Throne of Lies, by Sara Secora: A Review

If you’re a fan of Disney’s princess films, you’ll like this book.

On long-haul flights, I occasionally watch animated films, usually from Disney/Pixar, enjoying their satisfying simplicity; they’re a pleasurable, escapist way to pass a couple of hours. Throne of Lies, from new author Sara Secora, falls squarely into this category. If you’re a fan of Disney’s princess films, you’ll like this book.

Princess Amethysta Serelle of Northwind is the heir to the throne….but she doesn’t want to be. Betrothed to a man she dislikes, bored and irritated by the restrictions on her life, and puzzled by the odd and frightening things that happen when strong emotion grips her, she attempts to escape the expectations of her parents. Her journey of self-discovery is both aided and frustrated by her newest personal guard, the disturbingly handsome commoner, Soren.

Throne of Lies is a charming fairy-tale incorporating many of the aspects of classic, Disneyfied fairy-tale, but with a modern twist. Fingers are pricked on thorns, apples are eaten, shoes are tried on…but these are all peripheral to the story, background reminders of the genre. Nor is it the cautionary fairy-tale of the Brothers Grimm: there is nothing terribly dark here, although one scene does not flinch from the realities of what can happen to a young girl alone. But not all apparent monsters are what they seem, either.

The ARC I read had the usual number of production errors, which is to be expected from a pre-publication version. There were also a few grammatical errors, odd changes of tense within sentences, and non-traditional uses of words that affected flow and comprehension. The story, I felt, was a bit slow to get going; there are some early scenes that are too detailed or drawn out without substantially adding to either the world-building or the plot; this might discourage some readers.

I would have recommended this book for readers eleven and up, but two scenes in the book suggest that thirteen and up is a better age recommendation. My personal rating is 3 1/2 stars; this will be 4 stars on Goodreads and Amazon.

Arboretum Press presents….

July 30, 2016: Arboretum Press is pleased to announce the publication of

Empire’s Daughter, Book I of the Empire’s Legacy Series

by Marian L Thorpe

Empire’s Daughter, by Marian L Thorpe  

Empires cover 3

In a world reminiscent of northern Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire, this historical fantasy, meant for young and new adults, explores the meaning of loyalty and love in a rapidly changing society. Seventeen-year-old Lena must decide between her love for her partner Maya or her loyalty to her village, her people and her land.

…a lovely novel….” 

Mezzalily’s Teen Book Reviews

…easily one of the most intriguing books I’ve read all year…(an) indie-published gem….”

Writerlea Book Reviews

…this book is just something special….It was absolutely fantastic!”

Cover to Cover

…expertly done world-building….”

Creating Worlds with Words

 $13.95 CA + s&h


Empire’s Daughter paperback now available from Amazon!


Since Amazon moves pretty quickly, if you live in the US or the UK, you can order the paperback of Empire’s Daughter from Amazon:

Canada?  Not so quickly.  I’ll let you know when it can be ordered from….or when you can order it in Canada directly from me.

Cover Reveal!



I’m excited to announce that the paperback version of Empire’s Daughter will be available in August.  I’ll post ordering options as they become available, but here’s a quick look at the new cover, front and back, designed by Anthony O’Brien.


Empires cover 3

Brexit, birds and boxes

The disruption to my writing life from the move has settled down, and the opportunities are emerging.

The disruption to my writing life from the move has settled down, and the opportunities are emerging. My new city has a vibrant and supportive writers’ community, as I’ve said before; yesterday I went to my first ‘Genre Writers Group’ meeting in a downtown coffee shop. This is a brand new group, so it seems I made my move at a good time!

Six of us met at this first meeting, self-published and traditionally published, experienced and newbies and in-betweeners. We talked about plotting and planning vs free-flow writing; we talked about sales, and mostly we talked about publicity and marketing, exchanging ideas and opportunities. As a result of this, I sent an email yesterday afternoon and have been accepted to read at the next Chi Reading Series here. Put on by Chizine Publications, the Chiaroscuro Reading Series takes place in a number of Canadian cities every few months and focuses on fantasy, science fiction, and horror. I’m not sure what I’m reading yet – it will depend on the time given – but it’s a chance to network with other genre writers and to reach a larger audience. I’ll keep you posted!

