May 2017 – Andy Peloquin

Andy Peloquin

I am an artist – words are my palette

Month: May 2017 (Page 1 of 2)

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Book Review: Darkstorm by ML Spencer

For today’s Book Review Wednesday, I’ve got a dark fantasy treat by the awesome ML Spencer. This is the first book of hers I’ve read, and I have to say it was a pleasure to read. While not perfect, it was a solid read and a great addition to the dark fantasy genre.

Darkstorm

Faced with an imminent cataclysm that will destroy the magical heritage of their people, a secret conspiracy of mages has resorted to harnessing the powers of Hell to save their legacy. The only mages who can oppose them are Braden and Quin Reis: two brothers with a turbulent past and a caustic relationship. But both Braden and Quin are compromised, harboring terrible and tragic secrets.

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Will Braden and Quin be able to prevent the unsealing of the Well of Tears? Or will they fall victim to the darkmages’ sinister manipulations and join their conspiracy?

My Review: 4 Stars

There were a lot of things I loved about this book. There was one particular scene earlier on that beautifully showed the callous brutality of the characters and the world in which the book was set. The story was engaging, well-paced, and pulled me along from start to finish. The ending of the book was beautifully satisfactory and yet surprised me at the same time.

I found a few issues: one part of the story seemed to meander in a certain direction for no apparent reason. I believe it was meant to delve into the backstory of the character/s, but it just felt out of place among the rest. Also, the romance between two of the characters was hard to swallow. They went from opposites to lovers in too short a time without proper development of their relationship.

However, overall it was a great book and one I’d recommend to lovers of dark fantasy.

Here’s a Taste:

The room they entered was just as dark and wet as the rest of the warren of passageways they had traversed. On one side of the floor was a large slab of granite, waist-high. It had the look of a table or altar, hewn from a single slab of rock. A foul, dark liquid oozed down its sides, congealing on its surface.

To the other side of the chamber was a circular well made of staggered granite blocks.

It was toward the stone table that Braden moved first. He paused beside it, eyes contemplating the rough surface. Slowly, he extended his hand and dipped a finger into the dark liquid pooled on its surface. His finger came away coated with thick, coagulated blood.

Sephana recoiled with a gasp. The sheer amount of blood was appalling. It collected on the surface of the table, running in thick rivulets to the floor. She was standing in it. The blood had mixed with the water at her feet, rendering it impossible to tell how much there actually was.

She shook her head and whispered, “Animal sacrifice? To what purpose?”

“No.”

Braden’s voice was empty and hollow, completely drained of all emotion. The sound of it chilled her heart. He lifted something from the floor next to the slab of rock. It took Sephana a moment to recognize the object in his hand: a thick iron shackle anchored by a heavy chain to the side of the granite block.

Human,” she whispered.

She covered her mouth with her hand as Braden cast the chain away from him, repulsed. The iron shackle slapped hard against the slab with a sharp ring of metal.

Sephana flinched at the harsh sound. Braden hardly seemed to care if anyone heard. With a grimace of contempt, he wrenched himself back away from the altar, swinging around to face the well. He stalked across the floor toward it, kneeling down beside the granite ring. His hand rose, tracing over a series of vile-looking markings that were carved into the well’s rim. They looked more like claw marks raked into the stone by some ghastly creature than any language Sephana knew.

She crept up beside him and observed Braden’s study of the gruesome marks.

“I want to go,” she insisted, voice quavering.

But he didn’t act as though he even heard her. He was kneeling beside the well, inching his way slowly around its circumference, eyes and fingers exploring the hideous markings all around the rim.

At last, Braden finished his scrutiny of the well’s texture and pushed himself to his feet. His gaze remained fixed on the sinister markings, stare narrowed in thought. He brought his hand up to his face, absently stroking his thumb over the whiskers on his chin. He rested his other hand on the well’s cover, a thick slab of granite stone.

“This is a portal,” he said finally. His voice was cold and dispassionate. Utterly flat. He didn’t look up at her; his eyes remained captured by the cruel markings of the well’s rim. “They’re boring a gateway to the Netherworld. And they’re using human sacrifice to finish the job.”

Sephana could only stare vacantly ahead, mouth agape.

“They call it the Well of Tears,” Braden continued impassively, indicating an inscription set into the very base of the well itself. “If they succeed—if this gateway is ever opened—then more than just Aerysius will be in danger. They will unleash the powers of Chaos across the world.”

The sound of a loud, metallic crash rang out across the chamber. And then another noise: a distant thundering sound, low and throbbing, echoing up from the depths.

“They know we’re here,” Sephana gasped.

About the Author:

M.L. Spencer was born in Southern California and grew up on the works of Steven R. Donaldson, Stephen King and Frank Herbert. She wrote her first novel-length manuscript at thirteen.

By day she works as a biology teacher; by night she sweats over a beaten-up keyboard. Her novel Darkmage won the Indie-Reader  Discovery Award for Fantasy.

Her favorite authors are Robert Jordan, C.S. Friedman,  George R.R. Martin, David Eddings, Patrick Rothfuss, and Terry Goodkind.

M.L. Spencer won 1st Place Prose in the San Bernardino County Writing Celebration and the 2012 IndieReader Discovery Award for Fantasy.

Find the book on Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/Darkstorm-Rhenwars-Saga-Book-1-ebook/dp/B01MT77SK9

Tweet at her: twitter.com/MLSpencer1

Connect on Facebook: facebook.com/MLSpencerAuthor

 

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What is Grit? 

