Friday, March 2, 2018

Interview with Author Louise Ross - JL Anthology

The JL group is proud to announce their FOURTH anthology which was released on 2/26! They're so excited to share this newest collection of works and I'm hosting one of the authors--Louise Ross-- in celebration.

The anthology, Of Legend and Lore, is a collection of fairy tale retellings from 11 different authors around the globe. You can buy it now on Amazon!

Kristen: Thank you for joining me today, Louise. I hope you're ready for the interrogation question assault interview. 

How about we start off with the inspiration behind your retelling.

Louise: I chose the three billy goats gruff because as I kid I preferred the non-romantic fairy tales. I loved unicorns, talking pigs, scary wolves, and trolls under bridges. So I wanted to highlight the billy goats.

Kristen: What was the hardest part of writing it?

Louise: I struggle with making endings that are not overly dramatic or depressing. This story lends itself to tragedy but also calls for peace and contentment. It was difficult to bring those two feelings together.

Kristen: Do you have any other short stories you written for a JLA before?

Louise This is my fourth story in a Just Us League Anthology. In From the Stories of Old , I wrote a tale, Kris and Krampus, where Kris Kringle becomes Krampus and punishes bad children. It is a story based on Struwwelpeter, a series of Germanic poems about naughty children. 

In Between Heroes and Villains, my story Super Love features Madame Pain, villainess extraordinaire, who has devised a scheme to entrap her one true love.

In the anthology Whispers in the Shadows, an old lady faces her final hours.

Kristen: So you're going for one in each! I hope to see you continue your streak! Now, how did this experience differ from your previous JLA stories?

Louise: Every story brings its own adventure. What I like most about writing is that one day I can explore insanity and the next day go on a treasure hunt. Out of the JLA anthologies, the story in this one is probably the happiest of all. I didn’t kill anyone, and that’s a positive move.

Kristen: Assuming you wanted to join in for future retelling anthologies, what other fairy tale would you like to rewrite?

Louise: I like exploring the non-romantic fairy tales. I am working on a tale based on Goldilocks and the three bears, and I am playing with possible retellings of Little Red Riding Hood, Three Little Pigs, and The Pied Piper. There are many great fairy tales.

Kristen: And definitely not tales we get to see a lot of. So you'd definitely be tapping into stories that must provide a fountain of new ideas. Since you mentioned preferring non-romantic stories, do you prefer a HEA or

Louise: In the longer pieces I write, I tend to give happy endings, but in short pieces, I rarely let my characters have a happily ever after. When reading stories, I am mixed. Happily ever after is good but variety is better.

Kristen: How do you combat writer’s block?

Louise: I stomp and throw things then take a bath. When I sit down with no electronics, no distracting dog, no husband, no other projects, then my brain usually works through any writer’s block.

Kristen: Hopefully the dogs and husband have a safe room when the throwing objects occurs! 

Kristen: Okay, moving on. Would you consider yourself a “pantser” or “plotter”?

Louise: I’m a plotter with a bit of pantsing within that plot. I often plot the plot but pants the characterization. It can cause problems if the characters no longer fit the plot, but mostly my process works for me.

Kristen: What would be your favorite original fairy tale?

Louise: Probably Little Red Riding Hood. I used to have a cape with a hood, and I would run around in my underwear and cape. I was little. Pre-kindergarten. I promise.

Kristen: Who wouldn't want a cape like Red's! What about your favorite adapted fairy tale?

Louise: When I try to come up with adapted fairy tales, I get stuck on the romance ones. Those are the majority of what I see. Out of those, I’d have to pick some form of Cinderella, maybe Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella either the 1965 with Leslie Ann Warren (bad singer but wonderful dancer) or the 1997 with Bandy and Whitney Huston.

Kristen: If you could meet one author, alive or dead, who would it be?

Louise: I’d be afraid to meet an author I admire and find out I did not like them as a person. It would be fun to attend some of Mark Twain’s orations just to listen. I hear WorldCon in the 60’s and 70’s was full of sword fights in hotel lobbies and crazy costume parties. So it might be fun to go back in time to one of those conventions.

Kristen: I can definitely understand not wanting to meet someone whose work you admire for fear that they'll be someone you can't stand! I could go for sword fights and costumes though!

What is your non-writer alter-ego (aka day job)?

Louise: I’m a lawyer by trade, which means I spend a lot of time reading, writing, and listening to other people’s stories. Law is conflict which has enveloped individuals and requires assistance with solving. Where else can a dispute between two neighbors suck in multiple attorneys, a judge, a jury of twelve, expert witnesses, and lay witnesses. I know where, fiction. Fiction is all about controversy.

Kristen: Completely random question. What is your spirit animal?

Louise: Oooooo. Um. Maybe a chimp. I like chimps. They are fun and playful, but they are territorial, aggressive and omnivores. I couldn’t have a spirit that refused to eat steak.

Kristen: I think that question would've stumped me. Or maybe not. Mine would be a koala. Eat and sleep my whole life and never leave my tree. Okay, so maybe that's just the life that sounds amazing. 

Who is the biggest supporter of your writing?

Louise; Wow. I would have to say my sisters who both make sure I get my writing time, or my husband who doesn’t complain about all my assigned writing time. Or my mom who continuously asks to read my stories. My immediate family is very supportive.

Kristen: That's awesome! I know so many writers don't have that family support. It's great that your family is willing to get behind you and back you up.

What is the biggest obstacle to your writing?

Louise: I struggle a lot with word counts. I have finished drafting 5 stories, but they range in size from 35,000 to 69,000 words. Fantasy novels shoot for 75,000 to 120,000. I have been working a long time on learning how to craft novels which are more appropriate in length while not losing the fast pace energy that I prefer.

