Tag: Young-adult fiction

Time to COLLIDE with Melissa J. Crispin

I’m an author and sometimes I get lucky enough to hang out with other authors.

Such is the case with my guest today. I met Melissa in a critique group on Scribophile. We chatted about life-type things before discussing writing stuff. Well, maybe talked about both at the same time.

I’m thrilled to announce that Melissa is living my dream. Her young adult romance novel is being released by Evernight Teen (these people rejected a short story I sent them, but all is forgiven since they are publishing Melissa’s novel).

Let’s hear what Melissa has to say about her characters, her writing life and what she hopes to gain through this whole writing thing (and it isn’t money or fame).

ME: The main character in your novel COLLIDE is a ballerina. Do you dance? Why did you choose ballet over another kind of dancing? Why dancing at all, since it isn’t something most teenagers do?

MELISSA: I love this question. I took ballet for a few of years when I was little, but I wasn’t good at it. Not by a long shot.

Both my daughter and my niece attend the same dance school, and there’s a big show at the end of every year. When a senior graduates and is getting ready to move on, the owner of the school always does a recap of the person’s history. Many of them dedicated a lot of time and effort, and it showed in their performances. Some started their journey when they were four years old, kept at it through high school, and a few chose to continue with it even after that. My main character, Kayla, was inspired by a mixture of the stories I’ve heard while sitting in the audience.

ME: What motivates you to write for young adults?

MELISSA: Since the protagonists in YA stories are so young, it allows me to create characters that will truly develop and grow as he or she is thrown into a difficult situation. There are so many possibilities when you’re around that age, and so many hardships that you need to work through. I especially love writing about people who discover emotional strength in themselves that they didn’t know they had, and I think that’s a theme that lends itself well to YA.

,ME: What would be your ideal interaction with a reader?

MELISSA: As a new author just starting out, it would bring me great joy just to know that someone read my work and liked it. Whether that’s through some form of social media or someone telling me something along those lines in person, it would definitely bring a big, dorky smile to my face.

ME: How long have you been writing? Can you give us a glimpse into the publishing process for this book?

MELISSA: I started writing about six years ago. I was tearing through a ridiculous number of books, reading like crazy, then decided to try my hand at it. I’ve been doing it ever since.

It took a long time to get to this point with COLLIDE, and I’m so happy that I never gave up. I spent about a year getting the first draft written. I remember thinking that it was taking forever, but I work full time, so finding the time to write can pose interesting challenges. I went through two rounds of beta reads and then worked with a freelance editor. I did another round of revisions after that, and was over the moon when Evernight Teen accepted my manuscript for publication. I went through edits with them as well, and now this baby is finally ready.

ME: Name a Young Adult book/series that you think all teens should read. Why?

MELISSA: Is it okay if I name two?

ME: *quirks and eyebrow before granting a single nod*

MELISSA: First, the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor is awesome. I think any teen that reads it can learn a lot. I know that Fantasy isn’t a genre for everybody, but the subject matter tackled in each of the books is relatable to real life. The main characters endure warfare, love, and loss in this incredible world that is brought vividly to life by the author.

I’m showing that I’m no spring chicken with this next suggestion, but I think every teen should read The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I loved this book as a kid, and I still find myself watching the movie whenever I catch it on TV. The story highlights that people shouldn’t be judged based on where they came from, but who they are. I find the display of loyalty and love the Greasers have for each other moving as well.

ME: Young Adult books have been getting turned into movies right and left in recent years (HUNGER GAMES, DIVERGENT, MAZE RUNNER). Why do you think this genre draws people into theaters?

MELISSA: I think several of the YA books that have been adapted to film share a common thread. Though the stories are very different in nature, the main characters seem to be ordinary teenagers thrust into extraordinary situations. They’re called upon to rise to the occasion and fight. Whether they’re fighting for life (Fault in our Stars, If I Stay) or for a greater good (Divergent, Hunger Games), they are seemingly average people that need to find the courage to go on. I think the ability to watch this kind of struggle and witness the characters transform is empowering for all, whether you’re young or old.

ME: I hereby grant you a movie deal. What actors will play your main characters?

MELISSA: Well, wouldn’t that be awesome. *sticks her tongue out*

For Kayla, I would choose Elle Fanning. I loved her as Princess Aurora in Maleficent and I could picture her in a role as an aspiring ballerina.

I had a tough time deciding on the male leads! This is harder than I thought it would be.

For Alec, I think a younger version of Scott Eastwood would be perfect. Okay, so he’s not in high school, but neither am I, so you’ll have to work with me on that one. 😉 He strikes me as a swoon worthy guy who would be good at protecting his lady.

I’d love to see Theo James, Four, from the Divergent movies, play Luke. Again, not of high school age so it would have to be a younger version of him, but I love how he shows both a tough side and a gentle side in those movies, which is a lot like Luke.

What’s COLLIDE about?

Collide-CoverPreviewWhen the balance between Earth, Afterlife, and Heaven are threatened, the fate of the universe falls on a selfish girl who must sacrifice everything to save it.

Kayla has a plan. She’s moving to the city after graduation and Luke’s coming with her. He’ll eventually become a doctor, she’ll be a ballerina—and they’ll live happily ever after. That is, until dark forces, led by a sister she never knew existed, start hunting her down for a power she never knew she had.

When Kayla starts working with a boy named Alec to learn how to defend herself and to stop the evil from eliminating the worlds, she finds herself falling for him. Hard. Torn between two loves and struggling to do what’s right for Earth and Afterlife, Kayla must decide if she’s fighting to keep her life together, or letting it go to save everyone else’s.

Add it to your Goodreads shelf now by clicking here!

Get your copy of COLLIDE

At Amazon or Evernight Teen website:

A little bit about Melissa

MelissaJCrispin-AuthorPicMelissa J. Crispin lives in Connecticut with her husband, two kids, and an adorable Siberian Husky. She spends her days in the corporate world, and pursues her passion for writing in the late nights and early mornings.

From micro-fiction to novels, Melissa loves to write stories in varying lengths. But, no matter the story, it’s almost always about the romance.

You heard it from her own mouth. Melissa wants to hear that you read and liked her story and promises to do a goofy grin in exchange. Here’s where you can connect with Melissa:

Website: http://melissajcrispin.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MelissaJCrispin

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/melissajcrispinauthor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/melissajcrispin/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/MelissaJCrispin

Cover Reveal: In the Shadow of the Dragon King

 I am thrilled, excited, overjoyed, ecstatic and delighted to show you the cover of J. Keller Ford’s debut novel, IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING.

In fact, I was pulled away from my review copy to put this post on my blog. It’s true. I’ll be posting a full review here when the book releases in May.

Ms. Ford is one of my writing associates. If not for her, I don’t know if I would have published my short stories or found the courage to rewrite DOOMSDAY DRAGONS. She is a huge inspiration in my world.

So without further delay, I’ll give you the amazing cover and intriguing sample chapter of this young adult fantasy novel.

Today J. Keller Ford and Month9Books are revealing the cover and first chapter for IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING! Book 1 in the Chronicles of Fallhallow Series releases May 31,  2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive an eGalley!!

Here’s a short intro from the author!

Hi there! I’m so excited to share this cover with you. I love the stunning blue background with the silver accents, and the dragon medallion totally captures the personality of the book. I knew I wanted the cover to be classic, timeless, yet dark and enchanting, and boy, did the designers deliver! I couldn’t be more thrilled. Thanks so much for stopping by!

 On to the reveal! 

