Friday, April 3, 2020

Weekend Reads: Shadow Light by Sarah Delena White (Laurie)

Welcome to this week's edition of Weekend Reads! And to the blog tour for Shadow Light by Sarah Delena White! I'm excited to share about this brand new fairy tale, which just released on March 31st!

In Shadow Light, the world is under attack by shadow creatures seeking to rid the world of light. Aeric, who wields the sun and brings day each morning, fights the creatures relentlessly but can't win the battle alone. He seeks out Layla, who has charge of the moon and stars but hides in a remote tower after the people rejected her. Aeric slowly draws Layla from her seclusion, but even when they fight together, the loyalties of the people they desire to save are fickle and the darkness is more powerful than they could've imagined. Can Day and Night overcome their doubts and insecurities to bring light and hope back into the world?

Shadow Light is described as a short fairy tale, and it really is! I finished it in a little over an hour. Its feel is much more like a fable or a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen than a modern fairy tale retelling. The narrative was told in an allegorical way from an omniscient point of view, which gives it the sense of being told a story rather than experiencing one. I'll admit that I wouldn't typically consider most of these items selling points, but in this case the writing is beautiful and the storytelling is really well executed, which makes all the difference! The personifications of day and night are creatively handled, the descriptions are lush and vivid, and the message of light and love conquering darkness is a reminder we could all use right now. Plus, did you check out that amazing cover?!

I'd recommend Shadow Light for fans of lyrical prose and classic fairy tales looking for a quick read! You can find it on Goodreads and Amazon.

And here's a little more about the lovely author (you may remember her from past visits to Lands Uncharted, in which she shared this post about her Top 3 Faeries to Meet in Halayda and this behind-the-scenes post about unconventional families in her books)!

Sarah Delena White was raised by wolves in an alternate dimension. She writes eclectic speculative fiction that reworks mythology with a fine balance of poetry and snark. She's an experienced world traveler who loves to weave world folklore and ancient concepts into vibrant, original story worlds. She is the administrative manager for Uncommon Universes Press. When she's not writing, she can be found making elegant designer bead jewelry, traveling to festivals as a professional ballad singer, drinking tea, and seeking to create the perfect latte. She can be bribed with dark chocolate.

Find out more about Sarah (and follow the rest of the Shadow Light blog tour!) by connecting with her on her Website, Facebook, Reader Group, or Instagram.

Congratulations on your new release, Sarah, and have a great weekend everyone!!

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Sneak Peek of Heartbreaker (Heartmender #2) !!! (Vanessa)

I am SO excited to be sharing a Story Snippet with you all that includes a sneak peek of Heartbreaker, book two in the Heartmender trilogy! The prologue picks up right after Addie ran through Schism's red door and what happened to her home land of Barracks.

Heartbreaker comes out September 2020. I hope you enjoy!

