Tag Archives: Fantasy

Waiting on Wednesday (102) ENDSINGER by Jay Kristoff

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Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine, and is a great way to share upcoming books that you’re exciting about. Hop on over there and check out other WoW posts! This week I have another book I’m over the moon about. I don’t read a lot of series, simply because it’s not always easy to keep up with them. But this is one series I’ve adored since the beginning, and unfortunately, it’s coming to an end *weep*

Endsinger

Endsinger (The Lotus War #3) by Jay Kristoff. Release date: September 23 2014 (Thomas Dunne Books). Oh you guys, just look at this cover! That’s Buruu flying up there! And that saw thing, WTH? Yukiko looks dangerous and pissed off, and I think she’s about to kill something. And why are there snowflakes on this cover?? I am dying to read this, not only to solve the mystery behind these images, but I want to see how this epic story is going to end. Bring it on, Kristoff!

A TREMBLING EARTH
The flames of civil war sweep across the Shima Imperium. With their plans to renew the Kazumitsu dynasty foiled, the Lotus Guild unleash their deadliest creation—a mechanical goliath known as the Earthcrusher, intended to unite the shattered Empire under a yoke of fear. With the Tiger Clan and their puppet Daimyo Hiro in tow, the Guild marches toward a battle for absolute dominion over the Isles.

A BROKEN REBELLION
Yukiko and Buruu are forced to take leadership of the Kagé rebellion, gathering new allies and old friends in an effort to unite the country against the chi-mongers. But the ghosts of Buruu’s past stand between them and the army they need, and Kin’s betrayal has destroyed all trust among their allies. When a new foe joins the war tearing the Imperium apart, it will be all the pair can do to muster the strength to fight, let alone win.

A FINAL BATTLE
The traitor Kin walks the halls of Guild power, his destiny only a bloody knife-stroke away. Hana and Yoshi struggle to find their place in a world now looking to them as heroes. Secret cabals within the Lotus Guild claw and struggle; one toward darkness, the other toward light. And as the earth splits asunder, as armies destroy each other for rule over an empire of lifeless ash and the final secret about blood lotus is revealed, the people of Shima will learn one last, horrifying truth.

There is nothing a mother won’t do to keep her children by her side.

Nothing.

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Look how awesome all three covers look together…I’d love to know if you’re reading this series. Leave me your WoW links in the comments:-)

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THE SCROLL OF YEARS by Chris Willrich – Review

Scroll of Years 3D

The Scroll of Years (Gaunt and Bone #1) by Chris Willrich
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Publisher: Pyr
Release date:  September 24 2013
Source: ARC from publisher
Pages:  264

four and a half

In a word: A unique magical world where East meets West, a poetic writing style that works well with the folklore-ish tale, and dragons!

Persimmon Gaunt was even paler, but she was near to bursting with a barbarian baby-to-come. Her frame spoke of action and theft and generosity and narrow escapes. Her eyes spoke of tombs and flowers and elegies and inevitable decay. Her voice spoke of all these things and the glimmer of a silver thread that bound them.

The Scroll of Years is the first book in a series, but it’s not the first time the main characters have been through adventures together.  Willrich introduced the characters of Gaunt and Bone in a series of short stories that have appeared in various publications over the past twelve years or so, and now they have their own full-scale novel. Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone are lovers expecting their first child, but they aren’t married. That in itself is an unusual set-up for any story, but add in the fact that Bone is a thief and both of them are on the run from assassins, and you have a first-rate adventure story.

Gaunt and Bone are trying their best to settle down and start their family, but as luck would have it, someone is trying to kill them. So begins their race to stay one step ahead of the Night Auditors, two assassins who will do anything to get a hold of their unborn child. With the intention of hiding until her baby is born, Gaunt escapes into a magical scroll, and for much of the rest of the story, Gaunt and Bone are separated. With the help of some scrappy bandits, Gaunt and Bone must try to evade capture and figure out a way to bring their little family back together, but the odds don’t look good…

Within the story are even more stories, as some of the characters use folklore and myth to explain things. As Gaunt and Bone run from the assassins, they make their way to the East and hide in an Oriental-like village called Abundant Bamboo. I loved the exotic feel of these scenes, especially the characters’ evocative names, like Lightning Bug, Next-One-A-Boy and Walking Stick. One “story within a story” involves a painter named Meteor-Plum and how he came to paint a scroll with magical properties called “A Tumult of Trees on Peculiar Peaks.” Just reading these unfamiliar yet entertaining names made me smile and reminded me that I left the normal world behind when I opened the pages of this book.

Willrich’s writing style really sets this story apart from other fantasies. His formal and almost old-fashioned prose is hard to get used to at first, but once you get into the story it’s difficult to imagine it written any other way. His descriptions of the landscape and the strange places the characters find themselves in are told in dreamy and lyrical prose. The Scroll of Years wasn’t a quick read for me, as I did struggle a bit with the writing in the beginning. But I found it a nice change to take my time reading this book and savor the language and the leisurely development of the plot. The story isn’t slow by any means, and in fact there are several places where the action rushes from one breathless scene to the next. But Willrich manages to trip up his characters, who are simply trying to stay alive, by throwing them into increasingly dire situations. By the end of the story you will be breathless too, as the stakes get higher and the danger escalates.

I loved the characters of Gaunt and Bone, and reading this book makes me want to go back and read all their short stories. Willrich keeps them apart for much of the story, but even then you can feel the palpable love they have for each other and their unborn child. As a mother myself I especially appreciated the passages where Gaunt reflects on what it means to be a parent, and I thought these scenes were a nice drop of realism in an otherwise fantastical world.

