books, Uncategorized

Book Review: The Sorceress and the Skull by Donald Michael Platt

Another review originally posted on the Historical Novel Society’s website.

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The Sorceress and the Skull by Donald Michael Platt. Penmore, 2016. ISBN 9781942756569; $15.00, Paperback.

The 16th-century French seer and predictor of frightening futures, Nostradamus, died many years ago. His family line lives on in The Sorceress and the Skull, however. Michele is born in 1932, and prophecies point toward her wielding great power. That is, if she manages to reach puberty when such powers will be manifested. Allies like the Skull, a man disfigured by the horrors of war, join with a gargoyle to protect the young sorceress.

In this solid thriller, the action is slick and fast-paced. The atmosphere is thick and charged with intrigue. Historical details are meticulously researched but perhaps relayed a bit too faithfully. An example sentence reads: “Michele and her aunt, who went by the name of Mrs. Desaix, sat in Principal LeRoy Stephens’ office at Lowell High School, situated on Hayes between Ashbury and Masonic.” This level of detail can make the sentences unwieldy, but it does lend an air of authenticity to the prose, and after a while the reader accepts it as a stylistic quirk. The quatrains scattered throughout the book lend authenticity and an air of mystery to the tale.

I found the characters difficult to sympathize with, mainly because they were hard to get to know. Their portrayal is heavy on action but light on inner thoughts and feelings, another stylistic trait that may trip up some, while others may not notice its absence. Overall, this book leads the reader through dark pathways to a satisfying conclusion by using detailed prose and intense research.

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books, cats, fantasy, Uncategorized

A Prize and a Promo

Who doesn’t like cats? And who doesn’t like pens?

Depraved individuals, that’s who! And you’re not depraved in the least, right? Well, I have a special opportunity for all non-depraved, cat-loving, pen-using, book-reading individuals. Isn’t that lucky?

Here is the pen in question:

cat pen

It’s from the Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. I visited it over the summer and was blown away by how amazing, beautiful, and all over excellent the whole facility is. Its motto is “save them all.” Thousands of animals are euthanized in shelters across the country every day. This needs to stop, and Best Friends is taking action to do just that, through education campaigns as well as running the largest no-kill animal sanctuary in the country. The sanctuary has dozens of buildings for animals, gardens, corrals, fields, and cabins for rent, all framed by beautiful red rock hills. Truly a paradise for animals and animal lovers as well.

Anyhow. I was very impressed and I’m happy to support the organization (which has many affiliated organizations throughout the country) however I can. Enter the cat pen.

Blah blah. Let’s get to the important info – how do you WIN it?

It’s pretty simple.

Sign up for my reader’s newsletter herehttp://eepurl.com/DoEz5. That will give you a chance to win it.

Yup, that’s it. I send out brief updates about my books, works in progress, sales, promotions, graphics, and so forth every other week. You’ll always find links to free and low-cost promos that I participate in as well. It’s especially great for fantasy lovers, but I also include info about my historical romance and humor occasionally as well. Of course you can unsubscribe any time you like.

I’m choosing a winner who will be announced in my February 1st email newsletter. Sign up before then.


And remember how I mentioned promos I always announced in my reader’s newsletter? Well, here’s one of them that is active just until the end of the day on the 20th.

Click on the graphic for a boatload of free and low-cost reads. Woo hoo!

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books, freelance, guest post, Uncategorized, writing

Meet Guest Author, Xina Marie Uhl…

Look, everyone! I wrote something! About … writing. These are some of my best tips and tricks for getting the words down.

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

As someone who writes nonfiction for kids for a job, I find myself confronted with an obstacle that primarily affects me when I work on my personal fiction. Which is, I don’t want to do it. After all, for my nonfiction I have an editor and a deadline and most importantly, I get actual money from it to pay my bills. Those things get me typing away. And while I’m working on making more of a profit with my fiction, I don’t have the same motivation in terms of structure and incentives that I do with my nonfiction. So here are some things that have helped me get my words down despite the financial incentives.

