Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Picture Books

3624462TRICK OR TREAT ON MONSTER STREET
written by Danny Schnitzlein
illustrated by Matt Faulkner
Peachtree, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-56145-465-5
Picture Book
Grades 1-3
Reviewed from copy sent by publisher in return for honest review.
All opinions expressed are solely my own.

REVIEW

Told in rhyme, a young boy tells all about how he overcame his fear of monsters and got back at his brother for their mean tricks.  He explains how one Halloween everything changed when he ended up on Monster street after losing his brothers while trick or treating.  He discovers to his surprise that monsters are afraid of humans and bunnies and puppies, but they like to dress up as human children.  At first he is terrified that he will be discovered, but slowly he relaxes and even makes some friends.  The end is rather poeticly just as his brothers get their comeuppance.

Strengths: Plenty of gross humor and wacky monsters makes the book quite enjoyable. The creative way the boy overcomes his fears by facing them is well done and enjoyable. Lots of kid appeal, especially the brothers getting their comeuppance. The wacky illustrations add to the enjoyment of the story.

Weaknesses: Too gross for my taste, but I think a lot of kids will like it.


195931013 MONSTERS WHO SHOULD BE AVOIDED
by Kevin Shortsleeve, illustrated by Michael Austin
Peachtree, 2013
ISBN: 1-56145-146-0
Picture Book
Grades 2-5
Received for review from publisher.
All opinions expressed are solely my own.

Hedge-Standing Snit's are very picky about their hair and you better watch out for if you accidentally cut it, they will bite your behind.  Sissyfoos live in wells but can easily be spotted because of their smell. Professor LeGrand of LeGrand University discusses these and eleven other monsters that you really would be better off staying away from.

Strengths: There is plenty of weirdness here in both text and illustrations.  And some kids thrive on weirdness, plus the cover is quite intriguing. The rhymes are quite catchy.

Weaknesses: Too weird for my taste, but I'm not really into gross and weird. I think some of the kids will like this a lot better than I did.



John Leep sets out one night in 1741 on Friday, October 13th to evict the widow Mayes from her home. He could wait till tomorrow, but what's the fun in that. As he rides along he hears the sound of another horse.  But he never sees anything, but it makes him nervous nonetheless. Will he make to the widow's and what will he do there? Who follows him on this dark and gloomy night?

Strengths: What do you know? A horse that looks and moves like a horse. One of my pet peeves is when horses in picture books don't look realistic.  In a book like this with such a historical focus requires realism and the illustrator delivers in a fantastic way. This book is fun to read out loud, especially the clip-clippity clop sounds.  The somewhat mysterious ending is fun to discuss with kids to find out what they think happened. The last page is awesome and a bit unexpected, could easily be used as a jump story.

Weaknesses: The kids I read this to didn't get too scared. But younger kids could easily be spooked by this. I also don't think the kids appreciated the historical nature of the story.


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Farmer Brown does not like Halloween, so he puts a bowl of candy on the porch and goes to bed. But something seems to be happening down at the barn. When he hears someone on the porch pounding on the door, will he have to courage to investigate?

Strengths: This is a light fun read for younger children who aren't ready for more spooky stories. The text is short with plenty of sound words to read and have children mimic. And there is a slightly mysterious element to the story, who is the vampire? Not to hard to figure out but younger children will get a kick out of it.

Weaknesses: Doesn't have as much charm as some of the previous books.



Tuesday, October 29, 2013

CYBILS REVIEW: Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz


ABOUT THE BOOK

Survive. At any cost.

10 concentration camps.

10 different places where you are starved, tortured, and worked mercilessly.

It's something no one could imagine surviving.

But it is what Yanek Gruener has to face.

As a Jewish boy in 1930s Poland, Yanek is at the mercy of the Nazis who have taken over. Everything he has, and everyone he loves, have been snatched brutally from him. And then Yanek himself is taken prisoner -- his arm tattooed with the words PRISONER B-3087.

He is forced from one nightmarish concentration camp to another, as World War II rages all around him. He encounters evil he could have never imagined, but also sees surprising glimpses of hope amid the horror. He just barely escapes death, only to confront it again seconds later.

Can Yanek make it through the terror without losing his hope, his will -- and, most of all, his sense of who he really is inside?

Based on an astonishing true story.

