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The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands Read by Ray Panthacki Simon & Schuster Audio, 2015 7.25 hrs Grades 5-9
Christopher Rowe, is a lucky lad. Plucked from the orphanage for his intellectual potential, Christopher is apprenticed to the kindly apothecary, Master Benedict Blackthorn. Despite his lowly upbringing, relayed by narrator Ray Panthacki's hint of a Cockney accent, Christopher receives training in Latin, astronomy, ciphers, potions, and other tools of the apothecary's trade. In the midst of a suspicious atmosphere following great political upheaval, a mysterious cult of murderers arises. Christopher will need all his skills and more to decode a series of clues to a dangerous plot that threatens to upset the balance of world power. Panthacki clearly defines each of The Blackthorn Key's large cast of characters, creating distinctive voices that reflect their standing in British society. Christopher's best friend is Tom, an apprentice baker. Like Harry Potter and Ron, they are a memorable pair, and their dialogue sounds honest and warm. Whether in terror, danger, or mere horseplay, the listener feels the emotion in and between the characters. The only thing that slows the pace of adventure in this gripping mystery is the occasional reading of lengthy ciphers. Print readers may well try their hand at decoding them, but for listeners, they're primarily a drag on the action. The setting is as rich as the plot in this mid-17th century adventure brought to life by veteran actor Ray Panthacki.
Check out the book trailer for this fantasy adventure for children!
When in the enchanted wood, Emily finds she has a surprising connection with her little dog and all of the other animals. When she discovers she needs to help rid the wood of marauding goblins, she must work with the animals to bring peace back to the woodland realm.
A delightfully encouraging and warmly reassuring tale to foster adventurous spirits and feed curiosity about what lies beyond your front door, Paul Beavis’ Hello World! is a perfect picture book to put the wind beneath the wings of all those learning to explore their world around them.
Monster is bored and Mr. and Mrs. Mo, his elderly carers, are busy. Undismayed, Monster decides to go off exploring by himself and packs his rucksack with equipment worthy of an adventurer wishing to prepare himself for any eventuality.
And then Monster is off, enthusiastically crossing over fields, then a wide river, into exotic canyons, leaving a peculiar trail behind him (the reader can decide for themselves whether this is a deliberately Hansel-and-Gretel-like act or simply accidental) as items fall from his bulging bag.
Just when Monster’s energy and faith in the wisdom of his plan begin to flag, Mrs. Mo ‘miraculously’ appears with sandwiches at the ready. Once re-fueled, Monster draws his friend onwards for a final push up to the top of a nearby hill, whereupon the extra effort is richly rewarded with a breathtaking view showing a welcoming world filled with warmth and and wide-open opportunities.
This terrific tale sends subtle but solid encouragement to its readers and listeners – to have the confidence to follow their dreams, safe in the knowledge that loved ones will always be there when they need them.
Beavis’ illustrations are a tour de force, using perspective and palette to cleverly reinforce the written story; colour intensifies and the reader’s viewpoint zooms ever closer in until the moment of greatest tension in the story. This visual magnification and turning up of the heat adds another layer of drama to the play unfolding as the pages are turned.
Beautifully paced, Hello World! is also funny, touching and just the sort of story to put a spring in your step the next time you venture out to see what the new day holds for you, whether you are 4 or 94.
Inspired to get out there and feel the elements on our skin and see what unexpected surprises we could stumble upon, the girls and I decide to go on our own adventure. To help us prepare, I asked Paul Beavis for his advice. Here’s the wisdom he shared with us:
With Paul and Julia’s advice in mind, we packed our bags and headed out for our adventure. The girls were in charge and we spent a day going in whichever direction they chose. It was definitely a “go with the flow” type of day (for me), and the girls were so excited to be completely in charge of where we went and what we looked at. Definitely a bit different to lots of other sorts of family outings!
Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Hello World!, here’s what we packed, and some of the colours and textures we saw:
Whilst out and about we didn’t listen to any music, but if you’re after some kid-friendly adventuring music you might enjoy:
Adventure is a Wonderful Thing – from the Winnie the Pooh animated film
Other activities which might work well alongside reading Hello World! include:
Holding storytime in your attic / loft. Monster goes up into his attic and sees a world of possibilities in amongst all the old junk that’s stored up there. Why not take a blanket and a torch for a very atmospheric sharing of stories!
Painting with rollers. Mr. and Mrs. Mo are too busy to join Monster because they are painting their house. Why not paint on a giant scale like them, using wallpaper lining paper and big rollers. Lay the paper out to cover the patio or entire kitchen table and experience painting on a vast scale. I know my girls would love the very physical nature of this. If you live somewhere hot another alternative is to let the kids paint the house walls outside, but just with a bucket of water and a big paintbrush.
If you’re anything like me you’ll love a good dog story, especially those feel-good ones of friendship, courage and love. Typically known as our best mates, the canine variety so often teach us about loyalty, responsibility and maintaining a zest for life, and these three picture books certainly contain these elements in their own gorgeous […]
The Curse at Pirate’s Cove, the second installment in the Nikki Landry Swamp Legend series, is due to be released next month, on November 17.
