Saturday, September 23, 2017

Top 3 Types of Romantic Relationships (Laurie)

Did you even need my name in the title to know who was writing this post? :) I of course write fantasy and this blog is about fantasy, but I just can't seem to help it - I get so excited about romance! In fact, in the past few months I did a guest post called Romance in Fantasy on Emilie Hendryx's blog and a Girls Who Write video focused on romance, in case you don't believe me :) So please bear with me today as I indulge my inner romantic and talk a little bit about my favorite types of romances.

In this case I'm not talking genre, I'm talking more about how the characters know each other, interact, and fall in love. I found this great list of 25 Types of Romantic Relationships on the AbsoluteWrite forums in case you're interested in exploring the subject further.

So, using that list as a starting point, here are my top 3 types of romantic relationships:

3. Lovers in Denial

These are relationships where the characters already have an established relationship and typically get along well, often in a partnership or work type of setting, but for some reason have trouble admitting to themselves and each other that their feelings go deeper than friendship. What I love about these couples is I end up rooting so hard for them! Their relationships tend to progress as a slow burn, with lots of fun flirtation and close calls where the relationship almost takes a romantic turn, but something always gets in the way. I can definitely get frustrated and impatient with these couples as they take their sweet time revealing their feelings to each other, but in the end it makes that happy sigh all the happier when they finally get their acts together :)

My very favorite "Lovers in Denial" couple is Darby and Mark from Liberty Speidel's Darby Shaw Chronicles. So frustrating and sweet and everything in between! Brenna and Baldwin from our own J.M. Hackman's Spark and El and Ky from Sara Ella's Unblemished both have a bit of this dynamic as well, and I love it!

2. Love - Hate Relationships

I'm not sure I'd want to experience this one in real life, but they're so fun to read about! Two strong-willed characters get off on the wrong foot, and then circumstances force them to spend more time together until they start to see each other's good qualities. I love these stories because they have so much great tension and witty banter. They also tend to be potent illustrations of how wrong first impressions can be, and the characters learn so much about themselves in the process of overcoming their pride enough to admit they were wrong. Plus, when that initial dislike finally transforms into love, it can produce some pretty swoon-worthy romance!

My first full-length manuscript featured a love-hate kind of relationship, and I'm very much looking forward to revisiting those characters when I re-write it someday! Other love-hate favorites are Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Han Solo and Princess Leia from the original Star Wars movies, Audrey and Logan from Julie Hall's Life After series, and Ember and Rain from Sara Baysinger's Black Tiger series.

1. Best Friends / Friends First / Childhood Friends

I'm probably biased since this is how my real-life romance worked out, but I just love stories where the characters start out as friends first. There's a beautiful innocence, trust, and respect that these relationships are built on that I find really appealing. It's easy to believe these relationships will last, because the characters already know they enjoy spending time with each other in a non-romantic way. And it's so fun to see them develop! I love it when they reach that turning point moment for one or both characters when they start viewing the friend in a different way. Then comes that sweet, awkward transition where they attempt to make the confession or take that next step in their relationship, fearing it might ruin the great rapport they already have going. All of which makes the conclusion that much more satisfying :)

Jane Austen also wrote one of my all-time favorite friends-first couples - Emma and Mr. Knightley from Emma, but the couple in my upcoming novel, Common, also starts out with a childhood friendship (same with the couple in the short story I'm working on right now - I'm sensing a pattern...), and I love Emily and Teddy from L.M. Montgomery's Emily series and Clara and O'Neill from The Mermaid's Sister by Carrie Anne Noble.


How about you? What are your favorite types of romantic relationships in books, TV shows, or movies? Do they mirror what you would want in real life, or are they opposite?