REVIEW

Oh, my goodness. I'm still trying to recover from reading this book.  I've read about the Holcaust before but somehow this book paints a picture of it like I've never experienced it before.  Not that there is any way that I could possibly understand everything that Yanek (Jack) went through.  I'm completely stunned that he survived at all.  I'm amazed at the incredible resiliency of the human spirit.  But this book shows not only the resiliency of the human spirit to survive but also the depths to which people can sink.  I will never understand how people could be so incredibly callus and cruel.  The way Yanek and the other prisoners were tortured and abused and murdered defies understanding. I also had not realized that so many were moved so many times.

Yanek Gruener lives in Krakow, Poland when the Germans invade in 1940.  After spending two years in the Krakow ghetto as conditions continually worsened, he is taken to his first camp.  There he meets the only member of his family yet living, his uncle Moshe.  Yet after his uncle is killed, Yanek is forced to find the will to survive within himself, with no help from anyone else.  This he manages to do despite facing forced labor, beatings, and being surrounded by violent death every day.  As he struggles to survive the most horrid conditions, he somehow he holds on to a smidgen of hope that someday the war will end.  But will it be to much? 

Strengths:  The plainness of the telling here makes this a powerfully emotional read.  Gatz has captured the spirit and strength of a young man who struggles to survive despite having lost everything.  The images created in the readers mind provide a vivid look at a horrible time in the world's history. A compellingly written story, all the more compelling because it's based on a real person and what happened to him.  I appreciated the author's note at the end explaining that this is based on someone's person experiences it has been fictionalized to provide a more complete picture of the Holocaust.

Weaknesses: This is definitely not a book for everyone.  Because of the material covered it is full of graphic violence and brutal behavior. I would recommend only for the most mature child readers.


Monday, October 28, 2013

CYBILS REVIEW: Will Sparrow's Road by Karen Cushman




ABOUT THE BOOK

In his thirteenth year, Will Sparrow, liar and thief, becomes a runaway. On the road, he encounters a series of con artists—a pickpocket, a tooth puller, a pig trainer, a conjurer—and learns that others are more adept than he at lying and thieving. Then he reluctantly joins a traveling troupe of "oddities," including a dwarf and a cat-faced girl, holding himself apart from the "monsters" and resolving to be on guard against further deceptions. At last Will is forced to understand that appearances are misleading and that  he has been his own worst deceiver. The rowdy world of market fairs in Elizabethan England is the colorful backdrop for Newbery medalist Cushman's new comic masterpiece.

REVIEW

Will Sparrow flees from the inn where he lives after the innkeeper threatens to sell him as a chimney sweep. But Will doesn't know what to do or where to go, so he just follows the roads he comes across. Along the way he meets people, a couple who are kind, the rest who just want to use him. Unfortunately for Will, despite his attempts to convince himself that he is tough and is only interested in filling his belly, turns out to be rather gullible.  He trusts people's promises only to find them worthless.  When he joins with the troupe of 'oddities' he thinks he knows who is who and what's going on, only to find that maybe he's wrong.

Strengths: Will is an interesting character, determined to survive but not particularly aggressive about doing so. He kind of goes with the flow of things, which it turns out isn't the best way to handle things.  He tries not to be too trusting but has a hard time seeing past appearances.  The story shows Will's personal growth as he searches for a place to be safe, warm, and full.  I found the characters quite believable and their behavior suitable for the time period.  As always, Karen Cushman creates a beautifully told story with a vivid picture of time and place.

Weaknesses: Sigh. I have such a hard time getting children to read historical fiction. Especially if it doesn't involve war.

CYBILS REVIEW: Destiny, Rewritten by Kathryn Fitzmaurice


ABOUT THE BOOK

Eleven-year-old Emily Elizabeth Davis has been told for her entire life that her destiny is to become a poet, just like her famous namesake, Emily Dickinson. But Emily doesn't even really like poetry, and she has a secret career ambition that she suspects her English-professor mother will frown on. Then, just after discovering that it contains an important family secret, she loses the special volume of Emily Dickinson's poetry that was given to her at birth. As Emily and her friends search for the lost book in used bookstores and thrift shops all across town, Emily's understanding of destiny begins to unravel and then rewrite itself in a marvelous new way.

