Thursday, December 24, 2015

REVIEW: The Shadow's Curse by Amy McCulloch (The Knots Sequence #2)

The Shadow's Curse
by Amy McCulloch
The Knots Sequence #2
4/5 stars
US release date: February 8, 2016

That was quick, right? ;)
This review does contain some spoilers pertaining to the first book in the series, The Oathbreaker's Shadow.

How I found it:
Many thanks to NetGalley and Flux for an ARC of this book in return for an honest review.
I was initially drawn to this title on NetGalley because it is published by Flux, who I've heard is a pretty fantastic publishing company. Plus, it sounded fascinating. I didn't realize at the time that it was a sequel -you can read the review for The Oathbreaker's Shadow right here- so I had to scramble to read both before the deadline. BUT IT WAS SO WORTH IT.

Again, the world building and magic system are fantastic! The world McCulloch has created is an exotic nomadic society in and on the outskirts of a brutal, blistering desert. In this second book, she takes us even deeper into this world, up into the mountain tribe of the learned Baril, across an ocean, and into the closed off kingdom in the South, with a dash of secret tunnels and feuding societies sprinkled in along the way.

At the same time, she continues to expound on the magic of knots and shadows and how it all ties into Raim's destiny and I finally get to enthuse on how much I absolutely love, love, LOVE the fact that an oathbreaker's shadow is actually a piece of the soul of the person whose oath they broke, haunting them for their mistake! How brilliant is that? It's FANTASTIC, is what it is. It adds an amazing layer of depth to both characters, because there is a part of Raim who was convinced to follow Khareh's dastardly schemes and there was a part of Khareh who couldn't. Talk about a gray area!

I really enjoyed the first book, but this one I loved. In the review for The Oathbreaker's Shadow, I mentioned just how wonderfully vivid best friends Raim and Khareh were and they got even better. While the first book showed us primarily Raim's journey, The Shadow's Curse is very much a dynamic between the former best friends. It's broken into two perspectives, half told by Raim and half told by Wadi, imprisoned by Khareh. Using Wadi as the second voice in this story was a very clever move, I think, because we see everything that Khareh is up to, including his own misgivings and regrets, but we see them all through the eyes of his enemy. This is a constant habitation of the gray area, because Wadi hates Khareh for betraying Raim and for everything that he has done, but at the same time she begins to understand him.

This is a tale of best friends-turned-enemies and my heart almost couldn't take it! While we don't see Khareh interacting on a personal level with his shadow of Raim, we do see Raim constantly talking to, trusting, and relying on the piece of Khareh's soul -dubbed Draikh- who is made up of all of the best parts of his best friend, the part that would never betray him. All the while Raim knows that it is just a shadow of Khareh, who did betray him, and only the shadow of their old friendship. MY HEART. McCulloch worked it beautifully, too, because she still managed to work over my emotions so thoroughly without bringing Raim and Khareh back onto the same page until the climax. Brilliantly and beautifully done.

Amy McCulloch has also won my high estimation because not once did she even think about dipping into a love triangle for Wadi between Raim and Khareh. So many authors would have taken that as a given, so bless your heart, Amy McCulloch, because you proved that we can have interesting and dynamic characters, including one girl and two boys, and keep our rapt attention without resorting to the over- and often poorly-done triangle. Bless you.

Obviously, for me, Raim and Khareh totally took the cake, but I would be remiss not to mention that Wadi is also a great character. She doesn't jump off the page quite as much as the other two, but she has a great presence and she is a fantastic example of a strong female character.

The biggest pro of all for this book had to be the ending. It was perfect. Throughout the series, I toyed with a few theories on how it would end, but none of them seemed quite right, and Amy McCulloch totally nailed it. This was an engrossing, fascinating, and deeply satisfying conclusion.

While I think that the narrative wasn't quite as bulky as in the first book, there were still times I did find myself skimming. I think McCulloch did a much better job using her narrative to further both scene and story in the Wadi chapters, because we were seeing the enemy through her eyes, and there was so much emotion infused there.

I wanted to know just how Khareh managed to win over his haunt of Raim, but it never goes into detail about this. This was disappointing because, having been so much in the head of Raim, I feel as the reader that he would never have agreed to such a thing. So why did a piece of him do it? This could have potentially deepened Raim's character and given us an interesting conflict or crisis of faith. Instead, it was essentially glazed over.

