Sunday, March 16, 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day and Blood Ties Reveal!

Hello everyone, and Happy St. Patrick's Day! =D I'm especially excited this year, because I finally get to reveal the novel I've been working on since last summer in one way or another, and because it's Irish, it's appropriate for the day. I just finished the first draft last month and I can honestly say, I adore this book. It's my baby.

So, a little bit about my novel Blood Ties:

Blood Ties is set during the modern era, in a speculative version of Ireland that is still run by high kings,  and faeries abound and are part of normal day life. There's also a modern version of the legendary warriors of Na Fianna, who take center stage of the story. My protagonist is Ciran Mac Cool a descendant of the great Fionn Mac Cool himself, and he and his friends are all descendants of Fionn's Fianna. This book opens on the tail end of the last of the Goblin Wars which the Irish people have been fighting against the Goblins for nearly a century. During a hesitant peace treaty, a patrol of Fianna and others was taken by the goblins, among them, Ciran's older brother. The book is essentially about Ciran forming a band of misfit warriors who have lost someone in the patrol to go up to the Faelands and rescue them from the clutches of the Goblin King, Lorcan. It's a story about blood ties and family and also a coming of age story for Ciran, his men, and also Eamon, the young High King of Ireland who has a lot to prove to everyone.

Pretty much, this is a short version of what you will find in Blood Ties:

Modern day warriors who wear leather, carry swords, a drive fast cars.
Moderately hot goblins.
Lots and lots of brotherly love.

And now I'm going to share the first chapter and the prologue with you as a treat, and I hope to share more soon about the creating of my Ireland, and all the different races, places and peoples.

(Warning, prologue contains some moderately graphic torture, if you don't want to read, skip down to chapter one)


Prologue


He was hauled through the underground fortress, barely able to keep his feet under him in his weakened state, but he forced himself to stay upright even though he was mostly being supported by the two goblins who held him from either side.
            He was brought to the throne room where the goblin king sat in a dilapidated yet regal throne, torches blazing against the stone walls of the mountain dwelling. The whole place was wickedly, crumblingly beautiful; a relic of a bygone age that was still frozen in the past despite its living occupants. Aeden admired its horrible beauty even as it sent chills up his spine.
            The guards threw him to his knees and he hauled his upper body straight so he could look up into the cold, calculating eyes of the tall goblin that sat on the throne. The creature rose languidly, his lean frame straight, his hands held behind his back, holding his tattooed head high. A long black coat swung around his legs and his glossy boots tapped out a leveled pace that echoed through the domed hall.
            “Aeden Mac Cool,” he said. “A pleasure, as always. Have you had a thought as to what you will discuss with me now? I trust you found your stay in the rat hole comfortable.”
            “Comfortable enough,” the Finnian replied, watching as the goblin’s clubbed ash blond hair swung back and forth down his back as he paced. “But I shall not talk to you now, or ever.”
            “Shame; you seemed so eager to talk before. So eager to take the place of the princeling, that I suspected you must have something of import to tell me.” The goblin sighed in a long-suffering manor, turning around with a bored expression on his face. “Very well, we shall have it your way then. I begin to wonder whether you enjoy pain so much, Mac Cool.”
            The Finnian was hauled to his feet and chained to a rack on one side of the room. The goblin drew a thin blade from his boot and walked over to him. “I honestly don’t even find this amusing anymore, I’ve done it for so long,” he said, grabbing the Finnian’s face in one hand, his long nails digging into the young man’s cheeks. “But if you wish the pain to continue, by all means, keep defying me. But tell me what I want to know, and I will let you go back to your family. You know I am not unnecessarily cruel.”
            “And what of the others?” Aeden spat contemptuously. “Would you send them back as well?”
            “If they give me what I want, I might consider it. But one thing at a time.”
            The Finnian only smiled and the goblin began his knife work with a businesslike manner, slowly flaying a strip of skin from the Irishman’s hip up his left side. Aeden Mac Cool gritted his teeth and breathed out slowly between them.
            “No?” the goblin asked.
            Aeden didn’t say anything. The goblin shrugged. “Very well then.” He ripped the strip of skin off and the Irishman couldn’t help the scream of surprise that ripped from his throat. Blood ran down his side, soaking the top of his worn leather trousers.
