Saturday, April 26, 2014

Interview: Michelle Frost

          I was born and grew up in Africa. Then I married a Scot and moved to the far North of the world. That colours my writing. The older I get the more I realize how much of me is in everything I write. It is my bio.

Favorite Reads?
          I tend to enjoy Sci-Fi and Fantasy, because they are usually the kind of "what if?" stories that make you think, but I'm equally happy to read any genre if it's a good story that makes me think and feel. So my list of favorite books is highly eclectic: Green Light by Lloyd C Douglas and Illusions by Richard Bach, because they both changed the way I saw God and reality, any books by Tanith Lee or Ray Bradbury for the gorgeous sensual use of words and wild imagination, Jane Austen for her warm observant humor and C J Cherryh for the most believable alien species. 

Inspirations for the book?
          Short answer - Art. ;-)
          Longer answer - the idea started to chew in my mind when I was at Art college. I started to wonder... what would it be like if colour was considered evil?  How would a world be where colours were banned by the government or religion? I doodled and drew ideas long before I started writing. I drew all the main characters, to figure out the way a colourless world of fashion might be, things like that. Then one night I dreamt this vivid dream, of a handsome young monk striding along a corridor. He was very angry and everyone ducked out of his way as he swept past me. I woke up, wrote it down... and it became the opening page of First Light.

Did you know you wanted to be an author when you were little?
         Yes. I went through a brief time of wanting to be a vet or an opera singer (I was an oddball kid!), but the writing thing was consistent all my life. I was eight when I told my teacher I wanted to be a writer. She encouraged me and even sent my parents a Christmas card saying she expected to read my books one day. I managed to hunt her down last year and let her know her words did finally come true.
Any Pet Peeves?
          In books it has to be whiney self-involved and/or petulant heroines. You know - girls who whinge through the whole book or who throw tantrums. I hated Gone with the Wind for that reason and I wasn't keen on Twilight for similar reasons. 
          In life it's people who destroy hope by stopping you before you start. Those "friends" who feel they have a duty to point out to you how you are going to fail (career or relationship). I really hate that. Yes, you might fail. So what? Failing is a part of life, you can learn awesome things from falling on your face. And you meet people ready to help you up onto your feet again. Any dream is worth following, always worth trying. You learn NOTHING from doing nothing.
Chocolate or Peanut Butter?
          Cheese. I'm more a salty snackaholic.
The weirdest thing you've ever done?
          Oh gosh... I'm pretty eccentric, so it's hard to choose. I'll go with my most talked about moment. I agreed to marry a man after knowing him for one month, on the internet. When he proposed (in a yahoo chat window) I had never seen him or even heard his voice. At the time most people thought that was very weird, but then my future husband changed his surname to mine and their focus went to how weird that was.
          We've been married 11 years now.  
Is there a soundtrack to the book/Favorite music?
          There is. I almost always write to music and there are events in both my books that were inspired by specific pieces of music. I'll play them to death when I'm writing that chapter or scene. For First Light, which I wrote ten years before I got around to publishing it, that music list is a bit dated now, but I still react/remember when I hear those songs. It's even worse with the sequel, Wisdoms of the Light, which is why I actually had to add two specific songs into the acknowledgements for that book. For First Light the most important piece of music is also the climax end scene of the book - Widor's Toccata (symphony 5). I'm not actually that much into classical music, but I heard this piece on the radio and saw exactly what I wanted to write. Had to get an old recording from the library and tape it to play back when I wrote that portion of the book.

Do you need anything to write?  
          I need music and lots of bits of paper. I jot down reminders to myself on scraps of paper, even old envelopes. Things I want to add to chapters, bits of dialogue, etc. When I wrote the sequel to First Light last year my desk was covered in notes and bits.  I found an old one just yesterday, stuck under my monitor stand. 

How long do you write on any average day?
         It depends. If I'm not tired and have the time - I write. It's how I breathe. If I don't have the paper I'll end up writing on something. I wrote a blog post on the back of a get well card when I was in hospital once and I've written poems on grocery lists. As for books... I wrote First Light over a Christmas holiday break, stopping only to eat and sleep. I was almost as bad with the sequel, but this time I was married with people to feed so it was write, dash off to cook, dash back to write, burn food... eat it anyway (lol) then go back and write more. Last year I was averaging writing as much as possible between 6 am to around midnight.  

Give us the number one reason to read your book.
          Because you won't guess what happens next. You will be surprised. Every reviewer I've had says that same thing - they tried to predict how it would end and they all got it wrong. It surprises people. Both books do. The sequel is even worse, being a lot more complex and faster paced.

Author Info: 
My book review and writing blog -

On the harsh militant world of Sindorus, where even colours are considered sinful, three people living very separate lives are about to have those lives change forever. As deceptions are torn away, and ancient secrets brought to light, they each must struggle to find the missing pieces to the puzzle...answers that will unlock their true destiny.

Idrith, bitter and trapped in a life he never chose, is the first to discover his own fear-filled mystery. Obsessed with finding the truth behind the lies he turns to the one person he has always tried to avoid -- the mysterious pilgrim, Harmion.

Aztar's military promotion comes with an unexpected burden. A serious problem threatens the security of the entire Northerner regime and it seems that their only hope may lie in the hands of someone he was raised to think of as his enemy and inferior. Each day they struggle together to find a solution, but at night Aztar struggles alone as the secret he's kept hidden since childhood returns to torment him.

