Book Review (DNF) – The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy #1)

Title: The Winner’s Curse16069030
Series: The Winner’s Trilogy (#1)
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Pages: 355
Published by: Farrar Straus Giroux
Find it on Goodreads!

MY RATING: 3 OUT OF 5 STARS. NOT MY CUP OF TEA; IT’S A PAPERWEIGHT

Winning what you want may cost you everything you love… 

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

~My Thoughts (+Minor Spoilers)~

I wish I had more to say about this book, but I felt decidedly ambivalent about it until I stopped reading about halfway through. I almost don’t have anything good to say about it, except for the fact that I can’t actually fault it for doing anything wrong. There were lots of things that didn’t click with me, but nothing I could flag as objectively needing improvement.

  1. I had no feelings one way or the other for Kestrel. For a series so well-loved, I felt almost nothing for Kestrel despite her prominence in the story. Even now, I can hardly remember anything about her, and while I was reading the book, I didn’t find her personality existed much at all. She just lacked life as a character; she wasn’t strong, she wasn’t feminine, she wasn’t smart, she wasn’t…anything. She did have her love of music, and her sorrow over the loss of her mother, but that really wasn’t enough; by the time I stopped reading, I’d found nothing relatable in her character. The only thing I could really fixate on was her feelings for Arin, and I never came to understand how she could honestly feel anything for him save a touch of interest and a little contempt. Past that, her feelings for him just felt forced and unrealistic.
  2. I didn’t like Arin. More than anything, I just couldn’t understand why Kestrel took any interest in him. He just struck me as an overly prideful, overly arrogant, overly angry character, and I very quickly realized I had absolutely no sympathy for him or his position within the resistance. And for someone who’s entire goal was to spy on Kestrel, he did a horrendous job trying to gain her trust, as he was neither personable nor reasonable. As a love interest, I just honestly think he was incredibly unlikable.
  3. I felt nothing for the budding relationship between Arin and Kestrel. Maybe I didn’t like Kestrel, maybe I didn’t like Arin, but I definitely didn’t like them together. How an entire trilogy can be based on their feelings for each other I don’t know; I can only hope real sparks develop as the series continues. As it stands, I felt nothing between them. I don’t know why Arin would like Kestrel, with his obvious hatred for her life, her lifestyle, her friends, her family, and her political position. In the same vein, I don’t know why Kestrel would like Arin, partially because I thought he was an absolutely unlikable character, and partially because I felt her upbringing would have kept her from essentially falling in love with a slave. I mean, I understand that these kinds of relationships can and have developed, but I just couldn’t understand how Kestrel could overcome her background and the wishes of her father to be interested in such a particularly problematic slave. She deserved better, and I almost felt like she was settling for the first slightly attractive person she’d ever met, with his obvious disinterest and hatred in her serving as some kind of awkward flirting attempt.
  4. There was no tension in the plot (or what existed of a plot). This is actually the number one reason why I stopped reading. When the story wasn’t trying to describe the rising political tension, or the rising threat of war, Kestrel and Arin just…danced around each other? I’m not sure how else to describe it. Kestrel would reach out to Arin for no reason, he would reject her or grudgingly oblige her depending on what the plot needed, they would spend some time alone together and suddenly they had feelings? I just think the novel depended too much on the tension between Kestrel and Arin to make up for the lack of plot, and since I didn’t like either character, I was left floundering with the shreds of the story that existed outside of their relationship.
  5. I was frustrated by the ‘winner’s curse’. While I found the concept interesting enough,  I found myself quickly and easily annoyed by how Kestrel essentially ‘cursed’ herself. Suffice it to say, the story itself would not exist without Kestrel buying Arin for a ridiculous price from the slaver’s block, which she only ended up passing because the crowds at the market forced her in the wrong direction. I just found it a little unbelievable that the slaver would later claim to have so specifically groomed Arin for being specifically Kestrel’s slave, when he’s clearly and obviously a terrible, terrible slave. I won’t even comment on the odds of Kestrel buying Arin, because I think those odds are self-explanatory, but it just cannot be ignored how poor a slave Arin made. It just doesn’t make any sense; wouldn’t the resistance have wanted to not plant a more likable slave on Kestrel’s estate? I mean, Arin gets the job done, but only because the plot demands that a relationship develop between him and Kestrel. Realistically, he shouldn’t have been able to get close to her at all, because he’s too headstrong to be a good slave and shouldn’t have lasted long in Kestrel’s employment.

Still, regardless of my feelings, I really can’t say this book was a bad one. If a reader can take a liking to Kestrel and Arin, I’m sure this will be a pleasurable read–maybe even a good and interesting one. Unfortunately for me, I just couldn’t find anything to invest in, and in the end, that was more than enough to push me away from this story and on to something else.

Buy it from: Amazon.ca | Amazon.com | B&N | Chapters/Indigo

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Book Tour + GIVEAWAY – Wanderer’s Escape

Title: Wanderer’s EscapeWanderers Escape Cover
Series: Wanderer’s Odyssey (#1)
Author: Simon Goodson
Pages: 266
Published by: Dark Soul Publishing Ltd
Release Date: August 6, 2013
Find it on Goodreads!

Jess was born a prisoner, grew up a prisoner and at sixteen knew he would die a prisoner. When his turn comes to try to break through the traps protecting a spaceship it seems his day to die has come. The ship, and others like it, have already claimed hundreds of prisoner’s lives.

Instead he manages to avoid the traps and gain access to the ship with two other prisoners, beginning a frantic flight to freedom. Soon Jess finds himself loose in a brutal universe ruled by the Empire and riddled with pirates, slave traders and worse. Can Jess manage to learn the rules of the universe and the capabilities of the ship he has stolen in time to stay alive?

