Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Reader's Review: "You Left Me No Choice" by Kelly Blanchard

Synopsis from Amazon:

Fighting an ancient prophecy will always bring disaster.

Lorrek once more views the events of the past a thousand years ago to find the origin of the Order and hopefully a weakness. He discovers a world ravaged by war with humanity on the brink of extinction—all due to a single person.

Therina is the bride promised to the king of the immortal kelliphs, but she has other plans. While her betrothed hunts her down, destroying human kingdoms that stand in his way, Therina brings together humans, mages, and dragons to forge a weapon capable of killing the unkillable. Even if the forging of this weapon kills her, at least she would have proven her Dragon Prophecy wrong and given the humans a chance for survival.

My Review:

Can it get any better??


AHEM! On to the review.

Four whole books of questions and more questions and cool features with mysterious origins (like the handblades and the World Orbs... or even how the kingdoms got started) and finally we're getting some answers! Way back at the end of Book 3, Lorrek and Radella depart on a ship, on the run from the Thymord Order because of what Lorrek did just before disappearing again... and the last two books have been spent filling in backstory and setting up what promises to be an epic and most satisfying conclusion to a magnificent story!

Here's the thing: I've always used the most grandiose terms to describe all the books in this series. We started with a war between kingdoms that would rival the Battle of The Five Armies, and it just ramped up from there: a malevolent entity from back in some forgotten era resurfacing and laying waste to everything he sees... long-forgotten secrets and surprising connections in unexpected corners of the magic realm, where one small tug in the wrong direction would erase a person's entire existence... One has to wonder where else Blanchard can take this series that it hasn't been already!

But she delivers, every time--to the fullest extent. We're on Book 5 the fictional world is bigger than ever--it's a whole universe beyond the already-massive continent where the story originated! I feel like I'm actually reading recorded archives of a literal civilization, meticulously compiled over centuries by multiple persons...

But it's just one exceptionally gifted author who may have just "cracked" whatever sort of "code" there probably is for being able to produce finely-tuned masterpieces at a relatively steady rate. I am constantly in awe of what she is able to achieve, and I definitely want more!

You Left Me No Choice is stunning and poignant--it is set far back in the history long before Lorrek ever disappeared from Cuskelom, before him or his parents were even born, in the time of the Immortals: Dragons and kelliphs. It's by far the most traditionally-fantasy of the series, as this time period wasn't much for technology, relying on medieval-era machines and magic to get things done--but it's beautiful, and the references to things already hinted at over the course of the series, the explanations of how things came to be, or what really happened back then, is highly gratifying, to say the least!
I tend to get really spoiler-y when reviewing books in this series, so I'm going to try not to do that, but I will say this: if anything I've mentioned sounds remotely interesting, and you're in the market for some good sci-fi/fantasy... there isn't a whole lot that is better than The Chronicles of Lorrek!

Yet again, You Left Me No Choice scores top marks, earning a *****5 STAR***** rating for the way it moved through the plot, the way the characters responded and interacted naturally and not forced, the driving climax and the resolution that not only accomplished the goal of the story itself, but set up answers for questions we've had since Book 1--all in all a satisfying entry to an Upstream Writer Certified ABSOLUTELY RECOMMENDED series!! Definitely check out this series for yourself--and prepare to have your mind blown time and again!

Further Reading: (Epic Sci-fantasy/Addictive Series/Magnificent World-Building)
The Chronicles of Lorrek--Kelly Blanchard 
        -Someday I'll Be Redeemed 
        -I Still Have A Soul 
        -I'm Still Alive 
        -Do You Trust Me? 
        -The Truth Behind: A Short Story Collection 
Dawn of Steam Trilogy--Jeffrey Cook
      -First Light
      -Gods of The Sun 
      -Rising Suns
The Red Dog Conspiracy--Patricia Loofbourrow
       -The Alcatraz Coup 
       -Jacq of Spades
       -Queen of Diamonds 
The Therian Way--Kimberly Rogers
       -Leopard's Heart 
       -Wolf's Path 
       -Tiger's Shadow
The PSS Chronicles--Ripley Patton
       -Ghost Hand 
       -Ghost Hold 
       -Ghost Heart 
       -Ghost Hope
The Grave Reports--R. R. Virdi
        -Grave Beginnings 
        -Grave Measures 
        -Grave Dealings 
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey 
       -The Way 
       -The Truth 
       -The Lie 
The Jill Andersen Series--J. D. Cunegan
       -Blood Ties 
       -Behind the Badge

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Reader's Review: "TYR" by N. R. Tupper

Synopsis from Amazon:

When a routine transport mission goes wrong, Captain Kai Brecken and her ragtag crew have to fight for their lives.

