Book Review – Bleakwood Lore, the Little Book That Happened

I happily wear the editor badge for the Billy Blacksmith series by Ben Ireland. Creatively, Billy is the most fun I’ve had on a project, and a lot of that fun factor has to do with it not being my idea. The idea of Billy and his lovingly called “Billyverse” is too much for my brain to process sometimes. In this dynamically designed story, each character wears their own suit of armor, each has their own piece to the over-arching puzzle. So, in the editing process, there were several times when Ben would add a detail to the story that didn’t make sense, and I would highlight it as a problem, but he would insist it being there, because it would become important – very important, like a locket no one can open hidden in plain sight. I trust his work and believe in the story, so I will move on like a good editor.

I asked Ben exactly how he came up with the idea of Billy. He said, “After writing Kingdom City: Revolt, I was in the mood for something a little lighter. A little more fun. But I had no idea what. Then one day I walked into my kitchen in Houston, and it’s like a voice just popped into my head: “My name is Billy Blacksmith.  I like cupcakes, videogames, and baseball, but not necessarily in that order.  My best friend is a demon. And for some reason, I’m supposed to save the world.”

A flood of creativity can happen with any overwhelming idea, and sometimes it takes over every logical thought. When I started forming my series, the ideas just came so fast, and before I knew it, I had drawn a map of the world, character bios, a list of Latin rooted words from which I began crafting the magic. I have a binder I dedicated to this creation process. I don’t know what his notes first looked like, but I get the image of a mad scientist scribbling equations and laughing with no one. I mean, the world is MASSIVE.

After Ironsoul, the emotionally driven third in the series had finished and was published, I needed a break and maybe some time to heal from the unexpected middle school scars it opened. I was so heavily invested in the story and the characters, that after I closed the book I had felt like I had trained for a marathon. But then again, I missed the hard work. I longed for more Billy stories, and I knew that the fourth book was not even close to finished.

…and then Bleakwood Lore came along…

During the last few years I devoted to these books, sometimes Ben would mention a side story here and there. I think a lot of us writers like to think of our characters doing other things than just appearing in their story. I usually call mine WRITING EXERCISES in order for me to get used to how the character thinks and acts. In Ben’s case, it helps thicken the depth of the world and the plot. These side stories are not writing exercises, but essential, in some part, to the developing story. Even IN the Blacksmith books you see a folklore chapter here and there, or an excerpt from the Space Vikings. These are all progressing in a direction of a plot with so many moving parts, my brain is blown.

Ben began writing and collecting these side stories, I think in part for his own personal amusement, but others because there is value in the information given to the Billy fan. It’s easy to get hooked on Billy. Demonslayer is the foundation book, Hellforged is a freaking adrenaline rush, and Ironsoul is a complex, psychological thriller. Each took crafting and long hours. And I won’t say that Bleakwood Lore didn’t take a while to craft, but the scope is completely different. And the book just happened. Four months after Ironsoul was released, all Ben did was ask me to beta read. And here were are with a brand-new release.

So, what is Bleakwood Lore?

Simply put Bleakwood Lore is a collection of eleven short stories set in the Blacksmith Universe, plus some bonus material in the back.

Complexly put, Bleakwood is the critical tethering of the current Act One (first three) in the Blacksmith Legacy to the up-and-coming Act Two. But better than that, it’s a chance to get to know the characters, deepen your knowledge of the threads that have already been woven into the tapestry, and just have a really great time reading.

Unlike the other books, there is no centralized plot or villain or problem that needs to be solved, and because of it, there is a lot of joy in this book. One of the key elements that makes this journey in reading so enjoyable is you can feel how much fun the writer had writing it. There are stories that are funny, tender, absolutely adorable, heart-wrenching at the expensive of my own tears, and completely adrenaline fueled. I truly adored this book, so let me get on with the review…

Review:

“Ben Ireland is an author who appreciates that people are complex and that every person (or demon) has a reason for the way they act and react. This book reminded me that people are very much affected by their life experiences, for good or ill.”

– Amazon Reviewer

I wanted to go over a bit of each story, WITHOUT SPOILERS, so everyone could get a flavor for the book.

