Book Review: Heir of Ashes

Jina Bazzar’s debut fantasy novel Heir of Ashes reads at a pace that left me breathless. The action is non-stop, and if you enjoy a powerful female protagonist, you’ve found her in Roxanne Fosch. The book was just re-released by Creativia Publishing (congrats, Jina!) and I’m delighted to share my review.

But, of course, I had to learn a little more about Jina first. She was gracious enough to answer two questions. The first focused on her writing style and how she went about developing a plotline that’s so rip-roaring fast-paced and full of action! The second question was more personal. Jina is visually challenged, and I was curious about how that hampers her as a writer, as well as how it’s made her a better writer.

Here are her answers:

I’m a fan of anything fantasy. I also enjoy adventure/action-packed books. Add a little fairy magic and you get the perfect mix. So when I decided to give writing a try, it was no surprise I got the fantasy/action/fairy combination. I knew who my protagonist was, I knew she would be fighting for her freedom. I had the introduction, a vague notion of the middle, and the ending in mind. That’s as far as planning went.  

When I type, I let the story flow. Yes, I do lots of revisions but the pantser style feels somewhat gratifying.

As for my blindness, let me first say that being blind isn’t as hard as people believe it to be. Picture this: I see by touch, smell, sound (I don’t lick things, though I’ve been told I eat lunch while cooking). It’s a lot slower than just focusing your eyes at a point and sending that image to your brain. On the plus side, because I depend on my other senses to see, I’ve developed a sharper focus. I don’t have stronger hearing, I just pick up on the smallest nuances.

I can’t say being blind interferes with my writing, though I feel like I have an advantage other writers don’t: when I’m done typing, I turn on the automatic reader, lean back and listen to the flow. Most times, I can tell when the reader needs to take a breath – I add a comma here – or when the words jar, or when I need to add/delete something.

I do have a few peeves I believe I could manage if I could see:

Book formatting. No matter how many word tutorials I go through, I can’t get it right. Last year I thought I had it, but then a beta sent me an e-mail asking about the weird format.

Another peeve is the spell checker. If it doesn’t agree with my word choice, it highlights and suggests a similar sounding word. By and buy, cant and can’t, seize and cease, its and it’s… you get my point. Before I became aware of this evil plot, I’d correct and move on. But on the umpteenth revision, I realized some words sounded different, depending on where they fell in a sentence (remember, I pick up on small nuances).

And so I started checking some words letter by letter before correcting or not. That’s when I learned I had another foe: auto-correct.

And now, on to the review of Heir of Ashes.

If you’ve been looking for an electrifyingly fast-paced, paranormal book with a kick-ass female protagonist, this is it! Hold on to your seat and get ready for the ride. Never a dull moment and no mushy stuff in this book. She’s saving men more than they’re saving her.

Roxanne Fosch had preternatural abilities, but she doesn’t know the extent of her power and has only a sketchy idea of her past. Her adolescence was spent in a government research facility as a test subject, a place she escaped from a year before the book’s opening page.

Roxanne dreams of a normal life, and she wants to understand who and why she is, dreams and questions that will have to wait. The book is basically a chase as the morally corrupt researchers and their paramilitary goons try to recapture Roxanne. But the book is much more complex than that as other factions and interest groups help and hinder her. She has little trust for anyone, and the reader is left to question motives as well.

The story is told in 1st person from Roxanne’s point of view, and therefore the reader gets to experience some of the vulnerability that she rarely shows on the outside. She’s one tough cookie when baring her face to the world. This dichotomy makes her interesting and thoroughly believable. All of the characters are well-rounded and the dialog is natural and effortless.

A world full of preternatural beings is a given in this book with minimal backstory as to how this came to be, though Roxanne’s ancestral origins are eventually revealed. There are parallel worlds, werewolves, vampires, shapeshifters, Celtic fae (called the fee), and other monsters. The range of powerful abilities covers a wide spectrum where some, like Roxanne’s, are yet to be fully defined.

Above all, the action is non-stop, and there were plenty of times when I had no idea how Bazzar was going to get her protagonist out of the mess she put her in. Not all of my questions were answered about Roxanne’s journey, the other characters, and the factions at play, but this is the first book in the series, and I could see the preparation for book two.

I highly recommend this book to readers of speculative fiction, and anyone who loves high-action, fast-paced stories, and powerful female protagonists.

