31 May 2014

Guest post: S.F. Burgess talks about her inspiration for 'Eleanor'

"Most people's lives begin with their births; mine began with my death."

In the final moments of her life, the enigmatic Conlan drags Eleanor from her world and into his. Mydren - a vast, majestic land where myths have substance, magic is terrifyingly real and Eleanor is marked for death.

Reborn as an Avatar, the living incarnation of an ancient magic, Eleanor must think fast and act faster if she wishes to survive. This new life comes with a price; Conlan has a vital and dangerous mission to undertake.

Eleanor must learn to control her newfound abilities and cope with a host of dangers both mystical and natural, while helping her fellow Avatars to master their own talents, so they can get the connection between them working.

Can she make 'The Five' a force to be reckoned with? Will their deadly enemies destroy them? Can Eleanor overcome her own fears and find the courage she needs to reach Conlan and release him from his dark secrets?

My first day at school, as a confused, frightened four year old, I made a friend called Alex. Alex was fun and full of smiles and she seemed much more able to cope with what was happening than I was, older than her years somehow. As we moved through school Alex became a good friend, even when she left to go to sixth form at another school we kept in touch. When she died tragically, far too young, I was devastated, but Alex had made a lasting impression. She was a tiny girl, not quite five foot, but what she lacked in size she made up for with her joy of life, her intelligence, her determination and her loud voice. I’d always considered her larger than life.
While Alex was never quite as reckless or arrogant as Eleanor can be, she had become a voice in my head, telling me to keep going, reminding me that life could be over in a flash and that each moment should be seized. Not long after Alex died, I had a dream about her, as dreams often are, it was a little odd, but I woke up with one line in my head: 
“Most people’s lives begin with their birth, mine began with my death.” 

I wrote it in my notebook at the time, the date was the 24th Dec 2003. I also wrote down the dream, looking back at it now it’s strange, but essentially, those frantic, badly spelt scribbles that mark my desperate attempt to capture the emotion of my dream before it faded, are the first chapter of ‘Eleanor’ and the last chapter of the last book in the series. 

For the next few years this concept rattled around my head. I knew where I was starting, and I knew where I was ending, now I just had to fill in the middle. It took several years, but eventually I had a story arc that covered five books in total.

As I began to think about the story and research it, I wove aspects of my own life, my own beliefs into the story plan. I’m not religious, but I have spiritual tendencies, I believe that life has value and meaning in its own right. If I had to describe my own philosophy I guess ‘Wiccan- Buddhist’ might be a start. I also believe in the ‘noble virtues’, as I call them in the book: Compassion, Courage, Wisdom, Truth and Duty. Which I recently realised are very similar to the ‘Factions’ in Veronica Roth’s brilliant ‘Divergence’ trilogy: Amity, Dauntless, Erudite, Candor and Abnegation. Obviously this isn’t a coincidence, but a reflection of the human condition. With a few variants, these virtues have been traditional heroic ideals since Homer’s epic poetry. Just think, if everybody cultivated and lived by these virtues, violent conflict would be unlikely, the world would be an amazing place. While the different books in the series are told from different people’s point of view, the series is ultimately about Conlan, it’s his ‘mission’, his vision, that drives them and I wanted a main hero who would personify these virtues, who would live his life by them, but I didn’t want a flat, boring character.

I love fantasy books, I have learnt from giants like David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Trudi Canavan, Melanie Rawn, Robin Hobb and Glenda Larke to name but a favourite few and I knew, to be interesting and engaging my hero had to grow, had to learn, had to change. In ‘Eleanor’, Conlan is almost an anti-hero, he is abusive, intolerant, violent and brooding. Some of this comes from the horrific brutality he suffered as a child and his inability to deal with his emotions as a result, some of it comes from growing up in a society where brutality against women and those beneath you is perfectly acceptable and even expected in some circumstances, but most of it comes from never having been challenged to actually live the ‘noble virtues’, for Conlan, in the first instance they are ‘ideals’, something that he thinks about, not something he feels, not something he holds in his heart. The interaction he has with his Avatars will change this, they are going to force him to grow, especially Eleanor. Her arrival triggers Conlan’s transformation because she connects with him on an emotional level he has avoided. Occasionally she pushes him too far, too fast and suffers the consequences, but this also forces Conlan to grow, to assess and reassess himself and his beliefs, to become the better man.

