Sneak Peek into The Underground

Want an inside look into my new story? Strange Waters, a Phoenix Fiction Writers anthology, will be published in October 19th with 9 new stories from some of the best spec-fic indie writers around. Enjoy this small taste of my addition: The Underground.

***

A forceful pounding jerked Hiya from her dream. Heart racing, she sucked in a breath and rose from the mat, trembling.

“What…?” Kef’s form jerked up from beside the dying fire, his features indistinct in the darkness.

“Someone’s at the door,” Hiya said as another fierce pounding jarred her ears.

“Really? I couldn’t tell.” Kef’s irritated tone, perhaps funny during the day, only grated on her nerves. Everything was worse in the middle of the night, including sarcasm.

“Oh, stop,” she said, pulling on a robe and shuffling to the door. The dirt was cool under her feet. “Who is it?” she asked, pressing her ear against the wooden door.

“Something is wrong with Kaila!”

She recognized the voice. Ballan was a neighbor in the adjoining Burrow. He had come this far in the middle of the night? Kaila must be ill.

“Hang on!” she called and reached to unlatch the door. It swung open.

Ballan’s anxious face was illuminated by bright moonlight. “Kaila has taken sick. Please, will you come?”

Kef moved to stand behind Hiya. He was tall and skinny, and only a single cycle younger than her. Still, he tended to try to act like he was the eldest. “It is late, Priori,” he said. “Can this wait?”

Ballan reached as if to grab Hiya, but Kef blocked his arm and shoved Hiya backward. She caught a brief glimpse of Ballan’s anxious face. No, not anxious. Terrified.

“She was attacked. Please! You are the best healer in miles.” He took a few steps backward, raising his arms is if in surrender. He meant no harm, but fear was apparently making him desperate. Why? Kaila was old – at least fifty cycles – and lived alone. Ballan was Priori, of course, and therefore responsible in a civic way for Kaila. But he didn’t carry the bond and responsibility of family; it wasn’t the Raizani way.

“I will come,” Hiya said, more from curiosity than anything altruistic.

Kef cast a sharp glance her way but kept his mouth shut. She held back a smile. They had been taking care of each other since they were children, but he had only recently stopped trying to dictate her life. Maybe he figured she was finally old enough. Five and twenty spans was considered almost old in their society. Death tended to come early for those of the Raized Domains. Death, or slavery. The Unknown Divinity had abandoned them long ago. He had taken the Deep with him. Kef always said that she was wrong, and the Divinity must have a plan. But Hiya dismissed it as fantasy.

Ballan was pacing outside when she emerged after gathering her medical pack. She had dressed hurriedly in her fala and head covering. Ballan dashed into the night as he caught sight of her. She grunted and quickened her pace, trying to keep track of him in the darkness.

The village was asleep, most of the huts built into the hillsides scattering the Green. A cat hissed as they passed; the only sign of life. A curtain ruffled on Juj’s place, but it might have been the wind. Hiya gripped the pack tight and squinted as she jogged to catch Ballan, who stopped and looked over his shoulder. He gestured, and she huffed, gritting her teeth. It wasn’t like she hadn’t just been awakened from a deep sleep two seconds ago. The man needed to relax.

It took them over an hour to finally arrive at his Burrow. The sun was hinting at breaking the horizon, casting gloomy shadows over the tops of the wooden huts. Where Hiya’s Burrow was built into the hills, this one was crawling up the massive trees of the Fathom Forest. Bridges spanned overhead, connecting huts, stores, and breweries. It gave an air of wealth to Fathom Burrow, one Hiya tended to dislike. Just because they lived above ground didn’t make them better than anyone else.

Maybe that’s why she was grumpy. Fathomers only deigned to befriend Hiya’s Burrow so they could use them when needed. Like now.

The sun broke through the trees just as they entered Kaila’s hut. It was on the ground, built around a giant tree, with a ladder leading to the rest of the clan’s dwelling in the branches. Last time Hiya had been here, Kaila told her it was because she was too old to be climbing anymore.

Kaila was stretched on her bed, barely breathing. Hiya scanned her frail body with a practiced eye, keeping her face stoic. Several of Kaila’s family surrounded her, pressing in, eyes anxiously watching.

“Move back,” Hiya ordered, kneeling at the bed. The family tried, but there wasn’t much room in the hut.

Huge gashes lined Kaila’s back, from an animal Hiya had never seen before. Not gashes, really. Had a cutter performed some sort of surgery? The skin from her shoulders, down her sides, to her buttocks had been peeled back, and someone had reattached the skin with crude stitches. So, no. Not a cutter. It looked as if she had been peeled like a fruit and then the skin glued back on.

