That's my planned Christmas-themed reading. So tell me, readers, what are your favorite Christmas stories? Do you plan on a Dickens binge? Have you read any of my planned reads or do you have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments, and have a great Christmas season!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Spooky Story Challenge

A few weeks ago, Jenelle Schmidt announced a Spooky Story Challenge for Halloween. I am the world's biggest wimp when it comes to scary stories, but I thought this sounded like a fun way to stretch some new writing muscles. I've delayed (I wrote one story and hated it, and waited a while for a better idea to come to me), but now, in the last few hours before the deadline, I've come up with this little thing.

This story was partially inspired by Jenelle's prompt of It was under the bed/in the closet. Now that I've written it, part of me thinks it's too silly, and part of me thinks it's too dark, but I'm going to be brave and post it anyway. It's definitely different from anything else I've written.

Enjoy! And be sure to follow the link to read the other spooky stories!

                                                               Bedtime Stories

Maddie's bedroom was made of pink and fluff. Her mother had thought Maddie was made of similar materials. Until the November night that the little girl cheerfully announced (as she pulled her head through her fuzzy heart-and-kitten-speckled pajamas), "There's a monster under my bed."

Maddie did not say this the way little girls were supposed to, with wide eyes and a quavering voice and a tear-streaked face. She grinned as she spoke the words that should have struck terror into any six-year-old's soul.

This unsettled Heather--she'd thought Maddie was a much sweeter and more sensitive child--but as she helped her daughter pull her arms into her pajama sleeves, she decided to view this as a positive development. This was much better than a child who ran screaming into her mother's bedroom at four in the morning. 

So Heather replied cheerily, "Oh, really, pumpkin?"

Maddie nodded enthusiastically. "He wanted to eat me, but I fed him my Halloween candy, and now we're friends."

Imaginary friends with the monster under the bed. Maddie had always been a creative child, and here was a creative excuse for why her Halloween candy had disappeared so quickly. Heather didn't push for the truth. A child was permitted some post-Halloween indulgence.

Heather held back a smile. "It's nice of you to share with your friends."

"That's what Monster said. He swore fealty to me."

Where did Maddie pick up this vocabulary? At this rate, Maddie would be Ivy League bound.

Maddie explained, "That means he's my special helper."

Heather toweled the last drops of moisture from Maddie's head. "He sounds like a very nice friend. But now it's time for bed."

Maddie scrambled beneath her pink butterfly comforter without complaint. "I get two stories tonight."

Heather chuckled as she turned off the overhead light and turned on the bedside lamp. "All right. But only two."

After Heather's recitations of The Pony Dance and Kittens in the Kitchen, Maddie needed a glass of water. Then she needed three more stuffed animals, and then a trip to the bathroom. By the time Heather tucked Maddie beneath the covers again, it was fifteen minutes past bedtime. 

"Now a story," Maddie insisted.

"You already had two."

"I get a story after I get tucked in. I'm tucked in now."

Heather put on her stern face. "No, Maddie. It's bedtime. You had your stories. Now it's time to sleep."

Maddie sat up and displayed her tantrum-preparation face. "I want a story."

"No. Good night."

Heather turned off the bedside lamp. Maddie shrieked in protest.

Something grabbed Heather's ankle. Heather looked down, and saw a thick arm protruding from beneath the bed ruffle. The moonlight glittered on the black scales, and two-inch-long claws scraped Heather's skin.

A deep liquid growl of a voice slithered through the room and soaked into Heather's bones. "Stay..."

A scream stuck in Heather's throat. Her body froze, but her mind raced. Run, run, scream, what is it, beast, danger, monster. 


Maddie stopped screaming. She peered over the bed and smiled at the arm. "Thank you, Monster." She looked up at Heather, and the moonlight glittered in her eyes. "Monster wants a story, too."

Slowly, mechanically, Heather turned on the lamp. She chose a picture book from the shelf. The claws remained around her ankle. Blood dripped onto the carpet. Heather read the text of Crazy Cupcake Catastrophe one strangled word at a time, each breath feeling like her last.

She finished the book and did not die. "Is...is Monster happy?" she whispered.