It was previously scheduled for October 17, but was postponed due to unforeseen problems.
But Nikki and her friends know exactly what the problem was…it was those pesky pirates…and the curse. Yes, they’ve been at it again.
Here’s a description of the book and what’s going on with Nikki in book two:
“When one man’s treasure is another one’s curse.”
Nikki Landry is turning eleven years old, and is looking forward to riding her bike to school. That is until it falls apart. Papa can’t afford a new one. Is she doomed to ride the smelly old school bus from now on?
Hearing of an old pirate ship, and a legend about long-ago pirates burying treasure on a nearby swamp island, Nikki sees a way out. But when she makes a birthday wish for the pirate’s gold, things go terribly wrong. Did her wish trigger an ancient curse?
Join Nikki and her friends as they find themselves sailing away aboard a haunted schooner with ghostly pirates into the Gulf of Mexico … and into the year eighteen fourteen.
How will they ever find their way back home?
Here’s an excerpt from the book:
“How do you know it’s a pirate ship?”
“It has to be, Nikki. Listen.” He turned toward me. “I was out at Uncle Luke’s this past weekend, and he told me all about it.”
“I ain’t believing there’s no pirate ship out in those swamps.” I lifted my chin.
“Just hear me out, Tomboy.” He sounded impatient. “There’s a legend that goes along with it, see.” He leaned toward me and lowered his voice. “There might even be a curse.”
“A legend?” He had my attention. I prided myself in being a super legend buster ever since I solved the one about Ghost Dog Island last year. I even got my picture in the newspaper. “Well, tell me about it.”
“I’m trying to.” He waved his hands in the air.
We propped ourselves against a couple of large limbs and got out our lunch bags.
“Uncle Luke says he first heard about it back when he was a kid. He says a friend of his grandfather, by the name of Beco, was out trapping on Fog Island with his buddy Clamare. They came across this here hole in the ground with a half-buried wooden chest, see. It had a big old lock on it. There was a couple of coins in the dirt, so Clamare picked them up and slipped them in his pocket. Beco decided he’d go back for some tools and shovels to dig the rest of it out, and told Clamare to stay there and watch the chest. On his way out to the edge of the island, he saw this ragged old ship. Thinking it was kind of odd looking for being in the swamps and all, he got a little closer. It had a broken mast and raggedy sails.” He poked me with his elbow. “When was the last time you ever saw a fishing boat with sails?”
I shook my head. “Never.” I unwrapped a peanut butter and jam sandwich and took a bite. “What’d he do?”
“Well, he started to board it, see?” Spikes dug into his own lunch bag. “But then he heard some talking coming out of the boat. He stopped right then and there, ’cause he didn’t know who might be on that old wreck out in the middle of nowhere, and there weren’t no other boats around. This one had a big old hole in the hull, so it couldn’t have sailed there on its own. At least anytime in recent history.”
“Then what?” I licked some of the jam off my fingers.
“Then someone stuck his head up over the bow, see. He had on one of them three pointed hats that pirates always wore. Old Beco yelled a big hello, and the man took out a pistol and shot over his head. Well, Beco took off right then and there. That night, he went down to T-Noon’s bar and got drunk, and told some other fellows about it. The next day, they all went back out to the island with shovels and brought guns just in case that crazy guy in the boat was still there.”
“Was he?” I asked.
“Nope. The ship was gone, and so was Clamare.”
“What about the treasure?”
“They never could find it. Not even the hole it was in.”
About the author:
Rita Monette was born and raised in Southwest Louisiana. She loves to write stories set in the beautiful, yet mysterious, bayous and swamps of her home state.
Her middle grade series, The Nikki Landry Swamp Legends, is based on tales told by her father, who made his living in those bayous.
She currently lives with her husband, four lap dogs, and one lap cat, in the mountains of Tennessee. Besides writing and illustrating, she loves watching the many birds that inhabit the Cumberland Plateau.
The Plot: A Robin Hood retelling, with Robyn Loxley as a twelve year old girl who seeks her imprisoned parents and allies herself with the have-nots of her world.
The Good: I love retellings, I love seeing what is kept, what is changed, how it's updated.
Confession: this is one of those books that while I'd heard a bunch of buzz, I'd avoided most reviews, wanting to read it fresh. The cover told me that the retelling was also updating the setting, putting Robyn in a modern world.
Well, I was wrong. And right. Yes, it's a modern world but it's not our modern world. The technology seems about fifty years in the future; the city is Nott City, and the discussion of the city and its surroundings, while matching the Robin Hood tales, doesn't match our own geography. So it's not just a retelling; it's a fantasy, in that it's not our world. But it's so close to our world, that even non-fantasy readers will enjoy it. And the names of places and people will make those familiar with Robin Hood smile: Loxley Manor, the Castle District, people named Tucker and Scarlet and Merryan.
