BIG MAGIC for Creatives

At the suggestion of an author I follow, I checked the audiobook of BIG MAGIC: CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR written by Elizabeth Gilbert. After all, I needed something to listen to while I cleaned the house and logged miles on the pavement.

In case you’re not familiar with authors, Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of EAT, PRAY, LOVE, so she had a little authority in the are of creativity. As a bonus, she narrated the audiobook.

What’s the Magic?

Inspiration is the magic behind creativity. There’s tons of noise about listening to your muse and being inspired by certain things.

Gilbert has an interesting view on inspiration. She proposes that ideas are the offspring of inspiration. Ideas float freely through the air around us, buzzing into the hearts and minds of various people, looking for a receptive venue.

When they find an artist that pauses to consider them, they stay awhile. They plant their seedling concept into a ready mind where the willing artist considers it.

If the artist, waters and feeds and otherwise tends the idea, it happily grows and flourishes, until finally it becomes the premise for a novel, theme of a painting or thought behind a symphony. Then it goes fully formed into the wider world to be viewed and appreciated by everyone.

Should the artist give up on the idea, it won’t wait around forever. This is why sometimes when we set aside a project for awhile, when we come back to it, the magic is gone. We can’t get into the flow again. It suddenly feels stale and unimaginative.

Gilbert has proof for her hypothesis regarding ideas. It’s a real eyebrow-raiser, and involves an exchange of ideas with Ann Patchett through nothing more than a touch. That’s all I’ll say about that. Read (or listen to ) the book if you want to know the whole score.

Gilbert’s advice: consider art as a vocation rather than a career. Even if you do it full-time. Once you call it a career, the weight of responsibility (to pay the bills and feed the artist’s family) presses against ideas, stifling them.

She names many fears and addresses her own methods for counteracting them. She debunks the idea of a “suffering artist” and proposes creatives fill their well with love for their art. The art will reciprocate with kindness.

My Takeaway

I enjoyed the various anecdotes and personal experiences shared by Gilbert. This will be the only book of hers I have ever read (although I did see the film version of the best-seller mentioned above, but we all know it was NOWHERE as amazing as the book).

Although I’m not entirely convinced of her theory regarding ideas, I can see how she would have made the conclusion she did.

Ideas are inanimate. However, the Creator of all things could very well send them on the air and into the hearts and minds of people He wants to develop them.

I have said, “Inspiration struck. The words poured out of me.” However, this isn’t inspiration in the sense of “God-breathed” scriptures.

Instead, I mean an idea bloomed and was ready for harvest. It responded to my watering with introspection and my feeding through brainstorming or research. It’s growth can no longer be contained in my heart and mind,

Idea explosion makes me adore writing a first draft. Sure, some parts of it might be a struggle, but I’ve learned to skip to the part the muse want to expel. The other parts will fall in line–eventually. Or maybe they will end up being summarized, nothing more than connective tissue for the brain child birthed with a minimum of labor.

A few lines jumped out at me, and I scrawled them down. They’ll be fodder for reflection in the quiet corners of my mind.

It’s true fear dampens creativity, can destroy it altogether. This is why I chose “dauntless” for my word this year. And why I’ve embraced the unexpected opportunities that have flowed my way this year.

BIG MAGIC isn’t an especially long book, so I recommend it if fear is stifling your creativity. It can’t possibly hurt anything, right? And it might invite the Big Magic of Inspiration to drop an idea (or ten) in the fertile soil of your imagination.

If you’ve read this book, what was your takeaway? What fear stifles your creativity?

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I Want to be a Libriomancer

Books are magical. Reading transports you to a different place and time and introduces you to more people than you could ever hope to meet. That’s why I want to be a libriomancer.
You might be scratching your head, wondering what I’m talking about. If you’re a geek who knows some Latin, you might realize this has something to do with books and magic.

If you’re a fan of the Magic Ex Libris Series by Jim C. Hines, you know exactly what I’m talking about. (Still not sure, read my review of his earlier books in the series).

What is a Libriomancer?

Libriomancer-FullA libriomancer is a person who can draw magic from books.

I know, I think I’ve been one by that definition for most of my life. And I know C. S. Lewis was one because he transported me to Narnia via book dozens of times.

In Hines’ world, a libriomancer can access the magic inside a book to draw objects from the book.

You’d like an Invisibility Cloak? A libriomancer could grab one out of Harry Potter’s closet (if only those Harry Potter books weren’t locked. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read Libriomancer, book one of the series).

The “librarian” who is the hero of the series is pulling Lucy’s bottle of healing potion out of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in every installment. Fighting evil is a dangerous business. Best to be prepared for the worst.

                                              How does this work?

People read books. The more people who read the book and suspend their disbelief to embrace the story, the more magic potential that waits inside a book.

There are limits. The object has to be small enough that it would fit through the covers of the book. I suggest huge hardbacks for working these spells, so you can make certain Excalibur makes it out of King Arthur’s hand intact.

The magician has an innate sense of magic. They must be able to fully picture the object they want to pull from the book in their mind. Small imaginations need not apply.

Why I Want to be One

I fit all the qualifications for libriomancy.

  • I read books.
  • I have a great imagination.
  • I can recall scenes with vivid detail that’s just crazy considering how many books I’ve read.
  • I have a desire to be innately connected to a magical continuum.

In fact, since I’ve been claiming books are magic portals for years, I should be at the front of the line for receiving the gift of libriomancy.
Also, I’m conscientious. I wouldn’t abuse my power.
What other qualities do I need?

Book-ReviewA Review of Revisionary

Recently, I joined a Facebook book club (more on that later—maybe). One of the founding authors for the group asked what the best book we’d read this year would be.

Revisionary by Jim C. Hines was at the top of my list.
Revisionary-199x300
Even though I didn’t give it five shiny stars (I found a few things a mite of a stretch), it was the book I wanted to read the most that didn’t disappoint me.

I love Isaac Vainio, and I was wondering how things were working out for him since the wider world discovered the existence of magic and magical creatures at the end of book three.

