Thursday, February 22, 2018

Review & GIVEAWAY: The Knight's Secret by Jeffrey Bardwell

Out on March 5 is Jeffrey Bardwell's newest fantasy thriller: The Knight's Secret. First volume in The Mage Conspiracy series. 

We've got a synopsis, a review, and a giveaway. Scroll down for some magic....


Title: The Knight's Secret
Series: The Mage Conspiracy, Book 1
Genre: fantasy
Formats: epub, mobi
Wordcount: 26,000
Publisher: Twigboat Press
Buy: Link coming soon! (we promise)

Synopsis:

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.

Review:

You might remember a certain post in which I (Erin) 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.

Rating:


Giveaway:



Five lucky winners will be selected at random and emailed their prize on March 5, 2018. 

Every entrant will receive a free sample of The Knight's Secret upon entering the contest.



May the odds be ever in your favor.

Erin and Anna

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Hey there.

Yes, you.

Do you like books?

Do you like... free books?

Did you know you could win a free book by entering our giveaway RIGHT NOW?

I know, right????

And I haven't even told you the best part yet: it's a book about... magic.

OK, it's about some other things too, but magic features heavily.

Magic: that unpredictable, flighty, marvelous... what do you "call" magic? How do you classify it?

In the world of the Iron Empire, it's a crime. Mages - those capable of working magic - are worse than outcasts. They're traitors: their crime punishable by death.

If you missed author Jeffrey Bardwell's guest post from last week, you can scroll down and find it below this one. He addresses this topic from within the world of The Iron Empire, which is also the world in which our giveaway book, The Knight's Secret, takes place. 

In fact, you can just skip me and scroll down to the end of this post, where you'll find a link to the giveaway for The Knight's Secret.

Or you can stick around.

Still here? Thanks, man. (:

Today I'd like to talk about magic - and why we fear it.

Now, at this point you're all, "Magic is the greatest thing ever! Definitely no fear going on here! Hogwarts is my true home, etc. etc. etc."

Yes to all of that (especially the Hogwarts part).

But if you dig a little deeper, I think you'll find that, even if it's just on some subconscious level, you really do fear magic.

I mean, if you straight up met the Wicked Witch of the West right now, would you not be just a little bit scared? A mage, wizard, or witch can do virtually anything to you - and you never know what it's going to be until they do it. Unless you have magic yourself, you're powerless to stop it. Is that not scary?

Societally, this fear manifests in various ways. In the 1600s, there were the Witch Trials. Why would you try, condemn, and hang a bunch of people unless you believed they posed a threat to society?

And isn't banning Harry Potter from your child's reading list an indication that, on some level, you're afraid of magic?

(We're not getting into that now or ever, by the way.)

I think I've made my point. So why do we fear magic? I have a few theories.

Theory One: We fear the unknown.
 
If there's anything that's equally exciting and terrifying: it's the unknown. And what's more unknown than magic? You never know what it will do next. That's exciting, but also horrifying. A witch could turn you into a frog, or she could curse you to prick your finger and die on your sixteenth birthday. Maybe there's something to do with transformation there, too. Because magic often transfigures, turning something into something else. Are we afraid of the next step? (Is this getting too Jungian?)

Theory Two: We fear what we don't understand.

Wait, isn't that the same thing? No, my friend. I'm making a distinction between the two. We fear not knowing what's going to happen next; but maybe even more than that we fear not knowing how it's happening. No one knows how magic works, do they? I mean, maybe there's a few really powerful wizards out there who know what's up (Merlin? IDK), but it seems like most workers of magic don't even really know where their power comes from or why they have it. And for the rest of us - forget it.

Magic operates on a whole different set of rules. It's almost impossible to understand.

Take Elsa. When her magic flares up, everyone freaks out. But the person who's scared to death more than anyone else is Elsa herself. Why? She's got this stunningly powerful force inside her but she can't control it. Segway to Theory Three...

Theory Three: the killer Marianne Williamson quote

"Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us."

Oh Elsa, you're so afraid not because you're weak - but because you're powerful beyond measure. If some people can work magic, does that mean all of us can? That we all have that kind of power inside us?

Does that scare us?

Am I using magic as a metaphor now?

Man, I don't even know. It's like I write these blog posts and by the end of them, I'm not even sure where I've ended up. It sounded cool in my head, though.

"Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine...We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Sounds like magic to me.

So don't fear it, Elsa - embrace it. (I'm talking to all of you like you're Elsa now, in case you haven't noticed.) By working your magic, you free up others to work theirs, liberating them from their fears as they realize magic isn't something to be terrified of - it's something wonderful.

Now enter this giveaway.

WIN A FREE COPY OF THE KNIGHT'S SECRET

The Knight

Delve into the plight of the mages in 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. Coming March 5.

Enter to win your free copy of The Knight's Secret ebook today: https://www.instafreebie.com/free/JOu9b

Five lucky winners will be selected at random and emailed their prize on March 5, 2018. 

