A Few Bars of BALLAD: Stanza Three

To my readership in the U.S., Happy Independence Day, one day late! And Happy Release Day, one week early, to “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”!

Today marks the end of the pre-order campaign, though you can still pre-order the e-book (AmazonSmashwords… Barnes & Noble…) right up until next week, at which time the gorgeous paperback will launch into official availability as well. In the meanwhile…

1) “Ballad” and I had the pleasure of being featured on the Clockwork Bibliophile blog of Shannon Haggerty. Enjoy the interview at your leisure; it’s a good’un.

2) As a last hurrah before the BIG hurrah, it’s time for one more [abridged] sneak peek into the book!

Having worked with a professional man-o’-music once or twice before (hi-i-i, Gant-o’-the-Lute), I knew going into the writing of “Ballad” that a novel centering around Robin Hood’s legendary minstrel would by necessity feature its share of music. That means the lyrical prose which, to hear the remarks of reviewers, has become something of a Danielle E. Shipley signature – not to mention literal lyrics, every time Allyn informed his author it was time to insert a song.

Novel, The Musical

The following excerpt showcases the non-literal, narrative kind of lyricism as our protagonist finds himself out of the world he knew and inside the magical world of Avalon Faire. Our first sneak peek gave of us a glimpse of the isle’s Renaissance Faire disguise. Below, if you keep quiet in the trees, you’ll get an eyeful – and an earful – of the true, Fey heart of the place…

It was quiet here. Or he’d thought it so, at first. But Allyn felt, even before his ears quite heard, the faintest strains of music. It did not sound as if the music’s source could be too far off. And even if it were, what had Allyn to lose by turning to follow it? So follow he did, over the weighty, flat land, through the sharp, colorless wood, until the trees thinned almost to ending, and Allyn could make out the lawn beyond, and the people gathered upon it.

Such people! And yet at first, Allyn was hardly aware of them, so enthralled was he by the sound of their music. High and sweet as the love songs of courting birds, the melody of pipes and flutes lilted through the air. Beneath, an aural tapestry of lusty color and texture, woven by the strings. The light percussive beat of drums and bells kept the frolicsome time to which the men and women danced around a leaping fire, and it was their dancing that made Allyn-a-Dale take note of them at last.

[…] No humans he had ever seen could dance as these people could — so full of spirited, easy grace, in spite of this ground which pulled so hard. And yet, if they were not human, then Allyn could not begin to guess what they were. Not winds, from his limited experience; the evening air held calm around them. Nor was there any golden glow of the Sun in them, though Allyn might have conceded a touch of starlight about their night-dark skin. And what, Allyn wondered, as his gaze focused in closer to their ethereal faces, was he supposed to make of their ears? One and all, their ears tapered up into a dainty, leaf-like point.

…No, not all. There was one among them whose ears were wholly unremarkable — or, in the context of the others with her, quite the opposite. Her lithe figure danced along the inner circle of the lawn, her gown swirling just out of reach of the fire. Her long curls fell around her in a dark cascade, nearly black but for the subtle sheen of gold the firelight revealed. Her eyes, too, were of darkest gold, and all but caused Allyn to gasp aloud when he realized they were staring right at him.

Her look was difficult to understand. She appeared neither surprised to see the youth watching from the wood, nor in any way offended. She did not even appear curious. The look she gave him seemed to say, “I see you” — nothing more. And Allyn hadn’t the least idea how he was meant to react.

“Go over there and introduce yourself, of course,” he could hear Father say. “Give her the ol’ minstrel hello!”

The minstrel hello, Allyn repeated, lips twitching their way into something betwixt a smile and a grimace of exasperation. Is there anything that minstrels do not have in a category all to themselves?

“Nothing at all,” Father’s voice laughed. “We’re special that way.”

Allyn shook his head. I’ll not force myself upon festivities to which I’ve not been expressly invited, he thought. However, we might see what may be done in the way of a minstrel hello.

After first pulling a little further back into the trees, his bashful spirit still unsure whether he truly wanted his presence known, Allyn withdrew his lute from its place at his back. Then, his heart’s rhythm aligned to the drums of the sharp-eared folk, their harmonies washing over and through him like a gentle rain, softly — reverentially — he began to join in their song.

Could they hear it, he wondered? Or sense it, this new line of lutesong threading its way through the established tapestry of the strings? If yes, would they welcome it? If no, would he care? If all he did tonight was become a part of the music — if not a part of the company of music-makers — and no one anywhere but he himself was aware of it, would that not, if only for these few minutes, be enough?

