The Stranger-Than-True Book Club: Deeper into the Deathsong

Welcome back to the first-ever coming together of the Stranger-Than-True Book Club – an assortment of Deshipley characters joined in discussion about, in this instance, Danielle’s upcoming high-seas fantasy “Deathsong of the Deep”. I’m your merry moderator, Lady Marion Hood, of Outlaws of Avalon fame. To read Part One of the club meeting, click here. Now, on to Part Two. Laraspur, I believe you wanted in particular to gush about the relationships?

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Laraspur (Princess of Denebdeor/Queen of Welken, from The Wilderhark Tales): I did, and I do! I could go on about them for ages, but I’ll try to stay succinct. My first favorite pair, of course, is Molly and Crow. I love watching their estimations of each other develop over the course of time and conversation and adventure.

Uri (skater girl and Fire of God, from the “Inspired” novels): Time, conversation, and adventure – the holy trinity behind half your Wilderhark romances.

Nicky (genderless super ghost-whisperer, from “So Super Dead”): Well, any relationship that doesn’t have conversation behind it can’t hope to go far. The “Deathsong” characters seem pretty good about talking to each other, though. …Excepting maybe Blue Gracie, who’s more the type to only speak when it won’t communicate too much. Y’know how magical, mystical characters be like.

Lar: Speaking of Blue Gracie, I also very much enjoyed her relationship with Crow. Something about the way they wanted to be present together, even if neither one was in a real position to do much for the other. A sweet and a sad sort of caring.

Lucianíel (light elemental, muse, and fictional father figure, from the “Inspired” novels): There was quite a variety of caring to be found aboard the Painted Lady. Crow’s, often cavalier and inexpert. Anafrid’s, austere but dependable…

Lar: Oh, it was nice watching Anafrid care for Blue Gracie! Unlike Crow, Anafrid didn’t even seem to get anything out of it. She was just being kind.

U: Being kind, or flirting?

N: Anafrid didn’t come off the least bit flirty to me.

U: We don’t know how they flirt in Sjorda.

Luc: There’s nothing definitive in text about whether Anafrid is attracted to women, to men, or to no one at all. Subtextually, though, one could make inferences.

Marion: Speaking of Sjorda, what think we of the countries and cultures created specially for “Deathsong”?

Luc: Well, Danielle didn’t spend a great deal of page space delving into any of them. Even so, what little time she devoted to painting pictures of Sjorda’s cold (environmentally and culturally), Chesney’s shallow beauty, and the coarse, homely character of Hornwhal’s Lower Lee did much toward hinting at a convincingly diverse world.

N: Don’t forget the seafaring culture that fascinated Molly so hard. You could peg her for a water girl long before she ever ditched the land.

Lar: Just like Jessica! – Molly and Jessica being another favorite pairing of mine, by the way.

M: I do love me a womance in fiction.

U: A what now?

M: Womance. Female equivalent of bromance. Gal pals to the next level – like, I don’t know, you and Gabriel, or… are there any Wilderhark examples, Lar?

Lar: I’d say Father and Millyanna, but one’s a man.

M: Ah, well. In any case, yes, Molly and Jessica were proper mates. Really, it’s a bit remarkable the number of relationships Molly considered equally important to the one between her and Crow. First her and Jessica, then her and little Johnny…

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Lar: SO precious!

U: It’s like girl protagonists have space to have friends and be mothering and obsess over sea monsters and fall for the male lead. Who knew?

N: My book’s girl protagonist didn’t have space for any of that. I guess afterlife vengeance quests take up a lot of bandwidth.

M: So I’d imagine. Any more favorite relationships, Laraspur, before we move on for good?

Lar: Murdoch and Crow gave me feelings, and, I don’t know, I’m glad Semsen has Anafrid, since she seems to be the only one who halfway sees him.

Luc: I expect that’s because Crow’s shame has stopped him looking.

M: Quick question for each of you: If you had to pick one, would you rather be a seiren, a mershade, or one of the seal folk?

U: If Dis were my goddess? Definitely a seiren. The power of flight and a voice made for vengeance. I’m practically qualified already.

Lar: I’d far rather be a mershade and rescue sailors in need. …Even though it means I’d have to die first.

N: Hey wait, does that mean I’d be like the only regular person who could talk to mershades whenever we want to, not just if I’m about to drown?

U: You’re never regular, but maybe.

N: Cool! In any case, I’d pick being a mershade, too. Superhero ghost mermaids for the win!

Luc: I’ve not been shown enough about the lifestyle of seal men to know how well it would suit me. As for the lifestyle of a death creature like a seiren, it’s all a bit too centered around destruction, for my taste. I suppose that leaves the afterlife of a mershade for me, as well.

M: I expect I would love being part of a seal folk community. And fair warning to the men of land: You try to touch my skin without permission, you get knifed.

Lar: Even in an AU where the land man is Robin Hood and his motives are nobler than his methods?

M: Depending on how well he could explain himself, I might apologize afterward for the stabbing. One more item, now, if we can squeeze it in: The plot. What elements of “Deathsong”s storyline grabbed you?

N: I’m hyped on the way Molly makes things happen. Like, her goals are always perfectly personal – nothing ‘world-saving huge’ about them – but when she wants a thing and a chance of getting it comes within reach, she jumps for it, no matter how crazy that chance looks on paper.