Title: IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING (The Chronicles of Fallhallow #1)
Author: J. Keller Ford
Pub. Date: May 31, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon | B&N| TBD| BAM| Kobo| GooglePlay Books | iBooks|Goodreads

 Seventeen-year-old, Eric, is a kick-butt squire to the most revered knight in Fallhollow. Well he would be if Sir Trogsdill allowed him to do anything even remotely awesome. Determined to prove his worth, Eric sets out to find the mythical paladin summoned to protect the
realm from the evil lurking nearby.
Sixteen-year-old, David, spends his days collecting school honors, winning archery tournaments, and trying not to fall in love with his scrappy best friend, Charlotte.
Right when things start to get interesting, he is whisked away to the magical realm of Fallhollow where everyone thinks he’s some sort of paladin destined to fulfill a two-hundred-year-old prophecy. He’s supposed to help kill a dragon with some sort of magic key. The same key that happens to adorn the neck of an annoying squire who’s too wrapped up in proving himself to be much help to anyone.
With egos as big as the dragon they need to destroy, Eric and David must get over themselves, or watch everything they know and love, burn.
Excerpt

“War is a necessary evil. There is not a day or time when each of us does not battle some sort of enemy either within or around us. The true test of our character lies in the instant when we choose to either ignore or defeat that which seeks to destroy us. It is the same in our kingdom. Hirth has seen its share of battles and this great province has ridden the wings of freedom for many an age; however, there will come a day when an evil so immense will seek to threaten our very existence. It is then the knights of Gyllen Castle will rise to the aid of Hirth and defend all that is dear – our families, our land, and our right to survive. When such a time comes, I will fight with honor and for glory and give my life, if my forfeiture of it will allow Hirth the chance to endure in peace. And while I know that the enemy may prevail and my life be extinguished from this body, my death will not be in vain for what is more honorable than giving one’s life for love of family, country…and freedom.”Sir Trogsdill Domnall.

Chapter 1

If Eric had known what the daylight would bring after the nightmares ended, he would have remained in bed, the covers pulled over his head.

Instead, he waded through the puddles of the castle’s upper courtyard, each gong from the clock tower further coiling his stomach into knots. Sloshing along beside him, down the aisle of topiaries and statues, was his best friend, a devilish lad with unkempt hair the color of dirt and a cock-eyed grin.

“I don’t know why you’re in such a hurry,” Sestian said, polishing an apple on his sleeve. “Weapons class began fifteen minutes ago. Master Mafi won’t allow us in.” The apple crunched in his teeth.

“You don’t understand, Ses. I have to try.” Eric swatted at the spindly arms of a willow tree. “This will be the third day in a row I missed. If I don’t go, word will get back to Trog and he’ll flog me. You know how he gets.”

“You worry too much. He’d never physically hurt you, however, I do have to admit, he is quite an odd fellow. I saw him make another midnight trek to the fountain last night. He sat there all hunched over like he’d lost his best friend, then he stood, dropped a rose in the water, and left.”

Eric’s muscles bunched under his light shirt, his brow pinched. “That is bizarre, even for him.”

“Want to hear something even more bizarre?” Sestian paused, took another bite of the apple and buried the core in a potted plant. “I overheard Trog and my own headache of a master talking this morning. I believe the exact words out of Farnsworth’s mouth were, ‘Fallhollow is under attack’.”

Eric came to a stop, his eyes wide. “Attack? From who?”

Sestian shrugged. “Don’t know, but members of the Senate and the Mage’s High Council arrived an hour ago, including the Supreme Master himself. They’re meeting with the Order as we speak.”

“What?” Eric’s pulse quickened. “Jared’s here? You saw him?”

The grand mage of all magical beings never involved himself in the affairs of men. Ever.

“No, but I plan to change that.” An impish twinkle glistened in Sestian’s eyes. “Are you game?”

“What? You want to—you mean—you’re joking, right?”

The puckish grin on Sestian’s face answered his question.

Eric shook his head. “Oh, no. There is no way you’re going to get me to eavesdrop on a secret council meeting. I’d rather get hit by lightning than suffer the punishment from anyone sitting in that room.”

“Aww, come on, Eric. Must you always be so dull? Aren’t you the least bit curious?”

“That sort of curiosity will land us in the pillory at best.” Eric pushed past his friend through the carved citadel doors. Sestian darted in front of him and stopped.

“Your point?”

“My point is that I value my life.”

“And what of Fallhollow? Don’t you value our home?”

“Of course I do, but—”

“Then what are you waiting for?” Sestian punched Eric’s arm. “Let’s go.”

“Ses, no!” Eric’s protest fell on empty ears. His friend was gone.

Eric brushed past the lapis columns of the marble vestibule into the Great Hall, a wide-open space topped by a domed ceiling so high its ornate detail was almost lost in the darkness. Nobles and servants milled about, coming and going out of the many rooms, laughter echoing off the walls speckled with massive tapestries and oiled paintings. A flock of girls dressed in aristocratic finery stood upon the majestic staircase, twittering like excited canaries. One of them, Lady Emelia, a startling girl with red hair and striking features, waved at him and winked. Eric rolled his eyes and scurried down the hall past the stairs. The last thing he wanted or needed was a flighty girl choking his freedom.

He passed several lavish rooms before spotting his friend at the far end of the music room, leaning on a harp.

“What took you so long?” Sestian grinned, then pushed aside a wall tapestry and vanished through a secret door.

“Drat you, Ses. How do you find these things?” Eric glanced over his shoulder and followed.

Inside, Sestian struck a wooden match against the stone wall and lit a torch he plucked from an iron sconce. They climbed a set of narrow steps. The guttering flame of Sestian’s torch cast shadows on the walls. More than once the passageway twisted and turned as they ascended.

“Are you sure you know where you’re going?” Eric asked.

Sestian laughed. “We’re in the heart of the castle and you’re going to ask that question now?”

They continued upward. After what seemed an eternity, the steps emptied onto the landing of a dark corridor filled with cobwebs. Sestian stopped and thrust the torch at Eric. “Hold this.” He spun a wall sconce in a combination of left and right turns until a latch popped, and a hidden door opened inward, exposing a small room filled with wooden crates.

“What the—?” Eric stepped inside, his mouth open.

Sestian placed his finger to his lips and motioned to a jagged hole the size of a man’s fist in the wall.

Curious, Eric squatted and peered through a banner of delicate silk.

“Dragon’s breath,” he whispered. “That’s the king’s arbitration room!” He flicked a sideways glance at Sestian. “How did you find this?”

“I don’t sleep much, remember?”

“Good heavens, you are crazy.”

A chair scraped across the wood floor below. Four mages, recognizable by their golden skin, turquoise eyes, and sapphire–blue garments, sat on one side of an immense oval table. Four senators clad in similar garments of purple and gold sat across from them. At one head of the table sat Trog and Farnsworth. At the other, a sojourner shrouded in black with silver rings upon his fingers and tattoos etched upon his hands. And at one of the five arched windows stood the sorceress, Slavandria, her thick lavender hair plaited in a single braid to the floor.

“Jared,” Eric said under his breath.

“Yep,” Sestian said. “That’d be my guess.”

Below, Trog leaned forward, his massive hands clasped together, and addressed the cloaked figure opposite him. “We will heed your warnings, Master Jared, and dispatch a legion to His Majesty’s entourage. I also think it wise to notify our neighbors to the north of the encroaching threat. If this enemy’s intentions are to see Hirth fall, he will attack our allies first to render our kingdom helpless.”

“Agreed.” Jared’s voice resonated deep within the chambers, and into Eric’s core. “Master Camden, see to it the kingdoms of Trent and Banning are informed of the possible threat. Also, instruct the shime to dispatch regiments and secure the borders of Hirth.”

“Do you feel that necessary?” replied the bald man clad in blue. “There is no proof the kingdom of Hirth or the realm of Fallhollow, for that matter, is under attack. There have only been a few isolated incidents of bloodshed, nothing that could be construed as acts of war.”

“Master Camden,” Jared said, “several families of barbegazis, nine unicorns, and over a hundred humans are dead all in the course of four days. This morning, patrols rescued a herd of pixies from a crow’s cage in the Elmwithian Marsh. They were swathed in dragon’s blood. Might I remind you a single act of brutality, especially one steeped in black magic as these incidences are, is one violation too many. Our job is to protect this world, and more so this kingdom, from any dark sorcery that may threaten it. If this directive is in any way unclear, I will be more than happy to personally instruct you in the importance of upholding your defensive role.”

A chill crept up Eric’s spine.

“Oh, come on. Instruct him,” Sestian said, a grin stretched across his face.

A palpable silence fell over the room. Master Camden shifted in his seat and wiped the beads of sweat from his forehead. “Personal instruction is not necessary, Supreme Master.”

