Author Interview: Mirriam Neal

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There are some bloggers who are simply unmistakable and unforgettable. Mirriam Neal is such a blogger. The first time I read one of her posts, I felt her storytelling seep into my soul. So much, that it’s been nearly two years and I haven’t forgotten the first post I read on her blog. I stumbled on her writing by following a rabbit trail of three or four other blogs, but hers is the only one in that trail I still read consistently. Mirriam writes with such eloquence and depth, but also whimsy and humor. Today, we’re celebrating the recent debut of her novel, Paper Crowns. (Which I desperately need to read. Curse homework for interfering with my reading habits.)

Until I can read the full novel, below is a little preview of Paper Crowns: 

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Ginger has lived in seclusion, with only her aunt Malgarel and her blue cat, Halcyon, to keep her company. Her sheltered, idyllic life is turned upside-down when her home is attacked by messengers from the world of fae. Accompanied by Halcyon (who may or may not be more than just a cat), an irascible wysling named Azrael, and a loyal fire elemental named Salazar, Ginger ventures into the world of fae to bring a ruthless Queen to justice.

Amazon // Barnes & Noble // Pages of Wonder

 

Doesn’t it sound magical? Be sure to check out the Paper Crowns Good Reads page for more. Before you rush off, though, pour a cup of mocha coffee and join me for a chat with Paper Crowns’ author Mirriam Neal. She graciously answered over a dozen of my questions, and her answers are as fabulous as I expected from her. They also make me even more eager to read Paper Crowns. 

  1. What does the beginning of your storytelling process look like? Do you outline, free write, etc.?
    The beginning always looks the same, but with different ingredients: I’ve had enough of said ingredients simmering around that I finally realize I can make something, as soon as I figure out exactly how. I’m a seventy-percent free writer and a thirty-percent plotter. I like to have a vague idea of how I want the book to end, and probably three major things I want to happen. Just enough pins to keep the whole thing from falling apart, and I take it from there.
  2. What was the most difficult part of writing Paper Crowns?
    Editing and revising, really. I wrote it in a month, so the whole thing was kind of a slapdash mess. It still is! I’m working on a couple more tweaks since a few scattered minor mistakes were found – it’s a process.
  3. Let’s play favorites! Without spoilers, who is your favorite character in Paper Crowns and why?
    This is phrased in a very tricky way, Sarah. Very tricky. Hmm. My favorite character to write? The character I’d most like to hang out with? WHICH ONE? Well, my favorite character to write was probably Azrael. He was the easiest. He wanted to be written (he’s pushy that way). The character I’d most like to hang out with is probably Hal. I’d have endless questions.
  4. What is your recipe for creativity?
    It depends, really. Sometimes it means a constant diet of reading, movies, shows, dramas, and music. Other times I need to step away for a while and not read anything but non-fiction. Usually it’s a good mix of both – but I try to immerse myself in stories and music pertinent to what I’m writing. I also try to get out and spend time in towns and cities as frequently as possible, and write in places other than my room or my house. Shaking things up a little often knocks something loose.
  5. Tea time! What’s your beverage of choice, if any, when writing?
    Black coffee is always my beverage of choice. Anytime, anywhere. (Although I’m a fan of many beverages and won’t turn down anything from tea to kombucha.)
  6. What is one thing most people wouldn’t guess about your writing?
    How hard it is, probably. Even the easy novels like the Paper series. They’re the hardest things I ever do. I get told my writing feels effortless much of the time, which is often a large compliment but sometimes feels a little confusing – is that good or bad? I don’t want people to think that writing is easy, or that I do it because I’m lazy. It’s real work. It stresses me and pushes me just like any job.
  7. What has been a defining moment for you as an author?
    My mother was reading one of my novels and was so physically revolted that she had to stop eating lunch. She asked how I could write something so horrible, and I pointed out that I hadn’t written anything horrible – I just wrote it so that her brain would fill in the gaps. She went back and re-read it, and told me, astonished, that I was right. This was a huge leap forward for me, both in style and in my personal confidence.
  8. If you could visit any fictional land, where would you travel?
    I would absolutely travel to Middle-Earth. #Basic, I know, but it was my first otherworld love and continues to be the strongest.
  9. What makes a good villain?
    I think the scariest villains are the ones who might actually do something good, or who show a human side to their villainy. In ‘Dragon Blade,’ Tiberius blinds his young brother with acid, but he weeps as he does it. He knows the pain he’s causing, and it pains him in turn – but he does it anyway. That’s terrifying.
  10. If you could have lunch with any author or artist, who would you choose?
    I would have lunch with John Howe. It’s still surreal to be able to say ‘I’m friends with John Howe,’ but it’s true – yet he lives in Switzerland, so we’ve never met. Having lunch with him would be a dream come true.
  11. Are there any quotes that inspire your creativity?
    Many quotes inspire me, but a consistent favorite is ‘be the person you needed when you were younger.’ It’s an important mindset, I think, and one I try to live by.
  12. Choose a superpower just for today.
    Flight. Every time.
  13. Would you rather have a pet dragon or unicorn? Why?
    A dragon. Unicorns are beautiful and often have healing powers, but dragons are more battle-fit, they can breathe fire (and often have other talents, like shape-shifting or voice mimicry) and they’re shrewd PLUS they can fly.
  14. Would you be most at home among hobbits, elves or dwarves?
    Elves. I think I would be happiest there. The history, the architecture, the art, the music, the war-skills, the aesthetics – the conversations I could have!
  15. Thank you for making an appearance at On Another Note today! Is there anything else you would like to share? The spotlight is yours!
    You have the ability to make an impact on everyone you meet. I think it’s an important thing to keep in mind. Thank you so much for having me, Sarah!