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Your Turn: The Gravity of Books. (Julie)

I’m such a snob when it comes to books. For example, the other day a fellow teacher came to chat after school, and she began telling me about a book she was reading. I couldn’t tell you the name because my brain didn’t feel it worth storing away. She described the book as a deeply sad, yet beautiful, emotional book. As she went on about how depressing-yet-great the book is, I kept thinking, “why would you want to waste valuable time reading something dreary when you could delve into an epic fantasy of high adventure and fun characters?”

I read to escape reality. If a book requires a box of tissues to be handy at all times, it’s not for me. Give me a rip-roaring adventure any time! But that's me. What about you? What type of books draw you in? Are you a happy-ender type of person like me? Or maybe you can’t resist a good emotional foray into the character’s troubled life? Perhaps you prefer books that educate? Whichever way you gravitate, share it with us. I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Squirrels and other Distractions (Lizzie)


Any fans of Disney's Up out there? Somethings I feel like Doug, so easily distracted. So easily overwhelmed when things get busy or don't go as smoothly as I anticipated. Having too many things on my mind and eating up my time too often ends up in me not doing some of those essential things (like writing and focused Bible study and prayer) that help me deal with life's craziness.

This is Phoebe, my Great Pyrenees. She's
lovely and sweet but doesn't understand "stay."
The lovely new cover for my book.


In the last couple of months, I've been in the middle of trying to buy a house (possibly, hopefully, there are a lot of bumps in this road), struggling to get everything done for the new school year at work and keep up the literature class I'm taking, leading a Bible study group and planning/carrying out events for Women's Ministry at my church, promoting the re-release of my novel The Beast's Enchantress as The Rose and the Wand (and sorting out technical difficulties holding up the print version), trying to figure out how to keep my escape-artist pooch from breaking out of houses and Houdini-ing over fences and off runs, and working on other writing projects. I'm grateful I don't have any major health or relationship issues or flood/fires/hurricanes to deal with, but, if I'm not careful, I'll still fall into the trap that life is just "struggle-through-able" right now.

How do you deal with distractions and overwhelm? 

I've noticed if I ignore those squirrels and make myself take time to write and have a quiet time, then I am much better equipped to deal with the distractions and difficulties that come up. What things must you do in order to stay on top of things?

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Top 3 Bible Verses that Inspired Alara's Call (by special guest Kristen Stieffel!)

We are thrilled to welcome Kristen Stieffel to Lands Uncharted today as part of the blog tour celebrating her debut novel, Alara's Call! You can find out more about Kristen and her book below, but first she's going to share her top 3 Bible verses that inspired Alara's Call. Enjoy!

My first novel, Alara’s Call, is about a clergywoman who becomes a prophet. Her call is to prophesy to world leaders about how God’s people are to be governed—starting with her father. The story explores themes of faith, democracy, and equality. I drew on three verses from the Bible, each of which is interpreted as a corollary verse in the fantasy storyworld’s Telshan faith.

1. Romans 8:28

It’s slightly spoiler-y to say this, but when Alara gets captured by the bad guys, she has an opportunity to discuss her faith with one of her captors. Afterward, she prays:

Telshi, it is written that You can turn evil things to good purposes. Please work on these evil events and bring something good out of them. Even if the good is me preaching in a Makutian gynaeceum.

Gynaeceum was a fun find to solve a story problem. Even though I write fantasy, I try not to invent words. As much as possible, I tried to use English words, even though they might be unfamiliar to American readers. For example, Alara’s title is “curate,” a term from the Church of England that some of my beta readers didn’t know. The guys who capture her are from a culture where women are oppressed. I needed a word to describe the place in the royal palace where women would be sequestered, but I wanted a word less culturally loaded than harem. My thesaurus led me to gynaeceum, which I could only find in an unabridged dictionary. But it’s there, so I called it fair game!

2. 1 Peter 4:10

This verse is really what the book is all about. Alara pursues her call despite opposition, even though it means defying her father and putting herself in danger. Other characters in the story also use their gifts—supernatural and otherwise—to help Alara and one another.