**

Happy Reading!

Book Review: Atonement in Bloom

I’ve been aboard Teagan’s tour bus for a few days and just hopped off for some biscuits and gravy in Atonement, Tennessee. While I’m at it, I’ll attempt a little magic for Teagan and share my review of Atonement in Bloom.

But, oh, not so fast. First I had to delve into Teagan’s amazing technicolor pantser brain and find out how she does it! Here is my question:

I know that you’re a pantser, Teagan, and I assure you that this is foreign territory for us dedicated outliners. Your stories are full of magic – people, objects, places, lore – and they all converge on the small town of Atonement in a zany adventure with eight plot threads whirling around at once. How do you keep this literary cyclone straight and make sure that it arrives at “the end” in one piece? I’d love to learn about the method to your madness. How you keep your stories straight?

Here’s her answer:

Teagan’s Tips for Pantsers

Diana, thank you from the bottom of my heart for letting me visit Myths of the Mirror. I love your blog name. I can’t help being reminded of the wickedly mischievous mirror in my Atonement stories.

Horsefeathers! Did I really have eight plot threads? I suppose that statement alone is a good way to illustrate the differences between pantsers and plotters. (A pantser is someone who “flies by the seat of their pants,” writing in a completely unplanned way.)

If I had my druthers, I would have a rather loose plan and a vague outline — I’d be a combination pantser and plotter. However, my job keeps me in a stress overload. When I’m stressed, I can’t cope with the planning of writing. The serials on my blog are full-on pantser, 100% spontaneous and unplanned.

atonement notebook

While Atonement, Tennessee actually was planned (those were better days!), the sequel, Atonement in Bloom… not so much. Plus, because of work, I had to start and stop repeatedly over several years. That would make it even harder for me to plan.

How to keep it straight? I create a character matrix before I start writing. Even though I’m not planning, the storytelling can’t start until I have a character. So I note some details about that character. Then as other characters, artifacts, and places come into the story, I add them to the matrix. Sometimes I give the reader a clue — yet I don’t know where it’s going. Things like that get a note in the matrix too.

I do have a couple of tricks

The matrix is in Excel. I have a lot of columns and I try to fill in the same details for every character – whether or not I actually use the detail in the story.

Electronic notes

MS Word – Styles. As I write the story, I make notes in the manuscript regarding where in the story certain things happen. I use the Styles feature in word combined with enabling the “navigation pane.” When I apply a heading style to the note, it lets me see it, at a glance, on the left side of the screen. So it’s very easy for me to keep track of where or when something happened.

Atonement 2 nav pane

Diana, I’m absolutely thrilled that you enjoyed Atonement in Bloom. Thank you again for letting me visit. Hugs!

Diana’s note here: As an outliner, I also keep a number of Excel grids, but I’ve never considered using Word’s Styles to make notes! Great tip for all writers. Thanks, Teagan!

And now my review:

Atonement in Bloom begins at the point where Atonement, Tennessee (book one) ended. Although the events that took place in book 1 were erased from the memories of most of Atonement’s citizens, Ralda and her Goth friend, Bethany, remember very clearly.

Not only has little returned to normal, but the presence of magic in the small town is much deeper and broader than first imagined. As it turns out, more people know about the local magic than just Ralda and Bethany, and magical characters are constantly popping in to sway events. There is a wide variety of objects with a range of supernatural powers, most which came from Sunhold, Ralda’s old house by the cemetery.

Geneviene is at it again with a whimsical, magic-filled story that is full of surprises. The gal pals take a back seat this time, except for Bethany, as the plot thickens and runs off the rails – in a good way! The action starts immediately, and the pace speeds along with multiple events and mysteries piling one atop another. One of my favorite scenes was when a love spell goes haywire and the characters are all attracted to the wrong people.

Besides the author’s wild imagination, I was once again enamored with a host of delightful characters including glowing pigs that talk, a woman who’s a living Meadow and leaves flowers growing in her wake, and a slithering dragon that is mistaken for a bear. Robin, the Shakespeare-quoting sheriff has a bigger role. And, of course, Ralda’s cat, Lilith, makes a reappearance as the only other POV character besides her owner.

In keeping with the tone of the first book, this is a light and fanciful read with plenty to keep a reader entertained. Appropriate for all ages and perfect for anyone who loves playful magic.

Ready for a magical read?