Major. These actions have had the most effect on my productivity.

  1. Goals and Deadlines. I always have one project or another in the works so for me there is no shortage of things…

View original post 1,055 more words

ancient history, books, cats, general wackiness, Hiccups in History, literature, nonfiction, research, review, Uncategorized, US history, writing

Cats in History

Hiccups in HistoryAlthough Reddit can be, in the immortal words of Obi Wan Kenobi “a wretched hive of scum and villainy,” it is also the source of historical amusement, if you are selective about the subreddits you follow. One of my favorite is Old News, which shares interesting old newspaper articles on various and sundry subjects. A couple cat-related ones I discovered lately earn the Hiccups in History designation.

Forgive the yellow highlights, which I can’t seem to get rid of. These items are from the California Digital Newspaper collection, which lists sources from 1846 to the present.

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Since I have a currently untitled Icebound tale in the works that is set in 1910’s Alaska, this one caught my eye. I wonder about how H.J. Coleman’s cat scheme turned out. It is rather ingenious, though how in the world did warmth-loving cats fare in Alaska?

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And then there is this one, in which cats are meant to combat “great armies of gophers.” Did they put on armor and sally forth with tiny little swords, guns, and tanks? I’m reminded of this infamous gif:

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Currently, I’m almost finished reading a wonderful nonfiction history of cats. I haven’t been able to find much in the way of real history about animals so I was thrilled to find Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat by L.A. Vocelle of http://www.thegreatcat.org. The book relies on artwork and literature primarily to fill in the historical gaps, primarily in the ancient time periods, and even through the Middle Ages. Artwork and literature are useful in that they demonstrate the presence of cats and how they were conceived of, at least by the social class that is depicted, and they are particularly pleasant to examine–not always the case with books, unfortunately!

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The author also makes use of some older histories of domestic animals published in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It’s always a bit perilous to write a complete history of anything because an author opens herself up to claims of “but you forgot this and that” which I suppose I am super sensitive to, but this book seems to carry it off with confidence.

It is written in engaging language and focuses on particularly interesting–and sometimes tragic–instances and individuals important to feline history. It proceeds chronologically and while it is well-written, it is also largely unbiased, another important feature of historical writing. Relevant photos and pictures are provided, a timeline, lists of tombs and cemeteries in Egypt to do with cats, and a voluminous references section. In short, this book is a giant YES and will be included in my future historical writings.

If you have any other references for me to check out please feel free to leave them in the comments.

 

books, literature, review, Uncategorized

Book Review: The Half-Drowned King

Here’s another of my Historical Novel Society reviews – this one all about the Vikings and drowning, which seems to be a thing in publishing lately, for some odd reason.

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The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker. Harper Little Brown, 2017. ISBN 9780062563699; $27.99, Hardback.

It is 9th-century Norway, and the Vikings are sailing, raiding, battling, and attending the gathering of peoples known as the Thing. Ragnvald Eysteinsson, a young warrior, finds himself betrayed by the very men he fought alongside, and left to drown in the cold waves of the Viking seas. His sister, Svanhild, faces challenges of her own back home, where she must navigate the social waters of suitors. The mercurial Solvi juggles political alliances and personal attachments deftly, and the warrior Harald of Vestfold—King Harald—comes to claim the loyalty of Ragnvald in a move that will change the course of each character’s lives.

A first novel, this title is also the first book of a trilogy. The author can trace her own lineage back to King Harald and, inspired by this family history, she has studied Norse history and literature for many years. Her attention to detail is the most enjoyable aspect of this book, which does an excellent job of evoking a vibrant society from years past. The opening scene, which finds young Ragnvald dancing across the oars while his ship sails, is evocative, dreamlike, and overwritten. The rest of the book follows this pattern.

