Wednesday, June 19, 2019

MG Fantasy Adventure review of Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox Throne War by Keira Gillett, illustrated by Keira Gillett and Eoghan Kerrigan

42244224Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox War by Keira Gillett, illustrated by Keira Gillett and Eoghan Kerrigan
Format:  Ebook
Publisher: Keira Gillett
Number of Pages: 350
Published  May 24th, 2019
Source:  Author in exchange for an honest review

Opening Line:  "Ah!" shrieked a startled Christoffer, stumbling backwards from the passage, his black hair falling into brown eyes."   

Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox War begins with Aleks and his friends within the Thief of Peace's Passage, an underground corridor that separates the Dwarf Kingdom from the Fey's realm.  It's here that they come face to face with Fritjof, the dragon of chaos.   Fritjof had up until this point masked his reappearance by erasing his very existence from everyone's memory, that is everyone except Aleks sister Nori.  Nori is the one that warned Aleks and his friends of the danger that Fritjof imposes for everyone and together they'd been trying to find a way to defeat him.  Thinking he had Fritjof cornered in the passage, Aleks prepared his bow and took aim, only to discover he'd missed his target and instead inadvertently injured a dwarf who was hiding.  Aleks tries to quickly explain his error, that he was aiming for the dragon, but only infuriates the dwarf because she like most everyone else does not believe Fritjof really exists.  Despite Aleks best efforts in pleading with her that he never intended to fire upon her, the dwarf sounds the alarm and races away yelling that they're under attack.  Aleks and his friends are left with no other choice but to flee.  Fritjof vanishes, gleeful that he has most likely started a war and is one step closer to his freedom.  Will Aleks and his friends prevent a war between the dwarfs and fey?  How will he convince the two sides that Fritjof presents a real danger to them when they've never heard of him and certainly have never even seen him?  And what awaits Aleks when he returns to the fey realm, a place where changelings such as himself are killed on sight? 

The prologue gets the reader up to speed with the past books in the current story arc, while jumping into the action and adventuring right away.  Although there is plenty of background information given on the current plot and characters, I would recommend starting with the first book in this series,  Aleks Mickelsen and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well.  Reading Keira's latest book is always a delight,  to once again return to characters and a story that I've become so vested in.  Things are certainly heating up for Aleks and his friends, what with Fritjof stirring up his chaos.  At the end of the last book, I was quite concerned about Aleks and his friends future, especially after that cliffhanger ending.  I've especially grown a fondness for Aleks.  He's faced many challenges with being a changeling and then to have had difficulty with his navigational skills.  He's still facing the difficult choice of whether he wants to be fey or human, and whether returning to Neiffleheim is in his best interests.  The Eighth Fox War really answered many of my lingering questions about what kind of ruler he would be, how he would bring the fey together and whether or not he would be coronated as their king.  I did also find it enjoyable watching the political intrigue going on among the fey to try to steal the crown for themselves, and was quite happy with the way things were resolved.   One of my favorite parts was the continued romance that is blossoming between Aleks and Saskia,  and the way Aleks bargained with her father to gain his support and alliance.  Quite humorous.

As in her previous books, there are beautiful black and white illustrations by Eoghan Kerrigan, but this time Keira has also created some of the illustrations that begin each chapter heading.  My absolute favorite is the Raven Design she created for chapter seven.  Just gorgeous.  And who could forget Airi the white raven and all of Aleks friends?  The way that each story builds on their friendship with one another and how they always are there for one another, adventuring through the countryside or rushing in to save each other from whatever gripping danger they may encounter next.  Can't wait to see what Keira comes up with next.      

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

MG Fantasy/Adventure review of Thisby Thestoop and the Wretched Scrattle by Zac Gorman, Sam Bosma (Illustrations)

39855028Thisby Thestoop and the Wretched Scrattle by Zac Gorman, illustrations by Sam Bosma
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher: Harper Collins
Number of Pages: 384
Published:  April 23rd, 2019
Source:  Library

Opening Line:  "It was raining, because of course it was."

Book one, Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain was a Cybils finalist for MG Speculative Fiction in 2018.  Here's the description of the story from Sherry: "No one would have picked Thisby Thestoop to be the heroine of a great adventure. And yet, this foundling girl (whose only friend is a slime named Mingus), who lives in a dungeon, feeding and cleaning up after its monsters, saves a prince and princess. The perilous journey of the two very different girls, Thisby shy and grubby and Iphigenia beautiful and entitled, shows how a friendship can be made under the most challenging of circumstances, and the challenge of maintaining a friendship even when trust is broken. Witty, funny, and full of feeling, with memorable characters, both major and minor, this will appeal to gamers and fantasy fans of all stripes, especially those who are looking for real characters with whom they can sympathize and identify."— Sherry Early, Semicolon 