One of the things I’ve realized about most of the protagonists I’ve written (in The Last Bucelarii, Queen of Thieves, and my short stories) is that they all tend to be very gritty, determined people. When faced with an obstacle or challenge, they “buckle down and get on with it”. Even after the initial hesitation or trepidation, they rise to the challenge.

I like to think of myself of a gritty person. No, not that I am sandy or pebbly, but that I have the resolve to take on daunting challenges.

I found an interesting article on Psychology Today that looks at the four traits of a gritty person:

Interest – In order to succeed, there has to be something you’re interested in. But more than that, you need to be passionate about it. The passion is what helps you to keep pushing forward when your motivation fails. Your love for something is often the only thing that stops you from giving up.

Purpose – This is sort of a companion to interest or passion. We all have a reason for doing something; not just the immediate, short-term benefits, but the long-term payoff. By understanding how our present efforts will benefit us (and possibly others) in the long run, it’s easier to have something to cling to when the going gets tough.

Practice – Gritty people are always practicing, but not only to keep doing the same thing day in and out. They are conscious of what they’re doing and trying to improve every day. This helps them to capitalize on their existing skills, develop new skills, and combine the two to become a master at their craft.

Hope – This is an abstract concept, but it’s possibly the most important one of the four. They say, “You’re only beat when you don’t get back up.” We keep getting back up because we hope things will get better with time, or that our efforts will improve our or someone else’s life. Without that hope, grit fails. Hope can carry us through the greatest hardships.

 

 

The Sun God's Heir, Book 2

Book Review: Sun God’s Heir Book 2 by Elliot Baker

For today’s Book Review Wednesday, I’m bringing you the Part 2 to the Sun God’s Heir series (see my review of Book 1 here). I enjoyed the first part quite a bit (4-star review), and I found the next book in the series a worthy continuation of a great story.

The Sun God’s Heir: Rebirth

Set during the wave tossed years of white slavery and Barbary pirates, this is the epic story of René Gilbert, a journey that defies time as he must draw on a larger awareness earned in previous lifetimes.

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The plague’s dark fingers curl around Bordeaux. René must return home to save those he loves. But first he has to escape a Moroccan sultan’s clutches. In Bordeaux, an enemy waits, filled with a hatred three thousand years old. Only René can defeat this dark power, and only if he reclaims his own ancient past. In this arena, death is but the least of failure’s penalties.

My Review: 4.5 Stars

I was glad to receive this book in exchange for an honest review. I enjoyed the first part (minus a few flaws) immensely and looked forward to reading this one.

The book had none of the flaws that detracted from my enjoyment of the first book. The plot was steady, the climaxes were pretty well-written, and I found myself drawn into the story. Even though I had limited reading time, I always found an excuse to pull out my iPad just so I could keep reading this story to find out what happened next.

The story continued the development of the main character and gave us insight into some of the accompanying characters as well (especially the female romantic interest). It didn’t have any of the “Book 2 lag” that would stop me from wanting to continue reading. All in all, I can hardly wait until Book 3 comes out!

Here’s a Taste:

The medina of Casablanca was a warren of narrow winding streets filled with stalls of all shapes and sizes. René followed Akeefa and Abdul-Karim as they entered through a constricted archway and left behind the blinding sunlight. René stopped to take it all in. A thousand sights and sounds assaulted him at once. An intense level of energy and human striving filled the air. The sounds and smells were strident, immediate. A cacophony reverberated from the walls as metalworkers hammered on copper and brass and iron. Jewelers, leather workers, and weaponsmiths all contributed to the din of men and animals pursuing their desires. The enticing smells of food and coffee pervaded the space. Booth after booth of delicacies was on display along with the occasional goat carcass that hung from the canopy poles waiting for the butcher’s cleaver.

“This is overwhelming.” René sucked in a deep breath. “Something smells good. Perhaps we might sit and have a coffee while I try to make sense of this incredible place.”

“That is an excellent idea.” Abdul-Karim grinned. “I know just the place and ’tis not far from here.”

“More food,” Akeefa said with some exasperation. “You promised I would be able to shop and you know I cannot go off on my own. Some stupid man would say or do something and after I had killed him, we would spend the morning yelling or fighting or both. With you two, I will at least have some measure of freedom.”

René gazed sideways at Akeefa. He knew her well enough not to doubt the possibility of her statement, but he hoped she spoke in jest.

Abdul-Karim grimaced like he had bitten into a lemon. He turned to René. “You must trust my experience in this. Given the amount of walking and waiting we face, you will definitely need nourishment.”

René laughed. “Perhaps we might feed Abdul-Karim so we may better attack this shopping from a position of strength.”

“Oh, all right.” Akeefa rolled her eyes. “My master taught me when to make a strategic retreat and this is clearly one of those times. I will want, however, to see that stamina later. Understood?” She glared at Abdul-Karim.

Her effort was wasted on her older brother. Abdul-Karim’s demeanor changed to one of joyful expectation. “I know just the place. Best pastries in Morocco. This way.”

René glanced around. Even over the din and chaotic movement of the medina, he had the sensation they were being watched. The fact that he was a Frenchman was immaterial. There were many different nationalities present within the medina. Non, he, René Gilbert, was being observed.

“Do you believe they will attack again so soon?” asked René.

“The Hashashin that attacked us on the quay in Larache were paid by the sultan’s younger brother Ismail. I do not sense that level of organization. There are many bands of robbers and slavers within Morocco. It can be a difficult place to live,” said Abdul-Karim. “And there are those in Rabat who will not allow our victory over their brethren go unrevenged, regardless of the sultan’s orders.”

Both men loosened their blades while Akeefa huffed at the conventions that prevented her from carrying a sword. Still, an attacker would find her armed.