Some other characters that stood out for me were the young bandits Next One and Flybait, who have their own adventure that parallels that of Gaunt and Bone. I also loved Walking Stick and Lightning Bug, two characters who seem to be in love but can’t do anything about it, since Lightning Bug is already married. They were especially interesting because they follow different philosophies of living and are basically at odds with each other.

And have I mentioned the dragons yet? Well, there are dragons in this book, and they are most unusual. A dragon named Kindlekarn plays a big part in Gaunt and Bone’s escape from the assassins. I won’t give away all the details of Willrich’s dragons, but I will tell you they are made of metal and precious stones and sometimes become mountains if they settle too for long.

I’ll admit to tearing up at the end—it  was very emotional! Willrich gives us just enough of a cliffhanger to make us anxious for the follow-up to The Scroll of Years, The Silk Map (out next May). My only quibble is with the cover, which shows a NOT pregnant Gaunt in a get-up better suited for a video game babe. Even if this scene happens after she gives birth, trust me, no woman would ever want to show a post-pregnancy stomach by wearing an outfit like that!

Nonetheless, The Scroll of Years is highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.

You can find The Scroll of Years here:

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SEA CHANGE Blog Tour – Interview with Author S. M. Wheeler + Giveaway!

Sea Change Blog Tour ButtonI’m beyond thrilled to be included in the blog tour for Sea Change! This was such a special and unusual book (you can read my review here), and I’m very happy to have S. M. Wheeler join me today with an interview. Keep reading, because Tor is giving away THREE finished copies of Sea Change along with a special pin!

Sea Change

Sea Change by S. M. Wheeler
A Tor Hard Cover
ISBN: 978-0-7653-3314-8
On Sale: June 18, 2013

Available here: * Indiebound * Amazon * Barnes & Noble * BooksAMillion * Powells * Walmart * Overstock

The unhappy child of two powerful parents who despise each other, young Lilly turns to the ocean to find solace, which she finds in the form of the eloquent and intelligent sea monster Octavius, a kraken. In Octavius’s many arms, Lilly learns of friendship, loyalty, and family. When Octavius, forbidden by Lilly to harm humans, is captured by seafaring traders and sold to a circus, Lilly becomes his only hope for salvation. Desperate to find him, she strikes a bargain with a witch that carries a shocking price.

Her journey to win Octavius’s freedom is difficult. The circus master wants a Coat of Illusions; the Coat tailor wants her undead husband back from a witch; the witch wants her skin back from two bandits; the bandits just want some company, but they might kill her first. Lilly’s quest tests her resolve, tries her patience, and leaves her transformed in every way.

A powerfully written debut from a young fantasy author, Sea Change is an exhilarating tale of adventure, resilience, and selflessness in the name of friendship.

Author Interview new

Welcome, S. M. Wheeler, to Books, Bones & Buffy! Your writing style is a bit unusual and has a formal tone that reminds me of several classic writers. Are you naturally drawn to classic literature, and do you think your style emerged from reading certain classic authors?

Thank you for hosting me!

I would begin by admitting that a certain amount of my style is a reflection of how I speak, which can be a bit unusual and formal. At least when not flustered, where it all breaks down into quasi-sentences and the inability to scrounge up words (there are times when writing goes like this, too). That’s the influence of more reading that talking with others as a younger person—and, yes, what I read tended towards the classics. I recall particularly an insomniac month spent with Anna Karenina, which had me craving beefsteaks and throwing around French words during the day. It was silly.

Really, during my teen years I really should have carved “S. + Russian Lit” on a tree. Paging through the list of books read around that time, there’s also some very Classical literature (The Golden Ass stands out) and Shakespeare. I can’t leave out the “antique-y” language of some fantasy authors, too. I’m not the only one who has been tempted to mimic my literary forebears. Fairytales are likewise given to that style.

And on that note, who are your favorite authors today? Did anyone in particular influence you to start writing?

Peter S. Beagle, Jeanette Winterson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Italo Calvino, and Philip K. Dick are my current favorites. Less “favorite authors” and more “authors who have written my favorite books” are Dostoevsky and Mikhail Bulgakov with their The Brothers Karamazov and The Master and Margarita respectively.

I don’t know that someone started me writing. There’s a certain inherent urge to, at least where storytelling goes. I was a terrible liar as a kid both in the sense of “I did it a lot” and “I didn’t do it very well”; one time I swore that Edgar Rice Burroughs had committed the sin of portraying unreasonable animal behavior when the lionesses in a Tarzan book failed to gnaw down the tree the protagonist had found sanctuary in à la beavers. The funny thing is, I don’t even know how I knew about this scene—I haven’t read any of Burroughs’ work. Besides getting much better at sounding authoritative and reasonable where off-the-cuff fibs are concerned (my sister calls this “bullshitting”, which is polite compared to the alternative of “lying like an ass”), I’ve gotten to channeling the habit towards things explicitly fictional.

I will say that my father writes, as well. That might have sparked the realization that I could put those lies-slash-stories to paper. Related to the above, he has the attitude that his first obligation as a writer is to himself, which keeps me writing what I want to read—and that can be oblique and opaque and formal.

Do you write full-time? And if not, how do you fit writing into your day, and how do you reward yourself after a successful writing session?