Kristen: What other projects are you working on?

Louise: I currently have a fantasy action adventure about a blackmarket alchemist battling mercenaries after his bounty. This story is in its third round of beta reads. I have a novella/long short story about a troll event planner designing a ogre wedding, which is in revision after the last round of betas. I am redrafting my untitled western and am roughly 50% done. I keep multiple projects going.

Kristen: Sounds like you have my problem. So many ideas and you just can't pick one! Thank you for stopping by and I can't wait to read Of Legend and Lore. Good luck with your endeavors!

Louise Ross writes fantasy stories from the comfort of her recliner in Missouri. She is a member of the Just Us League and can be found online on her blog

Don't forget to check out the other JL anthologies available on Amazon!

Blog Tour Schedule

To meet other authors in Of Legend and Lore, follow our blog tour:

Don’t miss the cover reveal on the Just-Us League blog! — 7th February

Allie May hosts Matthew Dewar — 8th February

J.E. Klimov hosts Kelsie Engen — 13th February

Louise Ross hosts M.T. Wilson — 16th February

Heather Hayden hosts Allie May– 19th February

Kelsie Engen hosts Renee Frey — 20th February

RELEASE DAY — 26th February

M.T. Wilson hosts Sam Waterhouse — 1st March

Kristen Kooistra hosts Louise Ross — 2nd March

Elise Edmonds hosts J.E. Klimov — 7th March

J.E. Klimov hosts Heather Hayden — 9th March

Allie May hosts Elise Edmonds — 12th March

Friday, February 23, 2018

Red Rising - ABB Review

I've been informed that it's been too long since my last ABB review. I agree! I like to get my reactions fresh on the page, so if I wait and wait and wait before putting together a post I've lost the emotion that makes it possible.

I'm making time for this book though!!

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity's overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society's ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies... even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

As usual, there'll be spoilers throughout. It's hard to avoid them and explain emotions and why I had them. You have been warned!

Many dystopians can launch you headfirst into a world and you feel like you're drowning for the first 25%. Fortunately, Red Rising is not a culprit of this. We're dropped into a very simple setting. A group of people called Reds live underground on Mars and mine an element that'll help terraform the planets/moons of the solar system.

Basic cave setting that we can understand, they're held in an impoverished state so there's no crazy tech to get use to. There is this annoying trend throughout the book to give every "new" invented thing a name that looks like clawDrill. I do not know why it was so important to mash two words together and capitalize the second "word" in the word. Annoying. Just call it a Clawdrill! Or a Claw Drill. Or a claw drill. The mid word cap thing... no, just no.

Darrow is part of a mining unit and is the lead driller(Helldiver). A risky job but one you can tell he enjoys to a degree. The immersion into this world with sensory details is phenomenal. Though a bit gross at times.

Darrow and his team are trying to earn an award given to the month's best mining sector. As long as anyone can remember it's gone to the Gamma's, but this time Darrow takes a risk that sends his score to the top. The award means extra rations and such for his sector, but we all know something smells. Right? And it's not the nasty diving suits!

As everyone is celebrating, I'm watching the scene unfold going, oh boy, I know where this is going. Yeeeep, you know, right? Because clearly this is a rigged system!!! The award goes to the Gamma's again. Hopes dashed. I mean, I saw it coming but I still was wanting to yell at the leaders of this scam.

If I was an evil tyrant that was enslaving a bazillion colonies of underground workers, I wouldn't be rigging this award. Seriously, the minute they figure out it's rigged there's no incentive for them to keep doing their best work to win it. Why? There's no point! Common sense would say that if it's a legitimate goal people will be so distracted trying to earn it that they may forget their slaves and you're holding their chain. 

It is kind of scary when you realize you could dominate the galaxy more efficiently. What I DID really like is that latter Darrow points out the exact same freaking thing. So this wasn't an oops on the author's part. He really did make a flawed governing body and a person smart enough to know they can work it better, if they had wanted. Hmm, Darrow and I might need to be committed together.

Darrow's moment of joy and hope is crushed, but his wife decides to cheer him up. She takes him to the upper level that has been partially terraformed(still underground). They're not on the surface as far as I could tell but they're in an area with trees and grass that I guess belongs to the Greys who are the enforcement peoples in this world.

On their way back, they get caught.

Now... Here's what I don't freaking get!!! HOW DID THEY KNOW?! The sneak away during a party, into a factory, and then go to an air vent that is hidden, climb up it and garden! How the heck did the Greys know that vent was accessible and that these two went in it? I mean, they're sitting right there waiting for them when they get back.

AND THEY DON'T EXPLAIN! We never find out how they knew!! Did someone nark? Or did they somehow just smell their trail into the vent. I mean, really, it makes no sense.

The punishment is severe, of course. I believe it was 45 lashes or some crazy number. Darrow is treated to the whip first and that's the thing about this book, it's not pleasant. This book is not shy about details and language. The language is course, there's a lot of swearing or just nasty talk. We get to have all the bloody, nasty details. It really shows what kind of place this is. A place that's lost its soul in a lot of ways.

Next is his wife, Eo, only she realizes that some head honcho--Mr. ArchGovernor--is presiding over the mess. Now Eo wants Darrow to fight back. She wants them to stand up and protest their slavery. Darrow wants to keep his head down and just get through life. Eo has a chance now. A chance to make her voice heard, to push Darrow.

This is our Wolverine moment! 
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Eo does something she knows will mean instant death and sure enough. She's immediately sentenced to hang. Mars is a sick place and the gravity is less than our own. So hanging isn't enough to kill someone. At least it won't snap their neck. The drop doesn't kill them and it'd be a slow and painful death. So they allow the loved ones to run under and pull their legs to finish them off.