“Let us sit at that tavern.” Abdul-Karim pointed across the lane. “It has good sight lines and there are avenues of escape if necessary.”

Once seated, Abdul-Karim ordered coffee and an assortment of cakes.

Akeefa pursed her lips.

“What? We might as well eat something while we wait.”

The square had grown quieter as people found their business called them elsewhere. Men collected in small groups. So far, the numbers of their enemies were not overwhelming and René was content to wait. He glanced at Abdul-Karim. The smile on his face evidenced a gleeful anticipation at the prospect of combat. His friend genuinely liked to fight.

“It appears someone is willing to invest a great deal of money in our removal. As much as I would like to engage in this contest—” Abdul-Karim glanced over at his sister. “And we have them outmanned, father would advise us to retreat and gather reinforcements.”

Abdul-Karim inclined his head. They stood as groups of men moved to block the exits.

“We may not be offered that opportunity.” Akeefa slipped her hand beneath her burka.

“Let us make our way toward the medina’s entrance. If we reach the confines of the arch, we gain a slight advantage in the number of our enemy able to come against us.” René’s rapier was in his hand.

The scimitar Abdul-Karim pulled from his sash reflected sunlight along its razor sharp edge. A wicked looking dagger appeared in Akeefa’s hand. René eased left of Akeefa leaving a sword length between them as Abdul-Karim stepped to her right.

The square was now empty except for the growing number of armed men drawing their swords. René studied the upper stories of the souk. No musket barrels protruded from those windows.

René counted thirty men circling them and moving closer. “Akeefa, move to the front and make first contact. A moment’s confusion having you walk before us will be useful. It is not that unusual for a woman to carry a dagger. Perhaps you might hold it a little less respectfully.”

“I will do my clumsy best.” Akeefa managed to move to the front, intentionally tripping on her burka.

The number of men waiting before the medina’s arch had increased to ten. Smug smiles played on their faces. Apparently they found humor in two men so cowardly as to hope a woman would protect them. One eager young mercenary swaggered out to meet Akeefa.

“Throw down your weapons and your deaths will be easier,” said the man as he waved his scimitar toward Akeefa. He ignored the dagger that shook in her trembling hand.

“D…do you intend to kill us all?” Akeefa stuttered in a high-pitched voice.

The fool preened, sticking his chest out. “Drop your weapons.”

About the Author:

Award winning novelist and international playwright Elliott Baker grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. With four musicals and one play published and produced in the United States, New Zealand, Portugal, England, and Canada, Elliott is pleased to release his first novels.

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The Sun God’s Heir: Return, book one of the trilogy, was released this past January, and book two, Rebirth will come out on April 18th, followed in July by the third and final book of the series, Redemption. A member of the Authors Guild and the Dramatists Guild, Elliott lives in New Hampshire with his wife Sally Ann.

Find the book on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2mklqLB

 

Visit Elliot’s Website: http://elliottbaker.com

Connect on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ElliottBakerAuthor/

Tweet at him: https://twitter.com/ElliottBaker?lang=en

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Why I Keep My Writing Area Clean

No, this isn’t a “look at me, I’m so good” post. It’s actually something I wanted to share because it has helped me to improve my productivity significantly.

A few months ago, as I was checking out Psychology Today for interesting articles to blog about, I found an old post about the importance of getting rid of clutter. The post was aimed at people with ADD, but I took the advice to heart and decided to unclutter my desk.

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Where the magic happens

 

Or, at least the part of my desk that was directly in my field of vision. Since doing so, I’ve been much more productive and far less prone to distractions. By keeping my devices (phone, iPad) and other necessary items out of my direct line of sight, it was easier to forget about them and focus only on what I was doing.

Yesterday, I found another interesting article on Psychology Today titled, “5 Reasons to Streamline Your Life“. Basically, it gives five simple reasons why it’s important to unclutter your spaces:

  1. Clutter stops your home from feeling like a “retreat”. Your home (or work space, for me) should be your place of peace, but clutter actually stops you from identifying the space as “home”. Instead, it feels more like something else that needs cleaning.
  2. Clutter creates stress and decreases mental wellbeing. A 2017 study found that a clean, uncluttered environment helped to improve “mental hygiene”, leading to better workplace satisfaction.
  3. Clutter leads to poor food choices. Say what? An Australian study found that people who lived in chaotic environments were more prone to poor food choices (snacking).
  4. Clutter impedes efficient thinking. Your eyes are always processing information, so anything in your direct field of vision is taking up “mental real estate”. That means less real estate is available for processing other, more important information.
  5. Clutter prevents effective visual processing. More visual stimuli can “dilute” your attention, making it harder for your brain to process information. The more cluttered the background, the harder it is to interpret emotional expressions on others’ faces.

Fascinating, isn’t it? A bit of clutter really can make a huge (negative) difference in productivity. I’m going to keep doing my best to unclutter my desk and maintain a distraction-free field of vision. It’s worked wonders so far, and will continue to free up mental real estate for all the important tasks I need to accomplish throughout the day.

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Book Review: Sanyare: The Heir Apparent

Today, I’ve got something awesome: the Book 2 in a dark fantasy series I immensely enjoyed (read my review of Book 1). This was definitely a great read and I can’t wait until I get Book 3!

Sanyare: The Heir Apparent

Her secret is unraveling. One dangerous quest could end it all…

Rie thought she was an ordinary human. After she’s named heir to Sanyaro, the truthseeker and mediator of all nine realms, life becomes a lot more complicated. As she struggles to control her magics, Rie nearly falls prey to a brutal assassination attempt during a public ceremony.

