Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Knight's Secret by Jeffrey Bardwell

Title: The Knight's Secret
Series: The Mage Conspiracy, Book 1
Genre: fantasy
Formats: epub, mobi
Wordcount: 26,000
Publisher: Twigboat Press
Buy: Amazon

It has just come to my attention that, while this book won't launch solo for a few months (stay tuned), you can now buy it as part of an epic fantasy anthology on Amazon. And I've got to say, if the other books in the anthology are anything like The Knight's Secret, it would make a fantastic Christmas present for that epic fantasy fan in your life. (Or for yourself: because this is the 21st century and you're a responsible, mature person and you should be able to buy yourself a Christmas present if you want to, darn it.)


Retired hero Sir Corbin rides to the capital of the Iron Empire for one last adventure. But the capital is in an uproar. The emperor has been slain by rogue mages. The new empress is livid. Soon all mages are suspect . . . including Corbin's daughter.

Corbin attempts to find allies among his old regiment. The army has become a slithering nest of vipers as imperial mages and cavalrymen move warily around each other. Both sides snare Corbin in tight coils of suspicion, politics, and lies. He is caught between a tryst with a jilted mage ex-lover and the tight-lipped scheme of an ex-buddy in the cavalry. When the vengeful empress launches a vendetta against all mage kind, Corbin must decide whether to be a father or a hero.

The bickering mages and cavalrymen aren't the only ones hiding something. Sir Corbin is not who he seems. Discover The Knight's Secret, the first fantasy adventure in The Mage Conspiracy series. Join a quest of self discovery, romantic entanglements, and political intrigue where lies cut deeper than any sword.


You might remember a certain post in which I gushed over the steampunk/fantasy novella Rotten Magic, written by Jeffrey Bardwell. Now I'm back to tell you about another book by the same author, which takes place in the same world: The Knight's Secret. And I'm pleased to report that the author is still in full possession of his powers as a storyteller.

While I wasn't quite as over-the-top thrilled with The Knight's Secret as I was with Rotten Magic, I still loved it. The Knight's Secret continues Bardwell's gritty, character-strong fantasy style. It's a page-turner, with a complicated world, very real characters, and another of those cliff-hanger endings this author is so good at. (He knows how to keep us reading, am I right?)

Kelsa, the (more or less) main character of the story, is the granddaughter of legendary military hero Sir Corbin Destrus. She's grown up hearing about his adventures, but there seem to be a couple of things he's never told her.... Meanwhile, the state of the kingdom isn't looking so good. The emperor is dead under mysterious circumstances, and the new empress is ruthless. Anyone who practices magic comes under fire, and civil war looms on the horizon. 

As in Rotten Magic, but maybe even more so in this book, the author does a great job painting the backdrop for us. The world of The Iron Empire is vivid and politically complex: with conspiracies, machinations (just wanted to use that word), and a good deal of witch-hunting. Literally.

The same can be said of that world's characters, who all come off as compelling and natural. Main characters like Kelsa, Corbin, and Maven are well-rounded and complex. I love Kelsa's preference for stripping and walking around naked - but also love that she doesn't do it to attract attention. She just enjoys walking around naked. 

Speaking of, um, getting naked...the portrayal of the two genders is one thing this book does especially well: a main theme seems to be the differences between men and women. Sometimes these differences are divisive; sometimes they're unifying. And without giving anything away, the gender element is wonderfully highlighted in Kelsa herself and her story arc. The author has an equally strong grasp on both his male and female characters.

The character complexity was one of the things I loved most about Rotten Magic, and that element is definitely alive and well in The Knight's Secret. No one is just a token character - and most can't even be squarely cast as either "good guys" or "bad guys." That makes this story all the more satisfying.


Until tomorrow.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Guest Post by Frances Wasserman-Bildner

"I wonder the wonder, freedom of freedoms, play for you nightly and sing in the rain.
I pray for your ghosts to let you off lightly, lessen and get rid of your terrible pain." - Expressions of an Artist: The Whole Shebang

Hey bibliophiles! Today we have a guest post from author and artist Frances Wassermann-Bildner. She'll give us a short overview of her book Expressions of an Artist - a mash-up of painting, writing, and poetry. Sort of. I'll let the author take it from here....

Expressions of an Artist: The Whole Shebang

This book is not a novel, nor a book of short stories. It is a collection of writings and paintings. It encompasses the human condition by covering topics such as love, loss, living, fear, political, outsider and belonging. Each piece of writing is written automatically and quickly. The writing actually writes itself and the author is a vehicle for her work. The paintings are done in the same way. There are no preconceived ideas in either paintings or writings.

