Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Book Review: The Shining Citadel

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The Shining Citadel, by A.L. Butcher
* * * * (4 stars)

The Shining Citadel is the second book in The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles. This book centers around the search for a lost city that can help the elves rise from their current sorry state, and gives the backstory on how they fell from their former glory. Archos and Dii are back, along with Olek and Ozena, and are joined by Th'alia, a captive elf who is being forced to lead them into a trap so that the Witch Hunters can claim the riches of the lost Citadel for themselves and get rid of the Archmage Archos, along with Marden, Th'alia's Witch Hunter escort and Talfor, a troll.

As in the first book, the characters are strong, unique, and engaging. It was fun to catch up with Archos, the thoroughly awesome mage, and to see how Dii and the other characters from book 1 are doing. Marden's character arc was especially interesting, as the Witch Hunter comes face to face with the fact that everything he's been taught about elves and mages is a lie. The group - Archos, Dii, Olek, Ozena, Th'alia, Marden, and Talfor - meet up with exciting and dangerous adventures during their search for the Shining Citadel. And the trolls in this world are really cool.

Some long, tangled, run-on sentences make the book a little difficult to read in places, and, as in book 1, there are some very explicit sex scenes. However, readers who prefer to avoid reading explicit material can skim over or skip those scenes without the story being affected.

On the whole, The Shining Citadel is an exciting, heroic fantasy adventure with great characters that kept me reading, wanting to know what happens to the characters and to learn more about this fascinating world.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Review: The Last Ranger of Sarn

Picture The Last Ranger of Sarn, by Ed Ireland

* * * * (4 Stars)

The Last Ranger of Sarn is an epic fantasy telling the story of a young woman, Vespias, who grows to become the commander of the legendary Rangers at a time of terrible war against a demon-possessed prince and his armies of the undead.

Last Ranger is a big, sprawling book, mainly focusing on Vespias's growth and progress from hunter's child to commander of the entire Castian military. It goes into her early life quite a bit to show how she becomes the woman she eventually becomes, and illustrates the loves, tragdies, triumphs, and losses she experiences. I originally read this book a few months ago, and felt that other aspects of the story were shortchanged, but in this new edition, the book is well-balanced between Vespias's story and the events that led to the downfall of the Prince and his war against the Castians.

The book features of number of strong female characters, and I came to care about not just them but all the main characters. The writing is clear and easy to follow, though there are some missing commas.

Overall, engaging characters, an intriguing world, and lots of exciting action makes this a fun, gripping read.

Haveshi Yellowcrow and Latan the Clerk

 
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I recently released "The Path of Haveshi Yellowcrow" and "The Path of Latan the Clerk," two connected short (well, kind of long, actually) stories loosely related to Chosen of Azara. They're in a volume titled The Warrior and the Holy Man, available on Amazon.

In Chosen of Azara, as Lucie is researching the history of the Madrinan Empire to try to decide if Sevry's story is true, she comes across a passing reference to a discredited Kriethi historian and his female Krunabashai bodyguard. These two stories tell the tale of the historian and the bodyguard. I'd been calling Latan "the Scholar," but he's really just a lowly clerk who dabbles in historical research in his spare time, and since he's such a modest fellow he insisted I change it to "clerk." But he still made it into at least one of the history books of his world. I don't know if he'd be more pleased or embarrassed about that.

In the titles, I also replaced "tale" with "path." "Path" is a little more different and interesting, plus a major theme in both stories is the paths life takes us on, both expected and unexpected. Both Haveshi and Latan think they know what they want out of life and exactly how their lives are going to go - they're happy, or at least content, with the paths their lives are following. Then unexpected events force them from those paths and require them to find new ways to live.

These two stories are a great example of how old ideas evolve into new ones. Haveshi's story originally started out as a novel set in Estelend (the same world as Chosen of Azara, with magical Sources playing an important role), with the events the same as in the story and then dragging on and on as Haveshi and her companion Daivashan went from one place to another without actually accomplishing much of anything. Back in those days (early 90s), you either wrote novels or you wrote for the short story market, and I was a novel writer. If I ever decided to dabble my toes again in publishing, I would need novel-length offerings to present to agents and editors. And so I took a story that didn't really have enough story in it to be a novel and tried to stretch it out into one.

Then, in the last year or so, when I was looking through my old story files and thinking about the new, expanded possibilities offered by self-publishing - no arbitrary word count or length guidelines set by publishers based on the economics of publishing paper books or magazines; stories could be as long or short as they needed to be - I realized that Haveshi's story would be perfect as a longish short story. She finds her answer without all that pointless wandering around, and sets off for her new life, the end.

The other seed of this pair of stories came from this fragment. (And I'm going to be really really brave and post it here exactly as I wrote it umpteen years ago.)

"You're the guard Bodric sent?" Sevry stared at the short, sturdy woman in front of him. He hoped there was a mistake.

Perar looked up from studying her fingernails. Lords above, she hated wizards. "This is the Seventeenth Tower of Wizardry, isn't it? Your Headmaster sent a message to Bodric requesting the services of his best guard?"

"Well, yes, but...."

"Here I am."

Sevry tugged at the hair on the top of his head. He knew Headmaster Radolf had a low opinion of his competence, but this was worse than he had expected. A woman to nursemaid him to the First Tower! Then something occurred to him. "Does Headmaster Radolf know you're a woman?"

Perar shrugged, barely trying to hide her irritation. Bodric was going to pay for this.

Ok, first of all (besides the head-hopping), you may notice a few familiar names. Sevry, the name of the wizard in this fragment, became the name of the last King of Savaru and the hero of Chosen of Azara. That Sevry is many things, but most definitely not a wizard; I decided that name worked well for him, so I re-purposed it. Also, Perar became Perarre, the heroine of The Lost Book of Anggird, who is also most definitely not a bodyguard. So with the characters' names being used for other stories, I had pretty much decided this fragment was dead. But I still liked the idea: a lowly member of some sort of order about to set out on a journey finding out, to his dismay, that a woman has been assigned to be his guard.

Eventually, Sevry the wizard morphed into Latan the Scholar (and then the Clerk), And then I made the connection - the female bodyguard is Haveshi, from that other abandoned project. This set Latan's story firmly in the world of Chosen of Azara. When I tried to figure out the point of the journey he was going on, I realized that he had made a momentous discovery related to the conspiracy that destroyed Savaru, and he's going to present this discovery to the High Priest of the Madrinan Empire. And, ta daa, I had my stories; it was just a matter of writing them.