“What is wrong with her?” someone asked. Hiya ignored them. A terrible feeling lodged in her stomach. She had seen something like this once before, long ago. It brought a surge of fear, so strong it made her dizzy. She laid a settling hand on the bed and took a deep breath. She couldn’t run, not now. Maybe she could finally figure out exactly what had happened to Gro and Gra.

“Everyone needs to leave this hut right now.” She tried to keep the tremor from her voice, so they could hear the authority behind it.

No one moved.

Hiya cast a glance at Ballan. “Make them do as I say, otherwise, I can’t guarantee their safety.”

***

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Story Reveal: The Underground

Coming in October, Strange Waters is an anthology collective published by the Phoenix Fiction Writers, of which yours truly is a member. This group of speculative fiction writers are truly some of the best writers, and people, that I know.

My story, The Underground, is a part of the anthology. Check out the cover and blurb:-)

TheUndergroundfinalcover

What if everything you believed was actually true?

His whole life, Kef has been told he is too idealistic. His older sister, Hiya, insists the Deep is a lost memory. It disappeared from the Raized Domains centuries ago.  Kef wants to believe the Domains haven’t been abandoned, but everything points to the contrary. Their parents mysteriously vanished. People keep turning up dead or missing. And then, Hiya is taken by the feared Dragons. 

Kef will stop at nothing to rescue her, including traversing to the Underground itself to take on the Dragons. What he finds there will change the whole sphere: but will he be too late to rescue Hiya? 

*This story can be read as a standalone. Fans of the Steward Saga will enjoy this tale which is set between part three,The Last Steward, and part four, Soulbound, set to release in 2020. 

Sale! And a new anthology

The Hidden Queen is currently on sale for the rest of August for only 99 cents. That’s less than the price of, well, most things. Grab it while it lasts!

Hidden queen cover ebook

 

But that’s not all. The Phoenix Fiction Writers are releasing an anthology with 9 new, never-released stories. And it’s coming THIS FALL. With some of the best spec fic indie writers around, this anthology is sure to entertain even the hardest-to-please readers. And yours truly will have a short story set in The Steward Saga world. So yeah. You might not want to miss this. You can pre-order Strange Waters next month.

 

Strange-Waters

Book Review: The Black Prism

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

4.5/5 stars

This book took my by surprise, and in all good ways. I’d heard of Brent Weeks here and there, but hadn’t picked up anything by him. To my SHAME. This story was incredible.

First things first. Gavin Guile is one of those characters that makes you wonder what his ultimate motivation is. The pretty standard trope “is he a good guy or bad guy” initially had me rolling my eyes, but I stuck with the story since the magic system was so intriguing, and Kip was so dang lovable. Thankfully, the trope is turned on its head as things are revealed (don’t want to spoil anything) that make everything he is doing make sense.

And that’s about it with this story. Everything you think you know ends up being something completely different. It’s not just the standard plot twists and turns that are there just for the sake of being there. The plot is just, quite simply, genius. It makes me want to reprimand myself for not reading it sooner (or, actually, listening, since I did the audiobook).

Weeks weaves a tale so spellbinding you can’t put it down. That’s the genius of a good writer. The characters were phenomenal, the plot engrossing, and the worldbuilding masterful. My one minor critique is the overuse of describing women in physical terms. Weeks tended to be more descriptive of what women looked like as opposed to men, and it got a bit *eyeroll* after awhile. But other than that, this whole story was flawless in every respect.

Grab it on Amazon or add it on Goodreads.

Book Review: Symphony of the Wind

Symphony of the Wind (The Raincatcher's Ballad Book 1)

3.5/5 stars

This story follows the tale of Gallows, a Hunter who gets caught up in a whirl of conspiracy, revenge, and just plain, flat-out rollicking bad luck. It also follows Serena, a young girl who isn’t what she seems and has powers she knows little about.

I’ll start with the things I really enjoyed. Interestingly enough, I feel it was the side characters who really shined. Damien, Pierro, and V (who we didn’t get to see much of and I wish there had been more) were among my favorites. They were unique and engaging. I also really appreciated the world-building. It’s a unique society, with hints of bigger-picture politics and intrigue and conspiracy, which I usually enjoy. This was no exception. There were surprising plotlines, the writing was engaging and humorous, and generally speaking, the action kept me on the edge of my seat.

A few things tripped me up, but not to a large degree. Serena was bland, in my opinion, and there were aspects of her character that felt inconsistent. She cares very little when someone in her orphanage is murdered, but then worries about a stranger she barely knows who goes missing. I enjoyed Gallows a bit more. I feel he was more consistent and believable, as well as more likable.