I had hoped we would see some further, realistic development for Raim and Wadi's relationship, but I was disappointed. In the first book, they leapt quickly from 'Hey, I just met you' to 'I can't live without you' in an unsatisfactory span of interaction, and the second book just kept with it. There wasn't much more development past this, except maybe 'absence makes the heart grow fonder.' I wasn't totally thrilled with the way the romantic story line was executed, but for the rest of this fantastic story, I can let it go.

Clean Read Guide:
Again, there is some violence in this story. Wadi is imprisoned with Khareh and his army, so we do see death and some of the realities of war. It's pretty tame though.
No bedroom scenes or make-out sessions, though there was probably an innocent kiss or two.
No profanity.

Fantastic! This was even better than the first book and a wholly satisfying series. It was left with an opening for more, but it could definitely stand alone. My absolute favorite thing about this book was the relationship between Raim and Khareh -friends turned enemies- and watching them deal with and develop from all of the consequences of that: what they regret, what they don't, and how they cope with the betrayal and the loss of their friendship. What an emotional roller coaster ride. The world, magic, and compelling story serve as excellent bonuses to this main attraction.

REVIEW: The Oathbreaker's Shadow by Amy McCulloch (The Knots Sequence #1)

The Oathbreaker's Shadow
by Amy McCulloch
The Knots Sequence #1
3/5 stars

How I found this book:
I picked this book up because I was given an ARC of its sequel, The Shadow's Curse, before I realized it was a sequel. <reading overdrive />

What makes this book stand out is its breath-taking worldbuilding and wholly original magic system. It's a fascinating universe that I couldn't get enough of. I caught myself singing 'Arabian Nights' now and then with this desert society of tribal nomads which is, to me, such a foreign and intriguing concept I had to keep reading. It wasn't just the nomadic lifestyle that made this interesting; it was how McCulloch describes it through her characters. The nobility and freedom of it. It's such an interesting and, again, foreign outlook to me that it was fascinating.

As for the magic system, I haven't seen anything like it before, and to find something unique in this genre can be tricky. The magic works in oaths and in knots. When someone makes a promise or a vow, they bind that promise with magic within a knot. Should they ever break that promise, the magic and the knot will break, transforming into a shadow of shame that will haunt them until their death, marking them as a despicable oathbreaker. And that's as much as I can say before spoilers, but let's just say, there's something about that shadow...

The story starts with a compelling mystery, questioning where our hero, Raim, received a knotted bracelet as a baby, what promise it might contain and to who.

Both Raim and his best friend Khareh are vivid and interesting characters. It was very easy to connect to both of them because of their clear and present personalities and their friendship -with its ups and downs and being so familiar with each other's faults and strengths- utterly humanized them. They're so powerful and full of life I wonder if McCulloch had to keep a cudgel at her desk to stop them from popping out of the pages.

This is the first book in a duology, its sequel set to release in February 2016. This is a plus in my book, because I am invested in so many multiple book series it's laughable. Knowing that I can step into this world but that it also won't stretch on for years and years makes it even more compelling.

There was too much narrative in this for my taste. There was a lot of detail and much of it felt removed from the characters and the story, which is a big no-no in my book. I did find myself skimming large sections. It also slowed down the beginning of the story, which I'm a little torn about because, on the one hand, we become fully immersed in this exotic world, but it also took nearly a hundred pages for the story to kick into gear.

My one other complaint with this book was an unsatisfactory development between Raim and his love interest. I feel like their relationship was pushed and premature. We didn't actually see them interact as much as we were told that they did, so I felt out of the loop on a lot of significant interactions as they were supposed to be falling in love. What I saw was a good beginning for a relationship, but they seemed to jump from 'beginning' to 'I can't live without you' in leaps and bounds I didn't quite catch. I feel like this can be a common problem in YA and I hope the next book gives us some more satisfactory and believable development between them.

Clean Read Guide:
Raim is a trained soldier, so there is violence in this book, with at least one very descriptive suicide. For this alone, I'd recommend it to mature audiences.
There is one make-out scene, but it's short and not very detailed.
No profanity.

The Oathbreaker's Shadow was a fantastic story, with a fascinating world and an original and thrilling magic system. A fun read, it's also a fresh breath of air in the YA fantasy genre. I would recommend it to fans of worldbuilding and epic fantasies and I can't wait to read the sequel.

Check out the review for the sequel, The Shadow's Curse.

Friday, December 18, 2015

STAR WARS The Force Awakens Reaction (Spoiler-Free)

Amanda & the Star Wars Summer

This is mainly directed at those of you who are a little gun-shy about the new Star Wars, who might be holding off until you hear from people you trust whether it's worth it.