I do not, and I do not think I ever wish to! Firstly, I’m a student at the moment, but this goes for the future as well. Without obligations to leave the house I don’t, even though I know that it’s important to observe other human beings in action. I’m working in food services at the moment, and it is providing fantastic research for the behavior of children. People probably think I am showing interest in the kids when I ask what age they are and such, but, no. I’m learning life stages.

I write whenever I have a free moment and sufficient energy. I have chronic fatigue issues, which proves very frustrating, and the writing that goes into schoolwork as an English undergrad makes things somewhat difficult, too. So, it’s after I have fulfilled my other obligations that I settle down to put words to paper—it is its own reward.

I love that there are so many parts to Lilly’s quest to find Octavius. Each step on her journey leads her to complete another task before she can continue. Did you plan this out ahead of time, or did Lilly’s circuitous path emerge while you were writing?

It is very much deliberate, though I would never again write a plot with goals nested one in the other. “Pain in the ass” does not even begin to describe how difficult it was to sort the elements of those quests into an order that did not involve too much backtracking. I’m proud, though, of how it turned out. Also, while I knew I would be writing a circular plot, through the process of drafting I wasn’t sure which goals went where and which character wanted what. That accounted for quite a lot of the rewriting required to finish the novel.

Many fantasy writers spend lots of time world-building, but not all of the elements necessarily make it into the final book. Is there anything that you imagined for Sea Change that didn’t make it into the final version?

Cannibalism.

No, really! It was so cool, with a reasoning behind the magic that I am still quite pleased with. You should feel disappointed that it didn’t make it, but even with the tone of the book it was a touch too gruesome. I had to dial it back to the bit with the tooth. There was also a bit more about the lay of the land that never made it into the book, as Lilly keeps primarily to rural locations. I would also have liked to incorporate more about the Christian God’s role in the universe, too, and there’s a version where the Devil makes a showing, as is appropriate for something based off the Grimms’ work. Likewise the Virgin Mary, though now that there’s a character named Mary I probably won’t end up working that in, either.

Ultimately I did wish to respect the vagueness and archetypal setting of fairytales, however. Named locations, kingdoms, that sort of thing, I was chary of. This isn’t a secondary world fantasy per se. That means that most of what is missing from the book is stories that I couldn’t logically have Lilly learn about, not world-building as such. The pair of bandits and their witch have a back story of some intricacy, but none of them would tell her about it. Not even drunk.

Tell us three things about yourself that can’t be found on your website.

That’s a long list, given my website is essentially a writing journal. On the other hand, were I feeling artsy-fartsy, I could say that it’s all there, right in my writing. Imagine me wiggling my fingers to indicate the mystical truth of this sentiment.

I feel like that’s a rude answer, though.

The first: I am a big fan of reptiles, keep one (a rosy boa) as a pet, and intend to have more in the future. Though I don’t approve of the exotics trade where it involves wild-caught individuals and I find certain aspects of the captive breeding trade disturbing, I find it difficult to say no to pretty snakes and monitor lizards.

Second: I find video games that involve level grinding infinitely soothing. I blame a childhood of Pokémon. The exception is the Silent Hill games: the mechanics might not be my cup of tea but being afraid to open doors and advance the story because I am that afraid of pixel monsters? Oh, it’s wonderful.

Third: While gender and sexuality are evident as matters of philosophical and ideological concern in my writing, I am also deeply interested in the portrayal of disabled characters in fiction as well as the lives of disabled folks out here in the real world, particularly where mental illness is concerned.

Thank you so much for your insightful and intelligent answers!

Watch the creepy book trailer for Sea Change. The trailer does a fantastic job of summing up what the book is really about:

About the author:

I spent the first thirteen years of my life on a slow-motion tour of the United States, following my father’s work in the telecommunication business, with a brief side trip to Jamaica. Settling down at last in Upstate New York when my parents purchased an inn, I spent a difficult year attempting to adapt to the small local school and the company of my agemates. Ultimately, my family made the decision to educate me at home. Some of my time came to revolve around the business, which grew to include a bookstore and restaurant; some of my attention went to the school textbooks from which I learned. Mostly, I read and wrote.

Fantasy, science fiction, myth, folklore—I favored the unreal in reading and told the same sort of stories as soon as I could articulate those ideas in words. This became an important tool when I developed several chronic health problems in my adolescence. Rather than using the world of fantasy to escape from these, I normalized them by creating disabled characters within the familiar landscapes of the fantastic. One o’ clock in the morning with an unruly mind and aching joints was best faced with characters whose hallucinations and missing limbs were oversized projections of my own difficulties.

I flew out of Upstate to California for college with one suitcase of clothes and ten boxes of books. I am now living with family while attending the University of San Diego, where I am pursuing an English degree, a Classics minor, and all excuses to write fiction.

Find S. M. Wheeler: * Blog * Twitter * Goodreads *

Giveaway button

Now for a special giveaway! THREE winners (U.S./Canada only) will win a finished copy of Sea Change and a special edition pin! To enter, please fill out the form. You can get extra entries by leaving a comment, tweeting, and other tasks. Three winners will be selected by Random.org on July 10. Good luck!

Sea Change Pin

This giveaway is over, and I will be posting the winners names soon! Thanks to everyone who entered.

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SEA CHANGE by S. M. Wheeler – Review

Sea Change 3dSea Change by S. M. Wheeler

Genre: Adult Fantasy

Publisher: Tor Books

Release date: June 18 2013

Source: e-ARC from publisher via NetGalley

Pages: 304

four and a half

In a word:  a harrowing adventure, a determined heroine, an unbreakable friendship, all written in lush and poetic prose.