Haveshi's story comes first in the duology. It tells how she got derailed from the path her life was on and came to be a mercenary in a conquered land that is now part of the Madrinan Empire. Then her story continues with Latan's story, when she's assigned to guard him on a journey that proves as disruptive to his life's path as the events in her story were to hers. I suggest reading Haveshi first, then Latan, but it could work the other way around, too.

"The Path of Latan the Scholar" contains a spoiler for an event early on in Chosen of Azara, but the way it's presented, and the fact that the event happens so early in Chosen, it won't spoil the whole novel - I like to think of it as a teaser. Chosen of Azara also contains a spoiler for "The Path of Latan the Scholar," but that spoiler doesn't take in nearly the whole of the story. So either way, there's information given. If you're wondering what to read first, I'd say it could go either way - consider "The Path of Latan the Scholar" a teaser for Chosen of Azara, or a supplement to it.

I've also posted an updated map of Estelend, showing Source Tiati, where Latan lives, in Krieth in the south part of the Madrinan Empire.

If you haven't read Chosen of Azara yet, you can get an introduction to that world in
"The Path of Haveshi Yellowcrow" and "The Path of Latan the Clerk," and if you've read it, you can get the scoop on that discredited historian and his female bodyguard.  I hope you'll take a look, and enjoy the stories!

***Shameless self-promotion (but hey, it's my blog, it's all about self-promotion!): if you haven't read Chosen of Azara yet and want to, it's available at:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple | Sony | Diesel
Smashwords | CreateSpace | All Romance eBooks

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Book Review: Journey to Altmortis

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Journey to Altmortis, by Thaddeus White

rating: * * * * (4 stars)

Fun fantasy adventure, featuring some of the secondary characters from Bane of Souls. Thaddeus, master of the underground, and his sister Lynette, accompanied by Pretty Pierre and Roger the Goat (actually a man; "goat" is a well-earned nickname) head off to the fabled, long-dead city of Altmortis in pursuit of two brothers who have stolen some items of great value and importance to them. Along the way they meet with a variety of adventures and dangers, including a crazed cannibal serial killer and a village of truly creepy beings, the Hykirs, who have their weird eyes on Lynette and Anja, the women in the group. Then, when they find the city and disturb a nest of hungry baby dragons, things really get interesting!

The story seemed a bit slow until they ran into the baby dragons; from that point to the end it really grabbed me and wouldn't let go. But the Hykirs were wonderfully creepy, and I really enjoyed that part. I would have liked the part with the serial killer/cannibal to have more real significance to the plot; that part was too good to just be a passing incident.

For me there was the right amount of description and world-building. I think it really helped that I read Bane of Souls first, so I already knew who the starting characters were and a little about how that world works. Thaddeus and Lynette's secret did seem to kind of come from out of nowhere; I can't remember if any hints were dropped about it earlier. But it's a very cool secret.

I enjoyed seeing more of Pretty Pierre; a really good character from Bane of Souls. I also enjoyed Anja and Fritigern, who are new to this book. Roger the Goat is amusingly revolting; I was glad to see him have an important role in this story.

All in all, a fun read.

How Many Words?

Picture In addition to Thanksgiving and my birthday, for me November means National Novel Writing Month. And since no one can procrastinate like a writer on a deadline, November also often means finding new and creative ways to put off having to commit words to paper (or the screen). This year, the way I came up with to procrastinate was counting my lifetime output of words.

Many writers have a strange obsession with word count. In the days of using typewriters, you gauged how much you accomplished by how many pages you had written. Now that most writers use computers, pages are irrelevant and productivity is measured by the number of words you wrote. National Novel Writing Month requires 50,000 words to complete the challenge. Agents and publishers specify the number of words manuscripts need to have to be considered for publication. Writers set goals of 1000 or 2000 or 5000 words per day.

And there's a bit of common writerly wisdom that it takes a million words to get good at writing (or, alternatively, "the first million words are crap"). Like most common wisdom, there's some truth to this, but it isn't entirely true. It is true that writing is something you get better at the more you do it. But the measure of a million words seems kind of arbitrary. Someone who is an avid reader and/or got good grades in English (or whatever language they're writing in) is probably going to start out ahead, quality-wise, of someone who's never read a book or who doesn't know how to put understandable sentences together. Granted, some people have a natural instinct for storytelling that transcends proper writing mechanics, so they're ahead as far as that goes, but writing is communication and it doesn't matter how good your story is if you can't communicate it in a way that your readers will understand.

On the other hand, other people might have a gift for writing beautiful prose but no sense of how to put together an exciting, entertaining story. So they have a lot of work to do, too. (I, for one, would rather read an entertaining, engaging story that is written in inexpert prose than something that's beautifully written but boring.)

So, not every writer starts out at the same level of crappiness. Then there's the factor of how hard they work at improving their craft. If you write a lot, you're almost bound to get better at it without even trying. But if you read good books to learn how prose and storytelling work, and seek out good writing advice and really work on applying it, you're going to get better even faster.

But even with all these qualifiers, some writers (or me, at least) are curious about how far along they are on that fabled million words or how long ago they passed it by. So, in the spirit of NaNo-ly procrastination, I totaled up my lifetime word count (as an adult; I didn't count the stories and plays I wrote in elementary school :-D).

First, for non-writers, numbers of words might not really mean anything. How much is 50,000 words? How much is 1000 words, a million words? Here are some examples to give some idea of scale, of word counts of famous novels (from this site):

Harry Potter and the Philospher's/Sorcerer's Stone:
77,325
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: 198,227
The Hobbit: 95,022
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: 30,644
Nineteen Eighty-Four: 88,942
To Kill a Mockingbird: 99,121
Fahrenheit 451: 46,118
Lord of the Rings Trilogy: 455,125
A Game of Thrones: 284,000 (from here)
Brave New World: 63,766

Methodology: first I looked up how to add columns in a spreadsheet. (More procrastination; plus I'm pretty clueless about spreadsheets.) I only counted the latest version of each work, instead of earlier drafts, so there are a lot of cut scenes that didn't get counted. In cases where I re-wrote something from scratch, I did count both the earlier, abandoned version and the new version. I counted novels, novellas, short stories, and story fragments, but not my handful of poems because writing poetry is a completely different discipline from writing prose fiction. Also, it isn't that many words. And I am most definitely not a poet. :-P

So, counting that way, my lifetime word count between 1990 and 2013 is 1,614,156 (counting the novel I wrote in November; I added it in when it was done). Well past the million-word mark, you'll notice.

Broken down further:
1990-2000: 444,095 words
2000-2008 (when I began writing fanfiction through the last year before I seriously did NaNoWriMo for the first time): 405,878
2009-2013 (when I got a big creative kick from completing NaNo for the first time through the present): 632,176.