You might not know me, but let me assure you, I am an unrepentant Star Wars geek, and as such I am telling you:

It is worth it.

The Force Awakens lives and breathes the tradition of the original trilogy, truly honoring the classics. It is, above all else, a true extension of the Star Wars universe and a very fitting next chapter.

Not only that, The Force Awakens honors the spirit of the Classic Canon. So many of us couldn't believe that they debunked so much of the Extended Universe in preparation for this movie, because there were so many fantastic stories that could be told and that we didn't want to let go of.
I haven't read extensively in the EU yet, but I think I understand now why they did this. And I am okay with it. 
The writers didn't erase the Classic Canon from history. They didn't forget that it existed. They know that it's there, that it has been there in the minds and hearts of fans for decades. It will never be erased. They didn't want to erase it and so they allowed its spirit to live on.

The original cast, bless them, were not just cameos. I was terrified they might just be there to pull in a bigger crowd. They were, and will continue to be, indispensable to the Star Wars story.

The lack of excessive CGI was a heaven-send. I love the feel and the look of the universe again. It is so natural, so original, so beautifully freaking authentic and STAR WARS HAS STILL GOT IT, BABY!

The Force Awakens, while honoring the original, was not. It didn't even try to be. The writers did a marvelous job successfully updating our beloved universe in a fantastic tone that not only felt genuine and so right, but played to a new generation of future Star Wars geeks and current audiences. Humor, quips, snark, dramatic duels, epic cinematography, and the characters! Ack, I can't say more without spoilers! 

This movie exceeded my expectations. I had no doubt that Disney would pull off something amazing rather than ruin the franchise, but even I was beginning to have some doubts; to dread whether or not they could produce an amazing expansion of the Star Wars universe I could love, rather than just an amazing film that I would like.

It wasn't perfect. It had flaws. There are some issues I have with character interaction (or lack thereof), storytelling gaps and holes, and I'm sure everyone has a pet peeve or two about it. But the most important thing is this:

I came away from The Force Awakens with something I didn't think possible:
A deeper love and a greater appreciation of the Star Wars universe and its characters. 

That should be all you need to know right there.

Don't let fear and doubt cloud your judgement. Buy a ticket. Embrace the next step in the Star Wars universe. And as always, may the Force be with you.

There's more where this came from!
Amanda & the Star Wars Summer

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Amanda & the Star Wars Summer: Episode IV

Amanda & the Star Wars Summer

Ahhhhh, it's good to be back! I had to crawl out of my writing hiatus with a new video before Force Awakens hits theaters -because there's no way I'm missing this!

Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure (Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens)Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure by Cecil Castellucci
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As always, Princess Leia is awesome.

In the wake of Empire Strikes Back, Leia is a guarded and protected figure of hope for the Rebel Alliance. More than anything, she wants to do something, but she is too valuable to the Alliance. Between the desire to fight the Empire, search for Han Solo, and assist the Rebellion, Leia finds herself struggling with the question of duty vs. desire. She soon finds her chance to help the Rebellion and give the Empire a little what for, but it is the inner struggle of duty vs. desire that dominated so much of the book for me.

I am a Han and Leia fan, all the way. So while the Princess is trying to justify her actions for the sake of duty -and her inactions for her desire in the name of duty- I'm only thinking about how it will play into the fate of my favorite OTP.

When I wasn't obsessing over whether or not Han and Leia will be a thing in Episode VII, I was appreciating that Leia's task in Moving Target wasn't a political one. I've run into that quite a bit in Star Wars books (she is a politician, after all) but it was a nice change that Leia was sent on a genuine adventure, even if it could be a suicide mission.

This is technically a children's book, but Disney isn't pulling any punches. It's a good read -excitement! intrigue!- with a sophisticated closer look at the Star Wars universe, especially the conflict between the Rebellion and the Empire. There are questions of right and wrong, good and bad, just how far someone is willing to go for their cause, and whether it's too far. People die. Don't be fooled by the 'kids book' label. Moving Target is a serious addition to the canon and you need to read it.
View all my reviews

Other books:
4/5 stars
Smuggler's Run: A Han Solo and Chewbacca Adventure by Greg Rucka
4/5 stars
Attack of the Clones by R.A. Salvatore
3.5/5 stars

Now I guess there's only one thing left to say. Enjoy The Force Awakens, my fellow geeks, and may the Force be with us all.