As you can imagine, governments are trying to regulate magic while also exploiting it for their own purposes.

Magical creatures are starting to unite against humans. Humans fear them, so they want them crowded onto reservations and registered like firearms. Since they aren’t human, they don’t have protection under the U.S. Constitution.

The political finagling in this book rivals spy novels.

And we know how much Isaac adores jumping through hoops and cutting through red tape.

Lots of action in this book to keep you turning pages. Plenty of clues and twists keep you guessing to the end whose the mastermind behind the plot behind the plot of the plotters.

Readers of fantasy will love this book. Yes, there is some foul language. However, other adult themes are kept to a minimum.

The Surprise

The most startling thing to me about reading this fourth book in this contemporary fantasy series was learned when I read the acknowledgements.

Most of the time I skim these things. I know! As an author, I should read them. I understand how it takes a village to get a book from the idea stage to a library shelf.

Still, I don’t know most of the people mentioned.

I also don’t know much of anything about most of my favorite authors. I’ve never been one of those people who joins fan clubs and follows every media account of a celebrity. Even one I like.

Color me shocked when I discovered Mr. Hines was not a full-time author.

Excuse me? He’s writing these amazing books at a rate of once per year or so and that’s not his JOB?

Well, it wasn’t his job. With four books in a successful series, Mr. Hines has now donned the cape of insanity. He joins the rest of us spending his days holed up in an office with imaginary friends.

I’m thrilled. I hope that means there will be more books in this series I dearly love.

And if he could grant me the power of libriomancy…all the better.

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Something for Everyone in I’M ABOUT TO GET UP

Once you pick up this book from Julie Hunt, skip right to chapter 25 and you’ll see why a review of it appears on my “No Fear This Year” blog. I’M ABOUT TO GET UP is a memoir about grief written from a Christian perspective, but it has nuggets of truth to help anyone who wrings their hands when faced with death.

You’re at the funeral, next in line. The family stands there, red-rimmed eyes glistening with tears, hugging each person in turn. What will you say?

I’ll confess that I avoided a number of funerals in my younger years just because I couldn’t imagine how I would interact with the grieving family.

Until I was the grieving family. And I heard those cliché phrases that meant nothing or experienced the deep comfort of a wordless hug.

I’M ABOUT TO GET UP

about_to_get_up_coverThis book came to me before it released to the public. A publicist whose newsletter I follow invited me to be on the “launch team” for the book.

Since I’m intermittently writing my own grief memoir-ish book, I thought reading one would give me an idea how other approach the topic.

I’ll admit, it was difficult to read the book in December. Christmas has been a difficult time since 2009 when my grandmother graduated to Heaven a few days before the holiday.

Julie’s experiences are raw and real. She pulls you in to the Rainy Day with her and the grief she depicts resonates. It was too close to my own heart some days, so it took me a few weeks to get through the less-than-200-page book.

If you read nothing else, read the appendices. Here Julie lists all the things people want to know, the “where the rubber meets the road” practical things. Like what you can do for a grieving person, what NOT to say at the funeral (or any other time) and words that do offer help or hope.

In a world where people want to sweep the grieving process under the carpet, this book is just the dose of reality we need.

My Review

It was obvious from early in the book that Julie’s religious beliefs differed from mine. There were moments when my eyebrows scraped my scalp as I thought, “They did what?!”

Still, that’s not what this book is about. And Julie didn’t defend or expound on her specific spiritual ideals. Well, not the ones that had me gawping. The ones that had to do with facing grief head on? Yep, those she tackles.

Nothing can prepare you for the death of a loved one. I speak from experience at the bedside of a terminally ill mother. When they go, you grieve. A part of you shatters and needs time and care to be repurposed.

Julie goes chronologically through her own grieving process. This approach worked well, making the book read like a novel. If you like “based on actual events” reading, this book fits that bill.

Advice and encouragement for both those struck by grief and those attempting to minister to them is sprinkled throughout the prose. You won’t find sermonizing or patronizing in these pages.

In fact, the best part of the book is the practical, pro-active lists given in the epilogue and appendices.

I give four out of five stars to this book.

My Recommendation

This book is a must-read for every person in ministry. The glimpse inside a grieving heart will offer the best hands-on training a person could get without facing an actual death in the family.

Julie admits that she couldn’t read books when she was grieving, but I think this book is the sort that could be read to a grieving person. It is certainly an exceptional handbook for someone who fumbles with how to comfort others in the face of loss.

If you’ve been grieving a loss for a while and feel like the pain is still more raw than it should be, pick up this book. I promise you’ll see yourself reflected from a page or chapter, and you’ll be able to take the next step toward healing.

Thank you, Julie Hunt, for being real with all of us. Your journey will empower others so they can get up and get back to living.

What books helped you deal with grief and loss on a practical level?

Ready for some Love Under the Harvest Moon

Autumn is the perfect time for romance. Okay, is romance ever out of season? But you have to admit that being kissed under a harvest moon sounds totally romantic.

The newest anthology, Love Under the Harvest Moon, from Roane Publishing features five short stories centered around the theme of autumn. Three of them feature back-to-school in one way or another.

harvest_moon_cover

Amidst Strawberry Fields

This short story is by Nemma Wollenfang. I was interested to read it since Nemma shared a spot with me in Masked Hearts.

First of all, I was surprised that is was a young adult romance. Not because I don’t like them, because I’m a huge fan of young adult literature in many genres. However, Roane Publishing generally excludes stories with young adult characters from their anthologies.

I enjoyed the story. At first, I was thrown off because there was talk of a farm but the first sentence has a Ferrari pulling up to the school parking lot. What?

Eventually, I settled into the rhythm of the story. Beth was more mature than your average teenager. Maybe because of all the responsibilities she had at the farm.

This is a story about race relations, prejudice and even racial profiling. Not that any of those terms were used. But the gypsies aren’t welcome at the school and before long, it’s obvious the police want to blame them for any crime that happens around town.