Here’s a longer excerpt, in which Alara is arguing with her father, who is the prime minister of their country, about the trip he wants her to make to Makut, the aforementioned oppressive country:

Alara took a deep breath. “Kenna said, ‘Ahbay has a plan for every believer’s life, and Mairah gives each one a gift with which to serve others. One must fulfill that plan through the diligent employment of one’s gift.’ How can I use my gift to fulfill my calling if I wind up in a Makutian gynaeceum?”

His laugh was stiff. “At least there would be plenty of unbelievers to preach to.”

She glared at him. How could he make light of such a thing? Telshan missionaries were often beaten and tortured by Makutians. Sometimes murdered.

Telshi is the collective name for the Trinity in Alara’s faith. Kenna is the Redeemer, Ahbay is the Counselor, and Mairah is the Creator.

Later in the story, when asked why she disobeyed her father, Alara answers, “I’m a cleric. I must fulfill my calling. If that conflicts with the prime minister’s plans, so be it.” This verse from 1 Peter has been one of my favorites for years. It took me far too long to figure out that it’s not about me and my gifting. The heart of that verse is to serve others.

3. Galatians 3:28

This verse is the inspiration for the whole Prophet’s Chronicle series. As Alara goes from one country to another, she preaches this kind of equality—all are one.

Her own country, Glynrell, is a meritocracy, really. One’s status is dependent on one’s achievements. A Makutian woman who has covertly studied the Telshan scriptures asks Alara about a passage written by one of their prophets:

“Digalo says there’s no noble or peasant, no male or female. But that’s not true, is it? I mean, we’re all nobles, and in the countryside, peasants work farms. And men and women are so obviously different…” Her cheeks flushed.
“Yes, but what he means by that is, as far as Kenna is concerned, everyone is the same. We may distinguish between people by their profession or appearance, but Kenna doesn’t. She judges only by people’s hearts and souls.”

Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia is almost two thousand years old, yet we still struggle to achieve racial and gender equality. One of the things I wanted to explore in this storyworld is what life would look like if people lived as if they really believed this verse is true.

What beautiful inspirations! You can purchase Alara's Call here. Here's the back-cover blurb:

Tales are often told of heroes who fulfill ancient prophecies. Alara’s Call is the tale of a woman who gives new ones.

Alara sees visions of other’s futures, but never her own.

A young clergywoman with a fiery passion for her Telshan faith, she has been assigned to a mission abroad but longs to lead a congregation in her homeland. Her father, the prime minister, jeopardizes her dream and her safety when he coerces her into what he calls a diplomatic mission.

But it’s a ruse.

The trip is meant to end with her marriage to the crown prince of a foreign nation, where members of Alara’s faith are persecuted and women oppressed. All for a trade agreement her father is desperate to enact.

But her mentor intervenes and takes Alara to Dorrel, the suitor she left behind. They believe they are safe, but foreign soldiers are under orders to bring Alara to the king’s palace…by any means necessary.

I had the opportunity to endorse this book, and it's a beautiful, memorable adventure filled with faith and romance. I loved that the heroine was a curate who can also really hold her own in a battle :) Make sure to check out the Facebook Launch Party on Thursday, September 21st! Here's a little more about the author:

Kristen Stieffel is a freelance editor and writer who specializes in speculative fiction. Although she edits projects in varied genres for both the general market and the Christian submarket, she is a novelist at heart. Member of the Editorial Freelancers Association and Christian Editor Connection, mentor with Word Weavers International, and on the planning committee for Realm Makers, Kristen stays busy doing what she loves most. She is also the associate editor of Havok, a flash-fiction magazine focused on science fiction and fantasy. Visit to learn more about this many-faceted author.

You can also connect with Kristen on New Authors Fellowship, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

Thank you so much for joining us today, Kristen! Congratulations on your new release!!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Summoner by S.D. Grimm (Laurie)

Me again :) I know you just heard from me on Tuesday, but Erin let me take her spot today because I got the opportunity to review an advance reader copy of Summoner as part of S.D. Grimm's blog tour! Yay!!