            The blood-red door slammed shut as the first Reigner traded their heart away. The usual cool weather plummeted to a frigid chill. Damien frowned, crossing his arms over his chest as the crowd buzzed around him, thick with anticipation and desire. Something wasn’t right.
           "You, stupid humans!" the vendor, Schism Breaker, laughed as his fingers elongated into midnight claws. His skin stretched as his limbs transformed; a horrid creature with red eyes and decrepit wings soon took the place of the beloved vendor. "It's time for a new reign in this dismal realm."
            Before anyone could react, Schism attacked.  Bodies flew through the air, striking buildings and crashing limp onto the cobblestone streets. The crowd exploded into screams of terror and panic, scattering away from the popular vendor.     
            Damien’s arms fell limp as he stepped back, but his mind was clear.   He knew something like this would happen. Turning  to his lady  on his right, he placed a hand on her cheek, his forehead touching hers before he whispered, “Run.”
With her eyes wide with fear, she threw her thin arms around his neck, squeezing him tight before sprinting away from the chaos. Damien ran behind her, glancing over his shoulder to make sure the creatures stayed away until she was far from the market. Relief lifted Damien’s shoulders as her Small form disappeared between the trees, safe from the slaughter.
The cracking of bones snapped his attention back to the market and he rushed to the blacksmith forge, knowing Gladio had weapons somewhere. Every spring he would visit the old blacksmith to buy a new dagger for his collection. 
            Streams of people swarmed around him, screaming and pointing in horror. Damien stopped and turned. This time he did panic. The odor of decaying flesh filled the air as a flood of sickly-looking beasts poured through the red doors. Their elongated limbs and gray skin were grotesque, but the moans coming from their sewn lips made Damien’s knees weak. Bile rose to the back of his throat as they ingested the blood of people. His people.
            Forcing himself to move faster, Damien pushed the terrified citizens of Barracks out of the way, commanding them to hide or escape into Wintertide.
Jumping over the fallen displays of the once-jovial festival, he arrived at the forge. Damien froze as he saw the blacksmith’s apprentice, Silas, bending over Gladio’s portly body. The blacksmith’s vibrant olive-tone flesh was dull and lifeless.
            “What happened to him?” Damien gasped, barreling toward the apprentice.
            Silas stared back at Damien, his face blank, but his eyes dilated, filling with horror. “I—” he began before sprinting out of the forge.
            “Wait!” Damien cried, reaching out, trying to stop the apprentice. “Wait, I need your—”
Silas’s blond locks disappeared among the chaos and Damien lowered his hand. It was too late. He was already gone.
            Fury boiled in Damien’s chest as he turned back to the deceased blacksmith. He closed Gladio’s eyes then covered him in a canvas. Anger churned his stomach as Damien ran to the opposite end of the forge. How could his apprentice leave the kind blacksmith in such a dishonorable way? His eyes landed on a wall of gleaming knives. The apprentice may be a coward, but he, Damien, would fight for his people.
Grabbing as many as he could, Damien armed his body with every knife he could find. The screams of the massacre outside sent his hands in a fury as he strapped the knives onto his belt and held a different dagger in each hand.
            Rushing out of the forge, Damien sprinted through the streets, the metallic stench of blood weighing heavily in the icy air. Grasping a knife in each hand, Damien lunged at the gray creature chasing young Willy Travis. The poor child was only seven.
He stabbed each knife in a different location, retracted them, then tried a knife in the creature’s head and stomach until the beast’s limbs went limp and it fell forward, squashing little Willy. Damien’s chest heaved as he pulled Willy out from beneath the monster. Thankfully, the boy had nothing more than a few scratches.
“Run to Wintertide and hide,” Damien commanded.
With wide eyes and tear-stained cheeks, Willy nodded and took off.
Deep moans ricocheted off the broken displays as the creatures preyed upon the people of his home. But the weakness Damien felt before was gone, a cool, burning rage replacing it. He wouldn’t allow these monsters to kill the people who had helped him when his father wouldn’t. Though it had taken him several tries to kill one beast, he was ready to destroy the rest.
            With a cry, Damien ran toward the center of the market, daggers still in each hand, and tackled the first monster he saw. He pierced the knives anywhere he saw gray skin. Sweat dripped from his brow, and his arms strained after multiple strikes, but he continued from one creature to the next.
Grabbing one of the knives on his belt, Damien flung it at a monster pulling Old Man Chank through the crowd. The bronze hilt protruded from between the soulless black eyes of the creature and it crumpled to the ground. Old Man Chank almost fainted but was caught by Chandra Dunkis, one of the seamstresses from the market. The two scrambled toward the white birch trees of Wintertide.
Wiping the sweat from his forehead, Damien narrowed his eyes as he scanned the chaos. Though the monsters were attacking many people, there were some that they were didn’t kill. Damien’s heart fell to his stomach as the headmaster was pulled by his legs by two monsters. What did they want with him?
Damien turned, ready to stab the next creature trying to kill or capture, when his eyes landed on an angel in the chaos. Blonde hair flowed from her head as she glided through the horrific battle.
            “What do we have here?” Her voice danced over him like freshly fallen snow. She lifted a hand, and the monster to his right ceased its attack. “A hero among the cowards?”
            “If you’re not a hero, then what are you?” She smiled sensuously at him, her lips as red as the blood staining the ground.
            Damien had seen such a look many times before. He had not been swayed by it then, and he certainly wouldn’t be swayed by it now.
            “Nothing you would like, madam.” He held his knives pointedly at the woman, suddenly thankful for all those hours of lessons.
            The woman let out a sultry laugh, sending Damien’s nerves on end. Yes, his judgment about this one had been correct.
            The woman stroked the yellow stone on her necklace, a staticky sound popping from the jewel, before she pointed her slender finger at him. An electric-blue light zinged through her skin at his body. He held his stance and smirked when nothing happened.
            “Interesting,” the woman mused, studying her fingertips. “I can’t harm you.”
            “Don’t you hate it when that happens?”
            The woman pursed her lips. The playful tone of her voice fleeing as she tapped her small chin. “There must be something else.”
             Her eyes darted behind Damien and a vicious grin split her face. With a flick of her wrist, a group of monsters groaned before sprinting away. Damien tried to follow when his legs were swept out from under him. Groaning, he quickly spun over his shoulder and lodged his dagger in the face of the creature trying to stop him. It hissed as black blood dripped from its wound on to Damien’s face. Damien threw the monster off of him and got back up, only to be hit by more creatures.
Damien stabbed and punched as many as he could, but they kept coming. His eyes searched for the other group of monsters that had gotten away. He had to stop the beasts. He couldn’t let the creatures find them.
            With a yell, Damien simultaneously pierced two monsters in the back of the head before breaking free of the pack. His feet flew across the snowy ground, trying to catch up with the first group of monsters, but it was too late. The woman pointed the creatures straight toward the direction of the people he valued most dear. High-pitched screams echoed against the gray clouds and Damien fell to his knees, allowing the monsters to pile on top of him. He sobbed as the creatures killed them, one by one. And he would be next.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Weekend Reads: Brine and Bone by Kate Stradling (Sarah)

