Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Happy Release Day to B.I. Woolet

The fantastic astronomer-author duet of Benji and Ila Woolet have been gracious enough to stop by my blog for an interview of their first book ever, The Hunter, the Bear, and the Seventh Sister. This is a fantastic read for adults and their kids in middle school. The novel is a fun blend of education and fast-paced adventure. You can see my full review here

Amy) You came up with such an interesting blend of science and fantasy. I really enjoyed the astronomy ties in your characters. Where did you decide to pull these great characters from space to the blank page?

B.I. Woolet) About the same time we decided to write a fantasy story, we bought our first telescope. We had grand visions of Nasa pictures bursting with color and power through the small lens. All we got was a barren, gray, and holey moon. While we saved up money for a “real” telescope, we started looking more at the night sky to find constellations. For star gazing, the constellations are like little maps that help you find hidden treasures between stars with a telescope. It didn’t take long for us to fall in love with Orion, Ursa Major, and the Pleiades. We didn’t just want to leave them up in the sky at night; we wanted them to come to life. One by one, the characters in the stars were added to our story until we gave the entire story over to their charms! It took a lot of research, but we love that we can tell a fun adventure story and also inspire people back to the stars.

Amy) As authors, it is easiest to write from experience. From what I have seen of your planetarium fundraisers and promotions, you really know your stuff. Do you plan on continuing the astronomy theme throughout this series?

B.I. Woolet) In all honesty, we are totally amateurs in the astronomy world (and as Benji tells people, we are amateur-amateur astronomers) But we love it! We learned most things from our own research, but now we are learning more through people we have met in local astronomy clubs. We will definitely continue to use the stars and deep space objects throughout the entire World of Arcas series. We have so many constellations and deep space treasures waiting to inspire new and interesting characters. Get ready to meet other celestial heroes and monsters along the journey!  

Amy) You have an excellent website, great editor, and wonderful formatting. How have you found the experience of gearing up your very first book? Would you say there is a welcome environment for fledgling authors to make a path for themselves?

B.I. Woolet) Thank you! It definitely helped that we worked together as a team. It was a long 2-year process to finish writing, but it was fun. It’s great for any couple to have a hobby they enjoy together, and creating a fantasy world was our hobby. Trying traditional publishing can be very difficult involving years of writing letters and contacting agents. We experimented with this route for a few months and then decided that we weren’t going to wait for someone to pick us up. We decided to follow the entrepreneurial spirit and do it ourselves. The environment is friendlier than it has ever been to new authors, but authors need to shop around and research to pick the best route. There are a lot of places eager to take your money and help you publish, but you may pay more and have less control over the options (and in some cases, they sell you stuff you really don’t need!) We went with a free-lance editor & interior book designer (Amy Eye) and a free-lance cover design artist (Regina Wamba). We were very pleased with the price, product, and the personal touch.

Amy) What is written in the stars for the future of this series? I’m certainly looking forward to the next book and hoping for some more to follow after.

B.I. Woolet) The next book will bring back our beloved band of heroes from book one, but they will have difficult new struggles to overcome. The old evil may be gone from Arcas, but a greater darkness has risen in his place. We are also going to shake a few things up in Jackson’s life on Earth, which will lead him to willingly return to the other world. We have more stellar characters to reveal in Arcas, more ancient legends, and more twists!

Make sure you stop by your preferred local bookseller to pick up a paperback or click here for an Amazon kindle edition. You can learn more about the World of Arcas at their amazing website: www.worldofarcas.com; as well as, visiting them on twitter @worldofarcas or on Facebook.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Polyhedral Roll to Book 4

Did you like my blog redesign? I hope to have more interviews, guest posts, and sundry other author involvement items on this year, in addition to my wonderful reviews that you stop by weekly to read. 

The Reaver by Richard Lee Buyers

This series has definitely been all over the vast D&D map for me. Some authors have left me feeling left behind for not having read previous books. Others have created an elaborate world I want to know more about because I realize there is so much more to know. In the grand scope, I have enjoyed what each author brings to the table with their revitalization of the D&D worldbuilding, but this installment tops the list as my favorite. 

