Archives

Stephen R. Lawhead: In the Region of the Summer Stars (Review)

I have a new favorite book and today I get to shriek about it to you guys to tide me over until I get my hands on the next book in the series! *grins*

Title: In the Region of the Summer Stars

Author: Stephen R. Lawhead

  • Series: Eirlandia, #1
  • Date read: February 29, 2020
  • Rating: 5 stars! (Summer ones. ;))
  • Genre: Celtic Fantasy
  • Age: Adult
  • Year pub: 2018
  • Pages: 333 (hardcover)
  • Fave character: Conor
  • Source: Library
  • Links: GoodreadsBarnes & NobleAmazonAuthor’s Website
  • Quotes: “I sing because I have no more tears,” the bard replied.

Another deftly woven tale by master storyteller Stephen R. Lawhead, this book is sure to enchant fans new and old alike. It certainly delighted me! It felt like coming home. A new favorite! There are usually a handful of books each year that I want to award six out of five stars, and this is one of them.

Lawhead’s Bright Empires books are some of my favorites ever, so I was extremely excited to finally dive into Eirlandia. And book one has so lived up to my hopes! I love it so much and I can’t wait to read the second one soon to prep for the final book in the trilogy, releasing this summer. (Aaahh!)

I loved disappearing between the pages in this utterly absorbing tale, full of adventure and rich detail and characters who spring to life in this green land of wonders and warriors and words. I lived and breathed it, completely captivated. I love Celtic things, and this is a splendid Celtic Fantasy. I need more books like this!

A few things I loved:

THE SETTING + FEEL

From the first page I just felt so at home reading In the Region of the Summer Stars. The feel of this book touched my Irish soul and makes me think back on memories of the tales of old Ireland that I grew up listening to and reading about. Stepping through the page into Eirlandia made me so happy to just be there.

Welcome to a skillfully woven tale of warriors and druids and faery. Travel the rolling hills and secret forests and cliffs by the sea. Join these various clans and feel the strong themes of brothers-in-arms, honor, loyalty, and fierce bravery, but with dashes of good-natured humor. I didn’t know quite what I expected, but it was everything I wanted. ^_^

The way the characters talk is also great—I love how it has an Irish lilt to it just with the way they say things. It makes me happy. (And their lighthearted Irish sense of humor which is the best.) I also loved the familiar words and names, the rich history and lore they’re drawn from, and even the sounds of them. Brehons, Tuatha de Danann, Lughnasadh, Tylwyth Teg, Tir nan Og. Oenach, Aoife, Eamon, Brigantes. Harps and pipes and bodhran drums, checked cloaks and spears and brooches and torcs. Just all of it. ^_^ The sound and feel of it makes me happy like nothing else does aside from J. R. R. Tolkien’s world of The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings. (And yes, I do have an idea of how to pronounce most of those, I promise. XD)

THE PLAYERS

Then there’s Conor. Conor mac Ardan has this marvelous way of being clever and stubborn and loyal and thick-headed and chaotically reckless all in turn. He’s my favorite! I loved following him through the book on his journey. The way he comes up with the most outlandish plans that are sheer crazy and yet somehow he charges in and pulls them off—mostly. It’s the best! And yet he’s super smart, too, sometimes, and a really skilled warrior (honestly, though. So. Epic.), and you won’t meet a more loyal or honorable friend, either. Occasionally Madoc or Donal and Fergal have to smack some sense into him, but that just makes him all the more human. 😉 Conor is the best, okay! My new favorite hero.

I love the other inhabitants of this tale as well! Conor’s brothers-in-arms Donal and Fergal are fabulous. I love their camaraderie with Conor and each other, and their loyalty and joking around! It’s like the best kind of brother/buddy tale and I love it. Madoc is a marvelous mentor-type character—I loved him and his dryness and wisdom, and how he makes Conor work at figuring things out instead of just telling him things. 😛 Rhiannon is fascinating but I won’t spoil info about her. And so many other people. They’re all so real and I just loved reading about them! Oh, and the bits between some of the chapters, from the points of view of other characters than Conor, were fabulous and enlightening. So neat.

I loved seeing some good and wise druids (yesss) and bards, and the faery were magnificent. I was quite pleased with how they were written and hope to see more of them! They felt just right. Another thing I appreciated was the horses and how central they were to the story, and how the warriors cared for them. They were like characters themselves instead of just transportation that gets forgotten about like in some fantasy books. XD The attention to details like that was delightful.

THE STORY + ENDING

While it’s not non-stop action (though there is a bunch of that!), the story definitely kept me absorbed and on the edge of my seat the entire time, full of devious plots and intrigue and mysteries, which were fascinating to follow along as Conor and company attempted to untangle the threads to see the pattern lurking behind all the guile. Threats and invaders, cunning kings and betrayal, secrets and hidden schemes . . . it was all there!

(Just a heads-up that there were one or two scenes that were a tad dark or gruesome etc., so a brief caution to younger readers or those who prefer to avoid it. Other than a couple of parts, though, I wouldn’t have minded reading it in my teen years in the not-so-distant-past.)