Here I am, new world, his fingers played his shy minstrel hello. Wherever I am, I’m here.

As available here = https://society6.com/product/here-i-am-new-world_mug#s6-4369596p30a27v199
As available here = https://society6.com/everonword

And we, too, can say “hello” to the new, magical world of Avalon Faire in just one! More! Week!

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Ballad Cover, front 02

Welcome to Avalon, a Renaissance Faire where heroes of legend never die. Where the Robin Hood walking the streets is truly the noble outlaw himself. Where the knightly and wizardly players of King Arthur’s court are in fact who they profess to be. Where the sense of enchantment in the air is not mere feeling, but the Fey magic of a paradise hidden in plain sight.

Enter Allyn-a-Dale. The grief of his father’s death still fresh and the doom of his own world looming, swirling realities leave the young minstrel marooned in an immortal Sherwood Forest, where he is recruited as a member of Robin Hood’s infamous outlaw band. But Allyn’s new life may reach its end before it’s scarcely begun. Their existence under threat, the Merry Men are called upon to embark on a journey to the dangerous world Outside – ours – on a quest which must be achieved without delay, or eternity in Avalon will not amount to very long at all.

Coming July 12!

P.S. — You wanna hear/watch me read this excerpt aloud? ‘Cause you can!

A Few Bars of BALLAD: Stanza One

2 weeks ‘til the release of the “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”, which means two things:

1) It’s the LAST WEEK to take advantage of my pre-order + thank-you gifts offer! Don’t miss out, y’all!

2) It’s time for another sneak peek inside this soon-to-launch novel of my heart – this excerpt introducing its minstrel protagonist, the one and only Allyn-a-Dale.

Of course, readers of my Wilderhark Tales will have already met him, as well as his father. “Ballad”s first chapter (not counting the prologue we sampled last week) picks up not many days after the series’ final book, “The Story’s End”, left off. If you’ve read it, you’ll have a pretty good idea where that places Allyn emotionally. If you haven’t… well, here’s your chance to find out. Come in closer. But quietly, now. This is a somber occasion.

“He looks all wrong.”

Allyn hadn’t meant to say it aloud, but the words had slipped out of their own volition. And why not, when they were only true? Jackillen Gant did look all wrong. Because he was so pale, his shining light dimmed and sparkling energy gone. Because he was so unmoving, when nothing before could ever hold him still. Because he was clothed in expensive finery, golden crown upon his golden head, inside a grand castle filled with everyone from the land’s highest officials to its lowliest farm girls, every one of them come to pay him honor. Because he had once been king, and now he was dead. All of it wrong, so wrong.

“I know,” murmured Dorian — Allyn’s brother, though quite old enough to have fathered him, had the man lying in the extravagant coffin not beaten him to it. Beside the king of the last nineteen years stood his wife, his sons and daughters (a number of them also older than Allyn), and his twin sister and partner in the rule of Carillon, Queen Ioniana, all of whom belonged in this royal setting more than the dearly departed Jackillen did.

More, too, than did Allyn.

“But it’s for The People,” Ioniana joined in the murmuring. “You understand.”

No, I don’t, Allyn thought. He didn’t understand why his father’s funeral had become this long drawn-out ceremony “for The People,” or why it seemed any action taken by Dorian and Ioniana seemed only ever to be “for The People,” or why “The People,” if they’d cared about Father so much, would want to see him made up without his say-so to look like the king he’d never desired to be.

The whole thing was a farce of the most tragic kind. Had Father been there — alive, that is — he’d have shattered the music of mourning with a countermelody of derisive laughter. “There’s a satirical song in here, somewhere!” he’d say, and would then have proceeded to find it and play it to an audience rolling on the floor with hilarity.

The thought caused Allyn’s lips to twitch. “Go on, lad,” he could hear Father’s voice urging, as it had so often when his lips twitched in such wise. “It won’t break your porcelain face entirely to crack the smallest smile.” And often, to please Father, a full smile would follow.

It didn’t now. It couldn’t. Not when his motivation for smiling lay embalmed in unwanted gold.

“Forgive me, Father,” Allyn whispered, his small hand hovering over the glass lid of the casket. “I should not have brought you here.”

Poor, dear Allyn. Little does he know that the tragic end he’s faced is only the beginning. What adventure lies ahead on the mourning minstrel’s path? Short answer: Summarized past the section break below. Full story: Comin’ atcha July 12th!