The characters were rich and eclectic, just the way I love to read them. I mean, come on now, who doesn't love pirates and classic vampires? However, I became most intrigued with the Red Mage sect. Not the type of magic I thought I would go for, either. Umara is just one cool character. One of the items that made me place this book as the #1 rank out of the four so far published, is an introduction of Stedd from a previous book. We are now starting to have some true overlap of purpose in these stories. The sense of drifting in something familiar-but-not-quite-known has begun to fade. 

There is plenty of action and adventure for the boys, but a dash of connection as three typical castaway, loners carve a bond in each others' hearts for the girls. The struggle of Anton, Umara, and Stedd to work together and build trust is very realistic and excellently developed through this story. The pacing was great. I was a little disappointed when I got to the ending but was not left wanting. 

Richard Lee Buyers proved himself a veteran author with fluent writing and great theory. It all built together to make a truly excellent book. The price tag is still a little high for my taste (aside: I have a hard time with any hardback prices. And yes, I know that they cost more to make with binding and all the shiny printing extras. I still have a hard time with it.), but each book is running an introductory promotion that makes it hard to miss out on purchasing. Or, you can go digital and knock off even a few more dollars. This is the first of the series that I am honestly contemplating purchase.

Here is to another special post tomorrow!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Interview with Anna Kashina

As promised, I have branched out to a different limb of the literary tree and expanded my blog to have more active participation with the great authors I have met through my Netgalley experience. 

I was given the opportunity to do an excellent interview with Anna Kashina, author of Mistress of Solstice, this week. Her answers are inspiring to the true meaning of folklore. She really embodied why I feel it is so important to read folk tales of all nationalities to our children. They can be even better when placed in such amazing fiction for adults. If you missed out on my previous review, you can catch it here. You should really take the opportunity to read this fascinating storytelling. If you have not already taken the leap, purchase it here.

Amy) As a doctor of veterinary medicine, what made you decide to write? And why not about animals?

Anna) Actually, I am not a veterinarian, even though I do work in a veterinary school (and I do love animals). I have a Ph.D. in cell biology and my primary work is biomedical research, as well as teaching vet students. I guess in the end it does not really change the question, does it?

I believe that writing is not a decision one can consciously make. Instead, this occupation chooses you. One of the 19th century Russian classics once said that a writer is someone who simply cannot help writing. This couldn’t be more true in my case. Ever since I was little, I was haunted by images and stories that could only be released if they found their way into a piece of fiction. I wrote my first novel when I was six (thankfully, that one did not survive to posterity), and I just kept writing, and perfecting my skills, ever since.

Why not about animals? Well, I do have animal characters in some of my books, but they are mostly featured as primal deities, more ancient and powerful than any human. What mainly prevents me from writing about “real” animals is, I guess, the overwhelming emotional responsibility. To me, writing about animals feels like writing about helpless children. I feel too keenly if anything bad happens to them, and I cannot really apply the tools and capabilities of an adult human to get them out of bad situations. In addition, even though my books are usually adventures, my main drive in these books is character development and I feel too constrained when a character is an animal who cannot talk and whose thoughts I cannot relate to in a way I would to a human. Not to mention that elements of romance (which I really enjoy putting into my books) definitely don’t work the same way in the animal world. Because of all these things, I don’t write (or read) any fiction involving animals as main characters. I just can’t.

Amy) How did you decide to bring the Slavic mythology to the American publishing industry?

Anna) I am a native of Russia, and I moved to America as an adult, so in a way Slavic mythology is in my blood. It is not only close to me because of my cultural background, but I also believe it is fascinating and unique because it blends the elements of East and West like no other folklore does. I always wanted to write stories based on Slavic myths, and “Mistress of the Solstice” is definitely not my last one.