Some things about Beth remained vague (like where was her father?) and the details of the harvest ceremony were released grudgingly.

A solid start for the anthology.

Four out of five stars

Autumn Leaves

HeartsofValor_eBook_CVRI’m familiar with T.E. Hodden because we shared a cover with the Hearts of Valor anthology.

His story ended up being the best in the bunch. His prose is poetic. His characters solid. And the one-day time frame of the story kept the pace ratched up so I had to keep turning pages.

It took me a few pages to orient myself to a romance narrated in first person by a man.  First, I’m not generally a fan of first person in romances because the tension can be tightened so much more effectively if readers can get inside the heads of both characters.

At first, I thought it was going to be another “I walked in on my girlfriend with another guy” story. But Hodden threw a curve ball (or three) in the middle of these over-used (in my opinion) trope.

I don’t want to give anything away because this is a story best experienced firsthand.

Five out of five stars

Moon Dance

This story by Patricia Crisafulli started slow and never really gained momentum.

It was written in present tense which is tedious for me to read, but I don’t think that’s why I didn’t connect with it.

The shero, Anna, was a single mom with plenty of problems. She was relatable and likable. The writing wasn’t terrible.

A romance never unfolded. We went from a guy telling her to loosen up to her holding hands with him at the harvest festival. No idea how they got from one point to the next. Most of the story is about Anna’s other problems and he makes brief appearances. You know he’s going to be the love interest because there’s no one else.

But how? The story has too many holes.

Three out of five stars

A Harvest Homecoming

This little tale penned by Laura Lamoreaux and T.L. French tried to pull me into its contemporary world.

Tanya is home again after an ugly divorce. She’s marking time until she can find another job as a reporter. And, of course, since anyone can be a teacher (in Texas, I guess), she takes a job teaching freshman English.

You all know I’m a substitute teacher with a background working in education for a decade, so this attitude rubbed me all kinds of wrong. But I kept reading.

Tanya runs into a guy she used to know, who once crushed on her, and he ends up being totally hot nowadays.

I probably don’t need to go on. It unfolded predictably from there.

At least the plot made sense and the story was complete. And the dig at teaching (unintentional or not) was redeemed by the end of the story.

Four out of five stars

Opposite Directions

Claire Davon, another anthology mate of mine from Masked Hearts, writes another girl comes home from the big city and takes a teaching job story. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if it wasn’t back-to-back with the other one.

Here Vanessa runs into her old flame, who broke up with her after cheating on her. See what I mean about the cheating boyfriend or girlfriend being an over-used trope?

Vanessa still has feelings for him. Does he have feelings for her?

Rather than taking the time to develop conflict and flesh out a longer story, Davon takes our couple out on a date and has them resolve everything over one meal. I believe in the restorative power of Italian food as much as the next person, but I couldn’t get on board with such an easy resolution of big issues.

I also didn’t connect with these characters as well as I had with those from the other stories.

Three out of five stars

Harvest Moon Button

All in all, this was a pleasant way to pass some time cuddled up on a rainy day. Each story is the perfect length for a lunch-hour dive into fiction-land.

Overall, it earns four out of five stars. (Okay, if you do the math, it technically gets 3.8 stars, but that rounds up to four, right?)

You can pick up your copy of Love under the Harvest Moon at your favorite retailer, or click here to get it directly from the publisher.

IN THE BEGINNING: My Review

In The Beginning_CoverEight stories that span the imagination, recreating Biblical events into dark tales featuring young adult heroes. Month9Books released their charity anthology on October 25, 2016.

All the authors cite the “inspiration” for their retelling of common and obscure Bible stories. Two of the stories are more allegorical as opposed to straight retellings.

With the exception of one story, these short tales will appeal to teenagers who like fantasy, dystopian and darker themes. Does it seem odd that this anthology twists Bible stories into something foreboding, even chilling or evil?

Maybe. Or maybe not.

To read and enjoy this collection, one can’t open the cover expecting to see the truth of the Bible. Here the imagination of some storytellers has converted segments of scripture into compelling farcical stories. They just left at the whimsy.

Stories I Enjoyed

I didn’t hate any of these stories. All of them were well-written and well-edited. Some of them took a little bit more of a stretch to accept them. You know how I feel about being kicked out of my fantasy world by unrealistic and unbelievable things.

I really enjoyed “Condemned” by Elle O’Neal. This story gives a Hunger Games spin to the story of Barabbas. If Barabbas were a teenage boy in a dystopian world where people liked to be entertained by televised gladiatorial-type games.

The character of Barabbas was well-constructed. I would have liked a little more explanation about this dystopian society. I never understood why they had the game or what made Barabbas a contestant.

Still, if you’re like me and you’ve often wondered how Barabbas felt when Jesus took his place on death’s row, this is a chilling way to get that insight.

One of the truly allegorical stories, “Babylon” by Nicole Crucial, gave me plenty to think about. The author personifies The Book of Life as the main character in this story. It’s a gut-wrenching tale of a friend who knows her friend is destined for a downfall.

It makes readers ask plenty of insightful questions. And convinced me once and for all that having foreknowledge of the future would be a bad thing.

Why Some Fell Short

For example, “Daniel and the Dragon” by Stephen Clements is inspired by a text that is included in the American Standard Version of the Bible that I had never read. Of course, dragons.

Clements wrote a good story but it includes concepts, wording and practices that will be foreign to most young adult readers. Also, it was more of a fictionalization of the passage rather than a retelling.

What do I mean?

A retelling is exactly what it sounds like: the same story but using different characters in a different setting.

This is not a bad story at all (didn’t I mention there are NO bad stories in this collection?) but it just missed the mark with me.

Other stories were also fictionalizations rather than retellings. “The Deluge” by Marti Johnson is a depressing recount of someone who didn’t survive Noah’s flood. “First Wife” by Lora Palmer gives us a look at Leah and Jacob’s wedding night and the day after.

Palmer’s story had great characterization and emotion. At the end, there’s another character introduced. I would have enjoyed the story more if it was about that “friendship” rather than Laban’s double-crossing of his nephew and daughters.

