In Which We Arrive at the End Game

You’ve read my take on books one and two (or, if you haven’t, I totally just linked to them, so at your leisure…). Now, at long last, here’s my short ‘n’ sweet review for the final book of the Paradox Trilogy.

The Book: “Heaven’s Queen (Paradox #3)” by Rachel Bach.

Genre: Sci-Fi / Space Opera

Blurb: From the moment she took a job on Captain Caldswell’s doomed ship, Devi Morris’ life has been one disaster after another: government conspiracies, two alien races out for her blood, an incurable virus that’s eating her alive.

Now, with the captain missing and everyone – even her own government – determined to hunt her down, things are going from bad to impossible. The sensible plan would be to hide and wait for things to blow over, but Devi’s never been one to shy from a fight, and she’s getting mighty sick of running.

It’s time to put this crisis on her terms and do what she knows is right. But with all human life hanging on her actions, the price of taking a stand might be more than she can pay.

Heaven's Queen and Me

My Thoughts: It took me forever to get around to reviewing this (since my head has been in a fog of “Song Caster” launching and Camp NaNoWriMo writing and Bristol Renaissance Faire Town Crier-ing and and and…), so the details escape me, but this much I remember: Of the trilogy’s installments, this was the book that tried its darnedest to make me cry. Though she got there kicking and screaming, Devi’s finally letting her heart have something closer to an equal say with her head, which means more emotions to cope with – both for her, and for me as the reader – particularly as, with a universe-wide battle raging on, there are bound to be some hard losses. But I’m not about to spoil things by saying what the gains and losses are. If you want answers, make like Deviana Morris and go after them, guns blazing.

HSYRT? (Hey, Should You Read This?): It’s Rachel Aaron/Bach. Am I going to tell you not to read this?

Your Thoughts: Put ‘em in the comments, and I’ll know!

A Little Christmas Mad-gic (Jack and the Genre-nauts, Act 1)

W.A.I.T. Button, 78 percent

“Welcome, one and all,” says Will Scarlet, with a broad smile and a bow, “to Will & Allyn’s Interactive Theatre!”

“Every Saturday,” says Allyn-a-Dale, “Will and I and our friends from the story world of ‘The Outlaws of Avalon ’ trilogy—”

“Coming one of these days to a book retailer near you!”

“—Will take at random two of the suggestions gleaned from you, our gentle audience, and incorporate them into… well, the sort of tomfoolery Will calls entertainment.”

“So make yourselves comfortable,” says Will, “as we now present to you: ‘A Little Christmas Mad-gic’!”

<<<>>>

[The curtain rises on a prop house with a faux-snow-covered roof in front of a starry black backdrop. Walking across the top ridge is Allyn-a-Dale, dressed in a nicely tailored Santa Claus suit, a stuffed sack slung over his shoulder.]

Allyn/Santa: Hi-ho, ho, ho, one more chimney to go,

And then home at long last, my first Christmas test passed!

[Steps up to the roof’s chimney and leans over to peer inside.]

Allyn/Santa: Hold a moment. There’s something curious about this one… whoa, WHOA!

[Between the slippery snow and the destabilizing weight on his back, he loses his balance and pitches headfirst into the chimney. While colorful lights flicker, the house turns (having been built on a rotating platform), its hollow back side revealing Allyn spinning around in a horizontally revolving cylinder, like a sock in a clothes dryer. The starry backdrop rises out of sight, revealing a sunshiny, picturesque garden scene, bordered with trees. The house’s platform base having wheels as well as rotation capabilities, it spins and rolls its way offstage, Allyn tumbling out as it disappears into the wings.]

Allyn/Santa [stumbling dizzily up to his feet ]: What in the world…?

[With the house of the way, the stage right tree becomes viewable to the audience, along with Will Scarlet lounging on one of the branches in a long-tailed coat and a top hat embellished with ribbons, feathers, and pins.]

Will/Hatted Stranger [grinning widely ]: What in which world? And where in what world? And why, of all worlds, are you here?

Allyn/Santa: That’s what I’d like to know. I was about to make a delivery of gifts to the home of the Rabbit family when—

Will/Hatted Stranger: Which Rabbit? What Rabbit?

Allyn/Santa: White Rabbit, if I rightly recall the list I checked twice.

Will/Hatted Stranger [grinning more widely still ]: Whoopsy-daisy, that’ll do it! Fell down the rabbit hole; it all makes sense!

Allyn/Santa [frowning ]: Sense? It makes no sense at all.