“I find that to be a wise decision.”

Eric exhaled. “Yes, so do I.”

Jared stood and pulled the hood of his cloak forward. “Since we are in agreement, I believe we can dismiss. Sir Trogsdill, if I may, I’d like to speak with my daughter alone.”

“Of course,” Trog said, standing. “The rest of you, follow me to the dining hall where you can feast before your journey home.”

“I don’t believe this, Sestian whispered as Trog ushered the last of the visitors out and closed the door behind him.

“Shh,” Eric said.

Down below, Slavandria, said “What is on your mind, Father?”

Jared strolled past her, his hands tucked into his voluminous sleeves. “I have given this a great deal of thought and I have reached a decision. Considering all that has happened, I am left with no other choice. As queen of the Southern Forest and protector of this realm, you must summon the paladin.”

Her gasp could have ripped leaves from their stems.

“Father, no! I can’t! The paladin is only to be summoned in the direst of circumstances. While these attacks are horrid, they are far from extreme.”

“Daughter—”

“Father, please. The ramifications will be devastating to all those involved. Together with the shime, we’ll find this enemy and bring him into the light. I beg you. Please do not do this.”

“If that were true, they would have done so by now. As such, your arguing is futile. My decision is made. By sunset within three days, you must fulfill your duties. I will have the document drawn and sealed. Have Mangus deliver it. So it is said?”

Slavandria’s jaw tightened. “You’re being unreasonable.”

“And you are bordering the line of punishment.”

Eric shuddered at the menacing tone.

“Do I have your word?” Jared said.

Slavandria straightened her back and steadied her voice. “Yes, Father. So it is said. So it shall be done, but don’t think for one-minute I won’t improvise when the time presents itself.”

“You have always been my challenge child. I would expect nothing less from you. Now, if you will forgive me, I must go.”

“Where this time?”

“Home, to Felindil for a day. Afterwards, I will be in seclusion, communing with the heavens before taking to the sea.”

“What? And leave me here to set the world right once the paladin arrives?”

Jared’s full-bodied laughter filled the room. “You sound as if the demon of the underworld will rise, spewing fire and ash.”

“And how do you know he won’t?” She paused, her fingers steepled to her lips before continuing. “Father, please. All I ask is for once, in your long, stubborn life, you listen to me. The people of this kingdom and all of Fallhollow are innocent. They need our protection. I fear what the paladin’s presence will do. You can’t bring such devastation upon Fallhollow and then leave me to salvage whatever is left.”

“I bring nothing upon this realm; therefore, I leave you with nothing to clean up. The course of the world is set. Events will unfold as they will. The paladin will not change that which is set in motion.”

“You’re wrong, Father.” Slavandria brushed past him.

“Disagree if you must. You always do. For now, go home. Wait for my summoning papers and prepare the traveler. I will come to you in Chalisdawn three days hence.”

Jared snapped his fingers. White shards of light crackled and zapped around him, and he was gone.

Slavandria shook her head. “You have no idea what you’ve done, Father.” She gathered her cloak from the back of a chair and incanted some strange words. A swift pale-blue mist rose from the floor, swirling, engulfing her in a vortex. The air sizzled and splintered, and she, too, disappeared.

“Whoa,” Sestian said. “This is worse than bad.”

“No kidding,” Eric stood and brushed the dust from his breeches, “and I have a feeling it’s going to get a lot worse.”

Sestian withdrew the torch as they left the room and shut the door. “You do realize we’re going to have to find out who this paladin is, right?”

Eric walked down the steps. “Why is that?”

“Come on. Are you that daft? How else are we going to prove to Trog and Farnsworth that we’re deserving of becoming knights? Right now they think we’re nothing but a pair of imbeciles worthy of nothing more than polishing armor and performing duties of a valet.”

“We’re squires, Ses. That’s what we do.”

“And it’s all we’ll ever do if we don’t prove ourselves. Don’t you get it? When was the last time Gyllen Castle or Hirth saw battle, hmm?”

“You sound as if you want war.”

“No, but I haven’t trained all my life to become a knight only to end up as a fat, lazy, well-paid manservant.”

Eric turned a corner and continued downward, his voice hollow in the muted dark. “I don’t think you’ll ever be fat or lazy.”

“Eric, come on. Why must you be so difficult? Without a skirmish or two, acts of heroism for us are limited to rescuing girls from over-zealous drunkards and protecting the royal dinner from the palace dogs. I want more than that. When I die, I don’t want to be remembered for how well I polished a sword, but for something grand and heroic. Don’t you want the same?”

“Of course I do, but I don’t sit around thinking about what legacy I want to leave behind when I die.”

“Liar. All you ever talk about is how much you want to be a knight like Trog.” Sestian shoved past Eric and blocked his descent. “Think about it. You know as well as I we’ll be relegated to the stables to saddle horses and pack rations and bedrolls if there is the slightest hint of a conflict. They won’t let us anywhere near a battlefield, especially you. It’s like you’re some kind of poster boy for squire school.”

“I know, but—”

“No, there are no buts. Don’t you see? Now is our chance to show our mettle. If we team up with this paladin, we have a chance to prove ourselves. Trog and Farnsworth will have to take notice.”

“Yeah, after they flog, tar and feather us. Besides, what makes you think this paladin will want us, huh? He’s probably some powerful sorcerer like Jared.”

“No one is as powerful as Jared, but I’ll bet you a rooster against a duck this savior dabbles not only in white, but black magic, too. That’s why Jared needs him.”

“Which is all the more reason for us to keep our distance.”

“No! It’s all the more reason for us to find him. He’ll need guides to help him maneuver through our lands. We’ll be heroes for saving Fallhollow from a murderous foe. King Gildore will praise us. Songs will be written about us.”

Eric rolled his eyes.

Sestian snorted. “Don’t think I can’t hear your eyes flipping around in their sockets. You know I’m right. We know every crack in the earth Fallhollow possesses. We’ve been trained by the very best knights in the world. On top of that, I have a knack for getting us in and out of places unseen. You’re extraordinary with a blade. Together, we’re dangerous. We can be his eyes and ears. And when we defeat whatever is out there, Trog and Farnsworth will have no choice but to admit our accomplishments and recommend us for knighthood.”

Sestian’s stance and the set of his eyes conveyed an intensity Eric admired and feared. He sighed aloud. “All right. You win, but we say nothing. If Trog and Farnsworth found out, they’d roll us in dragon dung and set us on fire.”

Sestian punched Eric playfully on the arm and smiled, wide. “Ha! I knew I could break you.”

They hurried from the music room and fell in with other students leaving classrooms. In the sunlit courtyard, Eric stopped short. Sestian plowed into him from behind.

“What’s wrong?”

Eric gritted his teeth. “Do you not see who is standing in front of us?”

Sestian turned his gaze to their masters leaning against the balustrade, their arms folded to their chests, waiting. “Great. Let me handle this.”

Trog stood upright and adjusted the sword on his hip, flexing the intersecting scars on his arms—reminders of dozens of battles fought. He took a step forward, and a gust of wind blew his dark hair back from his weathered, sun-darkened face, exposing a high forehead, square jaw, and intense peridot eyes. Eric gulped as a childhood tale about a sly mouse captured by a blind owl scampered through his brain.

“You’re late,” Trog said, tossing Eric a suede satchel weighed down with sheathed knives. “Where have you been?” He spoke softly, but his voice reverberated through the crisp morning air.

“Listening to Magister Timan’s lecture on ceremonial magic,” Sestian replied. “Did you know there are magical portals that allow us to travel between realms?”

“Did you know I have a magical foot that can disappear up your backside if you don’t get down to the stables right now?” Farnsworth asked. His brow furrowed beneath a curtain of wavy straw-colored hair. He walked toward Sestian, the seams of his green tunic strained over his wide shoulders, his eyes as brown and penetrating as a wolf’s.

“So I’ve heard. Several times.” Sestian grinned and tapped Eric on the arm. “We’ll get together later and go over what we learned today, eh?”