  1. (1 and 11) If Bleakwood Lore had a central heart to its plot, it would be the first and last stories in the book. These chapters involve Chris Blacksmith, Billy’s older brother, who I have always wanted more story about. He and his Minor League team, the Sugar House Wasps, get into a bunch of trouble searching for the giant spiders trapped n the world when the Threshold was burned (from book 1). I enjoyed the fast action and the characters a lot. It reminded me of Scooby Doo and his gang searching out the creepy, abandoned warehouse.
  2. I think any story with Ash-Lea is golden and THE RHINOCEROS AND THE FOX is her spotlight. She has the personality I adore and is totally ready to kick ass all the time. In this one, Ash-Lea finds herself alone when a fight comes along. I really enjoyed the setting, the new characters, and the crafting of words and language used.
  3. In THE WALL BETWEEN we get a taste of Billy’s demonic demon squad in a different light. Lilly is always so put together and straight forward, but when a situation pushes her to drink (or not drink) she can become quite the character.
  4. FAILING PRINCESS is one of my favorites. This has Krios taking care of a sick Princess Patricia in the Human Realm, and it’s insanely visual and the interaction with the character Melissa, is a pure delight.
  5. A BIG HELP is the adorable one I mentioned, focused on our dragon friend Osamu trying to take care of those rambunctious demonhound puppies. My heart warmed so much reading about what these little guys were doing and the havoc they were creating. I laughed out loud. LOVED THIS ONE SO MUCH!
  6. SUPER SUCKY POWERS is the one that brought me to tears. In the books, you never like Billy’s foster parents. I was sure they would gang up on Billy the moment he left the house. But, here again, I was corrected by the tender storytelling of Billy’s foster parents back story. It also told me a lot more about Billy’s character and his compassion for others. (HEART)
  7. We’ve been following the Space Vikings, wondering when they will get their moment in Billy’s story. In THE SPACE VIKING’S PLIGHT, we get a chance to really see the real danger they are in traveling in the darkness of space. Queen Natalie shows why she’s in charge in this one and what makes her a true leader of her people.
  8. No Billy book could be complete without a slice of folklore. THE DEMON WHO SOUGHT LOVE is so deep, so beautiful, and so revealing to the plot IT’S INCREDIBLE, and I can’t say anything else, besides I LOVE THE FOLKLORE and IT ROCKS!
  9. THE SIDES WE CHOOSE goes into Belle’s back story. Belle appears in the first chapter of Book 1, Billy Blacksmith: The Demonslayer, but she also appears again in the third. (Remember when I said when editing I needed to leave some things alone? Yeah, Belle was one of those. I tried to cut her character. That would have been a big mistake. See? I trusted him.) She is a complex, layered character, that I didn’t think much of, but now a huge sub-plot of villainy is brewing, and Belle is finally the star player.
  10. OH MY FREAKING HECK! I think THE BALLAD OF GREYSON ASH is one of the most funny and delightfully awkward pieces of fiction I have ever read. Boys can be so stupid when it comes to impressing girls. This one is ALL THE THINGS! I happened to be there when my mother was reading it for the first time, and what a joy to hear her laugh out loud and then read us the parts that were so funny. To see the fiction played out like that is the best way to reflectively experience it.

See my shiny Billy Editor badge? I am proud of this one, as I am of all of them. But Bleakwood just happened. I hardly had to do anything. The writing is getting better, as is our working partnership. I can identify his writing like a fingerprint.

I didn’t pick up Billy because I really wanted to edit it. I’m a writer. Why become an editor? It was because the storytelling was too good to pass up, and BECAUSE I am a writer, I recognized an amazing opportunity to be a part of something great. I feel incredibly lucky. If you stick with Billy, I promise YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED. It’s perfect for the teens, but is growing a strong adult audience as well, adults who get the adventure of it, get the humor, and need that missing connection to those books they missed as kids. Here it is.

I always suggest buying paper books, because it gives a textile memory when you read it, but the ebook versions are inexpensive if you want to give it a go first. BLEAKWOOD LORE has some extra material like art, notes, and puzzles, plus it’s only ten bucks right now. I highly recommend this read.

Find the Blacksmith Legacy here on Ben Ireland’s Amazon page and website: benirelandbooks.com

Book Review – A Darker Shade of Magic (Shade of Magic Series)

I didn’t feel right to review just one book, when I was reading the series. I finished A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC last year, but had editing commitments that prevented me from diving in and finishing the series until now. Now that I have finished, I will still be focusing on the first, with the reach of the other two in the series.

I met V. E. (Victoria) Schwab last year at Salt Lake Comic Con 2017, back when it was called that. I get more excite about authors I admire than big-time celebrities. I actually dressed up as her character Delilah Bard – tweeted at her with a picture – she hearted it, it was fun.

She remembered my costume. She was waiting to meet me and found out I was an author too. We talked for a bit, and of course I gave her my card. She’s with TOR! It was REALLY a fun moment.

Cool. Calm. Collected.

Super goofy grin.