Luc: I appreciate the sharp turn it all takes, halfway through. The drastic change Molly undergoes. The sudden costs Crow has to face. Suddenly, it all goes deeper – again, ‘environmentally and’.

N: And just like that, it’s Kraken time for real!

U: I think it’s interesting how long it takes to figure out what’s up with the Aglatha arc. We hear this thing from one source, that thing from another, a contradiction further up the road, and then by the end it’s like… dang, that’s messed up. As is Crow, the more comes to light. It’s actually terrible, the stuff Danielle just puts her imaginary people through.

Luc: One could argue that it’s no intention of Danielle’s. Some authors… well, they are to their stories as her best minstrels are to their songs: The art isn’t fashioned, only found. And Crow’s backstory, alas, is one easily enough found outside of fiction.

Lar: I just love how everything comes together in the end. I don’t know whether one could call it a fairytale ending, but the deathsong’s closing notes hit me like a proper finale.

M: And on that closing note, thank you, you four, for making this book club discussion a fictional reality. And thank you, readers of the blog, for stowing away for the ride. 😉 Feel free to bring your own addition to the discourse in the comments, and forget ye not: “Deathsong of the Deep” is sailing your way, just one short month from now!

The Stranger-Than-True Book Club: Let’s Get #KrakenBook

Hello, everyone! Lady Marion Hood, here, to lead a new and exciting venture that entered Danielle’s imagination when she meant to be working on something else – because isn’t that just how the creative mind works?

Any readers who’ve kept up with the Ever On Word blog for a few years – (or who’ve explored the blog’s pages on a whim) – may recall a somewhat short-lived feature called the Stranger Than Truth Club, in which Danielle, Tirzah, and a variable number of their respective fictional friends came together to talk at each other until the authors found something quotable. The posts were good fun to create, but too much of a collaborative effort to keep up with any regularity. So since the club name has gone so long out of use, I am stealing it (in true outlaw fashion) for a same-but-different sort of club. In specific, the Stranger-Than-True Book Club! A collection of Deshipley characters come to converse on, in today’s case, Danielle’s soon-to-be-released #KrakenBook, “Deathsong of  the Deep”.

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First, the book’s summary:

Nineteen-year-old tavern girl Molly Worth needs a way out of the lackluster future she’s sure awaits in her small portside town. A miraculous living ship needs an ally willing to steal her away from what she’s sure will be her doom. It seems like a match ordained by the mystical Sea Queen herself, but the darkest power below has other plans for those who brave the deep.

Taken under the wing of a creature of myth, and absorbed into the uncommon crew commanded by one rakish Captain Crow, Molly begins to make her way toward the life she wants for herself, only to lose it all in an epic venture gone wrong. Now to regain what the monstrous Kraken destroyed requires that she weigh life against life, and life against death with the unnatural creature who sings to her soul.

From the author of fairytale saga “The Wilderhark Tales”, the “Outlaws of Avalon” legend, and “Inspired” love letters to the heart of creation, comes a high-seas fantasy of faith and doubt; of honor and love; and of tentacles.

Second, a brief introduction to the members of the club. Will everyone please state your name, your story world, and your role within it? Starting with you, Your Highness, then going ‘round clockwise.

stt book club - laraspurLar: Oh! As you like. Hello, I’m Laraspur, from the Wilderhark Tales – daughter of Queen Rosalba and King Edgwyn Wyle of Denebdeor, protagonist of “The Sun’s Rival”, and … something of a literal star of the heavens, by the end of things.

Uri, croppedU: The literal end of things. Been there. What up, I’m Uri from the “Inspired” novels. Skater girl, avenging angel, occasional clique leader of amateur author Annabelle Iole Gray’s character crew, when this guy’s not there to call the shots.

stt book club - lucLuc: ‘This guy’ being me – Lucianíel, elemental of light, principle muse to Annabelle, and co-guardian of our precious fictional children.

PowerPuff NickyN: Heya, I’m Nicky Ellenbogen-Jones, aka Xtra-Medium, from Danielle’s recent paranormal publication, “So Super Dead”. Mutant teen from the moon. Pronouns, s/he and himmer. Superpower, talking to dead people; in, like, a therapeutic way.

stt book club - marionM: And once again, I’m Marion, of Robin Hood’s Merry Men from Avalon Faire. I basically smile and try to keep the band from falling apart. Not always easy, that.

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N: Aw man, we’re logo-official? Sweet!
U: How much time did the author waste, making this?
Luc: Time spent in creation is never wasted.
M: Like an hour, though.
Lar: Well spent. ^_^

M: Now then! Onto the book discussion. First impressions of “Deathsong of the Deep”. Go!

N: Cool title! The death part. Like, is that a thing, with Danielle? Books full of death?

U: I mean, she did kill off my original author in the first few pages of “Inspired”. Not to mention the whole “Manta and the Mask” sub-story therein.

Lar: There’s not as much death to be found in the Wilderhark stories. But then, it’s a fairytale world. And on the other hand, the last book of the series was… Never mind. Death is everywhere.