            “You see, you have only tasted a bit of the pain I am capable of causing you,” the goblin said, coming behind Aeden, leaning close. His breath wafted against the back of the Irishman’s neck and sent a shiver of disgust up his spine. “If you do not wish to sample any more, let me know, and this can all end here with only a few answers to my questions.”
            “No,” the Irishman forced out.
            “Very well then,” the goblin said again and motioned to his guards. “Bring all my instruments to me. I shall have him talking by the end of the day.” He shot a hand forward, gripping Aeden’s neck and wrenching his head back, his lips nearly pressed against the Irishman’s ear. “And if you don’t talk, I will start on the princeling, and we’ll see how you do when you’re forced to watch your king’s brother suffer.”
            Aeden Mac Cool swallowed hard, and closed his eyes, willing his mind away by thinking of his family; his parents, brothers and sister who likely all thought he was dead. He would not give in, for their sake. He could not give in for the sake of Erin herself. But that did not stop the mountains from echoing with his screams.


Chapter One
Tracking

The mists rolled off the green hills, still damp from the morning dew, and the will o’ the wisps curled around my legs as I loped easily through the heather, leaping from rock to rock as I focused my attention between the ground beneath my feet and the track ahead, forging the way not by signs, nor by memory this time, but by carefully deducted paths recreated from visions and common sense. The wet air, still smelling of dawn, refreshed me, brought all my senses into focus, so that I could concentrate on my task. This was my favorite time of day to track, and I would have felt an unnamable joy in that morning’s duty had it not been for the subject of my tracking.
            I climbed onto a big rock, bracing myself halfway up and looking back down into the valley where I could see Tierney still picking up the tent as I made my last scout. It was foolish, I knew, Aeden had been gone for nearly six months, but this had been where he was patrolling when he disappeared, and I felt there had to be something that would tell me where he might be. That he was still alive.
            I took in the landscape, picturing Aeden standing in my exact position, scouting the way ahead. If he had been chased, where would he make a stand? I knew already before the question barely passed through my mind and was off, sprinting soundlessly over the dewy ground to the valley on the other side of this hill.
            My memory had not failed me, I saw with satisfaction as I crested the rise and trotted down into the valley. There was the circle of standing stones, so old that no one knew who they belonged to now, or what their purpose had been. Several had fallen like ancient stone warriors lost in battle, but most were still standing in their original circle. For want of a better location, it would have been the only spot that a few men could have stood to defend themselves, and the stones were said to offer protection to warriors who were true to Erin. I felt in my bones that this was the place my brother had made his stand and surely it was the place Daegal had dreamed about. I took the picture he had drawn for me and held it up in comparison. It was the place.
            I entered the circle slowly. I always felt there should be some ritual to entering a stone circle, but if there ever had been, the knowledge had been lost in centuries long past. I did bow my head in respect though, for the sake of whatever spirits or Fae that might guard it still. The stones seemed to create an energy of their own, not really tangible, but something that allowed my mind to work more clearly, take in more. Na Fianna were known for their connection with the land, and such ancient landmarks as these seemed to give us strength. I looked around the circle, taking the scene in and again trying to picture the events that had happened here in the past.
            I was drawn to one stone; one of the fallen ones, and crouched to inspect it, finding an old rust colored stain in a crack of one of the swirling designs carved into it. I had seen enough blood to know it for what it was, and being red, it was hardly goblin blood. There was no telling how much blood there had been to begin with, for whatever had been there, would have washed away long ago, but it was enough to tell me my suspicions were correct, and my stomach knotted in instinctive uncertainty of my brother’s survival.
            I braced a hand on the wet ground as I contemplated this confirmation. By rights, I shouldn’t even have been out there, doing this, knowing my father would berate me for having false hope, but I hadn’t been home for three months, and I had missed Aeden more than I could say, and when Daegal and I had spoken on the phone in my absence, he always had new dreams of his to report, telling me about this place and how he thought it was connected in some way with the patrol’s disappearance. I knew I wouldn’t be able to rest before I at least checked, and Tierney and I had a few days before we had to report back to the court of High King Eamon O’Brian so we had camped in the valley below, spending that time tracking and trying to map the path Aeden and his patrol had taken before they met with an unfortunate goblin attack that had nearly sent our people back into another long and bloody war.
