Monday, January 30, 2017

Monday Musings: Birthstones Book Tag

I got this from Amanda, who got it from someone, who got it from someone, who got it from the original poster.


The idea is to list a book or character who fits the associations listed with each month's birthstone. This should be fun.



1. January (Garnet): Associated with warding off negative forces and dark energies. Name a book with the darkest/evilest character you can think of.

Seven Princes by John R. Fultz: The main villain of this book made me sick to my stomach. If I'd had the physical book for this, I'd have thrown it across the room.


2. February (Amethyst): Purple is associated with royalty. Name a book with regal qualities. You can base this off of characters or choose the King of all books.

The Lord of the Rings: It's regal. It has kings. It is the king of fantasy.


3. March (Aquamarine): Washed out. Name a 'wishy washy' character, a character who is not strong or a follower.

Georgiana from A School for Unusual Girls: She has very little drive for most of the book and isn't at all a strong person.


4. April (Diamond): A diamond in the rough. Name a book that you loved but is not well known.

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis is one of his less-well-known books, but possibly his best fiction. 
Plenilune by Jennifer Freitag is one of the best books I've discovered recently and everyone should read it.


5. May (Emerald): Said to balance energy. Name two characters who balance each other well.

Sophie and Howl from Howl's Moving Castle: Howl wouldn't survive without Sophie.


6. June (Pearl): Associated with loyalty. Name a character who is loyal to the end.

Samwise Gamgee! There are no other loyal people. I mean *ahem* Sam is the best.


7. July (Ruby): Blood red. Name a book that made your blood boil, one that made you angry.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire: There's an unfair and unjustified dig at Narnia in this book that killed my enjoyment of the story.


8. August (Peridot): Pale green (it pales in comparison to other gems). Name a supporting character who you like better than the main character.

Wait. Peridot does what?! *sideways glances at the original poster of this tag*

Right. We're here to talk books. Supporting characters I like(d) better than the main characters include: the Persian from The Phantom of the Opera, Door and the Marquis from Neverwhere (although Door might be considered a main), Ariel in The Tempest, Robin Goodfellow in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Dustfinger in the Inkheart trilogy.


9. September (Sapphire): Blue like the ocean which is calming. Name a book that had a calming effect on you.

Narnia always does this, particularly the end of The Last Battle; the same goes for the end of The Lord of the Rings.


10. October (Opal): Iridescent. Name an iridescent book; this can be a book with a beautiful cover (Shiny? Lots of color?) or you can base it off of a character (Quirky? Colourful?).

Mirriam's book Paper Crowns has one of the most beautiful book covers ever.


11. November (Topaz): Associated with resilience. Name a book with a character who rises to the top in a time of adversity.

The Hunger Games, The Lord of the Rings, Ptolemy's Gate, and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix among others.


12. December (Blue zircon): Associated with friendship. Name a book with a friendship you want to be a part of.

The Wizard of Oz: Dorothy and her friends are steadfast companions.
The Lord of the Rings: See my response to #6.
Maniac Magee: One of the best books on friendship from my childhood.
The Secret Garden: I always wanted a friend like Dickon.
I also wouldn't mind being in Merlin's circle of friends in Albion Academy. They stick by each other no matter what.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Saturday Snippets: Albion Apparent (January)

I had several people tell me they wanted to see more snippets posts from me after my last (and only) one. This is also a good way for me to keep myself accountable in writing.* If I don't write, there are no snippets to share with you. This post will also be a foretaste for those of you who have already asked me when the sequel to Albion Academy will be released. (The answer is I don't know; I am currently writing it. Once it's written there are revisions and edits, then sending it to beta readers, then revisions and edits, then sending it to the publisher, then revisions and edits. You get the idea. The publisher would like me to have it out a year from now, and I hope to meet that goal. When I know something more definite, I will post it here, there, and everywhere.)

Beware! There are SPOILERS ahead for Albion Academy! If you have NOT read/finished the book, don't read this post yet. You have been warned.

Without further ado, here are some snippets from this month's writing in Albion Apparent:


“Mort, you did think to pack a change of clothes, right?”

***

“Stars,” Merlin swore, “can’t you knock first?”

Ignoring him, Robin sniffed at the air around him before eyeing the burbling coffee maker. “Is that coffee?” he asked.

“No, it’s a very clever poison that mimics the smell of coffee,” I quipped.

***

“Lily was one of my mentors when I was younger,” Mortimer said.

“Which is his way of saying I tied him up on my ceiling and made him listen a few of those seditious thoughts I mentioned,” Lily explained.

