Monday, June 19, 2023

I just started The Gathering Storm, Book One of David Doersch's Chronicles of the Raven

It is an interesting fact that, while I devoted much time to the study of the lore and myths of the ancient Celts, I have seldom if ever read true Celtic Fantasy. Well, that changes now as at the author's request I have started The Gathering Storm, Book One of David Doersch's Chronicles of the Raven. (Coincidentally, exactly three years to the day I finished another book of the same name.)

Respect, pride, and peace are the things which the Daffyd highlanders fight for – and with a vengeance! All the more so now that the savage yet unquestionably cunning Barbárs hordes have come bringing fire and death to the peaceful lands of Green Mount and the sacred Tor at its heart. Would that savage swords were all the highlanders faced, for now Corvus Corax, called the Raven, along with his sons, friends, and a collection of mystics must use all their own skill and cunning to push back sorcery most foul in defense of each other and all they love.

The battle cry goes out as swords are drawn… "Protect the Tor!"


(Naturally the Official Book Review will come after I finish the book.)

Saturday, June 17, 2023

I have finished The Shadow Roads, Book Three of The Swans' War Trilogy by Sean Russell

I have finished The Shadow Roads, Book Three of The Swans' War Trilogy by Sean Russell.

I have read over a hundred Fantasies, many of titans of the genre, and when I started this trilogy because I needed to return to the classic tradition of Epic Fantasy: its sweeping, dramatic vistas dripping with equally ballad-worthy history as a backdrop to a main story flush with intrigue rooted in sorcery and war both ancient and new, plain and unseen. Yet while The Swan's War was is exactly that, it is also among the most unique Fantasies I have ever read. A tale of the strange River Wynnd, a haunted river of many branches and secrets that may take travelers to hidden lands on no maps; a river once called the Wyrr, for the mighty enchanter who sleeps within. A story of two rival Houses, the Renné and Wills, fighting with sword and intrigue over the throne of a kingdom long gone. A tale of how the River Wynnd carried the living echoes of feuds older than death into the land between the mountains. A story of families both sorcerous and otherwise divided against each other, some over ideals and others blind hatred and ambition even as some would do anything for peace. A tale of love and courage, sacrifices and risks, as noble heirs, reborn magic-users, and three Valemen and a Fael storyfinder find themselves swept into a conflict unlike any other. All sides bear the swan banner yet only together could death, in both senses, be stopped and peace restored.

Farewell Tam, Fynnol, Baore, Cynddl, Lord Toren Renné, Lady Elise Wills, Prince Michael of Innes, Alaan, Gilbert A'brgail and the Knights of the Vow, Kai, Orlem Slighthand, Theason, Rabal Crowheart, Eber and Llya, Carl A'denn
é, Jamm, Pwyll, Dease Renné, and last but far from least Lord Carral Wills & Lady Llyn Renné. May you build and enjoy peace in One Kingdom of Ayr.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

My father and I just finished the Winterhouse trilogy

My father and I just finished Winterhouse Mysteries by Ben Guterson, the third and final book of the Winterhouse trilogy.

No rhymes this time (mostly). Once again Elizabeth proves her sometimes foolish bravery but always unshakable resolve and razor wit as, along with Freddy, they unravel the last of Riley Granger's magical riddles hidden in the Winterhouse Hotel. Unraveling word puzzles while putting together more tangible ones in a race against the clock and a certain dead sorceress who would like to reverse her condition, all while dealing with odd guests and family. The third time pays for all, three items, three wishes, three friends to work towards Gracella Winter's fall. Once again they chose the good, protecting Winterhouse as it has stood: a place where the spirit of goodness seeps into all who visit it's storied, friendly halls. Which is why the Winterhouse trilogy is such a delightful read, complete with quirky characters who work through tangles of emotions in addition to fell sorcery.

A happily ever after ending to ye, Elizabeth Somers, Freddy Knox, Elana Vesper, Norbridge Falls, Leona Springer, the puzzle men, Jackson and Samson, Hyrum, and all the others at the Winterhouse Hotel. A long and joyful life awaits you, together.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Official Guest Post: Beginners Guide to Exploring Fantasy Books by StickerYou

Not long ago I was contacted by the Senior Digital Marketing Manager for the StickerYou company who expressed interest in writing a guest post for Stars Uncounted – i.e. a post for this mostly humble blog written by them and not me that adheres to the spirit and context of Stars Uncounted. An offer I accepted, so, without further ado, here is the blog's first Official Guest Post:

Beginners Guide to Exploring Fantasy Books

Magical realms, wizardry, and extraterrestrial beings are just a few of the hallmarks of the magical world of fantasy. As far as fantasy goes, the number of possible tales is infinite. It's a genre that lets you escape from the constraints of the real world and into a world of boundless opportunity. Explore a variety of different types of fantasy subgenres that suit your interests.