In her third novel, Kathryn Fitzmaurice again weaves a richly textured story about unexpected connections, about the stories that shape our lives, and about the most perfect kinds of happy endings: those that happen just on time.

REVIEW

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

I confess, I didn't particularly like the book when I first started reading it, but it grew on me and by the end I quite liked it.  The story definitely has an unusual take on the searching for a missing parent story.  The main theme here is destiny and how much an individual controls her own destiny.

Emily has been told her whole life that fate controls one's destiny, but when her special book of Emily Dickinson poetry disappears Emily struggles to accept this idea.  After her mother reveals that her father's name is in the book along with her mother's comments about her own life, she becomes desperate to get it back and doesn't want to accept that fate might not want her to know who her father is.  With the help of her best friend, Wavey, and her cousin Mortie, Emily is determined to get her book back. At the same time, she is intrigued by the efforts to save the oak trees along the street she walks to go to school. Can the protesters save the trees or is it a lost cause? And what about her mother's belief that Emily will be a famous poet someday, when Emily has no interest in writing poetry but happy-ended romances instead? And above all can Emily write her own happy ending or has fate decreed something else?

Strengths:  Emily's plans to be 'unpredictable' so as to allow chance to play a role in her destiny is fun to watch.  I appreciated her efforts to step out of her comfort zone in search of what destiny really meant. And like all of us, she makes her share of mistakes. The relationships are enjoyable and fun to watch, especially Emily's relationship with her cousin, Mortie. The writing is smooth and flow nicely. And I do so love a happy ending. Sigh. This book would work well as a read-a-loud though, there is much here worthy of discussion.

Weaknesses: How many children are interested in Emily Dickinson or Danielle Steel? The literature aspects of the novel are great but not necessarily going to appeal to a lot of child readers.


Friday, October 25, 2013

CLEAN TEEN PUBLISHING: Heartkeeper/Heartbound by B.T. Lyons


ABOUT THE BOOK

“People of the Field, of the Cave, of the Forest, and of the Mountain, and all the places and habitats in between, our race is able to gather here tonight because in time past we found that we were not the warden of the Earth, but the Earth was our warden, our sustainer, our parent...”

Mankind has survived the near-collapse of life as they knew it, now living in harmony with the world around them. Adain, a young Tenderfoot of this
Future Earth, is about to take part in his Heart Chase – the search for a companion animal spirit that will act as his companion and conscience for the rest of his life. Success in the Heart Chase and surviving the subsequent Trials over the year ensures his place amongst the People as an adult, but failure means his certain death...

...and his whole future lies on the Heart of a mouse.

Heartkeeper is the first book in the “Heartkeeper Saga”, an epic adventure of friendship, challenges, and danger as humans struggle to regain their foothold in a new world that is no longer
theirs to control. Can they survive in balance with the Earth, or will the Earth decide they no longer belong?

PictureABOUT THE AUTHOR

B.T. Lyons was born in 1973, growing up in Boylston, Massachusetts, and lived her early life working on the family goat farm and learning wilderness survival skills in the surrounding woodlands. She is a jack-of-all-trades, having worked as everything from a zookeeper to bookstore manager, to a horror theme park actress, to a radio personality, to a builder of utility trucks. In a current fit of happy mid-life crisis, she is a history major at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD.

She shares her home with her husband and her thirteen year old daughter, as well as a rat terrier, a Pomeranian, a ball python, and a rotating guest list of foster animals from the local humane society. B.T. is a rabid video game addict, and also enjoys drawing and creating various Neolithic-style handcrafts as her other hobbies. Her role models include Jim Henson, Jackie Chan, Hiyao Miyazaki, and Bill Cosby, and she is inspired by authors such as Richard Adams, Tad Williams, and Ray Bradbury.

REVIEW

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Review copy provided by publisher in return for honest review.
All opinions expressed are solely my own.

ABOUT THE BOOK

It's a new year, a new batch of Tenderfeet, and a new Heart Chase... but it is not the joyous occasion it has been for generations.

Shan, a Tenderfoot from devastated Sunperch Village, wants nothing to do with Hearts, the Heart Chase, or the Trials. All he wants is for the surviving children of his home to be safe... and he's willing to do anything to protect them.

Cill, now the youngest Heartsworn ever chosen by the People, is thrust headlong into a side of his People's culture that is changing daily, where the answers to life's challenges are never easy and what is “right” is not as obvious as it once seemed.