***

“You know what’s dangerous? Letting a sorcerer give you a True Name.”

***

The Elders joined hands, paws, and tails, creating an irregular circle around me. They spoke in a language so far removed from English I barely recognized that it was a language. In the background, I heard the chilling echoes of their earlier laughter and the roar of a firestorm. Then the Elders switched to English and intoned, “May the wish of this petitioner be granted, the desire of his heart be given, the true yearning satisfied. By the might of the Djinn and the word of the Elders, may it be.”

***

No, Gabriel wasn’t strong. That was why he needed secrets, because he did not have the strength to face his own father without the knowledge of other people’s failures. Because he couldn’t tell his father that he might be on his way to becoming what Aaron Faust so greatly hated now: a wizard.

***

He smiled. “I will make certain my replacement understands you are to have this class.” 

“Replacement?” I asked. 

“Knock on me,” said Belchor, “he’ll be a sight better than this laze-about.” 

Prince turned to Belchor and said softly, “I still have Grace’s number, you know. I’m sure she’d be glad to—” “There’s no need to threaten me, Terrence,” Belchor said with a creaking whine. “It’s not as though they’re actually throwing you out.”

***

“And how many of you aren’t human?” Mark interjected. “I heard there were fairies and Djinn and shit hiding out in the Albion parts of the school.” He glanced at me and then at Merlin, as if he could determine who was human and who wasn’t with a look. 

The girl next to Mark took out her phone and surveyed the classroom with the built-in camera. “I’ll bet we can see who’s who on here,” she said. “Can’t fool technology.” 

“Samantha, please put your phone away. And Mark,” Ms. Kinkade said with the weariness of someone trying to close off an inevitable argument, “just because a large group of people think they saw a dragon—” 

“We don’t ‘think,’” said Mark, making air quotes with his fingers. “We know. There’s footage from at least a dozen students on YouTube.” He straightened his fingers and gestured with his hands as if the veracity of his claim depended on the force of his movements. 

“—doesn’t mean we should assume the existence of wizards, fairies, marshwiggles, and the like,” finished Ms. Kinkade. Her face puckered as if the subject left a sour taste in her mouth. “And footage can be falsified.” 

Marshwiggles? I thought. Where did she get the idea—

Harry raised his hand, and Merlin slipped lower in his seat in anticipation what his Knower was about to say. 

“Yes, Harry?” 

“How do you know there aren’t marshwiggles and the like?” 

“Well, have you ever seen a marshwiggle?” 

Harry thought about it for a moment, then said, “That’s hardly a fair question. Narnia ceased to exist before I was born.”

***

Fiera Juvelin sat in Mistress Akachi's empty classroom. She wanted to strike the world at its heart and watch the whole mess burn to the ground. Unfortunately, with her father on the loose and her status as a sorceress revealed, she didn't have that option.

***

As the swirling group of students evacuated the area around the table, the source of their agitation became clear. A large black snake, so dark it seemed to be made of shadows in the night, slithered across the table in an elliptical pattern. It reminded me of the snake game on Harry's computer. Every couple of turns, the snake would lift its head and gaze at the crowd, sifting the air with its tongue.



*As a side note, I had two writing goals this month: to keep up with my new blog schedule and to write at least 30-40k words for Albion Apparent. With the exception of Jan. 2, I have posted all the blog posts I intended to (and a half-dozen more besides with the blog tour), and as of the writing of this post, I am at just over 30,000 words (at least half of which is newly written; the rest is reworked from earlier partial drafts of the book) in Albion Apparent. Hooray for goal setting, and double hooray for goal meeting!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Monday Musings: Goldenhand Review

As I mentioned Thursday, I recently finished reading Garth Nix's latest (though I hope not his last) installment in the Old Kingdom series, Goldenhand.


Set in the aftermath of Abhorsen and immediately following the novella "The Creature in the Case"* (published in the collection Across the Wall), Goldenhand tells the continuing story of Lirael and Nicholas Sayre. As Nick is recovering from his latest encounter with a Free Magic creature and Lirael is adjusting to her new life as both an Abhorsen-in-Waiting and a sister to the reigning queen, a mysterious messenger descends from the north with an urgent message that could change the lives of everyone in the Old Kingdom.