There's more where this came from!
Amanda & the Star Wars Summer

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Cover Reveal: The Undead Road by David Powers King & Zombify Me! Contest

Have you ever wanted to be a zombie? Well here's your chance.

To celebrate the cover reveal of his upcoming book, My Zombie Summer: Part One: The Undead Road (which looks absolutely fantastic, FYI), David Powers King is offering up a once-in-a-lifetime-chance to fulfill those flesh-eating dreams go down in history as a zombie for all the world to see in the pages of his next novel, My Zombie Summer: Part Two.
Title: The Undead Road: My Zombie Summer: Part 1

Publisher: CreateSpace / Dashboard Books
Ebook Release: January 1st, 2016
Paperback: January 26th, 2016
Cover by Steven Novak

Nothing brings the family together like a zombie apocalypse …

Fifteen-year-old Jeremy Barnes would rather watch a zombie movie than shoot a real one, but he has no choice if his family wants to survive the end of the world. Their plan? Drive across the infected United States to a cabin in the Colorado Rockies without a scratch, but their trip takes a complicated detour in the middle of Nebraska when they find Kaylynn, a girl who can handle a baseball bat better than Jeremy can hold a .45 Berretta. And when they stumble into a sanctuary, Jeremy soon learns that Kaylynn is stronger than she looks—a deadly secret lies inside her.

After the radio picks up a distress call from Kansas City about a possible cure, Jeremy’s parents go with a team to investigate. They never return. The only way to find their parents is for Jeremy and his sister Jewel to rely on a dangerous girl who might just turn on them at any moment.

A while ago, David invited the blogosphere to let him turn one unfortunate lucky contestant into a zombie for The Undead Road. The winner was Ilima Todd, who is now the awesome author of Remake. The next installment of My Zombie Summer is underway, and David wants to do this contest again. Want to be in a zombie book? Not only is this your chance, but it is your choice!

Between now and next Wednesday, send an email to dpowersking [at] gmail [dot] com, with the subject line: Zombify Me! Contest. In your email, David wants you to tell him three things:

1: The name you will be identified as (example: your first name).
2: A description of yourself—the more detailed you are, the better.
3: How would you like the survivors to put you out of your misery?

Four casualties contestants will be chosen on Wednesday, November 25th. The most inventive or interesting entry will be zombified! The other three who are unlucky fortunate enough to survive will be given special honors. Winners will be announced on December 2nd on David’s blog.

Prizes? The winner will be zombified in the pages of My Zombie Summer: Part Two, receive a signed proof of the novel (when it’s ready), and a $20 Barnes and Noble gift card. The runner ups will receive a free ebook of The Undead Road for their Kindle (other platforms TBA).

Thank you for participating, and good luck!

About the Author:

David Powers King was born in beautiful downtown Burbank, California where his love for film inspired him to be a writer. He is the co-author of the YA fantasy novel WOVEN, published by Scholastic. An avid fan of science fiction and fantasy, David also has a soft spot for zombies and the paranormal. He currently lives deep in the mountain West with his wife and three children.

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Monday, November 9, 2015

DAYBREAK by Cheree Alsop Promo & Giveaway + NaNo Update

For me, NaNoWriMo is in full swing. I'll get to an update in a minute but first I've promised to help Cheree Alsop promote her brand new sci-fi series with a book giveaway. Yay! *cue dramatic cover*
Girl From the Stars, book 1:
Liora Day, half-human, half-mess with her and you’ll die Damaclan, had been thrown onto a rough path at a very early age. But when she is broken out of a cage by Devren, the young captain of the SS Kratos, she is shown that perhaps humanity does have a heart. The Kratos is set on a mission to rescue fallen surveyors from the Revolutionaries, and Liora is given the choice to follow her Damaclan instincts, or trust Devren’s dark eyes and captivating smile that promise an adventure unlike any she has ever experienced.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
So sign up! Enter! You know you want to...
NaNo Update
I mentioned this on my Facebook page, but I've joined the Rebels this NaNo.
Ohhhhhh yeeeeaaaahhhh
1. Fix the ending of my novel
I'll have to rewrite the last four chapters, figure out a more characteristic way to end everything, all in keeping with some good sibling development between the characters, and still finding a way to add in some good foreshadowing. *phew!*

2. Rewrite the subplot
Due to some changes I made to the series timeline when I started to outline in-depth in the last few months, I'll have to do a rewrite of the intrigue subplot, to make sure all those pesky threads line up.

3. Consistency changes
>self explanatory<

And then, if I have some free time...