Sanyare The Heir Apparent Cover

Blamed for the chaos, Rie’s escort, Prince Daenor, is taken prisoner. While Sanyaro tempers the political flames, Rie must once again chase after the truth. As if the threat of another great war and the impending death of her lover weren’t enough, Rie uncovers a dark secret that threatens to crack the very foundations of the faerie realms. When allies fall, can Rie overcome the odds… and the opposition?

My Review: 5 Stars

While the Book 1 was a bit more slow-moving, I found the faster pace of Book 2 much more exciting. I received this book in exchange for an honest review and I can honestly say I enjoyed it very much. The characters (Rie, Greg/Garamaen, and the accompanying supporting cast) were all a thrill to read, and I loved the exploration of the various realms in the world.

Wait until you hit the last few chapters: you’ll love the plot twist there! It totally caught me by surprise—not an easy thing to do.

All in all, an excellent Book 2 that makes me want to find out what the heck happens in Book 3 to bring the story to a close.

Here’s a Taste:

Rie expected three old hags and a giant loom. What she saw, was anything but.

Three women sat behind individual desks arranged in a giant semicircle. The dark-haired women appeared relatively young, maybe in their thirties by human standards, but all of them had to be far older even than Greg. Their fingers sped across computer terminals, and they shouted instructions into headsets as they worked.

“Lachesis, I need a new soul. Male, deserving of good parents. Headed to low nobles in the Summer Court,” the central woman said, her gaze focused on the computer screen in front of her.

“Got it.” The woman to Rie’s right repeated the request into her headset. “A third life is being pulled and prepped. Delivery in five.”

“Fatal accident in the Human Realm. Fifteen dead,” the central woman said. Her voice remained calm, as if the accident were expected.

“Reaper 5-2-6 was there and ready,” the woman to Rie’s left said. “Souls headed to the gates now.”

“Ahem,” the snake-woman interrupted. “Your ladyships have a visitor.”

The central woman glanced up from her terminal and smiled. “Ah, yes,” she said. “Apprentice Sanyare. We’ve been expecting you!” She paused, glancing back at her screen. “Accidental death due in the Winter Court. Avalanche will catch an unprepared ice gnome in twenty.”

“Reaper 2-2-2 head out.”

“Sorry about that,” the central woman said again. “Unfortunately, fate waits for no man or woman. Even us. Now where was I?”

“I believe you were about to introduce yourself.”

“Yes, of course. I am Clotho, to my left is my sister, Lachesis, and to my right my other sister, Atropos.”

“Why am I always the other sister? Why can’t I go first for once?” Atropos said, bitterness underlying the teasing tone.

“Birth comes before death, dear. It only makes sense.”

“Then why doesn’t Lachesis handle the introductions?”

“Do we really have to argue about this again, in front of our guest? Do we have reapers standing by for the airline crash this afternoon?”

“Of course. My reapers know their jobs.”

“I was just checking to make sure I had relayed the accident. The engine will fail any moment.”

“We have it covered.”

“Talk about wackadoo,” Niinka whispered. “These ladies need a break!”

Rie ignored her.

“Wonderful. Back to our guest. You’ve come about the broken threads,” Clotho stated. There was no question. She knew exactly why Rie was there and where she needed to go.

“You’ve noticed the deaths?” Rie asked.

“Of course! At first we thought it was just a system glitch. They happen occasionally when the computers don’t synch up properly,” Clotho said.

“I can’t believe you use computers,” Rie said.

“You think we’re too old?” Clotho replied, a teasing twinkle lighting her eyes. “No, when the humans invented computers, we were thrilled! The weaving had become so complicated, we were losing track of threads. Now, we write code. Much easier to manage a database than a giant loom. Trust me.”

Rie tilted her head to the side and smiled. “I do.”

Atropos took up the story. “Anyway, when my reapers went to the Shadow Realm to clean up the mess, the souls were gone.”

“The Shadow Realm?”

“There have been other realms involved, but it started there,” Clotho said.

“The reapers believe that girl was responsible. Meddling fool,” Atropos added.

“Who?” Rie asked.

“Faerleithril.”

“Why we gave that girl the ability to sever souls…” Lachesis drifted off with a shake of her head. She seemed to simultaneously pay attention to the conversation and lose herself in her own thoughts.

“Even so, she should never have had the ability to steal a soul’s life force,” Clotho said. “We didn’t give her that much power.”

“If you didn’t give her the ability, how did she get it?” Rie asked.

“We don’t know. She’s a clever girl, though. Don’t underestimate her,” Clotho said.

“Live and learn. Now, only summerland souls can be borne to the long-lived elves,” Lachesis added.

“She’s been exiled from the Shadow Realm,” Rie said, trying to get back on track.

“Yes, we know,” Clotho replied, her gaze focused on her screen. “Damn, another earthquake in Asia. It’s a mess down there.”

“Natural disaster squad eighteen, you’re up,” Atropos said into her headset.

Rie let out a frustrated breath. This was getting nowhere. “I need to know about the three deaths. The assassins Faerleithril severed in the high court. Lord Garamaen thought you could tell us what happened.”

“That boy. He thinks he commands the fates? Bah,” Atropos said.

“We gave him the power. He has the right,” Lachesis said, speaking for the first time. “I remember spinning his soul.” She sighed, a wistful expression smoothing her expression as she gazed into the distance. “He’s an original, you know. My first golden thread.”

“And you gave him too much power. We’ve all agreed,” Atropos said.

“You agreed, dear sister, not me. I’ve always thought his was a strong and worthy soul.” Lachesis returned to her computer, typing out more commands. “The next batch of souls for the Human Realm are queued up and ready for distribution, Clotho.”