Luc: Coming back to your opening question, Marion, I would call “Deathsong” an unusual book, even for Danielle. For one thing, she built the world herself, as opposed to her favored method of piggybacking off of established fairy tales, legends, or her own life. Even “So Super Dead” took place largely in a world like hers, just add vampires, werecats, superhuman moon colony, etc. “Deathsong” has its own geography and mythology, only borrowing fantasy creature types from various cultures to populate a wild new sea. It’s a different sort of creativity, for her, and the end result is… perhaps slightly profound.

U: I’m not a huge fan of her making up a sea goddess for it, but I get it. She was going through some stuff. Depression, exhaustion, theological disappointment. If she needed a bogus deity to help unpack and illustrate her dark night of the soul, I guess that’s what art is for.

M: Favorite characters, anyone?

Lar: Molly Worth is a treat! Sort of solemn but witty at the same time. Indomitable, and so deeply caring. She’d make a worthy princess, if she didn’t live on such a different story path.

Luc: I’d say a number of the characters exhibit a complexity I like. Each member of Captain Crow’s crew has a face they show and a passion they carry closer. Some of the passions get explored in text more thoroughly than others, but one can tell we’re dealing with people, not one-dimensional caricatures. If anything, I’m most intrigued by Anafrid, simply because we know the least about her.

U: I like Jessica. Not that I would probably want to spend much time with her, but I appreciate her heart’s devotion.

N: I— um, is it weird that I wanna say Kraken? ‘Cause, like, I get that he’s a monster, but…

U: But that’s your type.

N: I don’t have a type! I just… Part of him is dead, right? His humanity died. So he’d maybe eat me, but I’d wanna talk to him first.

M: I, for one, am here for Murdoch. Fun, friendly…

Lar: Plus-size positive!

M: …That! And a woman of color, to boot. If the crew of the Painted Lady were the Merry Men, Murdoch would easily be the Marion.

N: Ooh, ooh, who would everybody else be?

U: Anafrid = Little John, no contest.

M: They are both second-in-command and tall. Anafrid talks more than Little John, but then, who doesn’t? As for Captain Crow… not sure. He’s in charge like Robin, and has a not entirely dissimilar charm, but then he flashes that flirtatious smile that hides a tortured mind and hurting heart, and all you can think is ‘Will Scarlet’.

Lar: Father would love to design his coats. The style skews feminine, and womenswear has long been a favorite of the famed tailor-king.

N: Do we have an Allyn-a-Dale?

U: That would be Gracie – the mystery pulled in from out of nowhere who isn’t more than they seem, just more than anyone can name for certain, for a while. Also, blue.

N: Oh, yeah. That’d actually be blatant, if she’d done it on purpose.

Luc: Danielle has certainly done her share of blatant character copying. That is, as she’s readily admitted, the deliberate conceit behind the cast of “Inspired”. And if anything, Captain Crow is as much begotten of Wilderhark’s Gant-o’-the-Lute as am I. Blue Gracie, however, was based predominately on her author.

N: And I’m not seeing a match at all for Semsen.

U: Semsen doesn’t have half enough ‘merry’ in him for the Sherwood crowd. He wouldn’t make the worst knight in Camelot, though.

M: Well, this discussion is delightful, but also running long. What do you think, fellows? Should we break off and make it a two-parter? Come back next week?

N: I’m for that!

U: Why, is there more to say?

Lar: Is there! We haven’t even touched upon all the relationships! Or the locations, the magical creatures, the plot! We certainly must come back for that, if Danielle’s willing to host us again.

Luc: And why would she not be? Her characters posting in her stead is her favorite way to blog.

M: Then it’s settled. Characters, take five. And readers, take seven days. The Stranger-Than-True Book Club will return with further insights on “Deathsong of the Deep”. Stay tuned! Leave comments! And farewell!

Broken Chords, Broken People, Broken Hearts

Greeting, patrons of the blog. Allyn-a-Dale, here. Recently, you had … let’s call it the “pleasure” … of watching Will Scarlet and me perform a skit summarizing our author’s latest life changes, because Danielle doesn’t like to talk about herself. Today, I will be discussing a book she read, because Danielle doesn’t like to write book reviews.

Why when Danielle doesn’t like a task, that task half the time ends up falling to her characters, I’m sure I couldn’t tell you.

In any case, it’s fitting enough that I be the one to review this particular book – because while Danielle found it engaging, ‘twas I the book thoroughly wrecked. First, the summary from Goodreads:

An emotionally charged story of music, abuse and, ultimately, hope.

Beck hates his life. He hates his violent mother. He hates his home. Most of all, he hates the piano that his mother forces him to play hour after hour, day after day. He will never play as she did before illness ended her career and left her bitter and broken. But Beck is too scared to stand up to his mother, and tell her his true passion, which is composing his own music – because the least suggestion of rebellion on his part ends in violence.

When Beck meets August, a girl full of life, energy and laughter, love begins to awaken within him and he glimpses a way to escape his painful existence. But dare he reach for it?

“A Thousand Perfect Notes” by C.G. Drews

A Thousand Perfect Notes 1

This book resonated with me deeply. Although my own father / minstrel master was not prone to the brutal rages demonstrated time and again by Beck’s mother (better known, the Maestro), I could empathize all too well with Beck’s near crippling fear. Fear of the Maestro’s painful disappointment. Fear of his failure to personify the prodigy he’s told he must be. Fear that he and his beloved little sister Joey could starve to death or be otherwise damaged beyond repair and the world will never care enough to help them.