Although the work is produced this way, it does touch the subjects that we are all concerned with. This is because the artist/author is a product of the human condition and will therefore hold these subjects in her subconscious.

Some of the work is quite dark, all of it is filled with energy and emotion and an appreciation of life in all its facets. 

The book has been collated into these topics by a reader. One can easily dip in and out or read it cover to cover.

Here's an excerpt to whet your appetite:

Champagne Crystals

Champagne crystals, camaraderie, flight, bubbles in the air, bubbles everywhere, aeration, colour, sanguine moments. Spirit alive entering the gates of nirvana. Chrystal, veuve, what’s in a name, the purity, the semblance of a glass of champagne. Jockeys fly, horses neigh, the culmination of another day. Psychics, mediums, bursting through, who’s to say what’s you and you.

Anticipation, bubbles and expectation. I put my hand around your waist and tasted friendship. Not formed in haste. Champagne you asked, is it free, Champagne you queried for you and me?

Bubbles of life, love and laughter floating above the heavier matter. Champagne cocktails, chitter chatter. Corks that pop, love a lot, fizz in the air. Champagne everywhere, in the bath a glass between friends making many amends.

Get the book:

From Amazon

About the author:

Frances Wassermann-Bildner has been painting and writing for many years. This book is the culmination of these many years. She was born in Buenos Aires and has lived in London and New York. These cities, their vibrancy and color have greatly influenced her work. She is also the founder of Creative Wiz Kids: a children’s entertainment company where children come to paint and dance and adults also come to have fun! She loves the honesty and immediacy of children and finds working with them extremely stimulating. Along with her artistic work, Frances has been running these groups for almost twenty eight years!

Frances loves to travel and visit different countries, sitting in cafes and meeting people. She has two wonderful children, a lovely daughter-in-law, a grandson and another grandchild on the way. She plans on taking her grandchildren traveling when they are old enough!

And that's the whole shebang! 

Happy reading / writing / painting / living!

Until tomorrow.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Poetry Appreciation: Autumn

Hey all,

It's been a while since our last session of Poetry Appreciation, and I know you've all been just dying waiting around for the next one.

Whatever. I'll skip the sass and cut to the poetry now.

Autumn is probably the most poetic time of year, don't you think? Autumn is so crisp, poignant, and exciting.

Here's the first of my two favorite poems about autumn:
The morns are meeker than they were -
The nuts are getting brown -
The berry’s cheek is plumper -
The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf -
The field a scarlet gown -
Lest I sh'd be old-fashioned
I’ll put a trinket on. 
Emily Dickinson Homestead Amherst, MA
Emily Dickinson's house in Amherst, MA
By the immortal Emily Dickinson. She's my favorite.

A lot of her poems leave me scratching my head (which only adds to my enjoyment - it's not poetry unless you feel the top of your head being taken off, as Emily herself would say). But this one I think is very accessible. Even if you've never read an Emily Dickinson poem, you can jump right in.

To my knowledge, it's the only poem she ever wrote about autumn. Which is actually a little surprising. Maybe she preferred the spring.

Here's the second. It's a bit longer, so I'll just give you the first stanza, and encourage you to look up the rest if you like what you see:

To Autumn
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
      For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
Photo of London in autumn by Garry Knight
London in Autumn (Credit: Garry Knight)
Give it up for John Keats, my other favorite.

The first time I read this poem was in my Romantic poetry class at BYU. Our professor gave us a print out of "To Autumn" and told us to go sit outside somewhere and read it. That was the whole class for the day. Did I mention it was autumn? Yeah, pretty much that professor was the bomb.

On the surface, this poem is just a beautiful description of autumn. Fruit is ripening and getting ready for harvest, and there are a few last warm days before winter sets in.

But underneath, Keats is exploring the idea of "ripeness." He's probably alluding to the line in one of his favorite plays, King Lear:
"Men must endure Their going hence even as their coming hither. Ripeness is all."
In other words, you don't get to decide how long you live, or when you die. It comes when you're ripe for it. And the best you can do is accept it gracefully.

This was especially apt for Keats, because he always had the sense that his life was going to be cut short. It ran in the family: his father, mother, and brother all died young, and his grandmother died "before her time."

("Why do you write like you're running out of time?" as Hamilton would say. OK, I've never seen Hamilton or even listened to it, but that line is amazing.)

Anyway, the upshot is that Keats died at 25, so that premonition was pretty spot on.

This has been Poetry Appreciation with Erin. I promise it's not always this depressing.

'Til tomorrow.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Happy Hobbit Day!

Woot! Happy Hobbit Day, people!

We like Tolkien just a little bit around here.

