Thursday, October 8, 2020

Guest post from Sharon C. Williams, author of 'Jasper the Amazon Parrot'

Hello readers! We hope you're staying healthy and sane during these crazy times. If not, pick up a book. It usually helps. (:

Today, we have a guest post from author Sharon C. Williams. She's here to talk about what it's like living with the main character of her book (hint: he's a parrot).

I live with my main character: The ride of a lifetime

Compared to the writers in my area, I come to the writing game late in life. I only started to write when my husband told a family friend that he felt I wrote well. She passed that on to me. I mulled that over for a few months.

Having two surgeries coming up soon I knew I would have a lot of down time. So, I looked around my house for ideas on something I could write about. Something that I could write a book around.

My eyes landed on Jasper, our Yellow Cheek Amazon parrot.  We rescued and adopted him in 1999 at the age of five. This was just a year after I started to rescue birds of any kind. At that point he had been with us for 10 years. 

Wanting to learn as much as possible about him, I started to research his home and what he would see. I wanted to better understand this amazing animal who was now with us. What I came across was the issues that plague this region. The more research I did the more I got a better understanding of what he could lose if he was still there.

That got me thinking. It lead me to want to write a book that was educational and entertaining for this age group. A book that would make them appreciate, learn and perhaps become advocates of the animals and what they face. Being an avid reader, since forever it seems, I was fortunate to come across books by wonderful authors who made my love for reading just grow. If I could accomplish that for children I would be very happy.

Inspired to try my hand at a children’s book for any future grandchildren, I made the leap and started with volume one to my Jasper, Amazon parrot series.

I had an advantage from the start. Being around Jasper as long as I have, and at this point it is 21 years, we have seen how intelligent and adaptable he is. But not only that, his ability to learn and grow is remarkable. I would not have known this prior to rescuing him. Also, I could not have possibly imagined how to write it.

Fortunately, inside my series are scenes that have actually played out with us. One certain situation in one volume has ants on Jasper. He has to figure out how to get rid of them without getting bit.

One day an ant crawled onto Jasper’s beak. First, he called for help. Then, he tried to figure it out. Watching him go through that gave me the perfect way to describe it to the tee.

Another example is how Jasper is around my other birds. While he is not a fan of some of them, if anyone or anything tries to mess with them he is all into your business. His mannerisms, time and time again, have given me insight into writing how Jasper takes care of his brother Willie in the series.

It’s little things like this that make this series special. I have actual insight into his mood and how he works things out. All I have to do is observe and pay attention. 

Living with my main character is a joy. Not many people can say this. It has given me an invaluable information that I could not possibly understand or view if he was not right by my side. 

It is only fitting that my book and series is wrapped around him. I could not ask for a better companion to help me write my books.

Want to learn more about Jasper the Amazon Parrot? 

Get the book on Amazon!

Listen to it on Audible! or iTunes!

Lastly, check out the author's website.

Happy reading,

Erin & Anna

Thursday, September 24, 2020

A spunky heroine, a cursed sword, and a lost knight: Rob Keeley's The Sword of the Spirit

Title: The Sword of the Spirit
Series: The Spirits series
Author: Rob Keeley
Genre: MG Fantasy
Pages: 128
Published: 2016
Buy Childish Spirits (#1 in the Spirits series)

What Goodreads has to say:

Following the success of his award-longlisted Childish Spirits and its sequel The Spirit of London, prolific children’s author Rob Keeley is back with The Sword of the Spirit, the third instalment in his thrilling and suspenseful Spirits series.

“There are truths which must be revealed before the battle may commence. You do not yet know the meaning of the sword.”

Ellie’s investigations into the spirit world have reached a medieval castle, where archaeologists are digging for the fabled Sword of St Merrell. But she didn’t expect to meet a real medieval knight. Nor was she expecting him to be an ancestor of Edward Fitzberranger. Ellie discovers that behind a legend of chivalry and bravery lies a dark and nasty truth. And worse is to come. Ellie’s meddling has consequences she could never have foreseen. This time, she may have gone too far...