Robyn is amazing. Awesome. Courageous, stubborn, smart -- and a bit spoiled. She's the child of privilege who likes to sneak out at night. It's the sneaking out that saves her, when her politically involved parents are taken as part of a coup. Suddenly, she's without anything or anyone and is forced beyond the borders of her comfortable life. For example: Robyn isn't even familiar with money or trading, because chips and credit have always covered her needs. But as she meets others -- a young girl living on her own, a boy who is hiding something -- she adjusts. Forced to be an enemy of those in charge, she quickly sides with the others who are enemies of those in power: the poor, those without connections, those living hand to mouth.
Robyn is biracial; her parents, and their backgrounds, are part of the story and even mystery Robyn is trying to uncover. Mystery may be the wrong word; but while her parents now have powerful connections and jobs, allowing for Robyn's very upper class upbringing, Shadows of Sherwood quickly sketches in the background of their lives and world. And their background is what targeted them during the current coup, and their lives before Robyn's birth is part of what she needs to learn more about to figure out her own present and future. Robyn's hair is braided, and it turns out it's a distinctive style taught to her by her father. It's unique; and when she is alone, seeing another with the same style of braid is one of those clues. While this is not our world, it's a world where skin color and money matter, just in different ways. So while there is the adventure of survival, and helping others, there is also the mystery of the past and the future and finding her parents.
This is the start of a series, and so it's Robyn's origin story. Who she was. How she becomes Robyn Hoodlum, robbing from the rich to give to the poor. With that told; and with the start of her "merry band" coming together, I look forward to what Robyn and her crew will do next.
Because Robyn is terrific. Because the world building is so full. Because it's an inventive retelling that is also true to the source. Because I want more. Shadows of Sherwood is a Favorite Book of 2015.
Meanwhile, while waiting for more Robyn, over at Nerdy Book Club the author, Kekla Magoon, shares a bit about writing this book.
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Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar, winner of the Newbery Medal and National Book Award for Holes. Narrated by Kathleen McInerny with a full cast and an author's note read by Sachar himself. (Listening Library, 2015) 4 hours Target audience: Grades 5 and up
I reviewed Fuzzy Mud for AudioFile Magazine, and loved it. As I should have expected from Louis Sachar, there is much more to it than I first expected. It's a sci-fi, adventure thriller,that focuses on the very broad concept of ecology as well as the more intimate problem of bullying. A link to my review for AudioFile Magazine is here. [http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/104469/]
Summary: When we meet Wilhelmina, she's a top player in a gang of orphans called the Ospreys, former nobles all, who were displaced when their country of Aecor was overrun by the neighboring Indigo Kingdom. Now they live on the fringes of the Indigo... Read the rest of this post
Full disclosure: I consider the author a friend of mine, though we've never yet managed to meet in person. (Darn it.) I read this book out of affection, but am raving about it, because I found it to be flat out astounding.One of the weird things... Read the rest of this post
There's a lot of information in the news on how female gamers aren't really thought about, or marketed to in the video game industry, so I was interested, reading the description of this book, in the female protagonist. The author didn't touch on... Read the rest of this post
I have a tiny addiction to Joseph Bruchac's KILLER OF ENEMIES books, as you'll note from my original review, the review of the ROSE EAGLE novella, and the fact that I do cover reveals for the KILLERS series - which I don't often even notice are... Read the rest of this post
The Beast of Cretacea by Todd Strasser (Candlewick, 2015)
Seventeen-year-old Ishmael has volunteered for a dangerous assignment - a vaguely outlined stint on Cretacea, where he will work with other adventurers in an untamed environment, harvesting resources bound for Earth. Only the dismal outlook on Earth makes this option seem appealing. Stripped of its natural resources, covered in a perpetual shroud, and dangerously low on breathable air, Earth holds few attractions for Ishmael. His foster family is his only concern, but his foster brother is now headed for assignment, too, and Ishmael hopes to earn enough money on Cretacea to pay for passage from Earth for his foster parents.
On Cretacea, a prophetic warning from an old neighbor haunts Ishmael as he works onboard the Pequod under the command of the mad Captain Ahab who has set the ship's course to capture the Great Terrafin, a deadly sea creature of near mythical proportions. For Ishmael and his onboard companions, adventures abound in this cleverly crafted homage to Moby Dick. References to Moby Dick (for those familiar with them) are plentiful; however, despite its similarities to Melville's classic, The Beast of Cretacea is a sci-fi book for the modern age. The Beast of Cretacea confronts modern issues of environmental degradation, resource depletion, wealth and privilege, scientific possibility, and of course, the transcendent coming-of-age issue. Breathtaking excitement is measured with thought-provoking ideas, a rich plotline, and occasional flashbacks. At least one great twist awaits.
For ponderers, sci-fi enthusiasts, and adventure fans seeking a little something extra. Best for ages 12 and up.
On a shelf near you 10/13/15
Members of my monthly book club recently Skyped with Todd Strasser. They were impressed by his perseverance (only a summer's worth of reading kept him from repeating the 3rd grade!) and the sheer volume of his work (more than 140 books!). They appreciated his affability and willingness to delay an afternoon of surfing to accommodate us. As an added bonus, when his daughter (who created the beast on the book's cover) accidentally passed in camera view, he introduced us and gave us a short lesson in the evolution of a book's cover art.