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Ballad Cover, front 02

Welcome to Avalon, a Renaissance Faire where heroes of legend never die. Where the Robin Hood walking the streets is truly the noble outlaw himself. Where the knightly and wizardly players of King Arthur’s court are in fact who they profess to be. Where the sense of enchantment in the air is not mere feeling, but the Fey magic of a paradise hidden in plain sight.

Enter Allyn-a-Dale. The grief of his father’s death still fresh and the doom of his own world looming, swirling realities leave the young minstrel marooned in an immortal Sherwood Forest, where he is recruited as a member of Robin Hood’s infamous outlaw band. But Allyn’s new life may reach its end before it’s scarcely begun. Their existence under threat, the Merry Men are called upon to embark on a journey to the dangerous world Outside – ours – on a quest which must be achieved without delay, or eternity in Avalon will not amount to very long at all.

Stay tu-u-uned!

P.S. — You wanna hear/watch me read this excerpt aloud? ‘Cause you can!

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A Few Bars of BALLAD: Overture

With 3 weeks ‘til the release of the “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” (have you pre-ordered a copy yet? Don’t forget there are thank-you gifts to snatch up!), I thought it high time for a bit of sneak-peekery. Today, we get an abridged look at…

The Prologue!

(Or rather, in keeping with “Ballad”s musical themes, the Overture.)

“A prologue, eh?” you ask. …sounding distinctly, now I think on it, like the voice of Gant-o’-the-Lute. “Aren’t those a bit frowned upon, nowadays?”

By some, I suppose. Just as there are those who aren’t big on opening a book through a side character’s point of view. But lookee there – I did that, too!

“This your idea of living on the edge, is it?”

Pfft, hardly. This has nothing to do with writerly rebellion, and everything to do with the idea that sparked this book in the first place: What if what patrons thought was a run-of-the-mill Renaissance Faire was secretly home to the real-life Robin Hood?

Most of the novel is from an insider perspective, but for the beginning, I wanted to show how Avalon Faire looks to an outsider’s eyes – to provide a baseline of normalcy against which all the magic to follow can more vividly pop. Hence the prologue overture, in which Ordinary Gal™ Loren and her sister take in a typical Ren Faire performance, and— well, why don’t you all step up to the Archer’s Green and watch for yourselves? ^^

The map that could be yours, all yours (and outlaw-signed, to boot!) with a “Ballad” e-book pre-order.
The map that could be yours, all yours (and outlaw-signed, to boot!) with a “Ballad” e-book pre-order.

…A man bedecked in a quite official-looking getup — all bright velvets and a hat to beat the band — took his place on a raised platform to one side of the Green. A fawn-brown young woman in a fuss-free gown of darker browns and greens stepped up beside him, the pair of them in the middle of a conversation so loud, it couldn’t have been intended to remain private.

“What say you, my lady?” the man asked, with a hint of swagger. “Is it not a fine day for a shooting match?”

“I daresay, sir,” the woman agreed, hands held demurely not far below the cascade of curls at her back. “But perhaps almost too fine! ‘Tis a fair-weather day, with scarce a breath of wind in the air. Surely anyone with a bow in hand could send an arrow near the mark in such ideal conditions as these — especially as you’ve placed the targets almost insultingly close by.”

“Close by, say you!” cried the man, gesturing toward the row of hay bales marked with bull’s-eyes that stood, to Loren’s mind, a rather intimidating distance from the Green’s edge. “Far enough, I’d say! Would you have me place the mark on the far side of Nottinghamshire? What man would be able to win the prize then?”

The young woman offered a sly sort of bright-eyed smile. “I know tell of one man who could.”

The spectators around the platform began to buzz and chuckle with anticipation, one or two even going so far as to call out the name they guessed was hinted at. The gaudily dressed man’s face grew comically red.

“Who dares speak that name?” he bellowed. “There will be no talk of that rogue here — not while I’m still Sheriff of Nottingham! This is a contest for honest men, not sneaking scoundrels! For men and women who like to earn their gold through fair play and skill, not tricks and robbery! Show these good people the prize, my lady!”

The crowd ooh-ed and ah-ed as the woman held up the shining article for all to see. “Behold,” cried the Sheriff. “The Golden Arrow! Let whoever aims truest today take the prize. And let’s show my lady, here, that there stands at least one in Nottinghamshire who can shoot better than even this outlaw favorite of hers! Who will aim first?”