Not that he wants to be rescued – far from it. What he wants is to find the strength to stand up for them himself. To keep them safe from all the Maestro’s harms. To bring his inner music to life in peace. But when your abuser and your family are one and the same, fighting back is doubly difficult to do.

His slowly grown friendship with schoolmate August was a spot of sunshine, to be sure. Her unflagging patience with the walls he put up between them and kindness toward boisterous Joey provide a much-needed contrast to the harsh treatment received at home. And small wonder, given August’s passion for looking after forsaken animals. Never fear, however, that this is a tale of a romance conquering all woes. Both Beck and author C.G. Drews know better than to believe in so simple a solution.

To be blunt, Beck’s plight broke my heart. I cringed and mourned from the very first page, and was driven ere long to weeping aloud at the cruelties he suffered. The intersection of music and parental terror cut far too close to home. My compassion goes out to any child – real or fictional – forced to live out ugliness made in the name of beauty. As for the grief-maddened Maestro, I felt for her heartaches, truly I did, but in no wise does the breaking of one’s own dream excuse the breaking of another’s spirit. Sympathetic evil is still evil, and I hope that none who come across it in their own lives will extend it tolerance.

However, for all its agonies, one of the thousand notes the book struck was one of humor. For readers who enjoy a narrative with its share of banter and snark, be gladdened, for you’ll find it here. For those looking for an all-too-realistic Cinderella retelling set in Australia, you’ll find that, too. And for those hoping to pick up a few insults in German, I can direct you to the Maestro.

A Thousand Perfect Notes 2

Well played, C.G. Drews. Both my author and I congratulate you on your debut novel, wish you well in your pursuits to come, and shall continue following the entertaining rambles on your blog, paperfury.com.

Have you read / do you plan to read “A Thousand Perfect Notes”? What’s your favorite Cinderella story? Why the paucity of Australian books? (Is it because the kangaroos eat them?) Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below. Until next time, good folk – *minstrel bow* – I bid thee fare well.

How Now?

How’d the Local Author Fair at the Library Go?

Well enough, thanks very much. Sold a few books (maybe even one or two more than last year? ^^), including a couple copies of My Baby, Volume 1 – i.e., “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”. Also got to geek out with one visitor about the Renaissance Faire that inspired aforementioned baby. *waves to Bristol* So yeah, I’ll definitely be back for the 3rd annual event next year – by which time people will be able to purchase the completed Outlaws of Avalon trilogy!

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How Goes the New Year’s Resolution?

Those who frequent my authorial Facebook page may have seen my pledge to keep my writerly muscles warm by writing a piece of flash fiction every day.

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I have thus far remained on the wagon, with results like this, this, and the following to show for it:

He loves to make clothes. And he loves people. And the clothes he makes loves people, too.

His coats wrap their arms around you in a hug. The scarf hangs ‘round your neck with a weight like a friend just come up from behind, pulling you close for a kiss and “how are you today?”

The skirt of your dress swings and frolics about your legs, puppy-like, delighted by your nearness. The stiffer the breeze, the tighter your hat holds your head. “I’ve got you,” it says, in his voice.

The clothes and their tailor – cut from the same cloth.

Brownie points to anyone who can name the inspiration behind that little drabble. ;D And if I stay the course, there will be plenty more flash fics to come – any number of which will likely make their way onto the blog in time.

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How are ARC Requests Coming Along?

I’ve had more than zero, but would love to give out more. So if you’d like to read and review an advance PDF of Outlaws of Avalon 2, “The Marriage of Allyn-a-Dale”, get in touch! (Contact page) Got book blogger friends? Give ‘em the heads up! I can only spread the word so far on my own; any added reach would be much appreciated.

Thanks for reading, and now inquiring minds want to know: How are YOU?

Second Time’s the Charm

Two orders of business today in this, my second blog post of the new year.

1 = Cook Memorial Public Library District is hosting its 2nd annual open house for local authors – and I’mma be there! Selling books. Signing books. Seeming generally delightful, if all goes to plan.

So if any of you think you’ll find yourself around Vernon Hills, IL, this Saturday (Jan. 14), drop in at the Aspen Drive branch any time from 2:30 to 4pm. Here’s hoping the event goes even better than last year’s!

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2 = CALLING ALL WILLING BOOK-REVIEWERS! We’re only two months away from the launch of the 2nd book in the Outlaws of Avalon trilogy – “The Marriage of Allyn-a-Dale”. We made its beautiful cover happen thanks to folks stepping forward with GoFundMe dollars. Now the help I’m looking for won’t cost anyone a cent.

marriage-cover-final-front

If you (yes, you, sir/madam/your majesty) want to read and review an ARC (advance reader/review copy) of the latest adventure in Avalon Faire, just declare your interest – in the comments below, or via my contact page – and I’ll send you a PDF.

You: “Oh, cool! What’s the book about, again?”

The blurb: “There’s more than Fey magic in the air as Avalon Faire prepares for another summer’s performance. This time the show stars Allyn-a-Dale in his role from stories of old: A minstrel with a forbidden romance in need of a little outlaw intervention. Alas, eternal life imitates art as Allyn finds himself slipping heart-first into ill-advised infatuation with an Outsider – the Robin Hood fangirl who’s landed her dream job as the Merry Minstrel’s wife.