In a world where most women have no control over their lives Daen was allowed to grow up unrestricted and far better educated than normal. Now her father's health is failing and the running of their family estate lies in her hands...and with it the security of everyone she loves. Knowing that desperate situations call for courageous action, Daen is about to take a step that will change all their lives forever.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Interview & Giveaway: Danny Adams

          Danny Adams is the author of the early medieval historical novel Lest Camelot Fall (Musa, 2014) and co-author, with Philip Jose Farmer, of the short science fiction adventure novel The City Beyond Play (PS, 2007 and re-released as an e-book 2012). Some of his shorter work has appeared in magazines such as Appalachian Heritage, Asimov's, Ideomancer, Mythic Delirium, Not One of Us, Paradox, Space & Time, Star*Line, and Strange Horizons. He is a reference librarian at Ferrum College deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwest Virginia, and reviews science fiction and fantasy books for Publishers Weekly.  

Favorite reads?
          That's changeable from season to season, and sometimes more often, but one thing that doesn't change is that many of my favorite books have a historical element to them. Whether it's straight-up historical fiction, historical fantasy, alternate history, or whatever, I'll generally eat it up. I've also discovered that the best fringe benefit of publishing, for me, has been to meet other writers. I've been introduced to a lot of great work in the speculative and historical genres that way. 
          Another constant is that I've always loved the work of my great-uncle and the man who got me interested in writing in the first place, the science fiction author Philip Jose Farmer. He tends to be noticed most for the deeper religious, philosophical, and sexual themes in his work, but they're also filled with a sense of adventure that's often disregarded in speculative fiction as "pulp" these days, and so is missing in a lot of current fiction.

Inspirations for the book?
          I've always been a fan of the Arthurian stories, and had vaguely wondered whatever happened to the surviving Knights of the Round Table after Arthur was killed at the Battle of Camlann. But I never really did anything about it until I read Jack Whyte's fabulous Chronicles of Camulod series, which is so realistically drawn my need to know what happened to the survivors became overwhelming. It turns out that several early medieval historians and storytellers wondered as well, and told tales of the post-Camelot knights. I took a few of those stories, blended them with my own creation - Lucian Aurelianus, Arthur's cousin, and named Aurelianus because that was the name of Arthur's family as given in some of those early tales - and the book of a small group of dedicated people trying to save Camelot's ideals very nearly wrote itself. 

Did you know you wanted to be an author when you were little?
          I knew I wanted to do something creative, and had my fingers in a lot of pies. But knowing that I wanted to be a writer came about when I was 12 and went to visit my uncle in Peoria, Illinois. Up to that point I'd been cartooning for several years and was sure that's what I wanted to do. But over the course of a couple of weeks I watched his writing process, the act of creating an entire world - this was 1983, and I think he was working on one of his World of Tiers novels. He wrote in his basement, and I got to the point where I would be happy sprawling on the basement steps for an hour or more just listening to him type. I came home knowing that writing, creating worlds and populating them with people, was what I wanted to do from then on, and I actually hand-wrote my first novel (time traveling science fiction) over the next few months.

 Any Pet Peeves?
          Well, there's one that drives me up the wall so badly I don't admit to it because I'm afraid people will do it around me just to get on my nerves. :) But speaking more generally, I'm bugged by people complaining about things they do themselves, or being OK with something bad when it's someone they know doing it, but not anyone else. One library I go to, for instance, will occasionally have a group of people complain about a noisy table nearby, when they themselves were the noisy ones an hour before. Or when someone attacks a politician doing something that same person defended when a politician of their party did it. That sort of business.

Chocolate or Peanut Butter?
          Both, together. And don't stand in my way when I'm in the process of making this happen.

The weirdest thing you've ever done?
          Wow. I have a pretty broad definition of "weird". But one thing I used to do semi-regularly and kind of wish I could still play at springs to mind: 
          Some years ago I was living close to Washington D.C. and would occasionally visit the capital, either to work or play tourist. Now and again before September 11th, when I was feeling up to mischief, I would "accidentally" leave binders or folders of "classified" documents out in public somewhere, usually in the museums but also the monuments or various Congressional office buildings. The challenge for me wasn't just seeing if I could plant it, but also to come up with the most thoroughly ridiculous "secret documents" I could imagine. They got silly code names like "Operation Rotting Bratwurst" and went into detail about things like how the State Department was trying to hide the millions of tons of toilet paper we were importing from Saudi Arabia, because the public might "have a fit" if they knew we were suffering such a nasty toilet paper shortage. Or if I knew I'd be going someplace specific I might tailor the document somehow. A trip to the awesome little restaurants in the basement of the Ronald Reagan Building might end up with me "forgetting" a folder about a debate whether or not the intelligence agencies should continue to classify Ronald Reagan's secret meetings with Iran that were meant to pressure Turkey into changing the name of Istanbul back to Constantinople.
          All of that stopped after 9/11, of course. Come 9/12/01 it seemed a bit too dicey to go around D.C. leaving behind mysterious objects.

Is there a soundtrack to the book/Favorite music?
          I tend not to listen to music while I write, but I have listened to some things before writing, and during editing, to get myself pumped up or in an appropriate mood. Those might work fine as a soundtrack. Some you can probably guess: medieval music, Celtic music, neo-Celtic music, Appalachian folk music (which is a descendant of medieval British tunes), and the occasional big orchestra piece. I also particularly like the Piano Guys, the violinist Taylor Davis, and the roaring drums of a Scottish drum and pipe band called Clanadonia. They're all over YouTube if you want to give them a try. 
          But from time to time I would veer off into something completely unrelated if I felt like the energy of the song could contribute to the energy of the scene. More than a few times I listened to something like the faster-tempo songs by Evanescence for a battle scene, particularly "Wake Me Up".  