Will/Hatted Stranger: No sense, nonsense, only sense to be found here is none-sense. Welcome to Wonderland!

Allyn/Santa [moaning ]: Oh, for pity’s sake. I only just completed one crazy quest in time for the Christmas rush. I don’t want any more madness!

Will/Hatted Stranger [laughing manically ]: Bad news for you, friend! We’re all mad, here. And you’re addressing the maddest of them all! [sweeps off hat in a bow-like gesture ] Artifice Cheshirecott, at your service – more commonly called the Mad Hatter.

Gotta love a little mashup madness. ;D

Gotta love a little mashup madness. ;D

Allyn/Santa [bows with a sigh ]: Jack Snow at yours – more commonly called Santa Claus. Now, would you be so good as to help me get home?

Will/Hatter [hopping down from the branch ]: More than good, I’ll be great! Where do you live, Santa Jack?

Allyn/Santa: In the northern polar region of Fairytale Forest.

Will/Hatter: Fairytales? Tsk, tut, you’re well off the track. Wonderland isn’t strictly a part of the fairytale genre, though you’ll find a lot of overlap – hence your stumbling in, just now.

Allyn/Santa [relieved ]: So getting back should be easy.

Will/Hatter: Should be, yes. Will be? [more mad laughter ] Oh, no! I mean to milk this plot twist for all it’s worth. Let our serial genre-hopping adventure begin!

<<<>>>

“Aaaand SCENE!” says Will.

“Thank you to audience members Susan Francino and Miranda McNeff,” says Allyn, “for providing us with the inspiration ‘hat or hats’ and ‘artifice’.”

“If you enjoyed yourselves,” Will says, “(or if you didn’t, but you totally did, right?), don’t forget to leave suggestions for future productions in the comments! Words or phrases we’ve got to include, a prop to use, a prompt to run with… anything goes! ‘Til next time, friends:  Will and Allyn out!”

I, HUMPTY, You Humpty, We All— No, Wait…

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.

But if they threw their resources together, they might be able to fund the famous egg’s upcoming biography. And yoooooou can help!

I, Humpty cover

My friend and fellow reteller of fairytales, Eric Wilder of The Grimm Report, has assembled a collection of his once-upon-a-tabloids into I, Humpty, a book which I had the privilege of giving an early read. Behold, my review:

These aren’t your grandmother’s fairy tales! For that matter, they’re not your children’s, either. I, Humpty assembles the lurid scandals behind the curtain of fairy dust, from the courtroom dramas of Hansel and Gretel to the financial felonies of Robin Hood and Rumpelstiltskin – from the marital ups and downs between Beauty and The Beast to conspiracy theories of Wonderland and Oz – with gossip surrounding celebrities from Sleeping Beauty to Cinderella and, of course, the shell-breaking life story of the titular Humpty Dumpty. Shocking, silly, and sometimes hitting closer to home than one would expect from stories begun in lands so far, far away, this is journalism that doesn’t flinch from the grimmer side of “once upon a time”. Fans of the likes of TheOnion.com and James Finn Garner’s Politically Correct Bedtime Stories should find much to enjoy in I, Humpty.

To cover the costs of book production, Eric’s got a Kickstarter going, with thank-you gifts including such tempting items as the originals of I, Humpty’s hand-drawn illustrations (courtesy of artist Anna Milioutina) , signed copies of Our Brother’s Grimmest (a collection featuring articles from an assortment of contributors to The Grimm Report, including two by yours truly!), and even a shot at sainthood. Seriously.

Read all about it HERE, and do consider chipping in. If the project meets its goal, Humpty Dumpty’s not the only one who’ll crack up. ;D

 

Relax, I Read a Ninja Novel

My childhood of learning martial arts under duress notwithstanding, I looked forward to giving this novel a try ever since I took notice of the author talking it up on Twitter. How’d the book measure up against my hopes? Find out, after these messages! (And by messages, I mean the usual details that precede the actual review portion of my review posts.)

The Book: “Relax, I’m a Ninja” by Natalie Whipple.

Genre: Urban Fantasy YA

Blurb: A Clan of ninjas in San Francisco may sound improbable—but as the son of a ninja master, Tosh Ito knows what lurks in the shadows of his city. Or at least he thought he did.

When a killer with a poisoned blade starts cutting down teens, Tosh enlists Amy Sato—newest ninja recruit and his best friend’s crush—and sets out to uncover the killer’s identity. What they find is ninjutsu more evil than they could have ever imagined.