This time of year, I always return to this webpage which has every recipe you could ever want to make for your Hobbit Day celebrations.

For some cultural diversity, you can also check out this page which catalogs 67 different editions of The Hobbit from around the world - in 21 different languages.

This year is a special Hobbit Day because yesterday (September 21, 2017) was the 80th anniversary of The Hobbit book itself. 

So party hard, my friends, and may the hair on your toes never fall out.

"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." - Thorin Oakenshield to Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Journey from Skioria by Kandi J. Wyatt

Title: Journey from Skioria
Author: Kandi J. Wyatt
Publication Date: September 5 2017
Number of Pages: 140
Buy: Amazon

Enter Goodreads giveaway until September 12

What Goodreads has to say:

Tania is lost, shipwrecked on an unfamiliar shore. With no friends or family, the nine-year-old girl must make her way through the realm of the woodland people to a town she's never heard of. With unexpected allies from the forest, Tania departs on a wild adventure where storms rage and the forces of nature do their very best to end her journey before it has truly begun.

In a land full of magic and evil forces, can one young girl make it home alive?

Lord of the Rings meets Narnia in this standalone middle grade fantasy by author Kandi J Wyatt.

What I have to say:

This was a cute middle grade story with fun, believable characters in an imaginative world. For my tastes, it could have used a bit more action, but as it is, Journey from Skioria is an enjoyable, refreshing little adventure.

The world of Skioria is rich and well-developed: peopled by different races reminiscent of Hobbits and pixies. Skioria itself is a bit like a mix of Lothlorien, Hobbiton, and Narnia - so basically an awesome place to live in. 

Sadly, Tania needs to get back to her family, and since she's only nine, we can't really blame her for that. Speaking of which, I thought Tania seemed very believable as a nine-year-old human girl. It definitely wasn't one of those stories where you have to suspend your disbelief as a pre-teen ends up doing stuff a seasoned ninja would have trouble accomplishing.

On that subject, however, I would have appreciated a little more action. Even in The Lord of the Rings series, days of hiking cross country is just not all that exciting to read about. 

To her credit, author Kandi J. Wyatt does throw in lots of fun stuff like family secrets, reveals, myths, and delectable scenery. But even with all that, I can only take so much of people hiking towards civilization. 

Luckily, the book is a fairly quick read, so it didn't really have time to bore me. I just think the story would have grabbed me more if the most exciting thing that happened in it wasn't a run in with some unwieldy sheep.

Then again, if anything did grab me in this book, it was the sweetness of Tania's friends and the richness of the world Wyatt has created. That's no small feat, and if the story sometimes succumbs to some Tolkien-esque countryside rambling, I think there are worse things in life.


(Also, anytime an author incorporates pizza into their story, I feel compelled to recognize it, since pizza is probably second only to books as the most important thing in the universe; and bringing pizza into a fantasy or sci-fi novel takes a certain degree of creativity. There was pizza in this story, so well done.)

Until tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Happy Birthday Anna!!!!

23 Books That Changed My Life

This week I'm turning 23, and decided that as part of my birthday celebration I would look back and see if I could list 23 books that had changed my life. NEVER TRY TO DO THIS. It was impossible. First, I had to decide to get rid of religious texts (The Bible, The Book of Mormon, etc.) - yes they've changed my life, but I wanted to do more secular books. Second I decided that only chapter books would make the list. Third, I realized not all the books that have shaped me would fit on the list. Fourth, I thought about ditching the whole thing. Fifth, I decided series would count as one book. Sixth, I realized these would not be my most favorite, or the ones that changed me the most, just some. Seventh, my computer rebooted. Eighth, some of them have reasons, some don't. Ninth, it is what it is. So, I hope you enjoy 23 books/series that really influenced me.

(In no order whatsoever. Really though, don't ask me to order them.)
bold = series     normal = single book

1. Harry Potter - J.K. Rowling

2. The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien

3. The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien

4. The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis

5. The Great Divorce - C.S. Lewis

6. The Screwtape Letters - C.S. Lewis

7. The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

8. Nightcrawler, Volume 2: Reborn - Chris Clairemont
     - This may seem like a strange choice, but this comic volume was surprisingly deep and thought provoking. Also I may have cried.

9. The Tolkien Reader - J.R.R. Tolkien
     - Leaf. By. Niggle. 

10. Tiffany Aching (The Wee Free Men) - Terry Pratchett

11. Ivanhoe - Sir Walter Scott

12. Pure Dead Magic - Debi Gliori
     - This is one of my most favorite books to re-read. It never gets old. It's funny, it's weird, and it's fantastic. It helped me to understand that a weird sense of humor isn't a bad thing, you just have to find the right people, and that keeping your living great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother in your freezer is perfectly acceptable. 