New alliances will be forged, an entire way of living will be questioned, and the mystery of the Hearts and the Guardians deepens in Heartbound, Book Two of the Heartkeeper Saga.

REVIEW

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

CYBILS Review: The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech




ABOUT THE BOOK

From Newbery Medal winner Sharon Creech comes a singular story that reminds us of the surprising connections that bloom when unconditional love and generosity prevail. For when a young couple finds a boy asleep on their porch, their lives take an unexpectedly joyous turn.

When John and Marta found the boy on the porch, they were curious, naturally, as to why he was there-and they didn't expect him to stay, not at first, but he did stay, day after day, until it seemed as if he belonged, running and smiling and laughing his silent laugh, tapping and patting on every surface as he made his music, and painting-with water, with paint, with mud-those swirly swirls and swings and trees.

One day a young couple wakes to find a boy asleep on their porch. Unable to speak, the boy cannot explain his history. What kind of person would leave their child with strangers? All they know is that they have been chosen to care for this boy. And as their connection to him grows, they embrace his exuberant spirit and talents. The three of them blossom into an unlikely family, and John and Marta and the boy begin to see the world in brand-new ways. Newbery Medal winner Sharon Creech delivers a poignant story of finding family when you least expect it.

REVIEW

When Jacob shows up on John and Marta's porch, neither one knows what to think.  They welcome him to their home, feed him and clothe him and try in general to do right by him.  But the boy doesn't talk and so they have no idea where he came from or who he really is.  Despite all the questions they quickly grow to love the boy who has quite the talent for art and music and who enjoys riding the cow and playing with the dog. Well aware that the boy's family may be back for him, John and Marta try to find out his origins. Just as they are getting used to the idea of having him around permanently, disaster strikes.  But John and Marta are forever changed and it leads to them making a surprising decision. 

Strengths:  As is to be expected from Sharon Creech, the writing is beautiful and spare.  She manages to convey strong emotions in a surprisingly few words.  And she's a master of the show don't tell mantra.   I had no trouble connecting to John and Marta and Jacob.  The theme of the story is masterfully presented.  I loved the book.

Weaknesses: Who on earth is this book aimed at? The length and spare prose suggest the book is aimed at young readers.  However the story is told from the adult point of view, which I find a bit odd for a children's book.  I am really not sure who I would recommend the book to other than adults. This is a book that I would want to try out with kids before buying for my library, just to get a reaction. Sigh, which is too bad since it is a  wonderful book. The other issue I had with the book was time period.  I really don't have any idea what time period this is supposed to take place in and that threw me off a little bit not knowing what the legalities would be for keeping an abandoned child.


CYBILS Review: A Summer of Sundays by Lindsay Eland


ABOUT THE BOOK

When you're the third of six kids, it's easy to get lost in the shuffle, but Sunday Fowler is determined that this summer she'll find the one thing that makes her stand out from her siblings. 

And when she discovers a silver box in the basement of the library her parents are renovating, she might just have found something to gain her the attention she so craves. Inside is a series of letters addressed to "The Librarian" and a manuscript. But who wrote them? With the help of annoying neighbor-turned-new-friend Jude, Sunday is determined to track down the author. And when she unveils this novel to the world, she'll be famous!

But uncovering this manuscript means stirring up secrets that some people in the town hoped to keep buried. And Sunday must decide if some things -- loyalty, trust, friendship -- are worth more than her name in the headlines.

REVIEW

I really enjoyed this book, much more than I expected.  Sunday is a middle child and she feels like she's often forgotten in the chaos of family life.  But this summer, Sunday determines will be different.  She will make her mark in some way making it impossible for her family to forget her like they did at the gas station.  While helping her father renovate Alma's library she makes a discovery that she believes will help her in her quest. Her new friend, Jude, is recruited to help Sunday make a statement, but her plan will only work if she can figure out who wrote the manuscript she found.  Sunday's efforts to uncover the author lead to the revealing of secrets that others don't want shared.  Sunday must make a choice about what is truly important to her before it is too late.

