And I realized I never posted my review of book 1, The Beholder, so here it is!
The Beholder (The Beholder #1) by Ivan Amberlake
Urban fantasy about a regular guy, Jason, who discovers that the terrible nightmares he's been having are real. He discovers that he's linked to a group, existing undetected in our society, of people with supernatural powers, and that he is a key weapon in the fight against evil.
The magic is complex, and the story is suspenseful. At times it reads a little like a video game, with explanations from one knowledgable source or another of things Jason needs to know alternated with challenges that he has to get through. But the action is thrilling and the battles kept me glued to the book.
I especially appreciated the romantic subplot written from the guy's point of view, seeing Jason's feelings for Emily, his guide through the magical world he's been pulled into, as they develop. I found it geniunely moving and well-done.
Highly recommended for fans of urban fantasy, or readers of epic/high fantasy who are open to trying something set in the real, modern world.
Path of the Heretic (The Beholder #2) by Ivan Amberlake
Path of the Heretic is the exciting follow-up to The Beholder, and I liked it even more than the first book (which I enjoyed very much). Months after the events at the end of The Beholder, Jason is still trying to come to terms with what happened, but the battle between Lightsighted and Darksighted is ongoing. The book starts off with a bang and continues at a fast pace as Jason tries to learn the truth about Emily, protect the human world from the Dark Ones, and keep himself from being killed or turned by Pariah. In between the exciting magical battles, Pariah and his gang plot to get to Jason and his friends, Jason attempts to solve the mystery of Emily, and characters live, die, change sides, and discover new things about themselves. The book is darkly moody and atmospheric, but I also appreciate the touch of romance from the man's point of view.
It had been a while since I read The Beholder, and Path of the Heretic dumps the reader right into the middle of the action, so while I remembered the characters from the first book (they're certainly memorable), it took me a while to get the hang of what was going on and remember some key points from the first book. But I stuck with it until I got it figured out, and the rest of the book was definitely worth it.
A more-than-worthy sequel to The Beholder, great reading for fans of urban/contemporary fantasy.
I haven't posted all week because I've been working really hard on To the Gap amidst a number of distractions and other things I've needed to pay attention to, but now it's time again for the Friday 5! This week: five things I do besides write. There are actually a lot more than five things I do besides write, but most of them are boring, like doing laundry and cooking dinner and exercising. So here are five of the more interesting things I do (this was actually going to be a whole series of blog posts, but I decided they're not really THAT interesting):
1. Play Pokemon. Okay, so I already did a whole blog post about this. But I wanted to mention it again, mainly so I can post this picture that I took of my Pokemon Y character in front of the Pokemon League in my pink and black sparkly bolero dress. I seriously want this dress IRL. I've since started on Pokemon Omega Ruby, and I don't think you can change outfits in it :(
2. Secretary in the children's program at my church. No, I don't sit in an office and answer phone calls, thank goodness. I don't even answer the phone at home unless it's someone I really feel like talking to. And I don't get paid; it's volunteer. Though I didn't actually *volunteer*; they asked me to do it. Basically, I'm in charge of handling paperwork and supplies and being organized. Which is kind of funny, because me being organized is in direct opposition to the natural order of the universe. If I ever get my act together and really get organized, it'll mean the end of the space-time continuum as we know it. But someone's got to do it, so it might as well be me. I enjoy it; I love being with the kids and enjoying how cute and smart and spiritual they are, but I don't have to actually wrangle them like the teachers do. This picture is from the beginning of the year, when I was redoing the teachers' binders with the lesson manuals and picture kits. I had to get this all cleaned up so my husband could do the taxes on this end of the table, but the other end is still covered with stuff I cleaned out of the supply closet and am trying to "organize".
3. Scrapbooking. I've been doing this for about sixteen years now. I'd never really been a visually creative person, so it's fun to have a chance to use those creative muscles. I even combined my two creative endeavors in a scrapbook page about my books:
Since I started publishing, I don't scrapbook as much as I used to. This is mainly because my scrapbooking table also serves as my writing table. Which means when I switch from one to the other I have to clean up after myself :P (I don't actually sew with the sewing machine, except for some mending once in a while. I mostly use it for decorative stitching on scrapbook pages.)