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About the Author: 

Mirriam Neal is a twenty-two-year-old Northwestern hipster living in Atlanta. She writes hard-to-describe books in hard-to-describe genres, and illustrates things whenever she finds the time. She aspires to live as faithfully and creatively as she can and she hopes you do, too.

Visit Mirriam’s blog, Wishful Thinking at mirriamneal.com or send a note to the­shieldmaiden@hotmail.com

Also check out the other stops on the Paper Crowns blog tour – you can view a complete list here.

Paper Crowns is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Now scoot, go get a copy.

Happy reading!

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A Year in Review: Book Reviews

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Hello, booklings!
I didn’t want to carry any reviews from last year into this one, but the stack of books on my desk forces me to differ. So in the name of closing out 2015 (a month into 2016!), here are some review wrap-ups. 🙂

The Chase by Kyle and Kelsey Kupecky

the chaseIt’s been a few years since I gave up reading books about dating and relationships. After a while, they’re either all the same, or they all contradict one another. When I first heard of The Chase, though, it captured my attention. Written by Kyle & Kelsey Kupecky, it was refreshing to read a book about relationships from a younger couple’s perspective. Their love for one another shines through, but even more evident is their love for God. The Chase doesn’t focus merely on romantic relationships, as I initially expected. Rather, it speaks about chasing after God, first and foremost; the true lover of our souls. When we allow Jesus to take His rightful place in our hearts, everything else falls into place- even falling in love. After all, “God cares about your deepest desires, your hopes and dreams.” (from the Chase.)

I loved that this book didn’t offer any official guidelines. Too many books about relationships are built on checklists and leave no room for individuality or considering unique situations. Granted, there are some non-negotiable principles in the Bible, but much else is left to conjecture. The Chase isn’t written to be a rule book, but a handbook. It’s more of a guide than an instruction sheet. Instead of listing do’s and don’t’s for an earthly relationship, the book encourages young people to pursue God before pursuing another person.

I tend to be a bit cynical about relationship books, but the Chase is a sweet, uplifting read. It encouraged me to focus on falling in love with Jesus, and it also reminded my skeptical side that true love actually does exist outside of Disney movies. The writing style made me feel like I was sharing coffee with a trusted mentor and friend. The book is written mostly through stories, and throughout, there is bound to be something each reader connects to. This would be a wonderful book to read with a small group, or for personal study.