There were some marvelous twists at the end that had me going WHAAAAT! :O That ending, though! It was sooo good. So many things going down. O_O I stayed up late and finished around midnight and WOW. It ended on a wee bit of a cliffhanger, so it did. 😉 I need to get my hands on a copy of In the Land of the Everliving as soon as I can, or sooner!

CONCLUSION

Ancient Ireland + warrior brothers-in-arms + mystery/adventure + faery + druids + delightful characters + masterful writing = what’s not to love? IT’S JUST SO GOOD. I love it so much!

In the Region of the Summer Stars was magnificent and blew me away. I’m thrilled to have stepped into Eirlandia in this tale, and I can’t wait to go back. ❤


You may also like . . .

bloodtiescoverfront copy earthlykingcoverpic2-copy 

10SkinMap 2bonehouse 3spiritwell


Any Lawhead fans out there? Have you read this one? What do you think? Thanks for reading! 🙂

Cry of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse (Review)

I’m thrilled to be sharing about my latest favorite read — and the book that was my most-anticipated read of the year! IT’S SO GOOD! Read on for my thoughts! 🙂

Title: Cry of the Raven

Author: Morgan L. Busse

  • Date read: February 4, 2020
  • Rating: 5 stars (All of the stars!)
  • Genre: Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Christian Fantasy
  • Year pub: 2020
  • Pages: 380
  • Series: The Ravenwood Saga, #3
  • Fave character: Damien! And all the others!
  • Source: Thanks to Bethany House Publishers and the author for the influencer copy.
  • Notes: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher and was not required to write a review. All opinions are my own.
  • Links: GoodreadsAmazonAuthor’s WebsitePublisherBarnes & Noble

Aaaahh! This book was so amazing! A new favorite, and an epic, suspenseful conclusion to the Ravenwood Saga! I loved it so, so much! I’ll try to keep this review spoiler free. 😉

I’ve loved each book in this trilogy, and each one has gotten even better than the last—difficult to imagine, since they’ve all been top favorites. CRY OF THE RAVEN was my most-anticipated read of the year, and wraps up the series, and totally delivers! IT. WAS. INCREDIBLE.

New twists and secrets come to light and there’s SO MUCH EPICNESS and it’s all on such a grand scale. I was blown away. The inspiring journey of these beloved characters, in this amazing world, with so many things that I love and have been excited to see since I first started the series, has just been so thrilling to experience! It makes me so happy! I’m sitting here grinning, trying to come up with words to do justice to this delightful book.

I just had to dress up as Lady Selene Ravenwood again! ^_^

I absolutely love the characters, and how real their stories are, with their struggles, relationships, and growth. It’s been amazing following Selene through these books and seeing where she is now (I love her character so much, and even cosplayed as her at a writers conference last year!). Damien is my favorite, and he has quite a story in this one too! He is just the best. I love them together as well and seeing how their relationship plays out! All the love for these two! Reading their adventures and seeing the end has been so rewarding and I will love them forever. ^_^

So many of the side characters are favorites of mine too—and everyone is so real that they practically step off the page! I especially liked to see more of Caiaphas, Lord Leo and his brother, Lady Bryren and Reidin (who are EPIC!), and other characters like Taegis, Karl, and wise Renlar, who is new but awesome. Meeting new characters and delving deeper into ones we had met previously and seeing how they change was one of my favorite things!

I also love the worldbuilding! Aaahh! Definitely one of my favorite fantasy worlds. The powers/gifts, and all the different cultures and places we get to visit. I was so excited to get to see more of this world! *beaming* I stepped right through the page into this fascinating place—so happy to return one last time, and sad when it was over. I’m going to miss these books! *hugs them forever* But it was such an epic and satisfying conclusion that it’s also hard to be anything other than elated. 😀

I love the writing, too—how it’s not sparse by any means, but at the same time there’s nothing “extra” and it shows just exactly the right things, everything important that we need to know, drawing you right into the action and emotion. It felt so clean, well-written, and masterfully crafted together, with inspiring words in there as well. The spiritual journeys, redemption, and healing, and parts about the Light, were very well done.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to fangirl about more of my absolute favorite things, besides the characters and world, because there is SO much to love about this book. Apologies for any incoherency, but aaaahhhh! CRY OF THE RAVEN had so many amazing things that I adored!

  • Firstly, seeing more of the wyverns! (Yesss! I was totally hoping for that!)
  • I also absolutely loved how the dreamwalking was an even bigger part of this one and how it fit into the plot! (No spoilers, but aaahh!)
  • In the previous books, we’ve seen Selene’s dreamwalking gift and Damien’s water-manipulation gift, but only briefly touched on the other gifts in this world, so I was SO EXCITED to finally learn more about and get to see some of other Great Houses’ gifts in action a bit! (*muffled shrieking*)
  • ALSO! A couple of things about the ending were my absolute favorite! No spoilers, but you’ll know when you read the end. 😉 (The scene with the flower!! My heart! Aaahh! I don’t even know why I loved it so much but I ADORED THAT PART and it makes me smile and tear up. ^_^)

MARK OF THE RAVEN and FLIGHT OF THE RAVEN have been building up to this one and it’s everything I ever wanted! Nearly everything that I hoped to see was brought to light, and so many things that were good surprises, too! It was the perfect ending to this trilogy which I absolutely adore. I whole-heartedly recommend this series! If you are a fantasy fan, you need it in your life!