I’m back to the Writing Room, the Monday morning quiet-space-and-coffee meeting, after an absence of six months. I made it back just in time to read at our spring open-mic night last week. I chose to read from Empire’s Hostage, which has been on the back burner as well for the last half-year, figuring it would give me the prod to get back into it. Which it did, and perhaps all the better for the hiatus – and perhaps too for the reactions and emotions stemming from the Brexit vote, which in some ways reflect the themes of the book: what is independence? Does a country stand better on its own, or as part of a larger unity? Where do concepts of love of country, love of leaders, duty, stand when allegiances shift?

In a different mode, I’m also writing a monthly birding column for our neighbourhood newsletter, and have been ‘coerced’ (not really) into the production team, which means I am learning desktop publishing software in my spare time. It’s a very different type of writing and editing, but it’s all writing.

I should get a review out in another week or so, and hope then to be back into a rhythm on those. I’ve started investigating paperback production for my books, and I’m looking into some creative writing courses, either at the university or at the local college, in the autumn. For the next two days, I’m giving my niece, who is heading off to university in Halifax in September to study journalism (another writer in the family!) a mini-vacation, exploring this city and environs, riding bikes, eating ice cream, hiking the river trails.

Somehow I think the boxes still languishing in the basement may never be unpacked…when will I have the time?

Coming home

At last. It’s been a long dry period without work on Empire’s Hostage; I lacked the concentrated time not just to actually write, but to think about where the story is going. The creative process and managing the logistics of moving just weren’t compatible for me. I managed a few blog entries, on Two Simple Lives and All the Birds of My Life, but nothing fictional.

But we’re moved in – we’ve been here ten days now: all the important boxes are unpacked, and my office and laptop are set up. I have time for long walks or bike rides, time to think, and today I started writing again. It feels unbelievably good, like welcoming back an old friend into your life, or, after a long absence, coming home.



The Urban Boys, by K.N Smith: A Review

If good intentions made a good novel, then The Urban Boys would rate at least four stars.

Five teen-aged boys from an idyllic small American town venture into a forbidden forest, and are touched by a mysterious power that enhances their senses. With these heightened sensibilities, they become crime fighters, almost superheroes, at night, battling the destructive forces tearing their neighboring town apart.

The premise of The Urban Boys has potential as a young-adult story-line (I would say especially for a graphic novel) but in author K.N. Smith’s handling of the tale, the potential is not realized. There are several reasons for this: flowery prose inappropriate for the genre and the target audience; convoluted world-building containing far too much detail about issues not feeding the plot, and unrealistic familial relationships.

The author’s bio states she is a ‘passionate advocate of childhood literacy’, and The Urban Boys reads as if the intent was to provide moral messages and/or guidance embedded in an adventure story, aimed, I would guess, at early-teen boys. The characters and their families represent a fairly diverse section of middle America, with students from several races and various family dynamics as the protagonists, providing a range of characters for young male readers to identify with. Action sequences (including an overly detailed football game) punctuate the plot at frequent intervals. But the overwritten prose and the convoluted plot development would, in my experience (twenty-five years of teaching focused on students with behavioral and learning disabilities) make The Urban Boys inaccessible to many of the putative audience.

I found the family relationships in The Urban Boys unrealistic. Although set up to be a cross-section of families: a single divorced mother; a father raising two boys after the death of his alcoholic wife; a twenty-something sister looking after her younger brother after the loss of their mother to breast cancer, there were few real conflicts and too much easy understanding to be representative of what really happens in families. This underestimates the ability of young readers to recognize when a story reflects real life – and even in a young-adult fantasy, the core of the story should be recognizable to readers, regardless of the presence of magic in the world.