Do you need anything to write? 
          I wish I could say that I don't need anything at all, that I could do it anywhere and any time, but that hasn't quite proven true. My prose writing is always best when I have as much peace and quiet as possible, though I've learned to write around cats who constantly want attention while I'm trying to type. (I do get fussy with them when they try helping me type.) I've been spoiled by the fact that my Writing Room window opens to a forest. I quit keeping a soda close by after the abundance of caffeine led to a kidney stone, but more often than not I'll have some kind of (non-alcoholic) drink at hand.
          Poetry is a different matter. I really have written poems anywhere and at any time. All but one or two of the poems I've sold to Asimov's Science Fiction were written in the middle of a crowded campus cafeteria at lunch time. Something about poetry allows me to tune out everything around me in a way I haven't yet mastered with prose.

How long do you write on any average day?
          Generally about an hour. Sometimes half that, sometimes two or three hours, but this is pretty standard. And usually no more than four days a week. But that's still enough to write a novel in a few months - though most of the time I've thought about what I'm going to write enough that by the time I hit the keyboard, it's more "typing" or "downloading from brain to keyboard" than "writing". I think it was Stephen King who said you could write a novel if you'd give up one TV show a night, and I'm proof of this.

Give us the number one reason to read your book
.          Wouldn't you like to know what happened to Lancelot, Guinevere, and all the Knights of the Round Table after Arthur died? 

Author Info:

Millions of people around the world know the legend of King Arthur, but the stories always end with Arthur’s death and never reveal what happened to the surviving Knights of the Round Table—or Camelot itself. Lest Camelot Fall begins with Arthur’s death and tells of the survivors’ struggle to keep Camelot’s flame of freedom burning against the darkness both of Saxon invaders and native British would-be tyrants. 

Lucian Aurelianus is a descendant of Roman emperors and British kings alike, as well as being Arthur’s cousin. He receives an urgent summons to Camelot from Merlin only to arrive after the slaughter of the Battle of Camlann, in time to see Arthur’s body taken away to Avalon. Soon afterward Lucian’s brother, Constantine, claims the right to be High King of Britain—and exiles anyone who challenges him, including the surviving Knights. At the same time, the sons of Arthur’s nephew and mortal enemy, Modred, have joined forces with the Saxons, along with soldiers from a reborn Roman Empire with designs on Britain, for a final attack against Camelot. 

Lucian decides he must stay to help Merlin and the Knights—and his increasingly despotic brother—if anything of Arthur’s dream is to survive. Ultimately he will do whatever it takes to keep Camelot alive, even when that means challenging the armies of southern Britain, enduring Saxon slavery, and the possibility of taking what is left of Camelot and leaving Britain behind forever


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review: The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst

Lost your way? 

Your dreams?  
Welcome to Lost.
It was supposed to be a small escape. A few hours driving before turning around and heading home. But once you arrive in Lost...well, it's a place you really can't leave. Not until you're Found. Only the Missing Man can send you home. And he took one look at Lauren Chase and disappeared. 
So Lauren is now trapped in the town where all lost things go-luggage, keys, dreams, lives-where nothing is permanent, where the locals go feral and where the only people who don't want to kill her are a handsome wild man called the Finder and a knife-wielding six-year-old girl. The only road out of town is engulfed by an impassable dust storm, and escape is impossible.... 
Until Lauren decides nothing-and no one-is going to keep her here anymore. 

       As far as heroines go, Lauren Chase is nothing special: no prophecy about her future, no strange powers since birth. And because of this, she is incredibly relatable. I fell in love with her as she struggles to come to terms with her new world and the mother she's losing. Her motivations ring true and she feels real, clever and sturdy, with no moping about but a matter-of-fact view on life. But, however fantastic she may be as the lead, the character that takes the cake for me is Peter (the Finder in Lost who rescues lost people from the death grip of the void). With cat-like grace and a somewhat mischievous streak to him, it's entrancing to read about him. I agree with Lauren completely when she describes him as a grown up Peter-Pan. He pops in and out of scenes perfectly representing what a man of that past would be, but does it so well that he sweeps all the stereotypes away and practically reaches the status of archetype. If he was the only good thing in the book, I would still gobble up the sequels. Thankfully the entire book is quite good.
Characters: 5 Stars

      It is a very rare author that can take a simple idea -- say, a place where all lost things go -- and flesh it out into such a thoroughly satisfying mix of thriller, romance, and self-discovery. Right from the beginning, Durst's delicious prose paints a disturbingly hypnotic view of a town that exists apart from time, where all lost things go. And all lost people. People who have lost their way in life do not make for a very stable citizenry. Feral dogs roam the streets in packs and bands of ragged scavenger children armed with knives comb through frequent junk piles in a world built on the barter system, all surrounded by a dust storm called the Void that sucks the hope from those that enter until they become nothing more than dust themselves. No one and nothing can leave Lost until they find whatever it is they have lost. But even then, the Missing Man is the only one who can send them home. He refuses to help Lauren, and disappears. Struggling to simply survive, Lauren is forced to face her own despair head on to discover what she's lost. And the Void creeps steadily closer. In this well-brewed tale the stakes never stop rising. This book will rip your heart out and stomp on it every which way. Thank goodness it's the start of a series! And you'd better bet I'll be counting down the days until I can get my hands on the next one.
Plot: 5 Stars 

