Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Guest Post: The Bumpy Road to Cassie Scot by Christine Amsden

Hey everyone! Just like I promised, I've got a special post to share with you today. Christine Amsden, author of the Cassie Scot series that I've been reviewing for the past two  years has stopped by to bring us how Cassie came to be. This is direct from the writer's pen and I am very thankful that she took the time to share this with all of us. Enjoy!

The Bumpy Road to Cassie Scot

Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective was the easiest, most natural book I ever wrote. It almost seemed to write itself! The entire series felt natural because of the way I identified with and practically channeled the main character, but the challenges grew with each book. The final volume, Stolen Dreams, presented the greatest difficulties. But also, and in my very biased opinion, I rose to the challenges, making each book better than the one before.

Cassie first came to me in a burst of inspiration, and I pushed out the first draft of a book in record time. I did rewrite and heavily revise the book several times based on some astute feedback from beta readers, but even the rewrites were easier than usual. There was a certain energy to each revision, a vitality and a definite sense of purpose. I never tried to rewrite the book without specific feedback and a plan, and I always felt a sense of rightness about the changes I made. The final revision came after I had finished rough drafts of the rest of the series, which gave me the power to make sure I did not contradict myself and that I had set everything up, even if the readers would not yet know the significance of every decision I made.

I usually find beginnings easier than endings, which may be another reason why the first book was the easiest of the four for me to write. It did come to a conclusion (the mystery was solved), but I set up many problems in book one that I didn't have to deal with at the time – I left that for a future version of me to handle.

It wasn't until I first drafted Secrets and Lies that I came up with a plan for the rest of the series. Before then I had some vague notions and themes, but the cliffhanger ending to Secrets and Lies was as much a surprise to me as it was to my readers! Yet that cliffhanger ending sets the tone for the final two books. Secrets and Lies was a book of discovery for me. I refined my characters, learned new things about the bigger magical world, and decided what the rest of the series would look like. The biggest challenge in Secrets and Lies was balancing the mystery with all the personal and magical discoveries being made. Some of the lessons I learned while writing this book led to a major revision of book one. But the growing pains took place while writing book two.

Mind Games was the most difficult of the four books to draft for two reasons. First, I was writing from the first person point of view of a character who was being subtly manipulated by mind magic. I wanted this to be absolutely obvious to the reader from page one, but at the same time I needed to convince the reader of Cassie's struggle with this truth. Second, I strayed from the series' primary love interest, Evan, and I found it very difficult to write romantic scenes between Cassie and another man. Even knowing it would be temporary, even knowing Cassie was partly being manipulated, and even knowing that Cassie needed this test of character, I still felt like I was cheating on Evan when I wrote certain scenes. Strangely enough, though, the final version of Mind Games is closer to its first draft form than any other book in the series. I made few revisions, none of them major, which leads me to the most challenging volume …

Stolen Dreams is not the book I first wrote. It wasn't even originally called Stolen Dreams, it was called Dreamer. But regardless of what I ended up calling it, there exists (somewhere on my hard drive) a rough draft of a book that I originally intended to conclude the series which has almost nothing whatsoever in common with the book I'll be releasing this summer. I think I reused one scene, then revised it heavily.

Ground-up rewrites are rare, and there is only one reason to do it: A fundamental flaw in the spirit of the story. That first draft was not about what it should have been about: it challenged Cassie in all the wrong ways, it broke an important theme I had been building all along, and it reverted to genre cliches that the series had, up until then, avoided.


I went to a book signing/Q&A with Jim Butcher in the summer of 2011. He had just put out Cold Days (which turned out to be my least favorite of the Dresden Files books – I have bad luck with books I get signed by authors). But during that Q&A, I had an epiphany. Someone asked him when and how The Dresden Files would end. Jim gave his usual not-entirely-joking answer about the length of the series depending upon whether his kids decided to go to grad school, but then he said something else about endings. He said (and I'm obviously paraphrasing) that by the time a series is over, the main character should be uniquely qualified to overcome the final hurtle.

I had a lightbulb moment. It wasn't a warm, glowy sort of lightbulb moment because I knew instantly that I had to toss an entire draft in the trash (metaphorically speaking – I never throw anything away).

Cassie has no magical powers. In my first draft, I had her facing a challenge that any of the people around her with magical powers would have been far better able to handle. She wasn't just not uniquely qualified to handle it, she was probably the least qualified person to handle it! But I had fallen into the same trap Cassie fell into Рthinking she needed to be able to compete with powerful sorcerers in a magical world in order to be worthwhile. And actually, I think the series as a whole is stronger because I started to fall into that trap with her. In the final book, she and I both had an important lesson to learn. Specifically, that being a hero isn't about overpowering or outwitting the biggest, baddest bad guy (the fantasy clich̩), it's about using your strengths to solve the problems you are uniquely qualified to handle.