There's not really words or memes even for these portions of the books. I mean, good grief!!! In the end, no matter how you see the reason, it's Darrow who kills his wife. He pulls her leg and feels the snap. I can't imagine the nightmares that poor guy had.

But now we have our martyr and she's lit a fire in a beast that would've happily stayed dormant if left alone. Events follow that lead Darrow to the group of Rebels called the Sons of Ares. They have a plan. They're going to give Wolverine claws.
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You know how that worked... Only Darrow's not being played by the Sons or Ares so he doesn't turn on them. He does however go through a process that takes months but sounds possibly even more painful than Wolverine's short stint in the tank. It's something you'd only go through if you had lost someone and were angry enough to handle the pain. 

Darrow goes through all the surgeries and months of recovery. Then he's given enhancers to help him memorize information quickly and taught how to interact in the upper society. Because yep, among other things, the Sons of Ares have revealed to him that his life is a lie.

 Image result for mushu you lied to me
The miners aren't harvesting for a terraforming process to rescue the poor souls of Earth. No, it's been 500 freaking years since people moved to Mars. Mars is already terraformed. People already are living there and all around the system. They just didn't want to give up their slaves.

Darrow realizes his whole life is a fraud and the point of the surgeries and so on are so he can infiltrate the top of the top. In a color schemed world, the Reds like him are on the bottom and the Golds are on the top. But even the Golds have levels within their system. 

Darrow is shooting to be the top rank of Golds. A person with enough power to help bring down the system from the inside. It's a long term goal. They're not going to get this done quickly and it's not going to happen in the first book. It's not even going to shake up the system in the first book. They're playing it smart and doing it slow.

Darrow gets into the elite school where only the top 2% of Golds enter. He's then sorted into one of 12 houses that each pick 100 students. 

From here on out. We're in Hunger Games world. I mean, these people are looking to win sponsors who'll back all their dreams to greatness after "school" lets out. 

Not 12 districts, but 12 houses. And the first thing that happens is . . . .they're fed a lavish feast and shown to a nice room. Darrow's going, I got this!

Then crap hits the fan. Darrow's dragged out of bed in the middle of the night, stripped, and thrown into a room. A man walks in and throws a ring in the center of the room and says, "Last person living gets the ring and gets to walk out. We only have room for one of you." Yep, there's another person across the room from Darrow.

Darrow knows this guy doesn't stand a chance. The people who threw them in together had to know. Thing is, Darrow doesn't hate this guy. He's trying to hate all Golds but it's hard when they're attached to names and faces and those people are hard to hate.

This is a no win situation. I saw a few reviewers call Darrow a Gary Stu because he's perfect and people, he's not. In this situation for example you can't be perfect. You either let yourself be killed and lose the chance to free your people, or you murder an innocent teen who's never done anything to you.


It's no choice. You lose no matter what. But this is Darrow's story so despite holding out hope that he'll find a way to somehow just injure this guy and still make the cut... yeah, it's gruesome.

As he's walking out of the room later, he's thinking about the whole thing. It's downright creepy how accurately he figures out why this choice is there. Every school gets 100 kids. Half of them die that first night. It weeds out the weakest and changes the strongest. Starts them on a path that leads to a coldness that would then let them be okay with their children doing the same.

Now with the strongest 50 in each house remaining, the "teacher" bails and tells them good luck. You're supposed to avoid killing people, but it's not strictly forbidden. You're meant to take over and rule this land the schools reside on.
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Everyone's just standing in their schools. You don't know where the castles are at or whose is whose. You don't know what they have for resources or weaknesses, you don't know what they're planning.

But first Darrow had to deal with strife in his own castle. You have to earn the leadership rank, so until then you either go leaderless or elect a temporary leader. With everyone wanting to stand out, that doesn't go so well. Four factions break of from House Mars and things get uglier.

The first faction belongs to Titus. Titus is the big hulking brute that actually enjoys the sick things that are going on. He manages to amass the largest group out of House Mars despite his inability to provide basic necessities like food and fire.
Image result for hunger games brutus

The second is Antonia's. She's the sneaky, backstabbing one that in some ways you have to watch out for the most. She'll take any opportunity to advance.
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Next is Darrow and Cassius's group. The two team up to co-lead their faction. Part of Darrow likes Cassius and respects him. But he's also hiding a secret from Cassius that could change everything. Cassius is a loaded gun with no safety. He could go off at any time.
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The fourth faction isn't so much a group as a one man show. Sevro was supposed to die in the slaughter, but he overcame the odds to beat whoever they put with him. He's crazy, he's strange, he's abrasive. He slithers off into the night and though he's going solo, he seems to be doing better than anyone else. He's the smart, slinky, sly one.
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There is sooo many ups and downs over the course of the book. Darrow is trying to reunite his house but things will go right, then wrong. He makes mistakes, and they land him in bad spots. He's smart though. His tactics are different and he's not afraid to try something crazy. His band may be small, but when he wins loyalty he really wins it.
Do not get attached to people because wow do they like to die and have you shaking the book.

The last half of the book unfolds into a series of events that happen during this epic war. The paths Darrow has to take surprised me constantly. I kept thinking things would go one way and they'd go another. He makes choices no one's ever made and it shakes up how the system works. He defies the rules, refuses to be beaten, and chooses to use something more powerful than slaves to accomplish his goal.

This book had me angry, sad, frustrated, disgusted, and angry some more. I mostly loved the people around Darrow. Roque the sage one who seemed to see more than anyone else. Sevro who was the underdog and fiercely loyal. Pax who was such a staunch character that by the end he wasn't playing for himself, or for what he could earn, he was committed to Darrow and willing to do whatever it took to see that he succeeded.

