This NaNo, I’m Writing For Charity

It’s that time of year where National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is about to start. This will be my eleventh time to join, but it’s going to be a little different. I’m writing my novel for charity.

I’ve joined up with an amazing group of writers called The Mighty Pens. Together, we’re working to raise money for girls’ education around the world through the Malala Fund. I’m really excited because I think education is really important to help the world improve and it’s wrong that many girls don’t have access to it. Malala Yousafzai is an inspirational young woman who works really hard to help girls get the education they deserve, and I want to help her. Writing is what I do, so that’s what I’m using–and without education, I wouldn’t be a reader or a writer.

Don’t worry, this won’t take away my focus from writing–it’s actually really simple. It’s like a charity walk, except instead of walking miles, I’ll be writing words. You can pledge to donate money based on the number of words that I write. For example, pledge $2 for every 10,000 words. If I reach my goal of 50,000 words by November 30, you would donate $10. Or you can just donate $10 at the start of November to show your support! Whatever you can give will be appreciated. I think the minimum donation might be $5, but check the fundraiser to be sure.

This money doesn’t go to me, you donate straight to the Malala Fund. You can use my donation link or donate to the fundraiser and mention my name. Then track my progress on my NaNo page or watch for updates here. And make sure to let me know, because I’ll give a shoutout to everyone who donates AND send you a free copy of my novel when it’s finished!

Important: The Mighty Pens has asked for you not to submit donations until November 1, because they want to track everyone on the team and they want us to start at the same time.

What’s the novel that I’m writing? I’ve actually already started (although I’ll only be counting words that I write in November). It’s a new series, a steampunk fantasy YA novel based on ideas I’ve been working on for decades. The current working title is “Riwenne & the Mechanical Beasts” and it’s planned as a series of at least three books. I’m really excited to finally finish this novel! Check out the temporary cover and a short synopsis:

Riwenne is an enthusiastic girl who dreams of being a priestess to serve the gods. When she discovers that the gods themselves are threatened by a new kind of power, she must become a sacred warrior and gather her friends to save everything she believes in.

Sound like fun? I hope so! Stay tuned for more updates when November starts and those words come rolling in!

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One Project on Hiatus, Another Book Resumed

Hello, everyone! I know that I’ve been a little scarce recently. I’d like to explain a little about what’s been going on.

So, last year, I finally published the second Wyld Magic book. My plan after that was to immediately write and publish the third book in that series. In fact, it was my 2016 NaNoWriMo project. I got off to a good start last November–and then came to a screeching halt after the outcome of the election on November 8.

Now, I realize I’m far from the only creative person who took a hiatus after that day. I had many friends who struggled after that event for months and some who continue to struggle today as our lives continue to be impacted by the changes in the U.S. I took some time to focus on the things that mattered the most: my friends and family. They reminded me that there will be setbacks but we will keep supporting each other and fighting to make the world a better place.

Then I tried to go back to writing Wyld Magic 3, but I couldn’t pick up the thread of the story again. I came back to it many times over the past six months. I have a substantial portion already written and most of the rest outlined, but I wasn’t making much progress. I just wasn’t having fun.

I finally realized that the Wyld Magic series is just too political for me right now. I see way too many stories about politics in the news every day–stories that frustrate, scare, anger, and sadden me. I tried to channel those feelings into my writing, but it didn’t work. Politics are the last thing that I want to think about. I don’t know when I’ll be ready to pick up Wyld Magic 3 again, but it probably won’t be for a while.

On to better news! I wanted to write a project that I could have fun with, something that sparked my enthusiasm for writing again. So I dusted off an old draft of Riwenne’s story, the most recent version of which is a YA steampunk fantasy novel. And I’ve been having fun again!

I don’t know what the title is, I haven’t written out the book blurb, and I don’t know when it will be finished. (Hopefully before the end of the year, but we’ll see how busy I get when my kid starts school again tomorrow.) But I can tell you that it involves a steampunk empire, a floating city, gods, magic, friendship, a talking animal mascot, and Saving the World from Certain Destruction. Also, there should be some tasty food along the way. If you liked Small Town Witch, then hopefully, you’ll like this book, too!