I’m a huge fan of fairy tale inspired stories and retellings. That said, The Little Mermaid has never ranked among my favorite tales. While the themes are meaningful, the plight of the mermaid in the original tale is a tragic one. And I’ve only ever seen bits and pieces of the Disney movie, perhaps the most well-known variant of the story.

So it’s saying a lot that I actually picked up Brine and Bone, Kate Stradling’s version of The Little Mermaid—and that I ended up thoroughly enjoying it! Brine and Bone offers a hope-infused retelling with an original stamp that still remains true to the key elements of Andersen’s tale.

Instead of a mermaid protagonist, Stradling presents Magdelina, a healing magician with a prickly personality, who has known and loved the prince since childhood, but harbors no hope of him ever returning her affection. When he disappears at sea, the kingdom goes into mourning.

After all expectation of his recovery is lost, Magdelina finds the prince washed up on shore and helps restore him back to health. But she soon discovers there’s a mystery surrounding his survival, one that may threaten him still. When an enchanting newcomer appears at the palace, her suspicions are roused, and she’s determined to protect her friend from the snare laid for him. But how, with dark and powerful magic arrayed against her?

The mermaid in this tale far more closely resembles that of classic folklore than the enchanting mer-creatures featured by Disney. She’s an eerie, at times even frightening figure, but one that in the end wins some sympathy. She has her own redemptive road to travel—or not—as she chooses, right alongside Magdelina.

While only novella length, the story grapples with the concepts of love, immortality, and sacrifice. And it all winds together in a satisfying way, touched by sorrow, yet on the whole uplifting.

Are you a Little Mermaid fan? Do you have any retellings you’d recommend?

