Thursday, November 23, 2017

What We're Reading: A Swiftly Tilting Planet (Erin)

The big kitchen of the Murray's house was bright and warm, curtains drawn against the dark outside, against the rain driving past the house from the northeast.  Meg Murray O'Keefe had made an arrangement of chrysanthemums for the dining table, and the yellow, bronze, and pale-gold blossoms seemed to add light to the room. A delectable smell of roasting turkey came from the oven, and her mother stood by the stove, stirring the giblet gravy.

It was good to be home for Thanksgiving, she thought, to be reunited with family, catching up on what each one had been doing.

So begins A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the third installment in Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quintet. In this timely book, a grown-up Meg and teenage Charles Wallace are living in an America suffering from an increasingly unstable political climate and the threat of rogue dictators. At Thanksgiving dinner, they receive a phone call and realize they have 24 hours to avert nuclear disaster. Meg and Charles Wallace will have to draw on their inner strength in order to recognize "Etchthroi," or the powers of evil, and change "might-have-beens," the turning points in history.

Each chapter of the book is titled after a line in an Irish rune which becomes central to the story as the plot progresses. As the powers of darkness in the present grow more and more threatening, Charles Wallace must use his goodness to influence past events.
In this fateful hour
All Heaven with its power
The sun with its brightness
The snow with its whiteness
The fire with all the strength it hath
The lightning with its rapid wrath
The winds with their swiftness
The sea with its deepness
The rocks with their steepness
The earth with its starkness
All these I place
By God's almighty help and grace, 
Between myself and the powers of darkness.  

Through Charles Wallace and other characters, we are reminded that we each may be living "in this fateful hour," and even a seemingly small decision may have enormous consequences. Their choices are good reminders of how important it is that we choose on the side of good whenever possible. Will anyone be willing to make the ultimate choice and put themselves between civilization and the powers of darkness?


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Putting Yourself Out There (Laurie)

I hope you've enjoyed my All About posts over the past few months! I'll have at least one or two more additions to the series in the new year, but today I'm taking a break to talk about something else that's been on my mind But wait, don't go! I know it tends to be everyone's least favorite topic, but I promise to try to make it as painless as possible.

The inspiration for this post came from some research I did on smaller publishers back when I was deciding where to submit my manuscript last year. One of the things I looked at was the number of reviews books by each publisher had, and I found some fascinating differences. I expected to see some measure of consistency among books within a given publisher, but that wasn't the case at all. Within the same publisher, one author's book might have 50 reviews, while another author's book had 5 or less. If we assume each author received similar attention from the publisher regarding cover design, editing, and promotion, what could cause such stark differences in reviews, and most likely, sales?

In almost every case, the author that had substantially more reviews was familiar to me.

Now, I'm not saying any of them were household-name-familiar, in the realm of J.K. Rowling or Marissa Meyer. But I had seen their name before, sharing something on social media, posting in a writing-related Facebook group, guest posting on a friend's blog, etc. They were authors who not only wrote a great book, but also put themselves out there enough to allow people to find that book.

So, this of course leads to the big question - HOW do authors put themselves out there in a world that's constantly bombarded with media and advertising? I can't pretend to be an expert marketer by any stretch of the imagination. But based on my observations since noticing the connection between familiarity and reviews, it has a lot more to do with engagement and building connections than self-promotion.

The authors within my social network who seem to be the most successful rarely post about their books. They share openly about themselves. They respond when someone posts a question in a Facebook group. They encourage and help promote others. They engage in discussions. To sum it up, they act like someone I would like to be friends with. And when others think so, too, that seems to generate some book sales.

As anyone who follows me on social media can tell, I still have a long way to go before accomplishing anything like what I've just described. And even if I ever get there, I'm sure it's not a stand-alone model for selling books. But at least it's a start, and it sure feels a lot more attainable than attempting to conquer the mysterious fields of marketing and advertising.

I know as writers it's so tempting to stick with what we know best: writing. But I'd like to challenge you to give some thought towards putting yourself out there just a little more than you do now. It doesn't have to be big, or even that scary. Join a few writing groups on Facebook and participate when a discussion comes up that interests you. Comment a little more often on your favorite writing blogs. When your author friend puts a new release or sale on social media, consider sharing it. Volunteer for guest blogging or interview opportunities, which can be an ideal way for both you and the blog host to reach new audiences. Open up and share an imperfection about yourself that others might be able to relate to.

I can't guarantee any or all of the above will in fact generate any book sales, but anything that increases your comfort level with getting your name in front of readers and fellow writers is a step in the right direction!

Now I want to hear from you! What commonalities have you noticed among successful authors? Have you tried any of these strategies in the past, or are there any you plan to try? Do you have any tips that I neglected to mention that helped you increase your visibility?

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Top 3 Favorite Villainous Magical Creatures (Julie)

The last several Top 3 posts have been a really fun romp into the world of fantasy consisting of things like wands, modes of transportation, and weapons. We do love fantasy after all. For this Top 3 post, I'm going back to my last one on magical creatures (of the mostly good variety), but switching from mostly good to mostly evil beings! 