Maddie nodded. "It's our favorite. Good night, Mommy. Love you."

Maddie snuggled into her pillow. The claws unwrapped from Heather's ankle, one onyx tip after another. Heather turned off the lamp, staggered into the hall, and tumbled unconscious onto the carpet.


Heather finished the fifth bedtime story of the night and kissed Maddie's forehead. "Ready for bed, sweetie?"

"I'm hungry," Maddie said. "I want ice cream."

The last six months hadn't destroyed all of Heather's motherly instincts, and her lips began to form the word, "No." Fortunately, before she could speak, her survival instincts froze the words in her throat. Her wounds had only just healed from Monster's last retribution for a refusal.

"What kind?" Heather asked.


Heather raced toward the kitchen.

"With rainbow sprinkles!" Maddie called after her.

Moments later, Heather handed Maddie her bowl of ice cream, then set a second, larger bowl next to the bed for Monster. The claws--so much larger now--pulled the bowl beneath the bed, and gulping, growling, scraping, slurping noises came from behind the pink ruffle.

The sound made Heather want to curl in on herself, and her skin tingled with the memory of those teeth on her flesh. She barely--barely--kept herself from screaming, and with deep, shuddering breaths slowed her racing heart. The monster would spare her. A meal of sugar stilled its hunger for flesh.

But if Maddie found a reason to complain...

No, she wouldn't think about that. She'd done everything right. She wouldn't bleed tonight.

Maddie slurped up the last multicolored scoops of chocolate sludge and placed the bowl next to the lamp. She wiped her face on her fuzzy pink pajama sleeve. Heather squashed her desire to clean the last sticky remnants from Maddie's face. Maddie didn't like her face washed, and so Monster didn't like it either.

"All done?" Heather asked.

Maddie nodded. "Thank you, Mommy. I love you."

The black claws stroked Heather's ankle.

"Monster loves you, too," Maddie said.

Heather kissed Maddie's forehead and turned off the light.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday-Ten Books I Read on Recommendation

I've decided to take the plunge and join in on Top 10 Tuesday. Top 10 Tuesday was started by The Broke and the Bookish, and today's topic is to list books that you read because of book blogs, hype or recommendations from friends. I have lots of books that fit this category, because I'm much more likely to read a book if I hear someone else praise it first--and this method has helped me find most of my favorite books. 
Little House on the Prairie- This was the book recommendation that shaped my childhood. My mother had loved the TV show when she was growing up, and encouraged me to read the books. I started with Little House on the Prairie, since that was the one the TV show was named after, and I read the entire series multiple times through my childhood.

Ella Enchanted- For a time, this was the cool book for every girl at my elementary school. It was my first encounter with fantasy world-building, and the book stuck in my imagination. Several years later, it served as my inspiration to write fairy tale retellings, and I now reread this book about once a year.

Pride and Prejudice- Every girl I knew went crazy for the 2005 movie. I didn't understand the hype--I hated romances and I thought the movie was boring and sappy. But all my friends were reading the book, and I knew it was one of the biggest classics in literature, so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. When I read Mr. Bennet's sarcastic comments about his wife's nerves, I knew I'd found a new favorite. No one had told me it was a comedy! I soon read through all of Austen's work, and she remains one of my absolute favorite authors. (Plus, I no longer think romances are stupid).

The Blue Castle- Heidi on the Surlalune Fairy Tales blog put this in a list of Valentine's Day recommendations, and called it a rare romantic retelling of "Bluebeard". It's now probably one of my top five favorite books. The story is sweet and funny and uplifting, Valancey and Barney's romance is the most adorable thing ever, and the descriptions of the forest make me want to move to Canada.

Daddy Long-Legs- When The Lizzie Bennet Diaries became an internet sensation, I stumbled upon a discussion of what book the company should adapt next. One person suggested Daddy Long-Legs, and when I mentioned that I'd never heard of it, they insisted that I needed to read the book immediately. So I did, and was instantly enchanted by Jerusha's surprisingly modern narration style and the sweet story. (And this would totally be perfect as a webseries).

