Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Draw of Kings: Review

Cover ArtI’ve been waiting for this book ever since reading the first book in the series around this time last year. Then, after reading the middle book this summer, I became even more curious how the story would turn out—and just a little on edge, hoping that the ending would be worth the wait.

When the book came, I didn’t have time to start it immediately, but I added it to my stack and left it there until a day or so later. Eventually, the call got too strong. I picked up the book and started reading…just a chapter before I went back to that other project, right?

Not a good idea.

I ended up skimming the first half of the book before I forced myself to put it back in the stack.

In A Cast of Stones (review from last March), Errol Stone finds himself under a compulsion that draws him away from his messy, dismal life as a village drunk into the equally messy, dangerous plots of the church and the kingdom. He survives, only to have the church place him under a second compulsion in The Hero’s Lot (reviewed back in July), ordering him to track down a rogue reader—someone who can trace his every move and know what he’s thinking almost as soon as he thinks it.

Errol should return from his search a hero twice-over, but once again Illustra has turned upside down and one of Errol’s greatest enemies has seized the throne. Not his greatest enemy, though, because in A Draw of Kings, the land’s greatest enemy—the demonic malus—are gathering the ferrals and the surrounding nations to destroy Illustra.

For years, the barrier has kept these enemies out. Now, with the barrier falling, someone will have to die to renew it. Even more—for the nation to truly survive the threatening chaos, it needs a new leader, and a new understanding of the old mysteries.

From first to last, I’ve enjoyed reading this series. With the first book, Patrick Carr caught my attention by creating a vivid medieval world, and a complex, intriguing blend of characters and action. Where fantasy stories sometimes find it easy to rehash stereotypes about the orphan hero or the ancient world of horse riding and sword fighting, Carr writes in a way that feels real—as though he knows what he was talking about and understands Errol’s pain on his journey from a discarded orphan to discovering a talent that might make him one of the most powerful men in the kingdom.

The middle book felt a little harder to in some ways, but this final book brought back the fresh sense of discovery, adventure, and borderline disaster that made A Cast of Stones so much fun. It's not the ending I expected, though in some sense it still feels expected, yet with enough surprises to keep the story going and keep readers guessing all the way to the end—and then a little further.

These books aren’t YA fantasy, so know that they deal with some difficult topics, but they tell a great story. I consider them to be some of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in the past year, and I’d recommend them for any reader from older teens on up. (For those of you who still haven’t tried the series, A Cast of Stones is available for free in the Kindle edition.)

[My thanks to Bethany House for sending me a review copy of A Draw of Kings, in exchange for my honest opinion of the book.]

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

One Realm Beyond: Review

"Everyone knew Primen could do impossible things. If He were involved, then mountains might pick up their skirts and dance to the seashore.”

Cantor D’Ahma is finally initiated as a realm walker. He’s ready to fulfill his destiny, and for the first time, he has permission to journey between the realms on his own. Like all realm walkers, he must start by finding his dragon, but when he steps through into a new plane, the first thing he finds is—a talking haystack?

Then there’s the girl, the one who—actually, let’s just say you should always watch out for girls wearing tiaras. Like any Shakespeare play, this is a story where nothing is quite as it seems.

As I noted in my post yesterday, One Realm Beyond is the first book in Donita K. Paul’s new Realm Walkers series. I’ve read Paul’s DragonKeeper series, along with a couple other of her books, and have enjoyed them all.
For those who have read Paul’s DragonKeeper series—One Realm Beyond feels like a slightly slower opening to a series. In DragonSpell, the first DragonKeeper book, Kale is already on her way to a strange new life when she gets dragged into an ambush and a wild good chase and a dangerous quest. Here, Cantor jumps into his adventures almost immediately, only to take a detour of sorts on his journey to meet the real danger and excitement. There are certainly plenty of dangers and mysteries to keep the book going, but the first half of the story tends more towards hints and mysteries—mainly Cantor and his friends' growing doubts about the Realm Walkers Guild, which is supposed to be dedicated to protecting the realms. Like Paul’s other books, this is story as much about characters and personality and maturity as fast-paced action.

And Paul creates some very intriguing characters, from do-it-his-own-way Cantor to the dragon who absolutely does not belong to Cantor and beyond. In this world—or rather, this series of worlds for the lucky few to explore—just about anything can happen, and Paul does an amazing job both in creating and exploring her worlds.

Sound interesting? You can preview the first couple of chapters on Amazon, here. Or, feel free to check out some of the other posts on the blog tour:
[My thanks to Zondervan for providing me with a review copy of One Realm Beyond, in exchange for my participation in the CSFF Blog Tour.]

Monday, February 17, 2014

One Realm Beyond: Blog Tour Introduction

Today, I’m introducing something new.

Last month, I signed up for the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour, and this week will be my first book tour with the group. Strictly speaking, this isn’t entirely new, since I’ve posted reviews connected with CSFF blog tours on another site, but I’m now on the blogroll with The Lore-Mistress. The first tour I’ve joined starts today—a three-day tour for Donita K. Paul’s One Realm Beyond, first book in the Realm Walkers series.