There were a range of needs that drove the story line for ‘Eleanor’. I wanted to set the scene and establish the characters, but I also wanted it to be fun, exciting and interesting, so I chose to start with a traditional ‘hunt the magic objects’ quest. Much of the ‘action’ was created to enable the reader to understand the range and limitations of the Avatars abilities. I didn’t want to create situations where, whenever the Avatars get stuck, their magic suddenly gives them the solution, so there are hard rules to what they can achieve, but in the first book they needed to explore and learn what those rules were, but I have to admit, as I wrote the characters had quite a few surprises for me as they found their voices.

If you read the ‘story plan’ for ‘Eleanor’ you would recognise the basic things they do, but very little else would gel with the final book and this was due to the changes the characters made themselves. It was the characters talking to me, and each other, in my head, that created their reality, dictated their personalities and how they dealt with the challenges they faced. I did my best to be true to them.

So where did the inspiration for ‘Eleanor’ come from? 

It came from the short, vibrant life of a dear friend, my own beliefs and ideals, reading the amazing work of writers I admire and ultimately from the hearts and minds of those who live in Mydren and gave me the privilege of joining them in their world. 

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Sara Burgess lives in Manchester with her long-suffering husband, her beloved bear-dog Sweep and three cats: Frodo, Gandalf and Gimli. She has lived in Florida, Spain and France and has at different times in her life been a video shop assistant, bank clerk, school teacher, supermarket till worker, hotel receptionist, bookshop assistant, archaeologist, software trainer and she currently works as an Intranet Evangelist to pay for her first love: writing. In her infrequent spare time she enjoys the movies, opera, bike-riding, reading and hanging out at DaVinci’s with the ‘crew’.

Why not come and find out more about the world of Eleanor and Mydren over on Facebook

30 May 2014

Blog tour stop: Broken Trust by Richard Flores IV (review, excerpt and giveaway)

Series: N/A
Publication date: May 29, 2014
Publisher: Flores Factor
Genres: Sci-fi
Format: eArc
Source: received from the author in exchange for an honest review
Pages: 200

Goodreads | Amazon

Earth is no longer teeming with human life. After a major mass extinction event, the world is no longer able to function as it once had. Governments have collapsed and those that survived are left to figure out what is next for the human race.

Liam Fisher never wanted to be a leader. But after finding survivors, protecting them, and founding the city-state of Lagoon Hills; the people demanded he be their leader. Instead, Liam agreed to sit on a Council with four other leaders.

Together with Talya Brooks, the person who saved his life after the collapse, Liam runs the militia of Lagoon Hills. And though it was tough early on, the people of the city now live in relative comfort and safety.

But Liam is fighting his own personal demons: The loss of his wife and unborn son. Rachel, a past lover he never really got over, has suddenly arrived at the city gates. And the mounting stress of a neighboring city-state threatening war.

The people of Lagoon Hills are counting on Liam for their safety. Can he keep himself together and be the leader everyone wants him to be? Or will the people closest to him be the greatest threat of all?
This was actually quite interesting, I enjoyed the setting quite a lot since it's practically post-apocalyptic but without zombies and aliens - just humans, nothing paranormal or anything. Going into this book I didn't know that but it turned out to be a sweet surprise.

I enjoyed the characters, there weren't any teenagers either - which was a nice change, but this is an adult book so teenagers aren't a must. I liked the naturalness of the relationships, conversations didn't seem forced and the feelings didn't seem fake, things went with the flow and since the book followed the flow as well (sometimes fast-paced other times slow-paced) it was such a joy reading this book.
I loved that the pace was both fast and slow, it kept me awake because I wanted to finish it and I couldn't just stop in the middle of something and the slow paced parts were a nice change and that's where we got to know the characters and see how their relationships evolved and what really was going on.

I will not lie and say I didn't have any problems with this book - 'cause I had; I always felt as if something was missing, not that it wasn't great, but I felt like some of the characters were so flat they were almost see through, and I had a problem with not knowing how and maybe why things had turned out as they did - why was the Earth not suitable for humans anymore? And since this is a standalone we will never know..

I had to give this book a 3 heart rating, it's a great onetime read, but since this is lacking in the history department - which is one of the things I enjoy most about books - I had to bump it down a heart. But I still recommend it though, I think I read it in a day or so - which means it's very intriguing and captures you.

This excerpt is the first half of chapter 2 
Liam stood looking over the map of the area that was laid out over the oak table in the middle of the security tent. The massive tent was large enough to hold large meetings, but right now it was just him, Talya, and a few advisors.