Murderous aliens and crooked Alliance soldiers aren't going to get in her way, but her conscience might. When they stumble upon an age-old secret, Kai and the crew must choose between saving themselves and re-igniting a war with grave consequences.

But are they interested in being heroes?

My Review:

I have one thing to say: Heck YES!

To put a girl in the position of pirate captain—and a young girl, at that—there is much temptation to turn her into a fully capable Mary Sue who is better, smarter, and faster than all the adults around her, and she always succeeds except when her humiliation makes a better story. Especially if her humiliation throws her at the mercy of a scruffy competitor that she dislikes at first, but the way he treats her at her lowest sparks admiration in her and they end up becoming partners/lovers (but she still likes to maintain she is better than him)...

Been there. It gets old FAST.

This one isn’t that. Kai Brecken is a young captain, but she isn’t super-skilled or “perfect.” She learned the trade of trafficking and smuggling/pirating when she became indentured to a group of pirates. They raised her and trained her, and when she was old enough, she claimed a ship of her own and set out on her own path. As it says near the very beginning of the book: "I went from living the life my parents wanted, to living the life the pirates wanted, and now I just want to live the life I want."

Unfortunately, Fate has other plans for Kai. She's got a crackerjack pilot, a knowledgeable biologist (who serves as the crew's medic as well), and several worthy crew members--and one seemingly inconspicuous mission goes absolutely sideways, leaving Kai with just her crew, lightyears outside her comfort zone, with threats closing in on every side--and it's going to take the skills of every last one of them to survive this trip!

Quite frankly, I loved it. There were shades of both Firefly and Farscape (not to mention a touch of Stranger Things, too!), but not in your typical "Gender-bent fanfiction" sort of way. Tupper plays it smart and creates a worthwhile story that sets itself apart, and utilizes fantastic world-building to draw curiosity away from being all about the main character (even though she is the narrator) and allowing the reader to build curiosity about other places and other characters. I loved the interactions between the characters, the "unspoken histories" that crop up from time to time, that really imbues a sense of relationship and closeness in the reader. It's a tight-knit group, and we're along for one heck of a ride!

The incredible imagery of the non-human beast-creatures was also a tantalizing feature! There are Moles, worm-like creatures that infiltrate and consume electrical systems; Snappers, the vicious, bloodthirsty hound-like quadrupeds; the main feature, though, are the Dreki--a race of dragon-like aliens capable of tearing entire ships in half and flying in space, and the real, unbeatable threat to humanity's attempts to settle the other planets in the solar system. It all comes together into a tantalizing feast for the speculative-ficton-loving soul!

With all that said, it should come as no surprise that I would definitely give TYR a full *****5 STAR***** rating, and couple that with an Upstream Writer Certified HEARTILY Recommended endorsement. If you're looking for a fantastic new series to follow, and you enjoy space-based adventures with colorful characters and don't mind intense bouts of violence--then N. R. Tupper is the new Author To Watch!

Further Reading: (Space Adventures/Strong Women Leaders)
-The Secret King: Letháo--Dawn Chapman
The Untamed Series--Madeline Dyer
The Jill Andersen Series--J. D. Cunegan
       -Blood Ties 
       -Behind the Badge 
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey 
       -The Way 
       -The Truth 
       -The Lie 
The Fair Folk Chronicles--Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
        -Foul is Fair 
        -Street Fair 
        -A Fair Fight
        -All's Fair
The Cadeau Series--Connie Olvera
       -Who Can You Trust? 
Tales of the Fallen--Katika Schneider
The PSS Chronicles--Ripley Patton
       -Ghost Hand 
       -Ghost Hold 
       -Ghost Heart   
       -Ghost Hope 

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Serial Saturday: "Red, The Wolf" Part 1