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An unexpected beta-read result, and a review

Nick Rowe, aka Babbitman (a talented writer who lives in England), beta-read Catling’s Bane for me while it was in the works. It’s the first book in a fantasy/sci-fi series that takes place on another planet. One of my characters, Tiler, is a heart-of-gold bad guy who has a flair for creative swearing.  I made up “fictional” swear words not only as a way to define his character, but also to distinguish this fantasy planet from Earth.

Tiler’s made-up curse words were inspired by the Foul O’Matic. If you aren’t easily offended, give it a try. It’s a hoot.

Well, I thought I had created swear words and phrases that were on the mild side. Then Nick read the manuscript for me, and he nearly spat out his coffee/tea/pint (I forget which). Apparently, some of Tiler’s improvised curses were rather over-the-top in the UK. For a week or so, we emailed back and forth, discussing creative foul language and making up alternatives. He even made a chart! It was pretty hysterical and a totally unexpected result of a beta-read.

Nick was kind enough to read the whole Rose Shield Series and recently reviewed all 4 books on his site (see below). While over there, take a peek at his serial about a couple of shipwrecked sailors who accidentally dine on the Greek gods, starting with Zeus when he appears as a swan. It’s pretty funny. 🙂

Nick’s review of the Rose Shield Series: 

I’ve been meaning to write a comprehensive review of the Rose Shield tetralogy (one more than a trilogy, in case you were wondering) for ages but things kept getting in the way, not least the amount of time it took to read them in the first place; this is a substantial story (over 1200 pages in total) but I promise you that there’s no padding.

I was tempted to frame it in the context of one young girl’s rise from poverty and disfigurement to power and Influence, but it’s much more than that. It’s set in a world on a knife-edge that’s about to undergo a series of changes both internally and externally with questions of succession, invasion, occupation, injustice, and revolution. And it’s into this maelstrom of competing interests that Catling is thrown…

(Continue Reading: Book Review: The Rose Shield Series)

First Review: Soul Swallowers

I’m on the mend after sleeping off a four-day fever. I apologize for neglecting everyone’s blogs and will start catching up today. I think the old bod was telling me that I’d spent too many days happy-dancing the release of Soul Swallowers.

For me, the first review always feels monumental, and it’s a thrill and relief when it validates the months of hard work. I’m delighted to share Soul Swallower’s first review, written by talented fantasy author Cathleen Townsend. (And I promise that I’m limiting my happy-dancing to my imagination.)

Cathleen’s review:

Have you heard? D. Wallace Peach has released a new fantasy series, and news like that is worth our attention.

Soul Swallowers is D. Wallace Peach’s best book to date, and that’s saying something. From her prior books I’ve come to expect expert plotting, three-dimensional characters, and truly magnificent world building.

In this book, Ms. Peach has taken a single world-building premise—that people can swallow other people’s souls after they die—and worked it into a fantastic, detailed secondary world. Here, the powerful squabble for ever more influence while the wretches and unlucky are sold into slavery. The main character, Raze, has turned his back on a life of wealth and privilege, and joins another man in building up a small farm, a freehold, assisted by former slaves who soon become an extended family.

But the Byzantine politics of Raze’s former circle soon entangle him again, and he’s forced to re-enter his old world to try to save the members of his new family…

(To read the last bit of the review, visit Cathleen’s blog, and while you’re there, you might check out her latest novella: The Golden Key)

Happy Reading whatever book you happen to be holding!

Fairies, Myths, & Magic: Book Review

Colleen Chesebro has a new book of poetry and short stories. The tagline is “A Summer Celebration” and how perfect that it was released on the summer solstice. I snapped it up and read it while the sun lollygagged overhead.  Rather than quiz Colleen, I asked her if I could share my favorite short story from the book, and she agreed. Her gorgeous story “The Pond” struck a deep chord, as if she’d written it just for me. My review for the collection follows. ❤

The Pond

by Colleen Chesebro

My journey brings me to a nearby prairie slough where prescient reflections shimmer under the summer sun. Today, I am in pursuit of mythical enlightenment. You know, the kind where magic resonates in the shriek of a hawk and in the howling yips from the coyote pups that play on the sandy shore under a full moon. The alchemy of the moment is not lost on my hungering soul.

A numinous pack –
as turquoise heavens beseech
Mother Gaia’s goal.
Spirit, water, fire, earth, air,
her connection reigns supreme.