Stay tuned for more news about Riwenne’s story and future excerpts of the first draft here on the blog!

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New Release: A Pride of Gryphons

After two years of writing, I’m very happy to announce that I’ve finally released the sequel to A Flight of Marewings. I hope you’re ready, because here comes the next book in the Wyld Magic series!

sam-gryphonsA Pride of Gryphons

Gryphons are deadly in small numbers. When wyld magic calls them to attack in great force, they could be strong enough to level a nation. And now they’re coming for Kyratia.
Korinna saved her city from a dangerous cult and became the new duchess of Kyratia. But ruling brings a whole new set of challenges and this time, she won’t be able to fight her way through.
Monsters are attacking Kyratia again, but her husband Galenos warns that the law forces all rulers to retire from fighting so they can’t join the battle. Korinna is frustrated by the slowness of politics, but riding her marewing could threaten her new pregnancy.
A sinister power lurks behind the monster attacks, calling gryphons to swarm the countryside in greater numbers than there have ever been. Korinna will have to find a power of her own to confront them, or everything she’s won so far could be destroyed.


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Excerpt: Korinna defies Galenos

I’m working hard on finishing the second book in the Wyld Magic series, A Pride of Gryphons. It’s been a little rough, since there are multiple characters and plot threads to keep track of, and I admit that I’ve had some false starts. (Don’t ask me about the dead end I wrote, or how fixing it meant removing all of the words I wrote in July.) But I’m still moving forward and on track to publish this fall.

Here’s a taste of what’s coming. Korinna and Galenos are both struggling to rebuild the capital city of Kyratia and figuring out their new roles as duchess and duke. They start out as partners, working together, but when gryphons attack the countryside, they disagree on how to handle the situation. Things escalate, and that leads to this scene where Korinna chooses to defy Galenos’s concerns and act on her own:

As she walked out the door, Korinna heard Galenos shouting for the guards to stop her, but she knew that they would never reach her in time. All she had to do was make it outside.

There was a secret entrance to the building near their private chamber, and Korinna moved quickly through the winding halls. Its secrecy meant it went unguarded, so she was unchallenged when she pushed open the door and stepped out into the sunlight.

Galenos had finally built a paddock behind City Hall for their marewings to meet them in the morning, but then they went back to the military compound to graze with the other marewings for the rest of the day. If it had been within hearing range, she could just whistle for her marewing. But the government buildings were in the heart of the city, a full mile away from the Storm Petrels’ outpost.

However, Korinna had been practicing her communication with Sungold. She felt as if she could sense the marewing sometimes, even when they were separated. Since she wasn’t allowed to fly in her current condition, she’d gradually experimented with that sense over greater distances. Today, Sungold was on high alert ever since the messenger arrived, and Korinna sensed that she’d been waiting for the call.

She could hear guards hurrying to follow her down the hallway, but she ignored them. She stepped away from the building onto the grass, closed her eyes, and concentrated on calling Sungold to her.

In moments, a shadow passed over her. Korinna looked up. A golden marewing came gliding in and landed on the street, folding in her wings to avoid the nearby buildings.

There was no saddle or bridle, but Korinna had managed without them before. It took extra effort to hoist herself up onto the marewing’s back—she was grateful that Sungold was smaller than average. Then she wrapped her legs around the marewing’s middle and wound her fingers into the pale white mane. At a signal, the marewing took off galloping down the road, building up enough speed to launch back into the air.

Behind her, the guards burst out of the door, followed by Galenos waving his arms. “Korinna, stop!” he cried, his voice breaking.

It broke her heart to hear the pain in his voice, and she almost told Sungold to turn around and go back. But she’d already made her choice. Beneath her, the marewing gathered her haunches and jumped. The hot air rising off the city streets carried them swiftly up into the sky, and her pursuers were left behind on the ground.