Buy it from: Amazon | B&N | iTunes | Kobo | Smashwords


Excerpt!

He knew that for Sal the two ships must seem to be racing towards each other, but for him everything was much slower. The corvette fired a volley of high-powered laser blasts. Jess already had the Wanderer weaving as it approached so most missed, but one seemed to scald his back and another clipped his heel. The shields coped with both.

Jess was glad the other ship had fired first. Now there was no guilt, no concern over whether his actions were right. Now it was about survival. Twisting the ship he brought both sets of weapons to bear. The right side set of lasers fired at the corvette’s bridge, almost overwhelming the shields there. He sensed the enemy ship desperately routing power forward to shield the bridge from his next attack, draining power from their other shields.

He ignored the bridge, instead firing the left side’s lasers in a volley at the corvettes engines, punching through the weakened shields to devastating effect. The engines imploded for a second or so, then the collapse was reversed in a massive explosion that ripped the corvette apart. Within seconds all that remained was a rapidly thinning field of debris, few bits bigger than a metre. A scan confirmed there were no survivors.


About the Author

Simon Goodson is the author of the massively popular and highly rated Wanderer’s Odyssey science fiction series which has been downloaded more than 80,000 time in just two years. Simon has also written the exciting Dark Soul Silenced fantasy books.

His speculative fiction short stories cover science fiction, fantasy and other styles. Several are freely available from http://www.simongoodson.com, while many more are available in the collection ‘Last Sunrise & Other Stories’.

Simon fits in writing around a full time job as an IT Consultant and a hectic family life looking after his son and two daughters. He squeezes in writing during lunchtimes and while commuting on the train.

Contact: Facebook | Twitter | Blog


Giveaway!

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Waiting on Wednesday – The Sleeping Prince

Title: The Sleeping Prince26625494
Series: The Sin Eater’s Daughter (#2)
Author: Melinda Salisbury
Pages: 336
Published by: Scholastic Press
Release Date: April 26, 2016
Find it on Goodreads!

Return to the darkly beautiful world of The Sin Eater’s Daughter with a sequel that will leave you awed, terrified . . . and desperate for more.

Ever since her brother Lief disappeared, Errin’s life has gone from bad to worse. Not only must she care for her sick mother, she has to scrape together rent money by selling illegal herbal cures. But none of that compares to the threat of the vengeful Sleeping Prince whom the Queen just awoke from his enchanted sleep.

When her village is evacuated as part of the war against the Sleeping Prince, Errin is left desperate and homeless. The only person she can turn to is the mysterious Silas, a young man who buys deadly poisons from Errin, but won’t reveal why he needs them. Silas promises to help her, but when he vanishes, Errin must journey across a kingdom on the brink of war to seek another way to save her mother and herself. But what she finds shatters everything she believed about her world, and with the Sleeping Prince drawing nearer, Errin must make a heartbreaking choice that could affect the whole kingdom.

Pre-order it from: Amazon.ca | Amazon.com | B&N | Chapters/Indigo

Cover Reveal + GIVEAWAY: Earth’s End (Air Awakens #3)

Earths-End

It started in Air Awakens, with a young library apprentice discovering her magic.

It continued in Fire Falling, with a war that turned her into a soldier.

And now: Earth’s End, with the promise of untold danger and incomprehensible heartache.


Are


You


Ready?


Earths-End-Cover-Only

Title: Earth’s End
Series: Air Awakens (#3)
Author: Elise Kova
Published by: Silver Wing Press
Release Date: February 11, 2016
Find it on Goodreads!

A woman awoken in air, a soldier forged by fire, a weapon risen from blood.

Vhalla Yarl has made it to the warfront in the North. Forged by blood and fire, she has steeled her heart for the final battle of the Solaris Empire’s conquest. The choices before Vhalla are no longer servitude or freedom, they are servitude or death. The stakes have never been higher as the Emperor maintains his iron grip on her fate, holding everything Vhalla still has left to lose in the balance.

Buy Air Awakens: Amazon.ca | Amazon.com | B&N | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo

Pre-order Fire FallingAmazon.ca | Amazon.com | B&N | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo


About the Author

View More: http://radred.pass.us/joseph-wedding-2015-jpegElise Kova has always had a passion for storytelling. She wrote her first novella, a high-fantasy, in sixth grade. Over the years she’s honed her love of literature with everything from fantasy to romance, science fiction to mystery, and whatever else catches her eye.

Elise lives in Saint Petersburg, Florida, where she’s currently working on the next installment in her debut YA fantasy series: Air Awakens. She enjoys video games, anime, table-top role playing games, and many other forms of “geekdom.” She loves talking with fans on Twitter (@EliseKova) and Facebook. Visit her website, EliseKova.com, for news and extras about her books!


Cover Reveal Exclusive: The Making of the Air Awakens Covers

Meril’s Q&A:

What program do you use to create your artwork?

I use various tools to create artwork. When starting out with ideas I prefer making them on my sketchbook first, not minding specific details and just having fun with idea generation and doodling. This is the stage we call ‘thumbnails’. The next step I usually use the digital media to finalize the thumbnails, but sometimes I go straight out and sketch my favorite thumbnail to turn into a finished linesketch. As such, all my finished artworks are painted and done in Adobe Photoshop (CC 2014, currently), along with my old and trusted Wacom Intuos 4.

What’s your background? Did you study art in school?