A breeze blew gently through the tent keeping the evening heat at bay. A faint scent of the evening meal could still be smelled from the nearby mess tent. Liam’s stomach was still full from the meal.
Talya leaned over the table, and Liam caught himself looking down her shirt. She looked up and he smiled. She shook her head and stood back up.
“I still say the area they claim belongs to us.” Talya crossed her arms. Her light brown hair would look golden in the sun, but in the lighting of the tent is seemed darker. Her hazel eyes met Liam’s again. When she stood upright she was a few inches shorter than him, but when she caught his eyes he seemed the smaller person. “And now they are threatening to dam our river.”
“I don’t really think the location they choose to dam is the issue. The river runs right through their borders.” Liam pointed to the city-state of Summersville on the map. Then he circled out the area they knew was Summersville’s right to claim. He pointed to another spot along the river. “If we really piss them off on this border dispute, they could dam the river here; and over time they’d have a nice lake here inside their lands. They don’t have to come into our lands to use the river or create a lake.”
Talya nodded, but Liam didn’t think she agreed. She’d probably give him hell for it later. She was his only friend and second in command. She had no problem telling him he was wrong, and he appreciated that. Though he wondered if he’d accept it so easily if they didn’t have the bond they had.
Talya rarely wore anything resembling a uniform; and if it hadn’t been for her Liam would have already had uniforms made for the security teams. Liam preferred the tight tank top and cargo pants she wore now. Even though he knew he had no shot with her, he appreciated the body her regular fitness routine gave her.
The silence had settled long enough. “Talya, you’re going to tell me what you think one way or another. Now is as good a time as any.”
She looked at the Sergeant in the room with them, and then uncrossed her arms. “If we don’t settle these border disputes we will have people infringing on our borders all over. We can’t let the Summersville people scare us with threats to damn the river. They don’t have the standing army to stop us, and­—”
Liam held up his hand. “I’m not saying we need to let this go. They know we can crush them if we wanted to, but they’re not going to let us know they are scared. But if we can avoid any bloodshed…that is the route we should take.”
Talya nodded again. “I think we need to make our point. One way or another.”
“We will.” Liam turned to the Sergeant. “What does the council seem to think of this new message from Summersville?”
“They think it is bold.” The Sergeant—Gordon was his name—turned to Talya. “They share the Commander’s sentiment, though. But they trust your ability to lead.”
Liam let out a sigh of disgust. “What is the point of a council if they always default to one man’s way?”
“There is only a Council of Leaders because you insisted,” Talya said. “The people here were perfectly okay with letting you lead them.”
“That was never what I wanted.” Liam turned away from the table. Liam hated being any type of leader. It was certainly one of the reasons he didn’t have any friends. He didn’t need any conflicts of interest coming up later. But it was more than that. He had helped the people find a safe home because he had the experience to know what to look for in a safe settlement; and it was the right thing to do. He didn’t do it to have power. He’d barely wanted to be alive himself.
Liam turned back around. He didn’t want to reflect on the lows his life had hit in the past. “I suggest we send a letter back to Summersville, one signed by the entire council. In that letter we should respectfully disagree with their new border claims and ask to meet with them to discuss the matter.”
“They’ll expect you to author it, since you are the council member in charge of security and defense. They will feel that border disputes are—” Gordon was interrupted by another Sergeant rushing into the tent.
The Sergeant, Jameson, stood stiff. Salutes were not required. In fact, Liam had an order in place banning them, but some of the staff still felt the need to stand attention.
Liam waved for Jameson to relax, and then turned to Gordon. “Talya and I will work on it. Just to be safe, see what the Council says. If they agree, I’ll have it written by the next council meeting in four days.”
Gordon nodded and went out the back end of the tent. Liam turned to Jameson, still standing attention. “Will you please relax?”
He did. “Sir, we had someone arrive at the gate.”
Liam rolled his eyes at the ‘Sir’. “We can’t really take anyone else in, unless they’re a doctor or maybe an engineer.”
“We were going to turn her away, but she asked for you by name.” Jameson’s gaze shifted to Talya, then back to Liam.
“Since the raid on the Air Force base, a lot of people know my name,” Liam said.
Again, Jameson looked to Talya and shifted uncomfortably. “She claims you used to be... Um... well, lovers.”
Liam knew instantly where the discomfort shown by Jameson had come from. There were rumors about Talya and Liam, none of which were true. But after a few late nights in each other’s trailers–they were only talking–rumors were bound to start.
Liam felt a bit of discomfort himself. But his came from the slight possibility that he really knew this person. And other than his wife, he’d only really had one other true lover. The chances it was her were small, but if it was... “I didn’t really have any lovers, Jameson.”
“Her name is Rachel Tabor.”
Liam felt his stomach sink and his heart climb into his throat. It was her. He’d assumed she’d be dead like most everyone else he ever knew. He fought the urge to run out of the tent to her. If there was anyone Liam had ever wanted acceptance from, it was Rachel.
“Where is she?” Talya finally spoke.
“In the trap area, the jail rooms,” Jameson said. “Should I bring her here?”
Talya looked at Liam. She gave him a quizzical look. “Yes?”
“No...” Liam broke himself from his thoughts of the past. “I’ll go over there. I’ll be there soon. Meanwhile, if there is anything left at the food tent, bring her some. I imagine she is very hungry from her trip from Washington.”
Jameson nodded and left the tent. Liam turned and leaned over the table looking down at the map. He was excited to know that Rachel was still alive. Even more excited that she sought him out. Then a sudden realization hit. He didn’t even think to ask about her husband. For all he knew Phil was here too.
Liam suddenly felt guilt for thinking that way. Thoughts of his wife came to mind. He closed his eyes and could almost see her face again. He felt the knot in his throat grow. He fiddled with his wedding ring, twisting it around his finger. Liam couldn’t suppress the urge to cry, and the tears slipped out.
He felt the familiar hand touch his. Talya. He opened his eyes. Her beautiful hazel eyes gave him sanctuary, just as they had done when Talya found him at his lowest. She didn’t say anything. She just stayed still while Liam stared at himself in her eyes. The lump in his throat receded and he took in a deep breath.
“Who is she?” Talya said.
“We were high school lovers. She left me for another man, who she later married.” Liam looked down at their two hands joined. Talya let go. Liam kept his gaze on the ground. “Cara said I never really got over her.”
Talya put a hand on his shoulder. When Liam looked up she pulled him in close for a tight hug. She gave his back a soft rub, then let go.
“Did you stay in touch with her?”
“I tried.” Liam left it at that. He could spend a month going into the drama of their break up. He knew enough about her to know where she was living, and so on. But that was back in the days of social media.
“Funny that she would seek you out now. I mean, why now?”
Liam hadn’t really thought of that. In fact, now that he was essentially someone, here was Rachel back to see him. A little spark of aggravation started to fester in him. The same aggravation he had dealt with for years when he tried desperately to salvage their friendship. The same aggravation that he felt when he needed a friend he could trust, and Rachel ignored him.
“I want you to come with me when I go see her,” Liam said. “There is a chance she isn’t who she told the guard she is. In which case, I may lose my mind.”
“Of course,” Talya smiled. “I’d rather you clear your mind first. Why not go in about an hour or two? She’ll still be there once the sun’s gone down.”