If good intentions made a good novel, then The Urban Boys would rate at least four stars. But they don’t, and the best I can give it is two.

The author provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.


Child of the Light, by D.M. Wiltshire: A Review

Falling squarely into the fantasy genre, Child of the Light is set in a well-realized world.

Child of the LightChild of the Light is the first book by indie author D.M. Wiltshire. Falling squarely into the fantasy genre, Child of the Light is set in a well-realized world, Gaitan, where north and south have been at war for generations. Cael, the prince of the north, is suffering from an agonizing illness that is beyond the knowledge of the Master Healer, Caldor. The answer may lie in the medical knowledge of the province of Morza, but in one searing moment on the night of the 200 Year Moon, Morza – and all her people – are destroyed by a flash of light: a judgment from the gods, or a celebration gone horribly wrong?

When Caldor and his friend Foe go to investigate, they find two things: the healer Naygu’s book, hidden, safe, and written in a language Caldor can’t read, and the footsteps of a child, leaving the devastated city. Could this only survivor hold the key to the book and the healing of Cael?

Child of the Light is competently plotted and written. The author has woven together familiar constructs from fantasy, but in a way that presents them, not as stereotypes, but as valid and necessary aspects of Gaitan. None of the fantasy aspects felt imposed: there are dragons, not because a fantasy series needs dragons, but because they are simply part of Morza’s culture. The pace is slower than many current fantasy books, but as a reviewer I prefer this to rushed and incompletely realized stories where action takes precedence over character development and world-building. I was still left with many questions about Gaitan and its history and culture, but not in a frustrating way: I am confident these questions will be answered in future volumes. The main characters, Caldor and Foe, and the child Liora, are well-rounded, characters who develop over the story.

This is the first of a planned series, and so while most conflicts and challenges specific to the central characters are brought to a conclusion, other threads of the story are not, and the book ends with a tantalizing hint of future developments.

Niggles? Not many. There are the occasional awkward (to me) sentence or paragraph transition, and a couple of times I thought chapter structures, in terms of how the action developed in that chapter, had some misplaced scenes. A production error in the paperback version I read had one chapter single-spaced where the rest are more widely spaced. Fairly minor issues that didn’t detract from the overall story.

I’m giving Child of the Light four stars. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes true fantasy, or is looking for a change from dystopian futures. The sequel, Children of Sirphan, is in process, and I look forward to following the series.


The author provided me with a copy of this book as part of a contest prize.  This is an honest and unbiased review.

Over the Dragonwall, by H.C. Strom & Dennis Montoya: A Review

For young readers of fantasy whose interest will be in the plot and characters.

At the borders of the land called Delvingdeep lies the Dragonwall, and what lies beyond the Dragonwall is the stuff of legend. When the young monk Oberon (Obi) confesses to his Sovereign that he dreams of crossing that wall, not for gold or riches but to see a dragon, to add to the body of knowledge his order maintains, he is sent to do exactly that.

Obi and a band of friends and new acquaintances, including a half-elven brother and sister, decide to take a short-cut, and – well, this is fantasy, and we all know what happens when short-cuts are taken in fantasy. Suffice it to say that the results of that short-cut, and the ensuing adventures across the Dragonwall, make up the rest of the story.

What came to mind as I finished the book was the quote attributed to Mother Theresa  “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” It sums up this book perfectly. It’s not a great book: the authors’ influences, from gaming to classic fantasy, are obvious – in some ways it’s a bit like fan fiction. The story is not complex. There are a number of production errors in the paperback copy I read. But it has clearly been written with great love, especially for the protagonist Obi.

I’d recommend Over the Dragonwall for young readers of fantasy whose interest will be in the plot and characters, and not in the literary quality of the writing. My review rubric gives Over the Dragonwall 2 1/2 stars, which is 3 stars on Amazon and Goodreads, and for what I believe is its target audience, I think that’s fair. Obi’s adventures will continue in a sequel, and I look forward to it; Obi has rather charmed himself into my heart.

The author provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.