            I sighed as I thought again how hopeless this venture was. I was about to stand up when my fingers found something at the base of the stone, hiding in the grass. I dug down and pulled it out, feeling engraved metal hanging from a leather strap. My fingers knew what it was before I recognized it by sight, opening my hand to look at it, for my fingers knew the shape well. It was a pendant identical to the one I wore about my own neck, a simple bronze medallion about an inch in diameter with the Mac Cool crest emblazoned on it, depicting the fish of wisdom from the ancient story. Daegal hadn’t been wrong. Aeden had been there sure enough. Now the question was whether he was still alive or if he had perished there.
            Two years ago now, there had been an uprising of goblins and Na Fianna and all the other warriors and kings of Ireland were called upon to do battle with them. It had been a feud going on for as long as there had been Ireland and though the enemy might not have always been the same, the struggle was, and there was always a new enemy to take the place of the one who was finally defeated. First it had been my ancestor, the great Fionn Mac Cool who had fought the giants. But that's a story for another time.
            The first Goblin War had happened while the rest of the world was fighting WWII and another had arisen in the ‘80s only to come to a head again, just three years past, in the quickest and bloodiest of the three, naming it, in grim humor the War of the Red Hills for all the blood that had been spilled, mostly ours. After only a year of fighting, the Kings of Ireland had formed a tenuous peace with the Goblin King, paying him heavy tithes to seal the pact, but it had not lasted for more than a year, for there was a sudden, nasty uprising in the north and the goblins attacked a city on the Borderland and decimated the people, nearly wiping them all out. Our High King gathered his warriors and went out to do battle, knowing that the time had come to wipe the goblins out all together. And he nearly succeeded, but at heavy cost, for though he did kill the Goblin King, he left his son alive, and lost his own life as well as that of over half his men in the process. They say that Erin wept blood for her lost children that day.
            And then only months ago after an unstable peace of nearly a year while we picked up the pieces of the last battle, the Goblin prince, Lorcan, turned king after the death of his father, began to make small attacks despite the agreement. One day a patrol of Fianna warriors went out to scout goblin trails, and never came back. One of them was my older brother, another was the younger brother of High King Eamon, and crown prince, but many more had lost loved ones too that day, but like my father, didn’t want to risk the hope that they might still be alive. Most of them, anyway.
            I turned and something else caught my eye. A glint of silver caught in a crack of one of the stones. I knelt to inspect in and saw it was a hair bead like all warriors wore to show their status, but this one was especially fine, and engraved with the pattern of the High Seat of Tara. It was also still attached to a braid of jet-black hair, cut off at about three inches. I pictured the owner frantically chopping it off himself, finding he was caught in the stone after being thrust back against it. I held it in a clenched fist for a moment before I tucked it into the script at the side of my belt.
            I cast about a little more, but everything that was to be found there had been found, and it was enough proof to prove my and Daegal’s theory of where the patrol had disappeared. It was no proof of life, but it was a start.
            I looked at Aeden’s medallion again and then pulled it around my neck, tucking it in under my leather breastplate while my own stayed resting on the outside. I had called Eamon yesterday when we had still been in town and capable of mobile service, and told him that Tierney and I would be back at his hall by noon. We would have to hurry if we hoped to keep that appointment. And he would be eager to hear of our side trip, especially now that I had something to show for it.
            Tierney had finished packing up the tent and sleeping bags by the time I got back to the camp and was just loading them into the back of my Vanquish when I came trotting back. He looked up expectantly.
            “Well?”
            I silently showed him what I had found and he nodded, hands on hips, neither of us knowing what to say. We had been right, but that wasn’t enough. I knew he had hoped I had found something from his father, but he knew there had been no guarantee that we would find anything at all and the knowledge that our trip had not been fruitless was enough for the moment. Still, I felt his pain and disappointment keenly in the fresh air and punched him lightly in the shoulder.
