This one’s not actually YA, but it’s so good I had to write a review!
When I saw this cover, I was intrigued. I mean, how awesome is that font? And ‘Dragon Keep’? I’m all there! Then I saw some of Claire’s posts and realized it’s a Scottish fantasy about brothers. At that moment, I knew I would love it.
Synopsis: Years ago, Rhys MacDuffy was brutally cut off from his clan, stripped of his name and inheritance, and banished to the remote Dragon Keep. Perched high above the Shang Pass in the land of Alsaya, he assumed the mantle of the Mountain Baron, serving out his sentence as the overseer of the worst outlaws and outcasts.
But one day he receives a desperate message from the clan who disowned him: MacDuffy’s Seer—his beloved brother—has been taken by their enemies.
With his band of Mountain Brigands and an unwelcome sidekick, Rhys leaves his mountain stronghold to find and rescue his brother. The tide of war is rising amongst the Clans of Alsaya, fueled by the magic-wielding sect of Druids who seek to unleash a dark force the world has long forgotten.
Can the bond of blood run deeper than banishment?
Things I Loved:
Rhys/Mountain Baron: The brooding hero with a dark past and heart of gold. I love that for all his gruff exterior, he really cares about people. He’s basically spent the past seven years running around the mountains adopting the unfortunates and doing away with the truly evil.
Family Bonds: I love a good sibling story, and this is one of the best I’ve read in quite a while. Rhys may be bitter and hold nothing but hatred for his former clan, but NO ONE touches his little brother. No matter how hard he tries, he just can’t escape the fact that he still loves his family, and they haven’t given up on him either.
The Side Characters: So, there are a lot of them, and most don’t get much page time. But the main ones are all complex, multi-layered characters with distinct personalities and their own solid backstories.
No Romance: While I read a lot of wonderful YA books that have great relationships and deal with serious, deep issues, it was so refreshing to take a step out of the norm and try something with a bit less boyfriend drama and a little more lives-on-the-line drama.
A Note of Caution:
As I mentioned before, this one is not YA and deals with some darker content than most of what I review here. I didn’t think it got too graphic, and I’m a wimp when it comes to bloody stuff, but if you are sensitive to subjects like torture read with caution.
My Rating: 5/5
An action packed story of the fierce loyalty between brothers. Full of dynamic characters, snark, and man drama. Seriously can’t wait for the sequel!
Like most girls, I was a bit obsessed with dance as a kid. I would have birthday parties at the theater and took ballet till I was twelve. I wasn’t very good. I still can’t do a split or even touch my toes. But I loved getting to perform with my friends! I very rarely get to see a ballet now, but when I do I always come away wishing I hadn’t given it up. It’s this wish that inspired today’s story.
It can happen faster than thought: this loss of breath.
Not twenty-four hours before, the slippers had been breathing deep under the
spotlight. The dancer leaped skillfully across the stage. Now, the battered
apparel lay in a small box, staring breathlessly up into the young woman’s
tearstained face. Slowly, the lid closes.
The darkness is immediate, pressing surprisingly heavy against the delicate satin. A musky smell, like old fur coats and mothballs, wafts through cracks in the box. They hear the creaking of the wheeled chair moving in the distance. Abandoned to this silent, stifling, dark, they wait for the time they might breath. Breath again in the spotlight.
It’s not till a year later that the dark lifts. The suffocating slippers gasp in a desperate breath. The face above them is no longer tearstained. Instead, the dancer stares hollowly at the ragged mementos for several minutes, then sighs and closes the lid once more. Another year passes before the light shines in. The slippers find their breath hard to draw and the dark quick to return.
This ritual is repeated another year, and another, and again, until the slippers can no longer find the strength to breathe. They try to wait patiently. But after so long hiding in the dark, they begin to forget what life in the spotlight was like.
After nearly a decade, resignation settles so deep within the shriveled hearts of satin that they no longer try to breath. It takes a beat too long to notice the light’s return. Two beats too long, staring morosely up at watery brown eyes, to see the slight glimmer of hope within. But they notice immediately when long fingers gently lift them out of their dark prison. For the first time in a long time, their gasp is not born of desperation.