I finished university in 2014 with a degree of Bachelor of Finearts, Major in Advertising Arts. My Alma Mater is the University of Santo Tomas here in Manila, Philippines. The course I took focused on graphic design, branding and marketing for agencies, which is a very good background to have in any art industry. During our 3rd year to 4th year we had special classes we called ‘Electives’, which are basically specialized classes, this was the time I decided on focusing more on digital painting and illustration, rather than going into graphic designing, so I took electives related to my chosen field. By the time I got to the thesis phase, which is the final requirement before finishing the course, I decided to take on Book Illustration. I’ve learnt many things from my background that if it weren’t for it I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do the same things I’m doing right now.

What attracted you to doing the covers for the AIR AWAKENS series?

The AIR AWAKENS series was my very first book cover series. I’m not going to lie that I first took interest on the project because it was an opportunity for me to finally work on the book industry. Any artist starting out would be uncontrollably excited when offered a project as such. And THEN I read the story, read about the characters, got to know an amazing client and author, a friend, and so there lies my true answer. It was the perfect project for me, I loved the world, I loved the characters and I loved the idea behind it all. And so I wanted to make sure that I make it very special.

What is your favorite cover so far?

That’s hard to say. I loved all of it so far! (Or I’m being extremely biased, because well, I worked hard on all of them! haha) But if I’m being asked as an artist I would probably say the first cover. It was simple, straight to the point, saying, ‘Hey, this is Vhalla, the Heroine for this amazing world/story’. I like covers that has that iconic, unique feeling to it and so I would say that the first cover definitely did it for this series.

(Without any spoilers) What did you like about the third book in the AIR AWAKENS series: Earth’s End?

Earth’s End is my favorite of the 3 books so far and my main reason is that it felt like everything was coming down together, finally! Especially for Vhalla. I loved the Vhalla in this book. The character has developed into something much more and although she’s still probably transitioning, she’s finally getting there. In general what I liked about Earth’s End is that there’s more action, more storyline focused on Vhalla and her world, there were more things learned about the other characters too such as Baldair, among many others. Elise has outdone herself with this one.

What’s one thing that you think would surprise people about the process of creating the AIR AWAKENS covers? Or, one thing people may not know?

Elise has always told me that she and her author friends never expect their artist to read the whole manuscript. And I read the whole thing because well, I just couldn’t help it. I have become very attached! She says I make the most ‘official-est’ fanart ever and I agree.

Elise’s Q&A:

How did you come to work with zwxArt (Meril Chan)?

Well, when I decided to self-publish I knew the cover art would be one of the most important things about my book, and I also knew I wanted drawn artwork over photography. I, personally, feel like it’s “iconic high-fantasy” to have a painted cover and so that’s what I began searching for. Also, as an indie author, I wanted to work with someone else who wasn’t a big cover art company and perhaps was just getting their start also. So I was thumbing through DeviantArt for illustrators I liked and I found Meril.

It was the image below that made me know I needed to work with her. It was like she’d already created something that I thought captured the essence of Air Awakens, even if the visuals I wanted were completely different.

Can you explain the process from the author’s perspective? How are covers made?

Well, I can only explain in my limited experience. It’s my understanding that traditional authors get little to no control over what their covers look like. For me, I started by sending Meril what had been my query letter and a handful of scenes I pulled out from the story. I also sent her the draft manuscript in case she wanted to find how a particular scene I’d chosen to pull out fit in. I’d been told that cover artists are too busy to read their client’s work in its entirety, so I wasn’t offended by the notion of just handing her some scenes.

To my surprise, Meril read it all. Talk about knowing you made the right choice as an author! I seriously count my blessings every day for this.

So, Meril reads my draft manuscripts (she’s usually among the very first to read them before my editor) and then she begins drafting thumbnails. These are very rough, quick sketches to give me an idea of the layout. She explains a bit of each, what she sees as the inspiration and story for each cover. From there we tweak them.

Tweaking can be everything from, “What if she’s holding…” to “I like the third and fifth sketch, can you try to merge them?”

This process can take anywhere from two days to a week, depending on how long I need to stare at them and how many changes are being made.

Following that, Meril moves onto the final sketch with a bit more detail. Once we’re certain we’re on the same page with the final direction she starts rendering. As an author this stage of the process is basically magic to me. Because she transforms (granted, an already amazing rough) into an even more amazing final illustration.

When she’s close to the final she sends it to me (by this point I’ve already poked her for updates because I’m way too excited not to) and we do any last-minute editing like color changes, softening lines, or adding small details.

Once all that is done she sends me the final illustration and I do the text layout on it. And, that’s how the Air Awakens covers come to life!

What’s your favorite cover so far?

I like them all… They each have something that I think is perfect for the book they’re representing about them… I suppose, it’s a toss-up between Earth’s End and Fire Falling. Earth’s End just wows me with the background Meril created, it’s going to be a gorgeous hardcover book. There’s also a lot of teasers in there. But, Fire Falling has Aldrik on the cover, and that’s never a bad thing!

Earth’s End Book Illustration: An In-depth Process

By Merilliza Chan

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Hello reader! Welcome to my first blog post.

On today’s topic, I’ll be showing you my journey on how I made the illustration for Elise Kova’s 3rdinstallment of the Air Awakens series; Earth’s End.

I’ll be covering the initial stages in depth, from thumbnails, artistic insights to design problems and finally to the finished painting.

Are you excited? Me too! Let’s get to it!