The thing…was bright red, craggy-skinned, and the size of Father’s fist, which was to say not very large but with a great deal of presence; around it limbs coiled like petals circling a flower’s heart. The water came halfway to the top of its bulbous body. It made kettle noises at her. Good sense rolled right out of her head with the silly thought that adventures started with such things; plunging her hands into the water, she drew it out on her palms.

Sea Change is a marvel of a novel, a fairy tale filled with magic, evil witches, bad mothers and fathers, true friendship, bandits, trolls and one dead tailor who can sew a miraculous coat. This is not a novel to take lightly; it’s not a quick read and it’s definitely not a “beach read,” although it would nice if it were, since the story revolves around the sea. I started this book with very little to go on, and it surprised me. Wheeler’s prose is glorious and reminded me of gothic castles, sea-swept cliffs and foggy moors. I was transported to another time and place, lost in the twists and turns of Lilly’s seemingly impossible quest to rescue her dear friend Octavius the kraken. Sea Change requires some time to read, not because of its length, but because you’ll want to savor the words and immerse yourself in the descriptions of Wheeler’s world.

Lilly is only a young child when she meets Octavius, a palm-sized kraken that she finds on the beach. As the years pass, the two form an unusual friendship and spend as much time together as possible. But as Octavius grows bigger and bigger, he must venture out to sea for longer periods of time to hunt for food. Meanwhile, Lilly is trapped with her stifling family, a mother and father who want little to do with her. Her father, a marquis, does not feel Lilly is suitable as an heir, mostly due to the large birthmark that covers half her face, and he longs for his wife to have another child.

After Lilly is brutally attacked by her father, she knows the time has come to leave home, especially since she hasn’t seen Octavius in months and is worried about him. She sets off to find a troll who can locate her friend, and there begins her strange and circuitous adventure, as she is sent from place to place, making bargains along the way, all in the hopes of freeing Octavius from his prison.

OK, I will say it: I absolutely loved Octavius. He is a sea monster who is so smitten with Lilly that he agrees to never kill and eat humans. He is gentle with Lilly even after he grows larger than her, and I loved the author’s descriptions of how he wrapped his tentacles around Lilly’s ankles and wrists whenever they met. Unfortunately, Octavius is absent for most of the second half of the story while Lilly is on her journey. I almost wished the story had alternating chapters from Octavius’ point of view, but I guess that would be a different book entirely. Luckily, all of the other characters are engaging in their own way and keep the story interesting. Lilly is such a wonderful creation, a pragmatic young girl with very little to look forward to in life, due to her birthmark, who goes out of her way to treat others properly. And Lilly and Octavius together was simply a treat. I also loved a character named Horace, the witch’s servant, a man who used to be a mule! He and Lilly develop another wonderful relationship that grows deeper as the story progresses.

The story takes a disturbingly gory turn when Lilly gets to the house of the troll and makes her first bargain. I was not ready for what the troll wanted from her in exchange for Octavius’ location. But you have to remember there’s magic in this story, and nothing is ever quite the way it seems. What starts as a simple quest to find Octavius turns into months of deal-making and promises before Lilly can finally complete her task. I only lowered my rating by a half star due to a slow and confusing middle section, when Lilly encounters the bandits who have stolen the witch’s skin. She spends a long time in their camp (at least it felt like a long time), helping with chores and waiting for just the right moment to steal back the skin, and I felt as if the story stalled in this section.

But Wheeler sure knows how to put her characters in terrible situations, knowing that in order to get out of them they will have to pay a steep price. Lilly and Octavius end up paying more in the end than they expected, when Lilly must make a final and heartbreaking decision. Fair warning: you will be amazed, shocked, grossed-out, saddened and blindsided by emotions if you read Sea Change. Highly recommended.

Oh, and I have to mention that each item that makes up the letters on the book cover is important to the story. I didn’t realize that, of course, until I had finished the book. I love it when publishers do smart things like that!

Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.

If you haven’t already, click here to read my interview with S. M. Wheeler and enter to win one of THREE copies of Sea Change!

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LICHGATES by S. M. Boyce – Blog Tour + Review + Giveaway

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I’m very happy to be participating in the Lichgates blog tour! Keep reading for my review of the book and a $25 Amazon gift card giveaway!
Lichgates

Lichgates by S. M. Boyce

Kara Magari is about to discover a beautiful world full of terrifying things–Ourea.

Kara, a college student still reeling from her mother’s recent death, has no idea the hidden world of Ourea even exists until a freak storm traps her in a sunken library. With no way out, she opens an ancient book of magic called the Grimoire and unwittingly becomes its master, which means Kara now wields the cursed book’s untamed power. Discovered by Ourea’s royalty, she becomes an unwilling pawn in a generations-old conflict–a war intensified by her arrival. In this world of chilling creatures and betrayal, Kara shouldn’t trust anyone… but she’s being hunted and can’t survive on her own. She drops her guard when Braeden, a native soldier with a dark secret, vows to keep her safe. And though she doesn’t know it, her growing attraction to him may just be her undoing.

For twelve years, Braeden Drakonin has lived a lie. The Grimoire is his one chance at redemption, and it lands in his lap when Kara Magari comes into his life. Though he begins to care for this human girl, there is something he wants more. He wants the Grimoire.

Welcome to Ourea, where only the cunning survive.

My Review:

four stars

In a word: fascinating world-building, strong characters, a bevy of magical creatures, and a rather circuitous quest.