            “Come on. We need to get back. I’ll let you drive.” I tossed him the keys and he smiled, even though I knew he knew I was just trying to cheer him up, as he slid into the driver’s seat with an eager air. I pulled off the sword I wore over my shoulder and tossed it into the back seat before I climbed in as well. And then we were off and on the road as Tierney eagerly gunned the car into motion, laughing.
            “If you do anything to this car, I swear I will hurt you,” I told him but was grinning as well.
            “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt your sweetheart,” Tierney said mockingly, stroking the dash with a wink, and only went faster.
            With his driving, we were back in Tara before ten o’clock and stopped at a pub in town for a quick breakfast before heading to the King’s Hall on the hill overlooking the town, giving the otherwise modern day setting a medieval flair, the Hall hardly having changed since the days of Fionn Mac Cool. My mobile rang as we headed to the car again and I answered it as I sat down in the driver’s seat, digging my keys out of my pocket.
            “Hello?”
            “Where are you?” It was Killian O’Hara’s voice on the other end, Captaen of Eamon’s guards and a good friend, if not somewhat self-important.
            “At Lannagan’s, we’re on our way in one minute if you hang up.”
            “Insolence, insolence,” Killian chided but I could hear the smirk on his lips. “See you then.”
            I slapped the phone shut and started the car once Tierney was in and we were off on the road to Tara Hall.

~~~~~~~
If you want to see more of Blood Ties check out my Pintrest board for it to see all the characters and other goodies. It's newly un-secreted just for you =) 


 Also, I'm making a soup for my St Patrick's Day recipe, and if it turns out good, I'll post the recipe later this week!

Have a lovely day, and may the road rise up to meet you!

Slainte, Hazel


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Books of Note: Winter Reads

Well, I just realized I haven't done a montly favorite reads post for, well, months. Mainly because I haven't had a lot of time to read, and most of the books that I have gotten to read haven't been very good, and because of it have been lazy with my reviews. I did however find several very good reads and now my choices are looking up with a lot of new releases that look promising, and also the fact I am finally getting to ones I've wanted to read for a long time. So this is kind of a winter summary more than anything. The best books I've read since the last Books of Note Post.


One war.
Too many deadly battles.
Can a king save his kingdom, when his own survival seems unlikely?


War has come to Carthya. It knocks at every door and window in the land. And when Jaron learns that King Vargan of Avenia has kidnapped Imogen in a plot to bring Carthya to its knees, Jaron knows it is up to him to embark on a daring rescue mission. But everything that can go wrong does.

His friends are flung far and wide across Carthya and its neighbouring lands. In a last-ditch effort to stave off what looks to be a devastating loss for the kingdom, Jaron undertakes what may be his last journey to save everything and everyone he loves. But even with his lightning-quick wit, Jaron cannot forestall the terrible danger that descends on him and his country. Along the way, will he lose what matters most? And in the end, who will sit on Carthya's throne?

Rousing and affecting, Jaron's adventures have thrilled and moved readers in The False Prince and The Runaway King. Journey once again with the Ascendant King of Carthya, as New York Times bestselling author Jennifer A. Nielsen brings his story to a stunning conclusion withThe Shadow Throne.



Review

Thoughts on the Overall Book: I've enjoyed this series from the start, but with each book I just seem to have a new respect for the characters and the author and this one did not leave me disappointed. In a word: Brilliant

Cover--Yea or Nay: Yes, I always love the covers for these. They are simple but neat, and I love the title font especially.

Characters: Sage (okay, Jaron, but I'll always call him Sage) is just as awesome as usual, if even more so in this book. I love him so much, I can safely say he's probably one of my favorite fictional characters ever. I really liked seeing a more responsible Sage in this book, and also see a different range of emotions from him from his usual cocky self to true despair. It made him all the more real to me. I liked how we got to see more of Roden and Tiberius in this one too, I like the both of them a lot and how they support Sage and help him along. I especially liked the character development we see from Tiberius. I loved to see Fink again too, he's the typical street smart little hustler, but I always love those characters. I still love Imogen and liked Amarinda even more in this story now that we get to see more of her character. I continue to adore the father-son relationship between Sage and Harlowe. Vargan made a good villain and didn't seem overblown either which I appreciated. In short, just an awesome cast.