This is the kind of book to sink into and enjoy for its beauty and atmosphere, not the kind to read for thrilling adventures or a complicated plot. The characters spend a lot of time debating things in their heads, and this trait serves to slow the narrative. However, if you are patient and in the mood for a period piece that brings to life a bygone era, you may find this volume satisfying reading.

books, literature, Uncategorized, US history

Book Review: Wisconsin Logging Camp, 1921: A Boy’s Extraordinary First Year in America Working as a “Chickadee”

That’s quite to book title, isn’t it? Well, it’s an interesting book and worthy of a looooong title. Here’s another of my Historical Novel Society reviews.

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Wisconsin Logging Camp, 1921: A Boy’s Extraordinary First Year in America Working as a “Chickadee” by James Bastian. Trails, 2015. ISBN 9781934553541; $18.95, Paperback.

Will Heinlein is only eight years old when he finds himself an orphan. Suddenly he is a new immigrant to the United States with no family nearby and no prospects. How will he survive, much less live up to the promise of the book’s subtitle?

The narrative opens years later when Will is a wounded soldier in World War II, and then backtracks to Will’s childhood. It takes a while before he becomes the promised Chickadee, or a boy who was given the job of helping the loggers by tending to the trails of their horse-drawn wagons. First, though, the reader is taken on an engaging trip through the struggles of American immigrants and European soldiers and country people. When Will finally does get to the logging camp, his experiences are well-detailed and immerse the reader in the personalities, dangers, and concerns of the workers.

The book is an unusual mishmash of fiction and nonfiction. The title and black and white photographs point toward nonfiction while the storyline and characters are fictional. The narrative reminded me of an oral interview with an irascible old World War II veteran. Well-researched without being pedantic, it gives a good look into the challenges of the era: war, disease, and economic devastation. Similarly, it shows how hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit helped America to thrive even before the explosion of prosperity that World War II engendered.

The author has a strong voice and a good hand with characterization. Despite this, though, it was sometimes hard to accept that an eight-year-old protagonist would speak and behave in the manner portrayed. If you can overlook this flaw, however, the story will take you on an entertaining journey.

books, literature, review, Uncategorized

Book Review: Good Water by John D. Nesbitt

Another review originally posted on the Historical Novel Society’s website.

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Good Water by John D. Nesbitt. Five Star, 2016. ISBN 9781432832759; $25.95; Hardback.

Tommy Reeves is a young ranch hand working his way across the West, accompanied by his friend Red Armstrong. When the two of them come across a settlement of Mexicans nearby, they can’t help be interested in the people there, especially the pretty young women. Despite the fact that their foreman orders them to stay away from the settlement, they return. Their defiance sets in motion a devastating chain of events that result in violence and murder.

The book proceeds at a slow, loping pace through most of the story events, relaying them in a restrained and understated manner. Characterization is satisfyingly complete, and the laconic style of dialogue is especially effective in portraying the Old West. The book really shines with its wonderful, authentic details, though. Most westerns don’t go into detail about how to skin an antelope or cook tortillas on an open griddle, but this book does, with fascinating realism. At its heart the story involves Tommy’s coming of age. His romance with a beautiful Mexican girl also illuminates Mexican culture and the challenges they faced due to their ethnicity.

Lots of the story’s pivotal action scenes take place offstage, so don’t expect a traditional shoot ‘em up tale of revenge and gunslingers. While the narrative does include range fires, bullet wounds, and other Western tropes, it suffers overall from a lack of drama. However, if you are looking for a story which evokes the spirit of the West, with its hardworking settlers, simple lifestyle and wide-open sky, you can’t go wrong with Good Water.

 

ancient history, books, fantasy, literature, new release, Uncategorized, writing, young adult

YA Fantasy Book Release! The King’s Champion

Today is a day that will live in infamy! Errr, wait a minute. I mean, today is a famous, fabulous, FANTASTIC day! For Book One of the Land, The King’s Champion, is finally available for purchase. How many years have I been writing, revising, angsting about and generally fiddling around with this book is more than I want to admit. If you like swords, sorcery, friendship, bickering, fun, drama, and dastardly deeds, this book is for you.

Anyhow, enough blathering. For, *drumroll please* ta-da ….