As Amy and Tosh grow closer, they discover their connection unleashes a legendary power that could stop the murders. Problem is, that power may be exactly what the killer is looking for, and wielding it could cost them both their souls.

Me with my copy of the book. I know, you can’t see me. I’m just that ninja-sneaky.

Me with my copy of the book. I know, you can’t see me. I’m just that ninja-sneaky.

My Thoughts: I’d call this one a solid read. I could have done with less training and waiting around bits and more this-is-not-a-drill ninja action on top of the Golden Gate Bridge or something to really get my blood racing, but that was my only real complaint.

I like that the story didn’t go for the obvious. (Because, really, wouldn’t we want a ninja book to be sneakier than that?) Plenty of plot points and character revelations caught me by surprise, or veered in a direction I hadn’t predicted. So props to the author for that, and props to Tosh for being pretty much made for his role as narrator, laying down the facts and expressing his inner conflict well, never leaving me feeling disconnected or frustrated with him for being dense/crazy repetitive/otherwise super annoying.

As for the romance, it felt startlingly normal. And I do totally mean that in a positive way. Like, there were the flirty parts, the mushy parts, the episodes of drama – not to mention the supernatural element – and none of it was completely over-the-top or ridiculously scripted or felt like, “oh, brother, tell me people in real life wouldn’t behave like this.” And can I just say, in a literary world full of those “oh, brother…” romances, I really appreciated that. So more props to Tosh, Amy, and their author lady.

HSYRT? (Hey, Should You Read This?): If I told you that this book legit ninja-flipped out of my hands when I reached the last page, would you give this book a read? Because I kid you not.

Your Thoughts: Put ‘em in the comments, and I’ll know!

The Song is Cast! (“Song Caster” Launch Week)

And now, at last, the day we’ve long awaited: The official Launch Day of “The Song Caster”!

Song Caster Cover, resize<> ~ <> ~ <>

The dull doom of impending marriage at his back and a reticent royal at his side, remarkable minstrel Gant-o’-the-Lute is off in search of adventure, and you can be sure he finds it – complete with much music, magicked maidens, and a dangerous power so great, Lute might for once find himself outmatched.

The Song Caster

Book Four of The Wilderhark Tales

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The book’s available via Amazon (paperback and Kindle e-book), Barnes & Noble (NOOK e-book), and CreateSpace (paperback), itching with excitement to venture into your homes and wow you. (Hot tip: If you’ve purchased the paperback through Amazon, you can pick up the Kindle edition at the reduced price of $0.99!)

I’m celebrating in usual Wilderhark-Tale-release style, with “Song Caster”-related fun from here ‘til next Tuesday, at which time I’ll announce the Grand Prize winners in my Launch Week Giveaway!

Here’s how the giveaway works this time around:

The Prizes

Normally, this would be the part where I trot out a quartet of original art prints to hang on your walls. But as his novella states first thing, “Jackillen Gant was not the sort that could easily keep still.” So instead of stay-still posters, I’m giving out cross-country postcards!

Day 1’s winner will receive two postcards featuring illustrated lyrics to an original, never-before-seen-by-the-public Gant-o’-the-Lute song.

Day 2’s winner gets two postcards featuring illustrated lyrics to another original Gant-o’-the-Lute song, likewise never-before-seen-by-the-public.

Day 3’s winner gets two postcards featuring a piece of Gant-o’-the-Lute art by my friend/fan/fellow author, Tirzah Duncan.

Day 4’s winner shall have two postcards featuring a piece of Gant-o’-the-Lute art sketched by Tirzah and colored by yours truly.

''Song Caster'' prize postcards

Day 5’s winner will have their choice of any two postcard designs (as pictured above).

Day 6’s winner will get a pair each of all four designs.

For Day 7 – Grand Prize Day – we’ll have three winners. Two will receive select chapters of “The Song Caster” with Author/Character commentary (that’s right – Lute and I teamed up, for this one!), along with their choice of two postcard designs. And lucky number three gets my first proof paperback copy of “The Song Caster” (signed, of course!), as well as a pair each of all four postcards!

Pretty sweet swag, right? Totally makes you want to enter the giveaway, right? Well, here’s how you can:

Entry = Raffle Points

Sharing a selfie of you with your copy of the book is a totally welcome entry, by the way!

Sharing a selfie of you with your copy of the book is a totally welcome entry, by the way!