If you're adding along with me, you'll notice I passed 1,000,000 words sometime in 2010. As for when my writing graduated from "crap" to "not crap," I like to think it happened (if I say so myself, if it doesn't seem like I'm being arrogant to assume that my writing has made that shift) sometime in the early 2000s, when I was turning out large quantities of fanfiction on a regular basis. Lots of writing in a short period of time with close attention to quality will elevate the level of your writing, no matter where it starts out.

This year, 2013, has been my best writing year ever, with 271,303 words. 195,927 of those words are books 2-6 of the Daughter of the Wildings series. I expect to add quite a few words when I revise (I generally tend to "write short" and then fill out details in revision), so my lifetime word count will go up by the time that series is ready for publication.

Fanfiction got me back into writing at a time when I had lost heart for writing for a few years, and from 2000-2003 I wrote a great deal of fanfic. 405,878 words of it. I also wrote the original version of Chosen of Azara during this time, about 70,000 words, but I counted that in my 2009-2013 output because I re-wrote it pretty extensively this year and last year and extended it to 81,000 words. My lifetime fanfiction total is 632,176 words and original fiction total is 981,980. All those words of fanfiction were a significant factor in reaching the first million words, and I think I improved a lot as a writer while writing them. My experience with fanfiction is another post for another time, but I will say that, even though I keep my fanfic writer identity separate from my identity here, writing all that fic helped make me the writer I am today. (For whatever that's worth!)

Among the pre-2000 output are my first two complete novels; the second one is actually a sequel to the first and I had totally forgotten that I had finished it. So that was an interesting surprise to come across! I plan on evaluating them to see if they're worth revising and publishing; I think they probably are. There are also some fragments of novels set in the same world as Chosen of Azara, that I'm looking forward to developing and completing. Once Daughter of the Wildings is into the final revision stages and being released, sometime next year, I'll start on those.

On to two million!

(Image credit: Zsuzsanna Kilian, stock.xchng)

Author Spotlight: Elle Jacklee

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Meet Middle Grade/YA fantasy author Elle Jacklee, and read an excerpt from her new book, The Tree of Mindala:

1. Tell us a little about yourself.
I live in Wisconsin with my husband and two young sons. In the past, I've been a software programmer, inside sales representative and a bilingual customer service representative. I'm thrilled to have added "author" to that list. Besides reading and of course writing, I enjoy cooking, baking, biking, playing tennis and downhill skiing. I believe in karma and the power of positive thinking!

2. When did you start writing, and why?
I wrote my first story when I was seven years old. I had already discovered how much fun reading could be. I remember that when I discovered that the books I read were written by people (as opposed to just falling from heaven :) I immediately was determined to write stories that I hoped would bring as much enjoyment to other people as other people's stories brought to me. That's still my goal today.

3. What do you write, and why? What do you enjoy about what you write?
I write middle grade/YA fantasy. I decided to write for that age group because it was the books that I read at that age that had the biggest impact on me. Books aimed at that age group take on a bit more complexity and hopefully evoke an excitement in readers that they may be experiencing for the first time in a book. If they haven't fallen in love with reading already, it may be these books that hook them for life. I'm passionate about the importance of reading so if my writing can ignite that spark in someone, then I call that success.

4. What is your latest book or series? Any forthcoming books?

The Tree of Mindala
is the first book in my Wunderwood series. I'm currently in the midst of writing the next one, The Triad of the Tree. And characters, new and old, still are clamoring to tell more of their stories, so I do have plans for subsequent books after that...

5. "Welcome To My Worlds": Tell us a little about the world of your latest book or series.

Wunderwood has long been enchanted as a result of the sacrifice made by Mindala, a character who readers will learn more about as the series progresses. For now, suffice it to say that it is because of Mindala that the inhabitants of this realm enjoy a mostly contented life, with magic at their disposal. Wunderwood is a place that has a way of maintaining a delicate balance. Of course, its inhabitants have free will, and when their choices upset the natural balance of this world, things have a way of being put right, one way or another. In that way, I guess you could say Wunderwood is an example of art imitating life.

6. Introduce us to some of your characters. What do you like about them?

Miranda Moon, the main character, is just days away from her twelfth birthday at the beginning of The Tree of Mindala. She has an overactive imagination, to say the least, and it's that personality trait that often gets her into trouble at school. It's also the thing her younger brother, Marcus, who runs with the popular crowd, holds against her. But it's the thing Miranda likes most about herself. I like that she is true to herself, even though some people even think of her as a bit "crazy". Of course, when she and Marcus find themselves in Wunderwood, a place where they meet people and creatures that even Miranda never imagined, she feels even better about it!

One of the creatures they meet in this magical place is Skye, a Morphiad who has the power to transform into any living creature or person that he has ever touched, giving him a unique perspective, even in this land. He is fiercely loyal and protective of his human companion, Raina, who just happens to be related to Miranda and Marcus. Then, of course, there is Thornton Crow. Once banished for his evil deeds, he is now at large and more determined than ever to seize control of the source of Wunderwood's magic, the Tree of Mindala. Along with his followers, the HOPs (or Hoarders of Power), he believes that Mindala would never have wanted her gift of magic to be squandered away on what he considers the mediocre existence most of Wunderwood is living. He wishes to unleash the full potential of the powerful magic, and regards any and all consequences worth it. He is the kind of evil I hope readers love to hate!  

7. A fun fact you would like your readers to know about you or your book.

The idea for the world of Wunderwood and Miranda Moon came to me one fall day around Halloween when I was home from work with a migraine headache. I was looking out the window at the leaves on my patio that were swirling in the wind that just happened to be howling that day. It was a little spooky, but I thought it was beautiful at the same time. I've always loved Halloween, and by the end of that day (after a few doses of headache medicine), Wunderwood and Miranda Moon were born, and I had a rough outline of the story fleshed out. Until that day, I never thought I'd be thankful for a headache!

8. Blog/site link, and where your book is available.

The Tree of Mindala is available for purchase at: Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Official book trailer: http://youtu.be/-e2MwDserCc
Facebook Fanpage: https://www.facebook.com/elle.jacklee
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ellejacklee

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The Tree of Mindala:

"Miranda Moon's vivid imagination has gotten her into trouble more times than she can count. This time, she's been suspended from school. So her straight-laced younger brother, Marcus, blames her when they're relegated to their late grandparents' old cabin over Halloween weekend. But when Miranda finds a curious trinket, they're mysteriously whisked away to Wunderwood, where magic flows through the trees and everyone already knows their family name. A place even Miranda never imagined.

