Indie Author: Ryan Hill

Barking Madness

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Ryan Hill published his novel, Barking Madness with an independent publisher, PULSE Publishing.  I was privileged to receive a copy of his novel in exchange for a review on my blog. Barking Madness is an exciting surprise. This psychological thriller will keep you turning the page to find out what happens next. Murders, werewolves, ghosts, psychotic delusions…there is so much and yet Hill pulls it all together and makes the pieces connect.

The story is told from two different first person perspectives. Mike and Rose switch back and forth to tell us this strange story as they see it. Mike’s character is strong and endearing. He cares about others even when he is hurting and that makes him attractive as a main character. I definitely wanted to continue to know him and thoroughly enjoyed his chapters.

Rose, on the other hand, is distant and childish. She is introduced immediately as being completely self-involved. I found descriptions of her to be very interesting…I am curious to know more about Hill’s construction of this character. Rose is clearly the central figure of the novel, and yet Hill distances her from the reader. However, this does not distract from the desire to “see what happens next”!

Something pretty neat about Ryan Hill is that he began writing Barking Madness when he was 18 and published the book his freshman year of college! How exciting and encouraging at the same time! What is so great about that is not only the accomplishment4469362 in and of itself, but the fact that Hill, who is definitely a talented writer, can only continue to grow in his craft.  I would imagine that we may see some extremely good pages from Hill in the future.

(Rated R: for language and sexual situations – I would recommend this for older YA readers.)

Indie Writer Elissa Riley

Silhouette

Silhouette BOOK COVER by Elissa Riley

I’m extremely pleased to introduce Elissa Riley and her independently published premiere novel, Silhouette. I received a copy of the novel in exchange for a review. First, I have to say that I really love the cover for this book. When I first saw it I found it intriguing and after reading Riley’s novel I think it is a perfect choice to introduce the story of a land called D’or, and two fun new characters in YA writing, Leira and Tristan.

After the unexpected death of her mother, Leira Sky goes to live with her Aunt Agatha in a mysterious manor. The giant house seems to take Leira back in time with it’s traditions, housekeepers and maids and one often forgets that the novel is taking place in present day. Aunt Agatha plays a bit of a wicked stepmother that most of the other story participants fight desperately to avoid.

Then one day, Leira meets the sexy and mysterious Tristan, son of the angry, reclusive lord of the house. Curious about this beautiful young man, Leira follows him one day and finds him in his greenhouse. And so begins their interesting adventures of love, travel to fantastic lands with pixies, tiny mushroom men, weather that changes with a person’s mood, and sinister minions of a dictatorial king. (rated PG/PG-13 – the book is definitely in the YA genre, but refreshingly avoids the need for teenagers to have sex. However, intense descriptions of nightmares or some of the monsters in D’or may push the rating to PG-13 for younger readers)

Readers of The Story Realm will know that I enjoy getting to know authors, not just reading their work. And I was not disappointed by Elissa Riley. She kindly took the time to answer a few questions for us about her writing process and her book. Enjoy!

A Short Chat with the Author

SR: What is your writing process like?

Riley: I knew I wanted to write a fantasy.  This is my favorite genre, not only to read, but to write as well, as it opens itself up to so many possibilities.  I could stretch the story as far as my imagination would take me.  Really, the possibilities were endless.
14137359I’m also a big fan of love stories.  The characters become more relatable and I find myself more emotionally invested in the story.
So, once I had my basic idea (girl meets boy, girl goes to a fantasy world), I drew up an outline.  I found this extremely helpful in keeping me on track while writing.  Then, little by little, I filled in the gaps.
Once I had a finished story, I set it aside and worked on something else.  Sometimes, when I’m so deep into a project, it’s hard to see the details anymore.  After some time, I revisited the story, reading it from start to finish before making any revisions.  Then I repeated this process until I was happy with the end result.

SR:How did this story come to you?

Riley: As I’ve found is the case with many authors, the idea for this story came to me in a dream.  In particular, the image of Leira arriving at a cold, grey, uninviting mansion (which later evolved into Woodbury Manor), only to find herself surrounded by the haunting characters who live there.

SR:Did you enjoy writing a novel enough to try it again?

Riley: I absolutely enjoyed writing this novel.  I found it very therapeutic.  And, while the idea of writing another novel seems slightly daunting (this novel took me roughly four years from conception to completion) I found it well worth the effort.  I currently have several new book ideas in the works that I am extremely excited about.

SR:The description of Bodhi and his home is very interesting.  How did that image come to you?

Riley: Bodhi’s ability to view and alter the future, along with the imagery of his house dripping like wet paint were inspired by the painting “The persistence of memory” by Salvador Dali (the painting depicts several clocks that appear to be melting).  In Silhouette, the concept of time is warped for Bodhi and the idea of a fixed cosmic order is questioned by his very existence.  Bodhi’s house and body are physical manifestations of this idea.

SR:Who is your favorite character in Silhouette?

Riley: I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I have a strong affinity for Leira, as I find her the most relatable.  But the character that was the most fun to write was Nevayah.  Her unapologetic cruelty is so vastly different from my own personality, that writing a character like her was strangely gratifying.

SR:What is your current favorite book?

Riley:This is always a tough question, as my favorites list seems to be ever-growing.  But one book that I always seem to come back to is Stardust by Neil Gaiman.  It’s a magical tale, with beautiful imagery.  Gaiman’s command of the written word is truly inspiring.

Thank you to Elissa Riley for sharing her novel and a glimpse of her process with us here at The Story Realm! If you are interested in reading more about Silhouette or Riley there are links above or here!                        Silhouette            Elissa Riley

Happy Reading and Happy Writing!

Super Fun High Fantasy

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Kings or Pawns

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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!

 

 

The Revenent: A Novel of Revenge

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Ok, so, oddly enough, I married someone who does not “love” to read. Well, that isn’t entirely true. He enjoys reading non-fiction – almost always Christian – books on growth. All of which are wonderful and from which he has learned a great deal.

But when I come across a story that starts out as exciting as The Revenent: A Novel of Revenge by Michael Punke, I will inevitably toss it his way. On this particular day, I handed him the book saying, “Just got this and I think you might actually like this one!” He proceeded to take a glance and begin reading. So engrossed was he in the story of Hugh Glass’s betrayal, that he read into the night until he had finished.

Granted this novel is not entirely fiction, the prose is presented in a way that paints an entrancing picture of the mid-western plains in the early frontier more vividly than most historical accounts. As a reader, I was dragged into the burning anger Glass feels towards his betrayers. His plight to regain his health and survive the savage brutality and unpredictability of the Pawnee and other Native American attacks and devastating weather made me ache with cold and twitch at the thought of arrows whizzing past.

Punke includes historical notes at the end of Glass’s story. In these notes, Punke reveals what facts he had researched and which parts of his story were added or changed to complete the tale to the best of his ability. Punke’s version of the Hugh Glass story is not the only account. There are others to be read. This particular version focuses on the revenge that Glass wants to seek against those who abandoned him after being attacked by a grizzly bear. And although the title is “A Novel of Revenge”, I found it to also be a story of redemption and change.

This is an exciting and moving tale of anger, betrayal, surrender and life. The historical nature of Hugh Glass’s story adds a certain sense of intrigue and mystique. The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge is definitely one to be added to the TBR pile! (rated PG-13/borderline R – for graphic violence and brutality)

 

**Normally I like to recommend a movie if one has been made based on a book. I do NOT wish to do that at this point. I was sadly disappointed in the cinematic adaptation of this story. Feel free to watch it and judge for yourself, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!

 

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!)