I don't want to spoil Stolen Dreams for you, but I am so excited by the conclusion to this series. Stolen Dreams is more than a mystery – it's personal. The feud between the Scots and the Blackwoods takes center stage and when it erupts, people Cassie and Evan love get hurt and even die. Cassie is uniquely qualified to put an end to this feud and to solve an interwoven mystery, and she still does not need magic to do it! 

Please check out the reviews for the entire series and other guest post from the release of Book Three Mind Games linked here: 

Cassie Scot: Paranormal Detective
Cassie Scot #2: Secrets and Lies

This concludes another post here at The Real World According To Sam. See you for the next post. Hopefully I can get one up next week as usual, if not then for sure the week after that. School keeps a girl busy!!! Thanks for reading. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Family, Love and Magic REVIEWING: Stolen Dreams

Hi everyone!

It's been a while and I must admit that I have been super busy. That is why my posts have become a tiny bit more sporadic and not as consistent as they've been before. This is what happens when you honor 4 classes, take 5 total classes, decide to start working out weekly, and become president of an active campus organization, while trying to maintain time with family and a relatively social life. Luckily, I have certain things that MUST be done here, including this post, which is part of a several month long event...celebrating the release of the final book in the Cassie Scot series. If you've kept up with me, you know that I've already reviewed the past 3 books in the series. We have finally come to the end. I would like to give a very big thank you to Christine Amsden for giving me the opportunity to review every book in the series. Let it be known that just because I got the book for free, doesn't mean that my review is swayed in any way. Book and movie reviews are all HONEST. Now we need to get started.

Catch up on my Cassie Scot reviews by following these links:
Cassie Scot Paranormal Detective (#1)
Cassie Scot #2: Secrets and Lies
Cassie Scot #3: Mind Games
Mind Games: Exclusive Interview with Evan Blackwood

Stolen Dreams: A Cassie Scot Novel
Author: Christine Amsden
Genre: Fantasy/New Adult/Paranormal
Publication Date: October 15, 2014

    I have been following Cassie's adventures since the beginning and it has finally come to this. The last book, which I reviewed back in May, left a lot of things open and I was hurting to get back into the town of Eagle Rock. I was excited and tense and wanted nothing more that to see what happened next. Stolen Dreams starts right where Mind Games left off. I was ridiculously excited to find out that book 4 was finally available to reviewers. 

I'm sure that we all know by now that I'm going to take a brief moment to discuss the cover, as usual. Covers are very important and I'd like to think that I have a rather deep appreciation for art. I've been rather fond of the covers for this series and I don't feel the least bit disappointed about getting to see this one on my shelf (The artist is Ural Akyuz if anyone is wondering). I like the warmth of the main colors and that we get to see Evan again. If you've read my previous review and guest post you know that I really like Evan. He is a fascinating character that I just haven't been able to get enough of. I don't know how Cassie manages to refuse him the way she does (actually I do, but I like to ignore her reasons sometimes). It's nice to see the main two characters together and the magic barrier adds a bit of edge that is thrilling. I was really excited to dig into this book and the cover just made my curiosity boil over. 

Getting into the actual book, the premise is this: Cassie returns from Pennsylvania to find out that sides have been chosen and the Scots are ready to fight the Blackwoods. Her dad and Evan's have always hated each other, but things have gone farther than they ever have before. Cassie doesn't want anyone to fight and so she seeks help from a seer. When the seer (Evan Blackwood's grandmother) sees her own death and it comes from Cassie's father, Evan's dad kills him. Or does he? Evan and Cassie have to team up and find out what is going on and many twists are coming. All of this tension piles on top of all the anger and pain that Evan and Cassie already have between them. This is where it all ends!

This book sent me on a rollercoaster. I didn't know where I was going, how far things were going to go, or what to expect most of the time. That is the way I like books to leave me....breathless and wanting more. I read this book almost in one sitting. I took a break while I was at school and while waiting for a meeting and for my ride to come, I read it. I sat in one of the main buildings and just read and read. If I have to be honest, I cried and whimpered and read in a feverish manner. It is pretty rare that a book will make me cry. The last one that made me cry was Beastly (review for that to come later). I think I cried about three times over the course of this book. It was THAT good.

