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Review: ‘Once Upon a Winter’s Night’ by Dennis L. McKiernan

February 17, 2015

Summary: Camille lives with her large family in a creaky old house on the edge of a forest. With a disposition as sweet as honey and good-natured as sunshine, Camille is her father’s most beloved daughter. She works hard to help her family maintain a living and nothing magical has ever happened to her, or anyone else she knows. One day, an enormous white bear emerges from the woods and knocks on their door with a message . . . Camille was to leave immediately with the Bear and travel into the magical world of Faery to be the betrothed and eventually wife of the Prince of the Summerwood, as long as her family accepted the offer. Camille, sad to leave her father and brother but determined to help her family with the prince’s promised dowry payments, Camille sets off with the Bear on a journey that will change her life.

But there’s a catch. The Prince cannot reveal his face to Camille. She is not to see his face at all, for if he does, something dire will happen. Will Camille trust the prince and let his face remain hidden? Or will she give in to curiosity and ruin all?

My Thoughts: Once Upon a Winter’s Night is a retelling of the old fairy tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon“. Another iteration of the story was the movie “The Polar Bear King”. There is a strong French flavor in this book, in language, traditions, and setting, which sets up an interesting mix between the real and the imagined as some of this is carried into the magical realm as well, mainly the language.

Camille is the main character and the hero of the story. It’s up to her to make decisions, to survive the long trip between her home country and Faery, and to trust Prince Alain and not look at his face for an entire year. But Camille is flawed–she’s too easily swayed by her family at times, and allows her curiosity to get the better of her. She doesn’t trust the prince enough and causes horrible ramifications. This causes her to go on yet another journey in which she learns more about Faery and herself. What happens to her is heartbreaking and there are times when you want to scream at her because she’s making a mistake and the result of her mistake is terrible and sad.

Prince Alain comes across as your typical fairy tale prince: he’s charming, intelligent, handsome, and a prince of a magical land. He loves Camille for her beauty but also her kind heart and her cleverness. He is a little frustrating though, because for most of the book he asks Camille to trust him without really giving her solid reasons why. Of course, there is a reason why he can’t be completely forthcoming with Camille, but the reader doesn’t know the reason for a long time.

There are other side characters which pop up throughout the story to help Camille on her travels. All of these characters are delightful. Some are mysterious and wise and very cool. Camille is the lead character and everything is from her perspective; aside from the prince, the Bear, Camille’s family and a few friends, it’s all Camille.

The plot was interesting and I very much enjoyed the story as a whole. There were a few moments when I thought the pacing was a little slow–sometimes the traveling got a little tedious to me. The romance between Alain and Camille became convincing, and the drama associated with some of Camille’s choices was good enough to grab me emotionally.

The ending was very emotionally satisfying. It does wrap up in a sort of happily ever after ending, but there’s enough of a lead-in to the second book that the reader knows there’s more to the overall story and all may not be well for long. This book can be read as a standalone with no problems, and most of the books in this series are like that except the last one, which has built on the previous four books and wraps up the overall plot McKiernan starts in Winter’s Night.

If you’re looking for a book with mystery, romance, danger, and travel, this may be a good read for you. However, if you dislike the traditional storytelling style, which McKiernan employs to great effect, you may want to reconsider. My opinion is that this style works really well, especially given McKiernan’s considerable talent. He makes it work well.

Although this book is based off of fairy tales, I do not recommend it for readers under the age of 16 or so due to the inclusion of adult events and themes throughout the series. In my opinion, this is solidly set in the adult fantasy category.

Overall, I give it 5 stars. It’s engaging, very well-written, and has a high re-readability factor.

Find on Amazon * Author Info * GoodReads * Shelfari

Book info: published 2001, 413 pages, ISBN 0451458540

Copy is from my personal library.


New Site Feature

February 4, 2015

Hey everyone! I’ve added a new site feature to Fantastical Reads. It will be an ongoing project, but I’ve already started and I’m very excited about it!

If you notice the lovely and handy page navigation bar above, you will see a new page: Self-Published Authors List. This is a list of popular or higher profile self-published and indie authors. To qualify for the list, an author has to meet certain criteria: included in a bundle or anthology, more than 1000 followers on a social media site, or more than 100 3-star and higher reviews on a book. The criteria may become stricter in the future, but for now, this is what I’m working from to define what makes an author “popular”. If readers have any suggestions on the criteria, please speak up!

If you can think of any authors you think will qualify, please let me know! I would love to hear from you and hear your suggestions. Comment on this post, comment on the new page, message me, email me, whatever, I’ll get it!