Book two in the series takes place a year after Thisby first led Iphigenia to safety through the Black Mountain.  Since that time, she's become an adept gamekeeper, she knows all the short cuts, dangers, and monsters that call the dungeon their home.  Everything has always run smoothly under her capable hands.  But now that the King has appointed Overseer Marl to run the Black Mountain dungeon drastic changes are headed her way.  Suddenly the dire rats are acting strangely, there's a mysterious monster on the lose in the dungeon killing the other creatures and there are even rumors that Umberfall is planning to attack the Kingdom of Nth.  One of the Overseer's first decree's is to reinstate the Wretched Scrattle, a race to the top of Castle Grimstone where the winner will become the new leader of the Black Mountain Dungeon.  At first,  Thisby isn't interested in competing to become the dungeon's new master, her heart after all lies in being its gameskeeper, but when it becomes evident that she's needed to save the mountain, Thisby does step up for the challenge. 

I quite enjoyed Thisby's adventures in the dungeon, exploring the underground winding river while avoiding the giant albino alligators and other monsters.  I especially love Mingus, Thisby's slime advisor/friend by her side.  Book two sees the addition of a few new characters that keep things interesting,  like Jono the skeleton who is assigned as Thisby's personal assistant in the dungeon and the twenty-four ghouls put in charge of helping to feed the monsters.  Once the competition gets underway Thisby also meets some of the competitors like Vas the noble who brought along his own hunter, Donato, and conjurer, Bero.  And although Iphigenia isn't helping Thisby directly with the competition, she still has a prominent role in the story.  Overall a highly entertaining story, with beautiful illustrations, especially the full page ones, and a story that is filled with creative twists and turns, and an ending that will have you wanting more.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Guest Post & Excerpt from Keira Gillett's newest book: Alek Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox War

Today I'm pleased to have Keira Gillett, author of the Zaria Fierce Trilogy visit my blog with her guest post and an excerpt from her latest book, Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox Throne War.  I've been following her series for a number of years and she's always so kind to share her insights on writing and illustrating.  Thank you so much for dropping by Keira!  

First off, thank you so much, Brenda, for welcoming me back to Log Cabin Library! I am thrilled to be here. Some of you may have seen me guest blogging before, but for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Keira Gillett and I am the author of the Zaria Fierce Series. My newest release, Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox Throne War concludes the second trilogy in the series, which focuses on Aleks, a changeling who just wants to be human and his struggles as forces beyond his control lead him further and further into the fey realm.

One of the things I got to do with this book that I hadn’t done in previous books was illustrate parts of it. Eoghan Kerrigan, the longtime illustrator of the series and I split the interior illustrations 50-50 and threw our creative juices into bringing Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox Throne War to life. The results I find to be beautiful, distinctive and thought provoking.

With both Eoghan and I working together on this book it reminds me very much of movies, theater, and other arts where many individuals have a hand in creating an overall world and evoking together moods, feelings, and tones to scenes and situations. Both Eoghan and I have artistic educational backgrounds in drawing and illustrating. We have our own style of work and the similarities and differences in our approach to creating works of art are apparent within the book.

For a long time when I was asked by others why I didn’t illustrate my books I would tell them it’s like hiring a plumber to do electrical work in your house. Sure the plumber is a tradesman, and sure the plumber works on houses, but the plumber’s expertise is not in electrical work, so why use the plumber if you know a good electrician? I lacked the confidence to do the job well.

Eoghan’s artwork has this beautiful realism to it. He’s a master of shading and has a real love of trolls and fantasy which shines in the series. My work is much more graphic with elements of pattern to it. I also thought I was too close to the project as I write the series and that might make me blind to what readers may really want to see. Circumstances changed, and with a lot of encouragement from family and friends, I was able to easily and quickly put pencil and pen to paper and draw the world that until now I’ve only painted in words. Their subsequent enjoyment of my pieces was a huge confidence boost, and I am proud to display my illustrations alongside Eoghan’s.  

From what I gather about Eoghan’s process is that he draws mockups for a piece, then when he’s ready to make it the final piece he uses the mockup for reference and starts by lightly using a colored pencil before he moves to artist grade graphite pencils to complete the piece. My process also goes through stages. I rely heavily on references – be it photography I’ve taken or what I find in my environment (figure or still life) and I always start there. I really miss my access to figure drawing classes, but that’s why one has oneself and a camera. From there, I use graphite pencils, art pens, artist grade markers, and sometimes a touch of Photoshop to complete the work.

What is fun and weird about my art is seeing it before and after I’ve prepped it for the book. Before in person, you will see white and black, yes, but also all sorts of odd color combos like plum purple or robin egg blue hair, yellow wings, powder blue or orange pants, and green jackets. This is because I didn’t have enough tones and shades of gray in my marker set and rather than going out to test and buy those colors, I created a reference sheet, then using my phone converted it to black and white. With it always handy, I know exactly what color to pick to get the shade of gray I want the computer to see when I scan and convert the drawings to grayscale.