Resting comfortably on
the soft cotton of their dancer’s dress, the astonished slippers look eagerly
forward as she carefully wheels her way to a new room. There, a strange man lifts
them up to hang high on a pink wall, just above a crib. Staring down at the sleeping
baby, the slippers begin, very slowly, to find the strength to breathe.
The years pass. With each one, they breathe more freely as they watch the young girl grow. They watch and remember what the spotlight was like. Yet they are content to live out their days here, watching over this beautiful charge now grown into a strong young lady. They no longer wait in vain, longing for the bright lights and hard stage.
And so, they are startled by a sudden gust of wind as they are pulled down. The woman looks lovingly at them lying in her daughter’s hands and nods. The slippers hold their breath as smooth young feet slip into them once again. As the cool floor slips away under their quick movements, they finally breathe deeply. They breathe and live again in the spotlight.
It’s not “Happily Ever After,” but they live until new slippers can be bought to take their place. For them, it is enough. And the woman smiles.
I picked this one up at last year’s Realm Makers on the recommendation of several friends. And as it won three awards at this years Realm Makers, it’s high time I write a proper review. Also, I got a pic with Lindsay at the awards banquet! Check out the Gallery and see her awesome Wonder Woman cosplay.
Synopsis: Tanwen doesn’t just tell stories-she weaves them into crystallized sculptures that sell for more than a few bits. But the only way to escape the control of her cruel mentor and claw her way from poverty is to set her sights on something grander: becoming Royal Storyteller to the king. During her final story peddling tour, a tale of treason spills from her hands, threatening the king himself. Tanwen goes from peddler to prey as the king’s guard hunts her down … and they’re not known for their mercy. As Tanwen flees for her life, she unearths long-buried secrets and discovers she’s not the only outlaw in the empire. There’s a rebel group of weavers … and they’re after her too.
Things I Love:
The magic system: This is what initially drew me to the book. Art itself is the magic. And not just the typical arts, but even healing and sword fighting. How unique is that?!
The creativity theme: This book has so much to say on God-given talent, the importance of self-expression, and creativity’s role in telling truth. It’s a theme that is very close to my heart and is an integral part of my own work. I was so stoked to find another author writing on these topics. And doing a superb job!
The weavers: There’s a found-family aspect to the Corsyth Weavers I just love. I’m a sucker for family/found-family stories. And the weavers specifically remind me of my own tribe of Realmies!
The world building: I love how everything in this world is instantly recognizable, but still has a fantastical element. There isn’t much time spent on exposition or setting. You jump right into the action and don’t ever struggle to keep up.
Things I Don’t Love:
Brac: Brac is a very problematic character. The romantic part of me really want’s to like him. He’s Tannie’s best friend and the closest thing she has to family. He’s a decent guy who really cares about her and doesn’t mean anyone harm. But the more logical part of me just can’t get over how dense he is. He’s constantly doing stupid things that put others in dangerous situations. More importantly, he’s never truly accepted Tannie for who she is. He loves her, but is determined to change her into what he sees as appropriate. And then he’s surprised when it drives her away.
My Rating: 5/5
A wonderful story that instantly drew me in with its vibrant characters and engaging, fast-paced plot. This paired with an incredibly unique magic system and hard-hitting themes of truth in art make it a must read for creative types!
It’s my first guest post and I’m so excited to introduce you to my friend and fellow Realmie, Emily Hayse! She’s a lover of log cabins, strong coffee, and the smell of old books. Her writing is fueled by good characters and a lifelong passion for storytelling. When she is not busy turning words into worlds, she can often be found baking, singing, or caring for one of the many dogs and horses in her life. She lives with her family in Michigan and has just released her Sophmore novel! Seventh City is an Alaskan Fantasy about a brave young girl intent on rescuing her brother from captivity.
And now, I’ll turn it over to her as she introduces us to Maki!