In Good Company by Jen Turano

From the Back Cover

in good company 1After growing up as an orphan, Millie Longfellow is determined to become the best nanny the East Coast has ever seen. Unfortunately, her playfulness and enthusiasm aren’t always well-received and she finds herself dismissed from yet another position.

Everett Mulberry has quite unexpectedly become guardian to three children that scare off every nanny he hires. About to depart for Newport, Rhode Island, for the summer, he’s desperate for competent childcare.

At wit’s end with both Millie and Everett, the employment agency gives them one last chance–with each other. As Millie falls in love with her mischievous charges, Everett focuses on achieving the coveted societal status of the upper echelons. But as he investigates the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of the children’s parents, will it take the loss of those he loves to learn whose company he truly wants for the rest of his life?

In Good Company certainly does come with good company. The first thing I noticed about the book was how quirky and lovable Jen Turano’s heroine is. Millie Longfellow isn’t your conventional protagonist. She’s not especially gifted, doesn’t have any unique advantages, and isn’t known for having good luck or the best ideas. Yet in spite of all her shortcomings, she’s a character I quickly came to love. She has the greatest of intentions, a generous amount of spunk, a hearty dose of patience, a creative perspective, and a genuinely kind heart. It’s these traits that made me cheer for her, even when she did something exasperating, and made me empathize with her when she faced yet another struggle.
In true Pride and Prejudice fashion, Everett is the perfect contrast to the scattered, energetic, bubbly Miss Longfellow. Reserved, successful and in control, a feisty nanny is the last thing Everett needs in his life. But since Millie is exactly what Everett’s young charges need, he’s forced to endure her unconventional ways and the occasional tumult she causes. Along the way, both Everett and Millie must confront their differences. Can two people from opposite worlds ever share their own world?
The supporting cast also features some delightful characters, some of whom I’m looking forward to meeting with in one of the author’s future stories.
In Good Company is a lighthearted read, which manages to be zany, amusing, romantic and even a little mysterious. The mentions of classic literature were a delightful addition, and Jen’s writing style makes it easy to read multiple chapters in a single sitting. I typically prefer heavier books, with more suspense and higher stakes, but I truly enjoyed this one for what it is.
If you’re looking for a fun novel, featuring lovable characters, a few laughs and a pinch of mystery, you can find it… In Good Company. 

The Time Garden (Adult Coloring Book)

the time gardenA coloring craze has splashed the world. No longer is this hobby confined to kindergarten classrooms. Now adults can enjoy the art and relaxation of coloring, too! (Without being reduced to a Sesame Street coloring book.)

The Time Garden is laid out as a story book. Intricate pictures show one little girl’s journey through the land of time. Daria Song’s artwork is absolutely beautiful. The amount of detail astonished me. Each page is stunning, from the tree blossoms on the front cover all the way to the starry back flap. Adult coloring is supposed to help you pause and relax, forcing you to slow down and focus on one tiny section at a time. The Time Garden would allow you to do this for hours. There are so many little nuances to color, there is no room for rushing. Even if you only work on a corner at a time, this book invites you to sit down, take your time, breathe and create.

I also love how elegant the pictures are. I lack in artistic ability, but coloring in one of Daria Song’s masterpieces instantly makes me feel creative.

The quality of the book itself is lovely. Each page is printed on thick, high-quality paper. I used colored pencils in mine, but if you wanted to use marker, the paper is sturdy enough to handle the ink. The dust jacket can be colored, too, and it unfolds to reveal a gorgeous constellation on the reverse side.

Since the adult coloring trend began, I’ve flipped through my fair share of these books. The Time Garden, though, is one of the most sophisticated, unique and visually pleasing that I have found. Order a copy for yourself, or one for a friend… Or both, and enjoy your own journey through The Time Garden. 

I received these books for free in exchange for my honest reviews. 

In case you missed them, here are links to the other books I reviewed in 2015:

Remnants by Lisa T. Bergren // A Friend in Me by Pamela Havey Lau // To Win Her Favor by Tamera Alexander // The Knot: Little Books of Big Wedding Ideas // The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Now that I’ve tied up 2015’s loose book ends, I’m free to start my 2016 list! What have you read so far this year? What were your favorite books in 2015?