What I have to say:

The third novel in Rob Keeley's Spirits series is just as mesmerizing, just as suspenseful, and just as much fun as the first two. At this point, did I expect anything less? Of course not.

Ellie has a new ghostly mystery on her hands: a cursed sword, a knight who's traveled forward in time, and an enigmatic woman telling her not to meddle in what she doesn't understand. Not that Ellie has ever listened to warnings like that in the past. Now, it's up to her to solve the mystery and return the knight to his own time period before the curse destroys everything.

As usual, the narrative voice is charming. It makes me feel like I've snuggled up on the couch with a warm blanket and a cup of tea. The good characters feel like friends, while the villains are spooky and/or intriguing. Edward makes a brief appearance, and of course Ellie's mom and brother are still here, as is Marcus. But we're also introduced to new characters, like Sir Francis the knight, who are delightful and fun, if not quite as endearing as the mischievous Edward (I love him and will accept no substitute.)

The mystery is riveting, and the action perfectly paced. Just as in the first two novels, I was eager to find out how all the threads connected, who was really guilty and who was really innocent, and how Ellie would solve this latest puzzle. Speaking of which, Ellie is just so fantastic. 

She's a preteen English girl whose pastimes include painting, writing poetry, and befriending spirits in need. She's adventurous, always up for anything, and indisputably good. She cares about people and her role as a protector and helper of spirits is so cool!

Without spoiling the ending, I loved how fearless and decisive she was at the climax. (It involves wielding a cursed sword before a demon.)

So yeah. Ellie is awesome. This series is awesome. Rob Keeley is awesome. If you want a supernatural story with a mildly creepy vibe and a spunky, heroic in her own way main character, get yourself over to Amazon and buy all the Spirits books. 

The Sword of the Spirit could stand alone, as it contains its own story without relying too much on the previous books, but I don't know why you'd want to rob yourself of the marvelous and adorable first novel Childish Spirits.

I'm sure Ellie will get into plenty more trouble in the next two books, and I am here for it.


Until tomorrow.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Review: Hûw Steer's 'Ad Luna' brilliantly reimagines the first science fiction story

Cover of Ad Luna
Title: Ad Luna
Author: Hûw Steer
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 424
Published: July 4 2020

What Goodreads has to say:

The Moon is on the brink of war.

Alexander Dio, an officer of the Vulture Dragoons, flies in defense of the Lunar people against the monstrous armies of the Sun. He is ready for war - or at least he thinks he is.

But when Dio's patrol finds a crashed ship out in the Sea of Tranquility, his life is turned upside-down. Because the ship is not from the Moon, and its captain is unlike anyone he's ever known.

His name is Lucian, and he comes from the Earth.

Based on the ancient Greek story by Lucian of Samosata, this epic voyage of discovery goes back to the very beginning of science-fiction.

What I have to say:

Back in the second century AD, this Greek guy named Lucian of Samosata wrote an outlandish story about a trip to the moon. 

OK, so he wasn't just some Greek guy. He was a pretty cool dude who was also a scholar, politician, teacher, and first-class satirist.

He wrote A True History to poke fun at historians and travel-writers who would write "true," in-depth accounts of places they'd never visited. To one-up them, Lucian wrote a story about his voyage to mythical islands, the sun, moon, and stars. In doing so, he unwittingly created the first science fiction story.

Hûw Steer, author of The Blackbird and the Ghost, admits to wishing Lucian's book was a little longer. (It's only 53 pages). So, as you do, he wrote his own, longer version.

And folks. It. Is. Epic.

Imagine battles atop giant three-headed vultures, fire-creatures who live in the heart of the sun, and massive space spiders that spin new worlds, and you'll have a little bit of an idea how awesome Hûw Steer's imagination is. 

Couple that with engaging characters, weighty dilemmas, and a great prose style, and you might see why I enjoyed this book so much.

Let's be honest, though. I also liked it because it combined three of my all-time loves: classic lit, Greek stuff, and space. 

