From the Editor’s Desk: From Under the Mountain by Cait Spivey

 

Welcome to my first book review of the year! There will be lots more in the months to come, but I’m super excited that this one happens to be first. Yes, I may have some particular vested interest in it, seeing as its one I had the privilege of working on and its written by a talented author I’m lucky enough to call friend, but more than that, I just plain adored this one. Toward the end of last year, I found a string of amazing fantasy novels, including Uprooted by Naomi Novik and The Untold Tale by J.M. Frey, and Spivey’s offering fit right in.

So let’s get to all the reasons you should run out and read this book immediately, shall we?

From Under the Mountain

by Cait Spivey

From Under the Mountain by Cait Spivey

As the second child of the Aridan imperial family, nineteen-year-old Guerline knows exactly what is expected of her: be unobtrusive, be compliant, and do not fall in love with her low-born companion, Eva. She has succeeded at only two of those.

But before her feelings for Eva can become a point of contention for the royal house, Guerline’s calm and narrow life is ripped away from her—in the course of a single night—and she is abruptly cast in the role of empress.

Faced with a council that aggressively fears the four witch clans charged with protecting Arido and believes they are, in fact, waging war against the humans, Guerline struggles to maintain order. As her control over the land crumbles, she learns that the war is rooted in a conflict much older than she realized—one centuries in the making, which is now crawling from under the mountain and into the light. With the fate of Arido hanging in the balance, Guerline must decide who to trust when even her closest councilors seem to have an agenda.

Darkly cinematic, From Under the Mountain pairs the sweeping landscape of epic fantasy with the personal journey of finding one’s voice in the world, posing the question: how do you define evil, when everything society tells you is a lie?

There is so much to love about this novel that I almost don’t know where to start. But first, let me say that although Amazon and other retailers seem to be primarily classing this as f/f romance, it is not. There is romance, yes, and it does feature a beautifully rendered f/f love story, but this book is, in fact, a brilliant example of dark fantasy done well.

Spivey establishes her prowess in the genre right from the first page, where we’re introduced to protagonist Guerline standing over the decaying, yet alive, bodies of her parents. This horrifying, slightly gruesome scene is merely a harbinger for what’s to come though, as Spivey proceeds to kill off the entire Imperial family — with the exception of Guerline, of course — by the end of the first chapter.

Suddenly thrust into a role she never expected to fill, the young empress has to navigate not only the intricacies of unraveling her own identity from what others expect her to be but the nuances of running a country poised on the brink of war. Humanity is turning against the witch-lords who have guarded the empire’s borders for centuries, and Guerline finds herself dealing with radical opinions on both sides. But the rift between human and witch, magic and politics is only the beginning of Guerline’s problems, as a creature that has been sealed away from the world for a millennium is finally about to get its revenge.

Spivey’s writing sings off the page with a cinematic flair that evoked the feel of a Studio Ghibli film, but the rotating, more traditional approach to the POV and fact that no one is as safe as they seem brought up visions of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. And I have to say that the blending of those two is nothing less than stunning.

But the thing that has always resonated most for me in Spivey’s work is her ability to create a fully realized cast of diverse characters and a world so richly textured it makes you want to live there indefinitely. Arido’s plight may encompass the standard sprawling map of high fantasy, but every detail is painstakingly accounted for, and the repercussions of what seem like small acts are felt throughout in an impressive example of the butterfly effect.

All in all, this is a gorgeous debut by an author who has clearly only begun her to literary stardom, and I cannot recommend it enough. If you’re a fan of high fantasy rife with political intrigue and the classic good vs evil scenario, if you enjoy dark fantasy with a fantastically creepy edge, or if you simply wish to escape into a world that treats everyone — regardless of gender or race or sexual orientation — with respect, then this is the book for you.  Seriously, go read it. It’s amazing.

Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

 

From the Editor’s Desk: The Untold Tale by J.M. Frey

Welcome to my final post from 2015! The next time you hear from me, it’ll be January. Frightening, right? Don’t worry, though, I will be back with lots of new content, book reviews galore, and a few spiffy giveaways. Not unlike the one I introduced last week (hint, hint).

But before I go on my annual mini-hiatus, I want to introduce you to one of my favorite reads of the year. Yes, it is one I had the privilege of working on, but so much of how that happened felt guided by fate, or chance, or serendipity, or whatever name you prefer that I fully believe this book was meant to find its home at REUTS, and I was honored to be part of bringing it into the world.

So, without further (sappy) intro, I give you . . .