I ended up reading Summoner in only a few days in order to get my review posted on time, but I have a feeling I would have flown through it regardless, because it's just that kind of book! Allie reluctantly accompanies her friends to a cemetery to go "witching" as a dare. But while the others get a little creeped out and laugh it off, Allie hears a spirit calling to her, asking for help. Thus begins a series of nightmares and subsequent visits to the cemetery, in which Allie discovers she's fallen prey to the Summoner's curse, which must be broken before the spirit harms Allie and the ones she loves. In the mix is Cody, Allie's cute new next-door neighbor, who has secrets of his own but will do anything to protect her.

I'll admit that ghost stories aren't usually my thing, but I was willing to give this one a try since I highly respect the author both as a person and as a writer :) The creepy factor definitely made me glad I'm rarely home alone at night, but I liked how it all contributed to the mystery of the ghost's intentions and Allie's curse. I also loved how loss was handled in this book. Both Allie and Cody had lost a close family member, the way it affected their mindset and relationships felt very natural and insightful.

I loved Cody's character. Sweet, vulnerable, and protective, I fell for him right away as he showed a playful, humorous side while battling the darkness of past tragedies. And you've gotta love a guy who can cook :) My reaction to Allie was more mixed. I found it hard to relate to her rush to push her relationship with Cody beyond friendship, and her jealousy of other girls who interacted with Cody got a bit extreme at times. But on the other hand, her interactions with her dad were really touching and I appreciated how she went out of her way to let Cody know she accepted him for who he was and challenged him to move past his guilt and insecurities. As a couple, I enjoyed watching them get to know each other between banter and deeper conversations, and by the end my romantic sensibilities were quite satisfied :)

Despite my reservations about Allie and my occasional confusion about the curse, what really struck home for me about Summoner was the engaging writing style and the beautiful themes of self-forgiveness and loving and living to the fullest. For older teens looking for a well-written romance / ghost story, definitely check this one out!

You can purchase Summoner at Amazon, Amazon Australia, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, B&N, iBooks, Kobo, or Entangled. If you'd like to check out other stops on the blog tour, click on the banner at the top of the post. And don't miss the Facebook Summoner Release Party, which is taking place on Tuesday, Sept. 19th at 7:00 PM EDT! Here's the synopsis:

When Allie’s best friend dares their group to play a game in a cemetery—something she calls “witching”—Allie never expects what it might mean for her. When she plays, she doesn’t just find bodies, she summons their souls. But one soul wants more than Allie is willing to give.

And the boy next door could be the key to saving her.

Cody Burkhart. Straight from Montana, cowboy hat wearing, and smoking hot, he’s just the thing to help Allie become “normal” again after the death of her mother. And as her newly appointed Guardian, he’s also just the thing to help Allie ward off the vengeful spirit who’s after her soul. Except Cody has his own demons to slay that keep him closed off. But as the full moon approaches, so does their only chance to break the curse, and Cody will have to make the biggest sacrifice of all.

And here's a little bit about the author (S.D. Grimm also stopped by to do an interview with us last year, which you can find here):

S. D. Grimm’s first love in writing is young adult fantasy and science fiction. She is represented by Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Agency and author of SCARLET MOON. She currently has four books under contract, including the remainder of her YA fantasy series Children of the Blood Moon. When she’s not writing or editing, Sarah enjoys reading (of course!), practicing kickboxing and Brazilian jiu jitsu, training dogs, and binge-watching shows with great characters. Her office is anywhere she can curl up with her laptop and at least one large-sized dog. You can learn more about her upcoming novels at You can also connect with her on  Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Goodreads, Newsletter, Spotify, and Entangled Publishing

Congratulations on your new release, Sarah!!

How do you feel about reading ghost stories? Do you have any favorites?

Thanks for reading!