Thank’s so much, Rae! For my character interview I chose my protagonist, Maki, and for sake of spoilers I interviewed her prior to the events of the book. By way of introduction: Maki is thirteen, dark-haired, short, and stubbornly loyal. Favorite season? I like autumn, when the salmon run upstream and the animals are fat and carrying good fur. Weapon of choice? A spear. Tsanu taught me to throw when I was six. When I was eight, I had my first large kill. What is your greatest fear? That I will lose those who I love most—Tsanu, Kavik, Iki—and that I could have saved them. If you could have any life, what would it be? To live in peace and plenty with Tsanu. Perhaps I will marry, but I doubt it. I am contented with taking care of Tsanu, since he does not always take care of himself. And I would be a very good hunter with many spears. Best childhood memory? Once, Tsanu took me on a hunting trip a full cycle of moons away, and we camped with a handful of others on the coast, by the sea ice, and hunted seals. Every night we ate well, told stories, and kept each other warm. It was a good journey. If there was one food you could eat for the rest of your life, what would it be? Berries and fruit, because I have never had my fill before, though dried pantak or seal oil would be more practical. Biggest accomplishment? I took down a male tuttik at thirty strides, which takes a great deal of strength. And Kavik, who leads the young warriors and is the best hunter besides Tsanu saw it. I was very proud of that. What do you hate the most in your life? The Invaders. Especially the captain. After that, mosquitoes. Who do you admire the most? Tsanu or Kavik. I want to be as strong and brave as they are and have been when I grow up. Tsanu raised me from the time he was twelve, and Kavik, coming back from the wars, refused to give up but trained the young warriors of our village at great risk to himself. If you could only keep three things you currently possess, what would they be? Iki my wolf dog, my best fishing spear, and a flint for fire. If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? I would travel to the Jade Mountains because I have never been there and their strange green peaks have fascinated me ever since I was young. What is one secret dream that you have? To ride one of the hornless beasts with the many-colored coats and the leather on their backs and metal in their teeth. They are so swift and strong, though I hate their riders, I do envy them. What is one thing that makes you cry? I do not cry often, but sometimes when we sing a great song, or the sun strikes the peak of a distant mountain just so, or Tsanu speaks of my father, who he remembers a little. Sometimes then I cry.
What is one hope that you have for the future? That the Invaders will leave and that Tsanu and I and our village live in peace in our village for the rest of our lives.
Well, that’s got my interest! Here’s a little more info on Seventh City.
“Let me tell you a story that happened so long ago that only the hills and rivers can remember the time . . . .”
All her life, thirteen-year-old Maki has heard tales of the legendary city of gold, buried deep in the northern frontier. But when her village is burned and her brother captured by cruel invaders, the legend becomes desperately real.
Armed with a wolf-dog and a heart of courage, Maki sets out on a journey that will demand all her strength and cunning. She is determined to bring her brother home at all costs. Yet as her quest leads her deep into a wilderness of ancient dangers, Maki realizes that even for her, some prices are too high to pay.
It’s commonly acknowledged that the book is always better. Our first reaction when hearing about a new movie is generally, “They better not screw this up!” We go into the cinema with a preconceived number of allowances to give the filmmakers before writing them off. But sometimes, you get the pleasant surprise of finding a movie so well done you end up liking it better than the book. So today, I’m proud to brag on five movies that meet this phenomenon!
First up, Princess Bride: It could just be that I grew up on the movie and didn’t know a book existed till recently. But I found it far too full of meta humor. Pro tip (stolen from a friend): If you have to read it, skip everything in italics or parenthesis and call it ‘the good bits of the good bits version’. But in my opinion, you’re not missing any ‘good bits’ with the movie.
Phantom of the Opera: It was mostly the choice of narration style that did me in on this one. I also felt the focus could have been better placed on a more central character. I’m also in love with the visuals and music of the movie that you just can’t get from words on a page!