Just as they arrive, a sinister warlock, Thornton Crow, is freed from a long banishment. He resumes his deadly agenda to find The Tree of Mindala, the source of all the realm's magic. As Miranda and Marcus discover branches of their own family tree that they hadn't even known existed, they learn that Thornton has a score to settle with anyone in their bloodline. Especially them... Though justice has always had a way of being naturally restored in Wunderwood, Thornton's latest evil deed just may be the tipping point.

When Miranda discovers her own role in Thornton's release, she knows it's up to her to stop him from stealing not just magic, but also hope. With travel companions that could as easily be foes as friends, and only the cryptic words of a prophecy to guide her, Miranda must decide if she can carry out the task that will either save Wunderwood... or doom it forever. "

Excerpt from The Tree of Mindala:

Miranda knocked twice, and the door, already ajar, opened a little further. But there was no reply. She knocked again, harder, and this time the door swung all the way in with a long creak. A terrible odor accosted them. If Miranda had to describe it, she would say it was a mixture of rotting garbage, hot metal, and Marcus’ dirty sweat socks... only worse.

“What are you doing?” Marcus demanded, pinching his nose.

“I only knocked!” Miranda retorted. “Then the door opened. It must have been the wind!”

She poked her head inside and called, “Hello?” No reply. “Anyone home?” Nothing. She couldn’t resist looking around.

“That’s strange,” she mumbled, pointing to a window that she hadn’t seen from outside but through which the outside was clearly visible. As she continued her tour of the room, Miranda inadvertently tapped a big rock that slightly resembled a chair. In front of it was a stone table upon which stood a small lantern whose lit candle they had seen from outside, as well as a variety of jars and beakers in different shapes and sizes. Some were empty, some contained plant leaves, twigs, and various animal and insect body parts. There were also several loose pieces of paper on the table, and a few on the rough cobblestone floor that must have blown off the table when the door opened.

Someone shuffled out from the shadows in the corner of the room toward the table. Miranda and Marcus held their breath while they stared at the little person. He was about as tall as a five-year-old, but he appeared much, much older. He had a silky white beard that fell to his knees, and long white eyebrows that drooped over milky-blue eyes. His head was bald at the top. But the hair on the sides and in back was thick, long, and the same frosty white as his beard. He wore a drab, beige tunic that looked scratchy, like burlap. As he bent down to pick up the papers, his back was to Miranda and Marcus, and they could see that his tunic was worn quite thin at the elbows and at the rump. He didn’t seem to notice them standing there.

As he stretched up on the tips of his toes to place the papers back on the slab of a table, he bumped one of the beakers, which teetered from side to side, threatening to fall off the uneven surface. The curious little man threw his arms up to catch it, but it stopped teetering and eventually became completely still. “Whew,” he sighed.

“Hello?” Miranda said again, a little quieter this time.

“Oh, Alvore’s Mane!” the little man swore under his breath, slumping his shoulders in exasperation. He abruptly turned to face them. “Can’t ya take a hint?” he demanded, his eyebrows forming a V.

“Beg your pardon, sir,” Marcus apologized quickly. “Sorry to have disturbed you.” He tugged on Miranda’s elbow, but she snatched it away, flashing an irritated face at him. Then, smiling her sweetest smile, she addressed the gruff little man.

“Sir,” she began, “May we speak to you for just a moment? I think we may be... um... lost. “ She blinked her eyes a few times, hoping to appeal to his softer side, if he had one. This usually worked with her father.

“Lost? That’s for certain. Ya’d have to be looking fer trouble if ya were meanin’ to come here. Now, what ya wanna do is t’get yarselves as far away from here as possible.” Then he whispered, “Thornton may return at any time.”

“Perfect! Maybe we should wait for him!” Miranda clasped her hands together happily.

“Wait for him?! Miss, have ya been sniffin’ on loreberry leaves? Why would anyone hang around waiting fer Thornton?” Then he paused, squinting his eyes and pointing a thick, bulbous finger at them. “Unless... ya’re a couple o’those HOPs!” he accused, backing slowly away from them.

“What? No!” Miranda assured him. “Wait... what’s a HOP?”

“What’s a HOP? Are ya tryin’ to be funny? ‘Cause this is no time fer jokin’, miss.”

“Funny? No, sir. All we know is one minute we were in our grandparents’ cabin where I found this,” she held out the glass globe which he gingerly took from her, “and the next minute we were here, wherever here is, and we were just wondering—”

“On Truman’s teeth, I’ve never seen the likes of it...” the little man uttered, staring wide-eyed at the globe.

Truman?” Miranda and Marcus repeated. “Truman was our grandfather’s name.”

The odd little man regarded them thoughtfully for a few seconds. Then realization swept over his face. “Well, that explains that, dunn’n it?” The little man came closer, getting a better look at them. “I’m Agapanthus Rush, of the original Rush Gardeners. Pleased ta meet ya.” He bowed deeply, his round nose nearly touching the floor.

“Pleased to meet you, Mr Rush. I’m Miranda Moon—”

“Yes, yes. O’course y’are. Call me Aggie.”

The Tree of Mindala is available for purchase at: Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Official book trailer: http://youtu.be/-e2MwDserCc

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas! and have a cookie!

Picture Coming up for air from all the holiday preparations and everything else to say Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays and thanks to everyone who has supported me during my first year of publishing!

Have a cookie :D

I'll be back with more musings on fantasy and writing and updates on my current projects as soon as I've recovered from all the cooking and festivities.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sneak Peek: The Lost Book of Anggird

Here's another peek inside The Lost Book of Anggird: Perarre catches a cold:

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Perarre nodded and dropped into her chair at the work table. What had she been expecting, that he would see how sick she was, feel sorry for her, and give her the day off? She shuffled her book and papers and pens around, not quite able to focus her foggy, feverish mind on her work. When she opened the book and tried to read its archaic script, her eyes watered and ached. She dropped her head to the table and covered it with her arms to block out the light.

“Miss Tabrano!” The Professor sounded genuinely alarmed. Perarre heard him come around from behind his desk, then she felt a light touch on her face. “You have a fever! Why didn’t you tell me you were ill?”

“Can I have the day off so I can die in peace, sir?” she mumbled. “And please don’t fire me.”

To her astonishment, instead of firing her, he started gently massaging her temples. Gradually, the pain in her head ebbed away, along with the feverish feeling.  The comfort spread to her watery eyes, stuffed-up nose, and burning throat. The Professor’s hands moved to her shoulders, still keeping the same light, slow, rhythmic touch. Then the touch faltered and he stopped. “I apologize for not realizing sooner that you were in distress, and for being unable to provide more relief,” he said. His voice had gone quiet and slightly husky.

Perarre raised her head and looked at him. “You can Heal.”