“Just in time, I’m on my last five hundred.”

“I’ll get to work on the next set.”

“But what about the Upper Realm assassins?” Rie tried again.

“Faerleithril severed their threads. Find her, and you find your answers,” Atropos said. “I had nothing to do with it.”

“She’s a menace. She needs to be found and stopped.” Clotho’s gaze narrowed. “Take care of her, and we will owe you.”

“What about your Guardians?”

“We’re running a little short right now,” Lachesis said. “There are issues that must be handled in the summerlands.”

“Issues?”

“Souls have been disappearing —“

“It’s nothing you need concern yourself with right now,” Clotho interrupted. “Just take care of Faerleithril. It will be good practice, anyway. Maybe help you gain control of your abilities.”

Rie blushed, but let the comment slide. Of course, Clotho knew of her failures. She was the weaver of fate. She probably knew everything about everyone.

“Where is she?” Rie asked, returning to the question of Faerleithril’s involvement with the assassins.

“If we knew that, we wouldn’t need you,” Atropos snapped, gaze never leaving her screen.

Clotho rolled her eyes and gave Rie a knowing smile, as if to say ignore her. “We don’t know exactly where she is, but we do know where threads have been snapping prematurely. Start in the Summer Court. That’s where the most recent activity, other than your assassins, has occurred.”

“What about the three assassins? What happened to their souls?”

Clotho looked over at Atropos, her gaze asking a silent question. Atropos nodded. Clotho met Rie’s gaze with an intense stare. “They’re gone. We don’t know what happened, exactly, but the souls disappeared from the database. Deleted. Like they never existed at all. We believe Faerleithril has absorbed their life force, somehow, but we’ve never seen the like.”

“They didn’t deserve it,” Lachesis sobbed, tears trickling from her eyes. “Never to be reborn, never have a second life.” She covered her face with her hands, her shoulders shaking.

Clotho rubbed her sister’s back, her expression solemn.

“But you’re the Moirai. Don’t you control destiny?”

Clotho’s mouth turned up in a sardonic smile. “We’re not puppet masters. There are far too many souls to manage with any level of detail. All we do is set a soul on its path, watch the patterns in the cloth, and reap the soul when it’s time.”

“But —“

“The Greeks were wrong. At least, in part. A soul chooses its own destiny in its every-day decisions. We’re just the watchers and caretakers,” Atropos interrupted.

Clotho tapped her headset. “Ssierra,” she hissed into the microphone, “please have Judith meet Rie at the desk. She’ll need an escort back to the portal.”

Turning back to Rie, she continued. “Talk to the fire king and find Faerleithril. If you can manage that, you might be able to save your man from King Othin’s pit of despair.”

About the Author:

MeganHaskellAuthorMegan Haskell is the author of the dark fantasy adventure series, The Sanyare Chronicles, and Program Director for O.C. Writers, A Network of Published and Aspiring Authors. She lives in Orange County, California with her husband, two young daughters, and one ridiculously energetic dog.

 

Find the book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Sanyare-Heir-Apparent-Chronicles-Book-ebook/dp/B01LYJ0G78/

Find her on her website: www.MeganHaskell.com

Connect via the OC Writers Nectwork: www.OCWriters.Network

Facebook: www.facebook.com/meganhaskellauthor

Tweet at her: www.twitter.com/meganphaskell

 

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Author Spotlight: Joshua Robertson

Instead of my usual Monday blog post, I’m going to do something a bit different. I’m going to talk about an author who has done a lot to help me in the recent past—an author whose work I believe deserves attention.

Joshua Robertson is a fellow dark fantasy author, one I met through one of the many Facebook groups I’m a part of. He released his first book (Anaerfell) around the same time I released Blade of the Destroyer, and our marketing/promotion/writing efforts have run along a similar vein. Joshua also started his own press (Crimson Edge), which has gone on to publish some pretty amazing books.

I’ve also enjoyed reading his books, as you can see by the reviews I posted:

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His Short Stories

Throughout the last year or so, I’ve found myself asking Joshua for advice on all sorts of topics related to publishing, marketing, and building an author brand in general. For example, he was the one who advised me to release my short stories as a collection (coming October 2017!) rather than posting them individually on Amazon. He’s also given me A TON of excellent advice that has helped me to improve my author brand in general.

I’m sharing this with you today (not my usual Book Review Wednesday) is because Joshua is running a special promotion on Anaerfell that ends today. I figured it was a small way I could say “Thank you” for everything he’s done to help me in the past.

Anaerfell

Drast and Tyran might be considered a bit black-hearted, or even immoral. Drast is cunning but reckless, hunting for admiration. Tyran is calculating but tactless, searching for affection. When the two brothers set aside their ambitions to fulfill their father’s desire for immortality, they readily discover many opportunities for redemption.

Now, while wielding a powerful magic that drains their life, Drast and Tyran will embark on a maddening quest, facing skin-switchers, dragons, and the God of the Dead.

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Find the Book at $0.99 on Amazon (60% Discount)

Here’s a Taste:

The room still whirled from last night. He tried to close his eyes to keep his stomach from doing the same, but closing his eyes actually made it worse. Drast was somewhat surprised that the drink was still affecting him like this. He had been having more than his fill for—he did not know how long. How long ago did Tyran leave? His mind was too foggy to remember. And Walstan was gone, too.

Vaguely, Drast saw that the sky was just turning blue with the rising sun. At least, he was fairly certain it was sunrise. None of the hues of sunset had begun to color the sky.