I have two copies of The Beast of Cretacea. One was provided at my request from Todd Strasser, and the other was subsequently provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers. Both will given to members of my book club who cannot wait to read it!!
I am a big old sucker for girl-disguised-as-boy novels; give me a tough girl with a sword in addition to a disguise and I'm in don't-bother-me-I'm-reading mode for hours. Add to this the fact that I'd read an article this author had written on... Read the rest of this post
Welcome to the Blog Tour for Adam Gaylord's New Novel ~
Sol of the Coliseum
Follow Along to Read Reviews, an Excerpt, and Spotlights.
Survival is an act of defiance.
About Sol of the Coliseum:
Deep in the bowels of the Coliseum of the mighty Astrolian Empire, the orphan, Sol, is raised by a makeshift family of guards and fellow slaves to become the most famed Gladiator in all the land. Alongside K'nal, his giant Frorian fighting partner, Sol must battle cunning warriors and fantastic beasts to delight the crowd and stay alive. But when an oppressed populace transforms Sol into a revolutionary folk hero, the Empire sends its most ruthless assassin to put an end to the uprising. Sol’s only chance is to do what no slave has ever done: escape from the Coliseum and the only home he’s ever known.
Guest Post: Naming the Characters of “Sol of the Coliseum”
One of the things that’s both really fun and really challenging about writing fantasy is the freedom you have, as an author, when it comes to crafting your story’s world. In historical or contemporary fiction, the setting and structure of the world are pretty ridged. You can’t go switching around who fought who in a WWII story or have gryphons walking the streets of your Washington D.C. political thriller. I mean, you can, but then your story is a different genre (fantasy). As an author, having that set structure means 1) you don’t have to come up with a new world (although you do have to research the bejezus out of the real one) and 2) you don’t have a lot of room to play with. But in fantasy, the sky’s the limit. Actually, the sky isn’t the limit. There are no limits.
A great example of this freedom and challenge comes in the form of character names. You can’t rewrite the names of history in historical fiction, but you don’t have to come up with a bunch of crazy names either. And fantasy names are not only crazy but unique! It’s totally fine to have Kings Henry I-VIII but it’s a little more difficult pulling of Warf IV or DrizztDo’Urden Jr. (famous characters from Star Trek and novels by R.A. Salvatore, respectively). So authors have to come up with original fantastically fantastical names for their characters. It can be a real challenge but it’s also a lot of fun.
Take the names of the characters in my gladiatorial fantasy novel “Sol of the Coliseum”. Right off the bat we have the main character, the story’s protagonist and the title character, Sol. I love words and wordplay (which is one of the reasons I write) and Sol’s name is a good example of me having fun with words. Sol is of the coliseum, he was born and raised there. He is a son of the coliseum. In my mind, son equated to sun, and the Spanish word for sun is sol. Also, Sol’s character is a bit of brightness in the terrible dark that is the coliseum: another sun/sol reference.
One of my favorite characters, and I hope she’ll be yours, is Oci. She’s the mother hen of the coliseum slaves, always taking care of someone in need. Her name comes straight from my family. I had a great aunt Ociolla (who everyone called Oci) who was that type of lady (and made the best lemon meringue pie you’ve ever had).
The story’s main female protagonist needed a strong yet beautiful name. Strong and beautiful made me think of corral which led me to Korra.
“HOLD ON!” You’re probably saying. “Korra is the name of a name of a character in a very popular animated series, ‘The Legend of Korra’, and you just told us all about the importance of originality!”
You got me. Sometimes, purely by coincidence, names are repeated. But in all honesty, they’re both strong female characters that bring a lot to their respective stories so I’m cool with it. Besides, I started writing SOTC in 2005 and “The Legend of Korra” didn’t debut until 2012. Mine came first.
There are a lot more characters in SOTC but I’ll finish with one of my favorite names, the empire’s assassin and a truly unpleasant fellow, Lysik. Fantasy has a long history of naming villains by incorporating root words with nefarious meanings. Take the Latin “mal”, for example. It means bad or evil and has given rise to names like Maleficent and Malfoy. For SOTC, I fused together lie (as in telling an un-truth) and sick (as in this character is one sick SOB). A little morphing and we get Lysik, a bad guy for the ages.
I hope you enjoy the characters and the names of SOTC!
Read an Excerpt:
A baby’s cry.
Grall was sure that was what he’d heard. In the depths of the Coliseum a person became accustomed to various cries of pain or despair. Prisoners, men broken physically or mentally, called out in the night. Spoils, the women given to victorious fighters to do with whatever they saw fit, cried out often. The beasts, crazed by captivity and seclusion, howled and cackled. Even Grall, though the proud young guard would never admit it, sometimes fought back tears that came in the dark. Over time, one could learn to block out the sound completely.
But the cry of a child, an infant, a sound that had no place in this world, could not be ignored.
Grall made his way slowly down the roughly-carved stone hall, unenthusiastic in his search for the sound’s origin. He knew what was expected of him when he found the child. His stomach clenched at the thought.