Strengths:  The relationships between Sunday and her family are priceless, in my mind the best part of the book.  Like many children, Sunday struggles to get along with her siblings, especially when it seems they get more attention than she does. The other relationships in the book are well done as well, Sunday's friendship with Jude, her attempts to get to know Ben Folger, the town hermit, as well as the thrift store owners with a huge dog they can't control. The relationships feel very real and are quite enjoyable to read about.  Also the mystery unfolds in a believable manner. While I figured it out quite early in the story it was interesting to read about Sunday's thoughts as she uncovered clues. Reminded me in some ways of The Penderwicks.

Weaknesses:  I'm not sure how much middle grade readers will enjoy the literary mystery.  They certainly won't see the parallels to Harper Lee (author of To Kill a Mockingbird) that I saw very clearly as I read.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

BLOG TOUR: Slayers: Friends and Traitors by C.J. Hill


ABOUT THE BOOK

In C.J. Hill's action-packed sequel to Slayers, the group of teens known as Slayers have been betrayed—but they won’t give up without a fight.

Tori’s got a problem. She thought she’d have one more summer to train as a dragon Slayer, but time has run out. When Tori hears the horrifying sound of dragon eggs hatching, she knows the Slayers are in trouble. In less than a year, the dragons will be fully grown and completely lethal. The Slayers are well-prepared, but their group is still not complete, and Tori is determined to track down Ryker—the mysterious missing Slayer.

What Tori doesn’t bargain for, however, is the surprising truth about her powers. She isn’t just a Slayer, she’s part Dragon Lord, too. How can Tori fight to save her friends when half of her is programmed to protect dragons? And with a possible traitor in their midst, the Slayers will be divided in more ways than they ever imagined.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
CJ Hill is a pen name for a YA author who is best known for writing romantic comedies. (Slayers will be her 18th published book.) Her writing has shifted away from the romantic comedy genre, so her editor thought a pen name would be a good idea. (New books will include: dangerous dragons, time travel to dystopian worlds, and flesh-eating beetles.) Since the publisher refused to let her have the pseudonym : The Artist Formerly Referred to as Princess, she chose a name to honor her mother. CJ Hill was her mother's pen name, or at least it would have been if her mother had published. Her mother wrote a few children's books and a middle grade novel but was taken by cancer before she had fully learned the craft.

(Most writers' first novels aren't publishable. CJ Junior's first novel wasn't, but somehow was published anyway. Now, even though it is out of print, it remains forever available on Amazon, where it taunts her with its badness. This was another good reason to use a pen name.)

CJ Hill has five children, three of whom like her on any given day depending on who is in trouble. She has lived in Arizona for the last half of her life, but is still in desert denial and hopes that one day her garden will grow silver bells and cockle shells or maybe just tomatoes.

WEBSITE     BLOG     TWITTER     FACEBOOK

REVIEW

Dragons, special powers, friendship and betrayal, whew, what a ride.  Quite an exciting read with enough twists and turns to satisfy the most discerning reader. The characters are interesting with a variety of complex motivations and decisions. I have to say that I'm not particularly a fan of love triangles or betrayal of friends whatever the reason and I can't say as I enjoyed it here, but the story is compelling and left me with a mixture of feelings about what happened.  I appreciated  the lack of bad language and sexual situations, that seems to be hard to find in young adult books these days. But this series shows that you can have a compelling story, interesting characters, and a great series without all that other stuff.  There is violence, which is to be expected considering the plot line deals with dragons and a plot to take over the world. A good series for young adult fantasy lovers who love excitement with plenty of drama but without the sex and the swearing.


BOOK TRAILER


Friday, October 18, 2013

CYBILS Review: Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz

Cybils Panelist Database


ABOUT THE BOOK

In an extraordinary debut novel, an escaped fugitive upends everything two siblings think they know about their family, their past, and themselves.

When eleven-year-old Annie first started lying to her social worker, she had been taught by an expert: Gran. "If you’re going to do something, make sure you do it with excellence," Gran would say. That was when Gran was feeling talkative, and not brooding for days in her room — like she did after telling Annie and her little brother, Rew, the one thing they know about their father: that he was killed in a fight with an angry man who was sent away. Annie tells stories, too, as she and Rew laze under the birches and oaks of Zebra Forest — stories about their father the pirate, or pilot, or secret agent. But then something shocking happens to unravel all their stories: a rattling at the back door, an escapee from the prison holding them hostage in their own home, four lives that will never be the same. Driven by suspense and psychological intrigue, Zebra Forest deftly portrays an unfolding standoff of truth against family secrets — and offers an affecting look at two resourceful, imaginative kids as they react and adapt to the hand they’ve been dealt.