Yes, this book is rough. The descriptions, the language, the events. Good people die, people we like. But it is very good. I had a few quibbles with the world setup such as withheld information. Like Eo apparently has a second secret she means to tell Darrow but doesn't before her death and her sister is told something that she refuses to share with him afterwards.

I'm pretty sure I know what it is. Only one secret could be important enough to include in the book and make Eo's death all the more horrifying. But I didn't think it made sense to be dropped in there and then never really returned to. Also it makes Eo's sacrifice one I can't respect as much. If I'm right, it'll change the way I look at her decision to martyr herself completely.

I gave this book 4 stars and darn it but it kept me up until 2 in the morning. A gruesome, dark, gritty book but one that draws you in with its depth and realism. You feel like you're there, like this place is real. The stakes and people matter. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

2018 Reading Challenge(s)


Yes, 2018 is here and along with that wrapping up a previous year of reading, it means I get to announce what's on the schedule for the year.

Ha! Like I have a book schedule.

Anyway, I dooooo as usual have my target book challenge of 50 books. I know, I'm so boring. I set that same goal every year. But I will say that it's a target that does push me to at least hit what I consider a good amount of books. It's also one that allows me freedom to take breaks from reading and not have to stress about a goal. I've also learned from other friend's challenges that a high (high being relative) goal can push you to read shorter/easier books to finish a challenge. I really want that freedom to pick any book that interests me without having to catalog my to-read list by "will make sure I obtain my goal."

And now to the more interesting part! My third annual Classic Reading Challenge. (There, I made it sound all fancy.)

I've had a lot of fun the past couple of years with this and I'm hoping to continue that here in 2018. I have 8 books picked out this year. So halfway between the 6 from last year and the 10 from 2016. Really hoping though with the heft of some of them that I didn't bite off more than I can chew.

There it is! I would definitely say that War and Peace is giving me the most "AHH WHAT HAVE I DONE?!" feeling. And I don't expect 2, 3, 7, and 8 to be quick one night reads. (I'm going to die!!!!)

I'll be reading Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea with fellow reader/author Elise Edmonds over at so that should be fun!

I think I'm most excited for A Christmas Carol. I've already finished Persuasion so I can't really say I'm now expecting it. Bwahaha, I already know what I think!

What about everyone else? What are your reading goals for this year? Any books your super excited to read this year?

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Top 10 Favorite Reads of 2017

I'm so excited to share my favorite books of 2017! I had a lot near the start of the year, then kind of slumped in the middle, then UGH there I am in December just hitting amazing book after amazing book. It got really hard to narrow down my top 10.

Keep in mind that it was really, really difficult to choose an order for these books. I ended up just going with the first title that popped into my head. I'd agonize for months over it if I overthought it!

Counting down!

#10 Moonburner

Kai is a Moonburner—a female sorceress reviled by her people and normally killed at birth. Except Kai's parents saved her by disguising her as a boy—a ruse they've kept up for almost seventeen years. But when her village is attacked, Kai’s secret is revealed and she’s sentenced to death.

Thankfully, the gods aren’t done with Kai. Despite the odds stacked against her, she escapes her fate, undertaking a harrowing journey to a land where Moonburners are revered and trained as warriors.

But her new home has dangers of its own—the ancient war against the male Sunburners has led the Moonburners down a dark path that could destroy all magic. And Kai, armed only with a secret from her past and a handsome but dangerous ally, may be the only one who can prevent the destruction of her people...

Moonburner was deep, layered, and full of twists. With a Japanese flair added to this fantasy tale, Moonburner creates a unique world where two countries have been split apart. A great desert separates them from each other. On one side the king rules the Sunburners, men with the power to capture the suns rays and spin magic with it. On the other is Queen Airi and her Moonburners, women who draw their power from the moon's rays.

Kai was raised in hiding on the outskirts of a small village in the land of the Sunburners. Disguised as a boy to avoid the deadly Gleaming test that would reveal her true identity, Kai's always on edge that her secret will be discovered. Six months until they escape to Airi's kingdom... they're so close. Then it all falls apart when a heroic act reveals the truth.

Kai loses everything. But then when she needs it most, Quitsu, a silver seishen fox comes to her aid.

Moonburner has black, white, and the shades in between. It has heroes who can become villains, and villains who can become heroes. It has two people that hate each other. It's men against women, sun against moon. But maybe, maybe they need each other to survive.

Buy on Amazon for only 99 cents!

#9 A Dance of Silver and Shadow

When Princess Liliana and her twin sister set sail for new lands, Lily hopes to find adventure and romance. But the people of Marin live under the shadow of a curse--one powerful enough to destroy entire kingdoms. To protect them all, Lily and eleven other princesses are forced to participate in a mysterious and secret tournament.

Lily spends her nights competing in a magical underground realm and her days unraveling the dangers of this new court. Although she needs the help of the Marinese prince, Lily knows she can't let herself grow too close to him. There's no time for romance when the duchy is about to fall to the encroaching darkness and the winner of the tournament faces a terrible fate.

But Lily and her twin have a secret advantage. And Lily grows increasingly determined to use their magical bond to defeat the tournament, save the princesses, and free Marin. Except she might have to sacrifice true love to do it.

In this reimagining of the classic fairy tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, there's a lot more at stake than worn out dancing slippers.

Easily one of the best retellings of the 12 Dancing Princesses. Lots of new twists. The world building was very well done. The characters all had the right amount of development. I couldn't put this down and was up late into the night to finish it.

Unlike any retelling I've seen, these princesses aren't sisters(or at least not all of them). A Princess Tourney has been called and by the ancient laws of the land, all eligible princesses within the borders of the participating kingdoms MUST attend. They are forbidden to speak of the trials(magically forbidden) and have to perform their best to prevent a death curse from falling on someone they care about.

Lily is determined to win the tourney in order to save her sister and the younger princesses. But even as she climbs to the top, her heart sinks with the knowledge of what her prize will be. A sinister prince in a dark, cursed land that no one has heard from in years. A land that's full of monsters and dangers so terrible that no one dares cross the border anymore.

There's multiple layers to this story, there's plenty of personalities, the story begs to not be put down. And I was so excited to see where future stories are hinted at. There's pieces of other tales tucked in and I think all of them will get their chance to shine in future books.

Buy on Amazon!

#8 Where Carpets Fly

Restless teen Elina is bored of village life. When she starts magic lessons in the city, her only concern is exploring the sights with new school friend Kara. However, life takes a darker turn. Her magic teacher is hiding a secret, and odd happenings pile up, like unsociable Simeon's shady dockside deals. But Elina's questions go unanswered.

When Elina and Simeon develop a magical mind link, she suspects his involvement in foreign spy work. But an unexpected ship tour-turned-voyage throws her and Kara right at the mystery's heart-in the volatile, dangerous country of Pallexon.

Alone and with no ID, things worsen when a terrorist act blows Kara's cover. With her own freedom at stake, Elina must rely on her wits and magic to save her friend and unravel Pallexon's secrets-before it's too late.

There may be bigger things going on in Elina's world, but she just wants to get out of the boring old family carpet shop. She manages to win permission to move to the city of Kamikan where she can get magic lessons at a private school.

Flying carpets, magic, sailing, and a crazy adventure are waiting.

I loved the worldbuilding with the glowglobes, carpets, biological life, and even the food. It was cool to see the different types of magic and how they could be used. When things start getting out of control for Elina and her friend, Kara, I was like, UGH, because it was all things that you couldn't do anything about. A series of unfortunate events! Though when Kara stopped at one point, I wanted to drag her onto the ship by her hair.

I did think it was weird how Elina during one of her Cognitive lessons was like, "Oh gosh, does Simeon like me?" because they'd just recently met and there'd been so little book time with them together that I was actually surprised that Elina even considered it since there was no reason to wonder.

It was awesome that Simeon and Elina had a chance to use what they'd been learning. I think Kara's ordeal helped make the larger situation of what's going on in this world more personal and close for both Elina and me. It'll be interesting to see if Elina feels inspired to help and change things for the better.

Buy on Amazon!

#7 Den of Wolves

Feather bright and feather fine, None shall harm this child of mine...

Healer Blackthorn knows all too well the rules of her bond to the fey: seek no vengeance, help any who ask, do only good. But after the recent ordeal she and her companion, Grim, have suffered, she knows she cannot let go of her quest to bring justice to the man who ruined her life.

Despite her personal struggles, Blackthorn agrees to help the princess of Dalriada in taking care of a troubled young girl who has recently been brought to court, while Grim is sent to the girl’s home at Wolf Glen to aid her wealthy father with a strange task—repairing a broken-down house deep in the woods. It doesn’t take Grim long to realize that everything in Wolf Glen is not as it seems—the place is full of perilous secrets and deadly lies...

Back at Winterfalls, the evil touch of Blackthorn’s sworn enemy reopens old wounds and fuels her long-simmering passion for justice. With danger on two fronts, Blackthorn and Grim are faced with a heartbreaking choice—to stand once again by each other’s side or to fight their battles alone...

Blackthorn and Grim captivated me with their "realness" in a way that few characters do. I believe this is this last of the series as it ties up everything neatly, but I can't help wanting more still.

This series is a slow-brew that is rich with detail and vivacity. It's dark, but not graphically so. It's got mystery and intrigue woven through every book. I simply could not read any of the three fast enough.

Here the story continues, only we see a lot more of Grim and Blackthorn on their own as circumstances keep them apart. This allowed for me to really see how much they'd grown to depend on care on each other.

While I found Cara annoying, it fit for her age. And Bardan's mystery was so fascinating I had to resist not staying up all night to find out what happened.

Overall I can't stress how amazing this series has been for me. The writing is beautiful. The over-arcing plot as well as the plot for each individual book is engaging and immersive. And most of all, here are two characters that have a lot of depth, a lot of personality, and who manage to make you care more about them then you'd think possible for two fictional characters.

They have faults and weaknesses, they're human, they're easy to relate to, and deep down they're both stellar people with qualities most of us could benefit from having in our lives. These are two people you'd want to have your back any day.

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#6 Tower of Thorns

Disillusioned healer Blackthorn and her companion, Grim, have settled in Dalriada to wait out the seven years of Blackthorn’s bond to her fey mentor, hoping to avoid any dire challenges. But trouble has a way of seeking out Blackthorn and Grim.

Lady Geiléis, a noblewoman from the northern border, has asked for the prince of Dalriada’s help in expelling a howling creature from an old tower on her land—one surrounded by an impenetrable hedge of thorns. Casting a blight over the entire district, and impossible to drive out by ordinary means, it threatens both the safety and the sanity of all who live nearby. With no ready solutions to offer, the prince consults Blackthorn and Grim.

As Blackthorn and Grim begin to put the pieces of this puzzle together, it’s apparent that a powerful adversary is working behind the scenes. Their quest is about to become a life and death struggle—a conflict in which even the closest of friends can find themselves on opposite sides.

Yes, I really did love this series enough to have both books I read this year make the top 10. I adore Blackthorn and Grim. Blackthorn is this jaded and snarky woman who's been through so much and she's bent on revenge. I love, love, love her personality. I'm secretly hoping she finds a way to off Mathuin.