As new love blooms, an old love festers, the scarring shadow of Allyn’s dead father threatening to devastate the young minstrel’s hard-won harmony. And elsewhere on the undying isle, the cracks of immortality are beginning to show. Caught between the mysterious meddling of Morganne le Fey and the wild schemes of Will Scarlet, it’s up to Sherwood’s outlaws to navigate past and future, legend and prophecy, treachery and passion, before Avalon is torn apart from the inside out.”

You: “Nice! But um, what if I haven’t read the first book yet?”

Me: “Ballad”s been up for sale for months. Getchu a copy! Or, if you’re flat broke (we’ve all been there), I can slip you a PDF of that as well; just leave an honest review for Book 1, too, and we’ll call it totally square. 😉

And that, my friends, is that. Clamor away for those ARCs, and stay tuned for the word on how the library event goes. ^o^

Writing Book Reviews: A Merry Guide

“Hey-ho, all! Will Scarlet, here, luminous fan-favorite* from the lately released Robin Hood fantasy, ‘The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale (The Outlaws of Avalon, Book 1)’. If you’ve chanced to purchase the e-book edition (as opposed to the also-available paperback), maybe you’ll have come across the following message from the author, tucked away at the back.”

Thank you so much for reading my book! I hope you loved it. If you did (or, hey, even on the off chance you didn’t), would you please do me the invaluable favor of leaving a review on your online retailer(s) of choice?

You may or may not be aware of this, but just a few publicly posted sentences of feedback from a reader are a huge deal to the author. So if you’ve got an honest opinion and a handful of minutes, that is all I ask you share with the world. It will be much appreciated.

Thanks once again, and happy reading!

~ Danielle

“And if you’re a reader on the receiving end of that sort of authorial plea, you may have responded with something like this.”

Oh, but I’m no good at writing reviews.

Book Review Guide

“And hey, for all I know, that’s just the plain truth. After all, you’re not the writer here – just a regular person who read a book.

“But guess what, gorgeous? That’s all you need to be! Because your book review doesn’t have to be brilliant; it just has to be honest.**

“Even so, I know consolidating your genuine opinions into a basically coherent review can feel intimidating. That’s where this blog post comes in. A few of my Merry Men friends and I are going to break down the process and show you just how supremely simple writing a book review can be!”

Step 1: Ask yourself, Did I like [insert whatever book title here]?

Marion Hood, adopting the role of Hypothetical Reader A, says, “I absolutely loved it!”

Allyn-a-Dale, as Hypothetical Reader B, says, “I didn’t enjoy it.”

Little John, Hypothetical Reader C, says, “I have mixed feelings.”

“Great,” Will Scarlet replies to all. “Write that down.”

Step 2: See if you can pinpoint any reasons why.

“Reasons?!” cries HRA Marion. “It was just… gaaaauuugh, SO GOOD. So practically flawless! I loved everything!”

An unimpressed HRB Allyn says, “I thought the writing quality was poor. The characters all annoyed me, and the story just felt so… done to death.”

HRC Little John shrugs. “It was interesting to a point, but then dragged too long and got boring. Fun sidekick, though.”

“Fair,” says Will, nodding. “Write that down.”

Step 3: Would you recommend that others read this book?

“READ IT,” Marion demands. “Everybody read it, and somebody make it a movie!”

“If you liked [ostensibly similar book / movie / Broadway show],” Allyn says dubiously, “maybe this book will entertain you. Otherwise, I’d skip it.”

“Fairly sure I’m not this book’s intended audience,” says Little John. “Your mileage may vary.”

“Write that last bit down,” Will Scarlet directs. “And BOOM: You’ve each got yourself a book review!”

Step 4: Post what you’ve got on book review sites (like Goodreads) and dot-coms where the book is available for sale (like Amazon and Barnes & Noble) for the benefit of the author and your fellow bookworms alike!

I absolutely loved it! It was just… gaaaauuugh, SO GOOD. So practically flawless! I loved everything! READ IT. Everybody read it, and somebody make it a movie!

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I didn’t enjoy it. I thought the writing quality was poor. The characters all annoyed me, and the story just felt so… done to death. If you liked [ostensibly similar book / movie / Broadway show], maybe this book will entertain you. Otherwise, I’d skip it.

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I have mixed feelings. It was interesting to a point, but then dragged too long and got boring. Fun sidekick, though. Fairly sure I’m not this book’s intended audience. Your mileage may vary.

Will Scarlet grins. “See what I’m talking about? No university-level thesis paper required. Just a few sentences outlining your impression of the book, then choose how you many stars you wish to award. Other valid, even simpler reviews could include:

Super fun. Would definitely recommend.

*

A new favorite. Can’t wait to see what [author name] does next.

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Reminded me of [some other story]. I really liked it.

“Piece of cake, right? So if you haven’t yet, why don’t you give it a try? For ‘The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale’, another Danielle E. Shipley title, and/or any novel, novella, or short story collection that’s had the honor of your readership. Even if you don’t fancy yourself any kind of writer, believe me, friend: Your words have power.”

