Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Re-release Blast: Poisonous Touch Book #2 of The Secrets of the Eternal Rose (formerly Belladonna) by Fiona Paul and INT Giveaway!

I am thrilled to host the re-release of The Secrets of the Eternal Rose trilogy. My post is on the second book, which I loved, Poisonous Touch, formerly Belladonna. Paula Stokes wrote this book with Paper Lantern Lit (under the pen name Fiona Paul). Here's the new cover!

Isn't it GORGEOUS???

I loved this book when it first came out, and still do!

Rating: 5 out of 5 couches

Goodreads description: In the second installment of the Secrets of the Eternal Rose series, Cassandra Caravello is trying to forget Falco, the wild artist who ran off with her heart, as she grows closer to her strong, steady fiancĂ©, Luca. But Luca has his own share of secrets. When he’s arrested by soldiers in the middle of the night, Cass’s life is once again thrown into chaos.

So begins her journey to Florence to prove Luca’s innocence. In the city haunted by whispers of vampirism, secret soirees and clandestine meetings of the Order of the Eternal Rose, Cassandra also finds Falco, who is working for the Order’s eerily stunning leader, the Belladonna herself.

Nothing is as it seems in this seductive mystery, where the truth may be the deadliest poison of all.

Formerly published as Belladonna, Fiona Paul’s romantic series is perfect for fans of Jennifer Donnelly’s These Shallow Graves and Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty.

My review (originally written 12-1-12): Poisonous Touch (formerly Belladonna) is a thrilling follow up to Venomous Kiss (formerly Venom), and starts us a few weeks after Venomous Kiss ends. Cass is still living with her aunt Agnese, engaged to the handsome and honorable Luca, but she is still head over heels for the dashing, young artist, Falco, who has left her to go pursue his art in Florence. After the intense events at the end of book one, Luca is now arrested in the first few pages, and Cass finds a way to make her way to Florence with her best friend Mada and her sweet and loyal maid, Siena, in order to save Luca's life. Along the way, she runs into Falco and is introduced to the enticing and creepily gorgeous Belladonna (and she questions herself as I did if there is something going on between Falco and Belladonna). From there, all chaos breaks loose.

I absolutely loved this book from beginning to end. We are thrust right into the action, and the pace never lets up. We see Cass still as a spoiled young girl, but she has grown up a bit from the first book. We still get the gorgeous landscape of Venice and Florence and the wonderful historical details that Fiona is so good at getting right-- but it fades into the background as we get to know our characters better, get swept up in the plot, and wring our hands to make sure that everything turns out right. We also find out a lot more about The Order of the Eternal Rose, and a lot of the secrets that were still pending from the first book get answered very satisfactorily. I generally don't like to become a Team anything, but I have to say, I have a bigger crush on Luca after this book than I had in the last. What can I say? I have a thing for the "other boring love interest." Although, I'm not sure anyone will say he's boring after reading Belladonna.

All my reservations from the first book have vanished with this new installment. I think some of it is the fact that I'm not a big fan of the necessary development of main characters and world building in general for first books, and also the fact that Fiona Paul is just getting better and better with every book and word she writes. I feel honored to have been able to read this book and can't wait to see how this trilogy ends.

In celebration of the re-release of this wonderful trilogy, I'm giving away the entire trilogy to one lucky winner on Kindle (remember you don't have to have a Kindle to be able to read this-- you can download the app on your phone or your computer)! The last title will be available on May 24!

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Monday, January 4, 2016

Another Short Story: A Different Kind of Sword, my "stab" at what advertising might be like in the past

Dear All:
Because I'm competitive and I like a challenge, I decided to enter another Writer's Cramp on writing.com, a really fun website for those of you who want a writer's community.

Prompt: Write about advertisements or advertising in 1000 words or less.

I thought I'd do science fiction, since this prompt is asking for it, but then another wonderful writer in the community did an amazing job in the genre that I knew I couldn't beat. At first, I thought there was no point in entering the contest because she would win, hands down. Then I thought to myself, what about the opposite of what I had been planning on writing? What if I wrote a story set in a time before advertising was a thing? What would it be like? And because I think swords are cool, I started to hunt around for the history of swords. One thing led to another and I was hooked. I researched for an hour to make the story come together, and then wrote it. It was a blast. This is the first time I've ever written historical fiction. And to my surprise, I ended up in a tie for the win with the aforementioned writer! Hope you enjoy!