       Sarah Beth Durst is very good at what she does. Her rich descriptions and hearty characters bring the story alive with such oomph it will leave you gasping. I tried, goodness knows how I tried, to read this book slowly, to savor every mesmerizing word, but it ended far too quickly. A strong start to a very promising series. Stunning. Transfixing. Captivating:
Style: 5 Stars

Rating: 5 Stars
Source: ARC for Review
Genre: Thriller, Fantasy
YA/Adult Fiction

Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

Sixteen-year-old Eleanor Fitt’s brother is missing. And when she discovers that the Dead are rising in Philadelphia and wreaking havoc throughout the city, she knows that her brother is involved.
So Eleanor enlists the help of the Spirit-Hunters. This motley crew, hired to protect the city from supernatural forces, is after the necromancer who has been reanimating corpses. Their skills can save her brother. But as Eleanor spends time with the Spirit-Hunters, and their handsome inventor, Daniel, the situation becomes dire. Now not only is her reputation at risk, but her very life may hang in the balance.
In Something Strange and Deadly, the first book in a trilogy, Susan Dennard weaves together vividly imagined scenes of action, adventure, and gorgeous Victorian fashion to create an entertaining steampunk tapestry of humor, horror, and romance. Readers who love Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series will be intrigued from the start.

     Maybe it's just the slew of phenomenal books I've read lately, or maybe it's just not the time of year for necromancer/zombie stories, but this book didn't really do it for me. I've heard many good things about it and had so many friends recommend it, but it was just meh. Bland.
     Eleanor Fitt is a typical girl in Philadelphia at the turn of the century. But unlike most of her peers, she does not simper for gentlemen or coo over the newest hat, and she doesn't waste time on things like charm or (I hate to say it) courtesy. She tends to run over other people, oblivious to any problems but her own (which is understandable with the adventure she faces, but not forgivable in all situations). Unfortunately, this was something that really deadened the book for me. She seems only interested in herself and only interested in those who can get something for her, however unintentional this treatment is. And when Daniel (Love Interest) -- think tall, handsome, and a troubled but totally justifiable past -- falls, I had a hard time seeing why. I did appreciate the way she side-stepped most of the frippery the upper classes suffered from and how she was willing to take her problems in her own hands.
Characters: 2 Stars
     This book has quite an interesting premise: necromancers, kidnappings, daredevil steampunkish heroes, all nicely braised in zombies. It didn't quite reach the excitement level I expected, though. Eleanor spends a good deal of her time traveling in a carriage, walking, or ranting about her mother. And despite all the zombies, the story seemed to lag without any real stakes. I had a hard time getting into the mood to keep reading and towards the end just skimmed. There were a few beautiful moments, where characters and setting clicked, but not enough to get me to the next book.
Plot: 2 Stars
      I'd looked forward to this book for a long time. And though the writing style was the slightest bit too choppy for my tastes, I will probably at least glance at the author's future books, if not the ones in this series.
Style: 2.5 Stars

Rating: 2.2 Stars
Source: Library
Genre: Paranormal Fiction
YA Fiction

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Saturday Snatch: Amanda's Beau by Shirley Raye Redmond

The year is 1905. It is autumn in the village of Aztec in New Mexico territo-ry. Amanda Dale is burdened with the responsibility of caring for her widowed sis-ter—an invalid----and Ella’s two children—one a premature infant. But Amanda wants a husband and children of her own and despairs that God does not care about her plight. Schoolteacher Gil Gladney is handsome, intelligent, and God-fearing. He is drawn to Amanda, but feels he cannot propose marriage until he is able to purchase the ranch he has been saving for. 

When Gil and his pupils discover the relics of an ancient culture among the ruins outside the village, Gil contacts an old college friend. The possibility of an archeological excavation excites the community of cash-strapped farmers, eager to earn extra money working on the site. 

Gil is delighted when Nate Phillips comes to Aztec to take up the challenge. When a rabid skunk reels through the excavation site, threatening the lives of Amanda and her nephew Rex, Gil realizes that life is short and the possibility of true happiness can be fleeting. In the end, Amanda learns to trust God to provide the happily-ever-after ending she’s been praying for. 