The Romance: Sorry this all has to be a spoiler (view spoiler)

Writing Style: Awesome as usual. I just love Sage's narration, and now that I expect it, I love the author's ability to keep important information from the reader. I read this book so anxiously knowing Sage must have had some plan to get everyone out of trouble, but I had no idea what it was, and for a few times I was holding my breath, afraid he really didn't have a plan. In short it kept me guessing through the whole thing and I was just in total giddy laughter by the end when I saw how it all worked out. As I said before we get to see more of an emotional rise and fall in this story than any of the others. Sage is brought very low at one point and though it's hard to read, I also loved it because it really showed him as human to me and I always appreciate that a lot in characters.

Accuracy/ Believability: What I love most about these books is that while they hold everything a classic adventure novel does, they somehow manage not to be so overblown they are cliché. The characters come into difficulties that people would in real life, and though they are able to solve their problems in rather fantastic ways, it's more ingenious than impossible. As I think I said in my review of The Runaway King I also appreciated the fact that when a character gets wounded he isn't just running around in the next chapter like nothing happened. I always hate continuity problems like that in books, so I enjoy it when an author makes sure to do that properly, even if the characters are getting hurt, and let's face it, these characters get beat up a lot. It's always nice to know I'm not the only author who whumps characters beyond normal limits. *evil laugh*

Problems/What bothered me: Nothing, I loved this book!

Conclusion: 5 stars. More if I could give them. I am so sad that this series is over, but I could not have asked for a better ending and I'm content with it. Now I just have to go back and read them through all together =)

Recommended Audience: If you enjoy good adventure novels and haven't read these READ THEM! You will not be disappointed.

(Read with review with spoilers on Goodreads)



Trapped in a hidden fortress tucked between towering mountains and a frozen sea, Solveig, along with her brother the crown prince, their older sister, and an army of restless warriors, anxiously awaits news of her father's victory at battle. But as winter stretches on, and the unending ice refuses to break, terrible acts of treachery soon make it clear that a traitor lurks in their midst. A malevolent air begins to seep through the fortress walls, and a smothering claustrophobia slowly turns these prisoners of winter against one another.

Those charged with protecting the king's children are all suspect, and the siblings must choose their allies wisely. But who can be trusted so far from their father's watchful eye? Can Solveig and her siblings survive the long winter months and expose the traitor before he succeeds in destroying a kingdom?


Review

Thoughts on the Overall Book: I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from this book, and I haven't read any others by the author before this, so I wasn't sure if it would life up to my expectations, but in one of those lovely reader moments, it really did, and might have even surpassed my expectations in character development and story.
Cover--Yea or Nay: I love the cover for "Icefall". while not necessarily true to the story, it's pretty and shows that it's a Norse themed book (something that always catches my eye)

Characters: Solveig is one of the loveliest female protagonists I have read in a long time. She suffered from being the younger daughter to a Norse chieftan and was rather plain compared to her older sister and often forgotten by her father. But instead of being bitter like some girls would be, it make her quietly strong and into an even better person, because she tried to do whatever she could, because there really wasn't all that much she could do in everyone else's perspective. However, as is found in the story, she's actually the only person who can really accomplish what needs to be done. In any case, I became very attached to her, and was easily able to sympathize. Her older sister Asa and her younger brother Harold were also characters that are easy to understand, even if on occasion they might not always be in the right (at least in Asa's case) but I liked how they still loved and supported Solveig even if her father didn't think much of her. I had mixed feelings about Per, for the most part I liked him, but sometimes I think he could have handled situations better, but I won't say too much about that. My second favorite character apart from Solveig though was definitely Hake, the berserker. He was a strong man, self-sacrificing, and what made him more likable was the fact that he feared himself and what he was capable of but yet he still did what he had to do and his loyalty was unending. I really liked the sort of father-daughter relationship that formed between him and Solveig. The skald Alric was also a likable charatcer, but then, I have rarely met a skald or bard character I haven't liked. And for the little time we get to see him Gunnlaug was a character easy to dislike. He could have been worse, but he was bad enough. Bere and Raudi were also likable characters.