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before: Overall, this was a close run thing. However, I felt like the movie did a better job with pacing, and the love interest was far more likable in the movie. Characters are everything for me and will make or break a good plot. So I’ve got to go with the movie on this one.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Before you grab the pitchforks, let me just say that this is really a tie! I love the book immensely, but I also think they did a superb job with the movie. And once again I love the visuals. Also, please note this is specifically The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and not the entirety of Narnia. The movies went down hill pretty fast!
And lastly, we have another tie with Inkheart: I mention this one mostly because I’ve always been on the fence about the rest of the trilogy. Therefore, I appreciate how the movie tied everything up with a happy ending. And the casting was perfect.
Have you encountered this rare experience? Share your answer in the comments!
I have always loved the story of Anastasia. The lost princess who finds her way home. I even went to see the Broadway production at the Fox in St. Louis over Christmas break. Which was amazing, by the way! But, similar to Fawkes, I have never looked into the true story behind the fairy tale. And then Nadine Brandes wrote Romanov, and I knew I couldn’t go without it!
Synopsis: The history books say I died. They don’t know the half of it. Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them, and he’s hunted Romanov before. Nastya’s only chances of saving herself and her family are either to release the spell and deal with the consequences, or to enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya has only dabbled in magic, but it doesn’t frighten her half as much as her growing attraction to Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her. That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad…and he’s on the other.
Things to Love:
No one is truly vilified. I really appreciated the fact that no group in this conflict was portrayed as fully evil. Even Rasputin, though he doesn’t make an appearance, is not portrayed as the creepy villain of the children’s movie. Instead, both the Romanov family and the Bolsheviks are shown as clearly flawed human beings with both good and bad inside them. My favorite example, of course, is Zash 😉
The family loyalty. I love a book with good family or found-family themes, and this one did not disappoint! It’s so heartwarming to watch the Romanov sisters pull together during such a hard time.
The magic system. Spell ink and magic hidden in dolls waiting to be spoken to life. It’s not very complicated and just makes my writer heart happy 🙂
Betrayal, Forgiveness, Redemption, Hope. These heavy themes are so well portrayed! Even in it’s darkest moments, the light shines through.
A Word of Caution:
As mentioned above, this is a HEAVY book. Unlike other versions of Anastasia, it’s not one to be picked up for light reading or to fall asleep to. This book will wreck you, in the best way, and you need to be emotionally prepared for that.
My Rating: 5/5
Nadine has woven so much truth into this one book. It’s heartrending and at the same time so uplifting and beautiful. I would say her best yet, but it’s hard to judge against the Out of Time series as they are such different books. So, ties for best yet 😛
*Side note: Go read Out of Time if you haven’t already! One of the best Dystopians I’ve ever read!*
I’m going to start a new thing where I post some of my shorter works every now and then. I really wanted to set this up on it’s own page, but I suck with computers and couldn’t figure out how to have two separate blogs on the same site. So for now, they will go up here and you can find them all together under the category ‘Rae’s Writing’ on the sidebar. Hope you enjoy!
Here’s my first entry. It’s a travel piece I did in college about when I lived in Istanbul.
Finding a Place Among 15 Million
A wail pierced the night and soon became a chant. I was ripped from the thin veil of sleep I had just managed to pull over my eyes. Within seconds, the chant was taken up in all directions. With the wailing came the howling of the stray dog packs that took possession of the vacant lot next door. “Ughh! How will I ever sleep here?” Mosques weren’t exactly a new thing for me, but I had never been near ones fully equipped with very capable loudspeakers. At least three within hearing range, and none of them quite in sync.
By the time I moved, nearly five
years later, I had gotten used to it. There came a point when I would sit near
the window through the whole call to prayer and not realize I had heard it until
it was over. Nevertheless, those first few nights were rough. Battling jet lag
at the same time wasn’t much of an advantage either. It was better during the
day. Not that the call was any less earsplitting or disruptive, but it was
tempered with the noise of the busy city. I had to listen for it over the
rumble of buses and cars as I made my way to church on Sunday mornings with my
Boarding the bus, I would scan my akbil to pay for the ride and try to
find a seat. There often wasn’t one. I soon mastered the art of staying upright
on a crowded bus that was constantly lurching forward and stopping abruptly. I distracted
myself in these less than ideal situations by watching out the window. As I
passed the crowds of people and cramped buildings, I realized how lucky we were
to have found such a great place to live.