* “Heck yes, I copped that description of me from a review! ;D”

** “Or, I mean, you could lie, but I’m not sure who that’d be helping, in the end.”

The Mace and the Mirror

This time last week, the Will Scarlet Kiss & Tell hot seat featured the lead character from Tirzah Duncan’s newly published novella. Since then, I finally scraped together the time and mental wherewithal to collect my thoughts on the book into a review. And it went a little something like this.

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The Book: “Grace the Mace” by Tirzah Duncan

Genre: Fantasy Lit Fic

Blurb: Grace has always been there for her mother, ever since she was old enough to bite the legs of those thugs and leeches that called themselves lovers. Ever since she was old enough to understand the world in a way her mother never would.

Now, she comes home every winter with blood money from a year of running with a band of sellswords. No more scrounging in midden heaps and cutting purses for a low court lord to survive the lean months.

But this year, home is as dangerous as the battlefield. Tensions are running through the street courts of her old slums, while a new and daunting lover has confounded her safeguards and gotten at her mum–and now they’re all tangled in a vicious turf war.

Is one lone mercenary enough to protect her own? Can she trust anyone else to do the job?

grace-the-mace-cover

My Story: This book and I have a rocky history. As the author’s best friend and critique partner, I was there to read the words almost as fast as they appeared on the page. And my first time through, in that first draft state, I honestly didn’t enjoy it that much. I was there for the relationship between the protagonist’s mother and her creepy-cool new boyfriend – why was Tirzah making me slog through sex and violence and slum politics? What did I ever do to make her think I wanted any part of a gang war?

Then came my second read-through. The novella had passed through its main edits, and now awaited my proofreading eye before going to print. And even as I combed through the words for typos and inconsistencies, I found myself… engaged. None of the subject matter had changed. I hadn’t wriggled out of any of the topics that tend to turn me off. But this time… Well, for one thing, it was no longer a meandering first draft! For another, something clicked between me and the main character, Dalvin (aka Grace).

I can have a tough time connecting with fictional girls. And I’d have thought that a hardboiled mercenary and I would have little enough in common. Yet time and again, here and there, I kept seeing bits of Grace that were just so darn me. Somewhere during that reread, I felt like I got her. Lines like:

…She couldn’t let herself fall into mediocrity. The world was not kind to the mediocre. The world wasn’t kind to anyone, and she trained to be unkind back.

And such scenes as:

“Fire and famine. You’re not worth two copper pups,” she told him, pulling open the mouth of the purse and fishing out two of the coins. She flung them at his feet. “You can’t just give up when it’s all gone to rot. You’ve got to look for the salvage. Maker take it, man, you’ve got to want to survive.”

That sort of view.  The way she could look down in jaded disdain on the world’s ugliness, condemn half of it and the people therein as worthless, and yet, in spite of all, feel deep-down compelled to try to help fix it. To care for people no matter how much or little she actually cared about them. That’s… unsettlingly me.

So between that unexpected resonance and the actually quite good writing over which Tirzah and I first became friends, I came to reassign the story higher value. Plus the mother’s boyfriend is still the best. I can only imagine that readers who love grittiness and gang wars will enjoy this novella even more.

Whaddaya say, readers? Think this book is for you? If yes / maybe / there’s-only-one-way-to-know-for-sure, order your e-copy or paperback today!

(And feel free to pre-order “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale while you’re at it… ^^)

In Which I Go Mental

Word on the ‘Net is that May 16th – 22nd is Mental Health Awareness Week. I don’t generally get involved in capital Weeks, Months, or Days, but in this instance, I felt compelled to recognize the occasion.

It’s probably to do with the fact that I am gradually becoming more aware of my own mental state, which seems to regularly include episodes of anxiety and depressive tendencies, with some mild OCD-like symptoms thrown in for fun. (Note: None of it is fun.)

And I’m not the only one in my head affected by mental illness. Will Scarlet and Allyn-a-Dale, for instance, have varying issues to deal with, too. Which is why they joined in the whole #InShadowSelfie* thing on the Outlaws of Avalon Tumblr.

*(Details here for those wondering what in the world that hashtag’s about.)

Mind you, I wasn’t planning to blog about any of this, until I realized that it’s been a while since I shared any new book reviews with you guys, and – hey, whaddaya know! – a couple of books I’ve read/very much enjoyed recently featured main characters with mental illnesses.

Kismet or nah?

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Book the First: The Rest of Us Just Live Here” by Patrick Ness

Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy/Paranormal

Featured Illnesses/Disorders: OCD, anxiety, anorexia, alcoholism

Blurb: What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

My Story: Majorly enjoyable. A number of lines had me laughing out loud. (Great narrative voice!) Some others drove me nearly to tears. (Relatable mental health struggles are relatable.) I loved the focus on – and the depth of – the main characters’ friendships, including between siblings and potential romantic interests. And the juxtaposition between the story in the spotlight and the plot offstage was a fun quirky touch. Part of me wishes I were rereading the book already.

Edit: Welp, that re-read just happened, and yep, would still recommend.

Mental Health Reads

Book the Second: When We Collided” by Emery Lord

Genre: Contemporary YA

Featured Illnesses/Disorders: Bipolar disorder, depression (plus grief)

Blurb: We are seventeen and shattered and still dancing. We have messy, throbbing hearts, and we are stronger than anyone could ever know…

Jonah never thought a girl like Vivi would come along.