Goldenhand is told for most of the novel through two points of view: Lirael/Nick (depending on the scene and chapter) and Ferin, the messenger from the north. What impressed me the most about the book from the very first chapters was that Garth Nix did more than just write a sequel to Abhorsen; he tied together the entire series. Specifically, he ties in the two novellas "The Creature in the Case" and "To Hold the Bridge" (from the collection of the same name) and the prequel novel, Clariel. How these are all connected is apparent from the first few chapters if you have read them (and I highly suggest you read the novellas beforehand, especially "The Creature in the Case").**

Lirael and Nick try to pick up their relationship where they left off, which is just shy of nowhere. They are attracted to each other and embarrassed by their mistakes. The growth of their friendship and romance through this book is probably in the realm of adorkable because they both feel unable to express their feelings and assume the other isn't interested and when they finally get past this awkwardness it's like they've been together forever. It's beautiful as much as it is agonizing to watch.

While the opening impressed me, I did feel like the middle dragged a bit. This was mostly due to my only being able to read a chapter or two at a time. Since the POV switched with every chapter, I was always stuck wanting more of whichever POV I'd just left, and it took the two storylines a bit too long to meet for my taste. For all its dithering, though, the middle allowed Mr. Nix the chance to show off some more of the Charter magic that makes this series so much fun.

The ending was just as satisfying as the beginning. What's more, it accomplished something that Clariel failed to do: it made me feel sympathy for Clariel. Her brief scenes in this book actually made her a character I could feel sorry for in a way that nothing in her full novel did.***

Overall, Goldenhand is a worthy successor to the original trilogy and a true and happy return to the Old Kingdom for Garth Nix. I can only hope he will give us another foray into this wonderful world soon!

Have you read Goldenhand? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!


*Garth Nix even includes a footnote telling you where to read it since we don't get any rehashing of that story beyond what's needed to keep the plot moving.

**Clariel, on the other hand, I consider the only skippable book in the series. It bored me instead of thrilling me. I don't know what happened with that one but feel free to ignore it.

***Although I'm still miffed that Nix didn't even begin to tell us the story of her descent into the madness that is Chlorr. That was the story we wanted to hear.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

ThrowBook Thursday: Sabriel


I've mentioned my love of Garth Nix's Old Kingdom series a couple of times in the last few weeks, including on Monday's listing of my favorite magic systems. Since I recently finished reading the latest book in the series, Goldenhand, I thought I would take a look back at the book that started it all: Sabriel.

After a brief but thrilling prologue, Sabriel begins with the titular character at school in Ancelstierre, the thoroughly unmagical kingdom to the south. She has been away at school for most of her life in order to keep her safe from the necromancers and Dead creatures that have been rampant in the Old Kingdom (to the north) since the disappearance and death of the Royal Family 200 years before. An unsettling messenger from Sabriel's father sends her into Death (to hear the rest of her father's message) and then into the Old Kingdom to take up his role as Abhorsen, the Charter mage and necromancer tasked with keeping sorcerers, necromancers, and the Dead at bay. Along the way, she encounters Mogget, a seemingly normal talking cat who more or less serves the Abhorsen family, and Touchstone, a lost descendant of the Royal Family. Together, the three of them must hunt down Kerrigor, the necromancer responsible for the disappearance of Sabriel's father, and save the Old Kingdom!

I've heard it said that prologues are useless, skippable, and distracting. Not so with this prologue. It's exactly what hooked me into this book. We are shown the Abhorsen in action, view a thrilling action sequence, and get to know and care about Terciel, Sabriel's father. That last is important since his disappearance and mysterious message are what sets the ball rolling for the rest of the book.

Sabriel does a lot of work for such a relatively small book. It establishes the setting, magic system, and conflict for a series that subsequently is focused on other characters. Its best features are Sabriel's determination to do well in her new role as Abhorsen, Mogget's ever-present sarcasm (not to mention the threat of his freedom hanging over everything), and the skillful way in which Nix uses the magic of the world to drive his story forward. The only slight detraction from the book that I recall (it's been 4.5 years since I first read it) was the romance between Sabriel and Touchstone blossoming so quickly at the end. However, that was a very minor quibble at the time and their relationship in the later books (after many years of marriage and two children) is so wonderful I don't mind their being so suddenly shipped together (pardon the pun, those of you who've read the book).

If you haven't read the Old Kingdom series, go out and pick up Sabriel. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Have you read Sabriel? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!



In case you missed it, Albion Academy is available in paperback and ebook on Amazon! You can pick up a paperback copy here. If Kindle's more your style, go here.



Also, I had a guest post on Arthurian legend and its influence on Albion Academy over at The Splendor Falls on Castle Walls Tuesday. You can check that out here.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Monday Musings: Favorite Magic Systems

Last Tuesday, Amanda Bradburn asked me about my favorite magic systems, so I thought I would talk a bit more here about what magic systems are my favorite and why.