“I don’t need this,” he thought aloud, his voice barely a whisper. “I should be in bed.” In truth, only minutes before he had lain wide awake, willing dawn to come and give him a reason to abandon his tossing and turning. With the day came his duties; blessed menial tasks he could lose himself in, briefly forgetting his loss.
Grall had come to the Coliseum only a few months before. He had been a guard in the city of Astrolia, capital of the Astrolian Empire, until he refused to participate in a drill using live captives. His protests changed nothing. The captives had died regardless and he had yet again angered his captain, the man that controlled his fate. As punishment he had been transferred to the Coliseum, a post feared by guard and soldier alike. Far more than the danger and brutality, what inspired dread for the post was that for all intents and purposes the Coliseum was a closed system. Be you slave or guard, once you entered it you probably didn’t leave. He had begged his captain, promising him utter obedience. But for the Captain, Grall had made it personal. It mattered not at all that Grall’s young wife had just given birth to their first son. Neither did it matter that he would probably never see either of them again. Even if he managed to be one of the few to live long enough to see retirement, his son would be grown with children of his own.
He had been all for packing their meager belongings and making a run for it, but his wife’s cooler head had prevailed, as always. They lived in the middle of the Astrolian Empire, two week’s hard ride in any direction from free lands if they had a mount, which they didn’t. She was still weak and sore, not yet recovered from a difficult childbirth. Most importantly, they had a brand new baby. In the best of times the road was no place to raise a child, and they would be in hiding.
“No,” she had answered stoically through her tears, “you will go to the Coliseum. You will send us your pay. I will raise our son.”
He protested and argued to the point of exhaustion, vainly fighting the logic in her words. Eventually he conceded, packing his bag and leaving his family, barely started, standing at their doorstep.
He still grieved for the son he would never know.
And now there was this.
“I don’t need this,” he repeated to himself, stopping outside the door to the women’s barracks.
They had promised to take care of it.
He knew the mother. She was a slave in the luxury boxes. As sometimes happens, one of her wealthy male patrons had an eye for her and he raped her after she refused his advances. She’d hid the pregnancy well at first but eventually her condition became all too obvious. Grall had been sent to deal with it. The women of the barracks had assured him that though uncommon, such things were not unheard of. The baby would be disposed of in a quiet manner. He had relented.
An infant howling down the halls was not a quiet manner.
Grall took a deep breath and opened the door. His broad frame and barrel-chest filled the doorway while he let his eyes adjust to the dimly-lit barracks. Women were sitting awake in their bunks, eyeing him with considerable disdain. He made his way down the candlelit center aisle toward the source of the disturbance, avoiding the hostile glares and trying to keep his face passive. He didn’t want to be here any more than they wanted him here. The object of his quest lay wrapped in a blanket and was held by a rather large cook. He saw the mother lying in a bed off to the side, unmoving. The sheets were soaked with blood but it was her face that drew his gaze. She had obviously been beaten, badly.
“She panicked,” the cook said flatly to answer his unasked question. “She confronted the father. He did that and she gave the last of her strength giving birth to this boy. We’ve named him Sol.”
A heavy silence settled over the room; the baby was finally quiet, as if showing respect to his deceased mother. Grall’s gaze lingered on the dead slave, her many bruises contrasting with her pale skin and long blonde hair. In life she had been beautiful, a curse for a woman in the Coliseum. In the peace of death she still held her beauty, despite the violence she had encountered.
“And now you’re here,” the cook broke the silence accusingly.
“I’m sorry. Melina was well liked,” he said, attempting civility.
The cook nodded. “She never let this place get to her.”
He nodded, recognizing the compliment. There was a long pause.
“You can’t keep it,” he said plainly, surprised at the feeling he was able to keep out of his voice. Several hisses sounded behind him. The cook neither responded nor moved. She just sat holding the child.
“You know the rules as well as I.” He could feel the animosity radiating onto his back from the bunks.
“What life could he hope to have here?” he asked, almost pleading, bristling at the tone of his own voice. He was a guard of the Coliseum; he didn’t need to explain himself. Who were these women and this cook who sat unmoving? Had they taken care of things as they promised, he wouldn’t have to be down here at all.
He straightened up. “I’ll deal with it,” he said firmly. Moving the last few paces toward the cook, he felt the women stir behind him. The cook made to strike him and several cries of protest sounded as he reached for the baby. But something unexpected happened, something amazing. As Grall reached for the bundle, his hand was met by the child’s. Without fear and with a strong little grip, the baby grabbed one of Grall's fingers and held. He froze, as did the women.
Had it been any other guard, hard and embittered with years of service, nothing would have changed, but for Grall that tiny hand struck with the force of a blow. He shuddered visibly, staring wide-eyed at the child. All was still. Grall knew his duty, what was expected of him. The problem with duty was that it belonged in the Coliseum and he was no longer in the Coliseum. Looking at this tiny baby, feeling it holding his hand, the guard was home.
The little hand holding his finger melted Grall's resolve. The women saw it immediately and smiles passed around the bunks. Grall didn’t see them, he only saw the child. He sighed and then without a word he slowly straightened, turned, and walked back the way he had come.