Village of Aztec,
New Mexico Territory -- 1905

The baby was nestled snugly inside the large roasting pan. Wrapped in a bit of blue flannel blanket, she reminded Amanda Dale of an oversized tamale. The pan had been set upon the open door of the hot oven so that the premature infant could absorb the life-saving heat. She is so little, Amanda thought with a clutch of fear. She bent over the pan to peer into her niece’s tiny face—a face not much larger than a silver dollar.
“Do you think she’ll die?” 10-year-old Rex asked. Bonita, the large red dog, stood beside him, her long tongue hanging out of her open mouth.
Amanda noted the anxiety in her nephew’s voice. She didn’t answer at first. Born almost two months early, the baby had been quite small and barely strong enough to suckle. Tufts of dark hair now sprang from the top of her little head like scraggly sprouts. Her tiny limbs appeared so fragile that Amanda was reluctant to carry the infant without first placing her on a pillow. Ella hadn’t even bothered to name the child yet. When Rex started calling the baby Minnie, Amanda did too. After all, the tiny girl was no bigger than a minute, Gil Gladney had declared the first time he’d seen her.
With a heavy sigh, Amanda shoved thoughts of the handsome schoolteacher, out of her mind and filled the medicine dropper with warm milk. She couldn’t afford to indulge in romantic daydreams. Not this busy September morning. Perhaps not ever.
“Aunt Mandy, is she going to die?” Rex repeated.
“Not if I can help it,” Amanda replied. She gently pressed the tip of the medicine dropper into the baby’s small rosebud mouth. Minnie puckered a bit, trying to suck. Small and feeble, the infant made frail, pitiful sounds like a mewling kitten.
“How is Mama this morning?” Rex asked.
“As well as can be expected,” Amanda replied, shrugging. Glancing at him, she noted the anxiety etched on his young face. Her heart ached for him. He’d endured a lot of grief for one so young. “Your mother is sick in her heart and in her mind. It takes a lot of time to heal in those places.”
She did wish Ella would make more of an effort though. Sometimes she had to resist the urge to go in there and shake some sense into her younger sister. Of course, she’d never tell Rex that. Changing the subject, she asked, “Did you feed the chickens?”
“That’s all I ever do--take care of those stupid chickens!” he snapped.
“Watch your tone with me, young man!” Amanda warned.
Rex sighed. “Yes, ma’am. I didn’t mean nothing by it. I fed the chickens and filled the pans with fresh water too.”
Anything, you didn’t mean anything by it,” she said, correcting his grammar.
He shrugged a shoulder. “ I spend so much time out there, I should move my cot into the chicken house.” With another shrug, he added, “Ozzie Lancaster calls me Chicken Boy.”
Amanda bit her lip and tried not to laugh. She loved her nephew. With his sandy colored hair and freckles, he looked a lot like Ella. Her sister would never be able to disown the boy. He was her spitting image. “Well, now, eat your breakfast and don’t worry about Ozzie Lancaster. He’s not the brightest spool of thread in the sewing basket, that’s for certain,” she told him. He wasn’t. “Your mama is proud of you and how you’ve pitched in around here since your daddy died. It hasn’t been easy, I know.”
When Rex raised one pale eyebrow and looked at her doubtfully, Amanda added, “Your mama knows more about what’s going on around here than you realize. I’m proud of you too, Rex. You’ve taken on the responsibilities of a grown man. Now eat.” She shoved the plate of fresh biscuits toward him.
She watched the boy’s face flush with pleasure and felt a little ashamed of herself for not praising him more often. He was a good boy. He really was. But Amanda rarely received
compliments these days, and so she seldom felt inclined to hand them out to others. She was a spinster who’d spent most of her adult life caring for one ailing parent after another. And now she was taking care of her newly widowed sister and two fatherless children—one who might die any day. She was twenty-seven years old, going on twenty-eight. Some days she felt twice that age. She feared the best part of her life was over. She’d survived one disappointment after another. It was all she could do not to nurse her bitter feelings. She tried to count her blessings each night before going to bed, but it was getting harder to do.
Watching Rex tackle his scrambled eggs, Amanda wished there was fresh milk for him to drink, but he’d have to settle for watered down coffee. At least it was hot. She poured some into his cup. There was no money for fresh milk now—not since Rex’s father had died after accidentally falling from Joe Ulibarri’s barn roof. There was just enough to buy the tinned kind for Minnie. She saw him take a swallow and grimace. On Sundays, they drank the weak coffee with sugar. But today was not Sunday. It was Saturday. But it was a special day-- sort of.
“Go ahead and add some sugar, if you want,” Amanda encouraged him.
Rex’s freckled face lit up as he quickly reached for the sugar tin. “It’s going to be an exciting day, isn’t it, Aunt Mandy?” he declared. “Almost as exciting as the rodeo or county fair.”
“No more dawdling. Eat,” Amanda replied crisply. She tried not to think of the adventure ahead. Exciting? She couldn’t say, but it was certainly going to be out of the ordinary. So why was she looking forward to the outing and yet dreading it too?
“I read this book called The Conquest of Mexico,” Rex went on. “Mr. Gladney loaned it to me. It’s all about the Aztecs and their King Montezuma and Captain Cortez and a beautiful lady named Marina. Mr. Gladney says the Aztecs didn’t build the old ruins, but he says the first settlers thought so and that’s why they named the place after them. Mr. Gladney knows a lot about archeology. His best friend is an archeologist.”
When Amanda raised her eyebrows, Rex explained. “He says archeology is the scientific study of old artifacts and stuff from ancient cultures. That means pottery and skeletons and such.”
“Eat,” she said. “He’ll be here soon and you haven’t finished your breakfast yet.” She picked up  the baby—roasting pan and all—and swished into the other room to change Minnie’s diaper. She knew Rex had been looking forward to this particular Saturday for weeks, ever since Mr. Gladney had announced that he would be willing to take interested boys and girls to explore the old Indian ruins along the Animas River. A field trip, he called it. Like most of the other people living in the small New Mexico town, Amanda knew the ruins existed, but she didn’t think about them much. After all, there was laundry to wash and her ailing sister to look after and little Minnie to care for and eggs to collect and sell and the small garden to tend. Why should she concern herself with old deserted dwellings, home now to nothing but lizards and spiders?
When Rex told her about his teacher’s eager fascination with the old Indian settlement, Amanda had imagined all too well how Gil Gladney’s blue eyes must have lit up. Eyes as blue as the New Mexico sky. Rex adored Mr. Gladney, she knew. Her nephew wanted to be a teacher too when he grew up. He loved school and reading books. While most other boys his age would rather go hunting or fishing, Rex loved studying history and geography. He hoped to go to college one day. He even prayed about it. Amanda didn’t see how it would be possible, but she wasn’t going to say so and ruin his dreams. Rex was a good boy. So when he asked her to come along, to be a chaperone for the girl students, she’d said yes.
Her cheeks flamed now, reflecting upon her foolishness. Then she heard Bonita bark, and her cheeks grew even hotter. He was here! Her fingers fumbled with Minnie’s small diaper—squares of white flannel no bigger than a woman’s handkerchief. Amanda heard voices in the kitchen—Rex’s and a woman’s. She relaxed a little and gently returned the baby to her roasting pan, tucking the blankets around her small body. Smoothing her own skirt and wavy dark hair, Amanda picked up the pan and returned to the kitchen.
“Good morning, Senora Martinez. Thank you for coming,” she said, noting with pleasure the basket of fresh sopapillas on the kitchen table and a jar of honey.
“I am happy to help,” the older woman replied. Short, plump and middle aged, Dolores Martinez was the mother of six grown children and more than a dozen grandchildren. She had proven to be a good neighbor many times in the past several months. “Let me have the baby,” she insisted, taking the roasting pan. “Pobrecita, poor little thing,” she cooed, looking down at Minnie. “She is small, but muy bonita, no?”
“Yes, she’s a pretty little thing,” Amanda agreed. 
“Hmmm, the sopapillas are still warm!” Rex exclaimed. He helped himself to one of the pillowy triangles of fried dough and drizzled it with a spoonful of honey.
“Mind your manners and be sure to water the senora’s horse,” Amanda reminded him, peering out the window at the horse tied to the porch railing.
“Thanks, Mrs. Martinez,” Rex mumbled, his mouth full. He darted out the door to do as he’d been told.
Amanda whisked his plate from the table and placed it on the floor. As usual, Rex had left a bit of egg and some biscuit crumbs for the dog. “Here, girl,” she said, patting Bonita’s dark velvety head. The animal was looking healthier every day, despite the broken tail and the sore patch on her back where someone had scalded her with something hot. Miserable and apparently homeless, the pitiful creature had shown up one day on the farm. Rex had adopted her with fierce affection. Amanda dreaded the day that someone would turn up to claim the dog. She feared Rex wouldn’t be able to handle the loss so soon after the death of his father.
“How is the mamacita today?” Dolores Martinez asked.
           Amanda feigned a cheerful smile. “Much the same,” she replied. She led the way to the bedroom and quietly pushed open the door. Standing in the doorway, she glanced in at her sister lying in the bed. Ella’s long pale braids looked like skinny lengths of rope draped over each shoulder. Her dark eyes were open, but she didn’t appear to see anything, nor did she look in their direction as they entered the room. While Dolores made a tsk-tsk sound and muttered something in Spanish, Amanda made her way to her sister’s bed and sat down on the edge. She picked up one of Ella’s pale limp hands and held it between her own strong, rosy ones. She felt a surge of conflicting emotion—both pity and impatience.