In Istanbul, a city housing 15 million and spanning two continents, there is not much room for any one person. However, we were blessed with a standalone apartment building containing a small, nicely tended, garden. There was a scrap yard across the street, but at least no windows looking in on us. And though the empty lot next door provided the dogs with a congregating spot (and the stench from the animals housed there at Ramadan was certainly not pleasant) we were far better off than many others.
As the bus crested one of the many hills it traversed every day, I was given a glimpse of the wonder of this city. The buildings, that up close looked dirty with dust and chipping paint, here became a vibrant mosaic: white, yellow, orange, and pink, and brown, all with red tile roofs running down to meet the glistening curve of the Bosphorus. Which I would then cross by boat.
Another scan of the akbil, a helping hand to board, and a short swaying walk past the enclosed seating of the first level, where one could buy snacks and tea, and up to the top for a clear view and delicious breeze. That is one of the things I miss most about Turkey. The boat ride, but also the food. Toast (more like an English toastie or a grilled cheese than the American breakfast food); pide and lahmacun (the conquerors of all pizza); iskender, döner, and köfte (savory meat dishes); kebaps; and for special occasions, baklava and sütlaç! But I digress.
Once docked, the ripe smell of the
fish market met my nose. From there it was just a short walk to the metro and
then onto Istiklal Caddesi (or Independence Avenue). “Now, I heard there
was supposed to be another demonstration today,” my mother would say,
“so we have to be careful.” Right, because Istiklal wouldn’t be
Istiklal without some form of protest. But the protests were generally peaceful,
not much more than a small group holding signs and some riot police standing by
just in case. More importantly, they generally took place at the opposite end
of the street from us. Although, Istiklal has won itself international fame for
the demonstrations that became rather violent a couple years back.
Despite this, I always liked Istiklal. A long, cobbled street, displaying some gorgeous architecture. With quaint red and white trams running through its middle, it is home to some superb restaurants and splendid shops. Most tourists like to visit the grand Hagia Sophia and the fragrant Spice Bazzar. I thoroughly enjoyed my bit of this typical experience; however, I found a shop I much preferred to visit. I only went in a few times and was never able to buy anything, but it was more astounding to me than any amount of refurbished paintings or tasteful cooking supplies. Somewhere in the press of buildings on Istiklal Caddesi is a small second-hand shop most wouldn’t see unless they knew it was there. Inside is a treasure house. A labyrinth of cultural artifacts, lightly coated with dust under dim lighting, and exuding a musty sent. Faded fezzes, rusting swords, tapestries woven in rugs, furs, pipes, and elaborate dresses fit for a sultana. Many of the objects came from the sets of old films, or so I was told.
Emerging from the magical closet, my
path led back to the teeming dock, over the rippling river, onto the bus
stocked with a myriad of people, and into the apartment with a yard and empty
lot. There to have dinner and listen to the symphony on the loudspeakers once
again. And so I adapted to much more than a call from a mosque. I imbibed the
sights, smells, tastes, and feelings of this vibrant culture and found my home,
my place among 15 million.
I just spent an amazing weekend at the Realm Makers Conference! For the uninitiated, Realm Makers is a community for spec-fic writers of faith. The Realm Makers Conference has more the feeling of a con or family reunion of epic proportions than your typical professional conference. And I basically live for it!