Vivi didn’t know Jonah would light up her world.

Neither of them expected a summer like this…a summer that would rewrite their futures.

In an unflinching story about new love, old wounds, and forces beyond our control, two teens find that when you collide with the right person at just the right time, it will change you forever.

My Story: Hearing about this book in the lead-up to its release, I had a hopeful feeling that I’d like it. I had yet to read any of Emery Lord’s novels (though I’d heard good things), but what I’d glimpsed of her on Twitter seemed cool, and the book’s premise grabbed me – in particular, the part about the bipolar protag. …which isn’t in the blurb, but y’know, rumor had it. (One of my [fictional] friends is bipolar; I figured he’d appreciate having this kind of story in our shared headspace.)

Just to play it safe, I read the first couple chapters before committing to the purchase. And joy of joys, it sucked me right in from page one – like to the point that the gratifyingly busy bookstore faded around, leaving Reader Me in her happy place. Vivi’s voice is vivacious, creative, and fun, while Jonah’s is likewise amusing, if far more grounded. Both co-stars garnered my sympathetic attachment. Aaaaand I basically chose finishing the book over going to bed before 3am. ‘Cause I do what I want.

Confirmed: Emery Lord can write. I may have to try getting ahold of her first two novels after all.

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Some Kind of Happiness

Book the Third: Some Kind of Happiness” by Claire Legrand

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Featured Illnesses/Disorders: Depression

Blurb: THINGS FINLEY HART DOESN’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT
• Her parents, who are having problems. (But they pretend like they’re not.)
• Being sent to her grandparents’ house for the summer.
• Never having met said grandparents.
• Her blue days—when life feels overwhelming, and it’s hard to keep her head up. (This happens a lot.)

Finley’s only retreat is the Everwood, a forest kingdom that exists in the pages of her notebook. Until she discovers the endless woods behind her grandparents’ house and realizes the Everwood is real—and holds more mysteries than she’d ever imagined, including a family of pirates that she isn’t allowed to talk to, trees covered in ash, and a strange old wizard living in a house made of bones.

With the help of her cousins, Finley sets out on a mission to save the dying Everwood and uncover its secrets. But as the mysteries pile up and the frightening sadness inside her grows, Finley realizes that if she wants to save the Everwood, she’ll first have to save herself.

Reality and fantasy collide in this powerful, heartfelt novel about family, depression, and the power of imagination, for fans of Counting by 7s and Bridge to Terabithia.

My Story: I haven’t actually read this book yet, but it releases today (*throws Book Birthday confetti*), and I’ve been looking forward to it and totally pre-ordered it, so hopefully my copy will reach me soon, and if the stars align aright, I’ll tell you how I liked it. ^.^

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So concludes my contribution to this capital Week’s awareness. Stay healthy, y’all.

Shadow Selfie 05

Reading, Review Writing, Rithmatics and a Rook

It’s a double book review day! …because I’ve been sitting on these reviews for a while, and if I don’t put ‘em up on the blog today, when the heck will I?

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Book the First: “The Rithmatist (The Rithmatist #1)” by Brandon Sanderson

Genre: YA Steampunk Fantasy

Blurb: More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery—one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever.

Bestselling author Brandon Sanderson brings his unique brand of epic storytelling to the teen audience with an engrossing tale of danger and suspense—the first of a series. With his trademark skills in worldbuilding, Sanderson has created a magic system that is so inventive and detailed that readers who appreciate games of strategy and tactics just may want to bring Rithmatics to life in our world.

The Rithmatist

My Thoughts: I picked up this book – my first taste of Sanderson lit – on the recommendation of a friend (holla, Chelsea!), and I gotta say, I really enjoyed it. Who knows how I’d have felt if I’d been left to try to envision Rithmatics on my own (visualization = not my strong suit), but happy days, the book actually included instructional illustrations before every chapter! So instead of feeling glumly out of the loop, I found myself studying the drawings with genuine interest, almost as if I, too, were a student at Armedius Academy.

Of course, not just every student is granted the opportunity to study Rithmatics in depth. For all his unflagging fascination and non-magical skill with the art, Joel has missed out on the chance to become a Rithmatist. (Forever?! Time may tell…) This causes him understandable disappointment, and some measure of scornful frustration at the seeming incompetence of fellow student – and lucky-duck Rithmatist – Melody. But there’s a dire mystery afoot, so naturally the pair figures out a way to ally against the threat.

I had a fun time trying to puzzle out the entity behind the kidnappings and/or murders. And spoiling nothing, I will say that the ending left me both with a satisfying “AHA! I knew it!” and an equally satisfying “What?! Oh my GOSH, I can’t believe it! Sanderson, you excellent fiend!”

Also, the world-building was awesome. And I say that as a reader for whom world-building is generally among the least of my interests. Just the fact that the United States had been reimagined as a bunch of islands tickled me no end. Throw in the charts of Rithmatic defenses, and I was straight-up sold.

HSYRT? (Hey, Should You Read This?): Do it, bro.

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Book the Second: “Rook” by Sharon Cameron

Genre: Young Adult [Historical] Dystopia

Blurb: History has a way of repeating itself. In the Sunken City that was once Paris, all who oppose the new revolution are being put to the blade. Except for those who disappear from their prison cells, a red-tipped rook feather left in their place. Is the mysterious Red Rook a savior of the innocent or a criminal?