One of the reasons for wanting to bring it into American publishing is that I felt it has never been done right before. Even though several American and British fantasy authors had used Slavic mythology as their backdrop, they did not relay a deep understanding of how different this mythology is. It felt a bit like taking a traditional Western fantasy and changing all kings to czars and all names from Mary and John to Vanya and Masha. It seems like this could make the book a Slavic fantasy, but it really is not.

I believe my book, “Mistress of the Solstice” is different because it captures the true essence of the Slavic mythology and hopefully shows to everyone how distinct it is from the Western culture.

To some extent, I also incorporated this background into my upcoming adventure fantasy “Blades of the Old Empire”, but in a more subtle way. This book is a true blend of East and West--the way Slavic mythology is.

Amy) Do you find folktales an important part of passing culture to future generations?

Anna) Definitely yes. I have read folk tales from many different cultures. There is a saying that one picture is worth a thousand words. In the same sense, one short tale could tell so much about the lifestyle, the beliefs, the mentality of each culture, often in very few pages. Folk tales are also among the most lasting forms of art and cultural heritage. Words live on. I hope folk tales will be around for generations to come.

Amy) Does the solstice hold any personal significance for you?

Anna) I find it a very interesting holiday, one of the most ancient ones, and Russian solstice tradition is particularly fascinating. This tradition survived the establishment of Christianity, the Mongol invasion, the communism--everything. People still celebrate it. We did, when I was in high school, thanks to our teacher, G.A. Sokolova. It is mind-boggling, but true: people still put on flower wreaths and dance around a bonfire; they still brew the potion of love--a tasty herbal tea, so welcome on a chilly Russian June night; they still choose a maiden and throw her into the water (not to drown her, thankfully, but to symbolize the sacrifice). I just felt that this tradition had to be passed on in some form. I hope “Mistress of the Solstice” captures this feeling.

You can learn more about Anna and her writings at her website: www.annakashina.com. You can also follow her on twitter @annakashina or Facebook.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Back into the North Hills

A peaceful weekend of local shopping at bookstores and antique shops left me a little lighter in the pocket. Nothing like adventuring in a new town and finding great local business. Stopped by the neighbors and received some excellent new year root vegetables. I also got the opportunity to curl up with the poodles and finish an excellent book. What a weekend!

Seasons of Wither by Shawn Underhill

This new author is blowing me away with his storytelling. He writes with such realism of character. There is so much emotion and energy in his books I have extreme difficulty putting them down. But I think what I appreciate the most is the genuine feel of honesty to the books. His thanks and notes section at the conclusion possibly made me happiest about this book. Shawn very honesty and openly told the readers he is taking a break. He wants to make sure that the next story is as rich as the first three and that means taking some time. He wants more for our enjoyment than the collection from our wallet. I LOVE THAT!

We have moved to the next phase in the mystery of who is stalking the North Hills pack. The tensions are building and everything is about to snap. Shawn even manages to have a character have an argument inside his mind that I visualized so vividly. I know we have all felt that brief insanity at times. The realism just continues to amaze me. Can I say enough times that this story is gritty and real and excellent? The mystery isn't too burdensome or meant to throw you off the scent. It is a pace setter for the adrenaline that makes your hackles rise.

Go pick up a copy today. Seriously. Here. At $2.99, you are just kidding yourself with excuses not to buy it. I greatly look forward to the next book. I'm probably even going to go check out this new series he mentioned. 

Here is to a new and exciting format next post!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The First Part of the Journey Ends

And the start of my year has been a blast (pretend that was in sarcasm font)! I really need to find a way to get this blog to be more like my income supply than my "real" job. So, not only am I going to continue using it is a marker for my 75-books-read goal this year, but I am going to try and branch out to some other avenues of the literary world for it. I have managed to meet so many great authors I want to spin that in this yarn somehow. Hope you like the changes coming!

Ashbar by Alon Shalev

So with a change of blog scenery, I review the "conclusion" to the Wycaan Master trilogy. This section of Seanchai's life may have come to a close, but I have it on pretty good authority that we will be continuing in the land of Odessiya. Plus the not-so-ending ending clued me in to future stories. Now we have assassins, firebreathers, bear shape shifters, and more Wycaans! This just keeps getting more epic.