Post about “The Song Caster” and/or the giveaway on Facebook or Twitter = +1 (there is no limit on how many times you can do this; each new share earns you another point)

Buy an e-copy of “The Song Caster” = +7

Buy a paperback of “The Song Caster” = +10

Leave a review on Amazon and/or B&N and/or Goodreads of any available Wilderhark Tales title = +7 points for each (and yes, copy/pasting the same review to all sites is totally legit! …Reviewing without having actually read the books first? Not so much. Maybe don’t do that)

Buy a copy of “Cry of the Nightbird” by Tirzah Duncan = +10 (plus the warm glow that comes of knowing you’ve helped support my BFF’s upcoming wedding!)

Tra-la. Tons of points, easily earned. Just be sure to let me know when you’ve fulfilled a task (comment on this post, tag/mention me on Facebook/Twitter, whatever), and into the raffle your points go. I’ll announce the first two winners at the end of Thursday’s post – which, ooh-ah, shall be hosted by none other than Gant-o’-the-Lute himself. We’ll see you then!

Book Banner, Song Caster

The Flute Stone (“Song Caster” Tease and Giveaway!)

Book Banner, Song Caster

With a week and a day* until the release of “The Song Caster (Book Four of The Wilderhark Tales)”, I’ve decided to be a terrible tease and feed you excerpts of the novella set to launch on June 24, each accompanied by a mini-giveaway! The first happened here, the second here, and the third and last begins… now.

*At least, that’s the official launch day. Stick around ’til the end of the blog post for some exciting** pre-order info!

**Lute and I aren’t the only ones excited, right?

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With the air of one humoring another in the hopes of removing the other from one’s back, Benedeck looked where Lute indicated, his clear intention to look away again in the same instant. Yet, contrary to expectation, his gaze held.

“Oh!” he said in mild surprise. “Of course – I wonder that I did not realize we would happen across it while passing this way.”

It?” Lute asked.

“That landmark,” Benedeck clarified. “I’ve read of it. Many call it the Flute Stone, named for that narrow piece jutting out there. Curiously enough, that section is actually hollowed out in a markedly flute-like way. An eroding power of a river is an amazing thing – although naturally, the scientific explanation is nowhere near as popular as the fanciful one.”

“Hardly to be wondered at,” said Lute. “And the fanciful explanation is what, exactly?”

“It is said a wizard once fashioned a flute meant to control the world, but was displeased with the end result. Even so, he did not appreciate its theft by a brazen apprentice. The wizard caught up with the thief as he attempted to cross the river and, as punishment, turned him to stone, the flute still clutched in his hand.”

“The stone looks very little like a man,” Lute observed.

Benedeck rolled his eyes with something like amusement. “Very true. And wouldn’t you know that even the least scientific tale-tellers are perfectly willing to attribute that fact to erosion, even while saying also that, in spite of this ill-fated myth, any who brave the waters to blow the flute will gain good luck.”

“Is that so?” said Lute, eyes dancing. “I believe I should like to hear the music of such a flute.”

“You shall do no such thing,” Benedeck told him, “for the Flute Stone, though musically named, has never sounded a note.”

“No? Well, perhaps none with my musical ability have ever set their lips to it. Let us see if Gant-o’-the-Lute cannot make the Flute Stone sound. Be so good as to hold my fishing rod and mind my lute in my absence, Your Highness?”

Benedeck only stared at him. “You would attempt such a crossing now? With a river swollen with lately-melted snow sweeping one way and hundreds of trout swarming the other?”

“Certainly, I would,” Lute replied, already charting the course he would take. A flying leap ought to take him to that barely submerged boulder. (It will be slippery, he reminded himself. Watch the landing.) Another leap from the boulder should land him safely on the rocky shelf opposite. (No space for a running start there, so…) From thence to a second boulder – a shorter jump. And even if he missed his ultimate target on his fourth jump, the river’s current would bear him in the desired direction. (But of course, he thought without doubt, I will not miss.)

Benedeck uttering nervous protests all the way, the first steps of Lute’s plan were carried out, the amateur acrobat even throwing in a few aerial somersaults for showmanship’s sake. The bound to the submerged boulder was flawlessly executed, and he vaulted to the far side of the river with equal ease. The trouble lay in his leap to the second boulder – or more to the point, the trouble lay in the fact that the second boulder was not a boulder, but rather the back and shoulders of a large brown bear, now startled out of its preoccupation with trout fishing.

“LUTE!” shouted Benedeck.

“Whoops!” said Lute.