A Few Highlights
The Awards Banquet: The banquet is always awesome and a perfect excuse for geeking out with costumes! Pretty much every fandom in existence can be found at some point in the night. I went as Katara from Avatar and happened to meet a Toph 😀
The Swag: I stocked up on all the things! Came home with some great new reads, specialty tea, and a handcrafted mug. I always spend way too much money at these things! But the books are all signed, so it’s worth it 😉
The Pitch: I pitched To Slay a Curse! It wasn’t nearly as scary as I was expecting. In fact it went really well, and a full manuscript was requested! I know it’s a long process and still might not work out, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. More info forthcoming 🙂
It’s con season! I’m headed to Realm Makers, an amazing writer’s conference, in a little over a week and I can’t wait to be back with my tribe! I’ve been way too busy preparing to get out one of my usual book reviews. So instead, I want to highlight a couple fun books about conventions for your summer reading.
Don’t Cosplay With My Heart
Telling the story of Edan Kupferman, a girl who uses cosplay as an escape from her messy life, this book explores the reasons humans are drawn to storytelling. Filled with the fun of fandoms while not being afraid to deal with the harder things in life, this is a great look into the comic-con scene.
The Pros of Cons
When bags are mixed up at a busy convention center, three girls from very different walks of life are thrown together. A truly hilarious story of unlikely friendship, competition, and the chaos of cons.
I honestly haven’t read this one yet but have heard great things! This unique Cinderella re-telling features food trucks, cosplay contests, and teen heartthrobs.
Hi, everyone! I’ve been out for a while, so I just want to give a quick life update. Work is out for the summer and I just got back from a trip to Italy!
We spent about a week with lovely friends in Belluno and took day trips to the Dolomites (part of the Alps) and Verona! Highlight for me was, of course, Juliet’s house. Even though it was crazy crowded. I even tried a coffee. It was ok with enough sugar but I think I’ll stick with tea. Their hot chocolate, however, is amazing!
Now that I’m back, I’ve got to really crunch down on the writerly things. I’ll be giving my first pitch for To Slay a Curse at Realm Makers conference in about a month, and there’s tons of stuff to get ready by then. I’m freaking out a little, but really excited.
Now, on to what you’re really here for: books! I did get through two great indie reads during travel time and just want to give a mini review here.
If Wishes Were Curses by Janeen Ippolito
Janeen’s new series has all you could want in an Urban Fantasy: shifters, snark, mystery, and mayhem! What’s more, the sequel Wish You Weren’t Here just dropped!
Blurb: So, I accidentally killed a shifter. On purpose. With genie powers I shouldn’t be able to use, thanks to my curse-mark. In my defense, the damn grizzly was threatening civilians and might have been a vampire as well. Pittsburgh is safer without him. Only the Fae court doesn’t believe my story, and the shifters are out for blood. Now I’ve lost my job as a romantic investigator, and I’m on death row. My only hope is an oddly outgoing vegetarian vampire lawyer who seems strangely familiar. Too familiar. Almost like we’ve met before, and this whole thing was a set-up to take us both down. Wishing won’t get us out of this mess. But my forbidden wish magic just might.
The Electrical Menagerie by Mollie E. Reeder
If you like The Greatest Showman and Sherlock Holmes you will love this steampunk adventure! Can’t wait for the sequel slated to come out later this summer!
Blurb: The Electrical Menagerie, one-of-a-kind robotic roadshow, is bankrupt. Sylvester Carthage, illusionist and engineer, has the eccentric imagination the Menagerie needs to succeed creatively–but none of the people skills. Fast-talking Arbrook Huxley, meanwhile, has all the savvy the Menagerie needs to succeed commercially–but none of the scruples. To save their show, Carthage & Huxley risk everything in a royal talent competition, vying for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to perform for the Future Celestial Queen. In this stardust-and-spark-powered empire of floating islands and flying trains, The Electrical Menagerie’s bid at fame and fortune means weathering the glamorous and cutthroat world of critics, high society, and rival magicians–but with real conspiracy lurking beneath tabloid controversy, there’s more at stake in this contest than the prize. Behind the glittery haze of flash paper and mirrors, every competitor has something to hide…and it’s the lies Carthage & Huxley tell each other that may cost them everything.
Overall, both were thrilling fast-paced reads great for on the plane, at the beach, or just whenever!