REVIEW

I have mixed feelings about this book.  On the one hand, I enjoyed the story. On the other hand, I'm not sure many kids would pick this up and read it to the end. It's a rather unusual story with the conflict mostly being internal.  The mystery aspect I think readers who like to think and try to figure things out might enjoy, but Annie has had to grow up a lot faster than most kids and so doesn't sound like a typical eleven-year-old.  One of the most intriguing aspects of the novel is the relationships between the four main characters and how those relationships evolve: Annie, her brother, Rew, their grandmother, and the escaped prisoner.  

Strengths: The characters all have depth with strengths and weaknesses that contribute to the conflicts in the story.  There is enough tension to keep the story moving and led me to want to finish the book.

Weaknesses: I'm not sure how compelling most middle grade readers would find this.  As I said above the conflict is mostly relational and internal.

Overall, a well-written books with great character development, but more appropriate for readers who enjoy internal and relationship conflict.

BLOG TOUR/GIVEAWAY: The Last Enchanter by Laurisa White Reyes



Welcome to the official blog tour for 
THE LAST ENCHANTER, 
Book II of The Celestine Chronicles
a fun-filled fantasy adventure series for middle grade readers!  
_______________________________________________________________

In Book I, THE ROCK OF IVANORE, enchanter's apprentice Marcus Frye and five other boys set out on a dangerous journey to locate the Rock of Ivanore and bring it back to their village.

In THE LAST ENCHANTER, months have passed since they succeeded in their quest. One of the boys, Kelvin, is living as royalty in Dokur, and Marcus is studying magic with Zyll. When Lord Fredric is murdered and Kelvin becomes king, the Enchanter Zyll and Marcus head for Dokur in hopes of protecting Kelvin from meeting the same fate, though it quickly becomes apparent that none of them are safe, and Marcus has had disturbing visions of Zyll's death. With the help of his old friends Clovis and Bryn, joined by new friend Lael, a feisty girl in search of her mother, Marcus uncovers a powerful secret that will change the course of his life forever.

In addition to THE LAST ENCHANTER being released on OCTOBER 15th in hardback, THE ROCK OF IVANORE is also now available in paperback! Both titles can be purchased at bookstores nationwide and online at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Indiebound. They are available as E-books, too.

To celebrate the release of her newest book, author Laurisa White Reyes is giving away a brand new 16 GB NOOK HD!!!  Details on how to enter the giveaway can be found at the end of this post. In the meantime, please enjoy this excerpt from THE LAST ENCHANTER followed by an interview with the author, Laurisa White Reyes.

REVIEW

A fun fantasy series with plenty of exciting twists. Marcus finds himself once again on a quest. This time it's to stop a plot to kill the new king, who happens to be Marcus's brother.  But in the process he must avoid being killed himself and face new challenges not the least of which is a girl.  Will his magical skills be enough to save him and his friends? And what about the dreams that seem so real? 

I really enjoyed this, but I do recommend you read the first book in the series first, because a lot of things that happen in this book are directly connected to what happens in the first book.  Marcus is an appealing character with unique abilities that scare him, especially since there seem to be some serious side affects to his previous magical use. His relationship with Lael made me roll my eyes and snicker at times because while it was obvious to me what was going on, Marcus was clueless for most of the story.  I found myself quite involved in the story as the action starts quite quickly which is great since most middle grade readers won't keep reading if the story doesn't draw them in immediately. I think most kids will enjoy the action and adventure of this story. I'm definitely looking forward to reading book 3.



 

EXCERPT from THE LAST ENCHANTER

Marcus waited until he heard Zyll turn the lock in his door before heading back down the corridor. Zyll had told him to do what he thought was best, and that’s exactly what he would do.

He passed several armed sentries, one at every door, as he made his way through the lower level of the Fortress. Kelvin was determined not to let the Agoran rebels get inside again. Maybe Marcus shouldn’t worry about his brother. With all these guards around, Kelvin was far safer than Fredric must have been. Still, he deserved to know how their grandfather died. Secrets had nearly destroyed Marcus and Kelvin’s relationship during their quest eight months ago. There would be no secrets between them ever again.