“Ser Drast?”

He turned his head to the entrance into his chambers and pulled himself more upright to lean against the nightstand beside his bed. One of the serving women stood just inside of his room. “What?”

“The Arkhon wishes to speak with you.”

He was not certain what string of curses came from his lips, but the maid blanched and her face grew pink, almost to the color of her hair. The room swirled again while she spoke.

“What?” he asked again.

“I said, Ser Drast, the Arkhon instructed me to remain with you until you came to meet with him.” Her voice quivered.

She was right to fear him. Her voice was fuzzy, just like everything. But, he knew he had not been particularly kind to any of the servants of late. He had managed to avoid his father by effectively frightening the servants. Their fear, combined with late nights, ale, and sleeping until the sun set, had allowed him to avoid talking with anyone who did not enjoy a mug or two.

A few of the servants had initially joined him in drinking. He loosely recalled this maid among them. Ura? Mura? Lura?

“Kura,” he finally muttered. He had been a little too handsy and she had since avoided him like—he could not clearly comprise a simile. Like. Like? Like the moon avoided the sun? Good enough.

“Yes, Kura,” she murmured.

Drast spat at the chamber pot. He was fairly certain he missed. “Well, come on in, Kura.” He belched. “I know how we can pass the time.”

About the Authors:

Joshua Robertson was born in Kingman, Kansas on May 23, 1984. A graduate of Norwich High School, Robertson attended Wichita State University where he received his Masters in Social Work with minors in Psychology and Sociology. His bestselling novel, Melkorka, the first in The Kaelandur Series, was released in 2015. Known most for his Thrice Nine Legends Saga, Robertson enjoys an ever-expanding and extremely loyal following of readers. He counts R.A. Salvatore and J.R.R. Tolkien among his literary influences.

Website: www.robertsonwrites.com/
Twitter: @robertsonwrites

J.C. lives in the Midwest with his wife and two dogs. He recently earned his MA in English Literature and is working on his debut novel for his own fantasy world. Despite growing up with Dungeons & Dragons, Lord of the Rings, and a collection of both Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms novels, J.C. has an abiding love of classics and spends his free time reading anything he can get his hands on.

Website: www.crimsonedgepress.com

Twitter: @jcboyd_author

 

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The Endless and Exhausting Pursuit of Happiness

In the last few years, more and more people have talked about “finding your bliss” or “doing what makes you happy”. But how realistic is that?

Every time I hear that, I get an image of the scene from Love Actually:

That would be my “bliss”: a beautiful background, peace and calm to sit and write my heart out. But that begs the question: How realistic is that? Given today’s market, not very realistic or practical.

I found an article on Psychology Today with a title that I LOVED: The Pursuit of Happiness Never Ends Well. It said something I definitely agree with “Happiness is a state of being, not a pile of stuff.”

But I’m going to take that a step further. “Happiness is a state of being, not a state of bliss.”

There are many, many ways for you to “find your bliss” in life. God knows I LOVE being a writer, being able to sit down and tell my stories and actually make money doing so. But is it a state of bliss? Absolutely not. Writing is hard work, and that’s before I get into the editing, proofreading, marketing, and everything else. Plus, seeing as I’m still near the beginning of my writing career, I have to have the “day job” to pay the bills until I’m making my millions off my novels.

But if I was to spend all of my time on the “bliss”—in this case, writing the fun stories—I doubt I’d live very long. I’d end up starving because the “fun” doesn’t pay the bills. No, to do that, it all comes down to good old fashioned hard work.

I’m firmly of the opinion that you should find your bliss, but you can’t spend your whole life in the endless, exhausting pursuit of happiness. Happiness is something you find in small things in your life. For me, it’s being able to write dark fantasy novels. For someone else, it’s the time they spend fixing their car on the weekend. For still others, it’s gardening or playing with their dogs or taking their kids to the park. The state of being that is happiness doesn’t have to be your entire life.

I believe that many people end up unhappy as a result of their pursuit of happiness. They focus all of their time and energy on finding that one thing they think should make them happy. When they don’t find it—or they discover that one thing isn’t enough to make a person happy for the rest of their lives—they are dissatisfied and thus expend even more energy in the vain pursuit of something else they latch onto as their bliss.

Look for the things that make you happy. If you can find a way to make those happy things pay the bills, even better. But don’t make that pursuit of happiness your life’s mission. Find a way to be happy where you are with the things you’re doing. Don’t be bouncing from passion project to passion project just because you’re not deriving the sense of satisfaction you think they should give you. Nothing will ever be 100% blissful. Happiness is a temporary state; a deep-rooted sense of contentment with your state in life is what really matters.

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Book Review: Cloak of the Two Winds by Jack Massa

It’s Book Review Wednesday, and today I’m going back to my roots with a fantasy novel that feels like something with a bit more of an “old school” feel. The flavors of sword and sorcery are always a treat for me!

Cloak of the Two Winds

Pirates, sorcerers, and witches battle for an ancient magical treasure

To the Iruk people of the South Polar Sea, the crew of a hunting boat is sacred—a band of men and women warriors bound by oath and a group soul. But when Lonn leads his crew away from the hunt to pursue his dream of a treasure ship, they find more than an easy bit of piracy.

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The ship belongs to the witch Amlina, and after the Iruks carry off her possessions, they are robbed in turn. Worse, one of their band is also taken—Glyssa, the woman Lonn loves.

To rescue her, the Iruks must join forces with Amlina on a perilous voyage far from the seas they know. To Lonn and his mates, nothing matters but saving Glyssa. But Amlina knows much more is at stake. Among her possessions is an object of ancient power. In the wrong hands, the Cloak of the Two Winds can unravel the age-old magic that keeps the world from chaos.

