Super Fun High Fantasy

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Kings or Pawns

by

JJ Sherwood

So I have had the immense pleasure of reading the first installment of JJ Sherwood’s Steps of Power series, Kings or Pawns. I received a copy of the novel from the author and Sherwood is currently on a blog tour, stopping by The Story Realm today! I was also privileged to receive an audio copy on Audible, narrated by Matthew Lloyd Davies.

For fans of high fantasy, this is a super fun new series. The elven city of Elvorium is under threat from a savage warlord, Saebellus and it seems that the famous General Jikun is the only hope to defeat him. Despite the threat the warlord poses, the city’s council members  continue to thwart Jikun for their own personal gain. Intertwined amidst the story of war and political intrigue is the story of Hairem, a prince made king, who finds love in a council member’s daughter. Sherwood draws this first installment to a close that both satisfies our desire for answers but also leaves us salivating for more.

Kings or Pawns is a well done and detailed picture of a brand new world inhabited by humans, elves, dwarves and all manners of magical creatures. Her skills at world building and interweaving plot lines and the lives of multiple characters to form one amazing story is brilliant. The portraits Sherwood sketches of so many new characters are at once endearing and frightening and exciting. Jikun becomes, by far, my favorite character. He is strong, commanding and brave, but also compassionate and flawed.

I was able to ask Sherwood a few questions about her inspirations and favorite pieces of her work.

SR: Ms. Sherwood, when did you start writing?

Sherwood: I began writing in kindergarten. I wrote something about a cat and an “orange, orange pumpkin” with crayons and was probably plagiarized from something my teacher read me, so I’d say the first story I actually wrote came a few years later—when I wrote about a duck trying to get into an apartment during the rain (riveting, I know) and for all I imagine that too could have been plagiarized. Such is the mind of a kid. After that, it was something about a unicorn in a forest and time travel… I was seven, at that point.

SR: What was your inspiration for Steps of Power?

Sherwood: Well, as I mentioned, I’ve been writing for ages—and the first bits of the Steps of Power series popped up at about seven—Evrae was the first character I created and over the last twenty years, the characters and world-building has only grown. But as I’ve been working on it for so long, my family began to doubt that I’d actually ever publish. My grandmother said to me, “I’ll be dead before I ever get to read anything”—and thus, Kings or Pawns was born. I was inspired to begin the journey here as it is one of the most diverse in sub-genres and holds a great staple of the world-building in the series.

SR: Who is your favorite character in the series and why?

Sherwood: This depends wholly on my mood, but on most days, it is Jikun fairly easily. He is brave but respects fear. He is as noble as he is flawed. His is as sarcastic as he is cynical. I’ve always fancied that sort of character, and so Jikun is my go-to for the first novel. On other days, it’s Alvena, but she’s just downright delightful on any day of the week!

I am so honored to have been privileged to read a piece by such a talented writer. For fans of fantasy and adventure, Kings or Pawns would be a fun read! JJ Sherwood has created an intensely enjoyable high fantasy series that I will definitely continue reading.

For more on Sherwood and her work visit her website, Steps of Power. You can also find other blogs on her tour!

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4 books to share…

So, I have been catching up on lots of books from me TBR list.  But there are 2 that I have read in the last couple of weeks that I knew nothing about previously and really surprised me with how much I enjoyed them.

  1. The Life We Bury – Allen Eskens

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This is the story of a college student named Joe trying to complete a journalism assignment for a writing class. When the task leads him to aged and ailing Carl Iverson, a Vietnam vet and a convicted murderer, Joe’s entire life takes on a new shape.

My Goodreads review: “The Life We Bury completely took me by surprise. I found it on a fellow bloggers TBR list and thought it sounded interesting. And when I stumbled across it in a used book store I just knew I had to give it a go. I’m so glad I did. Eskens made me love Joe from page one. He is an honest character who has flaws and struggles through life. But he is so capable without coming across as superman. He feels fear and excitement and disappointment. But he can also throw a punch and stand up for himself. I was surprised and pleased with the companion story that follows the main plot line. Joe’s brother and mother add a deeper dynamic to both the novel and Joe himself. Great read!”