4. Watch anime. I started with watching Pokemon with my boys when they were little, and moved on to Sailor Moon, and went from there. Here's my current DVD collection:
I've watched a lot more than this (and I haven't gotten around to watching everything I own yet). I've watched Monster, which was good but shied away from being as mind-blowingly weird as it could have been, and FLCL (the first time I watched it, I had a nightmare that night about being a Rod Stewart groupie. Which was really strange because Rod Stewart just isn't on my radar at all. So if you go to watch FLCL, be warned), and Fruits Basket, which is cute, and Bleach up until about episode 5734 when the same battle had been going on for the last 300 episodes (seriously, let's move the plot along already!) and a bunch of others, mostly when they used to have anime on Cartoon Network late at night.
Sometimes I even make scrapbook pages about anime!
One of these times I still mean to tell the story of how Sailor Moon got me back into writing.
5. Feed my cats. I must have the world's most high-maintenance cats. Seriously. Here's a picture of Themselves in a rare moment when they aren't eating:
And now that I've told you what I do when I'm not writing, it's time to go write again. I should finish the second major revision of To the Gap today, then it's on to the fine-tuning and final editing stages. Still looking at a release date in July.
Alliterative weekday themes seem to be the thing now, so in the constant quest for blog post ideas, I came up with the idea of the Friday Five. Five what? Well, anything. Today, here are five snippets from To the Gap, book 4 of Daughter of the Wildings, currently under revision and slated for release in, oh, I'm gonna say July. (Note: this is not the final polished, edited, proofread version.)
1. Silas is signing himself and Lainie up to work on the cattle drive, and the boss, Landstrom, recognizes Lainie's name:
"Well, well, well. I'd heard tell she'd been carried off by some gods-damned wizard and forced to become a wizard herself. Glad to see that's not true and that she landed herself a fine strapping husband instead."
2. Silas and Lainie getting their supplies as the drive is getting ready to leave:
Silas thanked Landstrom, and they headed off to the temporary booths that sellers of the various supplies had set up to cater to the gathering drive hands and other workers.
3. Lainie, who is working as an assistant cook, has an awkward conversation with her boss, Mrs. Bington, while seasoning the beans for that day's supper:
"I still say you're ruining it," Mrs. Bington grumbled.
4. A special moment:
"Silas?" she murmured.
5. Lainie tries to tell Silas she's concerned that his fear for her safety is beginning to cloud his judgment:
"I want you safe too. If something happened to you, I don't know what I would do. I'll do anything to protect you -- except ask you to be less than the man you are. So don't you make yourself into less than the man you are for my sake."
Out of Exile, by Derek Alan Siddoway
What if the medieval Europe of traditional fantasy took place in the American West? Out of Exile explores the combination of the two in an exciting story in a refreshingly different setting. We have the classic western story of a young man, Revan, whose home is attacked and his mother kidnapped, who sets out on a journey to rescue her, set in the high mountains, rugged canyons, and broad plains of the American West, along with the buffalo hunts and horse culture of the indigenous people, but with such familiar epic fantasy elements as bards, taverns, kings, knights in armor, a hint of magic, and mysterious beings who aren't quite human. And leprechauns. Okay, maybe leprechauns aren't quite standard fantasy fare, but they're a lot of fun. And pretty fierce warriors, too.
There's a lot of well-thought-out worldbuilding and history woven through the story. The story of the downfall of Revan's family and the wars that led to the present situation is told in short sections at the beginnings of several of the chapters, paced in such a way as to shed light on what's happening in the present part of the story and to build suspense towards revealing the identity of the mysterious and ominous White Knight. The story starts out simple but builds in richness and complexity, adding in a mysterious cavern, a woman who is dead but you get the feeling her story isn't over, a member of the band of inhuman beings who kidnapped Revan's mother who is in turn captured by Revan and his companions, a band of rebels, a stalemate that can only end in war, and the looming White Knight. There were a few minor issues in the narrative, such as pacing and clarity of action, and I would have liked a little more depth in the character development - though the characters are very engaging - and a somewhat stronger role for the numerous female characters in the story. I did like it that Revan's mother, whose background isn't explained much but who comes from what appears to be a female warrior culture (she's a Valkyrie), also embraces and cherishes her role as wife (though she's widowed now) and mother. Contrary to how they're often protrayed, kick-butt female characters can also embrace more traditional feminine characteristics, and I think this needs to be shown more often.