Purchase Links:

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Impaler Legacy Omnibus by Ioana Visan + Excerpt +Giveaway

          In a world crawling with vampires, Romania is the safest place left on earth. Thanks to the Little Council, there hasn't been a vampire on Romanian ground in over five centuries, until one day when Liana Cantacuzino is ordered to bring one in, covertly.

          Enter Maximilien Hess, a thousand-year-old vampire determined to ruin the existing order of things. When all is revealed, Hess's secret changes everything, and a reluctant alliance is formed because the alternative is much worse.

The Impaler Legacy Omnibus, a vampire saga like no other, includes:
The Impaler’s Revenge (novella)
Sweet Surrender (short story)
A Victory that Counts (novella)
Casualties of War (short story)
Order Restored (novella)
The Third Wheel (short story)

About the Author:
         Award-winning writer Ioana Visan has always dreamed about reaching the stars, but since she can't, she writes about it.
          After fighting the apocalypse aftermath in "Human Instincts", she played with shapeshifters in “Blue Moon Café Series: Where Shifters Meet for Drinks”, and then she dealt with vampires in “The Impaler Legacy” series, before tackling longer works like a fantasy trilogy and a science fiction series.
          Aside from publishing short stories in various Romanian magazines and anthologies, she published a short story collection "Efectul de nautil" and the Romanian edition of "Human Instincts".
          She was awarded the Encouragement Award by The European Science Fiction Society at Eurocon 2013.