(rated R for mature situations and topics; language)

2. The Magician’s Lie – Greer Macallister

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This piece of historical fiction tells the story of the Amazing Arden and is presented from varying POVs. The “present day” portion of the story (1905) takes place over the course of one night and is interspersed with flashbacks to how Ada becomes Arden and ends up telling her story to an officer of the law after being arrested as a suspect in a murder.

My Goodreads review (short but sweet): “Yes. Read this. You want to believe but have no idea what to believe.”

(rated PG-13: for sexuality and intensity)

 

3-4: The last 2 books are similar in topic and subject matter:

Speak: Laurie Halse Anderson 439288

After being sexually assaulted by a high school boy at a summer party, Melinda finds herself plagued by fear, guilt and shame. How can she possibly share this with anyone? With absent parents and friends who abandon her – she finds herself unwilling to speak at all. She becomes the victim of bullying and whispered insults.

Goodreads review: “If you are a teenager, read this. Male or female. If you are a teacher – read it and then teach it. If you are a parent, read it and don’t be Melinda’s parents. Powerful, relevant, thought-provoking, painful, real, educational, redemptive…shall I continue?

(rated PG-13: for subject matter)

 

 

Thirteen Reasons Why: Jay Asher 1217100

Clay wakes up to find a package filled with cassette tapes. As he begins to listen, he finds that they are recorded by Hannah Baker, a girl from his school who recently committed suicide. The set of 13 tapes are her reasons for wanting to end her life. The novel gives haunting insight into the mind of a troubled teenage girl who feels like the moments of life are too much to bear.

(rated PG-13/R: for subject matter and adult situations)

(this audiobook is very well done)

 

If you are a teacher, this summer would be a wonderful time to pick up these two books. Speak is well-written and insightful. Any group of students would benefit from a read like this. Whether it is to give a view of bullying or the effects of sexual assault. The author provides her own thoughts at the end of the novel as well as her experiences with young people who have sent her messages with questions or their own stories of events like this.

Thirteen Reasons Why may not be appropriate for a classroom setting, but it is completely appropriate for insight and recommendation. Events that may seem small to an adult can make or break a teenager. Asher describes the signs and symptoms of depression that Hannah begins to express. She feels lost, alone, and invisible. How many people pass through our doors or beside us feeling the same way. Let’s not be the teacher/adult/friend who fails to hear the silent cries for help that are screaming for rescue.

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Check out the song “I’m Not Waving I’m Drowning” by song writer Ryan Long:

 

“I’m not waving I’m drowning

What do you care about me

I’m starting to doubt

That I will ever be anything but alone

I fall on my knees and I’m begging you please

Take all my pain and give me some peace”

 

“I’m Not Waving I’m Drowning” is a relevant song to anyone who is lost in that lonely dark place and feels the desperateness of grasping at empty air in an attempt to claw back into the light. Long’s music speaks to the need we all have to fulfill a longing in our hearts that we can’t quite seem to fill.

Take a look at his website ryanlong.com for more information!

 

 

Summer Stories

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What stories do you plan to get lost in this summer?

I don’t know about you, but the slower pace of summer is a great time for me to catch up on my TBR pile and I get super excited about a good summer series on TV and salivate over summer blockbusters at the theater!!!!!

Summer TV

imagesMy summer binge that I am most excited about is Hell on Wheels. The dark western about the construction of the competing railway lines westward into the harsh frontier of the Americas. Season 5 was just released on Netflix a couple of weeks ago. I love watching it on Netflix because I can watch all episodes at once for full effect.

In an effort to seek revenge for the brutal murder of his wife and young son at the hand of Union Soldiers, former Confederate soldier Cullen Bohannon hunts down their attackers. In doing so, he finds himself the foreman of transcontinental railroad. The “town” that follows the building of the railroad is called “Hell on Wheels” and brings together some of the roughest characters possible. Characters to hate, love and question. This is a true western series with dirt, mud, blood and the hardship of an unfamiliar terrain.

Needless to say, I am extremely excited to hunker down with this fifth and final season of one of my favorites!!

Summer Reads

Aside from book reviews that I am wading through, I have my own TBR pile that will sadly outlive me. However, summer is always a time for me to catch up where I have fallen behind.