From that moment on, Sol was a child of the Coliseum.
Adam Gaylord lives with his beautiful wife, daughter, and less beautiful dog in Loveland, CO. When not at work as a biologist he’s usually hiking, drinking craft beer, drawing comics, writing short stories, or some combination thereof. He’s had stories published in Penumbra eMag, Dark Futures Magazine, Silver Blade Magazine, and Plasma Frequency Magazine, among others.
Christopher Nuttall was born in Edinburgh, studied in Manchester, married in Malaysia and currently living in Scotland, United Kingdom, with his wife and baby son. He is the author of 20 novels from various publishers and thirty-nine self-published novels. More than 100,000 ebooks in the Schooled in Magic series have sold since March 2014.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Trial By Fire, Book 7 in your Schooled in Magic series. When did you start writing and what got you into fantasy?
Well, I started writing seriously around 2004-2005 and … well, I write the sort of books I like to read. I began with a military thriller, then went through alternate history and alien invasion before starting to experiment with fantasy. Frankly, I’m still fond of all four genres, although military science-fiction is probably my favorite.
What is your book about?
Oh, a hard question.
The Schooled in Magic series follows the adventures of Emily, a teenage girl from our world who is accidentally kidnapped by a necromancer and swept into an alternate world where magic is real, dragons fly through the sky and young magicians are sent to boarding schools to learn magic. But it’s also a series about the introduction of new ideas into a static society and just what happens when those ideas are developed, then start to mutate.
Trial By Fire follows Emily as the repercussions of her actions in earlier books finally come back to haunt her, putting her at the center of a deadly plot that will force her to fight for her life – or die at the hands of a relentless enemy.
What type of challenges did you face while writing this book?
Making it convincing, alas.
Ok, that sounds absurd; fantasy is not, by definition, convincing. A world where someone can be turned into a toad with a snap of a witch’s fingers isn’t our world. However, it does have to follow its own logic – and, if that logic is violated, people tend to protest. (They also protest if humans don’t act like humans, although creatures like Elves get a free pass – they’re not human.)
One very notable example comes from Harry Potter (I use this because most of my readers will probably be familiar with the series.) In Goblet of Fire, Harry is forced to compete in a deadly contest that could easily leave him dead … apparently because having his name put in the titular Goblet creates a magically-binding contract that enforces participation. But we know Harrydidn’t put his name in the Goblet … which raises questions about how the contract was binding in the first place. (And why, if you can create a contract binding someone, they don’t use it on the Dark Lord.)
(Personally, I tend to think that Dumbledore was the one under contract; he’d sworn to make sure anyone whose name came out of the Goblet had to compete, which would have included Harry as well as the other guy. And it would be perfectly in character for Dumbledore to keep mum about this and push Harry forward.)
In Trial By Fire, I worked hard to put together a trap for Emily that wouldn’thave a thinking fan banging his head off the wall. I hope I succeeded.
What do you hope readers will get from your book?
Well, I hope they will have an enjoyable story.
Let’s be honest here. I’m not trying to write something that will echo down the ages, something with the staying power of the Foundation series. I’m writing so my readers will have fun reading the books. If they learn something about the importance of technology, the spread of ideas and just what can happen when whole new approaches are explored … well, that’s a bonus.
Did your book require a lot of research?
The series absorbed a great deal of research . I actually spent years reading about the Middle Ages, just to flavor my work. The Allied Lands themselves have a great deal in common with Europe, particularly in the Reformation era. I studied how those societies worked, what drove them, how their people thought and what weakened them in the face of stronger enemies.
Of course, there are differences – the presence of functional magic, for a start.
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to right. Can you relate to this?
Sometimes. Oddly, I feel it while crafting the next installment in a successful series.
Trial By Fire was originally intended to serve as the end of the first arc of novels set within the Schooled in Magicuniverse. I knew it had to be spectacular, the moment when Emily steps up and takes firm control of her life, and so I was nervous about actually having her do it. I hope it lives up to its purpose.
Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?
Very disciplined. Truthfully, you don’t get anywhere in writing unless you’re disciplined.
I get up, eat breakfast and drink coffee, then get to work. I set myself a goal of three chapters a day, except for the first day; that generally takes around five hours. Then there’s the task of checking the beta reader comments and editing the manuscript. Between drafts, I generally try to move to something different or edit completed manuscripts.
How do you define success?
Success comes in the form of people buying my books and writing good (and thoughtful reviews). I know; I probably won’t win any major awards. (I did win the Wishing Shelf Independent Book Awards for Bookworm.) However, I’m happy with being paid and being told I did a good job.
What do you love most about the writer’s life?
I get to work from home, set my own hours and generally be my own boss. And then there’s the fact I get to meet fans, even if I am a little shy.
Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about your work?
I have a website, a blog, a mailing list and a Facebook fan page.
The website contains free samples – I try to give away at least a couple of chapters, sometimes as many as ten – and a number of older books that are completely free. They’re really ones I wrote during my first period as a writer; not good enough to be published, perhaps, but people liked them. A couple have even been rewritten for later publication.