*I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book*

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

All About: Reviews, ARCs, and Beta Readers (Laurie)

Welcome to the third installment of my All About series! In case you missed the first two posts, you can find All About: Cover Reveals here and All About: Street Teams & Newsletters here.

Today, we're talking about reviews! If you have author friends or follow authors on social media, you may have noticed we're always encouraging readers to leave reviews. Sometimes begging. Why is that? Once at least a few people have left reviews of a book, especially if they're good ones, what's the benefit of adding one more?

The benefit of more reviews can actually be huge, even if they lower the book's overall rating. Because Amazon, and I'm sure other book retailers to an extent, uses algorithms.

Think about whatever social media platforms you're on. Certain posts show up at the top of your feed over and over again, while others get buried without ever receiving any attention. As you may already know, that's because sites like Twitter and Facebook use algorithms to figure out which posts are popular. So posts that get lots of likes and comments move to the top, those that aren't getting much reaction disappear into oblivion.

Amazon is the same way! But REVIEWS are the likes, comments, replies, etc. that feed its algorithms. If a book gets lots of reviews, whether long or short, good or bad, that indicates to Amazon it's getting noticed, and Amazon will start to push that book to the top of its "Also bought" or "Recommended for you" queues, which will then get the book even more attention. And who wouldn't appreciate some free help from Amazon promoting their book, right? So authors' pleas for reviews really don't spring from a narcissistic desire to hear what every single person thinks of their book. I promise :) Instead, they're trying to prevent their book from disappearing into the Amazon oblivion.

The good news is, reviews can be as simple as you want! A few sentences about what you liked or didn't like about the book, or what kinds of readers you think the book would appeal to, are all it takes. They can even be anonymous! And the author will love you forever :)

One way that authors generate reviews for their books, especially to drum up some hype before the book comes out, is to distribute ARCs, which stands for advance reader copies or advance review copies (there used to be a distinction between these two phrases - see this post to find out more - but I think at this point they're pretty much used interchangeably). These copies are given out, usually for free, before the book is officially released (hence the "advance"). The author / publisher isn't allowed to require reviews in return for these free copies, but that's definitely what they're hoping for!

As a reader, there are a number of ways to get a hold of advance copies. Some authors hold giveaways, others have a street team that receives ARCs of the author's new books. Advance copies are also given to potential endorsers and to bloggers who agree to review the book as part of a blog tour. In addition, there are companies designed to connect readers with publishers looking for reviewers. I've requested and received several ARCs from Netgalley, but I'm sure there are others, too (for instance, I reviewed an ARC of Katie Clark's Shadowed Eden here, and I'll be posting a review as part of a blog tour on Thursday!). The fun thing about getting an ARC is the opportunity to be one of the first people to read the book, and on occasion even be the first to leave a review :)

If you spend enough time with authors, you might also hear them talking about beta readers. I'm mentioning this here because beta readers also get a chance to read a book before it's released, but there's a significant difference. While ARC readers are getting a copy of the (almost) finished product of the book, beta readers come in earlier in the process. Authors use beta readers while they're still working on the book, to get feedback and make improvements before the manuscript is finalized. So the downside to being a beta reader is you're not reading a polished copy of the book. The upside is you get to give your opinion and possibly influence the author's editing process! Authors will request feedback from beta readers, often in the form of a survey or questionnaire, to help them find out how the reader is connecting to the characters and what might not be working in the story. Not all authors use beta readers and some choose only their most trusted family members and author friends, but some authors put out calls for beta readers from among their readers! So if you're interested in the opportunity to read a really early copy of a story and like giving feedback, pay attention for announcements from your favorite authors!

That's it for now! Do you typically leave reviews? (If you don't I won't judge, I only started in the past few years!) Have you ever been a beta reader or received an ARC? Would you be interested in the future? Also let me know if there are topics you'd like to see covered in future All About posts!