Every entrant will receive a free sample of The Knight's Secret upon entering the contest.



May the odds be ever in your favor.

Erin and Anna

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Guest post from author Jeffrey Bardwell + GIVEAWAY

Knights, mages, countrymen - lend me your ears!

(Yes, I will use that line every chance I get.)

In case you need reminding, the giveaway for Jeffrey Bardwell's newest fantasy adventure - The Knight's Secret - is still in full swing. Scroll down to the end of this post to enter.

In the meantime, to get you excited for the book's release on March 5, here's a guest post from Jeffrey Bardwell on "magic and mob mentality."

Enjoy.


MAGIC AND MOB MENTALITY

by Jeffrey Bardwell


Sorcery, wizardry, magic . . . call it what you will, but such powers are rarely subtle in the realm of fiction, unlike the realm of reality where almost everything is hidden and obscured by misdirection. A powerful wizard with bristling beard and tall staff will rain fire from the sky. A street performer in a top hat will conjure flames from his fingertips. 

These are the polar ends from a gradient of effects of course. Nothing prevents a stage act from being bombastic or a wizard’s staff emitting a quiet glow in lieu of crackling flames. The result is the same among the gathered mob: awe and the persistent question, what just happened?

This awe is in part sparked by the unnatural quickness of the street performer’s nimble fingers or the wizard’s vicious attack. Much of the shock during and after magic is from the illusion of speed. People tend to fear what their eyes cannot follow, what their mind cannot perceive. 

One of the most fearsome creatures on the planet, but hardly the most deadly, is the viper. The coiled animal strikes with astonishing ferocity. Blink and you’re dead.

With their capes flaring like the hood of a cobra and poison magic dripping from their fingertips, wizards are the human vipers of their world. Such is the perception. 

But just like you can strike the head off a viper with astonishing ease, magic often has tremendous liabilities and disadvantages that lead to the ‘squishy wizard syndrome.’ A wizard caught unawares or temporarily bereft of magic is like an uncoiled viper: a weak and pitiable being.

To the weak, defenseless mob, ruled by their emotions rather than logic, the perception of danger is more powerful than reality. In the real world, this draws respectful crowds. The illusion of danger is titillating. 

In the realm of fiction, this draws fearful crowds. Let us examine a case study: magic—thunderous flames from the sky magic—is real and disturbingly close to home.

What if you suspected that your neighbor was a mage: a powerful being, a snake hiding in the grass? 

To an individual, this may be cause for reasoned response: empathy or introspection or caution. You question yourself. Surely this friend across the street whom you’ve known for years whose children frolic with your own could not pose any danger? 

But the fear gnaws on your mind. Suppose you tell your other friends. Whispers spread. The mob gathers.

To the mob, the accusation of magic is enough to stir fear. The perception of danger is enough to stir a response, and this is no reasoned response. Reactions are primal and instinctual and vicious. A mass of human snakes whose minds are more venomous than their fangs descend upon the nest of vipers. 

The mage is killed. The mage’s mate and brood are slaughtered, whether they share his powers or not. The mob is in a frenzy. 

The mage’s house is destroyed with torches. The raging flames are no less destructive for all that they do not rain down from the sky.

The mob is safe. It disbands. Only individuals remain to question themselves and kick the debris. 

Were these smoldering ashes really a threat to me and mine? 

Was he even really a mage? 

Did I dare assume otherwise?

Did I just make an entire family . . . disappear? 

What just happened?


WIN A FREE COPY OF THE KNIGHT'S SECRET

The Knight

Delve into the plight of the mages in 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. Coming March 5.

Enter to win your free copy* of The Knight's Secret ebook today: https://www.instafreebie.com/free/JOu9b

* Five lucky winners will be selected at random and emailed their prize on March 5, 2018. 

Every entrant will receive a free sample of The Knight's Secret upon entering the contest.



May the odds be ever in your favor.
Erin and Anna

Thursday, February 1, 2018

GIVEAWAY: The Knight's Secret by Jeffrey Bardwell

Awesome people! Blog readers! (But I repeat myself.)

I'm excited to announce a giveaway for Jeffrey Bardwell's new book The Knight's Secret: the first installment in his forthcoming series The Mage Conspiracy. It's a tale of forbidden magic, closely kept secrets, political conspiracies, and boss women. Emphasis on that last one.

I'll be reposting my review of The Knight's Secret closer to the book's release (March 5). But before then you can all look forward to a guest post from the author, coming soon to a blog near you. (like, in a couple weeks, to this blog)

The Knight


Five lucky winners will be selected at random and emailed their prize on March 5, 2018.
 
Every entrant will receive a free sample of The Knight's Secret upon entering the contest.

Delve into the plight of the mages in 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. 

Coming March 5.

Sign up to win your free copy of The Knight's Secret ebook today: https://www.instafreebie.com/free/JOu9b



May the odds be ever in your favor.

Erin and Anna

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.)

Synopsis:

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.

Me:

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.

Rating:




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.