Featured Author: Selah J. Tay-Song

September 27, 2014


Selah J Tay-Song is living proof that if you persevere, you’ll catch your dreams. She decided to be an author at the age of 6, and started writing her first book at the age of 14. After twenty years of writing through self-doubt and insecurity, Selah published Dream of a Vast Blue Cavern, an epic fantasy novel described as brilliant, poetic and engrossing. When she’s not writing, she’s stalking the urban river otters that live less than a mile from her home in the Pacific Northwest.



Dream of a Vast Blue Cavern
(Dreams of QaiMaj, book 1)

The tale of QaiMaj begins here.

War tears apart Iskalon, a cavernous world of ice, when Dynat, the half-mad King of Chraun marshals his powerful fire warriors.

His orders: “Make Iskalon burn forever.”

In the aftermath of war, Princess Stasia of Iskalon tries to keep the remnants of her kingdom intact. Her only hope is in a prophetic Dream that may lead her to a new home for her people. When Stasia desperately searches for magic strength in the inferno of Chraun, she learns that she can do the impossible—draw magic from both lava and ice. Using the power of fire, she might just find the vast blue cavern of her Dreams, and change the destiny of both Chraun and Iskalon forever in . . .

Dream of a Vast Blue Cavern

Find it on Amazon!


Why did you choose to self-publish?

Self-publishing was a way for me to reach out to readers right away, without spending years in slush piles. It doesn’t preclude the possibility of eventually working with a traditional publisher, but for me right now, self-publishing makes the most sense. Instead of waiting to become an author, I am an author today. I am being read and I am getting feedback from readers, and I am lucky enough to be in a community of a lot of other authors at the same stage as me. The other thing I love about publishing my own books is the level of control I have. Writing is a very intimate, personal art for me and while I always listen carefully to feedback from editors and peers, indy publishing gives me the right to say “this is my story, I’m telling it my way.” And that level of control is in everything, from the genre to the cover art to the formatting. The flip side of that coin is of course responsibility. If I get it wrong, I’m the one responsible. I’ve had to make a lot of mistakes and try to learn from them. Luckily, the stakes are low when you’re starting out, and it’s easy to fix them when you’re self-publishing with ebooks and print on demand.

Which authors or books influenced your writing the most?

I grew up reading the Chronicles of Narnia and George MacDonald and fairy tales, among many other things. When I was older and started being able to digest epic fantasy, I fell in love with Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. He was my very favorite for a very long time and through most of my early writing career, I aspired to write like him. But as all things do, my tastes evolved. Just a few years ago I discovered Robin Hobb, and she unseated RJ. The development of the characters in her novels is exquisite, and as I started to realize that it is characters who carry the reader through story, I started trying to write deeper characterization. But honestly, I pick up a little bit from every writer I read. Cinematic brutality from GRR Martin. Conflict and tension between allies from Robert Jordan. World-building from Brandon Sanderson. How to convey otherworldly magical realms from Tad Williams. Character development from Hobb. It all goes into the pot, and comes out, I hope, into something uniquely me.

What are your current projects / What are you working on next?

Right now I’m deep into final revisions on Dreams of QaiMaj Book II: Dream of a City of Ruin. I’m getting so close I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but there’s still a lot of work to do. My process is convoluted and so I end up re-writing a lot as I work my way sideways into the story, but the good news is I draft quickly, so once I have a breakthrough I usually move pretty fast toward completion. Stay tuned!

Anything else you would like to mention?

If anyone who sees this interview wants to read Dream of a Vast Blue Cavern risk free, sign up for my email newsletter here ( in the next thirty days and you’ll recieve a free ebook. Beware: it’s kind of like a free drug sample, and you will be hooked . . . muahahaha!

Featured Author: Linda Ulleseit

September 21, 2014


Linda Ulleseit was born and raised in Saratoga, California, and has taught elementary school in San Jose since 1996. She enjoys cooking, cross-stitching, reading, and spending time with her family. Her favorite subject is writing, and her students get a lot of practice scribbling stories, essays, and reports. Someday Linda hopes to see books written by former students alongside hers in bookstores.