The Hunger Games Series- I would never, never, NEVER, have read this series of my own volition. The concept of children fighting to the death sounded horrifying. But the hype grew and grew, and once I saw the movie trailer, I knew I had to read the books. I was surprised to find a thrilling but surprisingly deep exploration of morality and the media, and I read through the series in about a week.

The Lord of the Rings- One of my friends was a major Tolkien fan in high school, and though I had no interest in fantasy then, over time, her praise and the general hype for the series convinced me to plunge in. It took me months to read, but it was worth it.

Gaudy Night- I'd heard this one praised for its romance between equals, but I wasn't able to make it past the first few pages of Harriet staring out a window at Oxford. Then I started seeing praise and fanart for Harriet and Peter's relationship in some of the earlier books, which intrigued me. When I had the chance to buy Gaudy Night at a thrift store for -50 cents (long story), I took the chance, and found a book that stunned me with its depth and made me a Dorothy L. Sayers fangirl.

Psmith series- This was another case of being drawn in by the enthusiasm of a small fandom. I loved the Jeeves and Wooster stories, and the Psmith fans convinced me to check out this earlier P.G. Wodehouse series. The Psmith books are very different from Jeeves--they're less of a complete farce--but they have a charm of their own. Psmith and Mike's friendship is one of my favorite things in all of fiction.

The Queen's Thief Series- Now we come to my current reads. This series had been on my radar for a long time, but when I saw the excitement surrounding the announcement of the coming fifth book, I couldn't stay away any longer. I'm about a third of the way through The Queen of Attolia, and I'm stunned by the intricacy of the world-building, the characters, and the political intrigue. I hear that it gets even better from here, and I'm very excited!

Aaand, that's ten!

How about you, readers? What books have you read because of recommendations? Have you been pleased or disappointed? Do you prefer to have outside input on what you should read or to follow your own instincts? Please share in the comments!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Andari Chronicles Review: Goldheart

So....a month ago, I reviewed the other two books of this series, and indicated that this review was coming soon. Unfortunately, a complication known as Real Life interfered with my plans, and took away my blogging time. Today, I've decided to ignore Real Life long enough to get this review written. It'll be short and sweet, just like this book.

Goldheart is a retelling of "Rumpelstiltskin" starring Elaine, an off-screen character mentioned in Traitor's Masque. Elaine is a quiet, timid girl who would like to ignore the rest of the world and paint in solitude. Unfortunately, her father's death leaves her in financial difficulties and forces her to work as a portrait painter. A wealthy, demanding businessman commissions Elaine to paint a portrait of his wife, and locks her in his mansion until she creates the perfect masterpiece. Soon, Will, a friend of the businessman's son, learns about Elaine's plight, and helps her to overcome the difficulties of her situation.

This book is truly beautiful. It's a much simpler story than the other ones in the series, with no political intrigue, few characters, and easily guessable plot twists, but it resonated with me deeply. The three main protagonists are all heavily flawed people carrying pain from their pasts; I cared deeply about each one of them and found their friendship incredibly moving. I loved the book's exploration of the beauty and power of art; it was a wonderful look into the creative process that made me want to take up painting. The plot was simple, but contained very real danger, including a surprisingly and wonderfully intense climax. It's not a perfect story, but its combination of sweetness and sadness had a profound impact upon my heart.

Though different in many ways from the rest of the Andari Chronicles, Goldheart fits the mood and tone of the series and improves upon some points found in the other books. As in Traitor's Masque, the main character receives family-like support from a group of caring servants, but I found the servants' devotion in Goldheart much more touching and better illustrated--probably because Elaine needs much more tender, loving care than Trystan did. As in Pirouette, there's an evil manservant, but in Goldheart, the butler is far more present in the plot, making him more intimidating. Plus, this book's shorter length eliminates the wordiness present in the other two books. I'm not sure if Goldheart beats out Pirouette as my favorite--"The Twelve Dancing Princesses"is my favorite source of retellings, and I love the political intrigue and wit of Pirouette's plot and characters--but Goldheart had the strongest impact upon my emotions and made me bond most deeply to the characters. I'm almost afraid to reread it, in fear that it won't affect me as strongly a second time around, but I know I won't be able to resist for long.

