Book Review: The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat — An Imaginative Fantasy Retelling That Provided Me a Refuge from the Harshness of Life

Hi guys! Last semester, I met the amazing Christina Soontornvat at the Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival when I asked David Arnold (who I met for the second time) for a picture! We talked a bit and she was so kind and even gave me a copy of her debut novel The Changelings to read. If you haven’t seen it in the #kidlit world, Christina is going to write a nonfiction book depicting the cave rescue of the Thai cave rescue, using her knowledge of STEM from her background in the field and her knowledge of Thai culture and geography since she is Thai herself. I am so happy and excited for her, and today I am reviewing her debut novel The Changelings, an MG fantasy! Hope you enjoy!

And if you want to check out my LILbooKtalk with Christina Soontornvat and K. E. Ormsbee on “Finding Your Narnia: Transporting Readers to Fantasy Worlds,” check it out here!


About the BookThe Changelings

Izzy’s family has just moved to the most boring town in the country. But as time goes on, strange things start to happen; odd piles of stones appear around Izzy’s house, and her little sister Hen comes home full of stories about the witch next door.

Then, Hen disappears into the woods. She’s been whisked away to the land of Faerie, and it’s up to Izzy to save her. Joined there by a band of outlaw Changelings, Izzy and her new friends set out on a joint search-and-rescue mission across this foreign land which is at turns alluringly magical and utterly terrifying.

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4 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free signed copy of this book from the author for review consideration. This will not affect my review in any way.

A great fantasy novel will provide me a special refuge from the outside world. I want to become immersed in the magic, the adventure, the characters, and the world-building to the point where I do not want to leave. Once I picked up The Changelings, I became dazzled and awestruck by the fantastical world of Faerie; and the story was brimming with action, adventure, magic, creatures, family, and friendship! The Changelings is an imaginative retelling based on a classic tale that will enchant and warm the welcome hearts of readers regardless of age. Faerie is a world that I didn’t want to leave, and I really want to revisit it in the sequel.

Continue reading “Book Review: The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat — An Imaginative Fantasy Retelling That Provided Me a Refuge from the Harshness of Life”

September LILbooKtalk: “One Series, Two Authors: Collaborating on Legends of the Lost Causes” with Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester

Hi guys! I am really really excited to share with y’all this month’s LILbooKtalk! Last semester, I had the amazing opportunity to read Legends of the Lost Causes, which was an epic MG western novel full of magic, action, and adventure! Today, the authors of the series, Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester, are here on the blog to talk about what it was like collaborating on their books. I hope you enjoy it!


About Legends of the Lost CausesLegends of the Lost Causes

A band of orphan avengers. A cursed stone. A horde of zombie outlaws.

This is Keech Blackwood’s new life after Bad Whiskey Nelson descends upon the Home for Lost Causes and burns it to the ground.

With his home destroyed and his family lost, Keech will have to use the lessons he learned from Pa Abner to hunt down the powerful Char Stone. Luckily, he has the help of a ragtag team of orphans. Together, they’ll travel through treacherous forests, fight off the risen dead, and discover that they share mysterious bonds as they search for the legendary stone. Now it’s a race against the clock, because if Bad Whiskey finds the stone first…all is lost.

But Keech and the other orphans won’t hesitate. Because they’re more than just heroes.
They’re Lost Causes.

Legends of the Lost Causes marks the thrilling start to an action-packed middle grade series by debut authors Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester.

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About The Fang of Bonfire CrossingThe Fang of Bonfire Crossing

The Brotherband Chronicles meets the Wild West in this rip-roaring middle-grade adventure series filled with dark magic, scrappy heroes, and diabolical villains.

Keech Blackwood and his band of fellow orphans demand justice for their fallen families. But the road to retribution is a long and hard-fought journey.