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Writer's Life: Dress for Success (Or Yes, I am Wearing Pants)

My typical fall through spring attire

City Girl Interrupted

This is not only a Writer's Life but also a life-life post. Over the past couple of weeks, many of you became sudden teleworkers.
That was my story nearly twelve years ago. My husband took a new job in a small town just as the economy was about to do a nosedive. Suddenly this city girl was the mom of a preschooler and newborn over 3 hours from the nearest office. The day I came back from maternity leave, I began the process of becoming a remote worker.
What does that have to do with writing? Well, my writing journey began about three years after our move.
By the time I began writing, I had the discipline of working from home and thinking of myself as a professional writer (even if I wasn't published) was an easy transition.
So let's talk about how to take your writing seriously, and it starts with your shirt.

Cliches Abound

There are so many cliches and stereotypes of remote workers and that are applied to writers as well.
The whole unshaven teleworker in grubby sweats image has been around since my first job in the mid-90s when I was a remote worker in the nascent days of laptops and the internet, back when we had dial-up modems.
It's partial truth that needs to disappear or at least be re-imagined.

Dress for Success

This afternoon ironing button-downs and not just as an excuse to binge on Anne with an E. Most days I wear button-down shirts to work although I rarely leave my home office, even before COVID-19 and social distancing.
I get up and get ready each morning like I have to go to an office. Over the past 12 years, I've become more diligent about this because I realized dressing nicely gives me confidence, and the routine of "going to the office" makes me more efficient at work. Writers, this applies to you too. They say to dress for the job you want. Obviously, writers don't necessarily have to "dress up" for their writing days, but there are book signings, interviews, teaching at conferences, etc. Professional authors, are well, professionals and on occasion have to dress professionally. If you want to be a professional writer, entering the mindset by donning the uniform can be a good start.

There Are Exceptions

That isn't to say, if you dropped in on me, I'd be dressed. I live in the western U.S. and some days I don't get around to showering until the afternoon. I work with team members and clients who are Back East and up to three hours ahead of me. Depending on my meeting schedule, I occasionally start my day before my kids are on the bus and don't have a good break until well after lunch. And sometimes, especially in the summer, I don't bother taking a shower until I've gone for a run.

How else would I have my "how I scared away the religion peddlers" story? It's one of my favorites. A few years ago, I was having a busy day and still in pajamas in the afternoon, not just any pajamas but Hello Kitty with fuzzy bottoms pajamas. The doorbell rang and assuming it was a package, I answered the door to proselytizers. They haven't been back...

How I Do It

I pretty much dress casual Friday style with jeans and a button-down and real shoes (Converse, Pumas, Doc Marten Boots, other cute but comfortable boots or shoes).  In the summer, I have to admit I mostly wear geeky T-shirts and denim shorts; in the winter, especially when I'm behind on ironing, I wear a fair number of long-sleeved t-shirt. Starting this year, I'm planning on phasing out my super-casual summer clothes and opting for more tops and pants, tunics and leggings, and comfortable dresses.

I have embraced this because I am a professional and dressing like one helps me "get into character". The same goes for my writing life too. Although, since most of my writing is at night, I see a lot more pajama time during my writing hours.

Does how you dress help you "get into character" for roles in your life?

Friday, March 20, 2020

Weekend Reads: The Mapmaker's Daughter (Katie)

Weekend Reads (Katie) and a vlog!

Hi everyone! I'm excited to bring you another vlog from Katie's Thoughtful Spot, (1-2 minute videos where I talk about books!), in which I'm featuring a book for St. Patrick's Day.

You can see which book I'm referencing below, and I hope you'll check out my vlog to hear my thoughts about it!

The Mapmaker's Daughter by Joanna Emerson

A Steampunk Novel
Winner of the 2018 Realm Makers Award for YA Fiction

The Potato Famine is almost a decade behind young airship builder, Paddy O'Brien, but its effects still haunt him.