The plot could have used some streamlining. It was a bit haphazard, and there were points where I was thoroughly confused and didn’t know what was happening. It would come together, but then it would shoot out again in random directions. This left the climax rather disjointed, and I felt like there were five or six mini-climax points as opposed to the story leading somewhere concrete. This won’t bother everyone, however.

I can definitely see why many readers love this book. I enjoyed it, too, despite some of my complaints. All in all, if you are looking for something different and unique as far as themes, world-building, and atypical characters, then grab this one.

Get it on Amazon (it’s on KU as well) or add it on Goodreads

Book Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

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3/5 stars

I’m a little bit behind on the times. But late is better than never, right? Throne of Glass has much to commend. It sets up the world well, although I feel like a little more worldbuilding would have been helpful. We get a glimpse of the magic system, too. But it seems the author almost entirely focuses on character development. A fair choice, especially considering this is a long series. My preference tends to be worldbuilding and plot alongside character arcs, but I can see why some authors choose not to.

The story centers around Celaena, an eighteen year old assassin. She is a convicted criminal, serving time in what amounts to something similar to a Natzi concentration camp. She’s given a choice: compete to become the Kings Champion, and it she wins, earn back her freedom by being his assassin for four years. The concept of the book is intriguing. A competition isn’t anything new in fantasy or YA literature, but the stakes are definitely high.

The three main characters (Celaena, Chaol, Dorian) have the stereotypical love triangle element, which I feel is entirely overdone. This was one reason this book is 3 stars for me. Nothing new is added, and this takes up a large portion of the character development. We do however get good glimpses into motivations, and a bit of worldbuilding, through this element. The author took advantage of the trope to do a little more with it, so I appreciated it.

Celaena is a fascinating character. There were a couple things about her I felt didn’t fit all that well. She was much too quick to recover from her time in prison without any residual effects besides fear of returning. No PTSD besides an occasional dream, but really, that element came in more to do with her past and her parents than her stint in Endovier. Besides that, though, I really liked her. I’m super curious about her relationship with Arobynn, and I hope that comes out more in the following books. She was badass without being overdone, had elements of vanity that made her seem human, and just enough snark without being annoying. All in all, well written and likeable.

Dorian was bit boring to me, and Chaol was definitely my favorite side character, although he was a bit bland in my opinion, too. I hope the next books expand on their characters and make them more interesting. I liked that with Dorian there were hints of him wanting to man up and stop being a spoiled Prince, and Celaena seems to be part of that motivation. And with Chaol, I liked that his personality and temperament fit the fact that he is a soldier. Yet we saw softer sides to him, that make the reader want to cheer him on.

My favorite part of the book was seeing glimpses into the magic system and the In-between. This makes me think I’ll really enjoy the second book if this comes more into play.

This book was an easy read, more about introducing us to the characters than anything else. I will continue reading the series, since the hints of what’s to come are leading in a direction I usually like: darker, more magic, more political intrigue.

Grab it on Amazon or add it on Goodreads.

Book Review: Out of Darkness by E.B. Dawson

 

5/5 stars

This book was not what I was expecting. The cover made me think sci-fi, and while it technically is, it isn’t hard sci-fi like Hubert or Pierce. Once I got used to this, I really enjoyed the story. It’s centered around a girl named Logan, who in the course of three years, is recruited and trained as an assassin.

The series is called The Creation of Jack. Dawson takes you on a thrill ride, jumping timelines in Logan’s life and showing you who she is through each of these jumps. As Logan (before the recruitment), as Jack (as the assassin) and as Bailey (the recruit.) The book explores deep issues of identity, asking the question “Who am I?” While there aren’t necessarily hard-set answers to that question, she does a good job exploring the facets of who Logan is, what she is capable of, and the purpose for which Jack is created.

You get the sense of this being an exciting assassin tale, when it still is actually a sci-fi read. Like I said, it was a bit disorienting at first, but once I realized what was going on, I could follow along. A few issues: the dialogue. There aren’t many beats or tags, so it can be difficult to follow who is speaking when. I wouldn’t say I hate this style. I got over it because the story was that good. But definitely not my preference. I don’t mind working hard to understand a book, but I don’t like working hard just to figure out who is talking. This wasn’t a deterrent for me, but it almost was.

The timeline jumps are at first confusing, but once I realized she used different names for Logan to give you an idea of what timeline you were in, I think it was actually pretty genius. I haven’t read a book formatted quite like that before, and found it fresh and new.

Check it out on Amazon or add to your Goodreads.