“I only achieved an Adequate ranking in Healing. I have some… difficulty with the Balance.” His face was covered with a light sheen of sweat, like it had been the day she stepped on his foot.

Of course. Healing was Balanced by pain for the Healer; the Healer had to filter the discomfort and distress taken from the patient out of the magica he had used before allowing the magica to return to its place. Even the small amount of pain that would be brought on by giving mild relief to cold symptoms was probably almost unbearable for the Professor. “Will you be all right, Professor?”

He nodded. “It usually passes before very long. I think I’ll go lie down for a bit. You are excused from work until you are well again. Only, Miss Tabrano —”

“Yes, sir?”

“You do not have my permission to die.”


Author Spotlight: Lindsey R. Loucks

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1. Tell us a little about yourself.
Well, I work as a school librarian in a very rural part of the US. When I’m not flinging books, I’m reading them or writing them. I also occasionally sleep and watch funny cat videos on YouTube.

 2. When did you start writing, and why?

When I was around eight-ish, my parents bought me my own desk for a present. Best gift ever! I was so excited, I immediately sat down at it and wrote my first story. It was an angst-filled tale about a girl who was having an epically crappy day. I’ve been writing ever since.

 3. What do you write, and why? What do you enjoy about what you write?

Most of what I write leans toward the paranormal/horror side of things, probably because that’s what I like to read. Most of my stories have a dash of romance since I’m a sucker for a good love story. I’ve also been known to dabble in dark comedy, science fiction, and contemporary. I guess I write all over the place!

I love testing the limits of my imagination, and writing lets me do that!

 4. What is your latest book or series? Any forthcoming books?

My paranormal romance novella, Haunted Chemistry, released in October from Entangled Publishing. The sequel to The Grave Winner has an expected release date of May 2014. I also have a collection of short stories in the works, and I’m nearly finished with a sexy/scary ghost story in space, which I’m very excited about!

 5. "Welcome To My Worlds": Tell us a little about the world of your latest book or series.

The Grave Winner takes place in Krapper, Kansas, which is based on a real small town. Without giving too much away, something is majorly wrong with the cemetery in Krapper. A huge chunk of the story takes place there. At night, of course.

 6. Introduce us to some of your characters. What do you like about them?

Leigh Baxton is a spunky fifteen year old girl who has just lost her mother. As you might imagine, she’s devastated. The thing I love about Leigh is that she can find the humor in things even during the darkest of times.

Jo Monroe is Leigh’s best friend. She’s loyal, funny, and is wicked good with nun chucks.

Callum Monroe is Jo’s brother and has always had a soft spot for Leigh. I like him because he’s a sweet bad boy.

Tram (no last name) is a mystery boy who hangs out at the cemetery and knows an awful lot about the strange happenings in Krapper.

 7. A fun fact you would like your readers to know about you or your book.

The idea for The Grave Winner started with the title. It just popped into my head one day when I was about to finish my very first full length novel. It made me wonder why anyone would win a grave. Is it a good thing to win a grave? My main character Leigh shouted into my ear a definitive “No!”

Picture The Grave Winner

Leigh Baxton is terrified her mom will come back from the dead -- just like the prom queen did.

While the town goes beehive over the news, Leigh bikes to the local cemetery and buries some of her mom’s things in her grave to keep her there. When the hot and mysterious caretaker warns her not to give gifts to the dead, Leigh cranks up her punk music and keeps digging.

She should have listened.

Two dead sorceresses evicted the prom queen from her grave to bury someone who offered certain gifts. Bury them alive, that is, then resurrect them to create a trio of undead powerful enough to free the darkest sorceress ever from her prison inside the earth.

With help from the caretaker and the dead prom queen, Leigh must find out what’s so special about the gifts she gave, and why the sorceresses are stalking her and her little sister. If she doesn’t, she’ll either lose another loved one or have to give the ultimate gift to the dead – herself.

Available at:Amazon | Barnes & Noble
 
Add The Grave Winner to Goodreads

Watch the book trailer on Youtube

Lindsey R. Loucks works as a school librarian in rural Kansas. When she's not discussing books with anyone who will listen, she's dreaming up her own stories. Eventually her brain gives out, and she'll play hide and seek with her cat, put herself in a chocolate induced coma, or watch scary movies alone in the dark to reenergize.

She's been with her significant other for almost two decades.

http://www.lindseyrloucks.com

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Author Spotlight: H.M. Jones

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Introducing H.M. Jones and her new book, Monochrome:

H.M. Jones lives in the Pacific Northwest with her two preschoolers, cat and husband. When she is not writing, and ignoring the meows of un-constructive criticism that Pepper flings her way, she is bookstore shopping with her family, raising her wonderful kids, teaching community college, drinking tea, watching period pieces and blogging about reading and writing. She finished Monochrome as an ebook October 2013 and just released it in print December 2013. The masses (twenty is a mass, right?) could not be ignored.

Picture Monochrome:

A young mother battles postpartum depression, marital troubles and addiction. Her weary mind plagued with horrible thoughts not her own, she decides to end it all. Suddenly, her mind and heart begin to race, her vision blurs and goes black. She awakes in a strange, dull, monochromatic blue world. Here, she comes face-to-face with the most beautiful and ugliest moments of her life, choosing those that she will lose forever, and those that are too precious to let go. In a world where many choose a living death, and no one is above suspicion, will her handsome Guide help her fight her way back to the beautiful life she left behind, or will she succumb to her ugliest urges and let her sweetest memories disappear into the blue?

Available at:
Amazon (Kindle and paperback) | Barnes & Noble (Nook) | Smashwords (ebook)

Where to find H.M. Jones:
Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Google+

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Author Spotlight: T.F. Walsh

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Introducing paranormal romance/urban fantasy author T.F. Walsh:

Hi Kyra, thanks for having me on your blog today :)

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.
A: I emigrated from Romania to Australia at the age of eight and now live in a regional city south of Sydney with my husband. Growing up hearing dark fairytales, I’ve always had a passion for reading and writing horror, paranormal romance, urban fantasy and young adult stories. I balance all the dark with light fluffy stuff like baking and traveling. I write young adult and adult fantasy fiction.

Q: When did you start writing, and why?
A: As a child, I enjoyed scribbling stories on pieces of papers and on the inside of book covers. I even signed the books as if they were my own. Let’s just say, my sister wasn’t impressed when she found her books all written on. It was years later when I fell ill with a horrible flu that I pulled out my laptop out and decided to type up some of my ideas. And ever since, I haven’t been able to stop :)

Q: What do you write, and why? What do you enjoy about what you write?
A: I love to write stories filled with paranormal lore, steampunk monsters, or set in extraordinary worlds, but the one common thread is love. Each character is searching or fighting to hold onto love.