I got the chance to see her again on her tour a few weeks ago. Out of all the cities, she decided to stop at quaint, little Salt Lake. And she again, totally remembered me, even after a year of meeting countless other Bards. I wasn’t even wearing the mask. I was so impressed by the sincerity and funny candidness. It felt truly special to have a level like that with someone I admire so much.

REVIEW

It’s very hard for me to put this reading experience into words. One of the things I look for in books I read is “Mind-blowing creativity,” something I admire in style and envy as a writer. I state this a lot because I hunger for it, and when something surpises me or takes me off my guard, I can’t help but smile. Ms. Schwab has done that very thing in A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC.  I stepped into reading this book without any prior knowledge of the books. I followed Ms. Schwab on twitter and I liked her online persona. I looked into her books and I FREAKING LOVED the covers and how graphically intriguing, and yet, how simplistic they were. And when I started reading it, I knew within moments, that this book did things right.

A first page is critical in setting up EVERYTHING. I learned that at my very first writers event I went to, where praised authors Shannon Hale and Dan Wells gave feedback on my first page before I even became a published author. THat experience changed a lot of the way I view first pages and writing style, I personal imprinted it on my writer soul. So, when I looked at this first page, I picked up very quickly that this was something new.

It starts with a very simple line, “Kell wore a very peculiar coat.” That’s the first line, a line that told me so much about the story without telling me anything. It turns out this coat as different identities, depending on where it was and what Kell needed it to be. This coat had its own character and story before I even knew anything about the plot. I was very intrigued. I immediately was thrown into a rich world, not of fantasy, but one with dimensions – ALL London.

RED LONDON – Rich and vivid, smelling of roses and deep with magic.

WHITE LONDON – Cold and colorless, where the magic has nearly vanished from the world.

GREY LONDON – OUR London, or the one from King George VI, industrial grey-sooted London.

BLACK LONDON – We do not speak of it, it’s that bad.

The idea of dimensions added with magic, blow me away. Antari can travel through different Londons as long as they carry something from the world, and as willing to use their own magical blood to create a portal. And what happens when a clever Londoner thief, Delilah Bard, picks Kell’s pocket from his magnificent coat? The beginning of a great adventure.

The series as a whole was unpredictable and clever. It continually surprised me. It’s not like anything I’ve read before, and that was so refreshing. Each character is well-developed and has their own purpose and drive. Ms. Schwab writes gender-fluid characters, both hard and soft, light and dark in their own way, and stays true to their flaws. I found myself not rooting for just one character, but more rooting for the magic to win. In A CONJURING OF LIGHT, Kell says Delilah Bard is “…one of a kind,” which is so true. She is fearless, determined, daring, and lethal. Kell’s character is sacrificial and honorable, everything Bard wasn’t. It was a great juxtaposition. The whole cast did a great job, though I gravitated to Kell and Holland.

It was a brilliant idea, told in a brilliant way. And again, it was a story done right.

Schwab set out to tell a complicated story, from several POVs, and delivered a magnificent work of fiction. It’s hard to rate the two books after, because I look at it as a whole piece. Just like any continuing story, the first magical sparks of imagination can’t be duplicated. Fans are the ones coming back to read the stories of these characters. I feel it ended perfectly well, though it was hard to guess who would die (because I thought everyone would). I had a hard time wrapping up the series. I’m excited to go back there with her continuing fiction in this world. I leave the series feeling better than when I started, a better reader and a better writer. I’m so tremendously grateful I found this series and this author, because it changes my view of what fiction can be, and that has a magic all its own.

Well done, Ms. Schwab. Anoshe.

Book Review – A Piece of Sky

A Piece of Sky by Ann Hunter

This delightful, scrumptious re-imagining of Chicken Little is one of the best pieces of magical fiction I’ve ever read. I don’t say that lightly.

I met my dear friend Ann Hunter at a meeting of like-minded authors a few years ago. She has seen me at my best… and my worst, and she still thinks I’m cool, which I will always love her for.

Her book, A PIECE OF SKY, caught my eye when we were in a booth together at Salt Lake Comic Con…. I mean, it’s gorgeous, but I didn’t buy it. I remember her being super excited that JoBe Cerny (THEE Pillsbury Doughboy) recorded the audio version of the book. I thought that was so very cool to hear, and my heck, I have some really cool author friends. But…… I had a lot of projects happening and didn’t listen to it.

We ran into each other at other various events and still I didn’t buy her book. Why? I was busy with finishing up my series and a myriad of other excuses. And I tend to shy away from reading things my friends write, a principle I am repeatedly breaking lately, because curiosity has bitten me (and they are all so brilliant).