A Different Kind of Sword
The length of iron glows bright in the flame. I bring my hammer down steadily against the metal.

“Do not forget the four key factors in making a sword, my son,” my father said. “First, hardness, which comes from the iron.” He paces around me and the fire pit in the center of our working station. We are in open air, but it is as if Hell has opened its fiery gates.

Ching! Sparks fly as I hit the sword again.

“Strength comes from the specific dimensions of the sword and the requirements desired by the owner. Do you remember the other two?”

Sweat is beading on my brow, and I huff in annoyance. “Flexibility as the sword requires some give to slice through objects, and the perfect balance in the right hands. I am not a novice, Father.”

My father was taught by his father and his father before him. Sword making is an art, but one that has not changed for centuries. I crave more.

When my father leaves for a meeting about the heavy taxation the nobles have imposed on us, I dash to the new kiln I have built. One day in the cool breeze, I fell asleep and left my iron sword in the fire on top of some charcoal. When it cooled, it was harder than the original iron sword. I devised the construction of a small pit with a chimney to create this new metal on purpose.

Suddenly, I go flying with a cuff on my ear. My father has returned early. “Edward, this is a waste of your time! Do your work so we can keep a roof over our heads. With what’s been going on, we are making nothing as it is!”

“Father, let me do this. If I can convince the nearby villages to purchase these new swords, maybe I can help our cause against the nobles and earn extra money to support our family,” I say, rubbing my tender skin.

“Let me see this sword,” he grunts, rolling up his sleeves.

I hand it to him, my brown eyes flashing defiantly. His gaze softens as he touches the blade and slashes a few times in the air.

I hold my breath.

He shakes his head. “Fine. But if you cannot convince them, and you will not, you promise to do as I say and never speak of this again.”

I cannot believe he is giving me a chance. “Yes, Father, I promise.”

Over the next two weeks, I forge several swords of different sizes and weights in the new material that I dub Ironfire. Daggers that the ladies can use and hide in their skirts. Imposing, shining weapons for the hardened soldier. A light, but sharp middle sized sword for the everyman.

Next, I recruit my best friend, Thomas, the son of a tailor.

“What do you want me to do again?” he asks dubiously.

“We have to show them that the Ironfire swords are better than what they already own,” I say. “We need to perform a sort of play. Maybe we can display a miniature swordfight with an Ironfire sword and a regular iron sword.”

Thomas’s eyes widen. “It can cut through iron?”

“Yes, Thomas. Watch.”

After my demonstration, Thomas offers to make costumes.
In two more weeks, we are ready. We travel to the first neighboring town with Thomas strumming a lute and I, dragging a small cart containing my precious new swords across the bumpy road, since I cannot afford to take our old horse. I may be faster than he is.

“Hear ye, hear ye! Arm yourself with swords fit for a nobleman,” Thomas calls. We are wearing colorful cloths around our necks. Townspeople stop and stare in the street and start to gather around us. Thomas passes out scraps of leftover cloth from his father’s workbench with a sword handpainted onto it. We cannot write, but I hope the picture will be enough to spread the word.

The staged fight is thrilling at least to me, and I hear several gasps from the audience when the regular iron sword is lopped in two by my Ironfire one.

But no one buys a sword.

The next town is the same. I cannot understand what I am doing wrong. All the townspeople who see the demonstration are interested and even in awe of my presentation.

Finally, one man at the final village speaks to me. “I am sorry, son, these swords seem fine, but we trust our local sword maker, and you are just a stranger.”

How did I ever think that promoting my swords with a ridiculous show, handing out pieces of cloth to spread the word about my new swords would have ever worked? Only an idiot would attempt such a fool’s errand.
“Can someone tell me one major reason that the Peasants’ Revolt in England in 1381 failed?” Miss Hornsby asks.

Several hands shoot up in the air.