What do I mean by magic system?

Basically, any book, film, or TV series will have its own take on magical or supernatural power and how that power works -- who can (or cannot) wield it, what can magic do (or not do), what a given power's weaknesses and limitations are, etc. This understanding of magic, in its totality, is what I mean when I say magic system.* Some systems -- for example, Allomancy in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series -- are so thoroughly detailed that you actually have a systematic view of magic in play when reading the book. Others -- such as Narnia or Harry Potter -- leave far more to the imagination than they do to the schoolbooks; their focus is less on how the magic works in small details than in the larger story.**

* It should be noted that (while brilliant in their own right) Sanderson's Laws of Magic may not apply to these systems. That's okay. We can't all be Brandon Sanderson.
** This goes in direct opposition to Sanderson's First Law: "An author's ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic."


Free Magic and the Charter: The Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix

There are two main reasons I love this magic system and devour anything new Garth Nix puts out in this universe. 1) The series centers on a family of mages whose sole duty is to keep the Dead, well, dead. Having the protagonists be necromancers of a different color (so to speak) was one of the most brilliant things Nix could have done. 2) The Charter's description as a living word made up of millions of marks that a Charter Mage must learn by heart, while not written as a Christian allegory or symbol, still resonates with me because it seems a fitting symbol of Christ and the Holy Spirit. But beyond that, this magic system works because, while it doesn't lay out every possible working of the magic (looking at you, Brandon Sanderson), it is always inventive and true to its basic groundwork.


Allomancy, Feruchemy, and Hemalurgy: The Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson is so gung-ho about having magic systems with far-reaching consequences that he put not one, not two, but three systems into the Mistborn series. And all of them make sense in regard to one another while still operating in slightly different ways. Allomancy is the most common (used by the titular Mistborn) and it ties with Feruchemy for my favorite of the three. Allomancers are able to burn metals (usually just one) that they've ingested to achieve a specific effect: affecting emotions, reacting to metal outside the body, etc. And each metal has an opposite (this system is very heavy in Newtonian physics) so that any given power has a push to its pull. Feruchemists, on the other hand, use metals as storage devices for physical and mental traits like stamina, speed, and memory. These two systems complement each other very well, and are used primarily (if not exclusively) by the protagonists. Then there's Hemalurgy, which is much darker, and involves taking power from another individual by means of metal. This set of magic systems is one of the best-written I've ever encountered.


The One Power: The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (and Brandon Sanderson)

In the world of the Wheel of Time, the One Power is the source of (almost) all magic.* It is divided into male and female halves and, true to the Eastern influences on the series, they work with and against each other to keep the wheel of time moving. The male-female divide in both magic and everyday life is part of Jordan's main focus for the series, and he handles it with varying levels of deftness throughout the series. (I was never more thrilled in regards to the magic in this series than when the male half of the Power was finally cleansed of the Dark One's taint.) But the Power's gendered division is only part of the cleverness of this system. The real show is in the skillful use of the five classic elements (fire, water, earth, air, and spirit) to create an almost endless variety of magic in the world. Any given effect will require "weaves"** of varying elements to work. Healing mostly relies on water and spirit, but a clever person can find uses for fire and earth as well. It's this simple but versatile concept that makes this magic system worth revisiting.

* Let's not talk about the Dark One's so-called "True Power." Just don't.
** The language of the spell-casting is driven by textile words, much like that of glamour in Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamourist Histories.


Bending: Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra

Avatar and its sequel series feature another four elements-based system in which gifted individuals can "bend" one of the four elements (spirit gets left out for the most part, with the rare exception of lion-turtles using energybending) in conjunction with martial arts skills to affect the world around them. The main exception to this rule being the titular Avatar who can bend all four elements and whose role in the world is to facilitate peace among the tribes. Bending is a neat, uncomplicated little magic system that still manages to grow with the franchise to include some sub-elemental specialties like metalbending and lightning generation. The most wonderful part of it is that no one element is actually strong enough to negate the other three (despite the Fire Nation oppressing most of the world for 100 years) and the separate disciplines still have much they can learn from one another. For instance, a firebender uses a waterbending technique to redirect lightning, and each new Avatar must learn the other three elements in their time, which often leads to consternation as they are forced to think in ways different from their native elemental mindset.