Eric nodded and shuffled his feet under the weight of Trog’s stare. He waited for Sestian and Farnsworth to get far enough away before lifting his head and meeting Trog’s gaze. The knight lifted a brow.

“Are you going to tell me where you really were, or are you going to hold to your story that you were listening to a lecture that ended this time yesterday?”

“Which one will get me in the least amount of trouble?”

Trog placed his hand on Eric’s back and edged him down the stone steps to the lower courtyard. “The truth, Eric. Always the truth.”

“What if I promised not to tell?”

“Secrets are grave burdens to bear.”

“I can’t betray his confidence, sir. I promised.”

Trog nodded. “Then you’ll sleep in the stables tonight as punishment.”

“What? How is that fair?”

“You know the rules as my squire, and you still choose to withhold the truth. Therefore, you shall be punished accordingly.”

“But the rules of knighthood require I not reveal confidences or secrets under any circumstance to anyone at any time, even under pain of death.”

“Nice try, lad, but the last time I looked, you have not been captured nor are you under pain of death.” Trog placed a heavy hand on Eric’s shoulder. “I’m going to give you one more chance. What will it be?”

Eric clenched and unclenched his fists at his sides. “With all due respect, sir, I cannot and will not betray my friend.”

Trog removed his hand. “I commend you on your loyalty, son, but you have made your choice. Therefore, you will suffer the consequences of it. Now go on and get busy with your chores. I want each of those blades in your hand sharpened and polished by morning—”

“But, sir—”

“And for protesting when you should not, you will also sharpen and polish Sir Farnsworth’s blades. I’ll see to it they are dropped off.” Eric opened his mouth to speak, but changed his mind when Trog dipped his brow in warning. “Would you like me to add Sir Gowran’s and Sir Crohn’s weapons to your load?”

Eric bit back the irritation boiling below the surface. “No, sir.”

“Very well. Bring the blades to the farrier’s stall in the morning around eight. It will be a dual-fold meeting as you can visit your father at the same time.”

Trog paused for a moment, his expression thoughtful, then turned and strolled across the courtyard. He hoisted a young page from a game of marbles and lectured him on the pitfalls of wasting time. Eric snorted at the boy’s bewildered expression and the speed at which he ran once set down upon his feet. Been there, boy. He cursed beneath his breath. What am I talking about? I’m still there.

Eric’s boots clicked on the cobblestones as he plodded toward Crafter’s Row. He passed beneath the archway connecting the cathedral to the knights’ quarters and turned left down the tree-shaded lane toward the royal stables. After informing the stablemaster of his upcoming sleeping arrangements, Eric returned the way he came. At the crossroad, he turned and made his way toward the smithy. Horses clomped and wagons rattled over the pavers while thick clouds gathered overhead, suffocating the sun. A light drizzle set in as he entered a stone building marked by a metal plate engraved with a hammer and anvil. The blacksmith wiped the sweat from his brow and motioned Eric to a table set with vials of oils, and various whetstones.

Eric sighed. Lovely.

He settled into the monotonous task of sharpening and polishing, taking on Farnsworth’s load a few hours later. He finished his arduous task just after dusk. Cursing his sore muscles, he packed up the satchels and shuffled to the stables where a plate of bread, cheese and a pint of goat’s milk waited for him.

Great. Is he trying to starve me, too?

He ate what was given and settled into the hayloft, his stomach a knot of protests. He sighed. Who was this paladin, and from who or what was he destined to save the realm? There was only one way to find out. Tomorrow he and Sestian would devise a plan, and it would be worthy of a knight’s tale. When all was said and done, Trog would have no other choice than to see him as a worthy knight instead of an incompetent fool. An image of Trog groveling for forgiveness appeared in his mind. Eric snuggled into a bed of hay and fell into a blissful dream, a wide grin on his face.

 

About J. Keller Ford: 
J. (Jenny) Keller Ford grew up as an Army brat, traveling the world and wandering the halls of some of Germany’s
most extraordinary castles. From the time she was old enough to hold a crayon, she wove fantasy tales of dragons, warriors, and princesses.  A former paralegal, she’s the author of several short stories including The Amulet of Ormisez, Dragon Flight, and The

Passing of Millie Hudson.  When not at 
her keyboard breathing new life into fantasy worlds, Jenny spends time
overloading on coffee, collecting seashells, bowling, swimming, riding roller coasters and talking plot-lines with anyone who will listen.  She lives on the west coast of Florida with her husband, two sons, two dogs, and a pretentious orange cat.  Her two daughters and grand-daughter make their homes in Seattle, WA.
Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest | Goodreads

Giveaway Details:  1 winner will receive an eGalley of IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING. International.

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Special Fan Editions of BRANDED and HUNTED

I know it’s not actually FRIDAY, but this week there are TWO Friday reveals (only the first one happens on Thursday). I’ve read the first book in this series, and if you like young adult dystopian with an underdog female lead, you should check it out.

Today Abi Ketner, Missy Kalicicki and Month9Books are revealing the covers for the special hardcover fan editions of BRANDED & HUNTED, book 2 in the Sinners Series releasing in April 19, 2016!
Check out the smoking hot covers and enter the giveaway to win special notebooks with the covers on them!
On to the reveal!

Title: BRANDED
Author: Abi Ketner & Missy Kalicicki
Publisher: Month9Books
Pub. Date: July 19, 2016
Find it: Amazon |  Goodreads

Fifty years ago The Commander came into power and murdered all who opposed him. In his warped mind, the seven deadly sins were the downfall of society.
To punish the guilty, he created the Hole, a place where sinners are branded according to their sins. Sinners are forced to live a less than human existence in deplorable conditions, under the watchful eye of guards who are ready to kill anyone who steps out of line.
Now, LUST wraps around my neck like thick, blue fingers, threatening to choke the life out of me. I’ve been accused of a crime I didn’t commit, and the Hole is my new home.
Constant darkness.
Brutal and savage violence.
Excruciating pain.
Every day is a fight for survival.
But I won’t let them win. I will not die in the Hole.
I am more than my brand. I’m a fighter. My name is Lexi Hamilton, and this is my story.
What readers are saying about BRANDED…
“Branded was a riveting and exciting dystopian read that will have you at the edge of your
seat. I could not put it down and was entranced by this dark and unique world!” -Ben Alderson, Booktuber at BenjaminofTomes 
“Fast paced and fun, BRANDED has something everyone will love. Abi Ketner and Missy
Kalicicki have created a unique dystopian romance that’s sure to stand out in today’s market!” -Lindsay Cummings, Author of The Murder Complex
“Branded is a fast paced, heart pounding and swoon worthy read that will make you fall in
love with this dark and twisted world.” -Sasha Alsberg, Booktuber at ABookUtopia
Connect with BRANDED fans on Instagram at:
#abiandmissy
#Sinnersfandom
#Sinnersseries
#Colexi
#Sinnersseriesbranded
#Brandedofficialfanpage
#Brandedfandom
#Lexihamilton

Title: HUNTED
Author: Abi Ketner & Missy Kalicicki
Publisher: Month9Books
Pub. Date: April 19, 2016
Find it: Amazon | Goodreads

 It’s been three months since the revolt against the Commander’s fifty-year-old regime
failed. 
Under a new ruler, things were supposed to change. Get better. 
 Now, Wilson is in charge. But, can he really be trusted? Can anyone?
 Lexi and Cole soon find out, as life takes an unexpected turn for the worse.
In this ever-changing world, you must hunt or be hunted.
Many more lives will be lost. Many more dreams will be crushed. Many more fears will be realized.
 When Cole is once again faced with losing Lexi at the hands of a monster, one capture will
change everything.
Forever. 
 HUNTED is the electrifying sequel to the bestselling debut BRANDED, A Sinners Series, by
Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki.

 

About Abi and Missy 

Abi and Missy met in the summer of 1999 at college orientation and have been best friends ever since. After college, they added jobs, husbands and kids to their lives, but they still found time for their friendship. Instead of hanging out on weekends, they went to dinner once a month and reviewed books. What started out as an enjoyable hobby has now
become an incredible adventure.

Giveaway Details:

1 winner will receive a special edition BRANDED notebook from the Month9Books Café Press store and a BRANDED Bracelet, USOnly.