Heroic expeditions through mystical regions, mythological creatures, and fantastical worlds all come together in the magnificent world of fantasy. It allows readers to explore worlds that share many parallels with our own while also featuring supernatural characteristics. Today's fantasy genre is fast-growing in the book community thanks to all the movie remakes and social media.

Fantasy novels take readers on thrilling adventures full of magic, mythological creatures, and heroic quests. To truly enjoy fantasy literature, a reader must be familiar with its unique characteristics. Fantasy books are compelling because of the fantastical elements the authors incorporate, such as imaginary worlds, strong protagonists, and creatures. Understanding fantasy's characteristics and slowly familiarizing yourself with them will improve your experience of reading such an outlandish genre as you will be more likely to grasp the subtleties inherent to it.

So what are you waiting for? Roll the dice and take steps forward to discover your perfect guide for getting started with fantasy books. 

For many years, Hollywood has been turning fantasy books into big-budget films. In 2023, an all-star cast brought Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves to the big screens.
While the Dungeons & Dragons Series is rich in lore and storytelling, it also has 43 titles which may be of interest to the true, dedicated reader and fantasy savant. If you're looking for other popular series praised by critics that serve as an excellent jumping-on point with a decent introduction to the fantasy genre, we have you covered.

Fantasy Book-To-Screen Adaptations

"Twilight" series by Stephenie Meyer

The "Twilight" series, categorized as a fantasy romance, was written by Stephenie Meyer and was a huge commercial and critical success. The story revolves primarily around Bella Swan, a young teenager who, after relocating to the quiet town of Forks, Washington, falls in love with Edward Cullen, a vampire. Suppose you want to get into the fantasy genre. Twilight is an excellent place to start as you get to read a book that has been adapted into a movie and has another genre that you might be more familiar with, which is a romance subplot that helps beginners slowly get into and understand fantasy. In addition to exposing new readers to a larger group of fans, fantasy novels adapted into films are a great place to start. Successful book-to-screen adaptations made into movies frequently have devoted fan communities that participate in conversations and social groups. Beginners can join these discussions and interact with other enthusiasts with comparable interests when they have read the book and seen the movie, significantly improving the reading journey.

"Harry Potter" series by J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter'' books are among the most popular fantasy works of all time. It chronicles Harry Potter's adventures at Hogwarts School through seven books and eight films. These films bring the series' mystical world and lovable characters to reality, making it much easier for readers to keep up with and enjoy. If the movies have a high reputation for being exceptionally made, then you can only imagine how much more engaging and fascinating the novels are. The fictional characters from the novel, including their features, behaviors, and unique traits, are brought to life on screen in movies. For those who are just starting out, watching the characters on screen can assist in developing a more profound attachment to them and a better grasp of their roles within the narrative. Visual character depiction can make reading more enjoyable by making it simpler to picture the characters in following books that you read.

"The Chronicles of Narnia" by C.S. Lewis

The novels by C.S. Lewis that make up "The Chronicles of Narnia" are epic works of fantasy. The stories take readers on an incredible journey into the make-believe world of Narnia, where they encounter wondrous beings and exciting journeys. The story follows the four siblings' adventures in Narnia. Readers of fantasy books tend to be exposed to sophisticated worlds rich with distinctive inhabitants, mythical creatures, and supernatural components. The existence of a film adaptation makes it possible for first-time readers to picture the imaginative elements of the story, making it simpler to understand and become invested in the narrative. Readers may find it easier to comprehend the author's concepts due to the visual aid and portrayal offered by films, allowing them to get more fully immersed in the narrative.

Fantasy Books With Romance Subplots

Numerous readers find themselves drawn to novels that address different aspects of romantic connections, which is fitting considering that romance is a genre that achieves enormous appeal universally. Readers on the fence about venturing into the fantasy genre are more likely to pick up a book with a romantic plot line set in a fantasy world. The combination of fantasy and romance can link by providing a more recognizable element, making the imaginative components more approachable and enticing to the reader.

Crown of Feathers

The plot of "Crown of Feathers" centers around Veronyka, a young girl with a special connection to phoenixes, and Tristan, a disturbed young man with a dark past. Readers will have a more personal connection to the story's protagonists and antagonists as their relationship develops. It makes the narrative more approachable and exciting for beginners to the fantasy genre because of the compassion and humanity it introduces. For first-time fantasy readers, "Crown of Feathers" offers a unique window into the genre because of its focus on a secondary romantic plot. Veronyka and Tristan's budding romance is intertwined with the phoenixes' fantasy universe, the complicated political situation, and the difficulties of belonging and self-identification. This blend gives readers the best of both worlds, allowing them to immerse themselves in the fantastical theme while experiencing the variety and details of a passionate bond. It can pique beginners' curiosity in the genre and urge them to read other works of fantasy.