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Top 3 Book Series (Julie)

This year at my school, admin decided to try something new-D.E.A.R. time. Drop Everything And Read. Many of us middle and high school teachers were like what? We have to tell our students we have 30 minutes of D.E.A.R. time every week? I was already envisioning the jokes that would come from that one. Nevertheless, once a week, the students literally set everything aside and read whatever they want (within reason of course). Here’s the best part...even teachers have to stop doing "teacher stuff" and read. Whatever we want! I'm excited, not sure about all my students though. Then came the bad electronic devices. My elation deflated rather quickly and here’s why. When I lived in the States, I was always at the local library selecting new books to read. Then I moved to a foreign country that doesn’t speak my language. Finding English books became a real problem. So I turned to my Kindle for my reading fix.

Life is tough at times and when you’ve read all the interesting books in your school library, your reading choices become a bit slim. To solve the dilemma of what to read since my Kindle isn’t an option at school, I turned to my own small selection of books that I managed to squeeze into my suitcase when I moved. Why not re-read some of my favorite books? And if I’m feeling particularly generous, I’ll even loan them out to my students, on pain of you will clean my classroom from top to bottom for the next 180 days of school if lost or damaged. (only kinda kidding)

So for this post, I've decided to compile my top three favorite book series from my meager collection. 

  1. Fablehaven by Brandon Mull. My all time favorite series. This is the one that spurred me to write my own story. It’s full of magic and fairytale characters, humor and mystery. It’s the tale of a sister, the reliable one, and her younger brother, the not so reliable one. Since their parents are off on vacation, they get dropped off at their grandparent’s house in the middle of nowhere. Neither sibling is excited as they barely know these grandparents, and to make matters worse, they are given lots of rules and there’s no tv! What’s a kid to do? Fortunately for them, they discover their grandparents are the caretakers of a hidden preserve for magical creatures. But unfortunately for them, the newfound knowledge also brings about danger that deepens with every book, and then finally bringing about the exciting climatic end in book 5. Once I turned the last page of the last book, that deep disappointment set in that this was the end of the series. It was a satisfying ending, but it was finished. Then, a few years later, much to my delight, Brandon Mull decided to continue the series. I can't wait to see what is in store for my favorite story.

  1. The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann. Categorized as dystopian, this one is choke full of creativity. Alex lives in a society, Quill, where people are put into three categories: wanteds, necessaries, and unwanteds. Those who are labeled as unwanted, as with Alex, are sent to their deaths because, well, they aren’t wanted. These are usually those who display some type of creative ability. As Alex and the other unwanteds arrive at their final destination where they are to die, something unexpected happens. They aren’t eliminated but transported to a magical place called Artime where creativity lives and thrives. Throughout the seven books, we see Alex grow in his creative abilities and lead the people of Artime against those who wish to destroy them. Lisa McMann has done an amazing job building a world where what you can imagine in your mind can come to life through your magic. I especially love the sculpted creatures that come to life to teach the unwanteds at their school.

  1. The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman. Okay, I'm cheating a bit on this one. It's not technically a series although there is a companion book to this one, and she also wrote another one using one of the characters from The Grimm Legacy. But I'm going to include it anyway. Fairy tale lovers will love this one. It's set in a circulating material repository-a lending library of objects. Not all of these objects are what they seem as Elizabeth, the main character, soon discovers after she gets a part-time job there. A magic mirror, seven-league boots, and a flying carpet are just a few of the magical items hidden away at the library. In the midst of the amazement and excitement of discovering that magical artifacts really exist comes the terrible news that some of those very items are being stolen. It's up to Elizabeth and her new friends to figure out the mastermind behind the thefts. The Grimm Legacy is full of humor and high flying fantasy as Polly Shulman delves into the magical world of the Brothers Grimm. 

Just writing about them makes me want to read them again! But what about you? Have you read any of these? What is your favorite series? Drop me a line. I’d love to hear your thoughts!