The Romance: There isn't any!!

Writing Style: While this book is present tense, and I don't usually like that, I didn't mind it in this book, and from Solveig's point of view, it seemed to fit really well. It was all rather beautiful and almost told as if from a skald which went on with the theme of the book since Solvieg is the one telling it, and she's learning the art of the skald. I also really liked the inclusion of the little flashback scenes between the chapters. I think it helps get to know the characters better and gives a little more insight into the impact they had on Solveig. Even though the style is completely different there was just something between how it was told and the characters and setting that really reminded me of Rosemary Sutcliff's books. Solveig seemed like the kind of characters she wrote about and it just had the same feel to it, which made me like it even more. The only thing I could say against this book at all is that it's a little slow to start, and the plot really doesn't pick up until about the last third, but it never seemed to drag for me because I was totally invested in the characters and I was eager to continue even after reading just the first chapter.

Accuracy/ Believability: It's never really said whether this story actually takes place in our world or in another, but it all seemed pretty sound to how the Viking people's lived and I liked that about it. You really don't need to know when this was set or where, because it's about the characters--it's definitely a character driven story. And the situation is very believable because I know wars were fought for these very reasons in Viking days.

Problems/What bothered me: I didn't have any problems with this book.

Conclusion: 4 stars. I really enjoyed it. This was one of the better new books that I have picked up in a long time and I look forward to reading more from this author.
Recommended Audience: While this was aimed as a middle-grade book, I think it can definitely appeal to teens and adults and since we are never really told how old Solveig is, I don't think it really matters. Anyone 12 and up who like strong heroines and the Viking era would enjoy this. Probably more of a girl read than a guy read.





Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books. Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Last summer, Mackenzie Bishop, a Keeper tasked with stopping violent Histories from escaping the Archive, almost lost her life to one. Now, as she starts her junior year at Hyde School, she's struggling to get her life back. But moving on isn't easy -- not when her dreams are haunted by what happened. She knows the past is past, knows it cannot hurt her, but it feels so real, and when her nightmares begin to creep into her waking hours, she starts to wonder if she's really safe.

Meanwhile, people are vanishing without a trace, and the only thing they seem to have in common is Mackenzie. She's sure the Archive knows more than they are letting on, but before she can prove it, she becomes the prime suspect. And unless Mac can track down the real culprit, she'll lose everything, not only her role as Keeper, but her memories, and even her life. Can Mackenzie untangle the mystery before she herself unravels?

With stunning prose and a captivating mixture of action, romance, and horror, The Unbound delves into a richly imagined world where no choice is easy and love and loss feel like two sides of the same coin.
Review
Thoughts on the Overall Book: Like "The Archived" "The Unbound" is a very interesting, intriguing story, part paranormal part mystery with a cast of awesome characters. I don't think I liked this one quite as much as the first one, (reasons I'll explain later) but it was still a very good sequel, and I was not disappointed by any means.

Cover--Yea or Nay: I really like the covers for these books. They are both creepy and beautiful, and I think they fit the feel of the story well.

Characters: I loved Mackenzie in the first book, I didn't change my opinion of her in the second, though she is not the same Mackenzie either, which partly made me sad. She was very depressed, the events of the last book having weighed heavily on her, but she fought against them, which gave me new respect for her even if that is not the best thing she could have done, and ultimately brought her down lower. My only complaint about her is that she second guessed herself too much, but what kept me from disliking her for it was that she knew well enough she was doing it and knew she had to stop, but almost physically couldn't which made me more sympathetic than anything. Wesley however, continues to be my favorite character. I just love him, and I kind of liked getting to see another side of him in this story, more the real Wesley beneath the smiles and optimism. I also liked the new characters we get to meet. I particularly liked Amber and Gavin and Cash was pretty cool too, even though he had the potential to get annoying. Thankfully, he knew when to back off, which I respect. I really look forward to seeing more of them if the series continues (which I suspect it will)

The Romance: In this book we begin to see a little more of a romantic attachment form between Mackenzie and Wesley, and though I loved their just friendship, I am not against their romance, because I think they can both handle it without losing that tight bond they had to begin with. Even so, it's still moving slowly which I also appreciate. To me that always makes relationships seem more real. Definitely no insta-love here.