And Grim is just plain lovable. He's like the big teddy bear guy who people make fun of and think is a stupid. The poor guy even believes himself to be stupid but he's talented, loyal, caring, selfless, and smart in his own way.

Their voices are absolutely perfect and even with first person pov, you never forget whose head you're in because they're so distinct.

The mystery behind the Tower was given in perfect doses to drive me crazy with wanting to know what was happening! As always, there's multiple layers to the secondary characters and it's fun trying to figure out motivations and so on.

Blackthorn is trying to solve the mystery of the monster in the tower. But there's more than the monster that's concerning her. The lady who begged her aid and the entire household staff is... strange. Not everything is at it seems and Blackthorn tries to find out what no one wants her to know.

While Grim takes a job repairing the thatch for a monastery. This is the first big peek into Grim's past as previously we only really saw Blackthorns. His work in this book brings memories back that would be sweet if not for the overlaying pain that casts its shadow over them.

I liked being able to see a hint of Grim's past and having this book focus on his internal battles the way book one focused on Blackthorn's.

I chuckled evilly over how Geileis' story ended. HA! HA! Take that lady! I absolutely love books where the baddies actually get their comeuppance. Oh, I'd expound on it but I don't want to ruin it. Suffice to say, I thought she was a horrid person and felt zero sympathy for her. And yep, I thought how her story ended was just what she deserved.

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#5 God's Daughter

One Viking woman. One God. One legendary journey to the New World.

In the tenth century, when pagan holy women rule the Viking lands, Gudrid turns her back on her training as a seeress to embrace Christianity. Clinging to her faith, she joins her husband, Finn, on a voyage to North America.

But even as Gudrid faces down murderous crewmen, raging sickness, and hostile natives, she realizes her greatest enemy is herself--and the secrets she hides might just tear her marriage apart.

Almost five centuries before Columbus, Viking women sailed to North America with their husbands. God's Daughter, Book One in the Vikings of the New World Saga, offers an expansive yet intimate look into the world of Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir--daughter-in-law of Eirik the Red, and the first documented European woman to have a child in North America.

One of the fun things about picking up a lot of books is that by the time I get to reading a lot of them, I've forgotten the back cover. That means I'm jumping into a book completely fresh and trusting that I picked it up for a reason.

I honestly thought this was a fantasy with a viking flavor to it. Until I started reading, and I was like wow, this author is good. She REALLY has a lot of layers and details. I did some digging and hey, it's historical fiction.

I love doing some light researching about whatever I'm reading about when it comes to historical. For this one it just made me more impressed with how well Gilbert stuck to the framework of what is known or believed to be known about Gudrid and the people around her. She fleshes those details out and made a super engaging story that I devoured in one night. (who needs sleep?)

This book is REAL in the manner that it feels like you're right there alongside real people. The setting and characters are described extraordinarily well and Gilbert pulls off something that is hard for a lot of authors to do.

She makes a flawed heroine with a flaw that I really really don't like, but I still loved the character. Gudrid struggles with being faithful. Not in her actions, but in her mind. I got the sense that Gudrid missed out on love as she grew up. She missed out on having someone care about her and take care of her. People in her life used her and mistreated her, until now.

Now she's happily married, but at the same time she has two men in her life who think she's amazing. She wrestles with her thoughts, know they're wrong, and tries to fight against them. I think she's afraid of being alone. Both physically and emotionally. And now she's got multiple people that could prevent that and part of her wants all of them because you know, if one fails there'll be two more.

Meanwhile there's this intense battle for survival in a strange land. Gudrid is trying to take care of herself, her son, the community, her sister-in-law, etc. There's diseases they have to hope they can outlast, hostiles who they can't communicate with, and restlessness in a camp with way more men than women. There's also a strange wolf that seems to be watching over her!

I'll list the cons for me real quick.

- Gudrid's slaves. She finds out at one point that a good portion of the slaves are hers, but she was not to be told. Considering her reaction to this, I was surprised it took her so long to free them and that when she at last faced Leif it took her some time to confront him about it and overall the interaction was mild. I thought her reaction to discovering she was a slave owner did not match up with her later actions.

- The two enemy boys. This felt just strange and forced into the story. They're on their way home and they camp on shore at one point. They see some of the hostiles they've bumped into and chase the two adults(we assume parents) who take off leaving two kids to flee the best they can. The Vikings instead turn and grab the kids and bring them back to the crew. Gudrid immediately decides to adopt them. They then take the boys with them back to Greenland.

First off, I was torn over this. On one hand, yes, the parents fled and didn't make sure their kids made it out okay. And yes, the kids were clearly mistreated(covered in bruises, lice, etc.). But it seemed extreme to just ...take two kids that couldn't communicate their wishes or understand what was happening away from their home, family, and people. I also think Gudrid should've talked with Finn before deciding to adopt them. Overall I just don't think it added to the story, and felt strangely squeezed in there. And yes, I couldn't help wondering if it was really the right choice.

- Leif. A character who was supposed to be one of the early Christians to the area acted very un-Christian and I had a hard time believing his faith was genuine. I wish either a different, non-Christian character would've had his role in the story or that this could've been seen as before his conversion.

- Lastly I REALLY wish there was more of this book. Like at the end. I thought it ended too soon. And here's why. We spend most of the book following Gudrid's struggles with her wandering thoughts. There's a LOT of struggle and she is slowly able to work herself to a good spot. But it's not until near the end of the book that this really comes to a strong standing point. Where Gudrid stands up and says, no, I'm my husband's and he's the one I want and him alone. She denies the other two men and it's clear that she's finally where I spent the whole book waiting for her to be.