As a bit of introduction, I started reading Paul’s books almost exactly five years ago, beginning with her DragonKeeper series. Her books became one of my earliest introductions to the wider fantasy realms beyond The Chronicles of Narnia, so they hold a bit of sentimental value for me, besides just being great stories. Both the DragonKeeper and the Realm Walkers series are Christian YA fantasy, but Paul writes books for other genres and ages as well...including children’s pictures books about, well The Dragon and the Turtle:

The Dragon & the Turtle Go on Safari

Tomorrow, I’ll post my review for One Realm Beyond, but for now, feel free to explore Paul’s website, or see what the other blog tour participants have to say:

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Playing in The Snow

We’ve been through the quotes this weekend—everything from “Do you want to build a snowman?”…

…to “This isn’t a thaw—this is spring!”

So, you get the photos this week. Consider it proof—yes it really does snow where we live, even if it's only once a year. Most of you probably knew that, though.

 As it turned out, the rumors of spring were greatly exaggerated. We also didn't make a snowman, because our snow was too dry at first, and then too wet to be much fun once it started to melt. Still, we were able to drive again yesterday, after four days of icy roads.

Oddly enough, the squirrels disappeared during that time as well. 

Don’t worry, though—they’re back now. I spotted one asleep on a branch this morning. (I only know he was asleep because he was curled up on the branch motionless for about ten minutes—how often does that happen?—before he woke up and scampered off, as squirrels do.)

Have a great week, and drive safe if you're someplace that still has snow!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Forget Me Not: Review & Giveaway

A runaway girl, a link to the past, secrets and heartbreak…

Elizabeth Lawson only wants to find her older brother, after learning for the first time that she even has a brother. She’s willing to go anywhere—even into the lawless mining town of Virginia City—but once there, she finds a lot more than she’s ready for. Everyone has secrets, it seems, even David, the man she’s enlisted to help her in her search.

It's time for another one of Amber Stoke's novels! And, once again, I'm glad to be part of Amber's blog tour for her book release. (You can find links to the rest of the tour here.)

Forget Me Not is a fairly short read and lighter in tone than Bleeding Heart, but Forget Me Not follows its characters through their brokenness without dodging the pain it brings. Much of the story deals with loss of some kind—a boy lost as a child, a young woman finding a missing brother only to feel she has lost him again to his secrets and his past, a man who has lost his love and fears his friend might follow the same path. 

For me, the interest was partly for the story’s themes, partly because it gives a lot of back-story to the characters in Bleeding Heart. While Forget Me Not is the second book Amber has published in The Hearts Spring series, it’s really the first book in the series. It’s the prequel story to Bleeding Heart (released last summer) and also Amber’s first novel. So, Sally makes a brief appearance, while Joe and Myghal play important parts in the action. 

And, to be honest, I would have liked to linger more in this part of the world—the story overall felt good, but a little abrupt at times. It would have been fun to sit on the front porch a little longer and take in the scenery, but for all that, Amber's put together a good story. It’s hard to say more without giving away the characters’ secrets, but if you enjoyed Bleeding Heart—or if you enjoy historical romance in general—this book is worth a look too.

Also worth noting—Amber has written another prequel, Bellflower, a Beauty-and-the-Beast tale about one of the couples who appear in Forget Me Not. She has another short story in the works, but Bellflower is currently available for free to her newsletter subscribers. You can find out more about Bellflower and her other short stories here.

And the Giveaway…

For this book release, Amber is offering an “Unforgettable Journey” package! Enter for the chance to win an epic entertainment package that includes a signed paperback copy of Forget Me Not, The Journey of Natty Gann on DVD, and “Barton Hollow” by The Civil Wars on CD. (The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

[My thanks to Amber for sending me a Kindle ARC in exchange for my participation in this blog tour--it's always fun to read a new book, especially one written by a friend.]

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

New Year, Slow Projects

It’s just as well I didn’t set any New Year’s goals this year.

I had lots of plans—starting a short story to post here in installments, finishing the rough draft of my NaNoWriMo novel by the end of February, just posting something once a week. I knew that finishing a rough draft for a novel was going to be a big project on its own, but I thought I could make it. After all, I had 50K words to start with from November.

And, I’m going to make it—just not quite as soon as I expected.

At this point, my writing is still staggering on at a very slow pace. I’m over 20K words into the novel revisions. That’s somewhere between a quarter and a third of the way into the plot. Once I finish this version, it will probably be time to start over on a new set of revisions, thanks to the feedback I’m getting from my critique group.

In the meantime, I do hope to keep posting on a semi-regular schedule. For starters, this Thursday, I’ll be posting my review of Amber Stoke’s Forget Me Not as part of her book-release tour. I also just got—today—Donita K. Paul’s One Realm Beyond to read for another blog tour later in the month. It’s been a while since I read Paul’s DragonKeeper series, so I’m looking forward to this new story. Then, sometime next month, I’ll be reviewing Patrick Carr’s A Draw of Kings, final book in his A Hero’s Lot series.

That doesn’t even count my non-writing projects…

All that to say that I’ve been keeping fairly busy, even though some days I feel like I’m moving about as fast as a catfish on a celery stick.

How about you—how are your goals going?