The amount of character growth and development through this series continues to impress and amaze. I really look forward to seeing where these crazy kids are going to end up. The meek have developed confidence and bravery; the headstrong have developed balance and fortitude; and the confident have been rattled. Magnifico! The land to the west really made me see the great redwood forests in my mind. Love, love, loved the imagery descriptions. They were not too overdone and really led to great visualization.

First we met the elves in a human-only world. They were defeated and suppressed but still trying to make a home for themselves and their future to thrive. Then, we met the dwarves and their struggle against integration after isolation. Now we learn about the Pictorians (really neat species heritage) and the Elves of the West (the great mythos themselves). I really enjoy Shalev's integration of cultural struggle. How free is free? What is too small a population to stand up for what is right?

My only knock to the book, this time I think the editor was on vacation. I stumbled up on misplaced words and some serious typos. It was a bit of a bummer if I really had a great flow going with the story, but it did not ruin the 5 star experience as an overall.

I'm super stoked for more of the Aqua'lanis! What is Maugwen doing? Building excitement.

Here is heading back to the Northern Hills!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Seeing into a Ghostly Future

Forgot to add the last review from 2013. Whoops! All the holiday travel scrambled the brain.
Several years ago I read a very nice young adult fantasy series by Libba Bray. The overall big picture was a great story but there were certainly some stumbling blocks to me giving the series 5 stars. I was very interested to see where Ms. Bray was writing these days. I was quite impressed.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

The first novel certainly hooked me in for more of the series. There is a decisive, climatic ending. However, this is followed by a brief set up of clues left throughout the book and some new teasers for the next adventure. I was quite pleased with this literary device. I haven't seen it in many books so maybe that contributed to my liking the format here.

Ms. Bray certainly has come along quite nicely as an author. The Diviners takes place in New York during the roaring 20s. I really felt like I had been transported back in time. The language, the landmarks, etc were all clearly researched. My only complaint is Evie's catchphrase (and the insane amount of leading characters being named Evie these days), which is not very appealing and shows up a little too frequently.

This is more of a science fiction addition as it revolves around supernatural entities and powers for the Diviners. The whole novel really worked for me because of all the realism. Each character has excellent story development without taking too much away from any of the others. They were very well balanced.

The overall "theme" of us versus the mysterious paramilitary group in black is a little overdone, but this novel I found very interesting to read. I enjoyed all the story from start to finish. I would give this novel 4 stars for making me feel like time travel and real characters, and minus one star for worn out paramilitary mystery experimentation.

Here is to the finale in Galbrieth! 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Everybody Loves Comics

For day two of my review extravaganza, I have a three-for-one-deal. I received the second batch of Avatar: The Last Airbender follow up graphic novels for Christmas. (Starting to see a theme for my stack of presents under the tree, hehe?) The first trilogy (as reflected on earlier in my blog) followed directly behind the TV show and tied together a few of the semi-loose threads. This second trilogy now deals with the deep inner quest of Zuko to find his mother, with the help of (duhn-duhn-dun) his criminally insane sister. Good plot hook.

The Search by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko

As usual, these were fantastic. The story of the Avatar world is just immensely strong and beautiful. There are great messages about family, friendship, love, and loyalty. I really adore the artwork as well. Such clean lines and well drawn characters. The backgrounds are not forgotten because they hold the scene up. The colors are richly vibrant. For the money you pay, the quality of ink and paper is top notch and really feels like a bargain deal. There is clearly more to come from these inventive creators, and I look forward to grabbing that set as well. 

Here is to hoping the Avatar books keep running for some time!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

What It Really Means to Be Epic Fantasy

As to not overwhelm your reading sensibilities (and not produce too long of a wish list hopefully), my final review for the day. More will be released tomorrow!

The First Decree by Alon Shalev

This was an excellent sequel in the Wycaan Master series. In the first book, we were introduced to an adventurous set of teenagers comprised of elves and humans. All were misfits for their own individual secrets in a world divided but wonderfully found each other as the solution to their isolation. Their uniting has built the bridge for others to follow along that unification.