4. Study Character Development and work on my unfinished project, Glass and Cinders

Forget Word Count

Initially, I entered my project as 'My Novel' at the NaNo website, but I knew that even if I could count all written, revised, and edited words I'd still never reach 50k. (I'm only revamping the last four chapters of a 60k children's book.)

I could feel that word count bar between my shoulder blades, irking me with its incessant '0'. There was an insane pressure building in me to just write, write, write to appease the virtual word count gods and to show off to the world that I've 'still got it'. (I'm ridiculously competitive during NaNo.) But I'm not here for the word count.

So I deleted it.

The Update 

So far, I've written about 10,000 words.

Now this may not sound like much in the scheme of NaNo. It isn't. But the
thing about these 10,000 words is that they're working.

Just taking the time this month to concentrate on my project -not being
distracted by, sorry, this blog and my vlog- has been a huge help. I
may have to take annual Internet sabbaticals from now on.

I've rewritten three of the four chapters. They're still only drafts, but I'm very happy with them so far.

And that's it for now. Wish me luck, everybody! 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Guest Post: Let the Reader Do the Work | September C. Fawkes

Today I'm honored to have a guest post from September C. Fawkes. She has some fantastic stuff over on her blog -like Writer's Tips and analyses of popular shows on why they work- so definitely check it out.

As a warning, this post does contain some Harry Potter spoilers. So if I'm not the only one in the universe who has neither read all the books or seen all the movies, beware!

Now, without further ado, September C. Fawkes, ladies and gentlemen! 

If you are like me, there are a couple (or ten) books you've cried in. There may be a couple (or ten) books you've wanted to throw across the room because you where so mad at the villians. And then there may be a couple (or twenty) books that left you feeling empty, bittersweet, and satisfied all at once.

As a reader, I love and yearn for books that make me feel powerful emotions. Sometimes I'm surprised how one book can deal with big conflicts but leave me feeling apathetic, while others deal with small conflicts but make my heart ache or my spirits soar.

In books, a lot of the emotion we feel has to do with how the writer handles that emotion. I'm a writer myself, and I have the opportunity to read a lot of unpublished fiction. Today I'm going to talk a little bit about why some books hit us in the feels and others . . . don't.

There is a writing rule I heard that states that "If your character is crying, then you reader doesn't have to." When I first heard that, I wasn't sure I agreed with it, but I thought about the books I'd read, and I talked to a few other readers and realized there was some truth to that statement.

I'm a huge Harry Potter fan, went to midnight releases and everything. In the books, Harry is on the verge of crying several times, but he never actually does. Fact: I cried more in those books than any other book I've ever read! And loads of other people cried too. In Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, Jean Valjean weeps several times just in the first 200 pages. I never cried once. (And anyone who knows the story, knows how heart wrenching it is.)

If Harry ever broke down and bawled, I don't know that I would have. I may have still gotten teary-eyed, but I don't think I would have sobbed like I did. There is something about having ther character cry that takes the tension out of us, the readers. The character is doing the emotional work, so we don't have to.

I soon realized this applied to more than crying. In one unpublished story I read, one of the characters was often worrying about a mystery. She asked all the questions, did all the wondering, the worrying, and I found that I, as a reader, didn't have to. And you know what? I wasn't as engaged. The author didn't let me do that part. So instead of participating in the story, I was merely "watching" it.

I Open at the Close by Yume Dust
I'm not saying authors can never have their characters cry etc. (there is a time and place), but it's best if kept minimal. As a writer, you want to build up those feelings in your reader so that they experience the story, not just read about it. Just because you didn't write that your characters were crying, or worried, or angry doesn't mean they weren't.

In fact, I've come to accept that those passages where I was bawling my eyes out were moments where I was vicariously crying as Harry. And frankly, that's what readers want. As a reader, I want to be in the character, in the story, because only then can I reach that deep, emotional plane where the story leaves an indelible mark on me.

So for writers, when their characters are sad, anxious, fearful, embarrassed, or angry, instead of focusing on how the character feels and reacts emotionally to it, they should focus on how to elicit those emotions in the readers, so that we become part of the story. This is often done by focusing on the event that caused those emotions and rendering it in a way that amplifies those emotions. For example, how much emotion do these sentences conjure?

Harry watched Sirius fall through the archway to his death. Harry couldn't believe it. He was upset and started crying.

How much more emotion does this passage conjure?

It seemed to take Sirius an age to fall. His body curved in a graceful arc as he sank backward through the ragged veil hanging from the arch. . . .