On a Wing and a Dare (Flying Horse Books, book 1)

Flying horses…it’s what comes after the wizards, after the vampires, after the Games. In Tremeirchson, a barn leader’s children are expected to follow their parents into the sky, becoming riders of the magnificent winged horses that are the medieval Welsh village’s legacy. Neither Emma nor Davyd, however, want to follow that tradition. Sixteen-year-old Emma risks losing her family by following her heart. Eager to take her place in the air, she longs to ride a forbidden winged colt born in barn of her father’s biggest rival. She also dreams of the rival’s sons, not sure which she truly loves. Bold and exciting, Evan will someday lead his father’s barn. Davyd is quieter, more dependable, with an ability to get things done. Her father disapproves of both boys and pushes her toward an ambitious newcomer. He also insists she ride the colt he’s picked for her. Davyd, also sixteen, is plagued with a secret—he is afraid of heights. Refusing to become a rider means public humiliation, his parents’ disappointment, and lifelong ridicule from his brother, Evan. He reluctantly prepares to join his family aloft in the Aerial Games that provide the entire village with its livelihood and tries desperately to think of an alternative. As Tremeirchson’s barns prepare for the Rider Ceremony, winged horses suddenly start dying. Shocked, the adults hesitate, mired in tradition and politics. Is it a disease or poison? Accidental or purposeful? Someone must discover the answer and act before all the winged horses in the world are gone forever.

Find it on Amazon!

In the Winds of Danger (Flying Horse Books, book 2)

Nineteen year old Nia is shocked when she is secretly offered the leadership of Third Barn. This new barn full of flying horses will need someone confident, experienced, and innovative, so why are both warring factions pursuing an untried girl? Suspicious that both sides want a puppet instead of a leader, Nia races to discover their secrets before making the biggest decision of her life. Some of those secrets are unknowingly buried in the disconnected memories of a young groom named Owain. Terror and guilt haunt Owain’s dreams – and then a face from his nightmare arrives in High Meadow. Owain looks for answers in his past and uncovers a dangerous plot that could doom High Meadow’s future. How can he foil the plot and save his people as well as the winged horses?

Find it on Amazon!


Why did you choose to self-publish?

Initially I signed with a small independent publisher in New Hampshire. I was with them for a year. My idea was that they would handle the publishing and some of the marketing and make my book available to bookstores through a major distributor like Ingram. I knew I would need to market the book as well. So the book was released and I went to work marketing it. When I got my first royalty check, I was given no information at all about how or where my books were selling. I had no way of knowing if a particular appearance, blog tour, or promo worked, so how could I plan future efforts? I did a book signing at my local Barnes and Noble bookstore. They bought 30 copies of my book through Ingram, which I signed and sold. I never received a dime from my publisher. When I inquired, I was told by the time the bookstore, the distributor, and the publisher took their cut there was nothing left for me. That was completely unacceptable. We parted amicably.

I had published a couple of anthologies of my students’ work through Createspace, so I re-released ON A WING AND A DARE through them. Four more books followed. I like being self-published because I have control over book promotion pricing and visibility to every sale. I still get excited when I sell a book in some random place like Denmark! I also enjoy the higher profit since I don’t have to share with anyone.

Which authors or books influenced your writing the most?

Two of my all-time favorite authors are Anne McCaffrey and Diana Gabaldon. My flying horses were partly inspired by McCaffrey’s Dragonrider series. A reader once told me my book reminded her of McCaffrey—high praise indeed! A tribute to McCaffrey is a reference in ON A WING AND A DARE to a character with a love of bubbly pies. Diana Gabaldon meticulously researches her historical tomes, which I kept in mind as I researched mine. They are also cross-genre, which I love. They can be science fiction, romance, or historical fiction.  I call my flying horse books historical fantasy. They were intended to be Young Adult, but I have a solid core of adult readers, too.

As far as books go, I read a lot of historical fiction, fantasy, and young adult. It makes sense that those genres would show up in my own books since those are what I know best!

What are your current projects / What are you working on next?

I very much enjoyed the writing of UNDER THE ALMOND TREES, which came out in May. It took the lives of three of my female ancestors and turned them into a novel. The family stories were interesting to explore with relatives and formed the backbone of the novel. I just didn’t have enough information to write a biography, so I filled in the blanks with fiction.

Now, with SPIRIT OF ALOHA, I am doing the same sort of thing with my husband’s grandmother. She was born and raised in Hawaii when it was a territory of the United States. Her mother died when she was a baby. Her father left her with a Hawaiian family and moved to the mainland when she was in elementary school. She married at sixteen and had three children by twenty. Then her husband left her. Through all of this, she always embodied the very Hawaiian aloha spirit. By writing her story I hope to discover exactly how she did it and pay her tribute at the same time.

Anything else you would like to mention?

I know that genres rise and fall in popularity. Historical fiction very rarely seems to be one of the top sellers. In Young Adult, wizards and werewolves have been replaced with paranormal and dystopian. As a teacher, I know there are plenty of young people out there who read other types of books besides what is trending. I feel completely vindicated when I sell the first flying horse book to a young person at an event, then they contact me almost immediately to say they had to go buy all the others immediately!