The biggest highlight in illustrating my work is the immediacy of it. What’s in my head I can bring out whenever the mood strikes. Unlike Eoghan, as the author, I don’t have to have the book fully written before drawing something as I know what is coming next. It’s also great for me when the writing muse is a little shy to switch gears and keep the creative juices flowing by working on the artwork. I currently have nine chapters drawn for book seven, and about seven and a half chapters written. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words – now if I could translate the art into text I’d be even closer to completing that first draft!

I hope you enjoyed this little foray into the artwork of Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox Throne War. Be sure to grab your copy today to enjoy all the illustrations and adventures that come with them.

Book Summary:
Newly proclaimed king over all fey, Aleks Mickelsen is a changeling with a lot on his mind and many enemies breathing down his neck. The fey realm of Niffleheim is rife with danger everywhere he looks. A terrible dragon by the name of Fritjof is intent on causing chaos, pitting the fey against each other and starting an interspecies war for the chance of gaining his freedom. Aleks’ biological father wants him to abdicate the throne before his coronation, or else. All that, and he has to impress the father of the girl of his dreams. What’s a bloke to do?

Emerging from the bowels of the fey realm, Aleks led the way to the Autumn Court. It was probably unnecessary at this point to take the lead, but as the group’s navigator, it was an ingrained habit. They hadn’t made it very far into the plains, when spears with sharp, narrow heads thunked point down in the ground all around them, trapping them in a circle.

“We have to keep creating distance,” Henrik said, grabbing a spear from beside him and lobbing it back.

The dwarves raised round wooden shields, deflecting the attack. As more joined them, the women spread out, spears and axes ready in hand.

“We’re sitting ducks,” Zaria shouted, zapping a hooked spear away from her. It disappeared into thin air, arriving where Aleks knew not.

A set of spears – one barbed, one hooked – shot toward her. She did the same to them as she had the first spear, and retaliated by tossing a fireball at the brigade. They ducked, throwing up their shields, but Zaria once again purposefully aimed high to avoid hurting their foes. She and Aleks did not want a war on their hands. They were trying to diffuse one.

“We have to snuff our lanterns. It’s the only way!” cried Filip. “Turn off your stargazer, Aleks.”

He did, clicking a button within a star cutout on the egg-shaped device. His friends likewise darkened their lanterns, deliberately shattering them against the ground. After a brief flare of light as oil and fuel burned bright, the world went dark, and Aleks had to clear spots from his vision.

It was still night, sometime past midnight, and all was pitch black. The scalloped icy ceiling over the plains offered no hint of recourse. In an instant, the tide had turned, and their attackers were on the defensive. The all-female dwarf unit came to a stumbling, crashing halt.

Aleks couldn’t see it, but he pictured the scene like one of the cartoons he had watched growing up, with one soldier running into another and causing a chain reaction, sending everyone toppling like dominos.

Dwarves shouted and groaned, hurling insults at one another like they hurled spears. Some hit their marks with deadly accuracy, as barbed as some of the real spears lobbed in their direction. Wounded egos and pride ripped through the troop, tumbling them into chaos.

The Ravagers had relied on the light generated by Aleks and the others to direct their attacks. Without it, the soldiers were as blinded by the darkness as Aleks and his friends. Try as they might, none of the female warriors could move for knocking into someone or tripping over the uneven ground. Unlike the dwarves, however, they stayed quiet, essentially becoming invisible to any straining ears close by.

Zaria touched his sleeve, making him jump. “Easy,” she whispered, leaning close. “Do you think you can lead us in the dark?”

Aleks’ fairy power was the ability to navigate on instinct. He always knew where he was going… well, he used to know. Lately, his magic wasn’t always right at hand, and he’d unwittingly taken his friends down many wrong turns and paths; but, they’d always forgiven him, and somehow they’d always ended up right where they were supposed to be. He knew without asking they all had his back.

The inner debate roiled in him. Could he lead them? Glitchy powers or not, Aleks felt certain he could. This was a path he’d taken before, so he had a pretty solid idea of what to expect and where to go. Instead of giving a verbal answer that might give away their position to the nearby dwarves, he took Zaria’s small, slender hand in his and tugged her forward in the dark. She understood him, like she always did, and followed without hesitation.

About the Author: Keira Gillett

Keira Gillett loves painting stories with words and pictures. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drawing and Painting from the University of Florida and has been in multiple exhibitions. When she’s not working, writing, or illustrating she loves to snuggle with her doggie, Oskar. Like Aleks, Keira wishes she could understand her pet. If only Oskar could talk like Airi! You can follow their antics on Instagram with the #oskarpie hashtag.

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