The blog and Facebook page cover everything from my musings to fan comments and suchlike, allowing a degree of fan participation. All are welcome. The mailing list, however, is only for new releases – I believe in trying to avoid spamming people where possible.
Where is your book available?
The ebook version of Trial By Fire is available for purchase from Amazon Kindle, Apple iBookstore, BN Nook, Kobo Books, OmniLit, etc.
The print version of Trial By Fire will be available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble Bookstores, Brodart, Coutts, Davis-Kidd Booksellers, Emery-Pratt, Follett, Ingram, The Book Despository, The Book House, etc.
I think I’ve said this before, time and time again, but the best advice I can give is work hard, work hard and work hard. Writing is 10% inspiration and 90% hard work. It is very rare to get a first novel published, unless you have VERY strong connections with the publishing industry or a name you can exploit (and those books tend to be terrible). Eric Flint said you really need to write at least a million words before you have something worth reading and I tend to think he was right.
Once you have a manuscript, get a few readers to look at it and give you honest feedback. If they said “this sucks, because [insert reason here]” listen to them. They may be wrong, which is possible, or you may have failed to explain something properly. Either way, they should make you think about it … which is better than having a review that boils down to “this author is an idiot.”
And grow a thick skin. You’ll need it.
Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
I offer cameos for anyone who reads a book and reports an error to me. All (again) welcome.
While this adventure isn't technically YA nor marketed as such, the protagonist is a young man in a magical "university," but given the sort of Olde English wording in some spots and the kind of feel of the story, I think "university" might be a... Read the rest of this post
Eric Pierpoint is a veteran Hollywood character actor who’s begun a writing career with several screenplays in development. His ancestors came west on the Oregon Trail in the mid 1800s, so Eric and his dog, Joey, followed in their wagon wheel tracks and traveled cross-country researching The Last Ride of Caleb O’Toole.
But if it had to perish twice,I think I know enough of hateTo say that for destruction iceIs also greatAnd would suffice.~ "Fire and Ice," by Robert Frost I was so impressed with newcomer Charlie N. Holmberg's Magician series last year that I... Read the rest of this post
Summary: This steampunk-paranormal mystery series is just plain fun. Three books into the Stoker and Holmes adventures and I'm still enjoying them immensely—prickly, socially awkward Mina Holmes; quick-tempered, impulsive, but brave Evaline... Read the rest of this post
I'm a big, big fan of novels in which Girls Have Adventures. I love a girl with swash in her buckle and plenty of impetus to find answers for herself and not depend on anyone else. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, adventure novels only meet this... Read the rest of this post
Fiona Ingram was born and educated in South Africa, and has worked as a full-time journalist and editor. Her interest in ancient history, mystery, and legends, and her enjoyment of travel has resulted in the multi award winning The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, the first in her exciting children’s adventure series—Chronicles of the Stone. Fiona has just published the second book entitled The Search for the Stone of Excalibur, a treat for young King Arthur fans. She is busy with Book 3 entitled The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper.
Do you consider yourself to be a born writer?
I think so. I have always scribbled something, either plays for the family, stories to entertain my young brothers, poetry to amuse family members, and then later writing a book just came naturally. Being an avid reader also helps!
Tell us about your recent release. What was your inspiration for it?
The Search for the Stone of Excalibur is the second book in my Middle Grade adventure series The Chronicles of the Stone. Book 1 began the adventure after my mother took me and my two young nephews on a family trip to Egypt. I came back and penned The Secret of the Sacred Scarab right away and, when I reached the end of the book, I realised my young heroes hadn’t saved the world yet; they needed more books! The second adventure takes the heroes to Britain, where King Arthur’s sword has been discovered and there is a powerful stone embedded in the hilt. Could this be the source of Excalibur’s legendary powers?
Tell us about your children's books.
I never imagine that one book, which began as a short story filled with anecdotes about our trip to Egypt, would end up as a book, and then a book series. The series is extremely gripping: young heroes Adam and Justin have to locate seven ancient Stones of Power scattered throughout the known world of several thousand years ago. Adam has a special connection with the stones. United, the stones enable someone to read the legendary Egyptian Book of Thoth, the most powerful book in the world, and thus learn the secrets of ultimate knowledge, achieve immortality, and control time, eternity, and the creatures of the land, sea and air. Of course there are baddies who also want these stones, and they pursue our heroes as they travel the globe in search of these powerful objects. Each book takes the kids to a new country, exploring ancient history, geography, culture, mythology, legends, and archaeology within each story. It’s an amazing adventure for the heroes as they meet people who help or hinder them on their quest.
What are you working on now?