Author Info:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

 “You’ve been here what—for over a month now? And what did you accomplish?” He tilted his head at me. “Sure, you hunted down and killed a few new breeds, but other than that, what did you do?”
     I could have told him that we hadn’t been let loose in the country. The Cabinet had accepted our presence here but imposed some restrictions. We couldn’t bring vampires into the populated areas, and the locals didn’t see eye-to-eye with our pandurs, even if they were here to help them. I didn’t. I pressed my lips tightly together and accepted my failure the way a true leader should. Hopefully, he didn’t know about the ten thousand pandurs waiting on the Australian shore.
     “We’re looking for leads, but no one is talking. That’s why we came to you,” I said. 
     “Wrong. You were so bored out of your mind that you would have accepted any excuse to get out of those woods,” Keller said. “Did you stop for one second to think that it might be a trap to draw you out?”
     “My pandurs are the best. I’m not afraid of your new breeds,” I said, thinking he was referring to the reward placed on my head. Maybe I didn’t feel as secure as I pretended to be, but I trusted the pandurs to do everything in their power to protect me and everyone around me.
     “You Little Council members are so self-absorbed. What if you weren’t the target?” Keller’s voice went dangerously low.
     No. “What do you mean?”
     “We need to go. Now!” Max grabbed my arm to pull me towards the exit. The look on his face promised nothing short of murder.
     “Too late.” Keller looked at the heavy clock on the desk. “It should be over by now. I’m sorry.”
     No no no no. “I’ll be back,” I told him before running to the door. “And then you’ll give me some answers.”
     “I’ll be here.” Keller leaned back in his chair. “And then maybe you’ll be the person I need.”
     I threw him a cold glare, but I didn’t waste any time with an answer. I ran in the corridor, giving orders on the way. “Call the camp! Find out what the hell is going on!”
     Trotuş and Max held the phones to their ears, both trying to get in touch with the people in charge in their respective camps.
     “Spânu’s not answering!” Trotuş reported, his face paler than ever. Max didn’t seem to have an answer either.
     We rushed into the elevator, the pandurs on our trail. I fetched my cell phone and called Radu. No matter what had happened, he would survive. He was both a vampire and a pandur. “Come on, come on, come on … answer dammit!”
     We reached the ground floor, scaring the pandurs stationed there with our haste. I bent at the waist with an arm wrapped around my middle as the chilling words dripped into my ear. “No…”
     Jesse’s arms caught me. “Liana…”
     “They’re dead … They’re all dead…”

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Review: All the Truth That's In Me

Four years ago, Judith and her best friend disappeared from their small town of Roswell Station. Two years ago, only Judith returned, permanently mutilated, reviled and ignored by those who were once her friends and family. 
Unable to speak, Judith lives like a ghost in her own home, silently pouring out her thoughts to the boy who’s owned her heart as long as she can remember—even if he doesn’t know it—her childhood friend, Lucas. 

But when Roswell Station is attacked, long-buried secrets come to light, and Judith is forced to choose: continue to live in silence, or recover her voice, even if it means changing her world, and the lives around her, forever. 
This startlingly original novel will shock and disturb you; it will fill you with Judith’s passion and longing; and its mysteries will keep you feverishly turning the pages until the very last

     To be blunt, I love this book. I love the characters. I love how with the barest of descriptions, they rise up to take a vivid place in my mind. They are never officially introduced to the reader, but give the impression of simply existing -- their lives progressed before the book begins and will continue to do so when the cover closes. But we are lucky to catch a short glimpse of them in their struggles against the world. Judith is a battered and ostracized young woman, but far from letting her troubles beat her, she grows stronger -- both before the book begins and during it. Though not loud in her defiance of society, a core of steel runs through her. And Lucas! (Love interest) Mostly referred to as 'you' through Judith's first person perspective, the reader meets him as an old friend, faults and all. His transformation may not be as dramatic as Judith's, but it changes his future just as much.
Characters: 5 Stars

     Judith's past still holds her present in a death grip. And though the events that shatter her life happen months before the book begins, they still cast their dark shadow over every choice Judith makes. Though plenty high on the action/intensity scale, I felt like the focus of the book was almost solely on Judith's journey to reclaiming her life. And it was masterfully done. With only snippets of her past displayed at the beginning, the flashbacks wind closer and closer as events in real time speed up, spiraling towards the climax. And when it comes, suddenly all the pieces fall together, and it's immediately evident how much deeper the story is. This book absolutely receives the Could Not Put Down award.
Plot: 5 Stars

     I've only had the pleasure of reading on other of Julie Berry's books, but I found her storytelling to have a timeless flowing feel. All the Truth That's In Me raises the bar considerably more. With poignant characters and a tale that tackles heavy issues with tact, Julie Berry presents a gorgeously crafted story. This book has glided it's way onto my reread list, and quite possibly my re-reread list. This is one heart wrenching read you will not want to miss.
Style: 5 Stars

Rating: 5 Stars
Source: Library
Genre: Not Actually Sure
YA Fiction

Monday, April 7, 2014

Review: Hero by Alethea Kontis

Rough and tumble Saturday Woodcutter thinks she’s the only one of her sisters without any magic—until the day she accidentally conjures an ocean in the backyard. With her sword in tow, Saturday sets sail on a pirate ship, only to find herself kidnapped and whisked off to the top of the world. Is Saturday powerful enough to kill the mountain witch who holds her captive and save the world from sure destruction? And, as she wonders grumpily, “Did romance have to be part of the adventure?” As in Enchanted, readers will revel in the fragments of fairy tales that embellish this action-packed story of adventure and, yes, romance.