 Idea Generation

2The one thing we all dread at times is how to come up with ideas. Where do we even begin? I suppose to most artists this part is usually not a problem since creativity tends to just start flowing once we start and get really into it. With Elise’s series it was much easier because the story was already laid out in the open for me to interpret (Elise sends initial manuscript and excerpts for me to read and interpret as I go). But for the most part, sometimes we just get stuck and don’t know what direction to go for. With that said, the initial problem I encountered with this project was proper visualization and relevance.

There are questions that roam my mind during idea generation stage. How do I make sure the cover stays relevant to the story without giving away too much content, along with random ones and others like; what easter eggs should I put in that the readers could go back to notice and enjoy in the cover? What is the mood I’m going to portray? Do I pick out specific scenes or do I go with the abstract route? Etc.  These type of questions usually guide me into conceptual thinking.

Thumbnails

Thumbnails in general is a fun part for me. It’s like juggling with the many possibilities and scenarios in the story and envisioning them through very simple drawings where I don’t need to worry too much about technicalities and problem solving.
3

(Earth’s End initial thumbnails. There’s usually huge blocks of texts below each thumbnail to help my client understand the idea, but for this post I removed it because they indicate a lot of spoilers for the book.)

My thumbnails are usually way messier than this. The type that only I could make sense of what’s actually going on. They normally involve a lot of circle and square shapes. I usually make plenty of the initial scribbles on a scratch of paper (ones that look quite disposable) and then choose the few ones that I liked and transfer them digitally, just to make them a little more readable. There are times I go straight digital when a pen and paper isn’t in sight.

(Click here to see the old thumbnails for Book 1 and 2, Air Awakens and Fire Falling)

So with every cover that I’ve done for Elise, as well as any illustration in general, I always start with thumbnails to get the initial ideas set out, while still trying to keep in mind the many questions I’ve mentioned above.  It’s important to note that in this process I don’t really pay attention to how pretty and well done any of the elements are, just that thought of wanting to put everything down on paper before it gets lost in the abyss of my mind. Though I do make sure that the main elements are somewhat readable, since well, a client is going to look through them.

Preliminary Painting Studies and Reference Gathering

Before I go venturing into the unknown, I want to make sure I’m prepared for the journey. So I did some studies to warm up that artsy area of my brain in the hopes of increasing my chances of actually not screwing up. That, and basically trying to understand trees and forest scenery.

While I waited for Elise to choose a suitable idea, I went and gathered a lot of other forest references. As well as illustrations from various artists I deeply admire. Inspiring illustrations that I think will be relevant to how I’ll go about with this piece. I also have a reference board to help me organize and put everything in place. (I use the program refBoard sampled below).

Final Sketch

Unlike the previous 2 book covers…

Click here to continue reading on Merilliza Chan’s website with even more pictures!


Giveaway!

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Book Tour + GIVEAWAY – Children of Lightning

ChildrenOfLightningTourBanner

Title: Children of Lightning23294183
Author: Annie K. Wong
Pages: 143
Published by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Release Date: September 27, 2014
Find it on Goodreads!

Secrets beget secrets. The curse that befell the Hollows clan has left them incapable of producing male offspring. To extend their bloodline, they have formed a covenant with the serpentine Ophidians, who give them children. In return, the Hollows must keep these monstrous creatures well fed, though the details of the procurement are so abominable that the truth is never revealed to the other clans. In their homeland of Matikki, they live like outcasts.

Through a series of chance discoveries, the secrets of the ancient curse unfold before a warrior named Writhren Hollow. Is her purely female clan the result of a lapse of divine providence, or are the Hollows themselves victims of an enslavement scheme?

If Writhren frees her clan from the covenant, she risks the wrath of the Ophidians and the future of her bloodline. If she keeps the truth of the curse to herself, she is a traitor to her own kind. Either way, she will suffer for what she must do.

This is not a story of redemption, but regret. This is Writhren’s story.

Pre-order it from: Amazon.ca | Amazon.com | B&N


Guest Post!

Top Ten Books that Influenced Children of Lightning

1. Sabriel, by Garth Nix

This book has a strong influence on Children of Lightning and the book series that follows. Its themes of duty and sacrifice resonate with me.  In Sabriel, the question, ‘Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?’ comes up several times. The way that fate intertwines and interferes with our decisions that in turn shapes who we are is also explored in my book.

2. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville

This book is so rich with detail and creativity it is impossible to summarize it in a few sentences. It has creatures and landscapes I have never seen before. Many of the hybrid characters are new: a woman with an insect head, unable to talk, “re-formed” criminals called Remades which are horrific half man, half machine slaves. The monsters in this book are mind-blowing.

3. Un Lun Dun, by China Mieville

This is a light-hearted YA version of Perdido Street Station, promising another fantastic adventure. In the story, every city has a mirror-city, and I love the names of those mirror places: Un Lun Dun (un-London), Parisn’t, Lost Angeles, and Sans Francisco.

4. Saga (Comic Book), by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Fiona Staples’s gorgeous artwork in this series is the main reason I read this comic. Again, the pages are packed with crazy fantastical creations: a humanoid race called the bluebloods has a computer monitor (or tv screen) as a head, their thoughts often showing on the screen; an assassin who is an armless woman with spider legs and abdomen; a tree that doubles as a rocket.

5. Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling

In Children of Lightning there is a training camp called Pikwik, which will be featured more prominently in future books in the series. It will be difficult not to cite Rowling as an influence in any magic training-school adventures.

6. Nifft The Lean, by Michael Shea

Like Sabriel, a significant part of Nifft the Lean features the protagonist’s journey into the Underworld. I like the mystery and the anticipated fear associated with death, and how that gives the author an opportunity to invent all kinds of horrific monsters. Although death is not a prominent theme in Children of Lightning, it lends an undertone of darkness throughout the story.