Even though I couldn’t buy the premise in “Emmaculate” by Christina Raus, I do think most teenage girls will fall for it and enjoy the ride. It’s packed with real-to-our-world issues and plenty of trauma drama.

My Top Pick

When I read the ARC, my favorite story was called “The Isaiah Boy.” So color me shocked when I didn’t even see that title listed on the press release during the cover reveal.

But then I found it. It had a new title, but the same incredible “there has to be more than this” ride. I’m talking about “Last Will and Testament” by Mike Hayes.

To say I was a little outraged when I saw the scriptures from Isaiah 53 at the beginning of the story is putting it mildly. After all that chapter prophecies Christ’s death thousands of years before it happens.

“It’s just a story” I started chanting to myself.

And it really isn’t a story about Christ. It takes the “wounded for our transgressions” literally and gives that “power” to a boy, Baz.  What I really admired was that the story was told in first person by a character other than Baz.

I don’t want to give anything away because you need to read this story. When you do, we need to talk about it. And Mike Hayes needs to write a novel that takes off right where this short ends.

Oh yeah, I’m looking at you Mr. Hayes.

Be warned, most of these stories have an incredibly dark tone. Some of them are downright depressing. But all of them offer more than an hour of entertainment. They give a snapshot of humanity that will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

Disclaimer: I have a story in this anthology. I don’t mention “The Demon was Me” in my review because it seems self-serving to do so. Elsewhere I have mentioned it is the best short fiction I believe I’ve ever written. I hope you’ll read it and decide for yourself.

Have you read IN THE BEGINNING? What stories spoke to you?

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My YA Fantasy Debut is Coming Soon

In April 2015, I subbed several short stories. In my mind, I “put out the fleece” for my future writing direction. But I had my toes and fingers crossed that the answer would be “Write YA fantasy.”
The short story in this anthology was one of those submissions. I have read all these stories, and they blew my mind. This collection is a perfect example of what happens when you tell a bunch of creatives to rewrite someone else’s tale. Even if the original story is from the Bible.
 
Today Month9Books is revealing the cover and some excerpts for their Charity Anthology IN THE BEGINNING! Which releases October 25, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive an eGalley!!

On to the reveal!

 

 
Title: IN THE BEGINNING: Dark Retellings of Biblical Tales
Editors: Laureen P. Cantwell and Georgia McBride
Author: Stephen Clements, Nicole Crucial, Mike Hays, Sharon Hughson, Marti Johnson, Elle O’Neill, Laura Palmer, & Christina Raus
Pub. Date: October 25, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon| B&N |Goodreads
 
In the Beginning (Oct. 25, 2016) –Eight authors come together to build a powerful collection of dark young adult short stories inspired by the mysteries, faith, and darkness found within the Bible. Old Testament and New Testament, iconic and obscure figures alike are illuminated, explored, and re-envisioned throughout this charity anthology from Month9Books.
 
IN THE BEGINNING, edited by Laureen Cantwell and Georgia McBride
 
Daniel and the Dragon by Stephen Clements
A troubled orphan named Habakkuk dutifully follows his master, the prophet Daniel, into temples of blood-thirsty demon-gods, battles with unspeakable horrors, and bears witnesses to mind-breaking evil until his master’s zealous defiance of the king’s law seals their fate.
 
Babylon by Nicole Crucial
Far above the earth, in Second Eden, where moments and eternities all blur together, young Babylon befriends Sefer, the Book of Life. As Babylon awaits the moment she’ll fulfill her destiny, she and Sefer try to understand the world in which they live.
 
Last Will and Testament by Mike Hays
A homeless young boy, Baz, bears the weight of humanity on his shoulders and upon his body. When dark forces test a new-found friendship, Baz’s willingness to bear the ugliness of their world will be shaken. 
 
The Demon Was Me by Sharon Hughson
Based on the story of the demon-possessed boy healed by Jesus, this tale provides a glimpse into a post-apocalyptic world where a teenage boy seeks to journey to a better land and yearns to discover the kind of man he’s meant to be, only to be hijacked by an evil spirit intent upon chipping away at the hope, faith, and resilience of its host.
 
The Deluge by Marti Johnson
A non-believer shares the story of Noah’s ark-building and the deadly downpour that follows. Fear, faithlessness, and the fallibility of mankind collide in a community where second chances aren’t unlimited and a better-late-than-never attitude just might be your doom.
 
Condemned by Elle O’Neill
Just sixteen-years-old, Barabbas finds himself pulled out of Routlege Academy and into a reality show competition—against Jesus himself—where the reward for the winner is life.
 
First Wife by Lora Palmer
In a first-person retelling of the saga of Jacob, Rachel and Leah, themes of family, deception, guilt, and heartache emerge amidst the first days of Leah’s marriage to Jacob—a marriage mired in trickery a mere week before Jacob was to marry Leah’s sister Rachel.
 
Emmaculate by Christina Raus
Based on the story of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, we enter the troubled mind of Emma, who finds herself torn between her religious upbringing and the purity ring that binds her to her boyfriend and the pregnancy that results from her relationship with another boy.
 
Anthology Excerpts:
 
From THE DEMON WAS ME, by Sharon Hughson:
 
The ghastly black fog overtook me. Icicles pierced my back. Every muscle in my body spasmed. I plunged face-first against the ground. Something sharp gouged my cheek. Shivery tingles pervaded my insides. A vile presence pressed against my mind.            
“Get out!” I rolled to my back, arms outstretched. I wanted to fight, throw the intruder off me. But how can you resist something as ethereal as air?
            
Laughter rang in my ears. Sinister. It shuddered against my soul. Terror and hopelessness collided in my chest. A foreign power clutched at my mind.
            
I screamed. I rolled to my side and squeezed my eyes shut. If only I could disappear.
            
Another dark wave of laughter echoed through my skull. Convulsions gripped me. Against my will, my limbs flailed in every direction. A spike pressed into my mind. I cradled my throbbing head. My body, a tumbleweed in the wind, spun on the ground.
 