Then he finds his mother dead in the garden. But he has no time to investigate her murder, because a refugee falls from a strange airship, practically into his arms.

How did a gorgeous Asian woman ended up on the south coast of Ireland? Under usual circumstances, her company would be more than welcome. But she's being pursued by pirates, and Paddy's been drafted into a militia. These are anything but usual circumstances.

***Please let me know how I can pray for you during this stressful time. I am more than happy to do so, and I'll be checking in throughout the week. {{{HUGS}}}

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Story Snippets - Meet Mathias (Kimberly)

Hi everyone! I'm excited to share my first Story Snippets with y'all where we meet one of my favorite leading men, Mathias from the Rogue Spotter series. The first book, Threats by Numbers, was so much fun because it was my first time writing a sweet but electrifying pairing and Lauren was a very different heroine for me as an introvert who survives by hiding her true nature. While Mathias is this giant lightning rod for danger, lol. He also makes an unforgettable first impression as you're about to see. Enjoy! 

Picking up the phone from its cradle, I dialed the number for Sally's Savory Salmon. Despite the alliterative naming penchant, Sally's was one of the best catering businesses for local paranormals. Sally and Samson were pixies which meant they not only knew how to cater to our clients' tastes, they were also very good in situations like these when we couldn't call in the order until as late as possible. Any meeting involving a Coyote trickster required last minute arrangements to prevent further inciting incidents.
A gravelly voice answered, "Sally's Savory Salmon, whatcha want?"
"Hi, this is Lauren at Halliman's. I'm calling to arrange catering for a lunch meeting between two parties." My nerves steadied as I launched into the regular spiel. A lunch between Miriam our best relocator and the chief of the local Saquatch clan was normally easy to handle, but the topic of today's meeting made things tricky. No pun intended. The Sasquatch clan was appealing to Halliman's to have a Coyote trickster's pet Shunka Warakin removed since he kept letting it escape into their land. Given how particular Sasquatches were about their diets, we couldn't risk the trickster calling in any changes to the chief's wild caught fish and veggies. Not if we wanted to prevent the Sasquatches from going to war with the entire trickster clan, something that could quickly spread from Olympia to Seattle to the whole Pacific Northwest. A PR nightmare.
I started rattling off the order only to be told to wait right before I was put on hold. I listened to the eerie music playing before deciding it was whale calls intermixed with the occasional sea monster. The sound of voices coming from the hall directly to the left of my station caught my attention, and I lowered the phone slightly as I looked. I hadn't realized anyone was in the meeting rooms. Perhaps it was a budget meeting for the accountants we shared the floor with . . .
I put the phone back to my ear. Still on hold. Then, a delicious sound caught my ear. A British accent. No one at Halliman's had a British accent, much less a particularly delicious one. Curiosity made me look up again as the voice, male but not too old or too young sounding, came again. "The cameras will be replaced tomorrow and the rest of the updates to the lower floors shall be carried out in time to be operational Monday, Mr. Halliman."
Mr. Halliman's voice I recognized even as he came around the corner nodding and looking rather pleased. "Good, good. I knew you would be an excellent addition."
His words faded to a shrill ringing in my ears as I stared at his companion. He was long and lean, towering over Mr. Halliman who wasn't much taller than my own five-foot-two, with an air of classical handsomeness. I could see why Beth and the other girls called him a hottie, but that wasn't why I stared. Above his light brown hair floated a number I had never seen before, a 10 that seemed to blaze with searing heat.
I jumped when the phone hit the desk with a clatter. I glanced at the phone and then back up. Mr. Halliman and the man were both staring at me. I could feel my cheeks warming as I hurriedly mumbled an apology and picked the phone back up. The whales were still singing. 
"Miss Hope."
I jumped again, almost dropping the phone a second time, as I realized the men were now standing by my desk. I met Mr. Halliman's concerned gaze and forced a smile. "Yes sir?"
"Have a puppy brought to Miriam's meeting. It will smooth things over."
"Yes sir, right away."
Feeling watched, I hesitantly peeked up only to freeze under blue-green eyes that looked more green than blue at the moment. They were piercing and considering as he studied me with an intensity that made my muscles tense with the urge to flee.
I quickly looked down again and prayed he couldn't hear how hard my heart was pounding. Everything in me screamed at me to run, but I forced myself to stay perfectly still in the chair. Mr. Halliman and Mr. 10 entered the lobby, their footsteps loud against the marble floor, as they headed for the elevator. But not before Mr. 10 stopped in front of the statue of Hermes positioned in our lobby. I tore my eyes away from him and stared unseeing at my notepad. It was all I could do to sound normal when Sally herself got on the phone. My mind whirled with one question. Did he know what I was?