I still love all the characters. There aren't very many new ones. Most of the characters we already know and care for. Others are just kind of there. Still there are one or two that we may feel great disdain for. Ultimately, that isn't what makes the book so good. The characters are consistent and as usual, in my opinion, Cassie and Evan are still the best of all. The plot is what makes the book so enjoyable. There are so many twists and turns, so many unexpected things, starting with the death of Cassie's father (this isn't a spoiler since it's on the back cover anyway). The tension between the Scots and Blackwoods is high and you can definitely feel it. Things are not black and white at all. There are overlapping issues and no direct path that is correct. Not to mention all the stress that Cassie has to deal with. She is still struggling to find out her feelings for Evan, to keep her family together, to handle Alexander Dupris, a man who has caused more than enough trouble, and the investigation to find out what or who really killed her father. There is also the little issue of her cousin Jason, some vampires, and her friends' pregnancies to be concerned about. My favorite plot line however, still has to be the tension between Evan and Cassie. Never have I ever wanted a couple to get together as badly as I wanted Evan and Cassie to. There is just something about them that belongs together. I was in anguish over what would happen. I like all the ways in which their relationship has been made complicated. Cassie really wants nothing to do with him anymore and I don't blame her one bit. The tensions are super high and as usual, Evan just never gives up. He doesn't make the smartest choices all the time, but I don't think I could find it in me to really hate him or want him to fail in his efforts to make Cassie his own (in a loving way, not just a dominating power thing like so many others have wanted). There are even more struggles for the two of them and it was so invigorating to experience. I won't say what happens but I will say that I cried more than I should have considering this is all just fiction. I really felt like my heart has been tearing, being fixing, and torn all over again over the course of these four books. 

Another cool thing that was in this book that hasn't been in the others is the exploration Cassie begins with her dreams. Dreaming isn't exactly the kind of "magic" anyone thinks of in Eagle Rock. Her father doesn't believe it is worth any time or a kind of magic at all. Abigail, Evan's grandmother, takes Cassie as her apprentice and encourages her to start trying to make sense of what she dreams about. I liked this aspect because I really wasn't expecting it, but it gave Cassie something of her own to focus on. She doesn't have magic, but she has a chance to do something for herself that no one else can do or take from her. I thought it was very cool (especially the dreams about a certain someone that made me blush and squeal in delight because it helped me keep hoping). Right when you think the book will slow down and give you respite, it just keeps throwing things out there and holding you captive. I never wanted it to end, and now that the series is over, I really don't know what I'm supposed to do. I'm almost hopeful that we'll get to see Cassie again at a later time, even if it isn't likely or planned at the moment. I haven't had enough of these characters and the setting. I want more and more and more. Looks like I have to move on though....or I could restart the series all over again!!!  

Anyhow, I think I've gone on long enough. I love the book, I love the series. These are books that I highly recommend to anyone who loves magic, a dash of romance, and suspense. There is definitely something special in these books and I hope that more people read them because they are such a delight. This is one of those books that would be great as a movie if Hollywood actually knew how to adapt books in the first place. Knowing the industry, they would ruin it and any movie would never be better than the one that resides in my mind. However, it MUST be noted that I did see this book as a movie in my mind while reading. I don't know if I've ever mentioned this sensation before, but it is absolutely crucial for me to be able to do that in order to really enjoy a book. I have to be able to see it in my mind. That is when it feels real and takes me over. I might go further into this because I know I haven't mentioned it in any of my past reviews and it is so crucial for me as a reader to experience. It is how I know a book is indeed amazing. Also by the way I talk about them. Clearly this book is A+ because I can't seem to stop talking about it or thinking about it. I will NEVER EVER EVER forget Cassie or Evan and the Scot family. They will forever be my friends and they will always feel like actual people I met in real life. That is the real magic that Amsden has given to her readers. I'm honestly really sad that it's over now. 

Stolen Dreams, the fourth book in the Cassie Scot series, is without doubt a 5 out of 5. I am very happy that I own it and can read it over and over again...or just skip to my favorite spots whenever I feel like it. I highly recommend that you all purchase it when it comes out. I don't think you would regret it in the least (and if you did, you could just send it to me because I would not complain about having a second or third copy for coffee table display and to carry around when I go out). I am very much considering purchasing Mrs. Amsden's other books to see if they are just as wonderful as this series was and I greatly look forward to whatever project she has planned for the future. This concludes a review here at The Real World According To Sam, please come back on Wednesday for an exclusive guest post from Christine Amsden!!!! Thanks for reading!