1 winner will receive a special edition HUNTED notebook from the Month9Books Café Press store and a HUNTED Bracelet, US Only.

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Cover Reveal and Giveaway!

If you’re looking for a unique fantasy series, look no further. Well, you have to wait until April for the second book in this one, but if you haven’t read NOBODY’S GODDESS, you should certainly do that this weekend.

Today Amy McNulty and Month9Books are revealing the cover and first chapter for NOBODY’S LADY! Book 2 in the Never Veil Series which releases April 12, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive an eGalley!!
 
On to the reveal!
 
Title: NOBODY’S LADY
Author: AmyMcNulty
Pub. Date: April 12, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon | Goodreads
 
For the first time in a thousand years, the men in Noll’s village possess the freedom to love whom they will. In order to give each man the chance to fully explore his feelings, the lord of the village decrees all marriages null and void until both spouses declare their love for one another and their desire to wed again. What many women think will be a simple matter becomes a source of village-wide tension as most men decide to leave their families and responsibilities behind.
Rejected by the lord and ashamed of her part in the village’s history, Noll withdraws from her family and lives life as an independent woodcarver. This changes when her sister accuses her of hiding her former husband Jurij from her—and when Jurij eventually does ask to move in. Determined not to make the same mistakes, Noll decides to support her male friends through their new emotional experiences, but she’s soon caught up in a darker plot than she ever dared imagine possible from the men she thought she knew so well. And the lord for whom she still has feelings may be hiding the most frightening truth of them all.
 
Excerpt


Chapter One



When I thought I understood real friendship, I was a long-lost queen. When I discovered there was so much more to my life than love and hate, that those around me were just pawns in a game whose rules I’d unwittingly put in place, I discovered I was a long-forgotten goddess. But goddess or not, powerless or powerful, my feet were taking me someplace I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. What did I hope to find? Did I truly believe I could hear him call me—that he’d want to call me? Yes, I did. I wanted to see him again. I wanted to hope, even if I wasn’t sure I was allowed. If I deserved to. I headed down the familiar dirt path beneath the lattice of trees overhead, pausing beside the bush with a partially snapped stem that jutted outward like a broken limb. The one that pointed to the secret cavern.



Only, it’s not much of a secret anymore, is it?



My feet picked themselves up. Glowing pools would never again tempt me.



I reached the black, towering fortress that had for so long shaken and screamed at the power of my glance.



For the first time in this lifetime, I stared up at it, and nothing moved. My legs, unused to such steady footing while in the sight of the lord’s castle, twitched in anticipation of a fall that never came.



There was no need. My feet dragged me forward.



At the grand wooden door, I raised a fist to knock.



But I stopped. I felt like if I touched it, the entire castle might crumble. It had done so once before. Not at my touch exactly. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was responsible for whatever destruction I’d find in this place. But that was presumptuous of me. He was strong-willed, and he wouldn’t crumble at the prospect of freedom. If anything, he’d be triumphant over it.



You can’t stop now. I pulled my sleeves over my wrists and propped both elbows against the door, pushing until it gave way.



The darkness inside the foyer tried to deceive me into thinking night had fallen. The stream of light that trickled from the familiar crack in the garden door called the darkness a liar.



I gripped the small iron handles, the material of my sleeves guarding the cold metal from my touch, and pulled.



My touch had come to the garden before me.



The rose bushes that surrounded the enclosed circular area were torn, ripped, trodden, and plucked. The blooms lay withered, scattered and turned to dust, their once-white petals a sickly shade of yellowish brown, smooth blooms turned coarse and wrinkled.



The fountain at the center no longer trickled with water. Its shallow pool was stagnant, piles of brown festering in mildewing green liquid. Dotted amongst the brown was pallid stone rubble. The tears of the weeping elf child statue, which belonged at the top of the fountain, had ceased at last. But the gash across its face told me the child’s tears had not been staunched by joy. I wondered if Ailill had had it carved to represent the pain I’d inflicted on him as a child. And I wondered if now he could no longer bear to remind himself of what I’d done.



I hadn’t done this. But I felt as if I had. If Ailill had gone on a rampage after he came back to the castle, it was because of what I’d done to him. Everything I touched turned sour. I yanked and pulled, trying to draw my hands further into my sleeves, but there wasn’t enough material to cover them entirely.



“Well, what a surprise.”
I gazed into the shadow beside the doorway. How could I have not seen? The stone table was occupied. The place where I’d sat alone for hours, days, and months was littered with crumpled and decaying leaves, branches, and petals, obscuring the scars left by a dagger or knife striking time and time again across its surface. The matching bench that once nestled on the opposite side was toppled over, leaving only dark imprints in the dirt.



“A pity you could not make yourself at home here when you were welcome.”



My breath caught in my throat.



The man at the table was clad entirely in black, as I knew he would be. The full-length jacket had been swapped for a jerkin, but I could see the embossing of roses hadn’t been discarded in the exchange. He wore dark leather gloves, the fingers of which were crossed like the wings of a bird in flight. His pale elbows rested on the table amongst the leaves and branches and thorns. He wore the hat I was used to seeing him wear, a dark, pointed top resting on a wide brim. Its black metal band caught a ray of the sunlight almost imperceptibly. But I noticed. I always did.



His face was entirely uncovered. Those large and dark eyes, locked on me, demanded my attention. They were the same eyes of the boy I’d left alone to face my curse—not so long ago from my point of view. He was more frightened then, but there was no mistaking the hurt in those eyes both then and now.



“You are not welcome here, Olivière.”



His words sliced daggers through my stomach.



“I … I thought I heard you call me.”



He cocked his head to the side, his brown eyes moving askance. “You heard me call you?”



“Yes … ” I realized how foolish it sounded. I was a fool to come. Why had I let myself fall for that sound again, for my name whispered on the wind? Why was I so certain it was he who’d said my name?



He smiled, not kindly. “And where, pray tell, have you been lurking? Under a rose bush? Behind the garden door? Or do those rounded female ears possess a far greater sense of hearing than my jagged male ones?”



I brushed the tips of my ears self-consciously. Elric had been so fascinated by them, by what he saw as a mutilation. This lord—Ailill—wasn’t like that. He’d touched them once, as a child. He’d tried to heal them, thinking they were meant to be pointed.



The boy with a heart was the man sitting there before me. Even after all we’d been through, he’d still done me a kindness by healing my mother. “No, I just thought—”



“No, you did not think, or you would not have come.”



I clenched my jaw. My tongue was threatening to spew the vile anger that had gotten us into this mess to begin with.



He sighed and crossed his arms across his chest. “I gave explicit instructions that I not be disturbed.” He leaned back against the wall behind him, his chin jutting outward slightly.



I wiped my sweaty fingertips on my skirt. I wouldn’t let the rest of my hands out from the insides of my sleeves. The sweat had already soaked through them. “I needed to thank you.”



He scoffed. “Thank me for what? For your prolonged captivity, or for not murdering both your mother and your lover when I had the chance?”



So you admit you took Jurij to punish me? You admit they were both in danger in your “care”? Quickly, I had to clench my jaw to keep down the words that threatened to spill over. He’s not who I thought he was. He wouldn’t have harmed them.



I loosened the muscles in my jaw one hair’s breadth at a time.



“For healing me when you were a child. For accepting me into your castle instead of putting me to death for trespassing in it. For … For forgiving me for cursing you, even though you were innocent.” My voice was quiet, but I was determined to make it grow louder. “For saving my mother’s life.”



He waved one hand lazily in the air. “Unfinished projects irk me.”



“But you didn’t have to.”



A shrug. “The magic was nearly entirely spent on the churl anyway.”



“I beg your pardon?”



He leaned forward and placed both palms across the rotted forest remnants on the table. “My apologies,” he said, his lips curled into a sneer. “I simply meant that I wasted years and years and let the magic wither from my body to save a person of no consequence. You may thank me for that if you like. I would rather not be reminded of it.”



How odd it was to see the face I’d imagined come to life. The mocking, the condescending—it was all there. I just hadn’t known the canvas before.