 
From BABYLON, by Nicole Crucial:
 
Only those will enter Heaven whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
 
These were the first words I heard, in the beginning of time.
 
But Sefer, the protest comes, Revelation wasn’t written until the first century.
 
My answer is that time is a funny little plaything to God, or so I imagine. That first sentence was the wind that breathed life into my chest, the binding of my pages, the ink in my soul. It knitted together my stardust-atoms from across centuries and millennia and planes of existence.
 
And when the first dregs of consciousness swirled at the pit-bottom of my spine, I yawned and opened my eyes to paradise.
 
 
From CONDEMNED, by Elle O’Neill:
 
To his surprise, as he heard the metal door grind to a stop, there was a popping sound, like the flash-lamp did when they experimented in Classic Photography at Routlege. Except no camera appeared—not that he could see anyway—but rather a digital time clock, bold red numbers, already beginning their descent, in striking relief against the black paint covering the walls.
 
29:48:12.
 
29:48:11.
 
Of course they would include the fractions of a second, he thought. He was now fighting a tiger against a racing clock. For all that they were merely numbers, he saw their dwindling trickle as if he were watching grains of sand pour through the hourglass of his fingers, helpless.
 
29:47:03.
 
The tiger looked at him. It didn’t glance his way. It directed its massive head at him, its eyes trained on Barabbas … and they didn’t turn away.
 
Another man, in another arena, stood calmly while the tiger advanced. His breathing was even, he did not watch the clock, and he looked with love upon the prowling beast. When it snarled, he slowly exhaled; when its whiskers glanced his weaponless fingers, he blinked gently as the hot breath of the tiger dampened his skin.
 
 
From LAST WILL & TESTAMENT, by Mike Hays:
 
I’ve found money, I’ve found food, and I’ve found myself in plenty of trouble on plenty of occasions, but I’ve never found another human being just lying around. That’s what happened when I found a person-shaped ball of olive drab and camouflage clothing—which would have been more at home in the reject pile down at the army surplus store—under our decrepit, worn sign for the, “Extraordinary 
 
League of Witch Assass_ _ _.”
 
It’s true. I found a boy about my age sleeping at the end of the Extraordinary League of Witch Assassins driveway.
 
 
From UNWANTED, by Lora Palmer:
 
“Let me see you,” he whispers. “Let me truly see you.”
 
I swallow down the fear this moment brings, the anxiety that once he does see me, he will no longer accept me. No, I must stop thinking this way. My husband is not like Jacob, dazzled by the superficial beauty of my sister. My husband, my love, will see me.
 
Taking courage from this, I let out a shaky laugh as he helps me stand. I long to see him, too.
 
“All right,” I say.
 
He lifts my veil, his deft fingers moving slow, relishing the anticipation of this moment. At last, he lifts the linen over my face and lets it slip to the floor behind me. We stare at each other, stock still, in stunned silence.
 
It was Jacob.
 
From EMMACULATE, by Christina Raus:
 
The Ten Commandments are pretty straightforward. Killing? Bad. Lying? Nope. Adultery? Don’t even think about it. But is real life really that straightforward? If you tell your boyfriend that you’re going golfing, when really you’re going out to cheat on him, is the lying or the adultery worse? What if you stab the guy you’re having an affair with? Isn’t being a murderer worse than being a cheater? I think the stabbing is worse than the lying and the cheating combined. So, it was kind of unfair for God to group killing, lying, and cheating all together under one umbrella.
They all seemed really different.
 
I was an adulterer. I couldn’t deny that. I was also a liar. A very, very good liar. But I wasn’t a murderer.
 
 
From THE DELUGE, by Marti Johnson:
 
The stench of mildew and mold is heavy in our nostrils, and my lungs feel as though they are on fire. My breathing is audible in the lulls between the thunderclaps. My mother huddles, shivering, propped between two rocks. She is coughing painfully, and I can hear her teeth chattering.
 
It is hard to breathe because the air itself is full of water.
 
A deeper shadow has fallen across the side of the mountain on which we are sheltering. I pull aside the brambles, and gasp in amazement when I realize what it is. “Look!” I call to the others, and point at the sight. The ark has risen with the water, and now bobs up and down. It sits high in the water. We hear nothing from it but the creaking of the wood timbers and the sound of the branches and rocks on the hillside scraping against its hull.
 
 
From DANIEL AND THE DRAGON, by Stephen Clements:
 
Your god is a liar!” roared the wizened man in thin black robes, as he pounded his breast with his fist. 
Habakkuk stood by the gates of the temple as his master picked a fight with a sanctuary full of the slavish followers of Bel, a bloodthirsty demon god. A fire raged in the fanged maw of a giant, stone head sunken into the back of the temple, there to receive the offerings rendered unto Bel. He had seen this before in other temple raids with his master, though not on such a massive scale, and not at the heart of the demon cult in Babylon itself. The fire raged as the greatest offering that the Babylonians—who adored Bel above all other gods—could sacrifice to their deity was their own newborn children, rolled their screaming, helpless bodies down a stone, handshaped altar into the fire. They offered the fruit of their wombs to
their dark god, who devoured the innocent souls sacrificed to him in eldritch rituals.

 

Giveaway Details:

 

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New Today! In the Shadow of the Dragon King

My author friend J. Keller Ford releases her debut novel today. Dragon fans and fans of young adult adventure won’t want to miss In the Shadow of the Dragon King.

Ms. Ford and I are more than writing acquaintances. More than Facebook friends. I’ve actually spoken to her on the telephone about her beta comments on my still-to-find-a-publisher young adult fantasy novel.

She’s seen my own criticism on an early draft of the sequel to this debut novel. Surprise, surprise, she even found it helpful.

So when she needed people to read and review this book before it released, I was happy to do it. As long as she still let me purchase an autographed copy from her (and she did! I have it!).

The electronic ARC arrived post-haste. I couldn’t wait to read it.