The thick fog of the early morning had nearly faded, but the old shepherd barely noticed. All he could see were the agitated, fragmented remains of the flock in his care. The day had hardly begun, and already they had faced the white wolf and his savage attack. On his son's first day in the field, no less! He'd wanted to show Tobin the normal, everyday duties of a shepherd... He glanced at the sandy head sitting next to him and sighed. Ah, well, the boy would learn of the white wolf's attacks eventually, he thought to himself. It might as well be now.
He gripped the staff in his hand and counted with his eyes. One lamb, a ewe, and the stodgy bellwether were the only losses they sustained. Many flocks had fared worse, elsewhere on the mountain; the grey-bearded man had heard tell of communities afflicted by poachers and whole packs of ravenous beasts. Sometimes, a single lamb and a ewe would be all that remained after an attack. Yes, indeed; it could have been so much worse, if not for the fact that they belonged to Queston.


The old man lifted his eyes and blinked away his rambling thoughts at the sound of his name. One of his men, a twinkle-eyed fellow named Edan, caught his eye and nodded toward the edge of the field. Burch followed Edan's gaze to the lean figure slinking out of the bushes. He felt Tobin tremble as the boy pressed against his father's leg.
"A wolf!" Tobin rasped in a small whisper. "Is it going to attack again, father?"
Burch stood, nudging his son's shoulder as he did. "No, Tobin," he said softly, as the grey-brown creature approached with an even gait. "See how the ears are turned to the sides? She comes in peace. This is not the wolf that attacked us before, and this is the one wolf in the whole mountain that you can always trust. There is no cause for fear when the Red Wolf is near." He stayed where he was as the she-wolf paced toward him, placing her paws on the log where Burch had been sitting. Something red dangled from her mouth.
Burch held out his hand, and she dropped the thing into it: a red collar with a blood-stained bell hanging from it. The old shepherd felt a pang at the sight of it. That would be Downey, then--the ram that had so long served as the bellwether of the flock. No wonder they seemed more scattered than usual, even after such a fatal attack. With his other hand, he reached out and stroked the red wolf on the top of her head. After a few pats, he looked down at his son.
"Well, Tobin," he murmured. "Don't be afraid. Hold out your hand."
Tobin obediently raised his arm, but he was trembling too much to move forward. He just stood there, hand extended well short of the she-wolf's body.
The Red Wolf responded, stepping forward and over the log completely, letting Burch's hand trail to her back, while she slipped her head under the tentative fingers of the boy. There she stood, staring into his face with her deep golden-brown eyes.
Burch watched his son's shoulder's relax, and finally, he gave the Red Wolf a few small pats. Seeing this moment took him back to the first day he had encountered the tiny pup, trembling and alone in that abandoned cave where Burch had tried to take refuge during a fierce storm. He had taken pity on the pup, brought it back to the house, nursed it back to health--and nearly scared his poor wife to death when the wolf-cub somehow transformed into a little girl before their very eyes.

From that day forward, in recognition of the compassion shown by the couple, the Red Wolf became the steadfast guardian of Queston. Those who encountered her knew her dual nature, but some dismissed it as a woman and a wolf as separate entities bonded deeply one to the other. Her reputation grew as the years went on, and yet she never failed to protect and intervene when necessary--such as when, time and again, the white wolf worried Queston's flocks.
Burch's trailing fingers met a wet patch of matted fur, and he felt Red's whole body flinch under his hand, though she kept her growls subdued. The moment was broken, and the she-wolf stepped away from the shepherds.
Burch waved after her as she disappeared back into the forest. If her encounter with the white wolf had resulted in a wound, then she would be visiting the town soon in search of Deborah's healing ointment. Burch smiled. He would warn his wife to carry a few jars with her, in case Red crossed her path.

He waved to the other shepherds. "Let's get the flock back down to the village. We need to get the injured sheep penned and nursed, and then we should see about choosing a new bellwether to lead the flock. I think we've all had enough excitement this morning."
Edan and the others nodded, and he could see a new spring in Tobin's step as he watched and followed the example set by the men around him. He would make a fine shepherd, yet, Burch was certain.

Deep in the craggy peaks of a mountain, far enough to be out of the range of normal human hearing, a young woman dragged herself into the safety of a secure cave. A gaping wound on her side oozed blood, and small red scratches crisscrossed her arms and legs. Anyone in her condition would not be able to move very far, but she did. Sinking with a heavy sigh onto a pallet of pelts, she pulled a squat jar out of a cleft in the rocks and scooped some of the healing ointment onto her fingertips. She spread it over the wound, gritting her teeth against the searing pain. She kept going until every scratch and scrape has been tended, and only then did she allow her body to relax, curling up in the pelts and closing her eyes to rest and heal from the day's ordeal.