Then it ends. I wanted to see more time with Gudrid and Finn being a healthy couple. Finn reaches out to her and opens up in an amazing way that's one of the many fine points of this book. And I really really wanted Gudrid to do the same. I wanted her to open up and share what she'd been feeling, what she'd been struggling with, but how she'd changed and where she was now. I really wanted to see that healthy step. Especially because Finn was clearly very tuned in to what was going on, I think he probably knew some of what she was going through. I think her opening up would've been healing and helped the relationship.

NOW, yes, that's my list, but I want to say that overall this book is... it's amazing. I loved how indepth the characters were and so many of them. There's a number of names, but it's handled well so that I caught up on who was who quickly. Clearly the author put a lot of work into crafting her characters and bringing them to life. I was very interested to see what would happen next, who would do what, and how Gudrid would get through it all.

This has it's sad, and somewhat dark moments, but I also think it's a great portrayal of how someone might've experienced life then. And that includes someone who is a fairly new Christian in a land that still follows pagan practices of chants and human sacrifices. You can see how hard that probably was and how bits of it would cling here and there.

I only wish there was more of Gudrid and Finn's story. A really amazing book and I'd recommend it.

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#4 Prince of Malorn

One major obstacle stands between seventeen-year-old Prince Korram and the throne that is his

birthright: Regent Rampus. Temporary ruler of Malorn, Rampus has no intention of giving up his position when the crown prince comes of age – or of allowing the prince to live long enough to reach that age.

Desperate to build an army of his own to stand against the regent, Korram treks into the Impassable Mountains to try to recruit the one segment of Malornian society not under Rampus’s control. But can he lead a band of untrained hunters and gatherers to victory against the full might of the Malornian military? Or will they all be crushed by the grasping hand of the regent before the prince can claim his rightful throne?

I can't believe it took me so long to start this book! I've had it sitting around for awhile, but it's such a big book . . .

By the end of the prologue I was hooked. There's 3 books in the series, and I wasn't sure if they should be read in a particular order, so I stopped briefly to check. (they all take place around the same time, but focus on different characters) I was so happy to hear I didn't have to go read something else first, because I was THAT interested.

It did take me about 3 nights to read, but it was so worth it. I mean this is an amazing story and I didn't see a single error(for 460 some pages, that's impressive!).

There's 4 parts to this book and each is so intense, and so immersive that I'd reach the end feeling like I'd been right there every second with the character. I'd check how far I'd come, because I must be almost to the end after that adventure. Nope. I never was anywhere near the end!!

Reading this book felt like reading LOTR where every day, week, month, you are there. It doesn't matter that it only took 3 days to read, I felt like I was there for months. Trying to compress that much of a book into a review is tough.

The writing is amazing, the characters completely real, the plot is flawless. I loved that Korram ran into a problem once he got his army and was back in the Lowlands because yes, he has it, but gosh they are untrained. My heart was sinking right then. There was just no way it'd work. We just went through acceptance, integration, battles against elements, animals, prejudice, starvation, cold, etc. and now we have these worthless troops!! ARGH!!!

I say we, because yep, I was with Korram the whole trip. We tackled this together!

It'd have been easy to just have some ready-made troops and everything to go swimmingly after this, but it's like the author KNEW it wasn't real and she showed that these people needed a LOT of training and found a way to accomplish it.

I wish I could do this book justice with my review, I can't. If you like adventure, survival, underdogs, and writing that sucks you into a new world and takes you along for the ride, you've gotta try this book.


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#3 Katya's War

The battle lines have been drawn. The people of Russalka turn upon one another in a ruthless and unwavering civil war even while their world sickens and the deep black ocean is stained red with their blood. As the young civilisation weakens, its vitality fuelling the opposing militaries at the cost of all else, the war drums beat louder and louder.

Katya Kuriakova knows it cannot last. Both sides are exhausted – it can only be a matter of days or weeks before they finally call a truce and negotiate. But the days and weeks pass, the death toll mounts, and still the enemy will not talk.

Then a figure from the tainted past returns to make her an offer she cannot lightly refuse – a plan to stop the war. But to do it she will have to turn her back on everything she has believed in, everything she has ever fought for, to make sacrifices greater even than laying down her own life. To save Russalka, she must become its greatest enemy.

Katya's War is the perfect followup to Katya's World. So many times the second book fails to deliver, but not this one. This one is the equal to the first in every way.

Full review on my blog.

Following Katya's choice at the end of the first book, she is now living the simple, uncomplicated life of an obedient Federal citizen running cargo across the ocean-covered planet.

Expect for things are not that simple, they never are. The pace of this is like a work of art. It goes along and just when things need that leap to spur you forward, you get it. I didn't want to put this down because gosh darn it is good.

I love Katya. I love that this is a YA novel that doesn't have romance anywhere in sight. I love that Katya's constantly challenged and yet knows her own mind.

The twists in this book are INSANE. I mean, you think you know what's coming, but you don't.

I got a little sad in here when Katya is led to the destroyed base. And that feeling never quite diminishes as the web of lies and deceit is slowly unraveled to show all of its horror.

I lived one of my biggest nightmares during the very long climax at the end. Gosh that was terrible.

Like the first book, this kept me riveted and I REALLY want there to be a third book. More people need to know about this series.

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#2 Slave

There is no sun. There is no moon. There is only gray—the smog belched from coal-fueled factories. The Workers silently shuffle to their assigned posts. The Outcasts watch from the alley walls. On every corner, a Watcher stands stone-faced, a rifle in hand. This is the only life that exists. Beyond the mountains is a dream. But dreams are foolish in a place like this.