Lichgates is brimming with creative energy. Often when I read fantasy stories I’ll come across an interesting world-building idea and think “cool” or “that’s original.” But as I was reading this book, I often wrote notes in my Kindle that said “WOW!” or “What an awesome idea!” Boyce infuses her novel with exclamation point-worthy ideas from start to finish, and I was sucked into her magical world of Ourea. Although the author uses many familiar fantasy tropes—a quest, a magical portal that leads to another world, cute and cuddly animal sidekicks, and plenty of evil bad guys—I found Lichgates to be a charming story full of engaging characters that goes beyond surface material and thoughtfully explores the human condition as well.

Kara Magari is taking a walk in the woods one day when she stumbles upon an arched wooden structure with the word “Lichgate” carved at the top. She decides to explore and steps through it, only to find herself in a strange world. When she opens a door embedded in a rock face, she is pulled into an odd library-like room filled with old and dusty books. Kara’s fate is sealed when she manages to open a locked book called the Grimoire, an ancient journal penned by a man known only as the Vagabond. Much to her chagrin, Kara has become the new Vagabond and now holds the secrets and powers of the Grimoire.

Soon after, she meets Braeden Drakonin, a boy her age who has been trying to find the Grimoire for himself. But Braeden is not human. He lives in one of the kingdoms of Ourea and has been hiding out for the past twelve years, trying to avoid his father, an evil and powerful man named Carden whose people, the yakona, are known for torturing their enemies. Braeden longs to change his fate and wants his father to believe he is dead. But his luck—as well as Kara’s—doesn’t last long, and the two are thrown into the middle of a land whose kingdoms are warring against each other.

Kara and Braeden are sent on a quest to try to unite the kingdoms in a peace treaty, and most of the story follows them as they struggle to follow the instructions of the Grimoire and stay alive, as many people in Ourea seem to want them dead.

This is a fairly complex tale, and while I loved the creativity of the world-building, it sometimes seemed a bit too much. Not only are there five or six different kingdoms to keep track of, but the creatures who live in each kingdom each have their own set of rules and magical powers, not to mention difficult-to-pronounce names. Boyce fills her land with a large variety of mythical creatures both familiar (dragons, griffins and mermaids) and unfamiliar (earaks, flaers, and isen), and gives her characters the ability to wield all kinds of magical weapons (swords with poisonous edges and arrows made from air, to name a few). I almost wanted my own Grimoire to guide me through the complicated parts of the story (and in fact, the author has already created a website for the book, complete with an encyclopedia: check out http://www.thegrimoirebooks.com for lots of extras!)

I loved the Grimoire itself, an ancient book that hides the soul of the last Vagabond, a wise and friendly man who occasionally pops out the book to dispense advice and warnings. And the lichgates of the title, portals between the kingdoms, were a great device that not only showed the division between each of the lands, but helped keep enemies away.

Although the quest Boyce sends Kara and Braeden on was sometimes confusing (I honestly forgot where they were at times, since they travel to so many different locations), there’s never a dull moment. A map included somewhere in the book would have been a nice addition for readers to visualize their journey.

The best part of the story for me was the characters. I loved the feistiness of Kara, a girl who can never go home and must face some painful memories in order to move into her new role as the Vagabond. Braeden was one of my favorites, and I thought Boyce did a great job giving him both strengths and weaknesses, which ultimately makes him more human (even though he’s not). He hates his father and wants to destroy him, but he’s forced to look at that desire from an ethical standpoint.  Boyce asks the question, is it morally right to destroy an entire race of people, even if they are bloodthirsty killers? The fact that Braeden has trouble answering this question made him even more likable. Kara and Boyce are adorable together, and even though the author doesn’t emphasize the romance, their growing attraction to each other is slow and satisfying. Several minor characters also stood out; a young girl named Twin who seems lost without her dead sister; and a creature that Kara hatches from an egg named Flick, who imprints on her and becomes her fierce protector.

Aside from a few awkward sentences that could have used a heavier editing hand, Lichgates is a solidly written story that will plunge the reader into a fascinating, but dangerous, world. This is only the beginning of The Grimoire Saga, and I look forward to continuing the adventure.

Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.

Lichgates is FREE
Download your copy now!

Praise for Lichgates

Wow, the world building on this one was breathtaking. The world of Ourea is just full of so many things. Surprises are around every corner.

~Alexia P.

From the first few pages into this story, it was obvious that Boyce has a way with words.

~Author Becca Campbell

Author S.M. Boyce

International Amazon Bestseller. Fantasy Author. Twitter addict. Book Blogger. Geek. Sarcastic. Gooey. Odd. Author of the action-packed Grimoire Saga.

S.M. Boyce is a novelist who loves ghosts, magic, and spooky things. She prefers loose-leaf tea, reads far too many books, and is always cold. She’s married to her soul mate and couldn’t be happier. Her B.A. in Creative Writing qualifies her to serve you french fries.

Boyce likes to update her blog a few times each week so that you have something to wake you up in the morning.

Contact

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BLACK FEATHERS by Joseph D’Lacey – Review

Black FeathersBlack Feathers (The Black Dawn Volume One) by Joseph D’Lacey

Genre: Adult Fantasy/Horror

Publisher: Angry Robot

Release date: March 26 2013

Source: ARC from publisher

Pages: 427

four stars

In a word:  a dangerous and violent quest, a world on the brink of collapse, and a boy and girl who might be able to save it.