7. The World According to Garp, by John Irving

This was one of the first books that I fell in love with. Garp’s adventures are rich and unpredictable, and the book is full of strong female characters. These elements are featured regularly in my stories.

8. Cat’s Eyes, by Margaret Atwood

This was another early book that I read and loved. It’s a story of friendship between three women, from when they were kids to when they were middle-aged, and how past experiences shape and define us. I hope to explore the complex relationship between women in Children of Lightning and the book series that follows it.

9. Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll

I like how rhymes and poetry are incorporated in the characters’ dialogues, not as incantations or spells, but simply as manners of speech. These rhyming verses add to the surrealism of the story, which I love.

10. At the Mountain of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft

Like the scientists exploring the city ruins of an ancient alien civilization in At the Mountain of Madness, Children of Lightning deals with the fear of the unknown. In my story, the protagonist belongs to a race of outcasts, and she struggles to gain acceptance from her peers.

[Check out the rest of the Children of Lightning book tour for more guests posts, reviews, and excerpts!]


About the Author

Annie K. Wong was born in Hong Kong and lives in Canada, in the west coast city of Vancouver, BC. She has a BA in Business Administration and Creative Writing from Houghton College as well as a Diploma in Film Studies from the University of British Columbia. Although she explored careers in advertising, television and office administration, the desire to write overtook her at the turn of the new millennium. In 2003 she earned a Post-Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing from Humber College and has been crafting stories ever since.

Her current project is a fantasy series, the prequel of which is Children of Lightning.


Giveaway!

Children of Lightning is the origin story of Writhen Hollow, the villain in an upcoming book series.  In celebration of great villains in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, Annie K. Wong is offering for the tour giveaway gift, The Hyperion Cantos (ebook or print – winner’s choice), as well as two Amazon.ca giftcards (1 for $50, and 1 for $100). Simply click the link below to enter:

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ARC Review + GIVEAWAY – Fire Falling (Air Awakens #2)

Fire-Falling-Release-Tour-Banner

Title: Fire FallingFire-Falling-Cover-Only
Series: Air Awakens (#2)
Author: Elise Kova
Pages: 378
Release Date: November 19, 2015
Find it on Goodreads!

MY RATING: 4 OUT OF 5 STARS. THE BEGINNING OF A SERIES WELL WORTH WATCHING. RECOMMENDED.

Soldier… Sorcerer… Savior… Who is Vhalla Yarl?

Vhalla Yarl marches to war as property of the Solaris Empire. The Emperor counts on her to bring victory, the Senate counts on her death, and the only thing Vhalla can count on is the fight of her life. As she grapples with the ghosts of her past, new challenges in the present threaten to shatter the remnants of her fragile sanity. Will she maintain her humanity? Or will she truly become the Empire’s monster?

~My Thoughts (+Minor Spoilers)~

Delivering a sequel to a strong debut is not always easy, especially when an author’s debut is as strong as Air Awakens, a novel I found to be well-executed, well-structured, well-characterized, and well-plotted. I hesitate to say I was disappointed with Fire Falling as a whole, because I still thoroughly enjoyed the book. I love what Elise has done with traditional elemental magic, and I love the world she’s created and the depths of the histories she’s introduced. But in Air Awakens, Elise didn’t need to rely on conventional expectations to make her good story a great one–she subverted expectations instead, and created something both unique and absolutely magical. Fire Falling, unfortunately, does not do the same.

Still, I must give credit where credit is due.

Vhalla is a powerful female lead, and not only because of her Windwalker abilities. As a library apprentice, she’s intelligent, resourceful, and naturally curious; as a sorcerer, she’s hard-working and self-improving. She loves the people in her life both openly and honestly, and it’s clear she would do anything to protect them; at the same time, she loves these people for everything that they are, and her relationship with Aldrick proves her capacity for bettering people with her unconditional love and support. When she runs into trouble and needs help, she asks for it; when she struggles with her studies, she works harder; and when she gets knocked down, beaten up, and ruthlessly manipulated, she gets up and keeps fighting. As a protagonist, she is one worth standing behind, and I believe she has enormous potential as a leader, as a sorcerer, as a friend, a lover, and a hero. She’s an absolutely incredible character.

But she isn’t alone. Aldrick, the crown prince, is just as three-dimensional a character as Vhalla, with a dark side that doesn’t feel contrived or forced. He acts the heir to the throne when he needs to, and he lets his walls down when the time is right. He draws in readers with both his arrogance and his tenderness, his ferocity and his cunning; he’s enticing, like a forbidden fruit, and the passion that burns between him and Vhalla feels real, powerful, and blindingly irresistible. He’s a broken man with a fortified front, and I love pretty much everything about him. If I were to say I read the series for anything, and I would say I read it for the magic, and I read it for Aldrick.

But the supporting cast has it’s positives as well. Fritz is absolutely endearing, and I love that he isn’t straight (I think he’s gay? But he may be bi–it hasn’t been explicitly ruled out). Larel is a wonderful, caring friend, and her backstory with Aldrick adds incredible depth to both characters. I also love Daniel, one of the soldiers from Baldair’s Golden Guard, and I like that his relationship with Vhalla doesn’t feel like a love triangle, even though it’s clear they both feel something for each other. And then, of course, there’s Baldair, the Heartbreaker Prince–a man who’s as difficult to pin down as Odysseus, whose motives are never clear but whose intentions always seem to be good. They’re a fun cast no matter how you look at them, and they’re a good mix of personalities.