Review: ‘The Labyrinth Wall’ by Emilyann Girdner

September 17, 2014

Summary: Araina’s isolated teenage life is forever altered when she witnesses a man emerge through a rippling wall into the dark labyrinth she calls home. A Mahk, Araina has never been outside the labyrinth, and has never seen anyone inside it but other Mahks. When the stranger appears, Araina’s world is turned upside down. Working with a dangerous fellow Mahk named Darith, Araina rescues the strange man and escapes with him back into the labyrinth.

But as a result of the stranger’s arrival, Araina’s Creators have unleashed a series of magical attacks using the labyrinth against its inhabitants. Grappling with new revelations, saber toothed mutts, insane creatures, and cannibals as she tries to make her escape from her home, Araina must decide if she will trust potentially deceitful allies in order to reach safety on the other side of the labyrinth wall.

My Thoughts: I found this book interesting, but only so-so. It was written fairly well, and I like the plot and characters overall, but there were also some problem spots for me.

Trapped inside a labyrinth, which is the only home she’s ever known, Araina is a Mahk, or a created human. Grown and given life by the Creators who rule the labyrinth, Araina has only been alive for two years. In that time, she tried to stay alive and stay away from the other Mahk, who might kill or hurt her to steal her food rations. She keeps a pet bird, Blue, and mostly tries to stay in the secluded area where Blue likes to live. A kinder, gentler soul than her fellow Mahk, Araina is very much out of place in her kill-or-be-killed kind of world. Araina is a great main character. There are plenty of conflicts for her to experience, and she does grow over the course of the novel into a more complex character. She mostly just wants to be left alone and to live in a better place.

Darith, her companion at the start of the book, appears to be exactly like the rest of the Mahk: dangerous, deadly, and focused on survival. He joins Araina for part of her quest in saving Korun and then escaping the labyrinth. He then disappears for most of the story and reappears later, but I can’t say more than that without giving away spoilers. My main issue with Darith is, he’s the only one of the Mahk to speak with any kind of accent. Why? In the course of the story, the reader is introduced to numerous other Mahk and other people. But Darith is the only one to speak in a different fashion, and it’s not entirely consistent at that. Why? This actually really annoyed me, but I realize that with my linguistics background, this is something that be an issue for me but may not be an issue for other people. Otherwise, I think he was a good character and I would have liked to have seen more of him.

Some of the relationships seem rather contrived to me. For instance, the relationship between Soll and Saige seems to be there expressly for the purpose of getting Araina to realize that romance among the Mahk is possible. I never buy this relationship as being legit, nor am I invested in it. The relationships that seem to work best, in my view, are Araina’s relationships with Korun and Blue. However, the relationship with Korun at times seems forced. And there was one spot near the end where there is no mention of Blue and I was left very much confused at to what had happened and where Blue was, since Araina was completely unconcerned about the status of her pet, which seems very out of character. Araina’s relationship with Darith is much more interesting because they’re so antagonistic toward each other for so long, but again, he only appears for a small segment of the book. Perhaps their relationship will be developed some more in the next installment.

I was at times not a fan of the writing style, but that is largely a personal preference, and other readers may not mind as much. For me, there was instances when I thought the writing could have been tighter, or I would have appreciated further description of something when there was none. There was also one point at which Araina goes swimming and says swimming is a new experience for her–but she knows how to swim without ever having done it before. It’s explained that the Mahk are created with certain knowledge, but the way this scene was written was very confusing to me and illogical for a while. Even though this gets explained, I feel a reader should never be left with the feeling that something is illogical or out of place.

As for the plot, I have nothing negative to say about it. I thought the plot was very well done and set out a logical, suspenseful fashion. There was a point when I worried that some items in the beginning of the book had been forgotten or wouldn’t be wrapped up, but everything came to a fairly satisfying conclusion. I thought some of the enemies Araina faces were very creative and thoroughly terrifying, though the saber tooth dogs/mutts reminded me a little too strongly of the mutts from The Hunger Games, though that may just be because of word choice.

If you’re looking for a book with suspense, betrayal, action, and a Hunger Games kind of feel to it, this may be a good read for you.

Overall, I give it 3 stars. I just can’t get past the writing style and some of the flaws in relationships and descriptions. I may pick up the next book just to find out what happens, but I’m not sure how much re-readability this one has for me.

3 stars: Still a pretty good read, but I can set it aside if I need to for things like school, eating, sleeping, etc.

Find on Amazon * Author Info * GoodReads * Shelfari

Book info: published 2013, 308 pages, ASIN B00HMFAESO

Copy is a free ebook copy from author in exchange for an honest review.

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