Read my reviews of the first two books:


Aaahh! It was just so good. Have you read this series yet? Let me know what you think! Thanks for reading! 🙂

Hollow by Kyle Robert Shultz!

There’s a new Afterverse book (novella) out today, guys! *cue muffled screaming*

Hollow by Kyle Robert Shultz

(Crockett & Crane, #2.5)

Sleepy Hollow meets Wonderland with dashes of time travel!

Featuring Ichabod Crane (ancestor of Todd Crane) and intriguing cameos from various Crockett & Crane and Beaumont & Beasley characters (aaaahh!).

HOLLOW is a novella about half the length of a usual Afterverse novel. It’s set after Horseman and Deadwood (so it’s Crockett & Crane 2.5), but also technically set a hundred years before, in the 1790s (and also in the future . . . and various other times . . . because TIME TRAVEL), and it has extremely important ties to the Beaumont and Beasley books!

It’s SUPER EXCITING and epic and edge-of-your-seat, and a bit more somber than the other Afterverse tales, so hold on to your feels and brace yourselves. 😉 (SO. MANY. FEELS.) But there are still a few funny parts (if fewer than in previous installments), and it’s all TOTALLY worth it because it connects some things and just — AAHH! *muffled screaming* IT’S. SO. EPIC.

There are mind-blowing reveals and further hints, and it deals with important questions touched on at the end of DEADWOOD and in other Afterverse books. You’re not going to want to miss this one! (Especially if you just finished reading DEADWOOD and need to know Things in answer to that explosive final line!)

But I don’t want to give anything away, because spoilers, sweetie. So I’m going to stop talking. Just go read it! 😀

(Disclaimer: I copyedited this book, but the above review is unbiased and written merely as an avid fan of the Afterverse. I was in no way required to write a review, and these are my FEELS-INDUCED but honest opinions. XD)


About Hollow

It’s time for answers.

Ichabod Crane made a sacrifice to save the future.

Now the future has come to Sleepy Hollow, and it threatens to take even more from him.

Ichabod must embark on a dangerous journey to save his family and his legacy…

…but he’s not prepared for the nightmares that await him.

The Queen of Hearts reigns supreme. The Horseman rides again.

And in the shadows, the Hollow Ones are waiting.

Only Ichabod can stop the gathering darkness…

…but sometimes, darkness wins.

A Crockett and Crane novella, set between Book 2: Deadwood, and Book 3: Westenra. The series begins with Book 1: Horseman, available in Kindle Unlimited and on Audible. This story also ties into the Beaumont and Beasley series by Kyle Robert Shultz.

Available on Amazon in ebook (paperback coming soon!)

Also, here on Goodreads.


You can also read Kyle’s latest post, about Hollow and its release, an exciting Phoenix Fiction Black Friday sale (which features many of the Afterverse books, and which I’ll be sharing about in more depth later), and some updates about book covers and other things!

But aaahh! GUYS! THIS BOOK. It has so much going on, despite being a novella, and just. *muffled screaming* I need you guys to read it so I have people to talk to about iiiit! XD

Thanks for reading and I hope you all (er, Americans anyway?) have a good Thanksgiving! 🙂

The Story Raider: Review + Realm Makers Launch Party

I’m here with my review for this book, but first I want to share a little about attending the launch party for The Story Raider at the 2019 Realm Makers writers conference! (And of course some pictures. ;))

So, the weekend before the book released, I was at Realm Makers and there was a launch party and I was so excited to get to attend! The rooms where the party was held were so packed that it was actually really hard to see/hear what was going on for a long time. XD But it was still super fun!

Some pictures I took at the launch party!

Edging past people through doorways and hearing choruses of laughter, so much hanging out and chatting with friends, and tasting delicious donuts! Eventually most people trickled out so that there was enough room for me to get closer and hear Lindsay reading part of the story aloud, and there was a fun guessing-game about whether lines were from the Marvel universe or the Weaver universe. XD

I also won an amazing Corsyth candle in a raffle, which made my day!

And I got my book signed by Lindsay (who is just the SWEETEST HUMAN).

And yeah. It was a really fun night. ^_^

(Also, I feel slightly pleased that I “get” the tea and kittens joke in the acknowledgments of the book, because I heard a story about it from Steve Laube at the costume night during the conference. XD)

Anyway, it was a lovely experience (as was the rest of Realm Makers)!

On to the review!


Title: The Story Raider (The Weaver Trilogy, #2)

Author: Lindsay A. Franklin

  • Date read: August 12, 2019
  • Rating: 4 stars
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Age: YA (on the darker side)
  • Year pub: 2019
  • Pages: 358 (paperback)
  • Series: The Weaver Trilogy, #2 (Book 1: The Story Peddler)
  • Fave character: Mor and Kharn. 😀
  • Source: Advance Reader Copy ebook from the author, and paperback I bought at Realm Makers 2019.
  • Notes: This is my honest review. All opinions are my own.
  • Links: GoodreadsAmazonAuthor’s Website

 

Ten Thoughts on The Story Raider

That was a wild ride! I feel like this book is better than the first one but at the same time this one had more plot things that I was . . . less than pleased about? XD So I’m just a little mixed on it.

But I definitely enjoyed reading it, and I need the next book yesterday because CLIFFHANGER. *dies* I can’t wait to find out what happens!

It’s going to be sooo hard to review this without spoilers but I’ll give it a shot.

The Awesome

  • It was definitely a really good book. It was so well written, and gorgeous and exciting and (usually) fun and epic. It kind of felt like a movie and really pulled me along. And there were some awesome twists that got me really excited! 😀 Overall, despite having some quibbles (which I’ll get into later) it was a really enjoyable read!
  • THE SETTING. It. Was. Absolutely. Breathtaking. I loved getting to see all the different places they sailed to! And all of the different cultures and peoples and scenery and lands. This world is so gorgeous and vivid—and so are the story weaving parts! *flails around* SO PRETTY. I always love the story parts. There was so much epicness going down and it’s just so visual and stunning, both in setting and with all the weaving scenes. (Like the scene in the white-blossomed grove. You know what I’m talking about.)
  • There’s just so much going ON in this book. I was super impressed at how everything managed to weave together (no pun intended) and fit in this fairly ordinary-sized book when it had such sweeping scales of epic things going down all over the place. It was tight and well-paced, I guess is what I’m trying to say, and had a lot going on which made it super exciting!
  • The banter and snatches of humor made me so happy! That added a lot of fun and is one of the reasons I had such a good time reading it. I also love many of the characters (even if they frustrate me sometimes. XD) and loved getting to continue reading their story! And we got new characters too, which was awesome, and I’m really liking them. Basically, hanging out with these people mostly made me really happy. ^_^
  • Also, I love Braith! Her chapters and the “feel” of them were some of my absolute favorites! I actually kind of wish the whole book was about her and a certain new character who showed up halfway and did plot-twist things to my mind. XD (A new favorite! :O Joining Mor. Cool, now I have too favorites. XD) I would read a whole book about Braith and her problems at the palace and this spoiler person, please and thank you. 😀 Seriously.

The Less-Than-Awesome (For Me)

(Please note that everything in this category is subjective and totally a “me” thing! I’m not saying it’s a bad book, at all, just that these things were less enjoyable for me, personally—but they might be another reader’s favorites! :))

  • Love triangles. Not my thing and kind of frustrating. 😛 In a way it’s better than in the first book, and in a way . . . really not. XD
  • Darker, sad stories—also not my favorite. I appreciate that tackling tougher subjects is important in fiction, and I know characters die, but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it getting really sad, especially in the second half. (*cue Theoden voice-over* “So much death . . .”) Related, I know spending time with the villains’ POV to see what’s going on is important but I wish we didn’t have to so much because ugh. 😛
  • Sometimes things confused me, especially not really knowing what different weaver powers could or couldn’t do. Maybe it’s just the usual nothing-is-explained (especially not magic systems) in fiction these days. Or maybe (entirely possible) it’s the fact that I read the first book over a year ago and forgot details and characters and plot points. 😛
  • Mixed feelings about some of the characters, and how some of them did idiotic things. XD Everything about Brac’s plot—meh. I didn’t really care for him in the first place, but REALLY? And I love Mor but I don’t know if I toootally ship him with Tanwen because I dunno if she deserves him. 😛 Sometimes I love Tannie and other times she’s irrational and self-centered and felt fourteen and kinda frustrated me. XD (At this point I’m mostly shipping side characters, because YES. There are two side ships I absolutely love. :D)
  • There were just a lot of turns that things took in the plot that I wasn’t enthused about. Some are covered above and some are spoilers, but anyway. I’m curious how things will finish up in the final book, though!

Conclusion

It’s a good book, just with some things that I personally didn’t love, but I still really enjoyed reading it and it was GORGEOUS. And Braith etc.! And that world! And the fun banter! Plus, that cliffhanger! I’m anxiously awaiting The Story Hunter! I need it! What’s going to happennnn?

(Note: I received a free e-ARC from the author, and ended up buying and reading a paperback instead. XD All opinions are my own.)


A Favorite Quote

“Why does everyone keep trying to feed me today?”

“Because you look sad.”

“And food helps?”

“Aye.” He unwrapped a cake and popped it in his mouth. “It does when the food tastes like this.”


You may also enjoy . . .

Seahorse Kindle Cover copy


Whew! Have you read this one yet? Thanks for reading! 🙂

5 Thoughts on Battle for the Throne by E. J. Willis

Title: Battle for the Throne

Author: E. J. Willis

  • Date read: May 23, 2019
  • Rating: 3.5 stars, rounding up to 4 stars
  • Genre: Fantasy / Christian Fantasy
  • Age: Young Adult
  • Year pub: 2015
  • Pages: 248 (Kindle)
  • Series: Tales from Falyncia, #1 (followed by Into the Wildlands)
  • Fave character: Hugo
  • Source: The author
  • Notes: I received a free ebook copy of this book from the author. All opinions are my own.
  • Links: GoodreadsAmazonAuthor’s Website

5 Thoughts on Battle for the Throne

  1. I’m always up for a Christian Fantasy novel! This one didn’t quite hit all the marks for me, personally, but I still enjoyed it for the most part. 🙂 It was fast-paced and exciting—sometimes almost too fast-paced, but made for a fairly quick and mostly enjoyable read! There was a lot of action, which was well-written and kept me absorbed. I definitely didn’t want to put the book down! And the romance was really sweet and I loved it. 🙂
  2. I was quickly drawn into the fantasy setting, with castles and forests and mountains and kingdoms. The “feel” of it was one that I thought was really neat. I especially loved the winged wolf spirit guardians! Sort of like guardian angels, though it’s mainly the heroine who can see them. There’s a bit of a spiritual battle going on between the wolf guardians and the demons. Malachi, the main wolf, was awesome. 😀 I also thought it was cool that there are giants in the book! Somehow giants don’t seem to be in fantasy as much anymore and I loved seeing them in this, particularly their enigmatic role in which sides they’re on (if anyone’s). And there are mentions of others like dwarves and goblins, and a griffin appeared right at the very end (yesss!), so I’m curious to continue reading this series and see more of this world!
  3. And then there are the characters. I liked our heroine Alaina and her spirit of determination, and wanted her to succeed, though I’m not as much of a warrior-princess-trope fan as some—but anyone who is will love this! I also loved our energetic prince Thaddeus! He was a great character, and I loved his relationship with Alaina. 😀 Other side characters were interesting (particularly Malachi, as I mentioned), and there was an awesome gladiator character who was my favorite! (Yes, Hugo, you’re awesome.) Also, a couple of the side-villain characters had really interesting arcs, so that was well-done.
  4. The book at times felt like younger-YA in a sense (particularly since it started with a ten-year-old and then skipped to when she was seventeen), but in another sense it . . . wasn’t. It was kind of dark and gruesome, a bit more on the gritty side than I personally enjoy, which seemed slightly at odds with the rest of the fantasy-adventure type feel of the book, but that could just be me. Just be aware the heroine goes through a lot and there’s torture and fantasy-demons and some disturbing scenes. But otherwise it’s great fun.
  5. Overall, for some reason it wasn’t one of my top favorites, but it definitely kept my interest and I loved the world and characters, and I’m definitely curious to read more in this world!

I received a free ebook copy of this book from the author (thank you!). All opinions are my own.

You May Also Enjoy . . .

Orphan's Song

Thanks for reading!

Mardan’s Mark Fantasy Series! (by Kathrese McKee)

Today I’ve got some small reviews of two books and two novellas in an exciting fantasy series I’ve been enjoying lately!

Mini Reviews:

The Mardan’s Mark series by Kathrese McKee

(Find Kathrese McKee online: WebsiteAmazonGoodreadsFacebookTwitterInstagram)

Mardan’s Mark (#1)

  • Date read: May 29, 2019
  • Rating: 5 stars
  • Genre: Fantasy / Christian Fantasy
  • Age: YA
  • Year pub: 2014
  • Pages: 384 (paperback)
  • Source: Won in a giveaway
  • Links: GoodreadsAmazon

An exciting tale of pirates and princesses, friendship and siblings and romance, survival and adventure! I thoroughly enjoyed myself reading this book. 🙂

I feel like there’s a lack of sibling stories out there, and it was neat that our heroine, Princess Srilani, ends up on this adventure with two sisters and a brother. I also particularly loved the friendships—really good, believable ones which start out rocky sometimes. There are so many relationships in this, which I loved seeing develop over the course of the story of these young people on a journey of survival together, from a pirate ship through the wilderness. Just—FRIENDSHIPS.

Aldan is my favorite character—he’s the absolute best—and I loved him and his “brothers,” Sam and Linus. I also really liked how Srilani and Aldan both take charge in their ways and are such strong main characters, but also have to learn to work together and lean on each other’s strengths. And the tension between Srilani and Sam was so well done, too! I just love aaaall the relationships in this—siblings, friendships, buddy-stories, and of course an adorable romance in there somewhere. My favorite thing is definitely the characters and dynamics—and how there’s a bit of humor slipped in there sometimes!

I also loved the journey and survival and just what a solidly good adventure it was. There’s always some bit of tension or excitement or danger, drawing the reader breathlessly along through the story. Whether it’s pirates or the villainous “temple guardians” in pursuit, or simply the question of what the characters will eat next, it kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.

A Christian Fantasy story, the world feels nearly like Kingdom Adventure, without any usual fantasy elements (though there is miraculous healing, a vision of an angel-type being, and a couple things like that). So if non-magical fantasy or adventure stories with a dash of Christian allegory are your thing, you need to check this one out. The world had such a unique feel to it, too; a little more tropical than usual fantasy stories, with pirate ships and rivers, swamps and alligators, prairies and forests and dusty towns and castles! With just a dash of politics and an almost-18th century feel, at least to me. It was neat and felt fresh.

It’s a bit long, which is the main reason I put off starting it for longer than I’d care to admit, but I was totally pulled in once I did start. The continued over-stressing of being “proper” for a princess, not being allowed to be around guys (but I mean, it’s a survival story, so hello?), and all of that, got a little tiresome, just because it was such a big deal in the story. And I had one or two other quibbles (like a bit of grittiness and my problem with healer-stories and being squeamish. XD), but these were very minor.