Then Ann did something I didn’t expect, she contacted me this past fall asking to buy my trilogy. How awesome! Of course I wasn’t about to tell her no. I met her on the side of the freeway, like some illegal drug deal, and gave her my books. She later chastised me – I completely forgot to sign them.

This last month, at Salt Lake FanX, I got the privilege to team with her again in our fantasy author booth. And there sat that little book, staring at me with a cute, chicken eye. But I still didn’t buy it. WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME?! I planned to, but yet again, it was another busy con and everything was packed by the time I returned to the booth. Ann also told me that Vivatera, MY VIVATERA, was the next in line for her book club read on for her newsletter. I was so touched.

I tell you all these facts to illustrate my bad character and highlight Ann’s thoughtful gesture, one that I couldn’t shake. I have a very strong community of author support, and I have always been there encouraging their creativity and success, but I wasn’t prepared when someone wanted to help me.

So….. in-between books and adding a boring commute, I decided to look what I could get on my Audible. A strange remembrance sparked in my brain and I looked up A PIECE OF SKY. and WHAT? It was only $5. I immediately downloaded it.

And with my long explanation, here is my review…

I loved it. Loved is not a strong enough word for it. It wrapped its arms around me, seeped into my soul and enveloped every fiber with its magic. And I found myself in awe, still struck with the fact that this is Chicken Little… CHICKEN LITTLE! And I was so in love with it that I didn’t want to stop listening. It was joy, pure joy to experience it in audio form. But, the book is just as illuminating, with the different playful fonts illustrating the story for you.

Ros is your Little Red Hen, who gets struck with a golden acorn, fallen from the God Oak – the Tree of Life. And she knew, from the moment it struck her, that this was something special – not an acorn, but a piece of sky! .

Ann brings in such a strong, magical core to the story I found myself scratching my head at how she came up with such wonder in a story about a chicken. The imagery is absolutely beautiful and enchanting, the characters are so lovely, and it still follows the formula you would expect in Chicken Little, taking the acorn to the dog, a mare, a fox, a kelpy, and then to a griffin, cause…. MAGIC!

I laughed out loud several times, and may have shed a tear at the end. And the points of the book, the parts that keep rolling around in my brain, are these:

  • How great acts can come from the smallest things.
  • How having faith in yourself and belief that what you are doing is important, can make you stronger than you ever imagined.
  • …And last, that there is a piece of sky in all of us – the potential to grow and be what we dream of being.

Bravo Ann! Truly beautiful work. 

You can DOWNLOAD A Piece of Sky for FREE on Instafreebie right here:

A PIECE OF SKY BY ANN HUNTER

Book Review – Storm Front (Harry Dresden #1)

Last year at Salt Lake Comic Con 2015, I had the privilege of attending a panel with some talented authors like Terry Brooks, Jim Butcher, R.A. Salvatore and James Owens. And I was so excited to hear, with my own ears, what one of my writing influences, me being a small time author, had to say… that’s right… Terry Brooks!!!

Cool authors being cool. Jim Butcher is second in – Terry Brooks is at the end. Another cool author Aly Grauer at the end of the question line

 

But seeing Terry is cool, but what about these other authors? I knew of them, and I really liked what they had to say during the panel. I walked back on the con floor and saw the signing line wrap all the way down the aisle for this Jim Butcher guy. Of course, I’d HEARD of Harry Dresden, but figured it’s a guy read. Right? Probably a “Richard Castle” type of read that really doesn’t interest a fantasy girl like me.

A year past – A FULL YEAR – a very busy, hard year of writing, editing, and growing as an author. Finally, the moment I turned in the FINAL edit of my FINAL book in my fantasy series, I thought it was time to start reading again. But, oh, what a dry spell. I feel like I haven’t read in ages. The pile of books had grown so high I felt overwhelmed with where to start.

This is when friends and recommendations come in. An author friend of mine, Ben Ireland, listed Harry Dresden as one of his biggest influences. I knew this already, so when I asked him if he had recommendations for something to read, he nearly screamed, “READ HARRY DRESDEN!”

Okay, universe, I guess I should have listened last year, when my curiositystorm front piqued. So, I went into this blind, not really knowing anything about the stories, only with recommendations and word of mouth.

My answer to the universe, “I wish I would have read this sooner.”

“My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk. I’m a wizard. I work out of an office in midtown Chicago. As far as I know, I’m the only openly practicing professional wizard in the country. You can find me in the yellow pages, under “Wizards.” Believe it or not, I’m the only one there. My ad looks like this:

HARRY DRESDEN — WIZARD
Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations.
Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates.
No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties, or Other Entertainment

You’d be surprised how many people call just to ask me if I’m serious.”
Jim Butcher (Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1))

I must fall for wizards, because Harry Dresden is as bad-ass wizard as you can get. I’ve grown up with Potter, but I’m an adult now and I’m so glad I found Dresden.