ROWRRR!” roared the bear.

Faced with these unexpected developments, Lute did the only sensible thing: Carried on with his plan by catapulting himself off of the angry bear’s shoulders and through the air, landing lightly on the contorted form of the Flute Stone.

“Triumph!” he crowed.

Behind you, you idiot!” Benedeck screamed.

Lute twisted around – not to face the animal shambling belligerently toward him, but to be in a better position to place his fingers and lips on the Flute Stone’s pipe-like appendix and blow.

And above the rush of the river, the snarls of the bear, and the panicked noises originating from Benedeck sounded a clear, mellifluous musical note.

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To be continued in full on June 24, release day for “The Song Caster”!

And now, for mini-giveaway number three! Leave a blog comment — OR order an early copy of the “Song Caster” paperback or NOOK book! — between now and the end of Friday, and from the commenters / those who provide some manner of proof of purchase, I shall randomly select one winner to receive the signed “Song Caster” bookmark pictured here.

Benedeck, color final

Back after his introduction way back in “The Stone Kingdom”, it’s Crown Prince Benedeck of Peasequay, as realized by my valued Wilderhark artist, Yana Naumova! Now comment and pre-order away, my dears, and I’ll have Will and Allyn announce the winner after their Interactive Theatre skit this Saturday. (:

Spontaneous Build-a-Stories

It’s practically inevitable: Get two or more writers together, and the next thing you know, they’re making things up. Often enough, it’s just a lot of trading entertaining lies back and forth. Every now and then, though, you end up with something resembling an actual story.

Like, with a plot.

And death. There is frequently death.

Sometimes, the story-making’s intentional from the get-go – like the time I joined the Creative Writing Club of Wisconsin Lutheran College for an off-the-cuff writing game. Other times, it kinda just happens – like that other time on Twitter when Sarnic Dirchi* and I somehow found ourselves with a phantom dentist on our hands.

(* Yes, that Sarnic Dirchi – she of the awesome author-to-reader interview centered ‘round INSPIRED.)

Y’know what’s great about both these times? I’ve actually got documentation of each story in my possession, meaning I get to share them with you! *the peasants rejoice*

<<<>>>

Story 1: “It’s Never Happened This Way Before…” by Danielle E. Shipley, Katyln Rogers, Nathan Kelly, and Megan Ann Jacobs

It’s never happened this way before.

He usually just makes my drink without any sort of social interaction.

Now he’s asking after my family, how work is going, and have I finished that book yet?

The strange thing is that I don’t remember ever telling him about my book.

I don’t remember telling anyone.

Has he been watching me?

Cautiously, I sip my drink as he tends to the other patrons.

The drink tastes funny.

At once, I remember every murder case the news ever aired.

I also remember the case I was working on last month.

No culprit was ever found, but we had a clue.

The man making me my drinks.

I sip more slowly, my mouth stalling for time as I try to puzzle out the flavor and what it might mean for my continued health.

Suddenly, I recognize the taste, and my heart leaps within me.

Apples!, the flavor the murderer used to mask his poison!

I rushed to the payphone, knowing it was too late.

The Mackintosh Murderer has killed again.

<<<>>>

Story 2: “#PhantomDentist”, a tale told in segments of 140 characters or less by Danielle E. Shipley and Sarnic Dirchi

And so it begins…

And so it begins…

*creeak* The girl turned, brushing her hair out of her eyes. “Hello?” she asked uncertainly. Behind her, a drill whirred.

The hollow eye sockets of the phantom dentist bore into her like a root canal. A chilling whisper: “Let’s see those chompers.”

She gagged as decay and drilled bone whiffed over her. She should be screaming. In fact, she would. “AAAHHH!” She turned to run.

The phantom dentist’s chair ro-o-ose into the girl’s path. Escape cut off, she was yanked back by a lasso of unwaxed floss.

This was her worst nightmare come true. “Let me go!” She struggled. “I floss twice a day! What more do you want?”

The phantom dentist leaned in, uber-whitened smile gleaming. “What more I want,” he said, “is your wisdom teeth. OPEN WIDE!”

“But I got them out two years ago! You can’t take what’s not there Mr. Crazy Ghost Dentist.” She firmly clenched her mouth shut.

The phantom dentist wailed. “Then what is left for me?” W/ a chill in the air sharp as spearmint mouthwash, he vanished.

She exhaled. “Hopefully a date with the Tooth Fairy if, she’ll have you,” she muttered, looking about. “Hey! You need to untie me!”