13.The Dark is Rising - Susan Cooper

14. Earthsea Cycle - Ursula K. LeGuin

15. Captain America: White - Jeph Loeb
     - I actually wrote a previous blog article about this one - Cap and Bucky: A Love Story

16. Defiance - C.J. Redwine
     - I read this book at a time when I was dealing with extreme chronic anxiety, and one of the main characters reacted to things and thought about things the exact same way I did, and he still managed to save everyone and function, for me this was a wonderful revelation, even if it was fiction.

17. Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

18. A Long, Long Sleep - Anna Sheehan
     - In this retelling of Sleeping Beauty, the "princess" is not the girl sleeping waiting to be rescued, but the resilient briars that grow around the castle keeping everyone out, and the princess safe. You can be your own hero.

19.The Once and Future King - T. H. White

20. Macbeth - William Shakespeare
     - While reading this play in school I actually laughed out-loud at several points (this is not a comedy). My classmates found it odd. I love this play, and find it hilarious which further notified me of my sometimes dark sense of humor.

21. Dracula - Bram Stoker

22. A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
     - Sydney Carton's act of selflessness. Need I say more?

23. Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll

So, there you have it. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments! 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Rotten Magic by Jeffrey Bardwell

Title: Rotten Magic
Series: The Artifice Mage Saga (prequel)
Author: Jeffrey Bardwell
Genre: Fantasy / Steampunk / YA
Number of pages: 122
Publisher: Twigboat Press

What Goodreads has to say:

Devin will do anything to win. Even resort to magic!

Devin competes to become the best artificer in the mage phobic Iron Empire. Who needs magic when you can master the art of machinery? The other apprentices envy his genius and skills . . . especially Benson. Every apprentice hones their craft building and fighting in crude prototypes of powered armor. Some add frills, others barbs or horns. When Devin transforms himself into a mechanical dragon to slaughter the competition, Benson steps into the role of dragon slayer.

But Devin harbors a secret as he claws his way to the top of the Artificer's Guild: he's a mage. These new abilities are thrilling and frightening, and the voices more so. How long can Devin be content wearing a steel dragon mask when the seductive promise of true arcane power whispers in his ear?

Experience the novella prequel to the Artifice Mage Saga: a fantasy steampunk brawl of metal vs. magic where sorcery is bloody, science is greasy, and nobody's hands are clean.

What I have to say:

If you're looking for a book that reads like a steampunk version of Ender's Game with magic and an element of dragons - look no further. You're currently reading a review of that book. A slim novella packed with punches, Jeffrey Bardwell's Rotten Magic starts off the Artifice Mage Saga with a bang (several, in fact). Setting and characters are intriguing, relationships are complex, ambition is powerful, and magic is dangerous. 

Devin is an intriguing character because he doesn't fit nicely into the young underdog genius mold. At first, he seems to: a young, intelligent apprentice working on a secret project, regularly taking the brunt from the school bullies. 

But as things go on, we realize that's not Devin at all. He is intelligent, but his secret project isn't all that original, and he can't even seem to get it to work when he tries to present it at his examination.

He does often take the brunt from the school bullies, but that's only because he seems to enjoy fighting and has accepted the rule that the dragon always loses. And he prefers to play as the dragon. Far from just an innocent young victim, Devin longs for retribution and it looks like he's going to get it. He can be savage when crossed, and even his family and friends aren't always safe. 

Rather than some young genius who's probably going to save the world with his invention, Devin is a frustrated apprentice who has big ideas that never seem to get off the ground, and he may very well end up destroying the world, rather than saving it. That makes him less of an idealized fantasy hero and more of a, well, human. But one with a dark side that makes him all the more compelling.

Devin's nemesis, Benson, doesn't fit the common character mold either. He's a bully - but as Devin points out, he's not just your average bully with no brain but plenty of brawn. Benson is intelligent as well, and that's mainly why Devin is having such a hard time taking him down.

But back to Devin himself. He becomes even more intriguing as a character when we hear the voices inside his head (yes, everyone has those voices, but Devin's seem to be more vocal than most of ours are). In Devin's thoughts, the voice of the artificer and the voice of the mage are always in conflict. Like the gas lamp he accidentally blows up in his room, Devin is poised to explode at any moment, and when he does, the consequences will be dire. (But you might just have to read the next book to find out how dire.)

Told in an engaging style with suspense, wry humor, and a strong undercurrent of magic, Rotten Magic is a thrilling roller coaster of a ride up to the top - where I expect we can catch the next book and set off on an even more thrilling journey. Bring it on!


Until tomorrow.