And what a strange and beautiful canvas it was. That creamy peach skin, the brownish tint of his shoulder-length tresses. He was so much paler than any person I had ever seen. Save for the specters.



Despite the paleness, part of me felt I wasn’t wrong to have mistaken one brother for another. Elric had been dark-skinned, but they seemed almost like reflections of the same person; they shared the same brows, the same lips, and even eyes of a similar shape if not color. Perhaps the face before me was a bit gaunter, the nose a bit longer. It was easier to focus on the differences. Thinking of the similarities made me want to punch the face in front of me all the more—and that would undermine everything I had set out to do when I made my way to him. I wanted to see if you were really restored to life. Say it. I wanted to know if you really forgave me. Say it. I wanted to know why I … Why I feel this way about you, why I keep thinking about you, when I used to be unable to stand the sight of you. Say it, Noll! I dug my nails into my palm and shook the thoughts from my head. He’d called my mother a “churl.” I couldn’t just tell him everything I was thinking. “Have you no sense of empathy?”



“What a coincidence that you should mention that. I am sending Ailill to the village with an edict. He can escort


you there.”“Ailill?” But aren’t you him? Could I have been mistaken? Oh, goddess, help me, why do I do this to myself? Why do I think I know everything?


He waved his hand, and one of the specters appeared beside me from the foyer.



The specters. There were about a hundred of them in the castle. Pale as snow in skin and hair with red, burning eyes. Mute servants who seemed to anticipate the lord’s every command. Only now I knew who they really were.



Oh. “You call him by your own name?” I asked.



He raised an eyebrow. “I call them all by my name. They are me, remember?”



His icy stare sent another invisible dagger through my stomach. “Yes, but—”



“A shame you never cared to ask my name when you were my guest,” he said. “I have a feeling things might have turned out much differently—for all of us.”



“You knew what would happen! Why didn’t you warn me?” I had to squeeze my fists and teeth together to stop myself from screaming. This wasn’t going at all like I had hoped. But what had I hoped? What could I have possibly expected? I thought I’d be forgiven. I thought that Ailill and I might start over, that we could be friends, perhaps even … What a fool I’ve been.



Ailill turned slightly, his attention suddenly absorbed in a single white petal that remained on a half-trodden bush beside him. “I was not entirely in control of my emotions,” he said, “as you may well know.”



“I tried to give you a way out!” My jaw wouldn’t stay shut.



Ailill laughed and reached over to pluck the petal from its thorns. “Remind me exactly when that was? Perhaps between condemning me to an eternal life of solitude and wretchedness and providing yourself with a way to feel less guilty about the whole affair? And then you just popped right back to the present, I suppose, skipping over those endless years in a matter of moments.” He crushed the petal in his hand.



“A way to let myself feel less guilty?” He wasn’t entirely wrong. But it wasn’t as if he had done nothing wrong.



Ailill bolted upright, slamming the fist that gripped the petal against the twigs and grass on the table. “Your last words to me were entirely for your own benefit, as well you know!”



If, after your own Returning, you can find it in your heart to forgive me, the last of the men whose blood runs with his own power will free all men bound by my curse.



“How is wishing to break the curse on the village for my benefit?”



“Perhaps because the curse was your doing? Perhaps because you only wanted the curse broken to free your lover from it in the first place?”



“Stop calling Jurij my ‘lover.’ He’s not—”



“And you did free him with those words. You knew I would forgive you.”



“How could I have known? I didn’t think it possible you’d forgive me, not after all we’ve been through.”



“You knew because you knew I wanted to be free myself. That I would do anything—even forgive you for half a moment—to earn that freedom.” His voice grew quieter. “You never wanted anything from me, not really. I was just a pawn in your game, a way to free the other men in your village, a way to punish the men from mine.”



I fought back what I couldn’t believe was threatening to spring to my eyes. No tears, not in front of him.



“The men of the old village deserved everything they got,” I spat at last, knowing full well that wasn’t the whole story.



Ailill scoffed and put both hands on his hips, his arms akimbo. Oh, how I tired of that pose. The crushed petal remained on the table. Its bright white added a bit of life to the decay.



“There were plenty of young boys not yet corrupted,” he said. “And some that might have never been.” He took a deep breath. “But, of course, you are not entirely to blame. I blame myself every day for ever taking a childish interest in you. That should not have counted as love.”



I swallowed. Of course. Before the curse of the village had broken, a woman had absolute power over the one man who loved or yearned for her. When I visited the past through the pool in the secret cavern, I discovered a horde of lusty men who knew nothing of love but were overcome with desire. Since so many had lusted for any female who walked before them, and I had carried the power from my own version of the village with me, it had been child’s play to control the men. But why had that power extended to Ailill? He had only been a boy then, broken, near silent—and kindhearted. He couldn’t have regarded me with more than a simple crush on an older sisterly figure, but it had been enough.



“But you did forgive me.” Why couldn’t I stop the words from flowing?



Ailill shook his head and let a weary smile spread across his features. “Forgive you? I could never forgive you. No more than I could forgive myself for daring to think, if just for a moment, that I … ” He stopped.



I shook my head. “The curse wouldn’t have been broken. The men in the village wouldn’t now be walking around without masks. Nor you without your veil. If you hadn’t forgiven me.”



Ailill tilted his head slightly. His dark eyes searched mine, perhaps for some answer he thought could be found there. “I would still need the veil even now?” he asked, his voice quiet. “Are you certain?”



Removing the veil before the curse was broken would have required the Returning, a ritual in which I freely and earnestly bestowed my heart and affection to him. It would have never happened, not with the man I knew at the time to be mine. So yes, he would still need the veil to survive the gaze of women. I was sure of it. He’d been arrogant, erratic, and even cruel. Perhaps not so much as Elric, Ailill’s even more volatile older brother, the one who wound up with a mob of angry, murderous women in his castle and a gouge through his heart. But even so.



It was my turn to cross my arms and sneer. “I said you could break the curse after your own Returning, and I specified that you didn’t need my affection to have a Returning. All you needed to do was crawl out of whatever abyss I’d sent you to.” I shifted uncomfortably in place. “And I suppose I should be grateful—for my mother’s sake—that you did.”



Ailill waved a hand at the specter beside me and brushed aside a pile of clippings on the table to reveal a hand-written letter. It was yellowed and a tad soggy. “Yes, well, the endless droning that made up your curse gets a bit foggy in my mind—assuming it even made sense in your mind to begin with. I am afraid I lack the ability to retain exact memories of an event that took place a hundred lifetimes ago when I was but a scarred child terrified of the monster before him.” He looked up to face me as the specter retrieved the letter from his extended hand. “But I suppose it was not all that long ago for the monster, was it?” He turned again to the table, shuffling brush about aimlessly. “Take her with you to the market,” he said.



The specter made to grab my arm as he passed. I slipped out of his reach only to back into another specter who had appeared quick as lightning from the foyer. He grabbed one arm, and the first specter seized the other.



“Let go of me!” I shouted as they began to drag me away.



The specters didn’t pause, as they once would have.



“Stop!” called Ailill from behind me. The specters did as they were told.



Ailill spoke. “I forgot to inform you that my retainers lost all desire to follow your orders when I did.” He waved his fingers in the air. “Carry on.”



I struggled against the grip the specters had on my arms. Again. He has me under his thumb again. “I can walk by myself!” I screamed as my toes slid awkwardly against the dark foyer floor. “I don’t need to go to the market!”



A black carriage awaited us outside the castle doorway. A third specter opened the carriage door, and my captors heaved me up into the seat like a sack of grain. The one with the letter slid in and took the seat across from me. He stared vacantly at the top of the seat behind me.



I leaned forward, whipping my hand out to stop the carriage door as one of the specters moved to close it. I didn’t care what I touched in the castle anymore. Let the whole thing crumble.



A black-gloved hand covered mine. I jumped back. Ailill stuck his head inside the carriage. His face stopped right before mine, the brim of his hat practically shading me under it. The sight of his face so close to mine, unveiled and painted with disdain, caused a thunderous racing of my heart. It was as if I’d just run the length of the entire village.