She received no answer but for the endless suck, suck, suck of that tube dentists stick in your mouth, little knowing…

…the tube was sucking her life force away. Soon, she would be as the phantom dentist: Cursed to roam for teeth…forever.

Her skin paled as the tube sucked away her life, taking on a see-through quality. “Help me,” she whispered, weakening. “Please.”

But none could hear her, their ears all numbed by the phantom dentist’s last malicious gift: Aural Novocain.

<<<>>>

Like I said. Creation and death. We writers ARE the Circle of Life!

Mic’s on you, readers! How’d you enjoy the stories? ~ Any favorite lines? ~ Have you and your friends ever found yourselves creating spontaneous build-a-stories of your own? ~ If you weren’t scared of the dentist hitherto, how ‘bout now?

On Adventure (“Song Caster” Tease and Giveaway!)

Book Banner, Song Caster

With three weeks and a day until the release of “The Song Caster (Book Four of The Wilderhark Tales)”, I’ve decided to be a terrible tease and feed you excerpts of the novella to come. You shall have three before the book’s launch on June 24, each accompanied by a mini-giveaway! The first happened here, and the second begins… now.

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“What’s this all about, sire?”

“That is more or less my question to you,” Villem said, his expression full of gentle concern. “You have seemed preoccupied today, Lute. Discontented. Restless. What is it that troubles you?”

Lute’s lips tugged into a rueful smile. “What troubles me, Your Majesty,

Is perhaps a foolish and selfish thing.

It is just, today, my dear Viralei

Did something quite sobering say.”

“And what was that?” Villem asked, taking in stride the musical turn his friend’s side of the conversation had taken.

“In essence?” Lute sighed. “Said she, ‘Oh, when, my Jackillen,

Will marriage our lengthy engagement end?

Will you settle down, stop your wandering ‘round,

And accept, now, your Crown Prince’s crown?’”

Rosalba’s brow furrowed. “Do you not wish to marry Viralei?”

“Most assuredly, I do,” Lute answered. “I wish very much to marry Viralei. I am much less enthused, however, at the prospect of marrying the kingdom of Carillon. I do not now, nor have I ever, desired to be a royal. I cannot imagine I am suited to all that comes hand in hand with such a rank.”

Villem could empathize. “I felt much the same, in the beginning,” he said. “There is such a great responsibility pertaining to—”

“Pfft, responsibility,” said Lute. “It’s boring! Sitting on a throne all day, getting dressed up for meetings with Lord This and Duke That and Count Wha’-do-you-call-‘im, next-to-never setting foot outside the castle walls unless it’s to parade down the streets so your subjects can wave at you, or – if you’re lucky – go to war, somewhere…  except that we never have any wars,” he sulked, “perhaps because the never-ending tedium of royalty has sapped the spirit right out of any would-be warmongers.”

“You want war?” cried an appalled Rosalba.

“Not war. Freedom! Excitement! Facing giants, rescuing damsels, matching wits with a riddler and staves with a highwayman! Crisscrossing the countryside in search of obstacles to overcome, and then besting them! Or even as little as watching the sun rise from a different viewpoint every morning – today from the valley, tomorrow the mountain, the next day the sea, the day beyond a mystery!” Lute’s eyes implored his audience. “Have you never wished this?”

“I think,” said Edgwyn, “that you and I must have very different ideas about excitement. Expertly woven cloth is exciting. Watching my children play and grow is exciting. Being called for supper after a long, hungry afternoon is exciting. Trouble for trouble’s own sake? That just makes me queasy.”

Lute grimaced in clear disappointment. “Cloth?” he said. “Children? Supper? Dear me. You see what princely life does to a person. Or is it your advancing age which has made you so dull?”

“If that is truly how you feel, Lute,” said Villem, “then, as I see it, you have three options: One, relinquish Viralei for a life of what you call excitement. Two, relinquish your life of what you call excitement for Viralei. Or three, convince Viralei to relinquish her life for yours.”

Lute shook his head. “I could never ask that third of her. As you began to say, before I so rudely interrupted,” – here he offered the king a bow of apology – “royalty is a responsibility. It would be unfair of me to force Viralei to choose between who she is meant to be, and me. Nor could I bear to be parted from Viralei forever.” He sighed. “No, I must marry her. There’s nothing for it. But…”

Watching Lute’s eyes shift through their tri-color cycle, Villem got the sense he knew what was coming next.

“We have waited this long. Would one season more really matter? One adventure more before I cage myself in?”