Currently I am making my way through the Parasitology trilogy by Mira Grant. This fun, exciting and suspenseful series is a quick read and begs the question – What would we do if we found a cure for…everything! and then discovered  that it could end the human race!!!!!  This is enough of a “zombie” thriller that it keeps my Walking Dead appetite sated for the time being (if that’s possible). (rated PG13 for violence and intensity, language)

**Excellent reads for your middle schooler!

89716 Al Capone Does My Shirts is an interesting novel of historical fiction with a male protagonist. The story describes life on Alcatraz for families of guards, focusing on the activities of their children. Moose, the main character, is 12 and new to the island. He is also the caretaker of his sister, Natalie, who is Autistic – as she would be diagnosed today, but in the setting of the novel, it is unknown as to what makes her different from the other kids.

Gennifer Choldenko’s historical note at the end of the book as almost as interesting as the story itself. While some adaptations were made to the historical context of Alcatraz for effect, Choldenko seems to use quite a bit of interesting research to form her setting and plot. (rated: this novel is completely appropriate for students 6-8th grade and older)

Counting by 7s is a compelling story of loss, grief, coming of age, and individualism. Willow Chance is extraordinary…to most people she is a “weirdo”. But not to her parents. Willow is the precious gift to a couple who was unable to conceive and waited seven years to adopt a baby. 15937108

Now in middle school, Willow’s extremely orderly life is turned completely upside down. Willow often counts by 7s as a calming technique, but even that no longer helps. Despite the pain she experiences, Willow learns what love and relationships are with people other than her parents.

This is a deep and emotional story completely appropriate for students 6-8th grade and older.

Summer Blockbusters

Well, I was finally able to take my kids to see the new adaptation of The Jungle Book. Wow – totally worth it and super fun. New comer Neel Sethi is a fun, energetic and talented choice for Mowgli and accomplishes the job of creating a believable man cub wild enough to be completely at home in the jungle.

The CGI and other cinematic effects bring Kipling’s story to life in a new and amazing way. Christopher Walken as King Louie was perfection. My girls LOVED the movie and we had a blast watching it together on a hot summer afternoon.

This movie is intense and suspenseful. All of us found ourselves jumping in our seats several times. While this movie is not “scary” per se, the intensity may make it inappropriate for small viewers.

And the movie I have waited all year to see, X-MEN: Apocalypse!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And it did NOT disappoint.  I thought the movie was fun and exciting and everything I would want an “origin” story to include. I’m a huge Patrick Stewart fan, but I really do love James McAvoy as Professor X.

I recently watched Ex Machina on Amazon Prime. Oscar Isaac plays one of the main characters, a disturbingly despicable narcissist with a god-complex. Fittingly, he also plays Apocalypse. Needless to say, Apocalypse is an even more disturbing villain in my opinion because I could catch glimpses of Isaac underneath all that makeup.

Jean Grey, played by Sophie Turner, is far less annoying than normal. I found her much stronger and appealing as a hero than previous adaptations of the character. Scott Summers…meh, not so much.

There have been murmurings and disagreement as to the appropriateness of the Wolverine cameo – I loved it! As he is and will always be, my favorite of the XMEN, I thought it was a spot-on rendition of his escape from Striker. It also established a link between himself and Jean Grey which all fans know will be important later in their story.

I was extremely pleased with this installment of the XMEN saga and highly recommend the film.

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Get your story on…and wear sunscreen!

(stella and sam pic – thebookfarminc.com; Hell on Wheels pic – tvovermind.com; Al Capone and Counting by 7s – goodreads.com; XMEN – imdb.com)

Take a little listen…

I LOVE audio books! How amazing that I can clean, fold laundry, drive, watch my kids in the pool, go for a walk or whatever and never have to put my book down! And, if you are lucky to come across a great narrator who makes the experience even more magical, all the better! And there are some great narrators out there…and sadly, some not so great ones.

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So, I would like to offer up some suggestions for some great summer listens!

 

 

Harry Potter series read by Jim Dale

Pictures of Hollis Woods read by Hope Davis

Chronicles of Nick series read by Holter Graham

Lies of Locke Lamora read by Michael Page

In the After duology read by Julia Whelan

Ender series or Ender’s Shadow series read by a series of amazing narrators

Ramona series read by Stockard Channing…yes, Rizzo!!!!