Horror is my favorite genre to read, so it’s no surprise an element of the something scary always trickles into my writing.

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Q: What is your latest book or series? Any forthcoming books?
A: Cloaked in Fur is book 1 in a series. Book 2 is in the works with plans for many more :)

I’m also half way through a new young adult fantasy novel, which is made up of three parts about six characters. It is set a world filled with witches, steampunk monsters and magic, and at the heart of the story, there’s the struggle to find love.

Q: "Welcome To My Worlds": Tell us a little about the world of your latest book or series.
A:  'Cloaked in Fur' is set in Romania, more specifically Braşov. Braşov is located within what is the region traditionally known as Transylvania. I was born in Romania so I have a special place in my heart for stories based there, particularly those stories set in Transylvania. The region is steeped in lore and history and is about 30km from the Bran Castle, one of the historic homes associated with Vlad Tepes. Vlad Tepes is also known as Vlad the Impaler and is often cited as the historical basis for Bram Stoker's Dracula. Whilst many people consider him a villain, the local populace generally consider him a hero. Interesting fact is that is it said Vlad the Impaler never lived in the Bran Castle, despite the Dracula stories. The region of Transylvania also contains stretches of the Carpathian Mountains. The Carpathians spread through a number of European countries. Large tracts of forest, deep gorges, steep cliffs and cave systems make it a dangerous and beautiful area. With a large population of animals including wolves and bears it makes a wonderful setting for any story. And that’s exactly why I set Cloaked in Fur in Braşov.

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Q: Introduce us to some of your characters. What do you like about them?
A: Daciana looks like Kate Beckinsale in my mind. She’s a strong character who won’t let anyone push her around, but she has a soft spot for Connell. Sonsidering the secrets she’s keeping from him, this creates a lot of tension between the two lovers.

Quote from Daciana: “I can only imagine how difficult this is for you. It’s tearing me apart to have you push me away. The fact of the matter is wulfkin—or werewolves as you call them—do exist. For your own good sense, you need to accept this or it will eat away your mind.”

(Image from: http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/underworld/images/19181035/title/selene-wallpaper)

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Connell looks like Chris Hemsworth. He’s a human and has no idea werewolves exist, that is until his life gets all kinds of complicated with Daciana involved.

Quote from Connell: “Shit, Daci. This guy comes here, shoving you around and you expect me to just sit back and do nothing? Forget it.”

(Image from: http://pinterest.com/pin/483362972477014375/)


Enre looks like Jensen Ackles
. He’s the strong alpha type who loves Daciana but also knows he has not chance with her. But it doesn’t stop him from trying.

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Quote from Enre: “The years we dated. How do you remember me? As the wulfkin who loved you unconditionally, a mistake, a fling, or the hottest lover you’ve had?”

(image from: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0010075)

Q: A fun fact you would like your readers to know about you or your book.
A: Enre is an extremely popular character with my readers, and I’m happy to announce that book 2 will be his story.

[Kyra sez: T.F. also has the best hat of any author I've featured so far!]


Picture Cloaked in Fur is Available Now

As a moonwulf, Daciana never expected to fall in love with a human. Hell, she never imagined that she’d abandon her pack, endanger everyone around her, and break the worst rule possible. But she did.

A rogue werewolf is killing Daciana’s friends, and she sets on capturing the creature. She’ll do whatever it takes to stop the beast. The police and her boyfriend, Inspector Connell Lonescu, are starting to question her involvement in the murders, which is endangering the pack’s secret existence. But when the pack alpha kidnaps Connell, revealing the awful truth about the creature and its connection to the pack, Daciana must choose between saving the man she loves and saving her pack family from certain death.

Paranormal Suspense With Strong Romance

Buy Cloaked in Fur Here:

Amazon | Amazon UK | Barnes and Noble | iTunes
All Romance | Kobo Books | Crimson Romance Books

Publisher: Crimson Romance www.crimsonromance.com


Author Links:

Website | Twitter | Facebook
Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon

Sneak Peek : Urdaisunia

Here's another peek inside Urdaisunia. Earlier, Rashali and Eruz parted under difficult circumstances, thinking they'd never see each other again, but now their paths unexpectedly cross again:

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The noise of shouting, laughing, and gambling assaulted Eruz’s ears as he entered the tavern. The smell of wine, burning aksa-weed, fish, and bodies that had been working in the heat all day was almost overwhelming. Smoke from the lamps and torches fogged the room. He made his way across the crowded room to a spot on a bench along one of the walls. No one took any notice of him in his plain tradesman’s clothes and white salik; he also wasn’t the only person in the room who wasn’t Urdai. A small group of Xaxan men sat in one corner, drinking and gambling. Three Kai-Kalle youths in brightly-striped robes laughed and bragged and harassed the Urdai serving girl. An extremely drunk Sazar man stumbled into the tavern and began arguing with the barman, then slumped to the floor in a stupor.

Eruz ordered beer from a serving boy; though he usually preferred wine, the wine served in a place like this was likely to be sour and watery, while, it was said, it was impossible to make bad beer from Urdaisunian barley. He slowly nursed his drink while he observed the activity around him.

A small group of Urdai came in and went to a low table in a corner that was quieter than the rest of the tavern. A tall, lean Urdai man sat there with a number of other people. He had a quiet, authoritative air, and seemed to listen more than he spoke. Most likely he was the leader of the Nest, or at least high up in the leadership. Seated next to him was--

Eruz blinked to clear his smoke-hazed eyes and looked again. Rashali.

Relief and joy surged through him, along with an odd, sudden twist of dislike for the man sitting next to her. Eruz watched as the group that had come into the tavern spoke to him. They seemed to include Rashali in what they said, and the man frequently turned to her, as though asking her advice or opinion before replying. It was almost as though they were partners in running the Nest.

Fear quickly overshadowed Eruz’s relief. The Nest was in danger, which meant that Rashali was in danger. He hadn’t known how to deliver his warning—it was unlikely that any Scorpion would listen to a Sazar—but she would listen. He hoped. If she didn’t hate him for what he had done at Three Leaping Fish.


Urdaisunia is available in ebook and paperback from:
Amazon
| Barnes & Noble | Apple | Sony | Diesel
Smashwords | CreateSpace | All Romance Ebooks

Friday, November 22, 2013

Author Spotlight: Catherine L. Vickers

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Introducing Catherine L. Vickers, here on her blog tour with Saskia Book Tours. Don't forget to enter the giveaway down at the bottom!

New author and Indie author of Fantasy by night. Sell vintage and antique items via e-commerce by day. Four grown up children and 2 wee grand children. Three dogs (now two as I lost my oldest companion to cancer) and and a very curios cat who follows us on dog walks. 

*Guardian Dragons, Book 1 on Amazon in kindle version and paperback.
*Flight of a Changeling, Book 2 on Amazon as Paperback.

Love to write but if I'm honest I don't much enjoy the computer work I have to do as an Indie author, it is very time consuming. So many other things I'd much rather be doing. But, there you go, it has to be done so I'd better get working on it.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.
A: I was born and continue to live in West Yorkshire in the UK. Most of my working life has been spent with the Local Authority in an administrative position. I also work full time for myself which means you have to put in double the hours of a regular paid job. I have 4 grown up children placed all around the world. Plus I am a grandmother and love every minute of it. My favourite time of the year is Christmas when my family do their very best to get together.

Q. When did you start writing, and why?
Started reading seriously as an adult in my 30s when I was studying. Went on to do a Creative Writing course which led to my creation of the fantasy world of Aarabassa series. I gave birth to this story in France on a very wet camping holiday. Without any electricity I needed to occupy my mind with something other than constant reading. Hence the Aarabassa world was created.

Q: What is your latest book or series? Any forthcoming books?
Book 3, Blood Bride, of the Aarbassa World fantasy series, has just been released as a paperback. I will release the e-version on 1st December. Whilst I am in the middle of writing Book 4 of this series I am also going to publish an omnibus edition of the first three books, very shortly.

So it will consist of:
Book 1 Guardian Dragons; available at Amazon
Book 2 Flight of a Changeling; available at Amazon
plus the latest released Book 3, Blood Bride; available at Amazon

Q: "Welcome To My Worlds": Tell us a little about the world of your latest book or series.

Aarabassa is a planet that has one half in constant darkness (Darklands), and one half in constant sunlight (Lightlands). Around the middle is a Magic Wall which stops either side from entering the other side. The series is about the Darkland creatures wanting to destroy the magic barrier and take over the whole world. Within this world the reader is introduced to many creatures, cultures and cities, including underwater cities. Because their is no night and day, I have created two moons and time is ruled by whichever moon is high in the sky.

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Q: Introduce us to some of your characters. What do you like about them?
A: The protagonist is a young mage girl named Heather, who is also a Changeling. Around her are three princes who have grown up with her. They are our main heroes of the tale and live within the Lightlands. Emperor Morte-Bielz is the antagonist who rules within the Darklands and wants out. He is attempting to build up an army of vamplins (vampires). However they are not the traditional vampires that we know. They are quite a gentle race. Along the adventure the reader will also meet fairies, dwarves, centaurs, mer-people, lizard people and ant people, plus a few others thrown in here and there. It sounds chaotic but there is a civilised order to the lands and its creatures.

I cannot pick out a favourite character as I love them all. Whilst I am writing about a particular character in the setting, I feel I am that character so therefore I am them all, good and bad.

Q: A fun fact you would like your readers to know about you or your book.

I have created a website around the world of Aarabassa whereby I am indexing all the details for any reader of the series to look up. The world is complex and needs referencing. On this website I am also attempting to put pictures of characters to give the reader an idea of what was in my head when I created them.

Q: Blog/site link:

WEBSITE | BLOG | Goodreads | FACEBOOK

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Guardian Dragons (Aarabassa World: Divided Realms, #1):

Based on the world of Aarabassa where one half is dark the other is in constant sunlight. A magic barrier divides the darker characters out of the Lightlands.

Only the Guardian Dragons and the Changeling can pass through the Magic Wall. When the dragons over hear vamplins plotting to attack the Darklands, the dragon Queen seeks the Ancient Mage for help. 

Three young Princes have grown up alongside the Changeling a female mage. Their world will soon change as they are destined for different adventures.

available at Amazon

Flight of a Changeling (Aarabassa World: Divided Realms, #2):

Based on the world of Aarabassa where one half is dark and the other is in constant sunlight. A magic barrier divides the darker characters out of the Lightlands.

Prince Raphael is taken on a pilgrimage to heal his illness, by Rikka the herbal nurse, but all is not as it seems.

Prince Amos and Prince Leon depart on separate quests to invite various races, including dwarves, centaurs and merpeople, to the Lightlands Council to ready for battle with the creatures of the Darklands

Heather, the Changeling is journeying to the Guardian Dragons lair, meeting with the Forest Keepers on her way. Her final destination, to meet with the monshaad Emperor on the other side.

available at Amazon

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Giveaway not run or sponsored by Kyra Halland/Welcome To My Worlds
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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Book Review: The Princess and the Paladin

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The Princess and the Paladin, by Hiram Webb

World-building: * * * * *
Writing: * * * *
Story: * * *
Characters: * * *

(I was provided with a free copy of this book for the purpose of giving an honest review.)

The Princess and the Paladin takes readers on a journey through the great Empire of NaRasch at a time of impending revolution. Gail, the youngest of the old Emperor's multitude of children, is given an unexpected gift: a kingdom of her very own. When the old Emperor's oldest son takes the throne, Gail is suspected of treason and imprisoned. She's rescued from her imprisonment by a warrior in the thrall of a mysterious sword - the Paladin, which begins her adventure through the lands of the NaResch Empire.

Fantasy novels can often be loosely grouped into character-based, plot-based, and world-based novels. The Princess and the Paladin reads very much like a world-based novel, in which the main focus is on the history, geography, and political tensions in the Empire. As Gail is handed off from one group of people to another, we get an extensive tour of the land and learn a lot about its history, including the tensions that are now leading these various groups to join together in rebellion against the Empire. There's some spectacular scenery and exciting action along the way on Gail's dangerous journey. I particularly enjoyed where she is taken white-water rafting (or canoeing) along a river through the mountains. There's also dragons and some other cool creatures.

The weak point of the story is Gail herself. We follow her on her adventures, and she's the central character of the story, but we know very little about her personality or what she's thinking or feeling or, especially, what she wants. She also doesn't really make any of her own decisions; she's just taken from one place to another by the other characters. This lack of ability to determine her own fate is an issue that comes up a few times - she objects from time to time over not being given any choice in what she does or where she goes. The others tell her that she does have a choice, but the choices she's given are really no choices at all, and she just goes along with what everyone else tells her would be best for her to do. According to the author's notes, The Princess and the Paladin is the first part of a longer work, The Fall of NaResch, so I assume that later on, Gail moves into a position of having more control over her life and her choices. She does start to come more into her own as she begins to master the magical sword Maroward, and has a lot of potential to become a powerful character later on.