And Harry saw the look of mingled fear and surprise on his godfather's, wasted, once-handsome face as he fell through the ancient doorway and disappeared behind the veil, which fluttered for a moment. . .

Harry heard Bellatrix Lestrange's triumphant scream, but knew it meant nothing--Sirius had only just fallen thought the archway, he would reappear from the other side any second. . . .

But Sirius did not reappear.

"SIRIUS!" Harry yelled, "SIRIUS!"

[Harry] sprinted to the dias, Lupin grabbed Harry around the chest, holding him back.

"There's nothing you can do Harry--"

"Get him, save him, he's only just gone though!" . . .

Harry struggled hard and viciously, but Lupin wouldn't let go.

The second example is more likely to give the reader that vicarious feeling, the sense that they are experiencing the story firsthand. That's the kind of writing I like to read.

So as readers, what books made you feel a lot of emotion?


September is also hosting a fan-tastic giveaway on her blog! The prizes include a Fullmetal Alchemist pocket watch, a Time Turner necklace from Harry Potter, and a key to 221B Baker Street.

To enter, just click here!

About September

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting. September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. Today she works for a New York Times best-selling author, is penning a novel, and sharing writing tips on her blog, which you can find at

Thursday, October 29, 2015

ARC REVIEW: Anya and the Secrets of Cupola by N.A. Cauldron (The Cupolian Series, #1)

Anya and the Secrets of Cupola
by N.A. Caldron
Wiggling Pen Publishing
Release Date: November 14, 2015
3/5 stars

I'd like to thank the author for sending me an ARC in return for an honest review.

I was a little leery about this book because I wasn't crazy about the cover art. On occasion, I may have mentioned I do judge books by their covers. Give me a gorgeous cover and I'll jump at a book. Granted, some books with good covers turn out to be terrible, and some books with not-so-great covers turn out to be pretty good. That's what happened with Anya.

This is a fun story about three friends -Anya, Gevin, and Taika- who discover their kingdom's 200-year-old secret. And magic. They also get into their share of trouble and adventure along the way, including a troll, some lava lizards, and getting on their monarch's bad side.

The characters are fun: Taika, the bookworm and master planner; Anya, who hasn't quite decided what she wants out of life; Gevin, who is such a boy.
"And to think I was concerned with your feelings."
"What feelings? I don't have any feelings!"
Told mostly from Anya's perspective, we get a lot of detail on her family's poor life and her tough job in the royal kitchen. It was surprising how much we get to see of Anya's work throughout the entire story, instead of just the expected introductory bit, since it's not directly related to adventure/secret side. On the one hand, it was refreshing to see life go on as normal for the kids, since these are the only three people in the kingdom aware of what's really going on, but there are times that the extent of detail felt a little out of place, just because of its lack of impact on the bigger story or the characters.

In addition to investigating this 200-year-old secret, we get to see Anya deal with average kid problems, like the bully Canis, her annoying older brother, and getting into trouble with her mother. We also get to see her deal with not-so-average kid responsibilities. In the beginning of the story, Anya gets a better-paying job than the rest of her family and readers will watch her handle this with maturity. I loved seeing this kind of responsibility handed to a young protagonist, because it will translate well for kids to see someone their own age taking on such an important if unexciting role in the family. Any book can hand a kid a grand, life-changing destiny, but it's nice to see that same kid cleaning house and cooking dinner on her days off, too. Maybe it will give readers an idea. ;)

The story ends in a good spot, giving you most of the answers you want, but leaving just enough to explore so you want to see what happens next. Now that I'm finished with this book, I think I'm going to pass it along to some of my niblings.

The writing quality is on the average side but on a good level for blossoming readers. While the writing quality is not quite as stellar as I enjoy, I feel the need to remind myself that it's also intended for middle graders, who won't be as picky as me.

This will be a good book for younger readers who love fantasy or are just getting into it. It has flavors of both Sorcerer's Stone and Spiderwick Chronicles, while the characters themselves remind me a lot of the Ever Afters' Triumverate, especially with the dancing lessons Anya gets, which was probably one of my favorite scenes. (Gawsh, I'm such a girl.)

Anya and the Secrets of Cupola will be released November 14, 2015. It's available for pre-order in ebook at and in paperback at

Thursday, October 22, 2015

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

So. It finally happened.

I actually read a Harry Potter book.