The plot of "Fable" revolves around the protagonist, Fable, and her mysterious companion, West, as they face off against pirates and embark on a series of daring sea adventures. Because of the developing romance between Fable and West, the story becomes more personal. It enriches their distinct experiences and adds a relevant factor that might connect with beginning readers, prompting a broad spectrum of sentiments like sadness, betrayal, and love. The romantic subplot softens the otherwise tense and action-packed narrative. In contrast to the more emotional parts of the story, these moments of fragility, sensitivity, and proximity serve as a welcome relief. This blend makes for a more pleasant reading experience for new readers. Excessive romantic emotions between the two characters in a fantasy novel might make the reader feel distant from the story and its characters. However, the romance in this book specifically, while present, develops gradually and is balanced with the story.

If you want to continue your quest for finding the perfect fantasy book and great reading materials, check out this specially selected book collection of the greatest fantasy books. It has several excellent recommendations for books that could be both entertaining and notable. Don't pass up the chance to enrich your fantasy reading experience and potentially find a new favorite book.

Buddy Reading

It can be intimidating to begin reading an unfamiliar genre of book for the first time, but finding a friend to read alongside can supply both support and drive. It generates a common encounter in which readers can support and urge each other to continue reading, particularly during parts of the book that are difficult to read or a bit more confusing. Reading fantasy fiction novels with other enthusiastic readers makes for a more engaging experience overall. Thus, buddy reading is a great way to maximize your enjoyment of reading a new genre. Participate in book clubs or social groups to discuss the books you enjoy reading, get recommendations, and share your thoughts with other fantasy book lovers.

You can make buddy reading so much more interesting by trading stickers featuring your favorite characters; it is a fun way to change up buddy reading sessions and make them engaging. StickerYou has a large variety of stickers you may customize that include your favorite fantasy characters, such as Harry Potter, Grogu, Frodo Baggins and so much more. These character stickers are a great way to bond over a shared love of reading with a friend or group.

The imaginative domain of literature is a vast and intriguing land that has yet to be explored. You will go on an exciting path through compelling places that will kindle your creativity and leave you waiting for more. If you comprehend the fantasy genre, explore outstanding novels, and continue to read thoroughly into fantasy subtopics, now is the time to get your hands on a good book or a series and flip through its pages and allow your imagination to take you to fantastical lands.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

LGBTQIA+ Pride Month

"Hail royal June, sun-bright with poppies crowned" said John Cowper Powys, the English philosopher, lecturer, novelist, critic and poet. But I echo that hail today for another reason in addition to joyous Summer. It is LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, and with it let me continue to offer my undying support for the LGBTQIA+ community and reiterate the role Fantasy literature plays in supporting them by, to start, inviting people to read my LGBTQIA+ in Fantasy page, and listen to what happened to me today. As I state on the just mentioned page, I personally am not LGBTQIA+. However, I have students who are and today I told them – quite truthfully, by the way – that I am writing a Fantasy book in which one of the key characters is lesbian. Their eyes lit and they were on their feet in less time than it takes to say it. But it is the moment when I told them that the character is a Queen that I shall forever remember, for the glow on their faces out-shown the lights on the ceiling by a leap and a bound. They began questioning me about the character, wanting to know her name, what she looked like, all about the land she ruled and, most importantly, when the book was coming out. To this last I gave them a disappointing answer, for an unfinished rough draft of a 500+ page book is naturally years away from publication, and they asked me how they were supposed to wait that long for a book with a gay Queen. They want to see the rough draft as it stands and one who has some artistic skill began drawing this Queen based on my description. The moral of the story? Representation matters, people. Seeing yourself in literature matters in a huge way. Indeed, when I found these students they were eagerly pursuing the school library's LGBTQIA+ Pride Month book display.

Moving on, permit me to quote in full this article from The Hill titled In an era of book bans, sci-fi and fantasy offer an LGBTQ refuge for young readers:

Science fiction and fantasy are providing an oasis for young readers craving LGBTQ characters they can relate to as activists and wary parents increasingly clamp down on material they find offensive. Books featuring LGBTQ content are disproportionately targeted for bans in U.S. schools and libraries, with the most challenged titles regularly including “Gender Queer,” “All Boys Aren’t Blue” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” But while those memoirs and realistic coming-of-age stories take the hits, superheroes, space travel and dragons often escape mainstream notice — and the heat that comes with it. Author TJ Klune told The Hill he knows some schools have at least a few of his magical, queer-themed works, including “The House in the Cerulean Sea,” “Under the Whispering Door” and the young adult “Extraordinaries” trilogy. Klune said the “Extraordinaries” series, which centers on a gay high schooler in a world where superheroes are real, has been mentioned in book-banning conversations before, but he hasn’t seen the full onslaught faced by other writers.