“The peasants didn’t have good enough weapons. Their swords were made of iron, not steel."

“Can someone tell me what steel is? Mary?”

Mary sits up primly. “Steel is an alloy of iron and is created by combining the carbon from charcoal and iron.”

“Correct.” Miss Hornsby peers over her glasses pointedly at each of them. “Take note, class. If they had only understood this steelmaking technique back then, their superior weaponry might have won them the war.”

Would love any comments you all might have!
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Saturday, January 2, 2016

Review of Imposter by Antony John and US GIVEAWAY!

Dear All:
So excited to introduce the next book of a dear friend and amazing author here in Saint Louis, Antony John. With no further ado, here's a little blurb of his newest book, Imposter.

Goodreads description: Nothing in Hollywood is what it seems…

Seth Crane is a nobody, just an eighteen-year-old community theater actor who’s been in a few small commercials. So when a director stops him after a show and offers him the lead role in a huge indie film, it seems like a dream come true. Suddenly he’s swept up in the glamorous Hollywood life, with fancy parties, press junkets, and flirtations with two beautiful stars.

But something’s a little strange on the set. And when his costar’s darkest secrets start popping up in the media—secrets she’s only told Seth and that could destroy her life—Seth realizes that fame may have too high a price.

Antony John’s twisting, turning, suspenseful novel will keep you on the edge of your seat until the shocking end.

ImposterMy Rating: 4 couches

My Review: I've been actively following Antony John's career since I read his wonderful Five Flavors of Dumb, and waited in anticipation year after year for each Elemental trilogy book to come out. What I love about his writing is other than his terrific talent of fleshing out three dimensional characters and eloquent prose, is the fact that he takes risks.

Imposter is yet another example of this. He started with YA contemporaries, moved to YA dystopian, and now he maneuvers through a YA thriller with style and grit. Seth, the protagonist, is an 18 year old guy who is trying to make it big as an actor like so many other teens. But Seth lands the opportunity of a lifetime-- to star in an indie film that two big name Hollywood stars dropped out of after much speculation and drama. Seth knows this will make his career. But nothing is as it seems, and as he wades deeper into the Hollywood scene, and falls for a famous movie star, he realizes that he may have bit off more than he can chew.

The plotting of this book is deliberate and well paced. I was sucked in from the first page and read the whole book from cover to cover in an evening. John has shown skillfully again how he can make you believe his characters, and even when they bridge into typical teen territory, there's just something about them that makes you want to keep turning the pages to find out more about them. I loved the hook and setup of this book-- the way John sets up the movie and how it works and fits with the plot is so fascinating. Not to mention it's hard to know who to trust (if anyone at all).

I'm glad I took a while to think about this book, because to be honest, I wasn't sure how I felt about it initially. This is a huge departure from John's previous books, and I think there is something safe and happy-making about status quo. But John didn't want to play it safe, and I think he really succeeds here in pushing his comfort zone. Second, I think I was so wrapped into the characters that when it didn't end up the way I wanted to, I was disappointed. But that's the whole point of a thriller-- to turn your expectations on its head and surprise you. It definitely did that in spades.

Overall, a well plotted and intense thriller that kept me hooked from start to finish-- while it wasn't my favorite of his books (not saying much as I've loved every one of his books), it is definitely a worthwhile read, and like any great thriller, will keep you guessing until the bitter end.

Now, I have the pleasure of doing a giveaway for this fun book. Sorry to my INT readers, I promise an INT giveaway is coming soon!

I will be giving away an ARC of Imposter by Antony John and a signed hardcover copy of Imposter that is being donated generously by Left Bank Books, my local St. Louis bookstore. Please support your local bookstores whenever you can... they do amazing things!

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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Favorites of 2015

Dear All: I've been enjoying posts from my fellow bloggers about their favorite reads for the year. My list is actually pretty easy this year because I read so few books, but I've been so lucky to read really great ones! I will be writing posts about several of the books below. I am also including shows and movies on the list, since there were some great ones there too!
Happy new year!