My one character complaint is Elecia, a new character introduced to the series. Her relationship with Aldrick is kept ambiguous for most of the book, but she is, unfortunately, a terrible cliche. She hates Vhalla basically on sight, and does nothing to hide her contempt; she’s vocal about her disgust at Vhalla’s weak fighting abilities, and she’s upset with Aldrick for associating with her in any way. At the same time, Elecia is suddenly a constant fixture at Aldrick’s side; she makes him laugh, she makes him smile, she rides with him constantly, and she shares his confidence. She even uses his first name in casual conversation, which unnerves Vhalla on principle. To make a long story short, Elecia is a flat character I felt was introduced solely for the purpose of creating drama; she makes Vhalla feel insecure about her relationship with Aldrick, and she makes Vhalla feel jealous, even if she claims she doesn’t understand how she feels about this ‘other woman’ in Aldrick’s life. I’m hoping Elecia comes to play a more important role later on in the series, to make up for her role in Fire Falling, because of everything in the book, her character was what disappointed me the most. She was trite and stereotypical, and her real relationship with Aldrick was immediately obvious, despite how the author attempted to make it seem otherwise. I just feel like a series with so much life and imagination woven into it could have done without such an obvious cliche (and don’t even get me started on why Elecia needed to heal a certain someone without pants on–that was completely unnecessary, and was never explained).

Additionally, the major death in this book didn’t surprise me in the least. As much as I love many of the characters in the series, most of them lack their own motivations and plotlines outside of Vhalla, making them seem like they exist only when the plot needs Vhalla to have a friend or lose a friend, someone to pick her up when she’s feeling down or someone to die in order for her to grow as a character in response to intense grief, self-loathing, and anger. I can only hope, again, that many of these characters have a greater role in the grand scheme of the series, because for now, most of them are accessories for Vhalla at best.

Speaking of plot, Fire Falling has surprisingly little, although you don’t really notice that until the end of the novel; as a result, the story depends on its characters and its world-building in order to be both entertaining and interesting. In Air Awakens, that worked fine; the characters drove the action, and they did well, because in many ways, the characters were the plot. In Fire Falling, however, the drama doesn’t feel the same, so the plot feels emptier. Additionally, most of the action occurs in the last tenth of the novel, much like it did in Air Awakens. It’s an exciting collection of chapters, but it follows the exact same structure as the previous novel: Vhalla is repeatedly kicked while she’s down, nothing good really works out in her favour, and she can’t seem to catch any major breaks. Because of this, the climax of the story was both expected and underwhelming, and the Emperor’s last minute decision was completely unsurprising.

Despite all of this, Fire Falling  is still a strong four star read. Elise Kova has some questionable dialogue-tag choices, but otherwise, her writing is sharp and bright, and she describes her world for her readers in a way that will always leave them desperate for more. There’s a war with the North, and it’s violent, gritty, and thrilling; there’s drama with the court, and it’s bloodthirsty, merciless, and vicious. There are characters you love, and there are characters you hate; there’s magic that will surprise you and impress you; there’s romance that will make your heart race and your breath catch. And the very end of Fire Falling will leave you questioning everything you know about the world Elise Kova has spent two books creating, and the cliff-hanger hints at the biggest game-changer the series may ever see. Regardless of my feelings on the contrary, Fire Falling is not a novel anyone should miss.

Pre-order it from: Amazon.ca | Amazon.com | B&N | Chapters/Indigo | Book Depository


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Book Tour – Shadows Collide

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Title: Shadows Collide23398169
Series: The Psionic Earth Series (#2)
Author: Dan Levinson
Pages: 328
Published by: Jolly Fish Press
Publication Date: September 22, 2015
Find it on Goodreads!

The Orion Psi Corps is in shambles, the dead still being counted. And though Orion’s retaliation has begun, Calchis isn’t finished yet. New Axom City—that’s where Nyne Allen has taken refuge in the wake of his desertion from Orion. Soon, it will become a battlefield, as forces from both sides barrel toward a collision that will change the world forever. Meanwhile, in the Far East, Aaron Waverly learns the truth behind the red-robed man, and discovers a destiny that might one day spell the end of the world as he knows it.

Buy it from: Amazon.com | B&N


Guest Post!

The “Why” of Storytelling

It’s a fundamental question, with many answers: To share our words, our experiences; to achieve a level of recognition, career success, in a field that we love; to channel our own lives—our joysand sadness—into something transmutative and cathartic for our own souls; to, as Aristotle wrotein his Poetics, “through pity and fear [effect] the purgation of these emotions,” thus liberating us to lead a freer and more effective existence.

I feel there’s no greater goal than a “good story well told.” Stories extend far beyond the written word. There are stories in every piece of music, every painting, every film and fascinating movement of the passersby we observe on street corners, in cafés and local stores.

A good story resonates, echoes deep into our subconscious minds, eliciting a human connection beyond what words can convey. Robert Frost wrote, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” Why is that if we feel what we write, the reader feels it too?

I’ve always ascribed to the philosophies of Carl Jung and his theories of the collective unconscious, and my time both as a consumer of story, and as creator of it, has allowed me to feel its awesome tidal swells. The breadth and depth of the human race itself, the enormity of mankind’s experience, somehow echoes in us all. How else could characters who have never existed on any mortal plane move us so deeply? Bring us to tears, to anger, or make us feel an incomparable sense of hope? How could the very possibility of something that has never in fact occurred make us feel with such powerful conviction?

Story connects us, and I think a good story is a reflection of the most fundamental aspects of human experience: love, and loss; life, and death. It is no less true despite its immaterial nature.