As I gaze into the pond, I see the reflections of the woman I’ve become, Past and future meld as one. For today, the wisdom I seek is my bond with the one.

***

My Review:

The tagline on this book is A Summer Celebration, and what better day to read it than on the summer solstice. Chesebro’s book is a collection of poetry and short stories that celebrates not only the presence of summer, but the connection of the human spirit to the Earth, a bond that is ancient, new, and eternal.

Some of the selections are playful like the mermaid bedtime story “A Fish Tale.” Or endearing like “Just What the Doctor Ordered,” in which two pixies get soused in a pitcher of mojitos. Others like “The Healer” take on mythic proportions and read like ancient legends.

But most delve into the mysterious and magical nature of the world around us and our journey through it. The theme of rebirth and self-discovery appears in both story and poem form, and these were perhaps my favorites because they felt both personal and universal. “The Rebirth” is a gorgeous haibun/tanka poem. “The Fairy Spider’s Lair” is full of Earth magic, and “The Pond” is a story that spoke to my soul. Just gorgeous.

I could go on and on, but you’ll have to pick up this book and read them yourself.

Have a free afternoon with nothing to do? …. Amazon Global Link

Bio:

Colleen M. Chesebro is a writer of YA fantasy and magical realism, cross-genre fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. She loves all things magical which may mean that she could be experiencing her second childhood – or not. That part of her life hasn’t been fully decided yet.

A few years ago, a mystical experience led her to renew her passion for writing and storytelling. These days she resides in the fantasy realm of the Fairy Whisperer where she writes the magical poetry and stories that the fairy nymphs whisper to her in her dreams.

Colleen won the Little and Laugh Flash Fiction Contest sponsored by the CarrotRanch Literary Community.com in November 2017 for her piece, called “The Bus Stop.” Her debut novel, “The Heart Stone Chronicles: The Swamp Fairy,” won gold in the 2017 AuthorsDB.com cover contest.

Colleen lives in Colorado with her husband. When she is not writing, she enjoys spending time with her husband and friends. She also loves gardening, reading, and crocheting old-fashioned doilies into works of art. You can learn more about Colleen at www.colleenchesebro.com

Born in a Treacherous Time: Book Review

As some of you know, I like torturing quizzing authors about their books before I spill my review. Jacqui Murray has been everywhere sharing her latest, Born in a Treacherous Time. To be honest, I wasn’t sure about paleo-fiction. Paleo fiction? Hmm. But, Jacqui is immensely talented, and I’ve enjoyed her other books, so I figured I’d give it a go.

Well, move over Jean Auel (Clan of the Cavebear), Jacqui Murray has written a mesmerizing book! And I have to rave a little.

Her world-building is fascinating, and one of the things that most impressed me was her full immersion into the prehistoric timeframe that shares so little with our current way of life. I didn’t sense, at any point, that modern sensibilities were leaking into the characters or action. The ancient humans were deftly integrated into the harsh landscape and its primordial life, perfectly balanced between primate and human. The meticulous care taken to create this reality was stunning. What I wanted to know was – how did Jacqui stay on track? How did she keep the characters so honest to the developmental time in history? Here’s her response:

Jacqui Murray

What a great question, Diana.

The short answer is, I spent a lot of time living in Lucy’s world (of Homo habilis). I started by reading everything I could get my hands on about life in that era (a lot of paleo topics like paleoclimate and paleogeology). But scientists have so few artifacts of those ancestors, I had to dig deeply into the worlds of the Great Apes (the animals that came immediately before upright man)—apes gorillas, orangutans. Through the sensibilities and work of women like Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas, I gained tremendous admiration for these predecessors who ultimately shaped man. In fact, now, when I look at one of these creatures, I no longer see an animal; I see a human. Primitive but with the seeds of who we are.  I am disgusted at the barbarian practice of using apes for drug testing as though they are less than human. They aren’t less than me, just different.

Once I grounded myself, I had to remember Lucy’s world had no fire, no clothing, no religion or art, no music, no spoken language, no symbolic names (their call signs were sounds). No cultural rules. Attachments revolved around survival not emotion. And her animal instinct was super-charged with her brilliant brain. As I wrote, I had to make sure I was true to those guidelines.