After defeating Bad Whiskey Nelson, the man who burned Keech’s home to the ground, the Lost Causes have a new mission: find Bonfire Crossing, the mysterious land that holds clues to the whereabouts of the all-powerful Char Stone. Along the way they’ll have to fend off a shapeshifting beast, a swarm of river monsters, and a fearsome desperado named Big Ben Loving who conjures tornadoes out of thin air. It’s an epic standoff between the Lost Causes and the outlaw Reverend Rose, a powerful sorcerer who would be unstoppable with the Stone in his possession.

With the world—and vengeance—hanging in the balance, the Lost Causes are ready for battle.

The Fang of Bonfire Crossing releases on February 19th, 2019, from Henry Holt! Pre-order it today!

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September LILbooKtalk.png

Questions are in bold

Legends of the Lost CausesKester: Today, we have Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester, the two talented authors of Legends of the Lost Causes, an MG fantasy adventure novel set in the Wild West and of which released earlier this year. Would both of you like to tell us a little bit about each of yourselves and your novel?

Brad: Sure thing! Well, I’m an Arkansas native, but I moved to Oklahoma in 2008 to attend grad school at Oklahoma State University — where I met Louis in a creative writing program. I’ve been in OK ever since, and now I have a wonderful wife, Alisha, and an 8-year-old stepdaughter, Chloe.

Louis: I’m an English professor at Lewis-Clark State College in northern Idaho. I earned my PhD at Oklahoma State University where I met Brad. I also have a wife and two dogs. The dogs are named Cake and Muse.

Brad McLelland
Brad McLelland

Brad: Louis and I got to know each other through casual hangouts, really. A mutual friend of ours would host fun get-togethers, where we would all play Werewolf and other games, and mine and Louis’s friendship just naturally occurred at these get-togethers. And of course, I saw Louis from time to time in the halls of the OSU English Department. But he was WAY too popular for me to hang out with there. 😉

Louis: Right before I left for Idaho, we decided to write a book series together.

Brad: Yep, we started outlining the series in–what was it, Louis?–Spring of 2010, I believe.

Louis: Yep. We planned out the basic plot points and then I left town.

Brad: Yes you did! I was devastated. (Kidding.)

Louis: From then on, we had to work with each other online or by phone.

Brad: By that time, we already had a pretty good amount of work done on Book 1–which at that time was this kind of monstrosity of a YA Western. In other words, we didn’t quite know what sort of book we wanted to write at the time.

Kester: So what inspired you to write Legends of the Lost Causes together?

Brad: Well, I really loved my discussions with Louis at these get-togethers. I knew he enjoyed reading (and writing) genre books, as did I, so those discussions turned into deeper conversations about collaborating on an old idea I had.

Louis Sylvester
Louis Sylvester

Louis: As I recall, we were at a birthday party, chatting about writing and our future goals. Brad and I both declared our desire to write a rip-roaring adventure.

Brad: Yep! It was June 3, 2010. Our friend’s birthday. That was the “birth” of Keech Blackwood.

Louis: As we got into our ideas, we realized that we could come up with an exciting tale that would surprise us both if we worked together. And I moved at the end of July.

Brad: After Louis took his professorship in Idaho, we talked on the phone extensively, and just agreed to keep going. As I mentioned before, we had a lot on the page for Book 1 and a lot already outlined for the whole series, we just needed to continue on.

Louis: That’s true. We had a massive outline built by the time I split.

Brad: Yes we did! Eventually, in September 2011, as I recall, we finished the draft of Book 1.

Louis: Yep. For that first draft, we would pass the book back and forth through email. We would write a chapter, then pass it back.

Brad: I’ve always liked to call our process a “perpetual motion machine” of drafting and redrafting — because we never really stop the process between the two of us. We’re constantly honing sentences.

And then came the LONNNNNNG haul of getting it in front of an agent.

Louis: Once we were happy with the story, Brad started the work of finding our agent. He deserves full credit for that.

Brad: Thanks, L.