I have to admit I almost stopped reading this book a quarter of the way through, but I’m so glad I stuck with it. Black Feathers isn’t the easiest book to read, but like many other books that I’ve initially struggled with in the beginning, by the end I was so wrapped up in the characters’ stories that I’m now salivating to read Volume Two.  The publisher calls this “fantasy,” which it most definitely is, but I have to call it “horror” as well. I’ve been reading horror for years and it’s getting hard to scare me these days, but there were scenes in Black Feathers that truly made me shudder. D’Lacey is one of those authors who can slowly draw out a story until the reader is practically screaming from the tension. Fair warning: most of the mysteries are not solved by the end of this book, and the author raises more questions than he answers. But if you’d like to see a master of storytelling in action, you need to read Black Feathers.

The story mostly alternates between two characters: Megan is a young girl who is chosen to become the next “Keeper,” an individual whose job is to observe and record the story of a certain boy whose existence is critical to the survival of humanity. Gordon is that boy, but he lives in a different time than Megan, so she must enter “the weave” in order to cross space and time to watch Gordon’s story unfold. Most of the book takes place when Gordon turns fourteen and is forced to flee his family and home after a group called The Ward take his mother, father and two sisters away. He manages to hide, but not without having several run-ins with two horribly nasty members of the Ward named Pike and Skelton. After receiving secret letters from his parents, delivered to him by a mole who is part of a resistance group called The Green Men, Gordon decides to follow their advice and look for the mythical Crowman, a creature who may or may not be evil and could hold the fate of humanity in his hands.

As Gordon sets out on his journey, Megan has her own quest to complete. At about the same age as Gordon, she sees the frightening Crowman in the forest near her home, and is later told that he has marked her as the next Keeper. With her parents’ permission, a mysterious old man known only as Mr. Keeper takes Megan to his home and begins to train her in the duties of being a Keeper. Megan’s part of the story is full of magic, mystery, pain and danger, as she must sacrifice her childhood in order to fulfill her calling. As the story evolves, Megan and Gordon seem to be coming closer and closer together, and it appears as though the two will eventually meet. But D’Lacey has plans for these two, and they might not be what you expect.

I was completely swept up in Gordon’s story and enjoyed it more than I did Megan’s. I think the reason I liked his story better was that his world felt more grounded and believable and was easier to relate to. As he is running away from the Ward and trying to stay hidden, he comes upon various groups of people. My favorite were a father and daughter named John and Brooke who are also on the run and hiding in the forest. Gordon only spends a short time in their camp, but he forges a tight bond with both of them, and I wanted their storyline to go on longer than it did. Gordon’s journey is fraught with violence and danger, and he escapes one perilous encounter after another, leaving a trail of misery behind him.

Megan’s story, on the other hand, is told in cryptic language and has a dream-like quality throughout. It was often hard to tell what was real and what was a dream, as Megan sometimes leaves her body to travel “the black feather path,” as Mr. Keeper calls her journey. She learns many things from Mr. Keeper, but the most important, and the true theme of D’Lacey’s story, is that she must learn to live in harmony with the land. He seems to want us to come away from this book understanding that if humankind can’t learn to live in peace with nature, our very civilization will crumble. It’s a theme that’s been done before, but never quite in this way. Both Megan and Gordon must fight to survive in the wild during their journeys, and the author even throws in an earthquake to make his point: watch yourselves, humans, or mother nature can take everything away from you.

The entire book is written in D’Lacey’s gorgeous and fluid prose. Combine that with graphic violence, the mysterious Crowman who is still not explained by the end of the book, and the unanswered question of the relationship between Gordon and Megan, and you have a story that is irresistibly addicting. For patient readers who appreciate the difficult craft of good writing and storytelling, Black Feathers is a must read.

Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. You can purchase Black Feathers here and visit the author’s website here.

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THE SIX-GUN TAROT by R. S. Belcher – Review

Six-Gun TarotThe Six-Gun Tarot by R. S. Belcher

Genre: Adult Horror/Western/Fantasy

Publisher: Tor Books

Release date: January 22 2013

Source: e-ARC from publisher

Pages: 368

five starsWhat do an Indian whose relatives are coyotes, a sheriff who has been hanged three times and lives to tell the tale, and a man who keeps his dead wife’s head in a box have in common? They are all characters in this quirky, horrific and magical Western filled with some of the most interesting characters I’ve ever run across. The publisher describes this book as “Buffy meets Deadwood,” and they aren’t wrong. As the ultimate Buffy fan, I found lots of Buffyesque material to keep me happy.  Belcher’s first novel is masterfully written and constructed, and it’s a good thing it is. When I started reading I’ll have to admit I was wondering how on earth he was going to be able to bring the many seemingly disparate elements together, but not to worry! The Six-Gun Tarot will have you hooked from the beginning, and keep you reading up to the gory and yes, emotional ending.

Jim Negrey is a young man running from his past, trudging through the vast deserts of Nevada with his injured horse Promise and nearly dead from dehydration and heat exhaustion, when he is rescued by an Indian named Mutt and taken to the small mining town of Golgotha. Jim is on his way to find a “near mythical railroad job in Virginia City,” but when he arrives in Golgotha he decides to stay for a while. It isn’t long before he discovers that the residents of Golgotha are hiding secrets, and the biggest and most terrifying secret of all may be buried deep under Argent Mountain, the location of a now-defunct silver mine. When the good folk of Golgotha start to go missing, it’s up to Sheriff Jon Highfather, his trusty deputy Mutt, a brave woman named Maude, and Jim himself to stop the evil thing that just might be trying to break free and take over humanity.