Writing Style: As always, Victoria Schwab presents a beautiful written masterpiece. People who follow my reviews probably know I'm not a huge fan of present tense, but her books never bother me, in fact I think the stories fit present tense better. It's visually beautiful and makes you feel very much in the moment. I think this one actually had more of a mystery than the first one did and I really enjoyed it. But I won't say much for fear of spoiling!

Accuracy/ Believability: Not really applicable, but I will say something on Mackenzie's condition, and I do beleive that it is very reasonable for a person to experience what she does after what she went through. However, I always felt that she was stronger than that, and that was the main thing that bothered me in this book. Yes, I loved flawed heroes, I really do, and I put my characters through some pretty nasty stuff, but I think part of me wishes she had been able to help herself a little more than she did.

Problems/What bothered me: I'm just going to continue on what I started above. And I want to note that this is no mark against Victoria Schwab's writing, this is personal preference and I don't think it will bother everyone. (view spoiler)

Conclusion: 4 stars. Again, not quite as good in my opinion as the first one, but I really did enjoy it, and I really hope Victoria Schwab decides to continue the series.

Recommended Audience: Readers who enjoyed the first one will not be disappointed. Probably more of a girl read 16 and up.
(Read this review with spoilers on Goodreads)
(Read my friend Mara's review here)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Guest Post and Book Feature with YA Author Barbara Kloss- Breath of Dragons




Barbara Kloss studied biochemistry at California Polytechnic State University, and after she began working in a clinical lab, found herself daydreaming about far off lands and slightly deranged wizards. She, her husband, baby boy, and Lhasa currently live in Arizona, where she escapes the summer heat by writing about lush vegetation and moderate to cold climates. Author of the Pandoran Novels, a YA fantasy series.

Author Links - 





Book Genre: Young adult fantasy
Publisher: Self - published
Release Date: January 21, 2014
Buy Link(s):



Book Description:


After Prince Alaric's death, Daria and Alex set off in search of the legendary box of the Pandors'. The box is famed to hold a secret of power—one strong enough to overcome Lord Eris and the shield of power he stole from Valdon. Daria doesn't know where the box is hidden, but she can't ignore the silent urging, beckoning her to the land of Pendel—the land her mother, Aurora Pandor, was from.

Time is running out. Lord Eris's army of shadowguard vastly outnumber Valdon's forces, and if Daria doesn't find the box in time, Valdon will need reinforcements from the other territories to survive. But those territories will not hand over their armies willingly, not without Daria's hand in marriage.

And there is another, older power rising, one that hasn't been seen in centuries—one thought lost since the days of Galahad: the dragons.


Excerpt

Danton's eyes bore into mine. "My father is not a traitor, nor has he refused you. He asks only for your sister. It is a small request after a lifetime of servitude to King Darius, who has only used and exploited his service. He will not spare any more of his men, otherwise. He's spared more than his share over the years—you know he has."
I leveled my gaze with his. "I am not my grandfather, Danton. I am grateful for everything your father has given to this realm, but I cannot and will not grant your request. If the proposal is accepted, it will be because she has accepted it."
Danton's eyes slid back to the river. His expression remained cool, though the rigidity in his posture professed that an inferno blazed inside of him.
"I should inform you that Lord Vega has offered me the hand of his niece, Lady Isla Justine," he said evenly.
I had heard of this offer and I knew very well what it meant. If Danton accepted, Orindor would be united with Campagna and we would get no help from either side. Valdon would be completely and utterly isolated. "Will you accept?" I asked, careful not to give away my growing despair.
Danton's lips tightened. A gust of wind blew and ruffled his hair.
Seconds passed in heavy silence, and then Danton said, "Your sister would love me." His voice was quiet. "She may not at first, but I would be good to her. You know that I am a lot of things, but I would be good to her."
I inhaled, staring absently at the river. "I know."
After another few, quiet moments, Danton looked back at me. His expression was distant, his gaze resolved. "Your decision is final, then?"