          Tall, gangly, and the destroyer of Jack's beanstalk, Saturday Woodcutter is as far from the everyday damsel in distress as can be imagined. Add to her virtues stubbornness, occasional rudeness, clumsiness, and a hint of wit that manifests itself mostly in the form of rhymes and she's almost as far from the everyday heroine as well. These differences in her character make for a very direct story -- no moseying along. Saturday wouldn't stand for it. Though I can't say she was one of the more enjoyable heroines I've traveled along with, she certainly provided a change in pace from other fairytale retellings. And that brings us to Peregrine, the love interest, who spends most of the book in the body of a girl. And who has spent most of his life in a cave  (we're talking one hundred years) with only a chimera and an honery demon-witch for company. He has only met a handful of girls in his life time, but he has spent his whole life sketching visions of a particular girl, and when she finally shows up and turns out to be Saturday, understandably he tumbles head over heels with her. Though his devotion is sweet, and I really enjoy the dynamic between him and Saturday, as far as their romance goes, I found it hard to overlook the fact that she is the only girl for decades around and also the only human. This didn't make his love any less real for him however, and when he eventually gets his body back and when there are finally other girls around, has eyes only for Saturday. And it was nice, because at the same time, Saturday decides romance is something worth standing for.
Characters: 3 Stars

          Just as Enchanted, the companion book to Hero, seems to take on a more romance/mystery fairy tale approach, Hero takes on the daring adventure. From the moment she accidentally turns her backyard into an ocean, to the very last page we get to see classic adventure after classic adventure, as Saturday is carried away by a Roc, completes impossible tasks, and bests a witch. The majority of the book, however, she spends under a mountain at the Top of the World with Peregrine. Unfortunately, that part did drag a bit for me, but I can see how it was necessary for the development of Saturday and Peregrine's relationship. Overall, the story was definitely fitting of Saturday as a character.
Plot: 3 Stars

          Alethea Kontis has a style slightly reminiscent of Lloyd Alexander and other Children/YA Fiction writers of the time, where the adventure is met head on and the characters have to dig deep within themselves for the grit to overcome. I love the world of enchantment and stories she has created around the Woodcutter family with this book and earlier with Enchanted, and the sheer number of fairy tales included is incredibly exciting for us fairy tale junkies.Though I wouldn't reread this book, I loved Enchanted and will probably peruse future books.
Style: 3 Stars

Rating: 3 Stars
Source: Library
Genre: Fantasy
YA Fiction

It isn’t easy being the rather overlooked and unhappy youngest sibling to sisters named for the other six days of the week. Sunday’s only comfort is writing stories, although what she writes has a terrible tendency to come true.
     When Sunday meets an enchanted frog who asks about her stories, the two become friends. Soon that friendship deepens into something magical. One night Sunday kisses her frog goodbye and leaves, not realizing that her love has transformed him back into Rumbold, the crown prince of Arilland—and a man Sunday’s family despises.
     The prince returns to his castle, intent on making Sunday fall in love with him as the man he is, not the frog he was. But Sunday is not so easy to woo. How can she feel such a strange, strong attraction for this prince she barely knows? And what twisted secrets lie hidden in his past—and hers?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Review: All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

   Imprisoned in the heart of a secret military base, Em has nothing except the voice of the boy in the cell next door and the list of instructions she finds taped inside the drain.
      Only Em can complete the final instruction. She’s tried everything to prevent the creation of a time machine that will tear the world apart. She holds the proof: a list she has never seen before, written in her own hand. Each failed attempt in the past has led her to the same terrible present—imprisoned and tortured by a sadistic man called the doctor while war rages outside. 
      Marina has loved her best friend, James, since they were children. A gorgeous, introverted science prodigy from one of America’s most famous families, James finally seems to be seeing Marina in a new way, too. But on one disastrous night, James’s life crumbles, and with it, Marina’s hopes for their future. Marina will protect James, no matter what. Even if it means opening her eyes to a truth so terrible that she may not survive it... at least, not as the girl she once was. Em and Marina are in a race against time that only one of them can win.
      All Our Yesterdays is a wrenching, brilliantly plotted story of fierce love, unthinkable sacrifice, and the infinite implications of our every choice.

          I haven't seen two main characters that fit together as well as Em and Finn do in a long time. Both perfectly capable of standing independently, their love was simple and unselfish. The course of the story yanked out their inner selves and spread them out for public perusal as they struggle with the ethics of what they intend to do. They compliment each other in a team willing to lay aside petty wishes for themselves in search of a safe future. Em and the Finn of the future both carried a deep seated grittiness, courtesy of the nightmare the future is -- quite different from the average, and perhaps slightly spoiled in one case, teenagers they were in the beginning of their journey. I enjoyed the jagged juxtaposition presented as the past and future characters lived out their timelines, reacting the same events in drastically different ways, but still being the same person. Their interactions posed several heavy questions and deep thoughts on what gives a person their identity and ends justifying means. Overall, the characters were well thought out and relateable.
Characters: 4 Stars

          What an incredibly addictive read! The whole book takes place over the course of only a few days as events seamlessly snap into place in nonstop plot. I must say I wasn't expecting quite the explosion this book is. Usually I find time travel books to be unrealistic and disappointing (because really if someone has such a powerful tool how can their lives have any problems?). But nothing could be further from the truth with this one! I appreciated that Cristen Terrill doesn't focus too much on the technical aspect of why time travel is possible in her world, but rather turns the readers' attention to the character development and intricate plot unraveling before our eyes and uses the time travel machine as only an accessory to the larger story. That's not to say that time isn't involved: This story is made of time jumps with a whole new take on paradoxes and non-linear timelines and just enough logic to ring true. 
Plot: 4.8 Stars

          Cristen Terrill has an almost brusque clearness to her writing that lends itself well to the brutal atmosphere of All Our Yesterdays.The book displayed professional and experienced prose with enough flair that I will be looking out for future books.
Style: 4 Stars

Rating: 4.3 Stars
Source: Library
Genre: Science Fiction
YA Fiction