Folding: The Paper Magician series by Charlie N. Holmberg

While I've only read the first book in this series (I'm currently reading the second), the magic system is still fun and well thought out. (This is unsurprising given that Miss Holmberg is a former student of Mr. Laws of Magic himself, Brandon Sanderson.) The foundational rules of the world are these: if you can become a magician, you are bound to one material with which to work your magic. Forever. And absolutely no use of blood magic is allowed. Otherwise, magicians are free to be as creative as they care to be -- and protagonist Ceony Twill is quite creative. Folding -- using paper for magic -- is the central focus of the books since that is the path Ceony is forced into by the school, but Holmberg goes well beyond simple origami in crafting the magic  that fills these books. Paper butlers, paper dogs, and even a paper heart all make their appearances in believable fashion. There are magicians of glass, fire, metal, and even plastic, all with their own specialties. (I'm still waiting to see a Smelter use their enchanted bullets.)


Silvertongue: The Inkheart trilogy by Cornelia Funke

This may be the vaguest magic system on my list in terms of hard and fast, detailed rules that are laid out in the books. It boils down to this: there are a handful of individuals whose talent for reading aloud goes well beyond bringing imagination to life -- it brings the characters from books into the living world. The catch is, someone (or something) from our world gets sent into the book world in exchange. Furthermore, once inside the book world, a Silvertongue can make changes to the story if they read aloud properly. As a lover of books, this is just too fun a system to not list. The series is phenomenal and this central conceit holds it all together.

Alchemy: Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

These two series, adapted from the manga by Hiomu Arakawa, are hands-down my favorite anime series of all time. One reason for that is the strikingly realistic way in which it handles the alchemy it utilizes as its main conceit. At the heart of alchemy lie two principles (well, one and a half). First, the law of equivalent exchange (much like the law of conservation of matter and energy) states that nothing can be gained without the alchemist giving something in return. You can't just summon a weapon or make a staircase out of thin air. There must be material already present to work with. For this reason, most alchemists find a particular material or style to work with (such as Roy Mustang's flame alchemy) and are always prepared to utilize it in battle or in service to king and country. Second, and flowing from the first, human transmutation (or attempting to create human life through alchemy) is forbidden. More than that, it's impossible, because alchemy cannot accomodate or account for the existence of the soul. The inventiveness of the characters in using alchemy is what makes this system shine brightest, though.


What are your favorite magic systems that you've read or seen? Let me know in the comments!

I'll be guest posting on what I love about Arthurian legend and how it has influenced the Albion books at The Splendor Falls on Castle Walls tomorrow. Be sure to come by and check it out!


Albion Academy is now available on Amazon! You can pick up your copy here. If Kindle's more your style, go here.

You can also add it to your shelves on Goodreads here.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Book Sacrifice Tag

Arielle tagged me in the Book Sacrifice Tag, and it looked like fun, so here we go.


#1: An Over-Hyped Book
Situation: You are in a bookstore when the zombies attack. Over the loudspeakers you hear the military announce that over-hyped books are the zombies' only weakness. What over-hyped book will you chuck at the zombies?


Go Set a Watchman should not have been published. It's based on (or is) an early draft of what eventually became To Kill a Mockingbird and it should have been left to rot wherever it was dug up from. Harper Lee thought it had vanished and never said she wished it hadn't. It isn't a good novel, and it is a tarnish on Harper Lee's legacy.


#2: A Sequel
Situation: You are caught in a torrential downpour and you're probably the type who melts when you get wet. What sequel are you willing to use as an umbrella to protect yourself.

Clariel by Garth Nix. It's technically a prequel, but it was the first *new* book in the Old Kingdom series since Abhorsen and it promised us the story of a "lost" Abhorsen who later became a notorious sorceress. Except when you reach the end of the book, Clariel is neither lost nor a sorceress and the journey to this point was ... boring. Despite imprisonment, murder, and intrigue, it was just plain disappointing. All the interesting stuff came in between this book and her later appearances in the series! So yeah, I don't mind sacrificing this one.


#3: A Classic
Situation: You're in English class and your professor won't stop going on about a classic that "revolutionized literature". Personally you think the classic is garbage and you decide to express your opinion by hurling the book at his head. What classic is that?

Clarissa by Samuel Richardson for two reasons. First, the plot is basically terrible. A young woman is endlessly pursued by a rake who, when his romantic attempts fail, falls back on rape to get his way. And then she dies because her soul can't recover. The worst he gets for his crimes is a slap across the face from his patroness aunt.* It's awful, and Richardson takes forever to tell this story. Through letters. Which brings me to my second point: it's the longest novel in the English language, which means it's hefty enough to do some damage when thrown.