I kind of loved it. ^_^'s_Stone.jpgHarry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
by J.K Rowling
MG Fantasy
4/5 stars

To be honest, I anticipated that this book would be plagued by overhype, but I was pleasantly surprised. The story is interesting, well-placed, and all around a fantastic middle grade. I wouldn't say it's 'action-packed' until near the end. It reminded me of the slower paced Voyage of the Dawn Treader, with the kids exploring school instead of islands.

You'd almost expect from the slow pace that this could be a boring book, but it isn't. There is so much interesting worldbuilding at play and we're being teased with evil Professor Snape and what he's up to so things never get boring. There's enough mystery and magic to keep you entertained and the story possesses an irrefutable charm that's hard to resist. It's one of those stories that has such an ease about it, like Rowling just sat down one day and there it was.

Another thing that struck me were the strong and vivid personalities of the characters, practically bursting alive from the page. (I loved the inflections in Hermione's dialogue, because you could just hear the know-it-all in her voice.) And it isn't just the main characters, either; Fred, George, Neville, Hagrid, the Dursleys, and other minor characters have just as much depth and distinction. Harry, Ron, and Hermione experience some development along the lines of friendship and self-confidence, but I'll be excited to see them development deeper over the rest of the series. Because of course now I have to read the rest.

One harsh truth I enjoyed seeing is Ron being constantly teased by Malfoy about his family's poverty. I liked that this was so vivid in the story because it's very realistic. Of course a nasty boy from a well-off family is going to degrade the poor kid that Harry Potter chose to befriend over him, and it's quite obvious all his ammo toward the Weasleys came from dear old Dad. (Obviously the Malfoys are a happy bunch.) But what I really liked is seeing how Harry deals with this and how he sticks up for Ron. A favorite moment was on the train to Hogwarts.
   [Malfoy] turned back to Harry. "You'll soon find out some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter. You don't want to go making friends with the wrong sort. I can help you there."
   He held out his hand to shake Harry's, but Harry didn't take it.
   "I think I can tell who the wrong sort are for myself, thanks," he said coolly.
I would love to see Malfoy grow out of this behavior over the series, but we'll see.

The tone of the narration has such a classic children's book flavor to it -like Lewis, Nesbit, Eager, MacDonald. It made me incredibly nostalgic for those years when I first discovered the joys of reading and it brought that joy back tenfold.

I did have a problem with page 93. I almost cried. With Fred and George, I instantly fell in love and I hate it because I've been on the Internet long enough to know what happens to Fred and George, so every funny line makes me want to laugh and cry. Curses. It's like Fili and Kili all over again. *sob*

On the whole, yes, I can see what the craze is about. And while it wasn't quite what I was expecting, I don't think it's suffering from overhype. It's a good, fun story, filled with laughs and daring deeds and friendship and, really, what's wrong with that?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Amanda and the Star Wars Summer | Episode III

Amanda & the Star Wars Summer

Who can't get enough Star Wars? This girl, that's who.

You can watch the video in all it's eccentric and ecstatic glory, but the high points are all covered below as well.

The Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn
5/5 stars

The second book in the Thrawn trilogy did not disappoint. I was a little concerned because when I finally got into the first book -Heir to the Empire- it was an audio. With me, some books only interest me on audio, and vice versa.


I had no problems whatsoever getting into this book, even in spite of its lengthy sections of prose. (I'm totally a dialogue girl.) It's a fantastic continuation and I'm excited to see how Zahn wraps everything up.

The Phantom Menace by Terry Brooks
3.5/5 stars

This, to me, was fascinating. It's been long enough since I've watched this movie that parts of it felt new -and I'm not just talking about the extra content added to the book.

This novelization gives us a chance to better understand characters, backstory, and the events that unfold. I particularly like seeing more things from Anakin's point of view and the relationship between Qui Gon and Obi Wan.

[Warning: JarJar Binks is still annoying.]

Disney is kind of brilliant with their merchandising...

R2-D2 Bop-It! and Millennium Falcon-shaped Star Wars Catch Phrase.
Disney has assigned some kind of Jedi Master to their merchandising team.

If you haven't heard about this, read the announcement here because it sounds freaking fantastic! I fangirl way more in the video but what you need to know is:
  • Designed to look like an alien world
  • Interaction with droids and aliens
Proceed to freak out.

Before I let you go, two questions:
  • How do you feel about Disney's involvement? Have their fantastic Marvel movies granted you my same outrageous optimism or are you worried they'll screw it up?
  • Summer is over and 'Amanda and the Star Wars Fall' just doesn't have the same ring, but I love using my Dramatic Title Voice. New title suggestions?