Thirteen Reasons Why read by Joel Johnstone and Debra Wiseman

Unknown Assassin (previously called Boy Nobody) series read by John Salwin

Patricia Cornwell novels read by a series of great narrators

The Giver quartet read by a series of great narrators

All the Light We Cannot See read by Zach Appleman

Between Shades of Gray read by Emily Klein

Pirates!the true and remarkable adventures of Minerva Sharpe and Nancy Kingston, female     pirates          read by Jennifer Wiltsie

 

These are just a few audio books that have stood out to me over the years. It is not exhaustive by any means. Check out your local library – most libraries are equipped with Overdrive at this point and you can find so many books and audio books (for free!). A shout out to the Richland Library here in Columbia, SC with Overdrive set up with over 30,000 titles!!!!

Hope you can find a story that sucks you in this summer! More titles to come!

I want to know:                                                                                                                                                    What are you reading/listening to while you sunbathe this summer?

 

(For book review requests, there is now an email contact in the sidebar. I look forward to hearing from you!)

 

Encouraging Reading

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Are you a parent, a teacher, a friend, a co-worker, a student…a person? Chances are you fall into one of these categories. That being the case, then you most likely know people. Among those people are probably persons who have, at one time or another, admitted that “I’m not a reader” or “I wish I liked books” or “I HATE reading.” It’s OK, don’t be too shocked.  It’s true.  There are people out there who do not like to read. In fact, maybe you are one of these people.

But I have a theory! I think that those folks who fall into the “I don’t like to read” category just have not found WHAT it is they LIKE to read. I believe that in school the books they read had the joy sucked out of them by projects or detailed tests. (I’m a teacher, so I know that does happen. In fact, I was most likely a joy-sucker, myself.) Perhaps some people had such a small exposure to reading growing up that they don’t realize that the genres and reading material is infinite. I think that, unfortunately, there are some people who have had the idea planted in their heads that they aren’t “smart enough” or “intellectual enough” to enjoy certain types of literature. What?! Preposterous!

I’m a mom of three beautiful kiddos….or creatures that pass for children. Sometimes I’m not sure.  But anyway, my little ones are growing in ways that surpass my understanding.  And part of that is that they are starting to become interested in things individual to themselves.  One of my great joys are our frequent trips to the library. Oh the library – what a glorious place. We can spend quite a while walking up and down the aisle together trying to find the perfect companion to accompany us home. But the thing is each one wants a different adventure. Annnnnnnd!!!! part of it is that they are so young and so new to this magical thing we call reading, that many times they choose books that fall into such contrasting genres that it makes me joyous to remember that time of discovery and learning who I was through story.

So what does that mean for us and encouraging others to read? Well, it means that we have friends and children and co-workers and neighbors that might love a bookish adventure, but would never know! First, we need to be aware that there are so many more genres and mediums than there used to be. Graphic novels are extraordinary reading material (Amulet, manga The Fullmetal Alchemist). There are so many talented writers of non-fiction who tell the story of a person’s life or history in a way that we feel like we could have lived it with him. (My hat off to Ms. Laura Hillenbrand!)

Not to mention magazines.  Yes.  I said magazines.  I’ve had many a student come through my room with a mother distraught because her son wouldn’t read.  Guess what he would read – hunting magazines and articles.  Why is that not acceptable? If he likes reading those there are books on hunting. Or novels about young men who survive in the wild (Hatchet, My Side of the Mountain, Into the Wild). I am passionate about exploring new genres with kids or my friends and seeing them get excited when they stumble across one that they really fall in love with.

Audio books!!!!! What a great way to help struggling readers follow along with a book. Or to help non-readers learn the excitement of a story by listening first. There are so many well produced audio books (Harry Potter series read by Jim Dale -wow!) that we cannot exclude them from our discussion.  We readers are lovers of story! The beauty of a book doesn’t come from a page with a smattering of letters on it. It comes from the world that materializes when those words are strung together in precisely the right pattern.

So for heaven’s sake! Let someone read to you from your car stereo while you’re on a long drive. Show your kids to the graphic novels shelves…or you go look in the adult section. Pick a fun read you think your friends would like to discuss and try a read along. If you’re a non-reader, experiment at the library.  Take home a plethora of new finds and give each of them a go.

There are millions of worlds out there, waiting to be explored, let’s not keep them to ourselves!