Young adult fantasy novel swords sorcery friendship love adventure magic fun

A nameless orphan and a despised prince must conquer a living magic that threatens to destroy them and the people of their sprawling, beautiful land.

The first book in a fantasy series of swords, sorcery, and adventure.

A generation ago, a great war convulsed Cantwin. Amidst blood-soaked battles the Stormlifter kings rose up to save the kingdom by imprisoning the dark god Moleck in hell for all eternity.

Or so they thought.

Seventeen-year-old Lance thinks his life is just about perfect now that the prettiest girl in the village wants him. Sure, he dreams of fighting far off battles, but that’s nothing more than a fantasy. Until the elders order him away to find a name for himself.

In the dazzling capital, Lance navigates court intrigues with Prince Kieran’s unlikely friendship. Yet the glitter and gold obscures a dark conspiracy. Soon the two friends find themselves propelled to the edges of the world on a desperate quest. The stakes: Lance’s life, Kieran’s throne, and the survival of the Land itself.

Hunted by assassins, and haunted by the awakening of a strange and frightful power within them, they must find proof of Kieran’s claim to the throne before a dark god’s vengeance destroys them all. For the Power is summoning a champion, and it will not be denied.

Excerpt on Book’s Official Website

It’s this sense of fun, combined with a fast-paced series of adventures, which constantly place Lance in dangerous situations, lends a surreal atmosphere to the story, and leads readers to become more than casually involved in the outcome of his quest …. a story packed with satisfying twists, wry humor throughout, and the coming of age of a young man just beginning to realize his strengths and weaknesses. Young adult through adult readers will relish this original, lively story.Midwest Book Review

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Amazon * Smashwords

To Come: Barnes and Noble * Google Play * Apple Store

About the Author

Xina-300x225Xina Marie Uhl spends her days laboring in obscurity as a freelance writer for various educational projects and dreaming of ways to scrounge up enough cash to: 1. travel the world, and 2. add to her increasing menagerie of dogs, cats, and other creatures. The rest of the time she writes humorous titles such as The Cat’s Guide to Human Behavior and A Fairy Tail and Out of the Bag, fantasy like Necropolis, The Ruling Elite and Other Stories, and quirky romantic historicals like Whiter Pastures and All Mouth and No Trousers (to come). The King’s Champion is the first of a six book series.

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ancient history, books, fantasy, literature, Uncategorized, writing

My First Bundle, Baby

Bundles are a thing now. Did you know that? Because I didn’t until recently. And now I’m in one! Wild! Anyhow, a bundle is when a number of authors combine their books or stories into a bundled set–also known as a box set–for readers to download. There are a few bundling sites, one of which is Bundle Rabbit. I may have signed up with them because of their association with bunnies.

HutchRock on pixabay, fluffy bunny, lion bunny

Ahem.

Anyhow, the bundles are usually themed. Like, bunny books. Or westerns. Or Heroic Tales. Like this one, which includes 19 tales of adventure, heroism, fantasy, and derring-do:

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The advantage to the readers is that they get a number of books for a low, low price. For the bundle above, the minimum is a mere $4.99 USD. OR you can pay whatever you want above this price. It’s available through Kobo, Amazon, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble, too. WAY COOL, huh?

Look at how pretty?

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My contribution is my dark fantasy/ancient history inspired adventure Necropolis. It’s down off Amazon and related sites now (except for the paperback) in order for me to try some different promotions with it.

What? You say you haven’t heard of Necropolis? I’ll be generous and assume you haven’t been living under a ziggurat.

Cover art for Necropolis by Xina Marie Uhl

In an ancient desert city where the spirits of long dead rulers rustle through the winding streets, a prison guard is forced to save the life of a young priest whose lost memory holds the key to the fate of two cities. Become entangled in the web of political rivalries, sorcerous intrigues, headlong adventure and deep emotion that is . . . Necropolis!

If you’re a reader, give bundles a try. They are a good value, especially since Necropolis alone is priced at $3.99. If you’re a writer, look them up – the book landscape is changing at a lightning speed, and bundles are the latest storm.

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