Tune in next time to hear my opinions on the 'Journey to The Force Awakens' series, the new canon for the Star Wars Universe.

As always

There's more where this came from!
Amanda & the Star Wars Summer

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Comic Book Wrap Up

I've read a lot of comic books over the last month or so. Instead of individual reviews, I decided to tackle them all in one fell swoop. I give you, the mini-reviews!

The Reviews:

Thor: God of Thunder, Vol. 4: The Last Days of MidgardThor: God of Thunder, Vol. 4: The Last Days of Midgard by Jason Aaron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This started off with an almost shove-down-your-throat 'save the planet!' spiel that almost put me off, but once you realize Thor's battle with Roxxon will involve a CEO nicknamed 'the Minotaur' it took a much better Marvel turn. The second half of the story is an epic battle between King Thor and Galactus over a dead Midgard, the effects of which I cannot wait to witness.

As the end of Aaron's God of Thunder run, I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The best part of this last volume is that it leads right up to his new Goddess of Thunder series and actually made me intrigued to read it. I've been ducking it ever since I heard they were going to replace Thor, but finding out it's apparently a temporary thing, I'm much more eager to give it a gander.

View all my reviews

Nightwing, Vol. 1: Traps and TrapezesNightwing, Vol. 1: Traps and Trapezes by Kyle Higgins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dick Grayson rejoins the circus he grew up in -at least long enough to figure out why Mr. Haley wants him to have it and the dark secret that seems to lurk in the big top.

This was a fun story, though some of the issues did feel a bit like anime filler episodes. They detracted from the overall story -what's going on with Haley's Circus?- and were just underdeveloped enough they felt jarring.

The volume does appear to play into a bigger story line in the DC arsenal, which I'm not familiar with, so DC regulars probably won't want to miss this.

Gotham Academy, Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham AcademyGotham Academy, Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

LOVE THIS! This story is like candy and there isn't enough in the bowl to satisfy my craving. When can I get my hands on the next volume?!

Gotham Academy is a private school -whose alumni boasts no other than Bruce Wayne- but a group of students is beginning to realize it's embroiled in a mystery of Gotham's sordid past. And what about Olive Silverlock? She used to be a normal girl, but something happened over the summer, something changed her. Something she can't quite remember. It had something to do with her mother. And Batman.

She hates Batman.

This has everything from ghosts and dark rituals, to secret passages, to boarding school shenanigans and the ever-lingering question of what happened to Olive and why is Bruce Wayne keeping such a close eye on her?

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor, Vol. 1: Revolutions of TerrorDoctor Who: The Tenth Doctor, Vol. 1: Revolutions of Terror by Nick Abadzis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic job keeping Ten believable and in-character. The stories feel like they've escaped from missing episode scripts and the Doctor's new companion doesn't feel like a repeat of any of his counterparts from the show. Wholly original stories, completely in-tune with the show's feel and quality.

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 1: After LifeDoctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Vol. 1: After Life by Al Ewing
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic job keeping Eleven believable and in-character. The stories feel like they've escaped from missing episode scripts and the Doctor's new companion doesn't feel like a repeat of any of his counterparts from the show. She has some of Donna's spunk, which I love.
Wholly original stories, completely in-tune with the show's feel and quality.

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor, Vol. 1Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor, Vol. 1 by Robbie Morrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was enjoying this comic just as much as the Ten and Eleven ones, especially since they gave us a story line involving one of the Doctor's old (old, old) friends, wrapped up in Indian culture and mythology (!!!), but I was put off by the addition of several homosexual characters, which ruined the story for me.

They still did a good job keeping Twelve believable and in-character. Wholly original stories, completely in-tune with the show's feel and quality.

Ant-Man, Vol. 1: Second-Chance ManAnt-Man, Vol. 1: Second-Chance Man by Nick Spencer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you liked the movie, you'll like this.

I love Scott Lang. He's funny and clever and so sincere. The only thing he wants in the whole world is to be a good father and that's the one thing that never seems to work out. He tries so hard, again and again, and that's another thing I love about his character.

It amuses me that characters in the Marvel universe tend to mock or tease Ant-Man. He's considered a low-grade super. Appropriately, he tends to run in to other low-grade characters, like Grizzly, a (cough-reformed-cough) villain.

While this is by no means the beginning of Scott Lang's story (recently back form the dead? Teenage Cassie?) but Spencer does great feeding you enough back story info that you get the gist.

View all my reviews

Have you read any great comic books lately? Share in the comments!