Our main character is Dio, a young lieutenant in the army of Lord Endymion, ruler of the moon. The enemy is Phaethon, ruler of the sun and its race of Solars. Both the Solars and the Lunars (Endymion's race of moon-dwellers) are bent on settling the Morning Star, and the result is a long-standing war between the two peoples. 

Things get more complicated when a guy named Lucian of Samosata (hey) shows up with a ship of earth-dwellers who've accidentally landed on the moon. Now, Dio has to balance fighting for his people with entertaining a group of alien tourists. 

From there, there's intense battles between the Solars and Lunars, a fiery prison located on the sun, and a lot of tense, life-or-death negotiating. It's a ride. (Like, one day I just camped out in my yard and read this book for several hours until I finished it, because I couldn't stop.)

I haven't actually read A True History (now on my to-read list), so I can't say how the two stack up or how faithful Ad Luna is to the original. It's certainly an interesting thought experiment to see things like centaurs, dryads (or something similar, anyway), and mythical spiders translated into the medium of space. 

It's equally intriguing to see how Greco-Roman hot button topics like slavery play out on alien planets, and it's fun to think about the mythical Endymion becoming Lord of the moon and leading a whole race of alien people when, according to the Greeks, he's just locked in eternal slumber.

In the end, I'll fall back on what Lucian tells Dio when the latter remarks that neither of their races will believe the stories they tell: 

"It does not matter. Whether a good story is true or not, it is still a good story."

Since this is a heck of a good story, I think Lucian of Samosata would approve.


Until tomorrow.

Friday, July 31, 2020

GIVEAWAY: KindleFire and 17 YA Fantasy Books Contest with 4 Chances to Win

Hey readers! We heard you like giveaways, so we thought we'd let you in on this one.

For the whole month of August, author Abby Arthur is running a giveaway with multiple prizes, including a Kindle Fire. 

Enter here.

Every entrant receives a free copy of Abby Arthur's Twins of Shadow

Twins of Shadow book cover

Then, on August 7th, a winner will be drawn for hardcover copies of Sabaa Tahir's An Ember in the Ashes series, which includes:
  • An Ember in the Ashes
  • A Torch Against the Night
  • A Reaper at the Gates
Total value is $60.

An Ember in the Ashes book covers

On August 14th, a winner will be drawn for three books by New York Times Best Selling Authors:
These will be hardcover copies with a total value of $80.

Book covers for 3 titles

On August 21st, a winner will be drawn for Holly Black's series Folk of the Air.
  • The Cruel Prince
  • The Wicked King
  • The Queen of Nothing
These are hardcovers with a total value of $80.

Folk of the Air book covers

On August 28th, a winner will be drawn for the grand prize, which includes a Kindle Fire 7 and eight eBooks at a total of $150.

  • Kindle Fire 7
  • A Song of Wraths and Ruin by Roseanne A Brown
  • The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu
  • Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan
  • The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White
  • Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K Rowling
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
  • Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
Image of a Kindle Fire and 8 book covers

Feeling lucky? Starting August 3rd, you can enter here.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Erin & Anna

Thursday, June 11, 2020

A Holiday in Hell - Lorin Morgan-Richards' "The Goodbye Family and the Great Mountain"

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Title: The Goodbye Family and the Great Mountain
Series: Weird West Tales
Author: Lorin Morgan-Richards
Published: February 2020
Publisher: A Raven Above Press

Goodreads Blurb: 
The Goodbye Family and the Great Mountain follows the lives of Weird West undertakers Otis, Pyridine, and their daughter Orphie. Pyridine is a witch and matriarch mortician, Otis is a brainless but bold hearse driver, and Orphie is appointed grave digger for her strength of twenty men. Through bumbling, Otis discovers his neighbors are turning into zombies, a mystery that is directly affecting their burial business. In their backyard cemetery, they travel to the underworld for answers and uncover a plot to surface the evil entities that would otherwise burn in the Lake of Fire, have risen again through oil pumps that are bottled up as a tonic medicine for the ground above. The tonic goes fast, and the host takes over the body when the body perishes. Can the Goodbyes hilarious gaffes and revelations plug up the works? Find out in this fast-paced carriage ride through the underworld.