Rook 2

Meanwhile, across the sea in the Commonwealth, Sophia Bellamy’s arranged marriage to the wealthy René Hasard is the last chance to save her family from ruin. But when the search for the Red Rook comes straight to her doorstep, Sophia discovers that her fiancé is not all he seems. Which is only fair, because neither is she.

As the Red Rook grows bolder and the stakes grow higher, Sophia and René find themselves locked in a tantalizing game of cat and mouse.

My Thoughts: Post-apocalyptic dystopia isn’t usually my scene, but this book got away with it clean, thanks to its future setting’s captivating aura of a Europe of centuries gone by.

And oh, the cleverness of the plot! Full of twisty intrigue from the get-go (which I, being neither twisty nor intrigue-y by nature, cannot help but admire), with a latter third careening at a pace that would not let up. On the micro level, I appreciated how the beginnings of each section tended to echo or cunningly follow-up the section before, everything carefully connected and choreographed; it was a treat to see that kind of artistic thought put into the storytelling structure.

Of course, if a story doesn’t have living characters, it’s got nothing.

“Rook” doesn’t got nothing.

*ignores the excess of negatives and questionable grammar* *moves on*

The main villain was scary-smart, so thank goodness the protagonists weren’t lacking in competence. Their schemes were as sharp as their banter, and their relationships dynamic. Also, I freely confess – it didn’t take long at all for René to charm me. I doubt he’d be surprised to hear it.

HSYRT? (Hey, Should You Read This?): Do it or face the Razor.

(Do it or you may not know just what is this Razor to which I refer.)

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Such are my thoughts on the “Rook” and “The Rithmatist”. Have any of your own? Share below!

A Little Kick on the Side

I’m not actually here! I’m still cruising Europe!

…Which would account for why I forgot I’d signed on to be a part of yesterday’s Release Day Blast for author Natalie Whipple’s latest. *cough*

But by God’s grace, I remembered that today’s my stop on the book’s blog tour. So real quick before I get back to exploring abroad (recaps on the whole adventure to come eventually), here’s what’s up:

Sidekick Banner

The Book: “Sidekick” by Natalie Whipple

Genre: Contemporary YA

Blurb: Russ is a high school football player who feels like he always comes in second to his best friend, Garret. In sports. In school. With girls. Well, he’s tired of it, and he gets the rather foolish idea that if he can win the heart of the new girl in town before Garret he can prove he’s not just sloppy seconds.

His plan? Use his anime-obsessed sister’s group, who has befriended the new girl, to get closer to her. He’d never tell the team, but he’s been going to Anime Night for years and might even enjoy it. That would ruin his reputation, just like his secret love for cooking and James Taylor.

But pretending to be something you aren’t catches up to you eventually, and Russ can only get away with living two lives for so long. As more than one person reveals they have something to hide, Russ must figure out what and who he really wants in his life. And more than that, he needs the courage to make it happen.

Sidekick Cover

My Thoughts: One thing I really appreciate about Natalie Whipple books is that I have yet to see her put her protagonists in a vacuum. There’s always a group of friends and/or family around to create an authentic, eclectic social environment. It makes reading the story feel a lot like just hanging out with the gang. And this may well be my favorite Whipple-written gang to date – which is why the possibility of the main character fumbling his relationships beyond all hope of a happy ever after felt like such painfully high stakes.

Jealousies, deceptions, and high school politics served as a foil against Russ Pearson’s desire to just get through his senior year without feeling like a loser, come in second place to his best friend. His situation got complicated, but it was no manufactured drama. Just motivated actions, reactions, and consequences – lather, rinse, repeat. Were some of those actions at the top of the cycle ill-advised? Absolutely. But I got it. I got Russ. And I rooted for him like crazy. Plus, much as he tried to downplay it, experiencing his culinary passion added to the story’s homey flavor (pun half-intended).

I received an ARC of “Sidekick” in exchange for an honest review, and it was a genuine pleasure to read.

Purchase links for “Sidekick”Amazon | B&N | The Book Depository

Purchase a signed copy from the author here!

Natalie Whipple

About the Author: Natalie Whipple grew up in the Bay Area and relocated to Utah for high school, which was quite the culture shock for her anime-loving teen self. But the Rocky Mountains eventually won her over, and she stuck around to earn her degree in English linguistics at BYU, with a minor in editing. Natalie still lives in Utah with her husband and three kids, and keeps the local Asian market in business with all her attempts to cook.

She is the author of the TRANSPARENT series, HOUSE OF IVY & SORROW, the I’M A NINJA series, FISH OUT OF WATER, and MY LITTLE BRONY (under K.M. Hayes). In addition to that, she is on the writing team for the cRPG Torment: Tides of Numenera that should be out sometime in 2015.

Blog: http://betweenfactandfiction.blogspot.com/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/nataliewhipple

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Natalie-Whipple/165166756949250

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/nataliewhipple/

Tumblr: http://nataliewhipple.tumblr.com/

Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/ZkX6f

And guess what? There’s a giveaway! Enter to win a Kindle e-copy of “Sidekick”! (Open internationally)

Deshipley, over and out.