The Untold Tale

by J.M. Frey

The Untold Tale cover

Forsyth Turn is not a hero. Lordling of Turn Hall and Lysse Chipping, yes. Spymaster for the king, certainly. But hero? That’s his older brother’s job, and Kintyre Turn is nothing if not legendary. However, when a raid on the kingdom’s worst criminal results in the rescue of a bafflingly blunt woman, oddly named and even more oddly mannered, Forsyth finds his quaint, sedentary life is turned on its head.

Dragged reluctantly into a quest he never expected, and fighting villains that even his brother has never managed to best, Forsyth is forced to confront his own self-shame and the demons that come with always being second-best. And, more than that, when he finally realizes where Lucy came from and why she’s here, he’ll be forced to question not only his place in the world, but the very meaning of his own existence.

Smartly crafted, The Untold Tale gives agency to the unlikeliest of heroes: the silenced, the marginalized, and the overlooked. It asks what it really means to be a fan when the worlds you love don’t resemble the world you live in, celebrates the power of the written word, challenges tropes, and shows us what happens when someone stands up and refuses to remain a secondary character in their own life.

I knew from the moment I heard this book described in passing by the author’s agent that I was going to love it. I could just tell, like an instinct. And I was right. Frey’s tale is bold without being preachy, innovative while still being familiar, classic with a modern twist, and is easily among my all-time favorite reads ever.

Forsyth Turn is a swoon-worthy hero, though he is admittedly not what one pictures when they think of the leading man in an epic fantasy-adventure. Insecure, flawed, and adorably awkward, he’s real. But he’s more than just the point-of-view character, he’s the lens through which Frey paints her extremely relevant, extremely important message. Through him, we meet Pip, a woman who epitomizes what it means to be a fan, and who’s been literally pulled into her favorite fictional world. And through him, we watch as all the prejudices — intentional or otherwise — of the fantasy genre (and fiction in general) are brought to light.

The beauty in this book is that yes, it does challenge the tropes of the genre, and yes, it does give power to those who are too often overlooked, but it does so without sacrificing a single shred of expert storytelling at the altar of “message.” This isn’t a book with an agenda — it’s an example of what great literature should be: unabashedly inclusive and a reflection of reality. It is most definitely thought-provoking and an intelligent discourse on the state of literature, but at the end of the day, it’s the story of two people learning about themselves, facing down their personal demons, and falling in love.

The Untold Tale is written in a modern first-person present tense, and yet still somehow manages to evoke the spirits of literary greats (it has an Austen-like quality to me, though the author disagrees). Raw, often dark, and powerfully real, this is the kind of book that sticks with you long after you’ve read it, and I could not recommend it more.

In fact, you can enter for a chance to win a copy over at my Holiday Giveaway. And if you’d simply like to purchase it, click on the links below. 😉

Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads | Barnes & Noble

From the Editor’s Desk: Link by Summer Wier

I know, I know, lots of book reviews lately! What can I say? I’ve been a reading fiend. (Okay, not really. I was just really far behind on my reviews and finally had a chance to start catching up.) But today’s post comes to you as part of a blog tour, so if you must blame anything, blame that. Although, I think after you hear a little more about today’s book, you won’t be feeling the need to place blame at all; it’s a cool one. I promise.

It’s also one that I had the pleasure of assisting into the world, hence the title of the post. Everyone knows what that means now, yes? I can skip the disclaimer? (For those who don’t, it means I was the editor on the project, and this is my way of sharing my excitement for it with all of you.) Then let’s get to the review, shall we?

Link

by Summer Wier

Link Cover

For seventeen-year-old Kira, there’s no better way to celebrate a birthday than being surrounded by friends and huddled beside a campfire deep in the woods. And with a birthday in the peak of summer, that includes late night swims under the stars.

Or at least, it used to.

Kira’s relaxing contemplation of the universe is interrupted when a piece of it falls, colliding with her and starting a chain of events that could unexpectedly lead to the one thing in her life that’s missing—her father.

Tossed into a pieced-together world of carnivals and gypsies, an old-fashioned farmhouse, and the alluring presence of a boy from another planet, Kira discovers she’s been transported to the center of a black hole, and there’s more to the story than science can explain. She’s now linked by starlight to the world inside the darkness. And her star is dying.

If she doesn’t return home before the star’s light disappears and her link breaks, she’ll be trapped forever. But she’s not the only one ensnared, and with time running out, she’ll have to find a way to save a part of her past and a part of her future, or risk losing everything she loves.