On the whole, I found Out of Exile to be an enjoyable, gripping story in a setting that's a refreshing change from the standard Fantasyland.
For more about medieval westerns, read Derek's guest post here.
I'm happy to announce that my buddy Joshua Winning (profiled here) has a new book out: Ruins, book 2 of the Sentinel Trilogy (read my review of book 1 here). I beta-read Ruins and, basically, it was awesome. The first book, Sentinel, was really good, and Ruins is a more-than-worthy successor. From my comments to Joshua: "I was never bored! Every scene was interesting and well-paced, and necessary to the story. I didn't find myself reading something and wondering why it mattered. Also, after that ending, you'd better get Inferno out fast!"
So, it's good. Check it out on Amazon!
Ruins (The Sentinel Trilogy, Book 2), by Joshua Winning
Second instalment of the critically-acclaimed Sentinel Trilogy. In his desperate search for answers about the Sentinels, an ancient society of guardians that his parents once belonged to, fifteen-year-old Nicholas Hallow is tipped into a fresh nightmare of terrifying monsters - and even more sinister humans. As Nicholas is challenged to become a Sentinel, he must track down a mysterious girl with the help of a grumpy cat. Meanwhile, an uprising of evil threatens to destroy the Sentinels and send the world spiralling into chaos.
Learn more about the Sentinel Trilogy here.
About the Author:
Joshua Winning was born in Cambridge, but don't hold that against him. He's attempted to escape reality for most of his life by writing. As a child, that involved poring diligently over anything by C.S. Lewis or Robin Jarvis.
When he's not writing about Sentinels, Joshua can usually be found watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Wire and Daria. He also works as a freelance journalist, writing about movies for Total Film, Little White Lies and movieScope.
Joshua currently lives in North London with his cat Mia. Unfortunately, she's not a great conversationalist, but he's working on it.
With three books out in the Daughter of the Wildings series, I figure it's time for a couple interview with Silas and Lainie. This is about book 3-ish, and virtually spoiler-free (except that they're together, which I don't consider a spoiler because the books are partly romance and because if you know any of my work, you know the hero and heroine always end up together):
1. How did you meet?
Silas: I had just arrived in Bitterbush Springs and found myself in the middle of a shootout. During the shootout I sensed a burst of magic close by. At the time, I was on the hunt for the source of some magical power I'd been sensing, so when the gunfight was over I went looking for the person the magic had come from.
Lainie: When the shooting started, I got scared and hid behind a barrel, and put up a magical shield. My brother Blake got killed in a shootout just a few months before, so it really scares me when the bullets start flying. When the shootout was over, Silas came over to where I was and asked me if I was okay, and escorted me on my errands in town in case there was any more trouble.
2. What was the first thing you noticed about the other person?
S: The first thing I noticed about Lainie, of course, was her power. Bright and strong and clean, with a feel or flavor to it that was different from the Granadaian power I was familiar with. When I first saw her, hunkered down behind that barrel, I took her for a boy, because of her slim build and the men's clothes she was wearing. As soon as I got a closer look at her pretty face and her figure, though, it was clear she was all woman.
L: He was tall, and so handsome, and looked just a little bit dangerous, but he was so kind and polite to me.
3. Did you know when you met that you would end up together?
S: No idea at all. I was just passing through on the hunt for a renegade mage. Since she was an untrained mage, my legal duty was to either send her back to Granadaia for training or Strip her of her power. I knew that neither of those options would endear me to her. And anyhow, marriages between mages have to be approved by the Mage Council, and I knew that a Wildings-born mage from a mostly Plain family would not be considered an appropriate match for me.
L: I had no idea, either. I was smitten with him almost right away, but he was just passing through town on business of his own; there was no reason for him to hang around and no reason why he should be especially interested in me.