Continue reading “September LILbooKtalk: “One Series, Two Authors: Collaborating on Legends of the Lost Causes” with Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester”

Exclusive Interview with Mindee Arnett, YA SFF Author of Onyx & Ivory

Hi guys! I am a HUGE fantasy fan now. I used to have a strong dislike for the genre, but I’ve magically been converted as I read more books full of magic. One of the street teams I have been really active in this year is the Relay Riders for Mindee Arnett’s latest book Onyx & Ivory, which is super epic. Check out my review here on why you should read it! Today I invited Mindee on the blog to talk about Onyx & Ivory, and I hope you enjoy this interview!


About the BookOnyx and Ivory

They call her Traitor Kate. It’s a title Kate Brighton inherited from her father after he tried to assassinate the high king of Rime. Cast out of the noble class, she now works for the royal courier service. Only those most skilled ride for the Relay and only the fastest survive, for when night falls, the nightdrakes—deadly flightless dragons—come out to hunt. Fortunately, Kate has a secret edge: she is a wilder, born with forbidden magic that allows her to influence the minds of animals.

And it’s this magic that leads her to a caravan mysteriously massacred by drakes in broad daylight—the only survivor Corwin Tormane, the son of the king. Her first love, the boy she swore to forget, after he condemned her father to death. With their paths once more entangled, Kate and Corwin uncover secrets, both past and present, to face this new threat of drakes who attack in the daylight and the darker menace behind them.

Acclaimed author Mindee Arnett’s stunning new novel thrusts readers into a beautiful, expansive, and dangerous new world—one where trust is rare, magic is commonplace, and little is as it seems.Goodreads

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Mindee Arnett Interview

1. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?

My love for writing grew out of my love for reading and story in general. As a child, I started off telling myself elaborate stories with my toys, and when I hit the sixth grade my teacher gave me my first short story writing assignment. Once I figured out that “story” was an actual world I could get to just by putting my pen to paper, I knew I wanted to go there again and again. And that’s why I love it so much—it’s an escape into another world.

2. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?

Gosh, I have so many. Early on my biggest influence was adult fantasy writer Jennifer Roberson. Before her I loved Roald Dahl, Walter Farley, and C.S. Lewis. Nowadays one of my favorite writers is Maggie Stiefvater. I adored her Raven Cycle series as well as The Scorpio Races, and I find her writing very inspirational.

3. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?

Writing is a full-time job for any writer that’s actively publishing. But for me, I do have to hold down a regular full-time job in addition to the books. That definitely keeps me very busy, but in my free time I’m either hanging out with my family or riding my horses.Onyx and Ivory

4. Your latest YA fantasy novel Onyx & Ivory, which released from Balzer and Bray back in mid-May, is set in two points of view: Kate, an outcasted Relay Rider who possesses an outlawed magic, and Corwin, a crown prince scarred by past failures and mistakes. What are some of the biggest challenges of writing in the points of view of two unique characters? Would you consider yourself to be more like Kate or Corwin, and why?

Going into the book, I honestly had no idea how hard it is to write two points of view. I learned a lot about that process through this book—although I’ve still got plenty to learn. One unique thing about the story is that Kate and Corwin both have complete story arcs that intersect with one another but also standalone. Of the two, I relate to Kate a little more than Corwin. If only because she is a perpetual outsider. She never feels like she belongs in any of the groups she inhabits, and that’s a feeling I know well. I suffer from imposter syndrome so much. I also relate to Kate in how she has a troubled history with her father.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Mindee Arnett, YA SFF Author of Onyx & Ivory”

Exclusive Guest Post with Wendy McLeod MacKnight, Author of The Frame-Up, on “The World Behind the Frame”

Hi guys! Today I am at the Tennessee American Legion Boys’ State, where I will be marching and learning more about the inner workings about the government for the entire week. It is an honor to be representing my community this year! Today, I have a special guest post by Wendy McLeod MacKnight, the author of It’s a Mystery, Pig Faceand the upcoming release The Frame-Up, which looks so fascinating! Can you imagine traveling to the worlds inside paintings?


About the BookThe Frame-Up

Don’t let anyone know the paintings are alive. Thirteen-year-old Mona Dunn has adhered to that rule for almost one hundred years, ever since her portrait was hung on the walls of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. So when the gallery director’s son, Sargent Singer discovers the truth, she’s sure she’d just exposed the gallery’s biggest secret. But Sargent, an aspiring artist himself, just wants to know more about the vast and intriguing world beyond the frames. With devious plots, shady characters, and grand art heists, this inventive mystery adventure celebrates art and artists.

Featuring sixteen pages of full glossy pictures of the masterpieces who are characters in the book, this book is a must-read and a useful tool for teachers and parents who want to introduce children to art and artists in a fun, accessible way.

The Frame-Up will release from Greenwillow Books on June 5th, 2018!

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Don’t miss her pre-order giveaway!


Wendy McLeod MacKnight Guest Post.png

The World Behind the Frame: The Frame-Up

I’ve always loved art.

From an early age, I was inspired by art, although I didn’t show a particular aptitude to make it myself (though I admit to the odd dabbling).

I remember visiting my grandmother as a little girl and seeing the portrait of my mother as a teenager on the wall.

Patsy Rider
Photo Courtesy of Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Yes, my mother is Patsy Ryder, the visitor in the story!

The girl in the painting was flat. I wondered what she was looking at. I wondered if she found the grownups conversations boring, as I sometimes did.

What was it like to be in there, behind the frame?

Creating the world behind the frame before I began to write the book was time-consuming.

The world of the art gallery was easy; I had only to wander around the Beaverbrook Art Gallery take notes.

For the world behind, there had to be rules.

First of all, there was the whole travelling between paintings business. I don’t explicitly spell it out in the book, because I want the reader to imagine how it works for themselves, but in my mind’s eye, there is a magical rabbit’s warren of hallways connecting the paintings to one another. Usually, the residents take their time going between the paintings, often times not entering another painting as they go, but other times, they simply walk from painting to painting, especially if the painting is a landscape.

And then there is the whole issue of what exactly is IN any particular painting.

Since the artist’s vision is supreme and what brings the painting to life, I decided early on that the only thing that existed in any given painting was entirely dependents upon what the artists was thinking about while he or she painted.

So Helena Rubinstein gets to have a few rooms at the back of her portrait, as well some cookies, because artist Graham Sutherland thought of them at the time he painted her.

Not so fortunate is a sketch of Somerset Maugham’s head. Since Sutherland was so focused on getting Maugham’s features right for the final portrait, he only thought of the head. The Maugham in the sketch will be forever dependent on the kindness of other residents to get him where he wants to be.

Depending on the imagination of the artist, the painting can go on far into the distance. For example, Mona Dunn ends up in the painting MerryMaking, and ends up travelling for miles on a bitterly cold winter day, thanks to Krieghoff’s imagination.  This is mostly true of all the paintings, though sometimes to almost comical lengths. In Dan Vigilio Lake Garda, John Singer Sargent doesn’t stock the café with chocolate gelato because the proprietor ran out of it on the day Singer visited!

Mona’s painting is very bare: a small throw, a stool, and a shadowy room. It is not wonder that she adores visiting paintings like San Vigilio, Lake Garda!

There are other rules in the world outside the frame: a resident should not go into another residents’ painting when they are not there without their permission.


About the AuthorWendy McLeod MacKnight

Wendy grew up in St. Stephen and wrote her first novel at age nine. She worked for the Government of New Brunswick for twenty-five years, ending her career as the Deputy Minister of Education when the siren call of writing became impossible to ignore. Wendy is represented by Lauren Galit of the LKG Agency in New York City. Her debut middle grade novel, It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! was published by Sky Pony Press in 2017. Her second book, The Frame-Up, a fantasy set at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, was sold at auction to Greenwillow Books in a two-book deal and will be published June 5th 2018.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for The Frame-Up? Do you like MG Fantasy?

Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!

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ARC Review: Onyx and Ivory by Mindee Arnett — A Masterfully Crafted Tale and World that I Never Wanted to Leave

Hi guys! May the 4th be with you! Next week, my AP exams are going to start, so I will be offline a lot this week because I am preparing really hard for them. It’s crazy when you have 5 to juggle with, and the pressure is slowly building up, haha. I am really sad that my junior year is about to end, and with that many great experiences are coming to a close. It’s very heartbreaking, especially considering that I am off to college in a little more than a year! It’s so crazy! Today I have for you a review, and it’s on Onyx and Ivory by the wonderful Mindee Arnett, whose Street Team I am on! I hope you enjoy!


About the BookOnyx and Ivory

They call her Traitor Kate. It’s a title Kate Brighton inherited from her father after he tried to assassinate the high king of Rime. Cast out of the noble class, she now works for the royal courier service. Only those most skilled ride for the Relay and only the fastest survive, for when night falls, the nightdrakes—deadly flightless dragons—come out to hunt. Fortunately, Kate has a secret edge: she is a wilder, born with forbidden magic that allows her to influence the minds of animals.

And it’s this magic that leads her to a caravan mysteriously massacred by drakes in broad daylight—the only survivor Corwin Tormane, the son of the king. Her first love, the boy she swore to forget, after he condemned her father to death. With their paths once more entangled, Kate and Corwin uncover secrets, both past and present, to face this new threat of drakes who attack in the daylight and the darker menace behind them.

Acclaimed author Mindee Arnett’s stunning new novel thrusts readers into a beautiful, expansive, and dangerous new world—one where trust is rare, magic is commonplace, and little is as it seems.

Onyx and Ivory releases from Balzer and Bray on May 15th!

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5 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in any way. 

Onyx & Ivory is one of those novels that you do not want to finish because you just want to savor every single word. From page one, I fell in love with Mindee Arnett’s beautiful storytelling as she weaves a masterfully crafted tale of love, magic, action, and intrigue. This book is a prime example of why I love fantasy novels: They create worlds that you never want to leave, characters you want to become acquainted with, and adventures that take you on the wildest rides. Onyx & Ivory exceeded all of my expectations, and I could not put it down at all. The deeper I went into the story, the more emotionally attached I became. Seriously, I will fanboy about this book, and I want to have an Onyx & Ivory collection because it is that epic.

The biggest thing that I look for in fantasy stories is the world-building. As a high school teen who is dealing with so much going on right now (actually AP exams are literally right around the corner), I need an escape from the outside world. I need a book that I can nestle in and forget about my troubles, stresses, and worries. The magic system in Onyx & Ivory was truly fascinating. From the Magists’ runestones to the Wilders’ control over the world around them, my imagination swirled with enchantment. I did not want to rush the story at all. I saw the drakes attack from all sides. I could feel the mystery and tension slowly build. I watched as the romance between Kate and Corwin slowly burned (go slow-burn romances!). My heart wrenched when Kate was humiliated or Corwin was verbally attacked. I felt such a great connection between me and the story that I loved every single second of my experience.

I love the characters so much! They are truly complex yet understandable. They hold secrets that once revealed will shock you (or maybe they are never revealed). My two favorites are Kate and Corwin. After her father’s death, Kate has been labeled as a Traitor to the kingdom even though she has committed no crime. She is ostracized and misunderstood by even those who she once loved and who loved her. Corwin (her ex-boyfriend) cannot forgive her father, and she is treated as an Untouchable in society. I am very sure we’ve all felt ostracized and misunderstood in many ways, where we’ve been blamed and taunted and bullied for no reason. Truly, you instantly relate with Kate and become sympathetic to her struggles from the first chapter. Corwin, on the other hand, has to deal with the deaths of his mother and his friends, and he constantly blames himself for them. He does not want to become king, but he truly knows the struggles of the lowly and destitute. While he does have his errors, he is a good guy, and he treats his people as humans rather than subjects or numbers. Both Kate and Corwin are inspirational characters that will move us to become better people, to understand the plights of those who are suffering, and to continue to fight for what is right. I wish I could actually meet them in real life — that would be epic.

Onyx & Ivory takes you on the adventure of a lifetime. As readers travel into the world of Rime, they are faced with danger from all sides, whether it be inside the castle or outside of the kingdom. Betrayal, secrets, and evil plague the characters as they fight against multiple conflicts, from surprise challenges to an underlying rebellion. Mindee Arnett is a talented storyteller and world-crafter, and I will look forward to reading more of her novels. I just want more from this world! Onyx & Ivory is the spectacular start of an epic fantasy series that you do not want to miss.

Please note that this is a review of an unfinished Advance Reader’s Copy. There may have been major and minor changes between this version of the book versus the finalized novel that will be released to the public.


About the AuthorMindee Arnett

Mindee Arnett is the author of the critically acclaimed sci-fi thriller Avalon as well as the Arkwell Academy series and the upcoming Onyx and Ivory. An avid eventer, she lives on a farm near Dayton, Ohio with her husband, two kids, and assorted animals. When not telling tales of magic, the supernatural, or outer space, she can be found on a horse, trying to jump anything that will stand still.

A literacy advocate, Mindee is available for school and library visits, both in person and online, as well as writing workshops for both teens and adults. For more information on available presentations, click here.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read Onyx and Ivory? Do you like YA fantasy?

Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!

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Tempests and Slaughter Blog Tour: Review — How It Reinforces My Love of Fantasy!

Hi guys! I am super excited to be a part of the Blog Tour for Tamora Pierce’s newest book Tempests and Slaughter, which released just a few days ago! You do NOT want to miss Tamora’s newest novel, which includes not only an action-packed story you don’t want to leave but also an exclusive poster you can find only in the first printed edition. The poster is beautiful and features a quote by the author, which you can find out what it is on my Bookstagram account. Go check it out!

TEMPESTS AND SLAUGHTER (1)


About The Book:Tempests and Slaughter

Title: TEMPESTS AND SLAUGHTER

Author: Tamora Pierce

Pub. Date: February 6, 2018

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers

Pages: 480

Formats: Hardcover, eBook, audiobook

Find it: GoodreadsAmazonAudibleB&NiBooksTBD

Arram. Varice. Ozorne. In the first book in the Numair Chronicles, three student mages are bound by fate . . . fated for trouble.

Arram Draper is a boy on the path to becoming one of the realm’s most powerful mages. The youngest student in his class at the Imperial University of Carthak, he has a Gift with unlimited potential for greatness–and for attracting danger. At his side are his two best friends: Varice, a clever girl with an often-overlooked talent, and Ozorne, the “leftover prince” with secret ambitions. Together, these three friends forge a bond that will one day shape kingdoms. And as Ozorne gets closer to the throne and Varice gets closer to Arram’s heart, Arram begins to realize that one day soon he will have to decide where his loyalties truly lie.

In the Numair Chronicles, readers will be rewarded with the never-before-told story of how Numair Salmalín came to Tortall. Newcomers will discover an unforgettable fantasy adventure where a kingdom’s future rests on the shoulders of a talented young man with a knack for making vicious enemies.

Act fast! The first printing of the hardcover includes a collector’s edition poster!


5 Stars

Disclaimer: Thanks so much to Rockstar Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a finished hardcover in exchange for a review for the blog tour! This will not affect my review in any way.

When I first realized how thick this book is–a whopping 455 pages–I first felt overwhelmed. Considering how I had only a week to finish this book (I received it two weeks ago, but I write blog posts on the weekends), I did not know whether I was going to finish it or not. However, once I started Tempests and Slaughter, I became hooked. The further I went into the novel, the more attached I became with the characters and the storyline. It’s as if the book became a part of me, for I carried it with me everywhere and I jumped into the world of Carthak when life became tough. I felt like I grew as a person alongside Arram, Varice, and Orzone. As I write this review, I’m realizing how much I miss the Academy and everyone from the Masters to the Mages to the Gladiators.

Continue reading “Tempests and Slaughter Blog Tour: Review — How It Reinforces My Love of Fantasy!”