The First Decree takes us to the next section by introducing dwarves to the rag-tag gang. The depth of world building and race creation in this series is what it means to be epic fantasy. There is culture and presence with each individual as well as their associated races. I'm really crossing my fingers to get to see more of the Aqua'lansis. They are a new breed to my fantasy mythos, and I am certainly intrigued with their race. Mr. Shalev has even managed to create a system of evolution from the disruption to his authorverse's dawn of history to the modern telling of the story.

The story line moves along with great energy and action. There is a touch of romance and a dash of heroism. The characters struggle and conquer and fail. I really cannot come up with enough great things to say about these books. All because a father wanted to entertain his son on a picnic. Beautiful.

I look forward to starting my 2014 reading challenge with the finale. For more information, visit the author's page here.

Here is to tomorrow and more reviews!

Astronomy + Literature = 5 Star Science Fiction

The beginning of my two day review update madness. Do please bear (hehe, pun) with me while I catch you up on my amazing reading vacation. I am entirely grateful to all the readers of my blog, and I do sincerely hope I have given you worthy recommendations to your new favorite book.

The Hunter, the Bear, and the Seventh Sister by B.I. Woolet

A fantasy novel for the middle-aged reader, the whole story was still quite enjoyable for the adult reader. This is going to be a great book to read with your kids and hold some actual intellectual substance on top of its entertainment value. There are dragons, a jungle princess, a paranoid bear, and celestial constellation references galore. The pace moves along with plenty of action, humor, and growth. 

Every character and city from Arcas has a relation to the very constellations in our own heavens. Make sure you really utilize the star chart the authors have provided at the back of the book. This novel is bursting with a nebula of new ideas and visions for the fantasy genre for young readers.

All of the characters were very likable, even the villains. There was one moment of grim (but not graphic) violence that just about choked my own heart. It has been a very long time since I have been that gripped by the written word and I cried, big time. Kudos to the Woolets. I have to admit that as an adult reader I did see the plot twist coming pretty early on, but I don't think it detracted enough from my enjoyment of the story. The whole story just made me happy to be a reader. I was very invested in the tale and look forward to the next installment.

(If you are incredibly dorky like myself) I can just imagine "lesson plans" to go along with the read-along for kids. There is no way a creative person could make this book fail to illuminate the child within. I am really hoping that the Woolet couple can continue their series in this vein.

I highly recommend this starting novel. The price is right. The story is fabulous. There is really just NO reason not to pre-order it today here (plus get free access to chapters 1 and 2).

Welcome to 2014!!

I was out of the 9 to 5 for the last two weeks of the year. It was a very blessed vacation. I spent most of it curled up in sweats under a blanket reading book after book after book. I easily cleared my goal of 75 books this year! Go me! 

I did not post reviews of all the books because some were re-reads of childhood favorites. I am a HUGE HP fan geek. So after watching the movies for the umpteenth time, I began my re-read of the first three novels before the year ran out. I also received the Boxcar children box set on my Kindle for Christmas. After more than  decade reading them for the first time, I re-read the first two. Wow, were those amazing stories! And wow, would we not even come close to letting our children do those kinds of things anymore (except for me and all the other smart "free-range" parents). I now want to buy a boxcar and play house. Ah the simple days of childhood.

Other great books abounded on the new reading list. Those reviews will be following today and tomorrow as I slowly slog myself back into reality of the working world.

One review that I am unable to post in full, as of yet, is for the magnificent Sundering Book Four: The Reaver by Richard Lee Byers. I was able to score an advance copy and will gladly say that the series had a real winner with Byers addition. Each author is certainly bringing their own style to the table in this six author series, and there will easily be something for every reader out there. Paul Kemp and Richard Lee Byers have been my favorites so far. You can check out their amazing website here for further details on all the novels released and sample chapters for The Reaver releasing next month.

Here is to two days of typing up reviews!