That’s about the best summary I can come up with. On the surface this seems like just another good versus evil plot, but what makes this story different are the characters. Each one is painstakingly drawn and most are given detailed backstories. Jim’s story is particularly interesting. He’s running from the law, but he’s the kind of man who gives his horse the last bit of water from his canteen. Jim carries an eye made of jade, a peculiar object that used to belong to his father. The tale behind the eye plays an important part in the story, and Belcher slowly reveals the details of how he came to have it in a series of flashbacks. Just about every character in the book is intriguing and likable, except for the bad guys, of course, who are exceptionally bad.

But my favorite character is Maude, a woman with her own secrets who carries a flask of blood around her neck, blood that defines who she is and will ultimately determine the future of Golgotha. And here’s where the Buffy comparison comes in. Maude is descended from a long line of women warriors who are taught to carry “The Load,” and eventually pass their skills and knowledge on to another girl. This reminded me so much of Joss Whedon’s Slayer mythology that I was immediately drawn into Maude’s life as she trains her daughter Constance to eventually take over The Load. We also meet Maude’s grandmother Bonnie through flashbacks as she trains a young Maude to fulfill her destiny. I have to admit I wanted to read more about Maude and I wished her character had been more prominent. Here’s a wonderful quote during a scene where Maude and Constance are training:

The knives hummed from her hand like angry hornets, straight toward her daughter’s heart.

Belcher fills his story with a melting pot of religious and social groups that not only add to the craziness of the plot, but really show the amount of research he must have done to make these elements believable. Golgotha is home to a group of Mormons who live in luxury on the hill, squatters who have little or nothing and eke out a living on the fringes of town, the Chinese, or “Johnny’s” as they are referred to, who live in Johnny Town and keep to themselves, not to mention the whores, Protestants, merchants and other colorful characters that make up the fabric of a small western town in the 1800s. In one poignant chapter we learn that Mayor Harry Pratt, an upstanding Mormon with two wives, is in love with a piano player named Ringo. Swirling around all of this is a growing evil buried somewhere under the silver mine on Argent Mountain.

When the evil shows itself, watch out. Belcher adds enough gore to rival the best of Stephen King. I might even go so far as to compare the evil in The Six-Gun Tarot to Invasion of the Body Snatchers…but I don’t want to give away its best secrets. Even chapters that seem to come out of nowhere, like the ones that take place between two angels as they discuss the fate of humanity, eventually tie into the big picture. Belcher is a skilled weaver, as each dangling story strand is eventually tucked in and tied up nicely.

Despite the horrors in The Six-Gun Tarot, both human and supernatural, there is an underlying humanity that grounds this story. When I get to the end of a story and the author has made me cry, I know I’ve just finished a five-star book. What more can you ask of fiction?

Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. You can purchase The Six-Gun Tarot here.

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Waiting on Wednesday (33) THE SIX-GUN TAROT by R. S. Belcher

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine. Head on over there to see what other bloggers are waiting on! This week I’ve found a book with this tagline, which I could absolutely not ignore:

“Buffy meets Deadwood in a dark, wildly imaginative historical fantasy.”

In order to appreciate the wonderful details on the cover, I had to show you the image as large as possible. Isn’t it fantastic? The Six-Gun Tarot comes out on January 22 2013 from Tor. Here’s the story description from Goodreads:

Nevada, 1869: Beyond the pitiless 40-Mile Desert lies Golgotha, a cattle town that hides more than its share of unnatural secrets. The sheriff bears the mark of the noose around his neck; some say he is a dead man whose time has not yet come. His half-human deputy is kin to coyotes. The mayor guards a hoard of mythical treasures. A banker’s wife belongs to a secret order of assassins. And a shady saloon owner, whose fingers are in everyone’s business, may know more about the town’s true origins than he’s letting on.

A haven for the blessed and the damned, Golgotha has known many strange events, but nothing like the primordial darkness stirring in the abandoned silver mine overlooking the town. Bleeding midnight, an ancient evil is spilling into the world, and unless the sheriff and his posse can saddle up in time, Golgotha will have seen its last dawn…and so will all of Creation.

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Having recently read an amazing supernatural western, The Dead of Winter by Lee Collins, I’m pretty excited to get my hands on this one. What are you waiting on this week?

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THE REALMS OF ANIMAR by Owen Black – Review

Writing this review is such a dilemma for me. I absolutely loved the story and the creative ideas Black has come up with. And the story ends with a cliffhanger that made me scream with rage. But as in many other indie novels I’ve read and reviewed, I have issues with the writing. And if you’ve read my reviews on a regular basis you’ll know bad writing is a real pet peeve of mine. So I’m giving The Realms of Animar four stars for the story, the pacing, and the incredible world Owen Black has created. As for the writing, it needs more work, but let’s talk about the creative elements first.

Animar is a wonderful creation, where “polymorphs” are divided into four main realms of life: Avian, Aquan, Carnic, and Herbic. Every person in Animar is able to change into an animal form at will. The story focuses on the settlement of Avryndale, a gathering of herbivores who live peacefully within a walled city that keeps out the dangerous carnivores. Thane is a fifteen-year-old boy whose animal form is a horse, and he wants nothing more than to run in the forests outside the walls. But when he and his friend Javan sneak out one day, they witness the terrible deaths of several members of the community by a vulture spy and a pack of hyenas that have been sent by the leader of the carnivores, an evil creature named Fatalis. Fatalis wants to rule all of Animar, and in order to do so he must locate the other realms and kill every creature that is not a carnivore.