Dreamy, fluid, and beautiful, Link pairs the mystery of science fiction with the minor-key melody of a dark fantasy, creating a tale that is as human as it is out of this world.

Link is, in a word, unique. I’m not sure I’ve ever come across a book quite like it. It’s solidly science fiction, but I’ll admit that for the first third (up until a certain scene I can’t talk about because it would spoil it), I did wonder if it wasn’t actually dark fantasy. The truth is, it’s sort of both, crossing and blending the genres in a way that’s wholly original and entirely fascinating.

The thing I love about this one is that it’s not nearly as straight-forward as it seems at a glance. Yes, it is YA, and as such, features the usual teenage angst and romantic sub-plot, but it’s also handled in a way that feels authentic and doesn’t detract from the multi-layered plot that forms around it. Kira approaches her situation with all the acumen and maturity expected of a seventeen-year-old who’s suddenly had everything she’s known ripped away.

Mystery, adventure, and even danger face Kira as she struggles to come to terms not only with the fact that there’s more to the universe than she ever imagined, but also with the truth behind her past and her own identity. Wier manages to keep what is arguably a very personal journey for Kira at the center of the story, weaving an intricate and even somewhat plausible world (as a recent discovery by Stephen Hawking supports) around a framework that is easy to relate to and entirely human. The relationship between Kira and her mom is especially poignant, and something not often seen in YA literature, where absentee parental figures tend to reign.

The first in a trilogy, Link sets the stage for what promises to be an exciting and refreshingly original contribution to the genre. With simplistic prose that is at once lyrical and genuine, Wier paints a splendid, sometimes emotional tale that barely scratches the surface of what her world has to offer. She’s definitely a debut author to keep an eye on, and I, for one, can’t wait for the second installment.

Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads | Barnes & Noble

Hear Ye, Hear Ye! $20 Full Manuscript Critique Offer

I know, I’m posting a day early. But if you were on social media earlier, you already know that I’ve stepped off the deep end into a pool of utter (and awesome) madness. Hence the need to post a day earlier than normal this week.

See, one of my best friends — the brilliant and fabulous Cait Spivey — is trying something ambitious for the release of her debut full-length novel, From Under the Mountain. She’s putting together a high fantasy fashion show for her launch party. It’s a unique, fantastic way to bring readers into the world of her novel right from the get-go, and I’m always one to applaud innovation. (As does REUTS Publications, who — to the surprise of no one, I’m sure — is behind the book’s publication.)

The thing is, she can’t do it alone. She needs help to make this ambitious dream a reality. And, with the aid of IndieGoGo, she’s created a way for you to be involved, offering a variety of bonuses and extra perks in exchange for a small-to-generous donation to the cause. (Which, in case you’re curious, funds only the event’s production and not the book’s.) From custom art to autographed copies and exclusive bonus content, there’s a lot to choose from.

But I have one more to add to the pile:

Anyone who donates $20 – $50 to the campaign between 9/3/15 and 10/1/15 will receive a FULL MANUSCRIPT CRITIQUE from me.

Check my Freelance Editing Page, that’s worth $200-$500 dollars all on its own, without the added value of the perks Cait is offering too. That’s a crazy good deal, right? You know you want it. 😉

Here’s how it works:

Between now and the end of the campaign on 10/1, Cait and I will keep track of the eligible donations. I’ll add them to a special two-week schedule on a first come, first serve basis. So the sooner you donate, the higher up on the list you’ll be.

Then, starting 10/2, I’ll contact everyone and work will begin. Due to the other constraints on my schedule, I will be working on them one at a time, so the closer to the top of the list you are, the faster the turnaround time will be.

(Side note: if you won something from me previously and have not received it yet, don’t worry. I have not forgotten you and will be working on those first. You’ll even receive a bonus for your patience and the inconvenience.)

All right, that’s pretty much all you need to know about the terms and conditions of my offer. As always, if you have questions, feel free to contact me directly or leave a comment below. I’ll be back next week with more book reviews, editing/writing advice, or whatever other randomness grabs my attention. But for now, what are you waiting for? GO DONATE!

About From Under the Mountain

ivy cropped

The novel follows Guerline, a young woman who ascends to the throne of the empire after her entire family dies in one fell swoop. Now Empress, Guerline must address the suspicion growing in her court toward the four witch clans that protect the empire’s borders. Among the seditionists is Guerline’s best friend and lover, Evadine.