On the whole, I had a blast reading this! I finished it in just a few days and as soon as I read the end, I started book 2! I’m definitely hooked on this series!


Mardan’s Heir (#2)

Date read: May 29, 2019
Rating: 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy / Christian Fantasy
Age: YA
Year pub: 2018
Pages: 207 (ebook)
Source: I received a free advance reader copy from the author; all opinions are my own.
Links: GoodreadsAmazon

As soon as I finished book 1 (Mardan’s Mark), I immediately started reading this book, and read the whole thing in one sitting because I couldn’t stop. I finished it the same day as the first, and ended up staying up until midnight to do so, and I have zero regrets! (Okay. I have one. Which is that I don’t have the next book yet and I got smacked with a delicious cliffhanger! Aahh!)

This one is much shorter than the first one, but so, SO good! No spoilers, buuut I love missing-heir type stories and fantasy-type political maneuvering around palaces and all the sort of delightful stuff. 😀 I loved the first book, featuring surviving in the wild and a journey as the characters got to know each other. But I really love the setting of this second book, being back at the palace and all of the intricate plots going on there. It was fascinating!

Aldan is still my FAVORITE, and I adore all the other characters too—Srilani and her sisters and Prince Jamson (he had such a vivid role in this), and Aldan’s brothers Linus and especially Sam. There’s also a lot about characters introduced in the companion novella, Healer’s Curse, which made me super happy! I loved seeing Lady Elilan and Captain Raymon, as well as Judge Elison and Queen Yolani, etc. (I recommend reading Mardan’s Mark and Healer’s Curse before this one, but of course it still works well if you haven’t read Healer’s Curse.)

Srilani seemed a lot different than in the first book, and while I don’t think I minded, exactly, it was different to have her more of a usual princess than her tougher self. It was unique to address the question of how life would be different after the adventurous danger of the first one once the heroine is home again! Like. Whoa.

I have mixed feelings about a few of the happenings like all the complicated mess of the king and queen etc., so I haven’t totally decided how I feel about those, and it ends on a cliffhanger, but those are my only complaints, and both might be fixed with a third book—who knows! 😉 Speaking of which, the plot is gearing up for exciting things! :O And adorbz romance things and continued friendships and just ALL THE YES. I loved getting to continue following these characters I’ve come to like so much, in this new setting.

So, did I mention there’s a cliffhanger? BECAUSE OH BOY. I need the next book yesterday! *grabby hands* I can’t WAIT for the next book (Mardan’s Anointed, I believe) to release so I can devour it!

If you like non-magical Christian Fantasy, or Kingdom Adventure (which this almost feels like), I totally recommend these! I love this series and I need to find out what happens with Aldan and co.—I love them all so much and they feel like my friends! *hugs them all*


Healer’s Curse (novella)

  • Date read: May 8, 2019
  • Rating: 4 stars
  • Genre: Fantasy / Novella
  • Age: YA
  • Year pub: 2015
  • Pages: 118 (paperback)
  • Source: Won in a giveaway
  • Links: GoodreadsAmazon

I loved this novella! It’s a sort of classic story of a healer and an enemy captain, but it had its own twists. It features first-person narration by Lady Elilan, a widowed 18-year-old healer with a sometimes-miraculous healing gift from El. Having lost her husband to a plague, she has turned away from her gift, other than normal healing, and she is somewhat apart and alone since many people shun her and think she’s cursed. But I love her quiet strength in the face of all this, and her heart to help others—and her sassy side. XD I loved her story!

Captain Raymon is an interesting character, who at first seems to be simply a soldier who risked his life to save the queens of two kingdoms and comes under Elilan’s care. But aside from his loyalty, he has unexpected depths—including a secret in his past and a new path for his future. And of course I loved a certain blossoming romance. 😉 It was sweet and lovely! Raymon is the best. 😀

Several other characters who feature in the other Mardan’s Mark books featured in this, which I loved, and the secrets and political things going on were so interesting. It completely pulled me in, and I loved the exciting ending and satisfying conclusion!

I’m slightly squeamish about healer-related books in general (personally), just because, I mean, I don’t want to know the details. But otherwise it’s a delight!

I think this one might work best if read between Mardan’s Mark and Mardan’s Heir (book 1 and 2), but I read it before either and that worked fine too. Lady Elilan and Captain Raymon, as well as Elilan’s grandfather, Judge Elison, feature strongly in Mardan’s Heir (which made me so happy!), so it might be most fun to read this one before book 2, at least.

All in all, this was a delightful novella which I enjoyed immensely! The perfect way to pass a couple of hours one evening, and a delightful more-or-less-introduction to the Mardan’s Mark series!


Pirate’s Wager (novella)

  • Date read: February 19, 2018/May 30, 2019
  • Rating: 4 stars
  • Genre: Fantasy / Novella
  • Age: YA
  • Year pub: 2018
  • Pages: 107 (ebook)
  • Source: I read a free advance copy of this story through the author’s newsletter. All opinions are my own.
  • Links: GoodreadsAmazon

This was my first introduction to the Mardan’s Mark series, and I ended up reading it again after I read the first two books and the other companion novella, because now that I’d met the characters elsewhere, I wanted to re-experience this as their backstory.