Friday, March 13, 2020

Weekend Reads: The Winternight Trilogy Audiobooks (Heather)

What will you be listening to this weekend?

Oh, wait.

READING. Yeah, that.

These days my book consumption is a steady diet of audiobooks, though there's usually one actual book I'm slowly reading with my eyeballs. As a writer, I try to actually write whenever I have time to sit still. Thanks to audiobook apps like Libby, I can read several books a week as I multitask with chores or driving.

But, when someone asks if I've read a certain book, and I have actually listened to it, I'm not sure what to say. Is "yes" a truthful answer? I'd love your input on this moral dilemma!

So! Back to the question at hand...what will you be reading OR listening to this weekend? If you're turning to this post to help answer that question, I have a suggestion that may keep you busy for the next several weekends.

The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden is a magical, intimate, beautifully written retelling of Russian Folklore set in medieval Russia. Though I'm not familiar with Russian folklore myself, listening to these books has piqued my interest to learn more. Interestingly, Ms. Arden has a degree in Russian from Middlebury College and also lived there twice. These experiences have masterfully imbued her books with everything from the harshness of the Russian winters to the heavy-handed presence of the Catholic church.

I would rate these stories as PG/PG-13. There is some violence described (there are brutal wars and skirmishes) and sexuality implied, (though nothing is gratuitous or explicit). Arden's prose are rich and evoke a sense of the mysterious time in history when superstitions, folklore, and the powerful Catholic church are mingling, clashing, and shifting around to find their place. Is there room for both?

The clash between these beliefs begins in the first book The Bear and the Nightingale, as we are introduced to the teenage Vasilisa who's grandmother has taught her to honor and fear the spirits in the forest, and yet is forbidden to do so by her staunchly religious stepmother. To make things more complicated, Vasilisa has become aware of her own magical DNA.

In the second book, The Girl in the Tower, Vasilisa (now called Vasya) is being forced to either marry or join a convent. Instead, she runs away, only to find her new home--Moscow--is under siege, and she is called upon to defend the city with her newly discovered abilities.

The dramatic, exhausting conclusion comes in The Winter of the Witch. Blamed for Moscow's disasters, Vasya must run for her life while also battling enemies, both mortal and magical, to save the land that she loves.

For me, the audiobooks provided an immersion experience into the Russian culture, thanks to the incredibly talented narrator Kathleen Gati. Her accents, pronunciations, voices, and inflections brought the book to life so vividly. Where I may have stumbled over many of the words and names if I were to read the book on my own, Gati handled them with ease. I may be as impressed with her narration skills as I am with Arden's writing abilities!

Though there are elements of magic and reference to witches and demons, this is not a book about witchcraft or the occult. Folklore, at its core, is the way past generations tried to understand and explain the world around them. The mysterious and the tangible. This book simply peels back the veil to peek into how the unseen and the seen might work together, might disdain, mistrust, or deny the existence of the other. In Vasya, we find the existence of both and her struggle to fit into either dimension.

This trilogy is truly an epic retelling that is a worthwhile investment of your time! Are you familiar with Russian folklore? Have you read any of Arden's books?