My Review: 4 Stars

I was given this book in exchange for an honest review, and I must say that I found it a well-crafted story with interesting, well-developed characters. I LOVED the “Inuit” flavor of the protagonists, as it was something rarely seen in other novels. Everything from their long-distance ice-skating to their ice boats was original and enjoyable.

If I liked the book so much, why did I give it four stars? I had to dock a star because I had a hard time reading it. The book didn’t draw me in and hold me spellbound. It was a well-written story, but I had to force myself to keep reading through to the end.

However, I have to say that it was an interesting book that is worth the read. With the fresh take on fantasy worlds and the old school “sword and sorcery” feel, it was a book I’d highly recommend.

Here’s a Taste:

The freezewind had blown in the morning, changing the sea to ice. Under an overcast sky the ice stretched in all directions, gleaming with a light of its own—a pearly light born of witchery. So all the seas had gleamed for an age on the world of Glimnodd.

Two of the Iruks had climbed from the hunting boat and were skating around on the ice. Two others could be seen on board the open, forty-foot craft, at the helm and atop the mast. The Iruks wore garments of deerskin and fur, with leather harnesses and hooded capes. Curved hunting swords and long knives hung at their sides. The skaters moved on ivory blades cunningly strapped to their sea boots.

Leaning on the massive bone tiller, the one called Lonn glanced at the two skaters from time to time. Otherwise his squinting gaze stayed fixed on the north, where a low dark ridge marked the Cape of Dekyll, the only visible land in all the bright emptiness of ice and sky. The Iruks had been lying off the cape for two days now, waiting. They had sailed to this spot because Lonn had dreamed that a merchant ship would pass this way, unarmed and laden with treasure.

“I don’t believe that ship is coming,” Karrol declared. The taller and brawnier of the skaters, she had glided up alongside the stern and stopped, looking pointedly at Lonn.

“I still believe it will,” Lonn said. “Didn’t the freezewind blow this morning? Haven’t I said all along that in my dream we captured this galleon on ice?”

“Yes,” Karrol said, “the freezewind blew this morning. And because we were lying at anchor the boat got frozen in, and it took us half the day to chop free. The freezewind often blows this time of year. That is why Tathian merchants don’t sail in this season. Their galleons are slow and too easily caught in the ice.”

Lonn made no answer, but continued staring toward the Cape of Dekyll. He was starting to regret convincing the others to follow his dream.

But the dream had seemed so vivid, the opportunity so rare and vast. The Iruk people believed in dreams, especially ones that came during a hunt. And as leader of the klarn, the hunting band, if Lonn had not argued forcefully to follow such a dream…Well, what kind of a leader would he be?

“This is senseless,” Karrol said. “One day we are hunting yulugg with twenty other boats, chasing a good-sized herd. Then Lonn happens to dream of a ship. Now we lie off an empty point of land, alone, and nothing happens. I’d rather Lonn had dreamed of yulugg.”

“Perhaps Lonn will dream of yulugg,” Eben called from the masthead, “when the season comes for hunting ships.”

Karrol snorted, and out on the ice Draven chuckled. Lonn clenched his jaw and glared at the north. He was beginning to wish he haddreamed of yulugg.

There were six in Lonn’s klarn, three women and three men, all of them young, none older than twenty, though all were full-fledged warriors. At the start of the season they had taken a sacred oath, to sail and hunt and fight together, share warmth, food, and shelter. A klarn might last for many years, or it might be ritually dissolved at the end of any hunt. The way things were going, Lonn thought gloomily, he’d be lucky if this crew lasted the season—a sorry outlook indeed for his first voyage as a klarn leader.

Karrol hoisted herself over the rail and sat down heavily in the stern. “I think we should go back to the hunt. I’m going to call a meeting.”

“We’ve had a meeting on this already,” Lonn said.

“Yes.” Karrol was unstrapping her skate blades. “We agreed to come here and wait for the ship. So we’ve waited two days, and the ship hasn’t shown. I say it’s time to reconsider.”

Laying the skates aside, she rose in a graceful movement and stalked toward the forward end of the boat.

Sliding by on the ice, Draven threw out his arms in a shrug, then let them drop, slapping his sides as he showed Lonn an amused smile. Draven never seemed to lose his sense of humor.

Lonn shook his head. Pointlessly, he glanced at the windbringer, a four-foot fern-like creature that stood near him in a bucket of seawater. The windbringer looked back at Lonn through its single green eye. Though capable of understanding and making human speech, windbringers seldom had much to say to people.

Karrol stopped in front of the mast and lifted the flap of a low tent of white and gray hides. “Brinda, Glyssa. Wake up! Eben, come down from there.”

“I can hear you plainly from here,” Eben answered. “And one of us keep lookout, in case Lonn’s dream comes true.”

Brinda and Glyssa had kept the late watch until sunrise, then worked all morning to help chop the boat free of the ice. Still, they scrambled from the tent immediately, tightening loose garments. Their hoods were back, revealing typical Iruk faces—tawny complexions, high cheekbones, slitted eyes accustomed to squinting.

Brinda, lean and muscular, was Karrol’s older sister. “Why did you wake us?” she demanded, looking around sleepily.

“I want to have a meeting.” Karrol said. “To decide if we should stay here or go back and hunt yulugg.”

“You could have waited till we’d finished sleeping,” said Glyssa with irritation. She was smaller, delicate for an Iruk woman.

“We’ve wasted enough time here already,” Karrol said.

“We can hunt yulugg any time,” Glyssa said.