“You kept your hair short,” he said. He reached his free hand toward it, then pulled back.



I’d once let the bushy mess of black hair grow as long as it wanted, but once I cropped it closely to my scalp, I found it easier to deal with. “There hasn’t been enough time for it to grow, anyway. Not for me.”



He snorted. “Of course. But it makes me remember you as you were, long ago. When you cursed me and every man whether he deserved it or not.” He leaned back a bit, putting more space between our faces. “I think you will be most interested in going with my servants to the market,” he said. “But there will be no need to thank me in person afterward. I would rather not see you again.” His eyes drifted upwards, thoughtfully. “In fact, remind the villagers that I am closed to all audiences. My servants will be out there to see that my edict is obeyed.”



Before I could speak, he leaned back and let my hand fall from his. He reached around the door to close it.



“Wait—”



And slammed it in my face.


About Amy: 
 
Amy McNulty is a freelance writer and editor from Wisconsin with an honors degree in English. She was first published
in a national scholarly journal (The Concord Review) while in high school and currently writes professionally about everything from business marketing to anime. In her down time, you can find her crafting stories with dastardly villains and antiheroes set in fantastical medieval settings. Visit her website at amymcnulty.com.

 

Giveaway Details:

1 winner will receive an eBook of NOBODY’S GODDESS and an eGalley of NOBODY’S LADY. International.

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The Revenge of Seven

On Monday, I gave a brief rundown of the first four books in Pittacus Lore’s series Lorien Legacies. If you love these stories, you know he has written novellas detailing the background of every member of the Garde. I have only read the account about Six, and it was enjoyable. You can find them here.

The latest in the series, but not the last, is The Revenge of Seven, and I don’t feel the title suits the book. I kept waiting for Marina to do something vengeful and make the name have meaning. Never happened. If you read the book and find something, please enlighten me in the comments.

Bad title aside, I didn’t want to put the book down. Like the others in the series, it starts fast and snowballs until it seems all hope is lost. The readers have come to realize the Garde can’t win a major victory. There is another book. Perhaps Setrakus Ra and his ugly crew will finally be defeated.

The story is told from the perspectives of Four, Six and Ella. We’ve read from Four and Six quite often and their voices are distinct. Their personalities shine through. I love both of them and was happy to get inside their heads again in this novel.

Not so excited about the third POV character. I kept forgetting Ella is about nine because her voice reads as someone much older. She is a captive in this segment (expected since they carried her off in the end of book number four). While on the enemy warship, she learns the truth about Setrakus Ra – and fights against him. I admire her spunk but couldn’t engage with her character voice.

As with the other installments, the team splits up. I was glad to see Sarah off in a different location working with other humans behind the scenes.  The romantic spotlight shifts to Sam and Six in this story. If you know Six, you know there isn’t much drama – but plenty of action.

The author doesn’t disappoint in the action department. The beginning contains more setup than usual, but the payoff is worth it. There are battles in Washington DC and fights in Mexico. Things heat up as it becomes clear the Mog invasion is imminent.

I thought the political aspect of this story added interest. I’m not sure teenagers will feel the same way. If you’re reading this, teens, please comment about how this addition felt to you.

The ending is mid-scene. This isn’t truly unusual for the author, but it really irritated me because I feel the build-up is complete. It is obvious to me what will happen next and how the Mogs will be defeated in the end.

I am never a fan of cliff hangers. I feel like every story in a series should stand alone and contain its own problem, solution and resolution. This book did an okay job with the first two items. However, instead of resolving anything, the author threw us a hint about how the whole thing will wrap up and then stopped writing.

I still have to give it four out of five stars because I was engaged. Ella’s parts were few, and even though I didn’t find her believable, there was plenty of new information to be gained during her scenes.

If you’ve read one, two or all five of these books, what did you think of them? Would you recommend them to other teenagers or adults?

The Book Thief

Sometimes friends urge you to read a book, extolling it as classic or calling it riveting. When you open the cover, your expectations soar. A few pages in, you begin to wonder if you have the right book. By the end of chapter three, you can barely keep your eyes open.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is not this sort of book.

Did my friends encourage me to read it? *nods head* Several teachers I deeply respect seemed amazed I hadn’t read it. Not amazed in a good way either.

The book has been on my “to be read” list for months. It has hardly been alone. At least 20 others books kept it company.

My sister received a Kindle for Christmas and the next week I benefitted. Imagine my surprise when I perused the email telling me she had loaned me an ebook. (“You can do that?”) After I figured out how to return the favor, I opened The Book Thief and began to read.

Why I hadn’t been eager to move the book to the top of my list

I like happy endings. What a Pollyanna, you say. *Shrugs* I can’t help it. Life is full of sad beginnings, middles and endings. When I open a book, I want to escape all that.

Zusak’s book is set in Nazi Germany. That was enough to help me pass it by on several occasions when my teacher friends handed it my direction.

If there is a more UNhappy time in history, I don’t know what it is. Please don’t tell me. The eradication of six million innocent people because some maniac didn’t like their ethnic background gags me just fine, thanks.

Incredible things about the writing

In Nazi Germany, there is only one person whose point of view we haven’t read a story from. No, not the Fuhrer. Death.

It is the irony of the narrator being Death that immediately drew me into the story. Seriously, if anyone can understand that time period, it would be him. Death reigned (not the Fuhrer, regardless of the man’s delusions of grandeur).

Reading the story from such a unique (and dare I say, hopeless) perspective compelled me to keep reading. By page ten, I was feeling a little sorry for Death. After all, he was overworked and saw no chance of a vacation in his future.

Blasphemous thought, isn’t it? That Death might need a vacation. Even on a regular day, thousands of people die. A day in Dachau in 1940? You get the picture.

Dachau Concentration Camp

The point of view aside, the voice is authentic. I could hear the tired sighs of Death. I could sense his amazement at the inhumanity of man to his own kind. Why should we be surprised when Death thinks murder and mayhem are socially unacceptable? After all, these things mean he has to work overtime. And he’s long overdue for a single day off.

Zusak uses unique turns of phrase in his description.  His writing has verve and pizzazz, but isn’t too sophisticated for young adult readers – his target audience.

Liesel and her supporting cast come alive. No cardboard caricatures here. Well, maybe the Hitler Youth bully and the spoiled rich criminal, but none of the major characters were anything other than round and relatable.

In the end, I cried. There’s no such thing as a happy ending from this setting. However, the overwhelming theme  and the takeaway feeling for the story pack a knockout punch. The last line of the book clues you in: “I am haunted by humans.”

Consider who tells this story and let that sink in for a few moments.

Wow.

Right?

My recommendations:

  • Every person between the ages of 12 and 120 should read this book.
  • There are German words and phrases. Don’t stumble over those.
  • Death narrates, so there is death and destruction galore. It’s gasp-worthy but won’t cause you to turn away like the first ten minutes of Saving Private Ryan.
  • You will cry. Okay, I cried. Maybe you don’t cry when you read books, but if this one doesn’t choke you up, there could be a deeper issue.

Reading this book will help you appreciate the life you live. How can Death tell a story and make you want to hug everyone you know and celebrate being alive? Read. The. Book. Then you’ll understand.

Have you already read The Book Thief? Share your observations and reactions below.

Can I Learn from someone I Don’t Like?

 

In the world of writing, I’m a newbie. As far as expertise in the genre which I’m writing, I have none. For these reasons, I sought instruction from someone considered an authority in the genre of science fiction and fantasy: Orson Scott Card.

I purchased the book How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy over a year ago, shortly after I decided to write a young adult fantasy novel. Rave reviews and recommendations from writers I trusted spurred me to make the investment in this slim volume.

At that point, I hadn’t read a single book written my Mr. Card. It didn’t matter. As an instructor, he came highly recommended. As a writer, his long list of published novels, many of which were best sellers, and his numerous awards seemed like firm second opinions.

Then I read Pathfinder. It’s an interesting blend of science fiction and fantasy (since the main character, Rigg, has a special ability). I enjoyed the story – right up until the end.