My Summary

IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING eBook Cover 2700x1800In the magic, medieval land of Fallhallow, Eric wants to get noticed. Isn’t he more than a squire? When the dragon king attacks, all of Eric’s dreams and plans get a quick makeover. His knight disappears, accused of treasonous acts. Eric will find the Paladin and save the kingdom.

Then people will notice him. Finally.

In Tennessee, David and his best friend Charlotte are enjoying the last days of summer vacation. Until several strange visits reveal news David can’t believe. A magical creature whisks him and Charlotte off to a world of dragons, nights, sorcerers and sorceresses.

Apparently, David has some great destiny in this place. If he doesn’t accept his role and learn the basics of magic, the darker forces might destroy him – and all of Fallhallow.

It’s a story of friendship and faith. The characters struggle to grow up and give up on beliefs that no longer hold true. A coming of age tale for readers of our generation to connect with in the same way I connected with To Kill a Mockingbird.

My Review

David and Charlotte have a unique relationship which drew me in right away. I couldn’t relate to his circumstances (rich orphan) but she seemed down-to-earth and quite relatable.

What do you do when your best friend is the opposite sex? What if one of you wants to move beyond the friend zone? Do you risk the friendship in hopes the romance will last? I counseled my sons to steer away from converting friendships to romances until they were adults (or at least ready for a serious and perhaps permanent relationship).

This is an authentic problem many teenagers face. It will help readers love David and Charlotte as much as I do.

As for squire Eric, he rubs me the wrong way. Still. Even after he grew up some in the story.

First of all, he’s supposed to be older than the other two, but he acts more immature on many levels. Which didn’t make sense to me since he was in a land where childhood is forfeited early. His actions from the start seemed like something a younger kid would fall into.

Secondly, he acted like a sidekick with his best friend, rather than taking a leadership role. And he wonders why the knights have no confidence in him? Later, he seemed like a spoiled child, and I didn’t see how that would ever be a default reaction. His blacksmith father didn’t seem like the type to permit such behavior. A knight wouldn’t desire it from his squire.

Later, he runs amok without thought to anyone’s feelings but his own. Rather than trying to seek out people he knows and loves, he determines to find this mystical Paladin, who might be able to save the kingdom from the dragon king. There’s just nothing there for me to admire – but at least half of the story is from his perspective.

It was one of those books when I was dreading returning to a certain narrator.

I enjoyed the story. There was magic and mystery and action galore. Ford introduces some fascinating species in her world, and I’m looking forward to meeting more of them. The ice dragon with feathers is my favorite so far.

The magic system seemed shallow. While the rest of this setting seemed complete, the magical portions failed to compel, interest or convince me.

Why? It didn’t take much practice for David to master the spells introduced to him by a sorceress. Was there a drain from using the magic? Not that I noticed. Hopefully, we’ll learn more about how magic works in Fallhallow in the next book.

Check out the blog tour, including opportunities to win prizes, by clicking on the tour button.Chapter-by-Chapter-blog-tour-button

My Recommendation

I give the novel 4.2 out of five stars.

The plot and characters were compelling, but not universally so. Some of the events seemed a little “convenient” for rescuing the characters rather than being organic to the story itself.

Anyone who enjoys adventure stories similar to Percy Jackson will find this novel entertaining. The dialogue and interaction between David and Charlotte rival what you’d find between Percy and Anabeth in the early Percy Jackson books.

If you’ve been waiting for a good dragon tale, you’ll definitely want to latch on to this book. The nemesis dragon king is terrifying and overwhelming, bitter and fierce. My mouth went dry every time he entered a scene. And did I mention the smaller dragon with feathers? I love him to death.

In the Shadow of the Dragon King will transport you to a magical realm and pump you full of adrenaline for the trip.

Get your copy here:  Google Play | BAM | Chapters | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | TBD | iBooks

Now, I’m off to read my autographed copy. See you in Fallhallow!

When You Want to Read Three Books at Once

The worst part of the vacation I recently took was that my Amazon book order didn’t show up before I left. Instead, three books I’d been slavering over arrived on my doorstep while I was gone.

When I got home, I stared into one of my favorite gifts-a box of books-and my eyes glazed over.

I wanted to read all of them. All three were the newest release in series I enjoyed.

How is a girl supposed to choose?

I decided based on how recently I’d read the first book in the series. It had been less than two months for one of these three books.

So I picked up The Skylighter by Becky Wallace.

The Skylighter

Love this world and these characters. Wallace ended the first book with our characters in peril and so this novel starts at a sprint and rarely slows for breathers.

I enjoyed the growing romance between Rafi and Johanna because it spotlighted their individual character and priorities. The sad truth that love is rarely convenient and often a nuisance was fun to consider.

My favorite character from book one was Leao, the immortal who was played by Legolas (ie Orlando Bloom) in my mind. His unique powers as a full mage were explored (and exploited) in this novel. There were moments I wanted to throw the book against the wall because things weren’t easy for Leao, or his love interest Pira.

A few twists are in store for readers. I don’t like to spoil anything. I will say that the “ultimate” bad guy didn’t impress me much. I never understood his true motivations, so he seemed more like a caricature than anything else.

I didn’t fully accept the “change” in Vibora late in the novel. After she had been built up so convincingly as completely evil in the first book, it was difficult for me to accept the change. Wallace did lay groundwork and make it an evolving switch, but it still didn’t sit well with me.

One part of the story I didn’t anticipate was the portion from Dom’s viewpoint. It was vital to the tension and pace and overall understanding of the story. I liked him, but felt his character arc peaked too quickly. Many of the things that happened in his portion of the story were predictable to the point of heavy sighs and almost eye rolling.

People I liked were killed. The bad guys lose in the end. These two things can be mutually exclusive, but I’m more willing to accept the first when the second is the payoff.

All in all, this was a satisfying sequel to The Storyspinner (which is the best book I’ve read in 2016). I give it 4.8 out of five stars.