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Graphical novel

The Young Elites (The Young Elites, #1)

Psychological Thriller
Say You're Sorry (Joseph O'Loughlin #6)

Children's Books
Book not out yet

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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Telltale Game of Thrones Season One: Death, Heartbreak, and Tragedy in typical GOT style

Image result for game of thrones telltale
Hey, everyone! I'm excited to chat about a recent obsession of mine-- Telltale games in general and specifically, the Game of Thrones Telltale game. Why does this belong on my blog? Because these games, more than any other games that I know of, are like a Choose Your Own Adventure book but in video game format instead of book format.

In each of these games, you play in the point of view (POV) of one or more of the characters. Telltale has capitalized on popular shows and movies such as The Walking Dead, Back to the Future, and now Game of Thrones to entice players. I've already played and loved both TWD Season 1 and 2 and Back to the Future, and Game of Thrones has been engrossing and faithful to the world of GOT.

Image result for game of thrones telltaleI'll say up front that I have never read any of the GOT books and probably never will, and have watched the show only because my husband really likes it. But all that time watching the show pays off here. You don't need to have seen any episodes to enjoy the game, but it definitely enhances the experience as you get to interact with familiar GOT characters including Jon Snow, Margaery Tyrell, Tyrion Lannister, Cersei Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen and the gleefully sinister Ramsay Snow. The actors from the show do the voice acting for these characters in the game, lending their authenticity to the story. One issue some people have had with this is that you can't control the fate of these major players from GOT, particularly the repulsive Ramsay. I disagreed with these comments and thought this inclusion was a nice connection to the show, giving fans some familiar faces (and voices). And honestly, these characters aren't the focus of the game, just the icing on the cake.

Image result for game of thrones telltale asherThe meat of the story focuses on the Forrester family, who is only referred to for a mere sentence in one of the GOT books. The Forresters initially have a lot of similarity to the Starks. The family is made up of Lord Gregor, Lady Elissa (who looks suspiciously like Lady Stark), oldest brother Rodrick (the level headed sensible one), Asher (the roguish "bad boy" younger brother who did everything wrong and left his family in shame, but oh, how we love him and his hilarious commentary, pictured here), Mira Forrester (the handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell and who must navigate the cunning players in the political world), and Gared Tuttle, squire to Lord Gregor, who has to travel to the Wall and try to fulfill a promise to Lord Gregor.

I won't say more because playing this without knowing anything going in just makes it that much more enjoyable. The gameplay is intriguing and engrossing; you play as each character, get to direct their decisions. For certain questions, you have 5 seconds to choose one of the four answers. How you answer determines how the other character sees you and can change the direction of the game. There are usually a few important decisions (like whether a major character chooses to kill another major character) that change the story dramatically, and how it plays out. There are other smaller decisions that affect future conversations, or who is present for them. One of the criticisms of this particular Telltale installment was how choices don't really change the future. While it's true that the overarching story doesn't change, there are major changes in who survives depending on your choices throughout the game, and how the scenes ultimately play out (some scenes are only shown if you have made specific choices). I actually played the entire game twice (no small feat, as each "episode" is 2-3 hours each and there are 6 episodes) in order to play the last half with a different set of characters. Let me tell you, it was worth it.

The other thing I think this game stayed completely true to was the feel of the world of GOT. Nothing is what it seems and, there are no right choices. No matter what, there are twists and turns and shocking deaths all over the place. If you are looking for an uplifting game, this isn't for you. But then again, you probably wouldn't like GOT either.

The major problem I had with this game was actually more technical; for whatever reason, it tended to freeze or unsync the action with the voices, or sometimes the voices cut out completely. Also, I know they tried to make the visuals look like watercolor, but it often just looked like bad graphics. Other games, especially the recent Tales of the Borderlands have much better graphics and ease with gameplay, but that said, I made my way through two of the 5 chapters of Borderlands and haven't played it again in months.

If you aren't a huge first person shooter gamer but enjoy playing video games that make you think, these games are perfect for you. If you are a huge GOT fan, this game is for you. If you loved Choose Your Own Adventure when you were a kid, this game is for you. If you want a happy ending, you should look elsewhere. I hope some of you think about trying it out. Let me know if you do, I'd love to hear about your experience!