It was a fascinating introduction to some of the main characters of Mardan’s Mark, in this case Sam, Aldan, and Linus, as well as the pirates of the ship “Cathartid.”

A very quick read, Pirate’s Wager is a novella that introduced me to the world of Marst and Norland and definitely left me intrigued to read more. It follows young Samazor (“Sam”), as he ends up a slave on a pirate ship and forms a friendship with fellow slave lads Aldan and Linus. I loved getting to meet them (my first read) and get to remember where they started out (my second read)!

The good writing drew me in, and the detail totally immersed me in the story. I loved the characters and almost-Caribbean-esque fantasy port/ship setting, though it was a little gritty and stressful at times, because nautical story with pirates enslaving our hero. (There actually were no fantasy elements in this particular one, so it felt more like Kingdom Adventure!)

If you want a small taste of this world, it’s a good place to start, and if you’re already a Mardan’s Mark fan, it’s delightful to have the backstory on how these unlikely friends become a band of brothers! (I lurve them. Especially Aldan. That is all. ❤ )


So there you are! I need the third book NOW! *flails around* Do they sound intriguing to you? Let me know in a comment below!

The Fatal Tree by Stephen R. Lawhead (Bright Empires Series)

I’ve got a long-overdue review to share with you, and a giveaway!

Title: The Fatal Tree (Bright Empires, #5)

Author: Stephen R. Lawhead

  • Date read: May 18, 2017
  • Rating: 5 stars
  • Genre: Historical Fiction / Fantasy / Sci-Fi / Time / Christian / Contemporary
  • Age: YA and up
  • Year pub: 2014
  • Pages: 340 (hardcover)
  • Series: The Bright Empires, #5 (final one!)
  • Fave character: All of them. ❤
  • Source: Amazon
  • Notes: Definitely be sure to start with book 1, The Skin Map.
  • Links: GoodreadsAmazonBarnes & NobleAuthor’s Website

Review of The Fatal Tree

review

5starrating

In the immortal words of Bilbo Baggins (at least in a certain film), “I’ve put this off for far too long.”

I was waiting for the right words, but I’ve realized that there’s simply no way to do justice to this book in a review, and so instead of waiting for a time that will never come, I’m simply going to say something about it, even if it’s not enough.

You see, the Bright Empire series (of which The Fatal Tree is the fifth and final book) meant so much to me that I can’t quite put it into words.

I enjoyed it, loved it, and it had a profound influence and effect on me. The series worked its way into a deep part of me that makes it hard to get at to explain. I’m not sure if you’ve had this experience, but sometimes you read something that becomes a part of you. It changes you. And so you can’t really talk about it—not really, not in a way that could explain to anyone why it happened to reach you at that soul level, because if it didn’t do the same for them, then they just won’t understand. And that’s all right, because every book affects people differently, if at all. It just makes it difficult to explain.

So it’s seems silly to attempt it, and I won’t try, but I will say that this series is a part of me, like several other book milestones along the way through my younger life—I won’t go through those here. It’s enough a part of me that I don’t really think about it, but it is and it’s there.

So here are a few things about the series that made it something special, at least for this literary traveler.

For one thing, there’s Mina. She was the first female role-model I’d met in a book since I was very young. I want to be her. (More on that in My Tower of Fantasy.) Heroines never interest me in fiction much; I don’t know why, but I’m usually more drawn to the heroes. So Mina was something new and different. She showed me it was possible to do oh-so-many things. She’s the bravest character I’ve ever read about, but she started as a stressed, tired young woman from our modern days. Literally plucked out of her life and thrust into another one, she refuses to give in and transforms her situation into something incredible. She is clever and heroic and rather more brave than I think I’d ever be, but she is so incredibly loving and steady too, and she shines. She makes a way in the world, and is loyal to her friends, and capable, and an entrepreneur, ready to try new things whether in a bakery or fearlessly treading the roads between worlds, but she’s still human and shows that it’s okay to wish you could be home taking a hot shower to avoid the world at times. And, I mean, who wouldn’t want to go visit her and Etzel’s joint Kaffeehaus in 1600s Prague? It’s the most amazing place! I think what I’m trying to say is that I didn’t really have role-models in fiction, and that we need those. I’ve had plenty of fictional heroes, and I needed those too, and I had Eilonwy and Princess Irene and Eowyn and others, but I hadn’t met a modern heroine I could look up to, and I think in a rush to write “realistic” characters (read: dull and flawed, or fake and artificially “strong”), people just don’t write truly heroic characters anymore. Not the ones who can actually be looked up to, and show a blueprint of what might be, and meet me where I am and inspire me and show me that I can be something more and do things. I won’t ramble on about her more than that, but Mina is one of the best things that ever happened to me.

The series also firmly embedded into my mind that whole “there are no coincidences” thing, which as much as I always knew in theory I didn’t really believe if you know what I mean, until reading this fascinating series. If there’s one thing I took away from these books, it was that, and I adore it.