Marcus didn’t want to go back to the dining room. Kelvin and Jayson were probably still arguing over dinner, and what Marcus had to say was private anyway. He would go instead to Kelvin’s council chambers and wait for him there.

Other than the sentries, the interior of the Fortress was quiet. Most of the servants had already retired to their rooms for the night. Marcus hurried across the vast entry hall toward the east alcove where the offices were located. He had made it halfway when he suddenly had the feeling that he was not alone.  He turned and looked behind him, but there was no one beside the guard standing at the Fortress’s main door. The light from several oil lamps left the corners of the room hidden in darkness. Someone could easily conceal himself in one.

This is silly, Marcus thought. I’m letting my mind play tricks on me. Still, he walked the rest of the way as fast as he could without actually running.

The door to Kelvin’s council chambers stood just inside a narrow alcove. To Marcus’s surprise, the sconces on the wall were not lit. The alcove was dark except for a weak glow from the lanterns in the great hall.  He had expected to find a guard here, too, but the alcove was empty—or was it?

Near the door to Kelvin’s chambers Marcus saw a large, dark clump of something on the floor. He approached cautiously and touched it with his foot.  An arm fell forward, hitting the floor with a dull thump. Marcus stepped back, his breath quickening. The dark clump was a sentry. In the dim light, Marcus couldn’t tell if he was unconscious or dead.

Behind him, Marcus heard the sound of footsteps which stopped abruptly.

“Hello?” Marcus called out hoping it was one of the other guards. “There’s a man here,” he said. “I think he’s hurt!”

When no one replied, Marcus realized once again that his imagination was running away with him. But he did need to find help for the sentry. He was about to leave when he heard a new sound coming from inside the chambers: an unmistakable rattle as if something had fallen and rolled across the floor.

Marcus stepped over the guard’s body and took hold of the door handle. Slowly he turned it, pushing open the door just an inch. Candlelight spilled through the narrow crack into the alcove. Marcus saw now that the sentry’s eyes were open, staring dully up at nothing. He was most certainly dead. And Marcus suspected that whoever was inside the room had done it.

Pushing the door open a little further, Marcus stepped inside. Large tapestries hung floor to ceiling against the walls. Three stories above, the stained glass ceiling looked like a patchwork of black and gray. Charred remains of a log stood cold in the fireplace, though six candles burned in an ornate candelabra beside Kelvin’s desk. On the floor lay an ink bottle, dark liquid trailing from it like a tail. This must be what had made the noise. Marcus bent to pick it up. The glass bottle felt warm to the touch.

The air in the room was chill. So why would the bottle be so warm? Someone must have been holding it, Marcus thought, but who?

As he set the bottle back on the desk, he noticed movement from the corner of his eye. A tapestry fluttered ever so slightly. Marcus’s heart raced. He reached for his knife, but then remembered he had left it in his room for he had thought he was just going to talk to Kelvin. What would he have needed it for? He reached for the tapestry with trembling fingers and jerked it aside, but the only thing behind it was a bare wall.

All of sudden, something heavy hit him from behind. Sharp pain exploded across his shoulders, and Marcus’s face smashed into the wall. He felt drops of hot blood trickle onto his lips. Licking them, he tasted copper, and he wondered if the loud crack he’d heard had been his back breaking or something else. He turned and saw Kelvin’s chair in pieces behind him on the floor. Someone had thrown it at him! He had only a second to think before something else came flying at him, but this time it was a man.

The man yelled. Marcus caught the glint of a blade in his hand just before it came down on him. Marcus twisted away just in time, the blade grating instead against the stone wall. But the man did not stop. He sliced his dagger wildly in every direction. Marcus jumped and slid his way across the room, doing his best avoid the attacks. The man was slender, almost frail-looking, and yet was surprisingly fast and strong. He lunged at Marcus, not with the dagger, but with a set of blood-stained claws extended for the kill. It wasn’t a man at all, Marcus realized. It was an Agoran.