“Seeking out adventure,” Villem mused. “Are you sure that is wise?”

Lute shrugged carelessly. “If it is not wise,

I shall be the wiser for it

On the other side.

Just as crushing grapes

Down to next-to-naught’s what makes the

Sweetest kind of wine.

The firing of gold makes it shine all the purer.

Of this I’m full certain – am of nothing surer:

Though it beat you down –

Run you ragged, strain you, drain you

‘Til you’re nearly dry –

The adventure that

Doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,

Braver, true, and wise.

“That’s the beauty of adventure, Villem. That’s why I’m not prepared to give it up, just yet. If anything, the fact I still think I need it only proves that I do. And of course,” he added, with a winsome smile, “the best adventures are faced with friends. Perhaps Your Majesty, having so recently been granted a second chance at life, would enjoy living it on the edge for a while? Or, hmm…” The minstrel paused to play with the sounds of speech. “‘Edge for a while’… Edgwyn Wyle… What say you to a while on the edge, Edgwyn? One final fling, you and I?”

“No, thank you,” Edgwyn said with some vehemence. “After that close call of the Seventh Spell, I am all flung out.”

“As am I,” Villem seconded. “I’m afraid you’re on your own for this one, Lute.”

Breaking her silence of several moments, Rosalba said, “Maybe not.”

Villem raised an eyebrow at his daughter. “Are you thinking of joining him?”

“Not me, no. But if Lute is correct in saying adventure works such wonders for a person’s character…” The princess’s eyes took on a faraway look. “I think I may know someone for whom a proper adventure could be just the thing.”

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To be continued, in part, soon enough. To be continued, in full, on June 24, release day for “The Song Caster”!

And now, for mini-giveaway number two! Leave a blog comment between now and the end of Friday, and from the commenters I shall randomly select one winner to receive the signed “Song Caster” bookmark pictured here.

Emmelea, color final

Joining the “Song Caster” cast in her Wilderhark debut, say hello to Emmelea, as realized by my valued Wilderhark artist, Yana Naumova! Now comment away, my dears, and I’ll have Will and Allyn announce the winner after their Interactive Theatre skit this Saturday. ^_^

 

No Good Men, But a Darn Good Book

Every now and then, there’s this book that it seems like absolutely everybody is raving about, and I glance at the premise to see if it sounds even remotely up my alley, and what do you know, it actually kind of does, and eventually I just reach the point where I scream in surrender and buy the book, praying it will at least halfway live up to the hype.

Yup, that was the case with the book to be reviewed below. Consider this my contribution to the hype.

The Book: “Vicious” by V.E. Schwab

Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy…whatever you call a superhero comic book movie of a novel.

Vicious by V.E. Schwab

BlurbA masterful, twisted tale of ambition, jealousy, betrayal, and superpowers, set in a near-future world.

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

In Vicious, V. E. Schwab brings to life a gritty comic-book-style world in vivid prose: a world where gaining superpowers doesn’t automatically lead to heroism, and a time when allegiances are called into question

My Thoughts: In a word, I’d call the book “interesting”. Not “interesting” in the diplomatic way you use it when you’re not sure yet what else you can say about a thing. “Interesting” in that it kept a firm grip on my interest. It didn’t have me racing through the pages in a panic to know what came next; it was too calm a thing for that. But when I was reading, it made me want to read on. And when I wasn’t reading, it made me rather wish I were.* Though I wasn’t emotionally hijacked, I was nonetheless totally invested. I’m not even sure how the heck Schwab pulled that off. (I wonder how much the extraordinary touch of Victor Vale** may have had to do with it.)

* (And once I’d finished reading it, I was bummed for about a day, then shrugged and started rereading it, ‘cause YOLO.)

** (And since it’s asterisk time, can I just say: I love the thing Victor does with Sharpies. It totally goes against my personal code, but no matter; it’s still cool when he does it.)

“There are no good men in this game.”

So spake one of the characters, and may well have spoken true. There was no pure white, and no solid black, leaving the reader to choose a shade of gray to root for. The villain or his wicked archnemesis; pick your pleasure. There were characters I liked more than others, characters I very much wished not to die, and characters for whom I wished the opposite. It was harder to find characters I couldn’t pity. Even the worst of the bad guys had their sympathetic half-a-moments.

HSYRT? (Hey, Should You Read This?): For someone (like me) who frequently finds herself drawn to the villains of a tale by their dark complexity, “Vicious” is a book to savor.