*Assuming the miniseries with Sean Bean as the rake and an actress who looked to much like Megan Follows for my comfort was accurate to the book. I can only thank the professor whose class covered this novel for not forcing the actual novel on us.


#4: A Least Favorite Book
Situation: You're hanging out at a bookstore (where else would you be?) when global warming somehow manages to to turn the whole world into a frozen wasteland. Naturally, your only hope of survival is to burn a book. Which book would you not regret tossing into the fire?

Twilight. It's an easy/popular target, but it goes into the flames for wasted potential. There was so much more fascinating material in that book's world that could have been the focus of the plot rather than a romance between Bella and Edward. For instance, the stories of Alice and Jasper, the two most interesting characters in the story. (Their best scenes were cut from the film, too. There is no justice in this world.)


#5: A Series
Situation: There's a flooded stream you have to cross on your quest and you can't get your feet wet. Which series (oh yeah, btw, you brought your whole bookshelf and also probably local library with you) will you use as stepping stones?


A Song of Ice and Fire. George R.R. Martin does a fine job with worldbuilding and such, but I can't stand the level of debauchery and vulgarity he thinks necessary to tell his story. I made it through two books before I finally said I had to stop because the whole thing is so darn depressing (even when my favorite characters aren't being slaughtered -- or worse).

What books would you sacrifice? Let me know in the comments, or link me to your own blog post!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Watercolor Wednesday: The First Stroke

Welcome to the first edition of Watercolor Wednesday at Inexhaustible Inspiration!

I am excited to share my fumbling beginnings in this art form with you all.

The first two paintings this month are actually postcards. Yes, you can buy watercolor postcards to paint and send to your friends!
Merry Christmas!

 These were painted with Artist's Loft watercolors and I have to say I like the way these paints work. They have a very opaque look on the paper when painting wet on dry (that's wet paint on dry paper, as opposed to wet on wet when the paper has been dampened before the paint is applied). I'm happiest with the green I was able to mix up with the blue and yellow, though I was a bit dismayed to discover that the red I selected for some of the lights on the tree dried a pale pink. Oh well.

I've warned you all about my love of puns, right?

For this one, I was able to find a red that stayed red when it dried. I tried to be clever with the eyes and they came out a bit creepy. (Or so I thought. The recipient said it wasn't.) I wasn't thrilled with the grayish color the white took on for the bob at the end of the hat, but I did like the way the blue wash in the background turned out. I'm still learning how to stop before I overwork an area.

Night and the Moon

For this one, I switched supplies all around. I switched to larger paper from Strathmore and paints from The Fine Touch. I also used brushes from a set rather than the single (honestly, pitiful) brush from the pan paint set.

The design is inspired by a line from the Tow'rs song "The Kitchen": "If I was the night, then you were the moon." Out of context, it's a very sweet line and I wanted to capture some of the sad romance of it. (In context, the song is much more melancholic.) I tried a couple of new techniques. I used an old gift card to create texture in the grass on the left; I spattered some white on the dark areas for stars in the night; and I used wet on wet for the figures to help the colors mix a bit more. I'm still not sure if I got the emotion I was going for, but I had fun doing it.

Here's the song that inspired Night and the Moon:


In case you missed it, I had an interview on Amanda Bradburn's blog yesterday. Check it out here.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Monday Musings: New Year, New Books -- The Books I'm Most Anticipating in 2017

This was originally going to be a Top 10 Tuesday, and then I realized I didn't quite have 10 books for the list, so it's a special Monday Musings where I anticipate the books I'm most looking forward to being released this year.

Beren and Luthien by J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien

This one's not new in the sense of being new material so much as it is collecting all the previously published material on this iconic couple into a single volume. This makes me very very happy because The Silmarillion is amazing as a whole, but Beren and Luthien's story is one of a handful to actually get several mentions in The Lord of the Rings. Even Sam knows about Beren taking the Silmaril from Morgoth. Just saying.

Releasing May 4


The Heart of What was Lost by Tad Williams

This is a bridge novella to set up the trilogy The Last King of Osten Ard and follow-up the original Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. I loved the original trilogy, and I've been waiting for Williams to give us something new in this world for over a decade. While I'm not quite as interested in this book as I am in the actual trilogy that will follow, I'm still getting this one because it's Osten Ard and I need to go back.