“It’s strange: Those young adult books are very sex-positive, in that it has discussions on consent and boundaries and protection and best practices for younger queer people. Why those have slipped under the radar, I have no idea,” he said. “I believe, at least in part, that it has to do with privilege. I am a cis, white, queer man. Many of the book challenges are from queer/trans authors of color. If you don’t think the color of my skin is playing a role in this, you’d be mistaken.”

The American Library Association says last year saw the highest number of books banned since it started keeping track of the issue 20 years ago. There were 2,571 unique titles censored in 2022, compared to 1,858 the year before. There is no clear formula for certain books getting banned over others, but reasons behind challenges can include genre, prior media attention and even the directness of a title, said Kathy M. Newman, a professor of English literary and cultural studies at Carnegie Mellon University who pointed to Maia Kobabe’s memoir “Gender Queer.” 

“It’s very explicitly about nonbinary identity in a way that some of these fantasy young adult novels are about a lot of different issues,” Newman said. Fantasy works can require significantly more effort to sift for LGBTQ content. “The House in the Cerulean Sea” could be about nearly anything based on its title; it just so happens to be about a found family of magical creatures with a gay romance at its center. Newman said activists go through public records and news articles to get ideas for what books they should target, regularly hitting ones they’ve seen censored elsewhere. She also pointed out that sci-fi and fantasy books for younger readers are often not “taught explicitly in the classroom.” “It might be under the radar,” she said. Lisa Jenn Bigelow, an award-winning author who writes children’s books with queer themes, hasn’t heard of her works — which include “Hazel’s Theory of Evolution” and “This Is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of Her, Him, Them, and Us” — specifically getting banned but said it is important to note the concept of “soft censorship” in the library world.

“That’s when gatekeepers might decline to purchase or include a book in classrooms and libraries because, sometimes, they disagree with the content themselves, but more often, even they’re worried that the content could provoke a book challenge from the community. And so rather than take that risk, they just say, ‘Well, we’re not even gonna bother. We’re not gonna go there,’” said Bigelow, who also works as a librarian. David Geiger, a gay middle school English teacher in Virginia, said too many people treat anything queer-themed as inherently sexual in nature.

“Some parents think that because a book has LGBTQ characters or is by an LGBTQ author, they’re automatically inappropriate. I disagree with that,” he said. Geiger said his school has LGBTQ offerings in its book club, and he offers some in his classroom reading, specifically praising, among others, Bigelow’s “Drum Roll, Please.” He said he gives parents a list of books students are allowed to read in his class, and if they object to any, he gives the student an alternate reading assignment.

“I know not to pick books that get into sexually explicit content,” he said. Geiger said he hasn’t had any problems with angry parents, emphasizing that LGBTQ representation is particularly important for young readers. “I try and make sure that as many students can see themselves in the literature as possible,” he said.

While authors and schools have been forced to the frontlines of the book ban issue, some are not concerned about the pushback they could receive. Bigelow said she expects her titles will come under the microscope sooner or later, “especially since the book-banning movement is getting more aggressive and is targeting more and more books.”

On that note, let me also reiterate that I utterly condemn such book banners, and they feel the full force of my contempt so hard it ought to frost their windows. So if you are anti-LGBTQIA+ and are reading this, do not even THINK of commenting on this or any other Stars Uncounted page or post spouting your intolerant drivel, because I will take one look and delete it. It will never appear, and I will lose no sleep over it. Rather, I will be laughing at how you are so insecure that you feel the need to rant on a Fantasy blog while reflecting on the truth of another Mercedes Lackey quote: "Make someone a devout, fanatical anything, and his brain turns to mulch." Then I will stop laughing and forget all about you, because I categorically deem anti-LGBTQIA+ people as a class of idiot so utterly unworthy of respect that I will not waste any more minutes thinking about you. You are a mosquito whose comment was a bite on this blog, and I will flick your comment away with as little thought or care as I would an actual mosquito misguided enough to try to get at my blood. Less care, actually, since, unlike true mosquito bites, deleted comments do not itch after the fact.

"The young must grow old,
Whilst old ones grow older,
And cowards will shrink,
As the bold grow bolder.
Courage may blossom in quiet hearts,
For who can tell where bravery starts?
Truth is a song, oft lying unsung,
Some mother bird, protecting her young,
Those who lay down their lives for friends,
The echo rolls onward, it seldom ends.
Who never turned and ran, but stayed?
This is a warrior born, not made!
Living in peace, aye many a season,
Calm in life and sound in reason,
'Til evil arrives, a wicked horde,
Driving a warrior to pick up his sword,
The challenger rings then, straight and fair,
Justice is with us, beware. Beware!"