After discovering Avryndale’s location, Fatalis sends a pack of wolves to invade the settlement and kill Thane, the son of the settlement’s leader, Avryn. Among them is a wolf named Mordigal, who has a secret. Long ago he fell in love with an Avian named Trussil, but she left him to live in Avryndale and follow her calling to be a teacher. As Mordigal and the other wolves break into the compound and prepare to carry out their orders, Mordigal senses the presence of the woman he still loves and manages to save her from the attack of another wolf. Their reunion is short-lived, however, as Mordigal is captured and imprisoned.  But he makes a deal with Avryn to join the herbivores and fight against Fatalis, who is staging a huge battle against the peaceful animals.

In order to prepare for the fight, Avryn sends his most trusted people to contact other factions in Animar to join them, including the elusive and dangerous Aquans. Guderian, the herbivore sent to convince the Aquans to join forces with them, manages to make contact and is taken to the Aquan realm in one of my favorite parts of the book.

Back in Avryndale, Thane discovers he can change into something other than a horse, a fact that startles many in the settlement. Other abilities emerge as Thane trains for battle: he is able to disappear and reappear in another location, which makes him a dangerous weapon against Fatalis’ forces. As the herbivores prepare their once-peaceful town for the inevitable attack, Fatalis and his immense army arrive in force, and the fighting begins.

The story is filled with many imaginative details that make the world of Animar unique. Wearing or holding metal objects makes it impossible to change forms, and Fatalis gleefully uses this to his advantage by shoeing horses to keep them in animal form. The descriptions of the different realms were very well done, especially the Aquan realm where Guderian is taken underwater to speak to the leader. I also loved the Avians, who live at the tops of trees on wooden platforms, where those too young or old to fly live in fear of falling to the forest below.

But unfortunately, all of this creative world-building gets lost under unpolished writing, and much of the magic of the story loses its impact. The style Black has chosen is formal and overwritten, with a gothic feel that may have been intentional, but would have worked better if the writing had been stronger. Strange word usage throughout pulled me out of the story.  Phrases like “Thane’s eyes bolted to life” and “smells meandering” struck me as funny, and even though I understood their meaning, I was left wondering why Black chose to use certain words. As far as character development goes, Black gives his characters emotional and engaging back-stories, but fails in the dialog department, where many of them come across as juvenile. In the end it all comes down to a serious lack of editing and proofreading, which is one of the worst pitfalls of self-publishing.

The Realms of Animar is a truly unique fantasy that gives the reader a fully realized world that is easy to get lost in, but clumsy writing and editing detracts from the reading experience. Black leaves us with a delightfully frustrating cliff-hanger of an ending, which implies that he is setting us up for a sequel, and I’m hoping he takes the time to work on some of his writing mistakes before releasing the next book. If he can, I will certainly be in line to read it.

Many thanks to the author for supplying a review copy.

You can purchase The Realms of Animar from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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THE AWAKENING OF LEEOWYN BLAKE by Mary Parker – Review

The first in a series, The Awakening of Leeowyn Blake is a young adult fantasy that tells the magical tale of a teenage girl who is not only trying to find her place in the world, but literally trying to find out which world she belongs in.  Leeowyn lives in sunny Florida with her mother, until the fateful day of her fourteenth birthday, when a man claiming to be her uncle knocks on the door. The man has yellow eyes and red hair, just like Leeowyn, which convinces her that he must be related to her.  After explaining that her father is dead, he tells Leeowyn he has come to take her back home, the home her mother took her from long ago. For the next four years, she splits her time between living with her mother in Florida during the summer and her uncle the rest of the year. Exactly where her uncle Cyle lives, however, is a mystery throughout most of the story.  Cyle picks her up every September and during the drive to the family estate, Leeowyn always falls asleep and is never actually able to track her journey.

During the winter months she lives with her Grandmother and uncle and studies in the vast library. She befriends a girl named Peach and meets a boy named Alex, a potential romantic interest, but interspersed with the sameness of daily life, Leeowyn has nightmares about a dead girl holding a raven, and she’s convinced the girl is trying to tell her something important.  It is only on her eighteenth birthday that she discovers why everyone in her uncle’s house has been so secretive:  Leeowyn is actually a Guardian and she is about to “awaken,” or come into her powers.  And her duty as a Guardian is to save the world, actually worlds, from the evil Ruok.  This startling news and what follows makes for a truly fast-paced, page-turning read, as Lee realizes that she faces a truly difficult decision.

Although the story feels familiar, I found the characters to be engaging and likeable. Leeowyn feels like a real teen with real teen problems, not the least of which is how to handle her growing attraction to Alex. Her uncle Cyle and tutor Rodrick add a sinister air to the story, as the chapters alternate between Lee’s first person voice and the other characters’ third person point of view.  There is clearly something going on that Lee is unaware of, although her recurring nightmares and her friends’ odd behavior should be enough to tip her off that everyone is keeping secrets from her. My only complaint with the story is Leeowyn’s use of pop culture references, which for some reason pulled me out of the fantasy world I wanted to stay in (although I understand why she did it.)

The book is short and the ending abrupt, and I’m sure I’m not the only reader who got to the last page only to cry “What? That’s the end?”  I immediately wanted to start the second book, which I hope Ms. Parker is hard at work on.

Many thanks to the publisher, WordCrafts Press, for supplying a review copy.

You can purchase The Awakening of Leeowyn Blake here.

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