“I like a good story well told,” Mark Twain once said. “That is the reason I am sometimes forced We all tell stories, whether we are writers or not. When we come home from at work, put our feet up, pour a glass of wine, and tell our loved ones about our day, we are storytellers. When we dance to a beautiful piece of music, expressing our inner selves, we are storytellers. When we sing along to the radio, when we draw a picture, when we imagine . . . we are storytellers. For what is storytelling, but the articulation of all that we are, as individuals, and as a collective We tell stories because they illuminate the human condition. We do not exist in a vacuum. We are all connected. Stories seep down into the deepest layers of what comprise us as human beings. They move us without explanation. Somehow, they penetrate the thick armor we don each day to bear the world’s wicked barbs and prods, and lay us naked and vulnerable, whimpering, quivering, crying in both despair and exultation. They leave us knowing that no matter what hardship we endure, we are not alone. In this vale of tears, we all suffer. But our stories connect us, now, and forever.

We tell stories because they remind us of who we really are, and yet they also provide a conduit to tap into something greater than ourselves. They let us know there is something other than what we can see, or feel with our fingertips. We tell stories because they take us beyond all time, all place, to a realm that knows no mortal ken, that is both impermanent and yet eternal.

We are the stories we tell.


About the Author

Dan Levinson is a NY-based writer of speculative fiction. Trained as an actor at NYU’s Tisch School of Arts, he also writes for the stage and screen. He grew up immersing himself in fantastical worlds, and now creates them. In addition to the Psionic Earth series, he is also the author of the upcoming YA fantasy novel The Ace of Kings, first book of The Conjurer’s Cycle.

Contact: Twitter | Facebook

Book Tour – Journey Through Morowak

Title: Journey Through Morowakfront cover only
Author: Kari Peterson
Published by: Smashwords
Publication Date: April 25, 2015
Find it on Goodreads!

An adventure. A crusade. A powerful fated love.

It is medieval times in the land of Morowak. Kings and Queens maintain sovereignty, and wielders of magic and fire breathing dragons are real. Nobleman’s daughter, Arabella Wallington, is about to embark on a journey across the kingdom to meet her betrothed. Stengar McKinnon is a titled soldier in the King’s army and she is assured a life of wealth and bliss. Arabella is herself a gifted war maiden, yet she follows her father’s orders and employs someone to protect her along the perilous crossing. She chooses a man named Briol, whose magical abilities are tested throughout their adventure, and an enigmatic bond forms between them. Briol realizes there is something unique about Arabella, and it is brought to light. A new unforeseen path now lies ahead. This journey challenges everything Arabella has ever known.

Will she find her betrothed?
Will she follow her heart?
Or will she embrace her destiny?

Buy it from: B&N | Smashwords


Guest Post!

10 Things you didn’t know about Kari Peterson:

  1. She’s 5’10” tall.
  2. She plats piano.
  3. She enjoys working on older cars and drag racing.
  4. She has designed the floorplan to my future home, which she hopes to build soon!
  5. She can’t stand the colour pink unless it is camo.
  6. She loves to fish and hunt.
  7. She has a degree in computers.
  8. She has a very intriguing family tree.
  9. She can juggle. Kind of.
  10. She once took the controls of a Cessna airplane while flying. Shhh, don’t tell 😉

About the Author

I am not your average gal. I didn’t grow up playing with Barbies or dressing in my mother’s clothes, jewelry, or makeup. I drove my matchbox cars over obstacle courses, climbed trees, built forts, dreamt of owning my own horse, and pretended to be an elven princess. I continued to live my life on my terms, while staying true to my old fashioned values and respect. After completing high school, I took on a full-time job and put myself through college. In just under three years, I earned a degree in computers. I try to use that knowledge as often as I can.

In 2006, before I had even discovered my passion for writing, I married a wonderful man named Mark.  Our love story is blissfully unique.  We now live in Washington State with our three rambunctious boys, a beautiful chocolate lab, a bouncy min pin, and a tubby tailless kitty.  I am as passionate about my books as I am of my family.  This is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.

Contact: Author Website | Facebook | Twitter | Email

Book Tour – The Secret King Lethao

Title: The Secret King: Lethao26220955
Author: Dawn Chaoman
Pages: 392
Published by: TSK Productions, LTD
Publication Date: September 30, 2015
Find it on Goodreads!

Kendro, King of the Aonise, can do nothing to prevent their sun from collapsing, consuming their home planet Letháo in a single fiery blast. Running out of time and options, he evacuates the entire population, setting off into the unknown galaxy in four crowded ships. Under constant danger from their ancient enemy, the Zefron, treasonous dissent seeps into his inner circle. Threatened inside and out, Kendro struggles with who to trust, until a mysterious vision finally brings hope to the distraught King. A new home awaits the Aonise, if Kendro can only unite them long enough to survive the journey.

Buy it from: Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk


Exclusive Excerpt!

From Chapter One: 

Blue banners waved the royal colour, filling Kendro with more hope than he’d ever imagined possible under the circumstances. Smiles adorned his subjects’ faces. A cheer rang out. Pointing their cameras and microphones towards him, with a nod the news troop gave him the go ahead.

Taking a deep breath, Kendro spoke loud and clear into the microphone. “I acknowledge every citizen, not just those assigned to a House. Our evacuation is steady. Each of you will be assigned a ship number. The evacuation procedure will be as follows.” He peered from the sheet he carried to his people. Many more shoulders here were covered. Only the Military and Government caste wore an arm or leg bare to show house birthmarks. “It does not correspond with any House or any class. You will board the ship you are assigned. I implore you to stay calm.” At that, the hum began. “These orders take effect immediately.”