A dozen hands shot up and waved wildly in the air, Loren’s among them. The woman on the platform made a short show of consideration before pointing the Golden Arrow at a youngster in a chainmail shirt. Loren could have screamed with jealousy; though she wasn’t overly miffed at having not been selected to shoot first, she’d have killed for some awesome chainmail.

[…] Four random others went up in succession. That Loren was not among them was more of a disappointment than a surprise. By this point in her early adult life, she was more or less resigned to the likely truth that she would never be any kind of Chosen One outside of her fantasies.

“It’s probably just as well,” she muttered as a guy in a hooded green poncho shuffled forward to have his turn. “I’d probably just end up hitting something behind me, anyway.”

“Yeah,” said Janey, the nod of her head setting her floppy hat’s bells jingling. “With the bow.”

Loren was still undecided whether to laugh or knock her sister around a little (for the love of all things medieval, she wasn’t that clumsy!) when a gasp went up from the throng. Green Poncho Guy had hit the target dead center! The crowd’s impressed cheers and whistles at their fellow amateur’s lucky shot filled the air, cut short by another startled intake of breath when a second arrow from the same bow zipped forward, splitting the first bull’s-eye arrow right down the middle.

“Ohmygosh…” Loren whispered, even as the Sheriff leaned over the end of the platform and demanded, “You there! Archer! Show your face!”

“Why, my good Sheriff,” Poncho Guy laughed, the casually grand removal of his hood revealing a fall of chestnut hair and a beard-framed grin. “Can it be that you do not know me — again?”

What comes next?! Well, to start, a short wait. But after that, the release of “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” in its fantastic entirety!

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Ballad Cover, front 02

Welcome to Avalon, a Renaissance Faire where heroes of legend never die. Where the Robin Hood walking the streets is truly the noble outlaw himself. Where the knightly and wizardly players of King Arthur’s court are in fact who they profess to be. Where the sense of enchantment in the air is not mere feeling, but the Fey magic of a paradise hidden in plain sight.

Enter Allyn-a-Dale. The grief of his father’s death still fresh and the doom of his own world looming, swirling realities leave the young minstrel marooned in an immortal Sherwood Forest, where he is recruited as a member of Robin Hood’s infamous outlaw band. But Allyn’s new life may reach its end before it’s scarcely begun. Their existence under threat, the Merry Men are called upon to embark on a journey to the dangerous world Outside – ours – on a quest which must be achieved without delay, or eternity in Avalon will not amount to very long at all.

Coming soo-oo-oon!

P.S. — You wanna hear/watch me read this excerpt aloud? ‘Cause you can!

All Hail the Dragon King’s Shadow!

Chapter-by-Chapter-blog-tour-buttonOnce upon One More Day, author J. Keller Ford’s fun little tale of frozen time and a dragon of a rollercoaster shared the pages with me in a young-adult anthology. Fast-forward to this very day, when the dragons are literal, the book is a debut novel, and the proud author is getting herself a Release Day shout-out here on Ever On Word. Lords, Ladies, and Highnesses, may I present to you…

…a Chapter by Chapter Blog Tours production post…

InTheShadowRDC

In the Shadow of the Dragon King by J. Keller Ford

Release Date: May 31, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books

Seventeen-year-old Eric is a kick-butt squire to the most revered knight in Fallhollow. Well he would be if Sir Trogsdill allowed him to do anything even remotely awesome. Determined to prove his worth, Eric sets out to find the mythical paladin summoned to protect the realm from the evil lurking nearby.

Sixteen-year-old David spends his days collecting school honors, winning archery tournaments, and trying not to fall in love with his scrappy best friend, Charlotte.

Right when things start to get interesting, he is whisked away to the magical realm of Fallhollow where everyone thinks he’s some sort of paladin destined to fulfill a two-hundred-year-old prophecy. He’s supposed to help kill a dragon with some sort of magic key. The same key that happens to adorn the neck of an annoying squire who’s too wrapped up in proving himself to be much help to anyone.

With egos as big as the dragon they need to destroy, Eric and David must get over themselves, or watch everything they know and love, burn.

 

InTheShadowCover

Now Available!

Google Play | BAM | Chapters | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | TBD | iBooks

And There’s a Giveaway!

– One (1) winner will receive a scrabble tile book cover charm! (US ONLY)

– Five (5) winners will receive a digital copy of In the Shadow of the Dragon King by J. Keller Ford! (INT)

Enter here! (Contest ends June 17, 2016)

Not to Mention the Launch Party!

Facebook. 2pm – 10pm EDT. Drop by for games, guest authors, and giveaways!