My Thoughts:
This book is weird, it's wacky, funny, clever, and also pretty gross. It follows the Goodbye family as they learn of the current zombie invasion, and deal with it by taking a trip to Hell, (well, the underworld. I think. Pretty sure there were living people there as well . . .). I found myself laughing out loud (or at least exhaling from my nose) at many of the clever and ridiculous lines in the book. Otis and Pyridine combined are a force no one wants to be on the wrong side of. Otis is great at throwing out sentences that are so confusing any villain (living or otherwise) must stop in order to process. Pyridine is where the brains of the family truly lies. She even tells Otis at one point - "I've never been under your leadership, you know a witch is always in charge." Orphie was also a delight. The strength and utter ridiculousness of her character was charming and highly entertaining.

One of my favorite scenes was when the family had to sneak by the man-eating plant disguised as an outhouse. Where does Morgan-Richards get this stuff?? Another lovely part was Orphie and Fleck creating more inhabitants for the city of Unabridged. The plot itself was solid, and the extra characters added to the frivolity and general wonderfully weird feeling of the story. A fun read, and something that younger fans of Addams family, or Eva Ibbotson would definitely love. Or really any kindred spirit of Orphie's with a similar love for the macabre and disgusting. 

I, however, am not a fan of the macabre or disgusting. In fact I believe I have a lower than average gross tolerance. There were quite a few spelling or grammar mistakes in the book, and some parts that didn't quite make sense structure or plot-wise. However, if this sounds like something you would like, then I highly suggest it. As for me, I give it 3/5 trees.

Rating: 3/5 trees

Thursday, May 28, 2020

A gritty sci-fi thriller: Review of 'Dust and Lightning' by Rebecca Crunden

Title: Dust and Lightning
Author: Rebecca Crunden
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 121

What Goodreads has to say:

In the near future, humans have gone beyond simple space travel. By the year 4054, multiple solar systems are inhabited, and taking a spaceship is as commonplace as taking an aeroplane.

Unfortunately, not everything about the future is so advanced. The central planets, led by Earth, have risen high at the expense of cheap labour on distant worlds. Dissent is widespread and arrests are common. Sometimes prisoners are released; sometimes they disappear without a trace, sent to labour camps in other solar systems.

When Ames Emerys receives a letter telling him that his brother Callum has died en route to the remote planet of Kilnin, he takes the first ship he can off Earth, desperate for answers. But the secrets Ames uncovers prove far more dangerous than he could have imagined.

And trouble isn’t far behind. 

What I have to say:

Dust and Lightning was a fun read that kept me engaged and guessing right up to the end. The characters are sympathetic, the settings exciting, and the action non-stop. 

From the very first sentence, I was intrigued. A man stands on a platform waiting for a space shuttle to arrive. But he's a mysterious figure and it's obvious he's on his guard. He's ready to spring up and run at the first sight of danger--and he fully expects danger to follow him.

The man's name is Ames Emerys, and it turns out he's searching for his missing brother--someone who wouldn't hurt a fly but has somehow got on the tyrannical government's bad side and been arrested, deported, then declared dead. 

Aboard the space shuttle, Ames meets Violet--a lawyer who's surprisingly eager to stick it to the government and join him on a quest that will take them to unforgiving climates and strictly off-limit prisons. In other words, she's boss.

I really enjoyed the action and the world-building of this story. The pacing was relentless in a good way: hardly were the heroes out of one scrape when they found themselves in another, and every time they thought they were safe, government agents would descend on them again. 

There are also some cool sci-fi concepts in this story. Without giving any spoilers, I'll just say I'm definitely a fan of Stranger Things vibes. 