A Daring Sacrifice

The second book I picked from this stack of three “I can’t wait to read” novels was A Daring Sacrifice by Jody Hedlund. This is a sequel – sort of – to An Uncertain Choice, which I read last year.

Here we have Juliana, a female Robin Hood, robbing a man we were introduced to as an amazing knight. Her backstory is interesting and convincing, although this novel could have been longer to explore that more.

Collin has inherited his father’s massive estate which borders the estate where Juliana was born and raised as a noble for the first ten years of her life. He has a spoiled sister and very little interest in being tied to an estate. He’s enjoyed his adventures with The Noblest Knight.

Collin immediately sees through Juliana’s disguise as a man when she robs him. He follows her with his unbeatable tracking skills and takes her back to his estate.

If Juliana hadn’t been gravely injured, I wouldn’t have accepted her staying with him for nearly a week. Of course, he does pay her in gold and jewels. I found this somewhat belittling, but Juliana accepted it as a way to provide for her band of peasants in hiding.

The politics behind Juliana’s forced hiding were hardly touched upon. The romance was enjoyable without knowing all these details, but the broader story suffered because of these omissions.

Collin was the one of the three knights I chose in the first book, so it was nice to see him find true love. It isn’t an easy path. It’s complicated by cruel and greedy men, a spoiled lady and a headstrong woman.

This novel earns four out of five stars from me. It’s fairly short, a quick read, but perfect for fans of the Robin Hood trope. As the first book ended with a hint about the danger of the second, this one ends with a preview of the danger awaiting Sir Bennet in the next book.

Calamity

This is the final book in Brandon Sanderson’s The Reckoners series. And just because I read it last doesn’t mean I was anticipating it any less than the other two books.

Sanderson impressed me with his Mistborn trilogy and has become my favorite fantasy author for adult books. He’s been exploring the young adult fantasy genre, as well, and this series is proof that he’s a man of many talents.

Calamity is the name of the so-called meteor that appeared a decade ago and transformed some humans into super-humans. Notice I didn’t say super heroes. In fact, nearly one hundred percent of the time, the powers drove these people to do heartless and despicable things. In fact, this abuse of power has transformed the United States into the Fractured States.

David Charleston watched one of these Epics kill his father. From that time, he made a study of every epic to learn how to destroy them. In the first book, Steelheart, he was recruited by The Reckoners, a rogue group whose goal was to dethrone the Epics, in order to help them carry out a plan to kill Steelheart, the Epic who murdered his father and held all of Newcago (yes, Chicago in our world) hostage.

While David mourned the loss of his father, he channeled that grief into hatred for Epics. Until he realizes the girl he loves is one. And the man he works with and respects.

This final installment of the series deals with David’s plan to save his friend Prof, whose powers have subverted him to become the evil overlord of Atlanta, Limelight. And carry out a plan to destroy Calamity, which is at the heart of the problem. After all, if there was no Calamity, there would be no powers. Or at least the powers wouldn’t turn people to darkness.

I still haven’t decided if I can buy into the fact that Calamity is actually an Epic himself. I don’t want to give too much of the story away, so I won’t explore my doubts in this review. However, it seems highly unlikely that the way Calamity came onto the scene would have ever been accepted as “a meteor” or some other anamaly. But this is what the author wants us to believe.

David spends too much time revisiting his past with his father, which is something that was lost beneath the plans of the day in the second book. In the end, this also seemed contrived to me because of the way the story wraps up.

I’ll be the first to admit that the idea of paralell dimensions and random superhuman powers is beyond my realm of comprehension. Still, I expect the explanation of these things to follow a form of logic that I CAN understand. My brain is still working over the nuances of this story to see if Sanderson did that.

I may have to re-read the entire series before I decide.

These conundrums didn’t keep me from enjoying the story. It was well-planned with a suitable number of twists, turns and cliff dives. The pages kept turning, and I wasn’t ready for it to end when I got to the last page.

I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to be inside Megan’s head in this book. She had become one of my favorite parts of this series, and has plenty of ghosts of her own to battle. Instead, her ability to subdue the darkness is trivialized, which it shouldn’t have been. But since the novel was all written from David’s perspective, we couldn’t really grasp the battle. And Megan isn’t the type to bleed emotions all over the place.

I will say the aspect that Sanderson might have considered his biggest surprise, really didn’t shock me too much. However, I couldn’t comprehend the underlying logic of the villain. And the purpose of his visit to Earth wasn’t satisfactorily explained.

This is still a four-star story. Whenever you blend all these fantasy elements, some of them won’t measure up in the mind of readers. I’m sure the young adult and new adult readers, the target audience for this series, will be quicker to take all of this at face value.

And since I’m talking about re-reading the entire series, you know I’m not disappointed I read it the first time.

What about you? Have you ever picked up or recieved in the mail a number of books (or something else) and faced the dilemma of deciding which one to read first (where to begin)? Do you have a fantastic decision-making strategy to share?

The Paladins Release Tour: Reviewed Here

I’m thrilled to announce that one of my Pen Sisters is releasing a new book tomorrow, May 3. If you’re a fan of young adult romance, you want to pick up your copy of The Paladins by Julie Reece. Go ahead and click the cover photo. You can pre-order it today. As in now.

This book is a sequel to The Artisans. You can read my review of that book here.

When I first learned Ms. Reece was writing a sequel, I thought, “Huh?”

My depth of thought amazes even me sometimes.

The reason I was stymied is because The Artisans is completely self-contained. It doesn’t leave any nagging questions remaining. The problem is resolved and the characters are in their “happy for now” existence.

But that doesn’t mean the characters had nothing left to say. Maybe you wondered what happened with Cole. How did he adjust to life after being trapped in The Void for five years? Did things with Raven and Gideon last?

Well, you can find the answers to these questions and so much more if you read The Paladins.