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Book Review: The Little Paris Bookshop

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I first came across the Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George on a list of must-read books for summer. The cover was stunning, and I adored the idea of a story set in a Parisian bookshop. I was about to order it, but then I had the chance to receive a review copy… So, here I am!

The story begins with an air of mystery, centered on the reserved Monsieur Perdu, proprietor of a little bookshop housed on a barge. The shop is called the Literary Apothecary, and Monsieur Perdu spends his days prescribing books for ailments of the heart. All the while, he holds his own heart shut, trying to forget how it was broken two decades ago.

Then a new neighbor, an unopened letter, and a best-selling author with writer’s block upset the bookseller’s predictable life. He hauls anchor on his bookshop barge and travels south, hoping to find the answers, peace and adventure that have so long evaded him.

The first thing I noticed about this book is the writing style. Each line is infused with poetry and soul. The pages are filled with poignant quotes, and I found myself wanting to read with a highlighter in hand. Monsieur Perdu describes one novel as “infused with enormous humanity,” and that seems the best summary of the Little Paris Bookshop as well.

At first glance, this is simply a story about books, but it delves so much deeper. This novel is a celebration of literature and life, of love and loss, and how each depends on the others for its true meaning. Perdu claims books are the only remedy for countless, undefined afflictions of the soul. As he diagnoses patrons and doles out paper cures, I found myself looking inward. I wondered which titles this bookseller might prescribe to me. While I read, I felt the profound words seeping into me… Tugging at my emotions, making my heart lift and dip. I expected this book to be one that changed me by the end.

Unfortunately, I didn’t reach the end. In order to explore the themes of love and loss, we’re taken on a tour of Perdu’s past… A past involving an affair that is fleshed out far too much for my taste. Initially, I skipped over these sections, but as the story progressed, they appeared with more frequency and detail. I started to dread picking up the book because I knew there’d be another indecent scene awaiting me. In the end, the beautiful writing, lovely setting, and deep characters weren’t enough to keep me. The story could have easily been told without those scenes. Instead, it was spoiled for me. And that right there is a tale of loss.

I give it 2 out of 5 stars, simply because of how well-written it was and because the concept was a good one. I would have dearly loved to rate it for more, but such is life and literature.

I received this book from the publisher for free, in exchange for my honest review. 

Adieu,

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Knot Another Book Review

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Is it just me, or is wedding season in full swing? Every time I turn around, it seems like there’s another engagement announcement or invitation arriving! Fortunately, I do love weddings. I’ve been planning imaginary ones since I could marry off my Barbie dolls. Pinterest has only fueled my mild obsession.

This is not a wedding blog, by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, this is possibly the only wedding related post you’ll ever see here. The reason being, it’s also a book review. Since my last post was also a review, I apologize for the repetition. You can even feel free to skip this one. However, if you’re curious about The Knot: Little Books of Big Wedding Ideas, do read on.

I first spotted this adorable collection in Barnes & Noble, and I loved the idea of a miniature wedding encyclopedia. The Knot blog is one of my favorite wedding websites, so if the books were equally charming, I knew I’d love them. When I had the chance to review this set, I couldn’t resist.

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There are four little books in the collection: Cakes; Bouquets & Centerpieces; Details; and Vows & Toasts. The printing quality alone is fantastic, with hardcovers, glossy pages and a tidy little box to contain the volumes. Each book is sectioned off in a way that makes reference easy. There are also a lot of lists in each, which pleases me immensely. The books are brimming with vivid images, giving the collection the feel of a magazine. It’s been said a picture is worth a thousand words, and so there’s a great deal of inspiration from the photos alone. It’s easy to flip through and see what appeals at first glance. The books are light reading, and would be fun for a bride to browse through with her mom or girlfriends.