"Danton, it was never my decision in the first place."



Book 2:

Winter has fallen upon Valdon.

It's been five months since Daria Regius arrived at the castle, and her grandfather, the king, has stripped her of all freedoms, building even more barriers around her lonely life.

But darkness moves. Rumors abound about a dark rider, sending ancient and unspeakable horrors to the territories, and the citizens of Gaia are filled with fear. And fear blurs the lines of loyalty and trust, honor and allegiance, and cultivates dissonance throughout the kingdom. The people are anxious for this year's games, because this year, according to prophecy, selecting a champion means a true king can be chosen, and only once that true king is chosen can the people have any hopes of defeating the evil amassing around them.

Propelled by fear for those she loves, unexpected friendships, and harrowing betrayal, Daria must gain the courage to escape the barriers set around her life and confront the evil that threatens to destroy Gaia—before it finds her and takes her life first.




Book 1:


For centuries, the people of Gaia have kept their magical world a secret to protect Earth from themselves. But magic can't save them from the evil they face within. The key to their salvation lies with eighteen-year old Daria Jones, a young girl from Earth with no magical ability at all.

Or so she thought.

Her father's mysterious disappearance from their Fresno, California home sets a whirlwind of events in motion, and Daria soon learns where to find him. The only problem is that she's learned this information from Alex—the guy she grew up with. The guy that was her very best friend until three years ago when he left without a trace. But now he's back (and devastatingly handsome. Unfortunately.) And he's claiming that her father has been taken to a magical world—a magical world Alex has been all this time. The same magical world she must go to in order to save her father.

Now Daria has to decide whether to stay away from the guy that betrayed her, or to trust him with helping her find her father. But if this evil finds her first, she won't even get the choice.







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Guest Post: Fantasy World Building


Worldbuilding, especially in fantasy, is an extremely elaborate and excessive process. You are building an entire world. It has it's own topography, it's own climate, cultures, religion, politics, foods, trade, species—you name it. And even though it's fantasy, you still want an element of believability to it. Something readers can identify with and connect to emotionally, and to help them do that, you really need to develop every aspect of your fantasy world. Immerse them in it. Of course, some stories don't require you delve into every single, minute detail, but still. There's a lot of thoughtful building involved.
I remember daydreaming about these things as I'd been brainstorming my first book in this series. Of course, sometimes you don't know exactly what you're going to do in the story until you get there, because your plot is tied directly to this world you've created. How will your world propel your characters to act? How will your world drive conflict?
I've had to go about world building much as I go about novel writing—in layers. If I'd stood there and mapped out everything from the most costly spice to the average lifespan of a duråt (a creature from Breath of Dragons), I probably would've fallen over dead. No, I just got the basics down, and discovered the world with my main character, letting the plot and world building grow together in a sort of symbiotic relationship. Of course, this is only my process. Some of you may prefer to know every single aspect of your world before you begin writing the story.
Then each time I go back through a draft, I force myself to dig deeper. To stop taking things for granted, and see if I can create my own spin on an "every day object" that might better reflect the world I've created and further immerse the reader into this fantastical place. I really have to thank Ms. Rowling and Harry Potter for this, because in everything she created, nothing was what it seemed to be, and I've tried applying that rule to my own stories. Take food, for instance. You've made up an entirely different planet, with different landmasses and different creatures. Why assume the people there eat turkey—or even have turkey, for that matter? Why not think up some other kind of meat? Or maybe they don't even eat meat. If not, is there some reason why?
And take language, for instance. What kinds of sayings do they have and where did those sayings come from? You'll find the more questions you ask yourself about one of those "every day objects," the more questions you'll discover that beg answering. I always feel like a toddler when I'm focused on world building, because I sit there always asking "Why? Why? Why?"
It can be extremely overwhelming but it is also so much fun, and the more you challenge yourself, the more you'll be surprised by how rich and complex of a world you can create. I learn so much just by reading, seeing what other author's have done well, and there are so many great resources out there for helping you to consider all the attributes of a world that may not have even crossed your mind. Because the deeper you dig into your world, the more you'll immerse your reader, and the more believable and real it will become.