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Review: They Mostly Come Out at Night from #SPFBO

theymostlyHe locked himself away from the dark, but in the Magpie King’s forest nowhere is safe…

Lonan is an outcast, accused of letting the monsters that stalk the night into the homes of his fellow villagers. Now, he will not rest until he wins back the heart of his childhood love and reclaims the life that was stolen from him. However, locked safely in his cellar at night, in his dreams Lonan finds himself looking through the eyes of a young prince…

Adahy has a destiny, and it terrifies him. How can he hope to live up to the legend of the Magpie King, to become the supernatural protector of the forest and defender of his people? But when the forest is invaded by an inhuman force, Adahy must rise to this challenge or let the Wolves destroy his people.

Watching these events unfold in his sleep, Lonan must do what he can to protect his village from this new threat. He is the only person who can keep his loved ones from being stolen away after dark, and to do so he will have to earn back their trust or watch the monsters kill everyone that he holds dear.

They Mostly Come Out At Night is a Dark Fantasy novel from Benedict Patrick’s Yarnsworld series. If you like Neil Gaiman and Patrick Rothfuss then you will love this captivating, dangerous world in which ordinary people struggle to find their place in a land ruled by stories.

Start reading today to discover this epic tale of dreams, fables and monsters!

Author: Benedict Patrick
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Rating: 5/5 stars
This is one of the more original fantasy stories I’ve read in a long time, with a mixture of high fantasy, mythology, and religious beliefs. There is an ostracized peasant boy, Lonan, who lives in a village plagued by monsters in the night; but he dreams of the hardships of a prince, Adahy, son of the Magpie King who must learn to follow in his father’s footsteps as a hunter of the monsters. Woven between the main story are folk tales and myths which provide hints to the secrets behind the story. It’s all deftly written and captivating with vivid characters.
The mythology in particular is interesting because it’s a combination of European and Native American influences into something totally new. At first it seems like these folk tales are just world building or a distraction from the main story, but they actually provide important clues and become more closely involved with the plot as time goes on.
All is not what it seems in this story and the twists surprised me in several places. Yet the ending feels inevitable when it comes. I almost wanted to look away from what was happening but I had to keep reading until the last page, hoping against hope that things would turn out better. One character, the Pale Lady, had the hairs standing up on the back of my neck.
This book is a prime example of dark fantasy, not in the newer sense of “grim dark” that dwells on explicit violence and gore, but in the classic sense that straddles the line between fantasy and horror. There’s an oppressive tension throughout the book, a fear of what could be out there in the dark, horrors brought on by both monsters and men. It starts with the promise of the beautiful cover and the ominous title, and doesn’t fail to deliver from there, right up through the bittersweet ending. It’s sad but fitting to the rest of the story.
It’s part of a series, but it’s a complete story arc on its own. A peek at the second book in the back hints that it will be a new location with different characters, so I think they’re intended to be stand-alones in a shared world. Either way, I’m eagerly looking forward to the next book. This is an amazing debut from the author and I want to see more of his writing.
I’d recommend this book to fans of Tanith Lee, Charles de Lint, and Terri Windling. If you like dark fantasy with a new take on fairy tales and folklore, you should definitely check this out.
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Review: The Shadow Soul from #SPFBO

theshadowsoulWhen Jinji’s home is destroyed, she is left with nowhere to run and no one to run to–until she meets Rhen, a prince chasing rumors that foreign enemies have landed on his shores. Masquerading as a boy, Jinji joins Rhen with vengeance in her heart. But traveling together doesn’t mean trusting one another, and both are keeping a deep secret–magic. Jinji can weave the elements to create master illusions and Rhen can pull burning flames into his flesh.

But while they struggle to hide the truth, a shadow lurks in the night. An ancient evil has reawakened, and unbeknownst to them, these two unlikely companions hold the key to its defeat. Because their meeting was not coincidence–it was fate. And their story has played out before, in a long forgotten time, an age of myth that is about to be reborn…

Goodreads Link: The Shadow Soul (A Dance of Dragons #1)
Author: Kaitlyn Davis
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 3/5 stars

(Reminder: I’m not an official SPFBO judge, so this is just my opinion and won’t affect the competition.)

I was initially excited about this book because of the comparison to Tamora Pierce. That comparison didn’t hold true for me.