More recently, I read Ender’s Game. I noticed that Card used the same style of prefacing each chapter with a scene happening outside the main action as he had used in Pathfinder. They divulged information and motivation for the benefit of the reader. In that book, these scenes were actually things that happened in eons past that would eventually help the reader understand the conclusion of the book.

I surmise the purpose for these additions is three-fold: build tension, exposit backstory and offer information the protagonist doesn’t have.

I don’t care for this style of writing, especially not for young adults. I’ve worked with reluctant and struggling readers for the past seven years and this sort of writing confuses and frustrates them.

Okay, but Shari, isn’t that just a small percentage of the young adult population? You might be surprised to learn that according to findings presented by Scholastic only 50% of young adults claimed to read for pleasure. Percentages decline for 16-18 year olds (school work and extracurricular activities are peaking then).

Back from the statistical tangent: Orson Scott Card is surely an accomplished writer and an authority in his field. I haven’t been impressed with his fiction writing.

The How to Write book netted a slightly different response. Card freely shared his methods for finding ideas and nurturing them to the point where they can support a story. His insight into world building – essential for fantasy writers – helped me outline rules for the magic used in my current novels.

In short, Card taught me important things. If I had decided not to read his writing instructional manual because I didn’t care for a couple fiction stories he’d written, my writing would have suffered.

We can all think of experts we aren’t impressed with in one way or another. Why would the field of writing be any different? Any expert with the inclination to share their wealth of knowledge deserves our attention.

What are your experiences with this phenomenon? Have you ever been surprised to learn from someone who your preconceived notions tempted you to disregard?

Mixed Feelings about “Allegiant”

Coming to the end of a series always provokes mixed feelings. If we love the characters, we’re sad to see them go. Exciting plots make us anticipate the final climactic resolution.

Or it might be anti-climactic.

I read the first two books in Veronica Roth’s Divergent series in the Summer of 2012. At that time, waiting a year to get the final installment seemed cruel. Truthfully, I had forgotten much of my earnestness by the time the package arrived from Amazon containing the newly released conclusion to the trilogy.

The craze of dystopian fiction, especially in the young adult age group, may have reached its peak. I have read four series from this genre and half a dozen stand-alone novels in the past three years.

This type of story appeals to me because it’s interesting to see where a creative genius (pretty much any author) takes the question “what if a catastrophe happened?” and runs with it. There might be a society where children fight to the death as a means of keeping the populace cowed. Maybe lawlessness would prevail.

The possibilities stagger me. In reading such an assortment of dystopian fiction, I’ve seen a few common threads and been interested to see some similarities. More on that later. Maybe.

At the end of Insurgent, everyone was in limbo. A video disclosing the truth that the factions inside Chicago were just an experiment of the government floored everyone. It was a cliffhanger. Fifteen months later when I got to read what happened next, all the urgency had vanished.

I recommend rereading the first two books before you pick up this wrap-up to the series. It took me more than 75 pages to reorient myself with the characters and begin to connect with them again. That said, I don’t believe this book has much appeal as a stand-alone read.

The main character we followed in the first book, Beatrice Prior, shares the narration duties with her boyfriend, Four or Tobias. I found the transition between their two minds choppy and I never truly felt they were distinct. The writer’s voice sounded the same inside either mind.

I make it a point never to include spoilers in my book reviews. To me, the purpose of the review is to help you decide whether or not you want to spend money on this book or borrow it from the library.

This book had the weakest plot of the series. The stakes seemed inconsequential until about three-fourths of the way through the book. My disbelief wouldn’t be suspended because I had a hard time with both Tris’ and Tobias’ reactions to their revelations in this story.

Each of them had a separate mission to accomplish at the end. In my opinion, Tobias’ resolution was too contrived and obtainable. On the other hand, I connected with Tris and her actions were much more believable, but I hated the outcome.

If you want to find out what happens to this cast, you should read this book. Story enjoyment is subjective. I didn’t feel like I had wasted my time reading this book, but since I hadn’t recently had my appetite whetted for the conclusion, I could have missed it and lived happily ever after.

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Epic Fantasy

As a writer of fantasy, I read different fantasy novels. In doing so, I can experience the methods published writers use to build a world, breathe life into characters and weave a mesmerizing plot.

Or I can read the books and criticize the lack of plot, weakness of character arc and believability of the fantastical setting. Sometimes, it’s a little of both.

Perhaps it is my experience with disengaged and unmotivated readers, but I don’t believe epic fantasy, written in the frame and scope of George R.R. Martin’s The Song of Ice and Fire, draws young adult readers.

My Reasoning

Several things about these novels discourage me:

  • The multiple point of view characters
  • The dispassionate discarding of major characters
  • The woven webs that take too long to entrap their victims

However, I’m not sure these same things would bother young adult readers (the audience I write for). I do believe they will be hindered by:

  • The sheer number of characters – even adults who read this series admit they have to flip to the back and check the listing of characters. Most young adult readers don’t want to invest this time. They want to enter the fantasy world and stay there until the story ends. If they have to wonder “who is this person” then the writer fails to maintain their suspended disbelief.
  • The scope of time from the foreshadowing until the culminating event – most young readers will forget about the earlier hint and then wonder “where is this coming from?”
  • Too many story lines – if it is 200 pages between the initial storyline of a character and the second appearance, many youthful readers will have forgotten where they left this person. Again, they won’t want to go back. In fact, many might choose to skip the entire story from some character’s viewpoint.

My Review

I recently completed the third book in Martin’s series. As with the other two, I felt compelled to scan some character’s chapters. I find myself withholding my attachment to any character because I’m sure Martin will decapitate them once I love them.

What author hopes to hear the readers admit to scanning? Don’t authors desire readers to empathize with and embrace their characters?

A Storm of Swords held my interest better than the second book. I also scanned fewer pages. Still, I find myself withholding affection from the remaining Starks because their family seems condemned by the author.

I also am fostering more affection for people I despised earlier in the series. Is this because I’m sure they will survive? I don’t know. I believe Martin’s skill for creating sympathetic characters plays a huge role.

I used to like Tyrion Stark, but by the end of this third installment, I see his personality turning to the dark side. Meanwhile, his king-slaying older brother found a conscience somewhere and I’m irritated by my admiration of him. I still hope their sister meets a horrifying and painful end, so all is not lost.

At the end of this book, a small incident from the second book that I knew was foreshadowing came into play. Martin did a great job of keeping this information in the forefront for the reader by having Arya repeat the “magical” phrase with her nightly prayers. Still, the fulfillment is long in coming. How many readers wrote it off as unimportant?

I will read the rest of this series. Of course, I doubt I will read every word on every page. I’m invested in the outcome. After reading nearly 3,000 pages, I’m expecting an incredible payoff.

Don’t disappoint me, Mr. Martin.

My Recommendation

Okay, since I’m an unpublished newbie, I am less than an authority on what sells than the best-selling author who I’m ranting about in this post. However, as a reader and an experienced reading teacher of middle-school-aged students, I believe I do know somewhat of what I speak of from a reader’s point of view.

If you want to write epic fantasy for young adults, I don’t think you can use Martin’s format. In fact, a book containing Jon Snow’s story and another containing Bran Stark’s story and another for Arya and Sansa would be more embraceable for younger readers. Perhaps in the final book, all the characters would be reunited to face the ultimate bad guy.

I would have preferred to read the books in this way, as well. I know Martin is trying to show us the timeline and what’s happening everywhere in the world simultaneously, which is difficult for many adults to follow. It’s impossible for younger readers. They will become frustrated and lay the book aside.

Books for younger readers need to have simpler plot lines. The story (as far as I’ve read it) in Martin’s books is a convoluted mess of betrayal, duplicity and speculation.

Killing off too many major characters can be disheartening. Okay, I know J.K. Rowling did it and her series stole the Hollywood box office along with best-selling book charts. I almost refused to continue after Sirius Black died, and several young adult readers I know felt the same. We continued because she had left the mirror they used to communicate behind in Harry’s possession and what lay behind the gate shrouded in mystery. We hoped Harry might find a way to bring Sirius back.

So much for our misguided hopes.

What recommendations do you have for epic fantasy for young adult readers? Is this even something writers should pursue or are young readers dispossessed of the attention span required?