Marcus grabbed the candelabrum. As he swung it in an arc, the candles flew off. Two went out as they hit the floor, but the other four stilled burned, casting long, unnatural shadows onto the tapestries. One lit the corner of a tapestry on fire, the flames soon licking the woven patterns like a hungry snake. The candelabrum hit the attacker with a force that would have knocked most men to their knees, but this one didn’t even flinch. When the Agoran took hold of it, Marcus expected him to yank it out of his hands. Instead he thrust it forward, pushing Marcus off balance. He fell onto his back, sending a fresh tremor of pain through him. A second later, the attacker was on top of Marcus, holding the point of a blade to his throat. Damp tendrils of long, shaggy hair clung to his face. His pupils, narrow like a cat’s, peered at Marcus, recognition slowly dawning.  The Agoran and Marcus stared at each other, both remembering the day months earlier when they had first met.

Just then the door to the chamber flew open. A guard rushed in, his sword raised. Behind him came Kelvin and Jayson. The Agoran leapt off of Marcus and crossed the room in half a breath’s time. The guard ran after him, but the Agoran tore the burning tapestry free from the wall and flung it at him. The guard screamed in pain as fire engulfed his uniform. The tapestry dropped to the floor, the flames trapping the Agoran at the back of the room. Marcus managed to roll clear of it, though he felt his skin blistering with the heat and smelled the guard’s scorched flesh.

Jayson ripped the burning fabric from the guard’s body as Kelvin picked up his fallen sword. Kelvin slashed at the tapestry, trying to make a path through the fire. As he broke through, Marcus looked up to see what would happen next, but to his and everyone’s surprise, the Agoran was gone.

 INTERVIEW w/ LAURISA WHITE REYES

What books influenced you most when you were growing up?
My favorite series for years was the TRIXIE BELDEN MYSTERIES. I still have the entire set of books in a box in my garage. Some of my other favorites included ROBINSON CRUSOE, OF MICE AND MEN, GONE WITH THE WIND, WUTHERING HEIGHTS and ROOTS.  Heavy duty stuff for a kid, I know, but I loved them. Still do. As an adult I learned more about writing from Dan Brown (THE DAVINCI CODE, ANGELS & DEMONS) than anyone else. He is a master of suspense, every chapter a cliffhanger so that you just can’t put his books down. Period. And I love how he weaves multiple points of view together until they all collide at the end. I wish I could write like that.

What gave you the idea for your book series The Celestine Chronicles?
I’ve always enjoyed reading to my kids at night before they go to bed. When my oldest son was about 8 years old, he asked me to make up a story instead of read one. So I told him about an enchanter’s apprentice who botched his spells. Each night my son would tell me what he wanted to hear that night, whether it was dragons, or magic, or sword fighting, and I’d weave it into the story. Eventually I started writing it down. A year later I had a completed manuscript of THE ROCK OF IVANORE. I wrote THE LAST ENCHANTER two years later.

What is your writing day like?
I don't have a typical writing day. As a mom of five kids, I actually have very little time to write. Years ago I used to stay up late at night to write, but I now I try to wake up an hour before the kids do and get a little work done then. On a good day I might write 1,000 words -- the equivalent of about 5 printed pages.

Who are your favorite characters in THE LAST ENCHANTER?
That's a tough question. While I like all the characters (I wouldn't write a character I couldn't like) Lael is new to this book. She wasn't in Book I. Lael is Marcus's age but wasn't included in the original quest because she is a girl. She really proves herself, though. While the boys use swords and bows and arrows, Lael is adept with the sling. Also, Bryn (the Groc who parades around in the form of a little boy) is particularly fond of her. And any friend of Bryn is a friend of mine.

Will there be a book III in The Celestine Chronicles?
Yes. The Seer of the Guilde is tentatively slated for 2015. However, in the meantime, I am working on the parallel series called The Crystal Keeper, which chronicles Jayson's years in exile in Hestoria. Anyone interested in the story of Jayson and Ivanore will want to read it. In the meantime, I hope everyone will enjoy THE LAST ENCHANTER.

 


GIVEAWAY TIME!!!

Laurisa White Reyes, author of THE LAST ENCHANTER, 
is giving away a brand new 
16 GB NOOK HD!!!  

There are many ways to win:

1) Take a pic of you and your copy of THE LAST ENCHANTER - post it on the web (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, a website, etc.) and email the link to:  laurisawhitereyes(at)yahoo(dot)com

2)  Follow Laurisa's blog and/or Facebook page

3) Tweet about this giveaway

4) Leave a comment below

The winner will be chosen at random via Rafflecopter. 
To enter the giveaway, fill out the form below. 
U.S. residents only, please.  
This giveaway will end on November 6th. 
 
 
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