Having said all that, I'm handing out three trees for this story that was well-written and well-paced, but maybe could use a little more fleshing out and polishing. Or, it could just be that I tend to steer clear of stories this gritty and gory, and/or that at this point I'm just a little tired of futuristic dystopian stories that all feel like they run along the same basic plot lines. That's not a reflection on the author, it's just a matter of taste. (And to be fair, I was warned in advance about the gore and it really wasn't that terrible.)

Regardless, Dust and Lightning is a fun, action-packed read that I think fans of gritty sci-fi thrillers will appreciate.


Until tomorrow.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Spellbinding short stories in 'Voyagers: The Third Ghost'

Title: Voyagers: The Third Ghost
Louise MacBeath Barbour 
Roland Clarke 
Bish Denham 
Rebecca M. Douglass
Sherry Ellis 
Katharina Gerlach 
Charles Kowalski 
Beth Anderson Schuck
Yvonne Ventresca
L.T. Ward
Genre: Short stories (historical fiction, fantasy, mystery)
Pages: 168 

What Goodreads has to say:

Journey into the past…

Will the third ghost be found before fires take more lives? Can everyone be warned before Pompeii is buried again? What happens if a blizzard traps a family in East Germany? Will the Firebird help Soviet sisters outwit evil during WWII? And sneaking off to see the first aeroplane – what could go wrong?

Ten authors explore the past, sending their young protagonists on harrowing adventures. Featuring the talents of Yvonne Ventresca, Katharina Gerlach, Roland Clarke, Sherry Ellis, Rebecca M. Douglass, Bish Denham, Charles Kowalski, Louise MacBeath Barbour, Beth Anderson Schuck, and L.T. Ward.

Hand-picked by a panel of agents, authors, and editors, these ten tales will take readers on a voyage of wonder into history. Get ready for an exciting ride!

What I have to say:

What do slave ships, ghosts, time travel, Pompeii, WWII, aeroplanes, and the Iron Curtain have in common? 

They all appear in this absolutely fantastic collection of short stories by the Insecure Writer's Support Group. 

"Voyagers" is an appropriate title for this collection, since most of the stories involve a journey of some kind. A journey across the sea. A journey across the border. A journey back in time. A journey to the afterlife.

But they're not just physical journeys. These are journeys away from innocence, away from safety, toward understanding, toward acceptance, toward redemption.

The genres vary, but for the most part these are works of historical fiction. Thus, there's a story about a young boy traveling aboard a slave ship to meet his father, a story about a Ukrainian girl whose sister flies with the Night Witches (an all-female bomber regiment in WWII), and a story about a family who tries to cross the Iron Curtain to spend the holidays with family. 

But many of these stories have a little something else thrown in. Thus, there's a story about two travelers who encounter a Yamamba (a mythical Japanese creature) in the mountains, a story about a young orchardist who talks to trees, and a story about a boy in the 1980s who keeps seeing ghosts.

By turns intriguing, gripping, funny, and poignant--these are masterfully told stories by a first-rate group of writers. Their imaginative powers put me through the whole spectrum of emotions: 

  • Shivers ("The Third Ghost", "Simon Grey and The Yamamba")
  • Amusement ("The Ghosts of Pompeii," "Dare, Double Dare")
  • Horror ("The Blind Ship")
  • Awe ("Return to Cahokia")
  • Joy ("The Orchard")
  • Suspense ("A World of Trouble")
  • Tears ("Feathered Fire," "Winter Days")

A shout-out to those last two, which I found unexpectedly moving--especially "Feathered Fire." The story of a Ukrainian girl reunited with her sister, interwoven with the Russian legend of The Firebird, was absolutely beautiful and a masterclass in storytelling.

And I can't resist a final shout-out to "Return to Cahokia." This story of the Native American weather gods returning to their summer home was unique and powerful in its imagery. I enjoyed reveling in the vivid, richly woven world the author has created.

In short, this is a great collection of short pieces that are fun to read but lend themselves to pondering. A hearty round of applause to all the authors who contributed to this spellbinding tapestry of stories.


Until tomorrow.