Book 3: The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeperis non-stop adventure! Continuing the adventure that ended in Britain just a short while ago, cousins Adam and Justin Sinclair, with their friend Kim Maleka, are now hunting for the third Stone of Power, one of seven mysterious stones lost centuries ago. This stone might be located in an ancient city, hidden in the depths of the Mexican jungle. When their small plane crashes in the jungle, Adam, Justin, Kim, and James – their archaeologist friend - are rescued by an uncontacted tribe. James, who is wounded, must stay behind as the kids, with only a young boy, Tukum, as their guide, make their way through the dense and dangerous jungle to find the city. Raft riding on a crocodile-infested river and evading predators are just part of this hazardous task. Of course, their old adversary Dr. Khalid is close behind as the kids press on in search of the lost city of stone gods. But he is not the worst of their problems. This time Adam will clash with a terrible enemy who adopts the persona of an evil Aztec god, Tezcatlipoca, and is keen to revive the ancient tradition of human sacrifice. Adam, Justin, and Tukum must play a dreadful ball game of life and death and maybe survive. Will they emerge alive from the jungle? Will Dr. Khalid find the third Stone of Power before they do?
What type of book promotion works for you? Any special strategies you’d like to share?
It’s an understatement to say I have tried everything because I have. I work very hard at marketing my books. Some options have been a waste of money; others have yielded mediocre results. However, a hugely successful strategy for me is what I am doing right now; going on a blog tour. It is organised; the hosts are keen to have you; their readers are interested in the genre you write; you can tell potential readers things that maybe you don’t get an opportunity to do otherwise; and also you have a chance to offer readers something special as a thank you, and to encourage them to read further. You can also get reviews from hosts interested enough to read your book/s and give their opinion. It’s also a way of creating a following of people who will continue to read your books and will look out for them in the future. Another very successful strategy is entering book awards because that tells people your book is of a high quality. I was fortunate that my first MG adventure, The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, won a bunch of awards, and that certainly influenced my getting international publishing contracts.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
If you are a parent or have young relatives just getting into reading, the greatest gift you can give them is to instil a love of reading. Enjoying reading is a learned process, and a young child associates the pleasure of reading with a parent or beloved relative with the pleasure of reading as they grow older. Literacy is priceless, and reading and loving books will set that child’s feet firmly on the path to a successful future.
Continuing the adventure that began in Egypt a few months prior in The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, cousins Adam and Justin Sinclair are hot on the trail of the second Stone of Power, one of seven ancient stones lost centuries ago. This stone might be embedded in the hilt of a newly discovered sword that archaeologists believe belonged to King Arthur: Excalibur. However, their long-standing enemy, Dr. Khalid, is following them as they travel to Scotlandto investigate an old castle. Little do they know there is another deadly force, the Eaters of Poison, who have their own mission to complete. Time is running out as the confluence of the planets draws closer. Can Justin and Adam find the second Stone of Power and survive? And why did Aunt Isabel send a girl with them?
Join Justin and Adam as they search not only for the second Stone of Power, but also for the Scroll of the Ancients, a mysterious document that holds important clues to the Seven Stones of Power. As their adventure unfolds, they learn many things and face dangers that make even their perils in Egypt look tame. And how annoying for them that their tag-along companion, Kim, seems to have such good ideas when they are stumped. Book extras include some historical background on King Arthur, the Dark Ages, warfare and weaponry during Arthur’s time, and details on Excalibur. A fascinating peek into the life and times of the real King Arthur, perfect for young time travelers and budding archaeologists.
Dolly, blissfully unaware of any danger that might be lurking out there, has wandered off. We have to keep our fingers crossed that she hasn’t ended up at the home of the “biggest, meanest, grumpiest and greenest troll of them all“, the troll which has all others quaking in their boots: GRUMBUG!
Determined to find her, and in the sure belief that anything can be sorted out with a jolly nice slice of cake, big brother Oliver and his old (blue) friend Troll set of to bring her back home.
Oliver seems utterly oblivious to the ominous signs that are all too obvious to us readers and listeners as we follow Dolly’s tracks further and further from safety. And just as the tension has been ratcheted up as far as we can take it… a gloriously theatrical page-turn has us all relishing in the relief, laughing as we realise we’ve been holding our breath.
But then comes a twist in the tale that makes for a particularly enjoyable readaloud (especially if you love a bit of acting it out or making silly voices) before we all find out whether or not cake really can save the day.
Grumbug!‘s encouraging message that bravery and kindness are able to solve all sorts of problems is delivered with bags of humour, in text, in pictures and in the interplay between the two of them, making this a book which remains a delight to read time and time again. (In fact, once you know all the surprises, they become even more enjoyable.) Then there are the little details which might only come to you after several readings; Check the endpapers for clues as to what you could find…
Delightful characterization, an upbeat take on life and – yes – plenty of cake make this a marvellously happy read, despite the looks of anxiety on the book’s front cover. I loved Troll and the Oliver enormously, and this second book with the same characters is a worthy successor. Here’s hoping Oliver and Troll with be back for a third outing to make us giggle and fill us with delight.
As I would so very much enjoy reading this book to a classroom of kids I wanted to come up with an activity which could be replicated fairly easily for 30 or so kids to join in with. I designed a simple mask (ideally to print onto card), which can be customised for either Troll or Grumbug.
Summary: Just out this month is the second volume of the middle-grade fantasy Magisterium series by the extremely talented Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. The Copper Gauntlet is that book, and it is not only a very satisfying second installment but... Read the rest of this post