This novel starts with a cliché seen too often, especially in fantasy novels: a dream sequence that hints of larger things to come in a vague way. It seems to be about the dragons from the series title, but don’t get your hopes up, there isn’t a single dragon in sight after that brief dream. If course, it’s also a warning of bad things to come, and the first bad thing happens in the first chapter, so that promise does come true right away. Then we get more clichés: the two main characters are the only ones with mysterious powers, and one of them is the Last of Her People to boot. The story follows the predictable formula from there as they meet each other, then lack trust at first, but must band together on a journey for answers.

So the story seems to have a lot going on without actually advancing the plot. The goal, at least for Jinji, is to find out more about the shadow force that killed her people so she can defeat it. However, she doesn’t tell Rhen about the shadow and lets him make the wrong assumption so they run off in another direction, ignoring the one lead she overheard. It’s not until three-quarters of the way through that she mentions anything and of course he doesn’t believe her.

I would sum up this book as a swaggering prince going on wild adventures and teasing his sidekick, a girl disguised as a boy, while she feels frustrated but never says a word to stop him. It took me a long time to read not because it was looking, but it failed to hold my interest. I don’t think I will read future books in the series.

I guess this book is setting up a bigger conflict for future books, but I found it frustrating that there was no resolution to this book. I like there to be some kind of payoff at the end of a long read, not just a cliffhanger. Instead I got introduced to a bunch of new characters right at the end and didn’t have an emotional investment before they died. The death in the middle of the book actually had more impact to the characters and to me because there had been time spent with him.

There is also a loose plot thread when they promise to help the princess escape the enemy kingdom and then promptly leave without her. I think it’s just a mention to set up a spin-off series, but I thought it was a little tacked on.

I would recommend this book to readers who like YA fantasy with a lot of tension from unspoken secrets and the sense that the main characters are chosen for a greater destiny but may take some time to get there. It wasn’t for me, but if this sounds like something you could enjoy, then give it a shot. I believe all three books in the series are already published so you don’t have to wait on the cliffhangers, which is a plus.

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Review: A Ransom of Flames from #SPFBO

A deadly blight. A crownless queen. A journey to the edge of the world.

ransomofflamesA mysterious blight devastates the world of Aeden. The Vehlek, dark, immortal guardians of Aeden, have used their power to combat it through a blood sacrifice, one given every season from each of the four peoples. For generations, this has diminished the Blight’s destructive force. But unbeknownst to any, their power wanes and the sickness worsens. Their scripture speaks of Providence, of mortals whose blood, combined with their power, can end it. But as yet, there has been no sign of them.

On the secluded islands of Malua, the Blight rots the land and destroys the harvests. The change of the tide marks the new season, and with it, the need for a blood sacrifice. For Maleia, daughter of a murdered king, wife to a usurper’s son, her hopes to reclaim her father’s throne are dashed when her child is stillborn. To her horror, the usurper king intends to use her daughter’s remains as the blood offering, perhaps condemning her small spirit to wander lost and alone. As the Vehlek emerge from their fiery underground caverns to claim the sacrifice, she commits a desperate act to take her daughter’s place, an act that unintentionally binds her to one of these strange, immortal men, and later reveals her to be an element to cure the Blight, as foretold by their scriptures.

As the Vehlek seek out the others like her, two remain to guide her as she journeys to the mainland, there to take part in the Council of Peoples and find a way to end the Blight. The quest will take her over valleys roamed by marauders, across a mountain kingdom, and through the vast prairies of the Plains People. The road is perilous, not least because her father’s murderer travels with her. The Blight haunts their steps at every turn. She witnesses it kill, as if possessing a malignant sentience all its own. Every day that passes it grows stronger, as does her strange connection to one of the Vehlek, a bond that is fast becoming something more than it should.

With the lives of all hanging in the balance, and time running out, Maleia and the others like her strive to end the Blight. Through blood and flame they will either cure their failing world, or see it fall to ruin.

Goodreads Link: A Ransom of Flames
Author: Anela Deen
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 3/5 stars

Disclaimer: I’m highlighting books from SPFBO, but I’m not associated with any of the judges or other blogs who are running the competition. These reviews are just my opinion and don’t affect the outcome of the actual competition. I just saw a lot of great books that sparked my interest so I want to help boost their visibility.