4. What do you like best about the other person?
S: Well, she's smart, strong, brave, pretty, an amazing cook, an even more amazing lover --
L: (blushing) Silas!
S: But more than any of that, she's just.. her. She's Lainie. That's what I like best about her.
L: (still blushing) Silas is all those things - except handsome, not pretty, and not that much of a cook except for critter on a stick, as he calls it. But he's so kind to me, and so patient while he teaches me to use my power, and he sacrificed a lot to keep me safe. And also, I'm not sure how to say this, but he lives, you know what I mean? I mean, he'll think about things before he acts -- usually -- and see what the lay of the land is, but when he's ready he jumps right in and does it. He doesn't spend his life hemming and hawing off to the side. But yeah, mostly, he's him. And that's what I like about him.
5. What is something you enjoy doing together? (Besides the obvious!)
S: What else is there?
L: (blushing even harder) Silas, really!
S: We like doing pretty much everything together. Training in magic, traveling, hunting - we've taken a few jobs to track down missing family members and the like, shooting practice, bathing --
L: Oh gods, I'm so embarrassed.
S: Sorry, darlin'. *smooch*
L: But you get the idea. We're a team. We're partners. I can't think of anything we don't like to do together. Even lately, when money's been tight and we have to be on the lookout for other mages who might know about us and the laws we've broken and such, we'd rather be in it together than out of trouble and not together. You know what I mean?
6. How has the other person changed you?
S: Before I met Lainie, I was already committed to protecting the Plain settlers of the Wildings. But since I met her, it's become much more personal. Lainie isn't Plain, of course, but her Pa is, and the people she grew up among, and she's definitely of the Wildings, not of Granadaia. On the other hand, since the people in her own hometown tried to hang her for being a mage, I'm a little less patient with the Plain settlers' hatred of mages. I don't know if that's affected my commitment to protecting them, but I see them less as the victims in the struggle between mages and Plains than I used to. Mages have done a lot of wicked things, but Plains aren't entirely innocent, either.
The other way she's changed me is that I used to not be afraid of much of anything. But now the thought of her being hurt or killed or captured scares me to death. I wouldn't want to live in a world without her.
L: Silas showed me that not all mages are inhuman monsters with no heart and no soul, which is what I'd always been taught, and he helped me to accept my own power and be proud of who and what I am. He's teaching me to use my power to help people, not hurt them. My life has changed a lot, living on the run with him, on the wrong side of the mages' law, instead of still being at home, working on the ranch and marrying the man my Pa meant for me to marry. But I don't regret any of it.
7. What are the biggest differences between you? How important are these differences?
L: Well, he's from an elite family of Island mages, and I was born to Plain parents who don't have a lot -- I mean, for folks in the Wildings, my Pa does all right with his ranch, but he worked his way up from nothing and compared to a rich mage family in Granadaia, I guess we're still pretty poor. And Silas is thirteen years older than me and knows way more than me about a lot of things.
S: None of that seems very important, though. The biggest difference that matters is that she always wins at Dragon's Threes and I never do. She had to ban me from playing for money. Oh, and she can control powers found in the Wildings that I can't. That doesn't bother me; I think it's mighty impressive, and it's come in handy a time or two.
8. What do the two of you have in common?
S: Magic. A love for the Wildings, for the beautiful country out here and the freedom. A commitment to protecting Plain folks from mages who want to take away their rights and freedoms. A hope that one day, mages and Plain folk can live peacefully side-by-side in the Wildings. And our love for each other.
L: That pretty much covers it. Well, and we both like horses, and think the same things are funny.
9. What are the greatest challenges you have faced in your relationship?
S: Well, besides the fact that our marriage is illegal under Granadaian mage law, and I also broke the law by not making her go to school in Granadaia or Stripping her, and she can do a few things with magic that are supposed to be impossible and just in case they aren't they're also illegal, and we've got renegade mages and Plain folks trying to kill us and mage hunters hunting us, and we've spent a good amount of time homeless and broke... nothing, really.