What makes fantasy so fascinating is that you can do pretty much whatever you want. One author can make a creature good, while another author can make the same creature evil. And then of course you have magical races who can be good and evil. Think Harry Potter vs Voldemort or Gandolf vs Saruman, etc... 

With that being said, here's my top 3 general magical creatures who I think make excellent villains!

1) Wizards and witches. What makes wizards and witches great mischief-makers is the amount of raw power they posses. They can cause all kinds of dastardly trouble for the heroes by a mere flick of a wand or staff. But I think why I like them the most is the uniqueness and variety that we find in stories and movies. They range from Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty to Voldemort in Harry Potter to Sauron in LOTR. All evil but their powers make each unique. 

2) Dragons. Depending on what story you read of course, but dragons are often portrayed as fearsome creatures full of magic and mischief. And they're really hot... literally. What a breath! Dragons aren't dense and mindless like some evil creatures, like trolls for example.They're smart and cunning and make an admiral adversary for any hero. I do feel, however, that in recent years, the trend has moved toward characterizing dragons more on the friendly side. 

3) Shapeshifters. These shiftless creatures present a wide array of intriguing villainy. One of my favorites are the boggarts from Harry Potter's world. Unlike other shapeshifters, they don't have a defined shape until they come upon a person, and then they are that person's worst nightmare. I'll be honest, whenever I watch the boggart scenes in Harry Potter, my brain wonders what might happen if I encountered one. What is my worst fear? These villains can help the hero face their fears and overcome them! But terrifying nonetheless!
What do you think, readers? Do you agree or do you have another particular favorite villain?


Thursday, November 16, 2017

When You're Not Reading Fantasy (Lizzie)

A quick note before we get started with today's Your Turn post: Thanks to everyone who participated in the re-release giveaway for The Rose and the Wand. I had a blast and am eager to announce the winners: third prize goes to April from Texas, second to Lucy from West Virginia, and first to Shirley from Arkansas! Congrats, ladies, and I hope you enjoy the book and the prizes. Now, on to our regularly scheduled blog post. :)

Your Turn: When You're Not Reading Fantasy

I have a confession to make. Though I write fairy tale-like fantasy, I mostly read inspirational historical romance. But that really shouldn't be too shocking because fantasy novels, at least the fairy tale-like and Tolkienesque stories I read, are essentially historical fiction with a bit of magic or magical creatures thrown in.

A delightful inspirational historical
 romance about Lady Eliza, an heiress
whose fortune and family's reputation
have been stolen. She goes undercover
as a governess in 1880s New York to track
down the thief. Mischief, mayhem,
and romance follow.
The first of a captivating medieval
murder mystery series following
endearing surgeon Hugh de Singleton.
Lots of historical detail and insight
into medieval beliefs (it includes
 appearances by John
Wycliffe) add to its interest.
My question for you today is what genre or genres do you read when you're not reading fantasy?

For me, it's historical romance, classics (especially novels by Jane Austen or Charles Dickens), or mystery.

Most recently, I read Jen Turano's A Change of Fortune (historical romance) and Mel Starr's The Unquiet Bones (mystery and historical fiction).

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Planning for Peace and Joy : Personal Notes (Jill)

I love fall. It's my favorite season. The leaves change color, the air carries that indescribable fall scent, and the heavy sweaters and jeans come out of storage. But every year the same thing happens -- as Thanksgiving draws closer, stress rises.

Aside from the typical writing deadlines, I'm scheduling flu shots and last- minute doctor appointments before our health insurance runs out for the year. I'm baking pan after pan of brownies for the kids in the upcoming drama production at my daughter's high school. I'm preparing for a Thanksgiving holiday trip to southeast PA to visit my husband's family and buying gifts for the Christmas exchange we do every year. Oh, and this year I signed up to sell my books and jewelry at the local high school for the annual Thanksgiving weekend sale. I'm obviously overextended.

When I first married, I was a master planner -- every event planned to the last detail. (I'm sure I annoyed a lot of people.) Then I had a child. I still managed to plan and was pretty good at sticking to a schedule. But when my second child came along, I learned to go with the flow. Fast forward twelve years, and I'm finding there's no plan or schedule at all, and I can only plan for about the next six seconds.

A few years ago, I tried to revamp our Christmas schedule in an effort to enjoy the holiday season. I didn't enter any craft shows and said no to a few events. The season was much more joyful. Peace on earth & good will toward men, indeed.

I know everyone's busy during the holiday season. I'm still learning to say "yes" to the important things, and pass on the rest. Even then, sometimes I'm scrambling to get stuff done (like this year). What about you? Have you learned to relax and enjoy the holidays? Or is every year a struggle? Do you have a plan you use to help you get the important things done? I'd love to hear the strategies you use to keep your holidays full of peace and joy. Please comment below!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Top Three Weapons (Erin)

I realize wands have many uses, but the recent Top Three types of wands got me thinking about other types of weapons. After all, our fantasy protagonists might have to defend themselves or those they love. So, here are my top weapon picks:

3. Since Thor: Ragnorak just came out, I feel like we have to include a nod to Thor's
Hammer. Tell the truth now,--how many times have you picked up a hammer and thought it would be fun to hit something as hard as possible, instead of lightly tapping a nail into the wall?