The village of Queston sat well-protected in a wide, flat valley in the midst of tall mountains. Many tradespeople and farming folk lived there, raising their families in relative peace. They were dependent on people from the villages below willing to travel up the crags and slopes for the things their own hands and skill could not provide.
One such traveler was Schoolmaster Remani. The tall, lean scholar made the trek up the mountain every year just after harvest time. He taught the children how to read and figure for six months while the winter prevented him from leaving, and then headed back down to his own village when the paths cleared.
Today marked the Schoolmaster's return to Queston, and the whole town buzzed with excitement. No one knew the precise hour, but he had sent a letter ahead from the inn at the bottom of the mountain. It informed them that he hoped to arrive at midday, so everyone desired to be ready for him.
The wives and older ladies set out a sumptuous array of pies, cakes, cookies, and sandwiches upon tables the men had built. Young women decked the walkways and windows with flowers. The young men climbed ladders and drove nails to hang colorful streamers and a banner that read WELCOME SCHOOLMASTER!
Red favored her sore hip and arm as she milled about the town. She didn’t care to interact with the villagers on a regular basis, leading them to depend on one another for wildly-exaggerated stories of her prowess and valor. (Not that she minded what they said about her in her absence, but she tired of refuting it in person.) In spite of this, every so often she liked to take a quiet, close-up inspection of the town she guarded so carefully. Those who had interacted with her in the past gave a subdued smile and nod, while the others mostly left the strange, caped figure alone.

Her quick ears caught the sobs of a child, but by the time she located the source, a little girl already complained to her mother, "I left it right by the stair, and now I can't find it anywhere!"

Her mother tried to console the child. "Don't worry, dear! We can get another doll! Brand can make you one, or we can see if the Peddler has one in his wagon when he comes!"
"I don't want a new doll!" Sobbed the child. "Marilee was my best friend and I told her ever so many secrets! I couldn't bear to tell another one while she's still out there somewhere!"

Red pressed her lips in sympathy and moved on. Almost as an afterthought, she passed close enough to the mother and child to get a whiff of their scent. Not that she would ever consider throwing away her watchful duties to chase after someone's doll, but just in case it had fallen somewhere or had been discarded by an inadvertent passerby, she might locate it when no one else could. After all, Red was known for such things.