This book starts off with a gut punch: the main character’s daughter dies the moment she’s born. Normally, as a reader, I would need some time to warm up and get to know a character before I could fully empathize with their troubles. But Maleia’s grief unfolds in such a detailed, deep way that I was right there with her from the start. It’s the moment that defines who she becomes and it thrusts her into a totally new life, so it actually works as the opening for this story.The world is also fully realized from the start, and it’s refreshingly different from

The world is also fully realized from the start, and it’s refreshingly different from typical fantasy that’s modeled on western European cultures. Maleia’s tropical island home has more in common with Hawaii and other Pacific cultures, but the culture unfolds in a clear way so I didn’t feel lost because of the unfamiliarity.

Unfortunately, the second half of the book is weaker, including the ending. I didn’t feel like there was enough time to introduce the other cultures or characters in between the many crises. The love triangle gets weird, for lack of a better way to explain it. Also, because Maleia is the only narrator, there’s weird parts where the characters split up, then try to explain what happened when they’re reunited, but it’s rushed and not done well.It felt like the first half of the book was setting up a narrowly focused journey, which was fine. The second half introduced sprawl that would have done better in a series of multiple books or at least more than one POV. It was disjointed and didn’t live up to its promise. I really liked this book in the beginning but I was disappointed as things went on. The

It felt like the first half of the book was setting up a narrowly focused journey, which was fine. The second half introduced sprawl that would have done better in a series of multiple books or at least more than one POV. It was disjointed and didn’t live up to its promise. I really liked this book in the beginning but I was disappointed as things went on. The ending in particular wasn’t satisfying.

It is a stand alone book, not part of an apparent series, but given the awkwardness I would be reluctant to try other books by the same author.
I’m not sure who I would recommend this book to. It’s unusual and goes in several different directions so it’s not easy for me to come up with any comparisons. Not enough romance for romance fans, not enough epic scale for epic fantasy fans, not enough introspection for fans of more philosophical fantasy. I think this might be a case of a book that tried to do too much or had a lack of focus to the narrative. It seemed like classic fantasy at first (the Chosen Ones of prophecy must unite to save the world) but it deviates from that type of story too much.

There is also a sale currently going on for self-published urban fantasy novels. Click the graphic below to find lots of great books for free and 99c. Includes my book, Small Town Witch, along with lots of other bestselling books!


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Review: Masque from #SPFBO

masqueBeauty met the Beast and there was . . . Bloody murder?

It’s the Annual Ambassadorial Ball in Glause, and Lady Isabella Farrah, the daughter of New Civet’s Ambassador, is feeling pleasantly scintillated.
In the library is Lord Pecus, a charming gentleman whose double mask hides a beastly face, and who has decided that Isabella is the very person to break the Pecus curse.
In the ball-room is young Lord Topher, who is rapidly falling in love with an older woman.
And in the card-room, lying in a pool of his own blood, is the body of one of Isabella’s oldest friends: Raoul, Civet’s Head Guardsman. The papers sewn into his sash seem to suggest espionage gone wrong, but Isabella is not so certain.
Lord Pecus, as Commander of the Watch, is of the opinion that Isabella should keep out of the investigation and out of danger. Isabella is of the opinion that it is her murder to investigate, and that what a certain Beast-Lord doesn’t know won’t hurt him. . . .
Will Isabella find the murderer before Lord Pecus does, or will she end her investigation as a bloody spatter on the parlour floor?

Goodreads Link: Masque (Two Monarchies Sequence #2)
Author: W. R. Gingell
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 3/5 stars

Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite Fairy tales, and it intrigued me to imagine it written in a Jane Austen style, since I also love her books. (Personally, I think Disney’s version borrows from Pride & Prejudice, since both characters dislike each other in the beginning.)