Hannah has spent nineteen years dodging Watchers and doing as she is told.

"Do not look Watchers in the eye. Don't give them a reason to notice you."

But when she wakes to the valley exploding in revolution, Hannah is forced onto a dangerous path, where nothing is what she believed. Suddenly freedom is in her grasp, and the way there requires working with the men she once feared.

This was the book chosen for my book club this month. I'm really happy we picked this because wow, it was GOOD!

Slave is easily one of the best dystopians I've read in awhile(not falling into so many of the common "problems" of the genre). Writted for a NA audience, this is clean enough for a YA readers(though there is some light torture that might be too much for a young YA reader).

Hannah is our MC and with the story being told in first person POV, I didn't actually learn/retain her name until quite a way into the story. I was shocked when they said her name. I was like . . . wait, I didn't know her name, but I feel so connected to "I". I think that's a testament to Frances' ability to make her characters easy to relate to.

Hannah lives in a world that's lost all of its beauty in more ways than one. There is no sunlight, grey clouds from the factories cover the sky, and I swear there's no grass or trees, or nature anywhere in this miserable place. The people live in hovels with no luxuries or anything nice whatsoever. They are given just the bare essentials and live to work.

Those who can't work are cast out to live on the street.

The absolute despair of the place seeps in everywhere and Hannah is a reflection of her world. Sometimes being in a character's head is not enjoyable for the reader, but I loved being in Hannah's head. The book spends a lot of time there but it's sooo well-done.

Hannah is a product of her system. She's terrified of everything, she's completely cowed. Too often with dystopians the character is like "oh yeah, totally not affected by my crazy world and ready to rebel!"

Hannah felt REAL and I couldn't put her story down. I understood her fear, was freaking out with her when everything was normal but she and you KNOW the other shoe is going to drop any second!! She does the right thing, even when she's scared. She's not willing to take the chance that if she doesn't make a good choice that someone else will, because what if they don't?

The romance was slow, and I wouldn't call it sweet but rather it had a depth and realness to it that fit the story.

I already can't wait for the second book to be out. And I so want that Aspen girl to DIE!!! She annoyed the heck out of me.

My only "complaint" was that I didn't see the twist with one of the character's identities(connection to the South) coming and didn't feel like there was really any indicator(Hannah states that it made sense to her, but it didn't make sense to me.) leading up to the point that the other characters deferred to this character in anyway or that there would be a reason for it.

Great story though! And so nice to read something with a slightly older cast.

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 #1 Colonization

Finding a new home has never been so dangerous.

Andromeda has spent all seventeen years of her life aboard a deep space transport vessel destined for a paradise planet. Her safe cocoon is about to break open as Paradise 21 looms only one month away, and she must take the aptitude tests to determine her role on the new world and her computer
assigned lifemate. As a great-granddaughter of the Commander of the ship, she wants to live up to her family name. But, her forbidden love for her childhood friend, Sirius, distracts her and she fails the tests. The results place her in a menial role in the new colony and pair her with Corvus, “the oaf”.

But when Andromeda steps foot on Paradise 21, her predestined future is the least of her worries. Alien ghosts from a failed colonization warn her of a deadly threat to her colony. And when Sirius's ship crashes on the far ridge in an attempt to investigate, she journeys to rescue him with Corvus.

Andromeda now must convince the authorities of the imminent danger to protect her new home. What she didn't expect was a battle of her own feelings for Sirius and Corvus.

Can she save the colony and discover her true love?

I started this book last night...and finished it last night. It was that good. I love the streak I've had the past few days because I've been reading some awesome books and this didn't let me down.

Too often with colony ship stories, I feel like some basic common sense things were overlooked. Colonization didn't do that. There was just enough details to make it believable, but not so many that I had a ton of areas to pick holes in. I completely accepted Annie's world.

After 8 generations in space, it's finally time. Twenty-one colony ships were sent out to different worlds from a dying Earth, and at least the final ship is about to reach its destination.

Everyone is excited, well, almost everyone. Annie is the great-granddaughter of the ship's captain and has spent her life slacking off and ignoring her destination. She doesn't want to think about leaving the safety of the ship. She also knows it means a major change in her life.

Annie and Sirius have been best friends forever. Honestly it's like they didn't make any other friends. As the ship nears Planet 21, the graduating class receives two lists. One has their assignment on the planet, and the other their lifemate. Lifemates are chosen to avoid inbreeding, etc.

Despite their hopes, Annie and Sirius are NOT paired together. It's a great setup for wanting to fight against the system and somehow hope that they can defy the odds and find a way to change their assignments.

Annie is all for requesting a change, but Sirius is more of the mind to trust the system and just go with it. He seems okay with letting Annie go and moves on.

Annie isn't ready for that, but... in enters her lifemate, Corvus. I'm not normally one to go all "Awww." over fictional guys, but Corvus was a sweetheart. You know he probably knows what Annie wanted, and that she's not happy she's stuck with him.

He's very kind about it though and doesn't mention it. He just there for her. He shows up to say hi, or to see what she's doing. He helps with her work, cares about what she wants to do. And gradually Annie and I began to see that maybe the sorting thing knew what it was doing.

It's not like Sirius was a bad guy, it's just clear that Annie wasn't really his dream. She was more like the ornament on his tree. He wanted to do his thing and have Annie tag along.

Corvus was different. He wanted to change and do better for Annie. He cared what she did, and what she thought. He believed in her and valued her opinion. And Annie opens up to that and is interested in him and his life.

There's really two stories here. One of a colony landing on a strange planet and having to adapt and learn. And a romance. The romance was one of my favorites and I'm actually SAD that the next two books don't focus on Annie and Corvus. I'd reread this just to get the feels all over again.

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