Released January 3


The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams

There's no cover released yet, so here's a set of the original trilogy:
The full spreads of each of these are even more gorgeous.
This is the book I really want to read by Tad Williams this year. We finally get to see what's going on with that pesky little prophecy from the end of To Green Angel Tower. Oh, and check up on the kingdom. That, too. It'll be great to see more of Simon, Josua, and the rest. I really ought to finish my reread of the original trilogy before this comes out. At least I have a few months, right?

Releasing June 27


Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner

The fifth book in the Queen's Thief series, this one picks up where A Conspiracy of Kings left off, and I hope that it avoids the flashbacks from its predecessor. Not that I didn't enjoy learning more about Sophos; it's just that Gen is the heart of this series and those sections were Gen-less. More Gen, please!

Releasing May 16


Seeker by Veronica Rossi

I read Riders last year as part of a box of books I won from Tor Teen (which I am still working on; I'm slow at reading books I win). I loved it for several reasons, not least of which was its use of Conquest instead of Pestilence as one of the Four Horsemen (which fits in much better with the actual descriptions in Revelation). I went to Amazon as soon as I finished Riders and added Seeker to my wishlist. That's how good it was.

Releasing May 16


Guardians #5 by William Joyce

As I said in my post on Tuesday last week, I'm fairly new to this franchise. That being said, I'm excited that the series finale is coming because 1) the series won't be left on hold indefinitely and 2) maybe they will all show up at McKay's now. (Seriously, I haven't read the rest of these books yet because McKay's never has the one I need.)

Releasing October 3


Nothing Left to Lose by Dan Wells

This is the latest (last?) book in the John Cleaver series that started with the gripping I am NOT a Serial Killer. I loved the first two books in this series because Dan Wells does a splendid job of making an emotionally distant teenage sociopath both relatable and compelling. In the second book, there's a moment when a subtle shift in the narration occurs, and Wells brings it around in the conclusion in the best way possible. I have book three on the shelf (yes, the bedroom shelf of to-be-read-soonish) and will likely be getting books four and five (and the connecting novella) sooner rather than later.

Releasing June 6


A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

This is the conclusion to the Shades of Magic trilogy. I got the first book for free on Audible some time back through a club on Goodreads that is sadly now defunct. When I finally got around to listening to it, I wanted the second book right away. No problem! I had a free credit on Audible. Easy decision. Then book two went and ended on a cliffhanger and I'll have been waiting six months for the finale by the time this arrives at my door. This is easily one of my favorite new series of recent memory, though it is written for adults, so be aware that if you've liked some of Victoria Schwab's other books, this one's probably going to be darker and grittier.

Releasing February 21

Albion Academy by Elijah David

Ok. It might be cheating a bit to put my own book on the list, but I am beyond excited for this book to come out.

Releasing later this month


In case you missed it, I had a post on SpeculativeFaith last Friday on redeeming myths, and Mike Duran posted a rejoinder to it!

Be sure to stop by Amanda Bradburn's site tomorrow for an interview about Albion Academy and writing!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Albion Academy Cover Reveal!

It's time to reveal the cover for Albion Academy! This is something I've been sitting on for a couple of months now, and I'm happy to share it with all of you.



The cover was designed by Susan Krupp and I couldn't be happier with it.

That's great, you say, but what's the book about? Glad you asked.
Is a Djinni just a trickster? Can a wizard only learn magic? Must a Valkyrie always ferry the dead? 
For Mortimer, Merlin, and Bryn, it seems the fates have already written the ends of their stories. When Mortimer asks unorthodox questions, the Djinni Elders exile him to a human school of magic—Albion Academy. Merlin's friendship with a mortal only increases his mother's determination for him to live up to the heritage of his ancestors. And Bryn's prophetic sisters outright declare that her fate is tethered to Mortimer, Merlin, and the mysterious door in the school's basement. 
As the three of them struggle against the constraints of their families' expectations, they find themselves inexorably drawn into a conflict that encompasses rogue Faeries, dangerous mortals, and sorcerers hidden in Albion Academy itself. Defying their fates might be the only way they survive their first year at . . .
Albion Academy.

Albion Academy is available for preorder from Portals Publishing or its parent company Denouement Literary Agency! It will be available on Amazon and through major stores like Barnes and Noble very soon!

Got a question about the cover or the book in general? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Top 10 Tuesday: Good Wizards

Welcome to the first Top 10 Tuesday of 2017! This week's topic is good wizards. (Note: I'm using wizard in the same way I do in the Albion books -- a general term for magic user of any gender.)