Guerline’s political balancing act is upset when the palace is attacked by powerful magic, bringing all Evadine’s fears to bear—but magic saves them too. In the wake of the attack, with an even greater threat looming, Guerline must decide who to trust, and summon all her strength to meet the challenge.

From Under the Mountain is a high fantasy for the modern world, drawing on the foundations laid by great female fantasy writers of the past twenty years to tell the story of one young woman. Guerline’s journey to establish her place, protect what she loves, and do right by her people will resonate with readers across the board.

From the Editor’s Desk: Diverging Cadence by Katie Hamstead

Many of you also follow me on social media (I think), so it’s probably not a surprise that I’m posting a review for this. Anyone who saw my tweets about it knows that I swooned hard for this series. And since I already reviewed Deceptive Cadence, it wouldn’t be right to let the second one pass by unnoticed. Plus, I’m part of this here nifty blog tour:

Diverging Cadence Blog Tour Banner

But, because I was also part of the team that worked on it, I have to do the obligatory disclaimer first. So, for those of you who already know what that means, feel free to skip it! For everyone else, here’s the rundown:

As an editor (both freelance and under REUTS Publications), I have the wonderful opportunity to see amazing novels during their developmental/production phase. And I wanted to find a way to share them with all of you as they became available. (I also wanted to find a way to help support the authors who trusted me with their manuscripts.) So think of these posts as my own personal book recommendations, straight from the editor’s desk.

All right, on to the book review!

Diverging Cadence

By Katie Hamstead

Diverging Cadence Cover

When Cadence Anderson woke to find her husband and infant daughter had been killed, she thought her life was over. Instead, she was offered a second chance and sent back in time to do it all again.

She’s made the most of this opportunity, repairing her relationship with the best friend she lost the first time, avoiding the romantic mistakes she made originally, and even bringing her family closer together. But she’s also done something she wasn’t planning on — she’s fallen in love with someone other than her future husband.

Stepping onto a plane and flying across country to attend university is the hardest decision she’s had to make. But unless she follows through with it, her future with Austin might never happen. And what becomes of her beautiful baby if she stays with James, the man she was never supposed to love?

The only thing she knows for certain is that she has to see Austin again, and she’s intent on reliving that part of her previous life exactly like she did the first time. Even if that means she has to lie to James to do it. Because, deep down, she can’t quite bring herself to let him go.

Now, past and future are about to collide, and Cadence has to make her final choice — follow the uncertain path of a life with James, or the one she came back to save . . . with Austin.

In this emotional conclusion to the story that began in Deceptive Cadence, relationships will be tested, identities revealed, and the past will overshadow the future, putting the finishing touches on an unforgettable tale of courage, sacrifice, and, above all, love.

Diverging Cadence picks up where Deceptive Cadence leaves off, but not in typical sequel fashion, where you’re quickly brought up to speed even if you missed the first book. No, to truly experience the emotional roller coaster that is this series, you have to read both, and preferably back to back. Together, the duo create a traditional narrative arc, with Diverging Cadence being the latter, more appropriately tense, climatic portion. And trust me, the emotional pay-off of reading the series in its entirety is well worth the investment of time.

The second half of Cadence’s journey encompasses her adult life — attending college, finding independence, marriage — but is fraught with turmoil unique to her slightly supernatural circumstance. Namely, her decision between forging a new path and reclaiming the life she returned for. Unlike other love triangles, the relationship drama rings with more than a shred of truth, as Cadence wrestles between letting go of the comfortable (her relationship with James) and exploring the promise of her life with Austin. Hamstead expertly crafts a scenario that is heartbreaking, torturous, often maddening, and ultimately human. Cadence is allowed to make mistakes, to make the wrong choice, and the consequences of that speak volumes.

I won’t lie, there were many times that I felt uncomfortable with the choices Cadence made, and there were quite a lot of tears shed during the last third of the book, when we’re finally shown the horrific earthquake scene in real time, but the final resolution more than made up for all the heartbreak. It’s poignant, beautiful, and exactly what I wanted as a reader. Hamstead will rip your heart out before you get there, but that makes the ultimate satisfaction all the more powerful.

With beautifully simplistic prose, Hamstead captures a cast of characters who feel entirely real by the end. Flawed, human, and brilliant, Diverging Cadence wraps up all the threads left dangling at the end of Deceptive Cadence, providing a conclusion to a tale that will likely haunt me for years to come. If you’re looking for a light, upbeat story, this might not be for you, but if you want a thought-provoking tale that tugs on every element of your empathy, I cannot recommend this series enough. Seriously. Read it. Now.

Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads