An energetic and captivating swords-and-sorcery tale that bodes well for the next book in the series.

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THE MARTYR'S BLADE

THE CHRONICLES OF THE MARTYR, BOOK ONE

A powerful team investigates a string of mysterious massacres in this fantasy novel.

Trouble has come to the forests and mountains of northern Albyn. Rural temples, offshoots of the beloved central Temple in the thriving city of Bandirma, have become the sites of strange slaughters. Runes and symbols are written on the floor in blood, and desiccated corpses have been drained of their life force. Three potent emissaries from the Temple are sent to investigate: Lord Bradon, a mighty warrior leading an army; Sir Killock, a skilled and solitary knight  accompanied by his protégée tracker, the sly ex-thief Wyn; and Southern foreigner Lady Danielle d’Lavandou, who wields her family’s ancestral weapon, a blade that once smote the legendary Nameless King. The ritualistic murders seem to imply the return of the Crunorix, a death cult devoted to the Nameless King’s magi. Gifted with the ability to use magic Devices such as an enchanted battle hammer or a guiding amulet, the group pursues the cultists, leading it into an underground realm and dangerous battles with zombielike husks, deadly wights, and a dark force growing in power, not only in the mountains of Albyn, but also in the heart of the Temple itself. As the quest proceeds, Danielle and Wyn fall in love, a tentative pairing with grave implications for Danielle’s ancestral right to wield the Martyr’s Blade. In this series opener, Manners (The Artificer’s Tale, 2017, etc.) creates a complex world with a complete culture, religion, and history. His characters are broadly likable, and some of the novel’s highlights involve the banter between these old friends. Though Albyn, with its rogue-filled taverns and deep forests, will feel familiar to many fantasy fans, underground settings are intriguingly sinister and unique. The author fashions tunnels and caverns where time and space behave strangely and madness threatens intruders. Danielle emerges as a strong central character, formidable and confident while still vulnerable and thoughtful. Wyn spouts slangy sayings but the development of her interior life can’t quite match Danielle’s, which mutes the impact of their romance. In this intricate, if at times overloaded, story, the ritualists and monsters never become bracing villains. But a figure emerging near the end of this volume seems to promise a more striking opponent in the next installment.

An energetic and captivating swords-and-sorcery tale that bodes well for the next book in the series.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9972594-0-7

Page Count: 596

Publisher: Colquhoun Books

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2018

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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