As a bonus, I recently discovered that Kenley Davidson wrote a prequel novella, which is free for people who subscribe to her newsletter. The Countess and the Frog is even shorter than Goldheart, and details the love story of Prince Ramsey's aunt, Countess Norelle, and her husband, Caspar. Caspar is by far my favorite romantic hero in the series (a quiet bookworm with a strong, self-deprecating sense of humor--I was swooning), and the novella is a  cute look at the backstories of several characters from Traitor's Masque.  Definitely worth checking out (as is the rest of the series, in case this set of blog posts hasn't already made that clear).

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Andari Chronicles Review: Traitor's Masque

After finishing Pirouette, the third book in Kenley Davidson's Andari Chronicles series, I immediately rushed to pick up the first book, Traitor's Masque. This is a retelling of "Cinderella" set in the kingdom of Andar, and since magic isn't introduced to the series until Book 3, this story has atmosphere more similar to a gentle historical romance than to a fantasy novel. But there's still a hefty dose of political intrigue to ensure us that it's set in the same world and to keep it from being a run-of-the-mill "Cinderella" retelling.

Our main character is Trystan, the spoiled daughter of a deceased lord, who escapes from her stepfamily by going out on horseback rides. One day, she starts a friendship with a kind young man, but they both keep their personal lives secret, and doubt that the relationship can lead to any romantic hopes.

Then the crown prince, Ramsey, announces that he's holding a masquerade ball that will help him to choose his bride. This is an important political move, because the crown prince is actually the second son, chosen for the throne because the king doesn't trust the dissipated ways of his eldest son, Rowan. There's a significant faction of people who would prefer that the charming, handsome, morally bankrupt Rowan take the throne, and Ramsey needs to secure his position by producing an heir, the sooner the better.

Trystan is soon contacted by a wealthy female neighbor who's among those that want Prince Rowan on the throne. She offers Trystan enough wealth and land to secure a comfortable life independent of her stepfamily, on the condition that she attends the ball under an assumed identity and retrieves a message. Trystan suspects that she's not being told everything, but she has little concern for politics and desperately wants to escape her stepfamily, so she convinces herself that her bout of espionage can't do much harm.

Of course, it turns out that Prince Ramsey is the kind stranger that Trystan met on her horseback rides. And now Trystan's entangled in a plot to remove him from power. Trystan and Ramsey both navigate politics, betrayal, danger, and their own hearts as they try to salvage a happy ending from this mess.  

Traitor's Masque is full of exciting political intrigue, which forms the most interesting and unique portion of this "Cinderella" story. The characters of Traitor's Masque are less vivid than those of Pirouette, but are still well-drawn, and Ramsey in particular develops from a slightly generic dutiful prince into a sympathetic and layered leader. One plot point felt forced--a character made such a poorly thought-out decision that I knew its only purpose was to launch us into the climax--but the plot is otherwise solid. The prose is a bit wordy and often repetitive--flaws present to a lesser extent in Pirouette--but in this story in particular, I feel that a stern editor could have reduced the word count by at least a third without losing anything important.  

Traitor's Masque is a very well-done version of "Cinderella", but compared to Pirouette, Traitor's Masque feels less polished and creative. The world is less detailed--unavoidable when comparing the first book in a series to the third--and it's a much more traditional retelling. It definitely doesn't help that "Cinderella" is the most retold fairy tale of all time. Several points--such as Cinderella meeting the prince before the ball, receiving help from a wealthy female, and having support from her family's servants--have already been explored in other retellings, making it feel less original than Pirouette does. Nevertheless, it's a solid and exciting story, and in the top tier of "Cinderella" retellings that I've read.

I definitely recommend reading the book, but if I'd read it first, I doubt I would have rushed to the rest of the series the way that I did after reading Pirouette. Reading Book 3 first spoiled several surprises of the first book's plot, but I think that I found Traitor's Masque more satisfying as a prequel than I would have found it as the introduction to a series.

Coming up next: My review of Goldheart, the second book in The Andari Chronicles.