The fairy tale only seems to give a loose structure to the story, though, because the main focus is on a murder and conspiracy. The complex politics require a lot of dense information from the beginning so it’s slow to get into. I did realize this is the second book in a series, although it seems to have different characters from the first, so I don’t know how much it helps to know from the first book. I think it’s more likely that the author wanted to throw readers into the middle of things and let them figure things out for themselves. So while I can follow things, sometimes I have to go back to reference previous scenes to keep track of the large number of names being thrown about or puzzle through what’s going on. It’s not a light read by any stretch–and some of the details seem less than necessary, like the elaborate clothing or dances.

By the time Isabella is forced to live in the Beast Lord’s house to save her father, she already seems to growing to like him and I already had a good guess of who the murderer was (disappointingly, I was right, so there weren’t any surprises from the second half on). I thought the focus would shift to developing the relationship at that point, but it stays on chasing red herrings and arguments while the actual romance is so understated that you could almost blink and miss it.

Overall, it was an interesting premise, but lacked in execution. Both plot lines suffer from being bogged down by unnecessary side plots about Isabella’s many friends and worrying over the servants in the house. I think if more time had been spent on the main story instead of background flavor and world building, it might have done better.

Minor quibble: Trophy and Topher have very similar names but it’s crucial not to mix up these two characters.

I’m not sure I would recommend this to fairy tale or Austen fans. It falls somewhere in the middle with a lot of politics and intrigue mixed in. Maybe suited to fans of Mercedes Lackey’s fairy tale series, since it reminded me of that.

Favorite meal: chocolate cake! Isabella indulges in a lot of tasty-sounding food, but her favorites seem to be tea and chocolate, and the chocolate cake sounded very tempting. Not the book to read on an empty stomach!

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New Release: The Duke’s Daughter

Today is the release of “The Duke’s Daughter”, a prequel to the Wyld Magic series. It’s a novella about Korinna before the events of A Flight of Marewings. I hope it helps to shed some light on her hopes and feelings before the death of her father overturns her life.
dukesdaughterinteriorKorinna is the daughter of the duke’s mistress. She and her mother were sent to a farming estate in the country to avoid political complications for her father. Her mother hopes that someday, the duke will bring them to the capital and marry her at last, but he keeps putting them off with excuses. But he has his own plans to arrange a marriage for Korinna when she comes of age.

When a magical plague threatens the countryside and her mother’s life, Korinna takes up the responsibilities of leading the estate. She begs the duke for help, but none comes, leaving her with difficult choices to save her mother and her people.
She must sacrifice many things to survive: the safety of her childhood friend who is now a handsome squire in her guard, her mother’s most cherished possessions, maybe even her own life. Being the duke’s daughter won’t be enough to save her now. Can she find the strength to be something more?
The novella is available today at the following stores:
Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, Smashwords, Nook, Google Play
Here’s an excerpt to give you a taste of what happens. Korinna has been warned about a sickness in the village, and goes to fetch the healer for help:

The healer, an old woman named Nysa, lived in a little tower on the wall, with her own herb garden in the courtyard below. Since they didn’t know what kind of illness had struck the tanner and his wife, she brought an entire healing kit along with her, a heavy basket stuffed with packets and jars of medicine. Korinna offered to carry it but the healer clutched the basket as if it were more precious than gold.

The tanner’s cottage was easy to find in the village, standing some distance apart from its neighbors to keep the smell of curing hides from disturbing the other villagers. But when they were still some yards down the street from the home, Nysa put her hand out and stopped the rest of the group.

“Don’t go any closer,” the healer warned. “This is no ordinary sickness.” She pointed at something along the ground near the cottage.

Korinna looked where the healer was pointing and saw a creeping black fog across the ground, despite the sun high in the clear blue sky. “What is that?”

Nysa’s face had turned pale, and she cupped her hand to her forehead, invoking the gods’ blessing. “Tryphaestos save us,” she said in a shaky voice, praying to the god of healing. “It’s miasma, bringing the Black Death upon us again. You must fetch the priest and pray that he can drive it away before it spreads any farther.”

Korinna had never seen miasma before; the last time it had struck, she was only an infant, but she’d heard stories about the destruction that followed in its wake. “Where is Father Isokytres today?” she murmured to Aeson. She knew the local priest traveled out from his shrine on a weekly rotation, visiting all of the villages under his protection, but in her moment of panic, she couldn’t remember which one he was scheduled to be at.