The Paladin storyline and the rebellion storyline don't seem to be connected to each other, but I assume they tie in together more later on in The Fall of NaResch.

Besides Gail, there are a number of other characters in the book who are brought to life quite vividly. I especially liked the three young Pirates (who are the ones who take Gail on her white-water canoeing adventure). The writing is clear, with well-done descriptions that bring this vast, magical land to life. There's a lot to like about this book, and it will be interesting to see how the threads of the story laid out here develop later on.

Book Review: Rey de Noches

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Rey de Noches, by Sean Torres

Story: * * * *
Characters: * * * *
Imagination: * * * * *
Writing mechanics: * *

In the world of Noches, where no sun ever shines, a young man named Ruiz dedicates his life to the dangerous quest to become Rey de Noches - King of Nights.

This is a review of the revised edition. I first started reading the original edition and contacted the author privately with some concerns, and he advised me that a revised edition was underway, so I decided to wait and read and review the new edition. A number of errors in the original edition have been fixed, but the writing is still problematic. In particular, there are problems with tangled-up sentences, incorrect verb tenses (the correct use of "had" is something that a number of writers seem to have trouble with), redundant words, and dialogue punctuation. These are all things that can be learned and improved as the author continues to learn and practice the craft of writing.

What is more difficult to learn, that Mr. Torres has in abundance, is imagination and storytelling instinct. Noches is a fascinating and original fantasy world, based on Hispanic history and culture. In spite of the tangled prose, the world is colorfully and vividly described. The worldbuilding is remarkably consistent in terms of there being no "days" in this world, only night - the world "day" is never used, and magic is common in this world as the people living there need it to keep their bodies warm in the absence of sunlight. The magic in general is very cool and has some spectacular uses, and the rules for its use are carefully laid out.

Rey de Noches introduces us to a cast of varied and colorful characters. The main character, Ruiz, seems a little thin at first, but he gains dimension and interest as he goes through his tasks and gradually learns what his true destiny really is. Along the way he meets with bandits, mystics, and an orphaned little girl whom he takes under his wing.

The story is gripping and intriguing, and well-paced with both exciting action and more contemplative scenes; every scene serves a purpose in moving the story forward, and I was never bored. I do have to say that the ending was of a type that I really don't care for, but that's just my own personal taste, and I'm sure other readers don't mind that kind of ending, or may even prefer it.

On the whole, in spite of the problematic writing, this is an exciting, entertaining, and imaginative novel. My overall rating comes out to 3.75 stars, but I'm rounding it up to 4 because Mr. Torres is a young writer of clearly huge talent, who simply needs to continue working to improve the technical aspects of his writing.

Book Review: Bane of Souls

Just catching up on some book reviews :)
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Bane of Souls, by Thaddeus White

Exciting traditional fantasy. Horst is a newcomer and misfit to the tower and school of mages - his people believe that magical gifts are a curse. An evil spirit is terrorizing the city, and when the spirit's malicious actions strike too close to Horst, he vows personal revenge.

This book has enjoyable characters; I especially liked Horst and Rufus, Horst's fellow "barbarian" who is also a mage and one of his mentors. The magicians training and living in the tower are mostly portrayed as a well-rounded and diverse group of people. The crimelord Thaddeus is also a fun character; the bane of the city law enforcement's existence, he's too useful for them to seriously think about putting him away.

I also enjoyed the nature of the evil threat in the story; much more frightening and insidious than an army. The evil spirit has its own agenda, and it's ruthless and sneaky in going about its business. The magic in the story is also quite cool.

The novel felt a little unbalanced; a lot of attention was given to things that didn't seem quite as important to the story (they may prove to be more important in later books), while other, more important, events felt like they were skimmed over or skipped completely. Because of this, sometimes it was kind of hard to tell what was going on.

But mostly Bane of Souls is pretty well-written, and a fast-paced, entertaining read.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sneak Peek 11/17: Chosen of Azara

Here's a peek inside Chosen of Azara. Sevry is working as a guard-for-hire, and the caravan he's guarding is about to come under attack:

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Sevry ignored Odigar and the confusion he was causing. The last of the largest enclosed wagons started up onto the ridge. The raiders came close enough that he could count them; there were eleven of them to his nine, plus the wagon and camel drivers. The pounding of their horses’ hooves grew louder. Sevry waited, sword drawn, his heart beating hard, his horse dancing beneath him in nervousness and excitement. At moments like this, all the times in his life when he’d waited, sword in hand, for the enemy to come blended into one. He was twelve years old again, holding his first sword, awaiting the invasion of the Royal Holding at Yiz by the Madrinan army; he was twenty-three, watching as the Madrinans approached the Convent of Azara; he was a mercenary, a guard, in countless skirmishes against countless, forgotten foes.

The last wagons were still trying to get into a secure position on top of the ridge when the raiders charged up the slope and barreled into the guards without checking their horses’ speed. Sevry and the other mounted guards were forced back against the wagons by the raiders’ onslaught. Sevry’s horse slipped a few feet down the gravelly slope; he brought it under control just in time to strike at a yellow-haired raider whose sword was swinging down towards his head.

A knot of fighting men on top of the ridge jolted the last wagon in line, just above Sevry. With a heavy thud, the wagon’s load of smuggled jade shifted. Sevry heard the sharp crack of the wagon’s front axle as it broke, but he didn’t have time to move out of the way.

Dragging its horses with it, the wagon tumbled down the slope, crashed into Sevry and his horse, and landed on its side with Sevry’s legs trapped beneath it. Excruciating pain exploded through his legs, and his scream drowned out the noises of the fight and the cries of injured horses and men.

In spite of the agony flooding his senses, he remained conscious throughout the rest of the battle. Finally, the few surviving raiders turned tail and rode away, and Sevry’s men were free to turn their attention to him. He was glad to see that none of them had fallen, though most of them were injured. They freed the horses from the broken wagon and put the poor beasts, along with Sevry’s badly-injured horse, out of their misery, unloaded the jade, then moved the wagon off of him. Bliss at the disappearance of the crushing weight nearly made Sevry forget about the pain for a moment. Speaking to each other in harsh, urgent whispers, the men carefully lifted Sevry and laid him down on some blankets. Each movement brought further waves of fresh agony. He tried to bite back his cries, but they tore their way out of him anyway. One of the men poured herbed wine into his mouth. Desperately thirsty, Sevry swallowed it.

Even the strong sleeping herb in the wine barely won out over the pain. Sevry dozed uneasily, only to be jolted into consciousness by new pain as his crushed lower legs and raw, scraped arms and back were being cleaned and bandaged. Finally, his caretakers finished their tasks, and he was able to sink into undisturbed darkness.