2. Oliver Queen's Bow and Arrows. Over the course of 6 seasons, his bow and arrows have gone through multiple iterations. No matter the season, his aim is always is his hood.

1.The Sword of Inigo Montoya, from The Princess Bride. After all, Wesley says he has
never seen its equal. And can anything top the fencing scene?

What is your favorite weapon? Leave a message and let us know!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Final Paladin by T.J. Akers (Laurie)

Today we get to be part of the blog tour for The Final Paladin by T.J. Akers! I'll include more information about the author and blog tour below, but first - my review :)

Wow. This book was one wild ride, and I'll be honest that I'm not sure I completely followed everything that happened! Peg Bowman is on her typical walk home from work when she finds her kind, simple older brother murdered in an alleyway in a bad part of town. She hardly has a chance to react before she finds herself under attack. As she fends off her assailant, a carriage drives up delivering an unusual group of rescuers, including Sir Godfrey, a chivalrous knight, Jack, his mischievous, silent squire, and Chim, a witty kobold who may or may not be trustworthy. Peg, now alone with no living family aside from her institutionalized mother, reluctantly agrees to travel with them, hoping to learn more about her brother's murder and how she can free her mother.

Peg's new companions reveal that she is descended from a long line of Paladins, who are entrusted with guarding a mysterious relic called the Key of Apollyon. But before she can learn more about her inheritance and the accompanying dangers, their journey is waylaid by terrifying mythical creatures, and Chim seizes the opportunity to drag Peg into the Ether, a land inhabited by pixies, goblins, and fairies. Peg finds some answers and many more questions in her struggle to return to the human world, all leading to her final decision: should she embrace her role as a guardian of the Key of Apollyon, and if she does, will she be able to resist the temptation of its power?

The author's writing style added a very distinct flair to this book as a whole, and specifically Peg's voice. Every phrase was colored by her upbringing in the slums of New York, which was very fun and really grounded the book in its setting, but also could be distracting at times. Peg was an interesting character, full of spunk and sass and not afraid to speak her mind. The fast pace of the action made it hard to get to know her as well as I would've liked, but hopefully there will be more opportunities in the rest of the series! My favorite character was definitely Jack. He'd clearly been through a lot in his life and definitely had a dark side, but I loved his sense of humor and mischief. Sir Godfrey was everything I would've expected from an eleven-hundred-year-old knight, but he had a good depth to him and it was fascinating to find out more of his backstory throughout the course of the book.

Akers' vivid descriptions made the imaginative Ether come to life, even though I often got confused by the complex set of rules and allegiances that governed the fairy world. Even minor characters had vibrant personalities, and I was wavering right along with Peg on who could be trusted and who might turn on her. The ending did a great job wrapping up the primary story line but leaving open questions and new goals for future books. Even though I typically prefer books that are more character and relationship based, The Final Paladin was a fun adventure and an enjoyable read!

The Final Paladin is available for purchase here. Make sure to stop by the Facebook party celebrating the book launch next Thursday, November 16th! (I hear there will be giveaways for movies and even a computer!!) The full blog tour schedule can be found here. And here's the back cover blurb:

Life for Peg Bowman is rough in the infamous slums of Five Points, New York, but her brother’s murder changes everything. 

Thrust into incredible worlds beyond any story she’s ever heard, Peg meets Sir Godfrey, an eleven-hundred-year-old knight from Charlemagne’s court, trainer of Paladins. He reveals to Peg her family’s ancient obligation to protect the Key of Apollyon, a relic of immense power. She is the last descendant of the Paladins and his only hope for keeping it safe. 

When Godfrey confides her brother was murdered because of the Key, Peg rejects her calling and demands revenge, a luxury she can ill afford as otherworldly creatures seek her death to claim the Key’s power for themselves. 

Can Godfrey and his faithful retinue—Chim the Hobgoblin, Rebecca the Jewish Maven and healer, and Jack the sometimes human and sometimes seven-foot Black Dog—keep her safe and convince her that her calling is worth pursuing? Or will she succumb to the Key’s lure and wield it for revenge?

And here's a little bit about the author:

T.J. Akers desires to be a multimillionaire when he grows up and give his wealth to his favorite causes: churches, schools, and animal shelters. Since the millions have been slow in coming, he’s settled for working as a computer technician for a state university and volunteering at his church and local animal shelter. Whenever possible, he indulges his love of writing stories to entertain people, especially younger readers. Akers holds a Masters of English from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and can often be found roaming the university’s library, especially the children’s and young adult sections. Librarians have always been his heroes. He lives with his beloved wife of thirty years, his dog, and two cats. The dog is an excellent writing companion, but the cats have proven to be rather critical. Learn more at

You can also connect with Tim on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

Congratulations on your new release, Tim!

Do you prefer books that are fast-paced, or slower books focusing on character and relationship development? Have you read any books where the writing style produced a very distinctive voice or connection to the setting?

Thanks for reading!