L: I've almost lost him a few times, and I've almost died a time or two. It's scary, knowing how much danger we're in, but it also makes us appreciate each other more. No matter how bad things are, we're just glad to be together. And there was a time when I was afraid he didn't really want to be with me, he just got himself stuck with me because my Pa made him marry me. But he's showed me pretty well that isn't true and he does want to be with me.
10. What does your family think of your partner, and what do you think of your partner's family?
S: My family has not met Lainie, and likely never will, since I've pretty much cut myself off from all relations with them. I doubt they would approve of her, a Wildings girl born of Plain parents; her power came from her grandmother, the illegitimate daughter of a married mage and a Plain servant. As for her family, her Pa is a good man. I have a lot of respect for him, and I mean to keep the promise I made him to take good care of his daughter. Her mother and brother are both dead, but I'm sure I would have liked them as well.
L: My Pa didn't like Silas at first, because he's a mage. But after he rescued me from Carden and saved my life and put himself on the wrong side of the mages' law to do what was best for me, I think Pa started to respect him. If they had time to get to know each other better, I think they'd get on pretty well. Silas's family... I know he don't think much of them, and from what he's told me, they sound like the kind of mages I was taught to hate and be afraid of. But if they raised a son like him, I have to think they can't be all bad.
11. What role does magic play in your relationship?
L: Magic's what brought us together. Mages is what we are.
S: I would love her even if she wasn't a mage --
L: And I would love him if he wasn't a mage, too.
S: But working together so closely, and both of us knowing what it's like to have power and use it, I think that brings us closer together than we would be, otherwise.
12. What are your plans for the future?
S: Keep our freedom and stay alive.
L: Well, that, and it would be nice if we could find a place to settle down and live in peace, get some land of our own, raise some cattle. And if we could get the fertility block removed from Silas -- the Mage Council puts it on all mage children, and it can't be removed until the Mage Council approves their marriage -- if we could find a way to get the block removed and have some kids together, I'd really like that. I've always wanted to have children. But even if we can't, maybe we can find an orphan to adopt -- there aren't many, folks in the Wildings take care of their own, and if a child loses their parents, their other kin or friends and neighbors will step in and care for them. But if we could find one, we could have a family that way.
S: I'd like that, too, but first we have to stay out of the Mage Council's hands and not get ourselves hanged by any Plain folks.
13. "The whole is greater than the sum of the parts." How is this true for the two of you?
L: Working together, we've helped some people, and stopped some powerful and dangerous renegade mages. We've done some good.
S: Working together, teaching each other, loving each other, we make each other stronger. Like Lainie said, we're a team. We're partners. And together, we can do great things.
Have other questions? Feel free to ask them in the comments!
The big event in April was, of course, the release of The Rancher's Daughter, book 3 of Daughter of the Wildings. It had a good launch, and at the same time I ran a promotion on Beneath the Canyons, which even hit #1 in Western Science Fiction on Amazon for a few days! So now I can say I had an Amazon bestseller! :D Even better, Daughter of the Wildings has picked up some more readers. I've had the most fun ever working on these books (though all my books are fun and I love them all), and I'm so excited to be able to share them with more readers.
Book 2, Bad Hunting, was received so well I was kind of worried about book 3 living up to expectations, but so far, reader feedback has been very positive :D
I also did another roundup of books on my A-Z reading challenge, covering H-N. Now I'm on "O", which is Out of Exile by Derek Alan Siddoway (see Derek's guest post on medieval westerns from last December).
The plan for May is working on book 4 of Daughter of the Wildings, To The Gap. It takes place over several months on a cattle drive and is considerably longer than books 2 and 3, and I really can't say at this point when I expect to release it, but for now I'm going to make a wild guess and say July.
With half of the book in Daughter of the Wildings out, I'm starting to think about what comes after. There are so many different projects I want to work on it's hard to decide what to do next. Write another novel, or start revising one of the four or five completed projects that are printed out and waiting for revision? I also want to do more planning for a follow-up series for Daughter of the Wildings. I had gotten way behind on my schedule for Daughter of the Wildings, but now that I feel like I'm back on schedule and can get my work hours established again (maybe the hardest thing about working at home for yourself is keeping regular work hours) I can go back to what I had been doing and devoting an hour of that time to other projects.
Now, back to work :)
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