O’er earth we see Thee, and Thy footsteps trace / Through the Bright Empires of unbounded Space

Then there’s how I’ll run across things in life, or in other literature, or in a song, or history, and I’ll see it echoing back to this series—whether it’s a name, or a place, or something else—and I’ll go “Aha! It’s like Bright Empires!” and I’ll do a little dance of intrigued joy. (For example, I stumbled across a translation of a Welsh song called Adra (Home) by Gwyneth Glyn and it so strongly fit this series I thought “What a coincidence! Oh, that can’t be right . . .” ;)) Aside from simply being great fun to find things in life that remind me of a beloved series, it opened up a whole new world to me—and how could it not, with such a broad canvas of times, places, people, and thoughts painted together with such intricacy and skill?

And also with beloved characters and humor and enjoyment, because that’s the important bit that makes the rest stick in your mind. Because there’s the thing: you can have the most interesting or enlightening book in the world, but if it’s not fun, it’s not going to stick with you—or with me, at any rate. And you can have an enjoyable story, but how much more enjoyable is it if, amidst the fun, it stretches your mind far afield and shows you a whole new world and makes you think? I love how this series did all of those things for me, and all in a mind-bending, genre-defying, completely new sort of way.

But aren’t you going to talk about this book, not just the series, then? you ask.

Oh, very well.

I see the series as a whole and so I don’t have terribly much to say specifically about the final book, other than as the end of a saga. (Especially not without massive spoilers, which nobody wants because you must discover them on your own when you read the books; and you ARE GOING TO, right? *stern but loving look*) But there are a few things, so I’ll mention them.

I don’t know how I feel about a few things that happened, and at least at one point I wished that some of the characters could have come in at the end with the others and they didn’t—but then I realized that they were perfect where they are. Several pairs of people are THE MOST ADORABLE THING. (I’m sorry, I’m a romantic. XD)

Familiar places (like Black Mixen Tump) swirl back into the story, and continue to be fascinating. Desert sand in Egypt to frozen ice and the Stone Age, with Prague and Constantinople and all the rest in between. I love the richness of all the different countries and times we get to visit in this series, and how vivid they are (even if some can get downright frightening!), and especially the good hearts of many of the people we meet. Everything’s so genuine, laced with a thread of nobleness and light.

I still adore all of the characters, fiercely. Mina, Kit, Etzel, Cass, Giles, Tony, Haven, Gianni, the members of the Zetetic Society, and all the rest. They’re my friends now. ^_^ I was so delighted to get to finally complete their story in this book, and I absolutely love how all of their tales intertwine and fit into the book so neatly but with threads trailing afterward to the future. And I love all of their interactions SO MUCH. They make the book. 😀

Even the villains are interesting, and far from straightforward. Burleigh’s plotline is one of the two most skillful ones of its kind I’ve read in my life.

And, of course, there’s a time-related thing or two that finally happen in this book, which I’ve been waiting for since the first one. One in particular made me SO HAPPY. (Looking at you, chapter 11.) Speaking of timey-wimey things, that sort of thing always makes my head spin (in a good way) and I think I filled a couple of pieces of paper with diagrams of different people’s timelines and where and when they crossed and it was still dreadfully confusing and I love it so much. XD Someday I’m going to carve out the time to read the whole series again, and I’m looking forward to that with relish. (And maybe then I’ll finally fully understand the ending, which tied my mind in knots. :D)

Then there’s that whole having-to-save-the-world thing, what with the whole universe about to end and everything, which is as serious as it sounds and just as exciting—and there may or may not be some death in there, and I’m not saying I totally understood how everything turned out (I like a good goes-slightly-over-my-head-and-requires-a-rereading ending—just look at Diana Wynne Jones), especially with science-y things going over my head, but everything came together from the previous books and on the whole I was terribly pleased with how The Fatal Tree wrapped up the series. (I’m also so glad we got a what-happens-next bit at the end too! *collapses*)

It was an experience, and one it’s taken me nearly two years to get around to finally externalizing and typing up in the form of a “review” (or shall we call it an essay?), but I can safely say that the Bright Empires is one of the most delightful series I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Even if only as an enjoyable adventure, I recommend them highly to anyone who cares to try their luck. Or, since there is no such thing as coincidence, let’s say that luck is the wrong word and leave it at that. 😉

I’m deeply indebted to Mr. Lawhead for penning such a—well, brilliant is the only word for it, in so many ways—series, and I look forward to delving into more of his books very soon.

(Also . . . THE SPOON. :O WHAT. DOES. IT. MEAN. I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS.)

Read my reviews for the previous books in the series:

10SkinMap 2bonehouse 3spiritwell

GIVEAWAY!

I happen to have a spare paperback copy of the first book in the series, The Skin Map, and I want to share the love!

Visit the Rafflecopter HERE for a chance to win it!

(USA addresses only. Runs 4/11/19 through 4/17/19. Winner will be contacted by email and announced here shortly after.)

[Edit: Giveaway is closed! The winner is Grace T! Thanks for entering, everyone! :)]

Have you read any of these? And do you have a favorite Lawhead book? Thanks for reading! 🙂