As Kendro completed his closing statement, Madrall, leader of House Flikait, caught his eye.

Madrall bowed his very dark head once, his striking birthmark flickered his colour of yellow against his much darker Flikait skin, and at this point, a deep gesture of loyalty. Kendro watched as several hands shot into the air. He appealed to them, “This is a testing time for all of us. We must survive until we find a new home.” Deception kept at bay—they need not know we have not a plan.

From Chapter Two:

“I can’t help but worry.” Chace’s hands shook as he locked eyes with Octav. “You know we don’t have a destination.”

“You’re privy to that information.” Octav shot him a glare. “Do not speak of it.”

Chace stepped backed, “I’m sorry, Sir.”

Octav stared at Chace’s shimmering forearm where his birthmark betrayed his fear. Wearing their traditional uniforms had been Kendro’s idea. He’d hoped to bring calm to everyone, as their open birthmarks reflected their emotions. Winter wasn’t the time of year to be showing bare skin though, the chill Octav felt inside was almost un-bearable, not all of it from the weather.

Chace’s emotions were there for everyone to see, from the flicker across his striking facial mark, to the swirling pattern of his arm. He was terrified and more.

“Listen to me,” against his better judgment Octav reached for Chace. Pulling his own croex to the surface, Octav allowed it to trickle through into Chace’s skin. “Trust me. We might not know where we’re going, but we will find a new home.”

From Chapter Four:

“I trust the four of you. I hope you trust me.” Looking to each of them, Kendro spoke. “The Zefron will follow us—”

“The Zefron, still!” Madrall’s outburst reverberated through the others.

“Yes, and my last recon came back with nothing.” Octav said. “We still know nothing else about them. They’re bent on our annihilation, with no valid reasons.” He waited for their acknowledgment. “Staying away from the Zefron won’t be an option I believe we will have to fight.”

With a hand slammed on the table, Kendro brought up a holosnap. “Octav smuggled this off the Zefron home world.” A holographic image rotated over the centre of their table. “Like us, at first we thought they were fleeing the solar system.” Pointing to several areas as the ship rotated, Kendro added, “Initial scans from Octav’s team were conclusive. It’s a battle ship. I can presume they will be coming for us.”

“Puswer,” cursed Captain Hadi. “We escape a dying planet, to be chased across the galaxy.”


About the Author

Dawn Chapman has been creating sci fi and fantasy stories for thirty years. Until 2005 when her life turned to scripts, and she started work on The Secret King, a 13 episode Sci Fi TV series, with great passion for this medium.

In 2010, Dawn returned to her first love of prose. She’s been working with coach EJ Runyon who’s encouraged her away from fast paced script writing, to revel in the world of TSK and Lethao as an epic prose space journey.

She’s had success with a web-series, co-written with ‘Melvin Johnson’, produced by Nandar Entertainment and a short film Irobe, also co-written. This year her experience of working with producers/directors from the  US and AUS has expanded. From drama, sci fi to action, Dawn’s built a portfolio of writing, consulting and publishing.

Contact: Author Website | Facebook | Twitter | Blog | TSK Productions

Air Awakens Affinity Tour: Firebearer

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Whether or not you’re new to the world of Elise Kova’s Air Awakens, elemental powers are fairly straightforward: air, water, fire, and earth–sorcerers can each control one. But what makes the magic in Air Awakens so interesting is the unique abilities Elise has given to each of her affinities. Whether someone is a grounderbreaker, a waterrunner, a windwalker, or a firebearer, each type of elemental magic has a few unexpected abilities–like the firebearers and their ability to see into the future. Name another book where fire-magic does that!

So yes, maybe that’s partially the reason why I chose firebearer as my Air Awakens affinity. But that’s not the only reason! I also think they sound kick-ass. I mean, who wouldn’t have fun punching something with a fiery fist?


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Your emotions run hot and people know you have fire in your veins. You can be a warm heat to those who get close to you. But, when crossed, that warmth can easily turn into an inferno. In a scrap you prefer to fight with your fists, alight with fire, over weapons.

You think deeply about the future because you can hone your ability to see along the red lines of fate that connects everyone in the world. Perhaps you keep this gift of future-seeing to yourself. Or, perhaps you sell it in a Curiosity Shop.

You are just like: Crown Prince Aldrik and Larel Neiress


If you’d like to discover your own Air Awakens affinity, there’s a fun quiz you can take! [Here’s the link!]

Alternatively: are you a Gryffindor, a Ravenclaw, a Hufflepuff, or a Slytherin? Maybe it would help if you knew which Air Awakens affinity I thought best fit each Hogwarts house?


G_finalAre you brave and fierce like a Gryffindor? Then your affinity might just be with the windwalkers! You value freedom and your levitation powers have endless potential. And since you’re hardly scared of heights, the world is at your fingertips.

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Are you clever and ambitious like a Slytherin? Then your affinity might just be with the firebearers! With the ability to look into the future, you’d constantly stay one step ahead of your peers–or perhaps you’d use your new talent to help others find their way (I would!).

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Are you intelligent and book-smart like a Ravenclaw? Then your affinity might just be with the groundbreakers! You can read people’s secrets right off their skin–imagine what you could do with that knowledge!

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Are you hardworking and resourceful like a Hufflepuff? Then your affinity might just be with the waterrunners! You can make anything out of ice, and you can always find the truth hidden behind illusions due to your ability to refract water in the air!


So, if your interest is peaked, check out the Air Awakens Fan Club on Goodreads or the Air Awakens Read-Along, happening soon!

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