Here’s an example. I knew hunting (which to them was scavenging carcasses) involved long periods of waiting while the alpha predator finished its meal and other scavengers got first crack at the remains. Lucy would crouch in grass (early human bottoms didn’t allow them to sit yet), the humidity pressing in, the crawly creatures biting through her hair/fur, the sun beating down or maybe rain. I had to remember Lucy didn’t care about any of this and never relaxed while waiting. She was always busy smelling what was around her, smelling for those who hunted with her to know where they were, sniffing to find other scavengers who might try to take her food. She was weaker than every predator in her habitat with worse offensive and defensive capabilities (flat teeth, dull nails, thin skin). But she did have a brain that could plan, think, and problem-solve (in a primitive fashion).  Other animals could do that but their actions were based in instinct. Lucy’s was driven by her growing intellect.

Over all, I kept Lucy honest to her true self because I developed absolute respect for her, who she was, her primitive moral core, her ability to never feel sorry for herself. She’s who I would love to be in a sense but I’m simply not tough enough!

***

And now for my review:

Move over Jean Auel (Clan of the Cave Bear) for Jacqui Murray. I went to bed right after dinner last night because I had to finish this book and would have stayed up all night to do it. What a fabulous read.

Born in a Treacherous Time takes place at the very start of mankind’s development – we are inventive, communal, thoughtful, emotional beings, but still deeply rooted in our animal origins, fully integrated into the harsh volcanic landscape and with the creatures who share our world. Survival is an ongoing challenge and hunger a constant companion. Overlaying the struggles of daily life is the threat of man-who-preys, the next generation of mankind.

The story follows Lucy (Woo-See) through a period of years. She’s a strong character, a healer and a hunter who’s eager to learn new skills that not only make her an asset to her group but leave her an outsider. There are a number of compelling characters, fully developed and distinct, with a wide range of personalities.

No doubt, Murray did her research, but so little is truly known about this time, that I’m certain she had to employ her imagination as well. The world-building is meticulous. Murray deftly presents a world as seen through the eyes of those who inhabit it. She created words (and hand-signals) to describe the landscape based on the characters’ observations: “Night Sun” instead of moon, “Fire Mountain” instead of volcano. Her attention to creating a logical and detailed reality is stunning. I was honestly enthralled.

The world-building extends to characters as well, and I loved that none of them had “modern” sensibilities that would have tainted the believability of the story. No one is squeamish about raw food or bodily functions, and death is viewed as a natural occurrence. The characters have many of the natural abilities and acute senses of the animals living around them, yet unlike their animal cousins, their understanding of the world grows with each experience.

Best of all, as a reader I became quite attached to these primitive humans, empathizing with their struggles, losses, and choices. There is a depth of emotion, spirit of community, and generous nobility that stretches through the hundreds of thousands of years to our current lives. A captivating book that I recommend to any reader who enjoys adventures, exquisite world-building, or works of historical fiction and prehistory.

Want a book that will keep you up all night?

Here’s a global Amazon link: Born in a Treacherous Time.

Check out Jacqui’s blog too: Word Dreams

 

 

Colleen’s 2018 #Book #Reviews – “Myths of the Mirror, Dragon Soul Book 1” by D. Wallace Peach

Colleen Chesebro (aka the Fairy Whisperer) has been making quick work of a few of my books and has penned some wonderfully heartfelt reviews. Myths of the Mirror was my first born, and I couldn’t be more delighted that she found my baby beautiful. Ha ha. Here’s her review. ❤

Colleen Chesebro ~ The Faery Whisperer

book reviewsTitle: Myths of the Mirror, Dragon Soul Quartet #1

Amazon Author Page: D. Wallace Peach

Publication Date: 2nd edition, August 19, 2016

Formats: Paperback & Kindle

Genres: Science Fiction & Fantasy, New Adult & College, Coming of Age, Fantasy

Goodreads

IN THE AUTHOR’S WORDS:

“In the distant mountains of the Mirror, exiled skyriders fly dragons in the old Way, merged in flesh, blood, and bone. Twenty years past, they fought for the freedom of the valley’s dragons … and lost.

Imprisoned in the stone lair, the captive dragons beat their webbed wings and thrash serpentine tails. They tear their flesh and batter their bodies against the black bars of their cells, iron grating against iron. The once peaceful creatures howl, tormented by spine and spur, their fury matched only by their despair.

Treasa, the daughter of exiles, seeks the secrets of a hidden past and a father she never…

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