Fiction for me needs to have elements of the fantastical. Take Harry Dresden – unabashed wizard, barely scraping by on solving unexplained cases for the Chicago Police. Me, a fan of Castle and Limitless, caught on rather quickly to the story’s energy and format. Intrigued by the supernatural quality and charmed by Dresden himself, I slowly found I was falling in love with this book. It’s witty, smart, visual, laugh out-loud funny, and an all-around great read.

But the thing I picked up the most, and this is the writer in me, is the wordplay in which Butcher used to explain the world and its characters. His eyes were the green of well-worn dollar bills. This line struck me, a clever wordplay and simple description that completely encapsulating everything I needed to know about this baddie. The language was fresh and easy, and the magic wrapped around me, sweeping me away in this fun nod to a detective noir.

Some of my favorite quotes:

“Tequila?” I asked him, skeptically. “Are you sure on that one? I thought the base for a love potion was supposed to be champagne.”
“Champagne, tequila, what’s the difference, so long as it’ll lower her inhibitions?” Bob said.
“Uh. I’m thinking it’s going to get us a, um, sleazier result.”

Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean there isn’t an invisible demon about to eat your face.

Santa is a much bigger and more powerful faery than Toot, and I don’t know his true name anyway. You’d never see me trying to nab Saint Nick in a magic circle even if I did. I don’t think anyone has stones that big.

This book is fun. Plain and simple. It was the little things that delighted me. The sweats and the cowboy boots, the situational comedy with the love potion and the demon and Harry not wearing a stitch, the beloved Toot Toot the fairy, and my favorite – naughty, inappropriate Bob the skull. This book did not pretend to be anything other than a good time. And, though I tend to lean toward YA, it was refreshing to read something Adult, something with legs and arms and confidence, something without angst, and to say this, something with a little spice.

Now I understand the line that wrapped around the aisle at Comic Con. I wished I would have paid more attention to Butcher’s advice.

Book Review – Kingdom City: Resurrection

KC

Kingdom City: Resurrection

by Ben Ireland

Back in February, I had the privilege of eating waffles and frites with Ben Ireland at the LTUE Writers Symposium. As a friend, I wanted to know more about his writing style and complicated mind. We share space in the Fantasy Anthology MOMENTS IN MILLENNIA, but his gentle story FAIRYKIN did not prepare me for the action-packed adrenaline high I would receive with KINGDOM CITY: RESURRECTION.

This book is a lot of fun! It read like anime, like I was reading Miyazaki or binge-watching Full Metal Alchemist – so visual in description I could see it when I closed my eyes. It’s Urban, Dystopian, Super-Hero Action, Horror, Zombie lit – all packed into one series. But at its core, it is tender – about love and trust amid a world in chaos.

A terrorist attack buries most of the police force, including the Chief of Police, killing them all – six months later they all return with no memory of what happened. Now the mystery of what happens begins to be reveals in intense layered action.

Awesome. And the sequence of events after kept me awake at night, effecting my dreams, until I got up and finished the book.

Characters rule RESURRECTION. Plenty of rich, complex characters, sub-cultured within their surrounding mountain city, where no one leaves or questions, just co-exist.

I love that the main character is a bad-ass chick, Autumn Stevens, Kingdom City’s Whisper, which makes her the toughest ninja assassin on the planet – total Linda Hamilton type from Terminator 2. I’m all in for tough women leads. Her hollowness at the beginning grasps me with both hands. I was immediately drawn to her. She only bugged me when she was too motherly. Me, “Stop worrying about their veggies and go kill some bad guys.” But, how can she help it? She’s there to protect her family in every way – EVERY WAY.

Really enjoyed the pace. It’s sliced into scenes, revealing like a graphic novel, so the reader gets more of the plot than the players. I love reads like this. When the story wound back to the planning in the gymnasium, I thought of screaming at the characters, blowing the whole plot… “Listen, guys, stop talking about it. The city is in riots. There are hostages. Stop being so smart and go ninja kick them in the face!”

The tone and emotion is vital to the story. Through out there is a crafted balance of emotion is every scene, playing delicately with the environment, so to not overwhelm the reader, which is not easy for a writer to do.

RESURRECTION is really fun. If you like high-intensity thrillers, this won’t disappoint you.

And I want to thank Ben for introducing me to his intense style of writing, helping me understand a little more of how he thinks. And a gentle reminder that he still owes me that Hot Cocoa.