Whaddaya think, readers? Sound like a literary bandwagon you’d be game to hop on? You can sit by me. ^^

The Long-Awaited Reunion (“Song Caster” Tease and Giveaway!)

Book Banner, Song Caster

With a little over a month until the release of “The Song Caster (Book Four of The Wilderhark Tales)”, I’ve decided to be a terrible tease and start feeding you excerpts of the novella to come. You shall have three, spread out between now and the book’s launch on June 24, each accompanied by a mini-giveaway! And the first begins… now.

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Jackillen Gant was not the sort that could easily keep still. He never had been.

His mother had often recounted, during his childhood, her months of discomfort as the yet-unborn Jackillen perpetually wriggled and squirmed inside of her, as if with impatience to be let free. It was a running joke among the traveling entertainers who made up his extended family of sorts that they had not made the decision to become a caravan until Jackillen came along, at which point they realized they needed to stay on the move simply to keep up with him. He had even been known, on several occasions, to walk in his little-needed sleep – once, somnambulating halfway across a tightrope one of the caravan’s acrobats had neglected to take down for the night. (It might well have been all the way across, had Jackillen not awakened at the midpoint, startled, and promptly fallen off. The moment his broken leg mended, he made it a point to learn how to walk a tightrope while wide awake.) In light of his wanderlust, Jackillen’s eventual career choice was absolutely ideal, as constant travel was a large part of the job description.

Thus it was that Jackillen Gant – better known now as the minstrel Gant-o’-the-Lute – found himself striding briskly along a country lane on the last leg of his leisurely weeklong journey between his home (or the place to which he returned most often, and therefore referred to as home) in Emmett Down, kingdom of Anuranda, and his destination of Cersegg, kingdom of Denebdeor.

As he strolled along, whistling more prettily than many a songbird, Lute looked forward to his latest professional engagement – a double celebration in honor of two pairs of the unlikeliest friends any minstrel ever had.

The first two for which the festivity was to be held were also the hosts of the event, their castle home providing the space for the occasion: Villem and Ursula Deere, king and queen of Denebdeor. Today marked the royal couple’s fortieth wedding anniversary – a date which, six months previously, a terminally ill King Villem had resigned himself to not living to see. Queen Ursula, significantly less resigned, had pleaded with a witch to do her magical utmost to cure her husband. The result had been, in a word, disastrous. But much stress, confusion, determination, and sheer good luck later, Villem had indeed been made well, even making a friend of Gant-o’-the-Lute in the process.

The second pair of honored guests was also a royal couple involved in the chaos of half-a-year ago: Gaol and Millyanna, king and queen of Terrestaire. More accurately, the guests of honor from Terrestaire were a trio, for Gaol and Millyanna brought with them to Denebdeor their first child and primary reason for rejoicing, a three-week-old prince to be christened that very day.

There would be others in attendance Lute was eager to see – one in particular, from whom he had been separated all the winter long, and had yearned for just as much as he had the mild spring air he now breathed and which gently ruffled his fair ginger-gold hair.

Soon,” he sang to himself, strumming his namesake instrument.

Soon we’ll be together again, my love, my dear.

Soon I’ll see your lovely smile once more.

Soon your golden voice – singing, laughing – I will hear.

Oh, what a reunion is in store!

Reunion. Yes, that was what this day was really about, so far as Lute was concerned.

Anniversaries are fine –

Like babies, have their times and places;

But primary motive, mine,

Is sight of old, familiar faces.

“Emphasis on ‘old’,” he murmured, bracing himself as he entered the Denebdeorian castle grounds. While the affair that had first thrown them all together (even as it threw them apart) had taken place only six months ago, Lute had been one of the few of those involved whose age had not dramatically changed for the magic’s duration. His twenty-year-old body had gone back less than a year in time, while others had aged fifteen years in reverse – and still others, close to three times that. How familiar would some of the faces really be, after all?

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To be continued, in part, soon enough. To be continued, in full, on June 24, release day for “The Song Caster”!

And now, for the first mini-giveaway! Leave a blog comment between now and the end of Friday, and from the commenters I shall randomly select one winner to receive the signed “Song Caster” bookmark pictured here.

Gant-o’-the-Lute, color final

That’s right, a bookmark featuring Gant-o’-the-Lute himself, as realized by my valued Wilderhark artist, Yana Naumova! So comment away, my dears, and I’ll have Will and Allyn announce the winner after their Interactive Theatre skit this Saturday!