Aeson licked his lips nervously. “Um, Sestyn, I’m pretty sure.” He put a hand on her shoulder. “Take the boy back to the manor, and I’ll go.”

Korinna put her hand on top of his, grateful for the comfort, but she shook her head. “I’m a better runner,” she said with a faint smile. “I’ll get the priest. Go tell the guards to quarantine off this area—if anyone needs shelter, they can come to the manor.” She stepped closer, craning her neck to whisper in his ear. “Try not to let my mother hear about this yet.”

Aeson bent toward her, and his eyes locked on hers as if he was trying to convey some message to her by look alone. The air between them was charged with something Korinna had never felt before. But when he finally spoke, he only said, “Yes, my lady.”

Korinna forced herself to clear her mind, tied her skirts up at her waist to be out of her way, and took off running without another look back. She stretched out her legs and took deep breaths, pacing herself as she followed the road north. Sestyn was only the next village up the river, but it was five miles, and she needed to save her strength to make it the whole way. Slow and steady would serve her better than an all-out sprint.

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Review: Bone Dry from #SPFBO


Sometimes it isn’t as easy as choosing right or wrong.

Sixteen-year-old Holly Bennett is a comic book nerd, a con artist, and a shaman. Most days Holly wishes she could trade in her power of spirit communication for something more useful–like fireballs or Wolverine claws. She knows spirits aren’t exactly Casper the Friendly Ghosts. They’re dangerous beings from Lower World who snack on human life, and messing with the magic from their world is an express ticket to big trouble. But when a shaman sticks her mom’s mind between their world and ours, Holly becomes the unexpected breadwinner in the family. She uses her burgeoning shaman powers to set up fake hauntings and “banish” the so-called ghosts from her wealthy classmates’ bedrooms. For a fee, of course.

When actual spirits start manifesting, Holly discovers that other shamans have come to town, summoning life-sucking spirits for their own ends. And the newcomers may just hold the clue Holly’s been looking for–the one that can release her mom’s mind from its Lower World prison. With the help of both a cute web comic artist and her partner-in-con, Holly plots to take them down, throwing her into a whirlwind of speedboat getaways, breaking and entering, and astral projections into the spirit world. And as her mom’s mind slips further away, Holly has to fight to save her, and the rest of the town, before they get sucked into Lower World permanently.

Goodreads Link: Bone Dry (Soul Shames #1)
Author: Cady Vance
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Rating: 4/5 stars

A fast-paced urban fantasy teen novel with an interesting premise. The shamans and spirit world were defined and added a lot of mystery to the story. Also, I really liked Holly, the main character. She had more depth than I expected from a comic book-loving con artist.
I read the whole book in a blur in about two days. The action doesn’t let up from the moment the book starts, even when she’s with the boy she has a crush on, since he gets pretty involved in the main story. She also has a great friend in Laura, who I wanted to hear more about. There’s got to be more to her story how she ended up being adopted by a normal human despite her shaman powers.
Despite the serious tone and action, there was time for little spots of humor here and there. I liked the comic book references in particular. It made Holly more relatable to know what she did for fun when she wasn’t dealing with such major issues.
With the fast pace, some novels tend to make the romantic relationship develop too quickly, leading to some people labeling them “instalove.” This book avoids that problem because Holly already knew Nate from school and the attraction existed before the story starts. The plot finally brings them closer together to let the sparks fly and the relationship feels pretty natural for two awkward teens. It’s actually really cute the way that Nate volunteers to be her “sidekick” and finds ways to help out even though he has no shaman powers of her own.
Also, I’ve got to give a shout-out to the animal companion. Astral is her adorable kitty and he even helps out at one point. He’s not as involved as a full-blown familiar, but it’s nice to have a pet, at least.
The main plot of the book does get resolved, but it opens up new story possibilities for the sequels. It seems like Holly still has a lot to learn about being a shaman and deal with spirits. I’ll probably pick up the next book in the series to see where it goes after this.
I’d recommend this to anyone who likes teen urban fantasy. It’s a solid example of the genre, with more focus on the magical side of the story than trouble at school or other teen problems.
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