This was a surprisingly difficult list to draft. But without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my Top 10 Good Wizards:


Moiraine Damodred

Moiraine may not be the strongest or the wisest of the magic-users in Robert Jordan's 15-book epic The Wheel of Time, but she is one of the best. She guides our young heroes on their journeys, even seemingly from beyond the grave. She doesn't brook nonsense and chooses to serve the world rather than herself by finding, guiding, and protecting the Dragon Reborn instead of remaining at court. She doesn't even hesitate to take on the Forsaken, even at risk of her own life. Despite a books-long absence, Moiraine remains my absolute favorite character from this series.

Gandalf/Olorin
The Grey Pilgrim. The White Rider. Kindler of hope. Storm-crow. He bears many names in the stories of Tolkien's legendarium. His oldest name, Olorin, is the one I love best because it speaks of his youth in the West, in Valinor, where he learned mercy from one of the Valar. He is the only one of the wizards to fulfill his mission and he rises to every occasion that presents itself to him. One of only a handful of people to be sent back to life by the Valar, Gandalf stands as a pinnacle of goodness and hope in the world of fictional wizardry.

Minerva McGonagall
a.k.a. the best professor at Hogwarts. She cares about her students in a way none of the other teachers do in the series. She believes in protecting them from unnecessary dangers, even if they don't like it (cancelling Quidditch on Oliver Wood, anyone?). She is the only registered Animagus in the series, and she's a brilliant spellcaster and duelist. But it is McGonagall's care for Harry and the others is what pushes her into my Top 10 list.

Merlin
Merlin, whether the BBC version, the Sam Neill version, or the Disney version, is absolutely one of my favorite wizards of all time. I love him so much I made one of his descendants a main character in the Albion books. He's one of the reasons I write fantasy fiction and at his best he is the epitome of what fictional wizards should look like.

Sabriel
The initial protagonist of Garth Nix's Old Kingdom series, Sabriel is a young woman who isn't afraid to do what is necessary to protect her kingdom, her family, and the world. She handles even the worst of scenarios with grace and coolheaded aplomb. She defeats Dead and Free Magic creatures with the skill of an Abhorsen, a mage whose job it is to keep the Dead in Death. She doesn't let romance distract her from her quest, but she doesn't allow her calling to cut her off from personal relationships either. Sabriel is a young McGonagall in the sense of being a complete hard-core wizard while still caring about people, especially those in her charge.

Jonathan Strange
Jonathan Strange is my favorite of the two main magicians in Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, if only because he doesn't deny the existence of the Raven King or make foolish agreements with strange fae. He is not without his faults. He takes longer than he should to realize his problems with his wife and he is very headstrong in ways Norrell never dreamed. But he does learn from his mistakes and he is devoted to his wife and his country.

Jack Frost (Rise of the Guardians)
I'm relatively new to this franchise (I've only seen the film and read one of the chapter books and two of the picture books -- and sadly, Jack's story is the one of those I'm still missing). However, Jack's story in the film is my favorite rendition of the character ever. It adds more poignancy than the Rankin/Bass specials and it captures the mischievous nature of the folk character while adding a layer of depth that is both unexpected and fitting to the story. For all of these, and for Jack's determination to be a Guardian, he earns a place on this list.

Harry Dresden
The Dresden Files were my first venture into urban fantasy, and while Jim Butcher is a fantastic writer, the biggest reason I have kept on with this series (and genre) is Harry Dresden. He's the stereotypical neo-noir P.I. in many ways, but he's fun to stick around with and has more hope in his heart than many of his type. He cares about the people around him, and he puts himself on the line for others, even if they don't like him. He doesn't stand for the bad guys winning. He always looks for clever ways to solve his problems and his cases. More than anything, it's his determination to save people that makes me love Harry.

Radagast the Brown
Radagast technically failed on his mission to guide and protect the Men and Elves of Middle-earth. But he loved the world he'd been sent into, and he wasn't entirely lost. He knew how to help his fellow wizards and served a purpose in the larger plan despite his smaller failures and he's sadly not in the story long enough for my tastes.

Zuko
Zuko's journey from the honor-obsessed exile in the first season of Avatar: The Last Airbender to the honorable prince in season 3 is one of my favorite redemption arcs in fiction. He is one of the best-written characters to ever exist and his conflicts are among the most compelling in the series. He does more than reverse his course. He grows into the person he was always meant to be.

Honorable Mentions:

Toph Beifong
The most powerful Earthbender in the world.

Newt Scamander
The Hufflepuff hero we've been waiting for.

Howl
The stubborn, vain, and surprisingly lovable Welsh wizard.

*All images found via Pinterest.