“You can sleep any time,” Karrol answered.

Not if you keep waking us up!” Glyssa said.

“Your argument just became pointless,” Eben called from above. “The ship of Lonn’s dream is rounding the cape from the east.”

About the Author

Jack Massa grew up in New Jersey and attended college in Florida and Massachusetts, earning an MFA in creative writing. His Master’s thesis was a science fantasy novel, Mooncrow, which was published by Berkley Books in 1979.

Jack spent the next 30 years in Atlanta, Georgia, learning and practicing the magical skills of the digital age. Bits of his fiction and poetry also surfaced from time to time. His science fiction story, “PrayerWare,” was published in the first Bantam Books Full Spectrum Anthology in 1988, and was later selected for a British Best-of-the-Year collection.

In 2013, Jack returned to Florida, where he lives with his magical wife, wonderful son, and a pet orange tree named Grover. He continues to practice technical prestidigitation while also focusing on writing stories.

Find the book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Cloak-Two-Winds-Jack-Massa-ebook/dp/B01GD9X3XC
Connect with Jack on his website: www.triskelionbooks.com
Chat with him on FaceBook: www.facebook.com/AuthorJackMassa/
Tweet at him: @JackMassa2

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The Key to Success: Failure

That may sound like a pretty odd way to succeed! After all, isn’t failure the exact opposite of success?

There’s a lot to be said for a perfect record. Someone who has never failed will definitely have a lot of confidence in their abilities. However, remember the old saying, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” The more success you have, the harder you’ll be hit by failure.

The happiest, most content people in the world aren’t the high-powered, driven, hopeful, and passionate youths (teenagers and people in their 20s and 30s). Instead, research has shown that people in their mid-life and beyond tend to be the happiest. Their lives are more settled and stable, and they’ve achieved a lot. They’ve also learned a lot, usually through all their great successes and epic failures.

Think about how you learned ANYTHING:

  • You learned not to touch a hot stove by burning yourself. FAIL!
  • You learned how to interact better with people of the opposite sex by embarrassing yourself. FAIL!
  • You learned how to be a better writer/lawyer/orthodontist/leprechaun-wrangler by being terrible initially. FAIL!
  • You learned how to drive by knowing what would happen if you crash. FAIL!

Everything you learn in life is either driven by previous failures or the fear of failure. You become better at everything in order to avoid that failure.

Basically, in order to succeed, you need to fail first. You need to have a taste of that failure to see what it’s like and know you NEVER want to suck on that particular lemon again. Once you’ve tasted failure, you’re going to do your damnedest to succeed, no matter what.

One social worker says, “Success in life is a process of elimination. You make mistakes – be it in changing the oil in your car, handling a job interview, hanging wallpaper, or dating someone outside your typical comfort zone – and walk away with one more lesson learned.”

As you push your comfort zone, you inevitably fail—perhaps not always, but definitely more often than you’d like. But that failure teaches you a vital lesson, one you can carry over into every other area of your life. As time goes on, each new failure builds on the lessons you’ve previously learned, and you walk away from each situation with a greater understanding of how NOT to fail.

If you never fail, you’ll never learn anything. Failure teaches you both the good and bad and prepares you for success!

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Everyone Has a Unique Sense of Smell

One thing I’ve found  about the best books is that the writing engages ALL the senses. You’ll read about the sights, sounds, sensations, tastes, and even the smells of the location where the book is set. Using these senses helps to draw the reader into the book and makes it more compelling.

In The Last Bucelarii series, the Hunter of Voramis (the protagonist) is a half-demon assassin with heightened senses. In addition to keen hearing, he has a strong sense of smell (a very animalistic trait, a part of his demonic heritage). Smell plays a very large role in the story. Not only does it help to set the tone for his environment (the heady floral perfumes of the nobility, the musky stink of working men, the rotting stench of the demons, and so on), but it also enhances the way he perceives the people around him.

Some examples:

  • He has memories of his “lost love”, and the memories include her scent: jasmine and honey, cinnamon and berries.
  • The children (Farida, Hailen, etc.) have a “clean, innocent” smell.
  • The men he bonds with tend to have honest, hard-working smells (leather, sweat, horses, etc.)
  • The scholars smell of ink, parchment, leather, dust, vellum, etc.
  • The demons reek of rot and decay.

His sense of smell is much stronger, like an animal’s.

Through the books, he travels from the city of Voramis (far in the south) northward. He goes from his medieval Europe-style city to cities with more Arabian, Mediterranean, and Oriental environments. Each new city exposes him to a different array of smells, just as it would be in the modern world.

Here’s an interesting fact I found today: the scent receptors in animals’ noses develop according to the scents to which they are exposed.

There are 1000+ olfactory receptors, making the olfactory system the most complex of the senses. Genetics do play a role in the sense of smell—the genes of the mice determined which olfactory receptors were present. However, the most important factor was the environment. Mice which grew up under laboratory conditions had a different sense of smell from genetically similar mice that grew up outside a lab.

Think about it like this: every country/city/environment has their own unique blend of scents.  A Brazilian growing up in the U.S. would have a sense of smell more on par with an American than a Brazilian on the streets of Rio. The same would be true in Mexico City, Tokyo, or Riyadh.

A fascinating concept, isn’t it? Had the Hunter spent his life living in an Oriental-style city, he’d be accustomed to a totally different range of scents. The same if he’d grown up in a Viking-style city, an Arabian-style city, or a hut in the jungle.

The sense of smell is conditioned by our environment as well as our genetics. Perhaps that’s why a scent that smells nice to one person is repulsive to another, and vice versa.

 

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