Congrats, Jenny! May your new book-baby’s sales be dragon-sized. ;D

About the Author

J. Keller Ford

Keller Ford (known to all as Jenny) is a scribbler of Young Adult and New Adult speculative fiction. As a young Army brat, she traveled the world and wandered the halls of some of Germany’s most extraordinary castles in hopes of finding snarky dragons, chivalrous knights and wondrous magic that permeated her imagination. What she found remains etched in her topsy-turvy mind and oozes out in sweeping tales of courage, sacrifice, honor and everlasting love.

When not torturing her keyboard or trying to silence the voices in her head, Jenny spends time collecting seashells, bowling, swimming, screaming on roller coasters and traveling. Jenny is a mom to four magnificent and noble offspring, and currently lives in paradise on the west coast of Florida with a quirky knight who was silly enough to marry her, and a menagerie of royal pets. Published works include short stories, The Amulet of Ormisez, Dragon Flight, and The Passing of Millie Hudson. IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING is her debut novel and the first installment in the Chronicles of Fallhollow Trilogy.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | InstagramPinterest |Goodreads

Less-Than-Hidden In Plain Sight

Everybody know what day it is?!

“My birthday!” cries Will Scarlet.

No, that was actually yesterday.

“The Ides of March,” says Allyn-a-Dale.

Caesar beware. But that’s not what I’m talking about either.

Elaborate fake shrugs from both. “Then we give up.” “Whatever could it be?” “The suspense!” “Oh, pray, do tell!”

You goof-nuts know perfectly well: It’s Cover Reveal Day for your very first novel!

“Noooooo!” Will gasps in delight.

“Show!” Allyn commands.

Very merrily do I…

Cover and Spine, Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale
(Pictured here: Front cover and spine)

Welcome to Avalon, a Renaissance Faire where heroes of legend never die. Where the Robin Hood walking the streets is truly the noble outlaw himself. Where the knightly and wizardly players of King Arthur’s court are in fact who they profess to be. Where the sense of enchantment in the air is not mere feeling, but the Fey magic of a paradise hidden in plain sight.

Enter Allyn-a-Dale. The grief of his father’s death still fresh and the doom of his own world looming, swirling realities leave the young minstrel marooned in an immortal Sherwood Forest, where he is recruited as a member of Robin Hood’s infamous outlaw band. But Allyn’s new life may reach its end before it’s scarcely begun. Their existence under threat, the Merry Men are called upon to embark on a journey to the dangerous world Outside – ours – on a quest which must be achieved without delay, or eternity in Avalon will not amount to very long at all.

The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale (The Outlaws of Avalon, Book One) — a contemporary YA fantasy coming your way on July 12, 2016!

Huge thanks to Lars and Milan van de Goor for the photography and design!

You can read my thoughts on the cover (and maybe a sneak peek inside of the book itself… *wiggles brows*) via the wonderful volunteers who have joined me in sharing “Ballad”s face on their blogs. (To see me pointing and hollering thanks to them individually, watch my Twitter.) As for here and now, I’mma step aside and let certain other relevant parties share their opinions. Merry Men: Sound off!

Robin Hood

Robin Hood = “Nice,” he says, eyes a-sparkle. “Very ‘spirit of Sherwood.’ Why, the way through the woods looks good enough to commit robbery upon!”

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Marion Hood = “I love the light,” she enthuses. “You couldn’t do this book’s cover without a touch of magic, and those golden rays provide just that. Plus, how could I not love the robin?”

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Will Scarlet = “Needs more Will Scarlet,” he declares. “Preferably shirtless. Or in lieu of that, at least throw in a showy splash of red, somewhere. But I mean, if we’ve got to go in another direction, this is pretty, too. *Cough*, just not as pretty as me.”

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Little John = *silent nod of approval*

Meekest of Minstrels

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Allyn-a-Dale = “It’s the wrong lute, of course,” he murmurs, with a glance toward me. “A photograph of your instrument, not mine. But the facts aside, the book’s truth shows through rather well. Though it does not show everything – no cover could – I believe it hints at the heart. I can hear my story in it – shining in the sunlight, breezing through the trees, captured in the letterwork’s curves. The music is a match, so I am pleased.”

I could ask for no more. ^o^ …No, scratch that: I could ask that the gorgeous book be out and in readers’ hands YESTERDAY. Alas, we’ve still got a few months to wait. Feel free to add “Ballad” to your to-read list on Goodreads in the meanwhile!

So, world at large – what do YOU think of the cover and novel soon to come? Share below!

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

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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.