The Blurb

The Paladins CoverThe Artisan curse is broken. Souls trapped in a mysterious otherworld called The Void are finally released. Now, Raven Weathersby, Gideon Maddox, and Cole Wynter can finally move on with their lives…or so they thought. If the ancient magic is truly dead, then why are mystical fires plaguing Gideon at every turn? What accounts for Raven’s frightening visions of her dead mother? And who is the beautiful, tortured girl haunting Cole’s dreams?

Last year, a group of lonely teens sacrificed secrets, battled the supernatural, and faced their own demons to set one another free. Yet six months later, the heart of evil still beats within The Void. And the trio is forced to face the horrific truth: that their only way out is to go back in.

The Paladins completes this eerie YA Southern Gothic where loyalties are tested, love is challenged, and evil seeks them on the ultimate battlegrounds—in their minds, their souls, and their hearts.

My Review

I was involved from the first page. And I was enthralled with Cole by the third chapter. He’s a much more engaging character than Gideon.

Reece takes us into the story from the perspective of all three of the main characters. Her narration is exceptional. Each chapter sounds like the chosen narrator. Cole’s voice is fun, engaging and sprinkled with British euphemisms. Raven is snarky, although a little more melodramatic than before. Gideon is dark, but wait! That’s what’s going on inside his handsome head?

Elemental magic makes its appearance here, which surprised me since it didn’t have the same “feel” as the Artisan magic they “destroyed” in the first book. While they were slow to realize the source of the magic, they were quick to determine the keeper of The Void and the entrance into it. That seemed a little too convenient to me.

The romantic angle in this story isn’t as compelling as in the first book. Gideon decides to dump Raven and encourage her and Cole to get together. (I know. He doesn’t even LIKE that guy.)

Raven isn’t impressed to be dumped and pawned off on someone else. She thought Gideon was going to let her start making her own decisions. Why is he trying to manipulate things again?

And Cole is starting to have feelings for the ghost girl he’s desperate to rescue.

I didn’t guess the exact twist to that whole thing (kudos to the author), but I knew that our lovely Desiree (witch extraordinaire from the first book) would have to be involved somehow. If she got the connection to the water element, there was no way she could have been drowned as they assumed.

I was a tad disappointed in The Void’s populace. Zombies? I’m not a fan of them at all. Three witches sharing one eye? Been done before. The minotaur in the labyrinth was a nice touch and well-played by the author. (Although I’m not sure how the earth magic would have created a link to animals. That seemed a little too convenient, too.)

Will Cole get a girl in the end? Can Gideon swallow his pride? Will Raven be able to escape her own dark fears?

Read it and you’ll see.

My Recommendation

You should read The Artisans before you read this book (the eBook is only 99 cents) . It will give you the proper context for the characters and especially the villain. You won’t be sorry. It was a ghost story I thoroughly enjoyed.

If you like fantasy, you’ll enjoy this book. Paranormal? You’ll get that here for sure. Maybe you’re more of a mythology buff. Reece has you covered. If you want it, The Paladins has got it.

There is romance, but it’s more like the third story line in this novel. The quest to resolve magical issues is primary and character growth secondary.

Even though I gave it only 4.3 out of five stars, I highly recommend this book.

About the Author

Julie ReeceBorn in Ohio, I lived next to my grandfather’s horse farm until the fourth grade. Summers were about riding, fishing and make-believe, while winter brought sledding and ice-skating on frozen ponds. Most of life was magical, but not all.

I struggled with multiple learning disabilities, did not excel in school. I spent much of my time looking out windows and daydreaming. In the fourth grade (with the help of one very nice teacher) I fought dyslexia for my right to read, like a prince fights a dragon in order to free the princess locked in a tower, and I won.

Afterwards, I read like a fiend. I invented stories where I could be the princess… or a gifted heroine from another world who kicked bad guy butt to win the heart of a charismatic hero. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? Later, I moved to Florida where I continued to fantasize about superpowers and monsters, fabricating stories (my mother called it lying) and sharing them with my friends.

Then I thought I’d write one down…

Hooked, I’ve been writing ever since. I write historical, contemporary, urban fantasy, adventure, and young adult romances. I love strong heroines, sweeping tales of mystery and epic adventure… which must include a really hot guy. My writing is proof you can work hard to overcome any obstacle. Don’t give up. I say, if you write, write on!

Connect with Julie here:    Website | Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest |Tumbr | Instagram | Goodreads

The Giveaway

Contest runs until May 20, 2016. The prize(s) :

  • Five (5) winners will receive a digital copy of The Paladins (The Artisans #2) by Julie Reece (INT)

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Friday Cover Reveal: Into the Light by Caroline Patti

Today Caroline T. Patti and Month9Books are revealing the cover for INTO THE LIGHT, book 2 in the INTO THE DARK Series. This title releases July 26, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive an eGalley!!
 
Here’s a message from the author:
 
Into the Light is the continuation of Mercy’s journey with Nathaniel’s backstory mixed in. Readers will learn the history of breaching while Mercy engages in the fight of her life. What draws me to the cover are the colors. The palette is appealing and I love how it all swirls together
because it perfectly captures how Mercy’s two lives, one as a human and one as a Breacher, are intertwined.

On to the reveal! 

Title: INTOTHE LIGHT
Author: Caroline T. Patti
Pub. Date: July 26, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon| B&N| TBD|Goodreads
Mercy’s family is back together and the threat of danger appears to have passed. But any relief she feels is short lived as she is ripped from her body and thrown in jail. Gage and Nathaniel’s plans to break Mercy out won’t exactly be easy. Stuffed full of a chemical binding agent, Mercy is trapped inside the body of a convict without the ability to breach and set herself free. Unfortunately for Mercy, being trapped in jail becomes the least of her problems when she meets her evil twin, Justice.

 

Caroline T Patti is the author of The World Spins Madly On and Too Late To Apologize. When she’s not writing, she’s a school librarian, mother of two, wife, avid reader and Green Bay Packer fan.
You can chat with her on Twitter: @carepatti or find her onFacebook.

 

 
Giveaway Details:

 1 winner will receive an eBook of INTO
THE LIGHT & an eGalley of INTO THE DARK. International.

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