As I read over these bitty books, I was fascinated by all the details. There are a great many ideas presented for each topic. More eclectic brides may have to employ their creativity, as these books tend to focus on a rather traditional, lavish style. The ideas here aren’t all budget friendly, but with some adaptation, they could be used as DIY inspiration or mimicked for less. Even if the specific examples are not used, they’re excellent for sparking more inspiration. Each design idea comes with an array of photos, so the details aren’t left to unclear imagination. The options presented are also various enough that most brides will find something to suit them- including a chocolate section in the Cakes book. 😉

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Besides inspiration, there are practical helps included. There’s lingo breakdown and definition sections for cakes, flowers and stationary; questions to ask during planning; and lists to simplify organization. My favorite part of the collection was the book on Vows & Readings. It includes a very useful ceremony order, and an excellent selection of both traditional and modern vows. I liked seeing the different options written out, and having suggestions on how to personalize vows and the ceremony. There’s also an excellent section on toasts and speeches, to make that aspect of the reception painless for the wedding party!

Although not (knot?) everything will apply from these books, they’re fabulous for inspiration. There are so many little details that go into the big day, and this collection does a terrific job of gathering those tidbits into a tidy set. The Knot: Little Books of Big Wedding Ideas can be referenced over and over, whether for the definition of dais or a checklist for invitations. It’s a wonderful collection, and well worth buying for yourself or as a gift for a newly-engaged friend.

Best wishes!

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Book Review: To Win Her Favor

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Tamera Alexander has long held a place on my list of favorite authors. It was one of her novels that made me a true fan of inspirational fiction. Whenever she releases a new book, I’m excited to meet another set of her engaging characters. To Win Her Favor was no exception.

This is the second of the Belle Meade Plantation novels, but I wouldn’t call it a sequel. It could easily be read without any knowledge of the first book, To Whisper Her Name. Some of the characters from To Whisper Her Name do get mentioned in To Win Her Favor, though, so if you’ve read the first Belle Meade book, it gives the second that much more depth.

The story follows Maggie Linden and Cullen McGrath, two individuals from opposite worlds but with similar spirits. Both are struggling to make their dreams a reality, without success. Then they’re thrown together in an arrangement that could either save or ruin them. Neither is thrilled by the circumstances, or the outlook of their future, but can they find a way to work things out?

(There are very slight spoilers below, but most of them are revealed on the back cover anyhow 😉 Proceed.)

Cullen and Maggie are both strong, fiery characters, with their fair share of merits and flaws. Personally, I sympathized a bit more with Cullen. It took me a little longer to connect with Maggie, but after getting to know her, I was cheering her on, too. There’s a lot of tension between the two of them, and it was fun to read a story where love takes time and effort rather than happening at first sight.

{I will pause to mention, since most of the plot unfolds between married characters, the romance is less reserved than it typically is for inspirational books. It wasn’t enough to deter me from reading To Win Her Favor, and I would still recommend it to more mature readers. Since I’ve seen other reviewers who were shocked by this element, though, I wanted to give a fair alert. This has been a public service announcement.}

To Win Her Favor

The contrast between Cullen and Maggie’s backgrounds brings greater depth to the story, beyond just romance. I was especially interested in how the novel explores some of the social issues of its time period. Although we’re far past 1869, the themes of prejudice and judgement are not so far removed from the struggles we face today.

The story is completed by a varied and vibrant cast of secondary characters. Their mixture of personality and purpose creates the feel of a Southern community. (At least, my imaginings of one. I have yet to travel that far south.)

Setting plays a great part in this story, from the post-Civil War time period, to the rich backdrop of Tennessee and the hints back to Ireland. Tamera is so skilled at painting a scene with words like brushstrokes. From her vivid descriptions, I could see the spanning plains and wide porches. As the book progressed, I was drawn further in to the setting, until opening each chapter felt like coming home.

At times, the story can be a little slow-paced, but I was never bored while reading. This was the sort of book I’d like to read on a porch while sipping sweet tea. It avoids being dull without becoming too intense. Since I read a lot of fast-paced, adrenaline-laced books these days, I enjoyed having a more relaxing read, and one that still captured my heart.

If you’re searching for a sweet, ultimately heart-warming story to read this summer, pick up a copy of To Win Her Favor. I’m confident it will win your favor, as it did mine!

I received this book from the publisher for free, in exchange for my honest review. 

What are you reading this summer? Leave the titles or names of your favorite authors  in the comments! 🙂

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