The town had been built along and around many of the natural cliffs and mountainsides, and the small valley floor served as a sort of central square for the residents. Everyone climbed up and down the narrow pathways that would seem treacherous to anyone who hadn't lived here their whole lives.
The "Town Square", as it was known, had nearly filled with tables and chairs and all manner of well-designed boards for games such as a bean-bag or ring toss, horseshoes, wool crafts, painting, and a set of raised platforms where the older children were just warming up to sing their welcome song for the returning Schoolmaster.
Red wandered over to the refreshment tables, where she saw the familiar, warm, round face of Mrs. Garrity, a peace-loving goodwife who never hesitated to treat Red as one of her own daughters.
Now, she unloaded baskets of clean linens and heavy silver serving dishes, getting ready for the food that came down from the cliffs in small groups. She stopped in the process of setting out a collection of pewter drinking cups next to an assortment of metal pitchers and crystal punch bowls to greet the red-caped woman.
"Oh, Red, dear! So good to see you up and about--word has already gotten around about what you did for Burch and his boys this morning. Facing off against the white wolf, yet again! He didn't scratch you this time, I hope?" Her practiced eyes traveled down the long cloak concealing Red's body.
Red grit her teeth against the pain and smiled for the old woman's benefit. "Not too badly, I'm glad to say--just a few nips here and there. I came down to see if you had any more of that magical salve you gave me last winter."
Mrs. Garrity nodded emphatically. "Oh, indeed! As a matter of fact," she shuffled over to the limp patchwork bag on the end of the table. "Here," she turned to Red and handed her a small crock half-filled with the gooey substance. "Take this one. I'm sure I still have plenty of tins in my larder. I can spare plenty for our resident guardian!"
Red took the crock and tucked it away in the pocket of her cloak. From the way her side was beginning to ache again, she would need to reapply soon. “Thank you, Deborah,” she murmured. “I hope all goes well for your party.”
Mrs. Garrity’s mouth bent into a small frown. “Why, aren’t you going to stay?”
The cloaked young woman chuckled. “Only you could ever convince me to forget my disdain for socializing!” she mused. “But I think it would be best for me to rest and heal while everyone is happy and peaceful, so that I can be ready for the next time danger strikes.”
Mrs. Garrity gave a wistful sigh. “Oh, you and your Lone Wolf ways!”
Red reached out and took the old woman’s hand. “At least I always know exactly where to go when things get too lonesome.”
Her words brought a smile to Deborah Garrity’s face. She chuckled and moved over to another basket, unloading the odds and ends and placing them on the table.
Red's nose twitched as she picked up a whiff of something important. She began casually, "How are things at home? You seem quite a bit more tired than usual."
The blue eyes came up twinkling. "How did you--oh! Never you mind!" Mrs. Garrity waved a hand and let her trembling hands fidget with her apron. "I'm all right, the house is just as lively as ever!"
Red smiled, and took the matron by the hand. "Deborah," she chided her as a peer, not a parent, "I can smell your fatigue. Don't try to hide it from me."
Mrs. Garrity gave a nervous giggle. "My, my!" she clucked her tongue, "What a keen nose you have there, Lady Red!" She pulled away and returned to the basket on the table, carefully counting out each item she retrieved.
Red came to stand next to her, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. "The better to sniff out signs of distress or danger, my dear," she murmured softly. "Tell me, why do you push yourself so hard?"
The older woman set down the silver cruet in her hands and gave a sigh that weighed on her whole body. "If you must know," she said softly, "it's Henny. She's not a problem, don't look like that! It's just that... Well, you know how she was always my right hand, always waiting at my side and helping with absolutely everything I did--oh, it gave her such pleasure to be working along with me! But since she graduated from the Schoolmaster's lessons, last harvest season, she applied for apprenticeship at Bethany's dress shop. learning about designing and materials and all manner of sewing and tailoring."
Red's brow creased. "And this troubles you?" She didn't see anything wrong with a young woman learning the skills for a profitable trade.
"Not at all," Mrs. Garrity wagged her head. "It's just that she spends so much time at the shop, and I don't want to interfere with this good work she is doing, but at the same time, I've got the young ones to tend to, as well as the duties of the house, and all the other things--I really miss her sometimes!" But she said this last with a small laugh, letting the younger woman know that it really wasn't a terrible situation, but a frazzled one. She reached into the basket, pushing aside some linens to get to the very bottom. The smile disappeared in the wake of a puzzled frown. "Hmm," mused Mrs. Garrity. "That's strange."
Red tilted her head. "What is?"
"Well, I had some silver candlesticks that I am sure I placed at the bottom of this basket--heirlooms from my mother's family--but they aren't there!" She tilted the basket to show Red the empty wicker bottom.
Red frowned. "Could they have been misplaced somehow?"
"Oh, perhaps," Mrs. Garrity answered. "Now that you mention it, I do think our storeroom has been looking rather unkempt lately. It could be that I or Mr. Garrity--maybe even Henny herself--could have been looking in this basket for something else, taken the candlesticks out, and simply laid them in the wrong place without returning them. Certainly I didn't lend them to anybody!"
"Oh, Deborah!" Another woman skated by their table. She ignored Red completely and held Mrs. Garrity by the arm, arresting her full attention. "Have you seen my nice platter? The gold-plated one? I put it out on the table over by the breadstuffs," she gestured to the booth bearing baskets of loaves and scones and muffins, "but when I came back to set the rolls out, it was gone!"
Mrs. Garrity shook her head. "No, Mallory; I'm sorry, I haven't. You might ask Chester the baker--he could have swept it up to fill it, himself."
Mallory nodded, her thin face sagging as her eyes darted back and forth, searching her memory. "I suppose..." she murmured, wandering toward the bakery.

A commotion at the valley wall attracted attention that way. Red saw a boy burst into view, running full-tilt and waving his hat as he shouted.
"Wagon, ho! I saw a wagon! A wagon is coming this way!"


If you're enjoying this series, check out "Flash Fictions" for shorter works, and "Serial Saturdays" for longer, serialized stories!