All the giveaways for the book are right here

26 May 2014

Read the first paragraph of Beautiful Broken Rules by Kimberly Lauren + a giveaway of the series

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What happens when you create rules to keep others out?

One thing Emerson Moore has come to terms with is that she is the school slut. She knows her way around a frat house and how to get what she wants. She doesn’t make any excuses for her actions and she doesn’t pretend to be anything different. She is who she is and with that she knows how to have a good time. She’s made rules to keep relationships at bay and avoid the demons of her past.

When her best friend, Cole has his two friends from back home move in with him she begins to think she has met her match with Jaxon Riley. Jax is the perfect mixture of tattooed muscle and a sweet-talking mouth. With “hand” written notes, a voice that exudes sex and knowing just how to get under her skin, Jaxon learns how to break all the rules. But will he just end up breaking her heart anyway?

New Adult/Adult Contemporary Romance - recommended for ages 18 and up.

One thing I know for sure and have come to terms with–I’m the school slut. I hate that word; but sometimes it is what it is, or in my situation, I am what I am. I like guys, all kinds of them and lots of them. College has been the perfect setting for being able to meet so many. Since I have no desire for a relationship whatsoever, I sleep around. Sleeping with one guy consistently is too permanent. It builds a fa├žade that I want more than I actually do. I definitely don’t want one guy sticking around me on any kind of consistent basis. I would be a terrible girlfriend anyway.

I am giving away a bundle of the Broken series which includes Beautiful Broken Rules, Beautiful Broken Mess and Beautiful Broken Promises. All you have to do is tell me your favorite book related memory - and remember to include your email address!