BOOK REVIEW: Death Weavers by Brandon Mull

A year was a long time to wait for Five Kingdoms: Book 4: Death Weavers, but, a year wait does not disappoint when it comes to Brandon Mull. Mull’s signature high stakes fantasy adventure fills the pages of this next installment, and definitely leaves a few surprises for the very end that had me gasping at the last pages.

Cole and his friends have been through three of the five kingdoms in the Outskirts: Sambria, Elloweer, and the futuristic kingdom of Zeropolis. And now, they have finally ventured over into Necronum, the land of the dead. Apparitions appear frequently with slippery deals and valuable information. Hunters lick up their trail. And a mysterious fiery horse named the Mare has been sighted roaming the vast lands. When Cole’s friends fall prey to an evil entity, Cole must travel to the land inbetween the Outskirts and death and try to rescue his friends before they are separated from him for good this time.

Death Weavers felt very different from Mull’s other books, but also very similar in some ways. At this point, we have arrived at a bit of a formula for these Five Kingdoms books: find a princess, rescue the princess, and reunite her with her run-amuck power. While that structure is truly at the heart of this fourth book, there are also some other pieces at play. We finally discover more information about some of the evils lurking throughout the Outskirts, and we also learn more about what exactly has happened to bring Cole to these kingdoms. As usual, Mull is quite innovative when it comes to twisting up the typical fantasy tropes and make them into his own creations, giving us some of the most unique places in the five kingdoms yet.

However, Cole continues to remain something of a flat character. This is something I noted from previous installments in the series, and it is definitely true here. Cole has a bit of a character arc, but he feels much more typical than Seth and Kendra from Fablehaven or even Jason from Beyonders. There is something about Cole that seems to keep him stunted in character growth. Is the story still entertaining? Yes. Is it a page-turner? Oh yes. Is Cole someone worth rooting for? Sure…?

Fans of the previous books will love Death Weavers. Newcomers will definitely feel lost entering the series here, and it is really best to go back to Sky Raiders and start from there. Mull has set up some great conflicts for the last book in the series coming in another year, and it will be interesting to see how he ends up wrapping things up.

You can purchase this book on

5 Tips for Better Bedtime Storytelling

In 2013, School Library Journal asked families: How many parents read bedtime stories to their kids? According to the poll, about “two-thirds of parents don’t read to their kids every night” (Bayliss, 2013).

Bedtime stories were a huge part of my elementary years. I loved it when my parents would come and read me a story before I drifted off to sleep. Those times not only sparked my imagination, but gave me valuable face time with my parents.

The heart behind Reckless was to give parents, grandparents, guardians, and foster parents the opportunity to connect with their kids through a fun adventure, Bible stories, challenging devotionals on kid level, and discussion questions that can be used throughout the day to continue the conversation.

But maybe you’re thinking: I’m not a very good bedtime storyteller. Well, here are 5 tips on how to be a better bedtime storyteller.

1. Read the story or chapter ahead of time.

Before you take that picture book, chapter book, or story into your child’s bedroom, read it ahead of time. It sounds so simple, but if you know the general direction of where the story is heading, it will help you heaps in telling the story more fluidly. If there are words that you don’t recognize or names you don’t know how to pronounce, a quick Google search for a definition or pronunciation will have you reading more like a pro.

2. Use voices for different characters.

Everyone can make a silly voice or two. Or maybe you can bust out a fun accent for a central character in the story. If you can, mix it up for every character in the story. Speak in a squeaky voice for a mouse or a deep voice for a moose. Give a British accent to the Grandpa, or a southern one to that quirky talking bird.

If you are totally stuck and think: “I just can’t do any voices!” then take a minute to search for Amy Walker on YouTube. She has hordes of videos that will teach you how to speak in an accent in seven minutes or less!

3. Speed up — slightly! — at the exciting parts.

Since you already read the story ahead of time (right, right?), you’ll know when an exciting part might be coming in the story. Speed up your reading just a pinch — not too much, or your kids won’t understand what you’re saying! Putting a little extra speed to an adventurous moment will make a story come alive for your kids.

4. Let your kids interact with the story.

Don’t just close the last page, say “Good Night!”, and rush out the door. Take a couple minutes to ask your child some questions about the story: What was their favorite part? Who was their favorite character? What did the characters learn in the story? If your child was telling the story, what would have happened at the end?

Talking about the story together will help your child process what they’ve heard and help them to relate the story to their own life.

5. Keep reading stories to your children — even when they’re “too old.”

Even if your kids are getting into their upper years of Grade School, take time to continue reading stories together as a family. Even older children love a good story — it’s all about which ones you choose. Ask your kids what book they would like to read together every night and let them be the ones to pick it out at the bookstore or library.

Reading to your child even as they get older will be something they soon won’t forget. It might just spur their love of reading and yours as well.

If you’re looking for a fun book to read to your kids, check out Reckless on!



BOOK REVIEW: Raising Dragons Graphic Novel by Bryan Davis & James Art Ville

I first discovered Bryan Davis’ Dragons in our Midst series when it released way back in 2004. I remember reading the first book, Raising Dragons, and instantly being drawn in to the story and the characters, and the sheer novelty of a Christian YA fantasy novel that combined dragons, the Bible, and action into one sleek story. Now, over a decade later, Bryan Davis has partnered with James Art Ville to create the graphic novel version of the book that has now grown into three epic dragon-filled book series.

The story is straight from Raising Dragons, and those who have read that book will not find anything new here story-wise. The book centers around a boy named Billy Bannister, who is just trying to survive school when he discovers a strange ability: he can breathe literal fire. Soon, his power is growing out of control, and so is the secret his family has been hiding all these years. Now, an ancient dragon slayer is after Billy and his new, mysterious friend, Bonnie Silver. Together, they must unravel the mystery of Merlin’s riddle, as well as survive the snowy mountains surrounding their town. Only their faith in God can save them now.

Told in a graphic novel format, the story of Raising Dragons is pretty easy to follow. I would even venture so far as to say the graphic novel treatment actually lends itself to the action sequences pretty well, and makes them a bit easier to follow than the novel. However, some of the initial weaknesses of the first book are revealed here. Davis has grown much in his story-telling abilities, and the fact that this first book features some convenient plot devices and logic jumps become even more apparent when pared-down for the visual format. Some of the characterization is also lost in translation, and often we find others explaining the emotions of the main characters rather than seeing them for ourselves. All said, the story was so innovative back in 2004 that much of its weaker points were not as easily noticeable.

As for the art, that is where Raising Dragons Graphic Novel shines. Ville’s style is perfect for this brand, and the way he has brought each of these characters and dragons to life is incredible. The art is great, and it is very easy to see some of his influences from Akira Himekawa and others. The panels flow well from one to the next, and definitely tell the story well. The only thing I could have seen it benefit from is the breakup of some of the sections into chapters. It might have been a tad easier to follow the storyline if there were some definite breaks between sections. Otherwise, the art is really top notch.

Fans of the original Raising Dragons novel will likely love this, as I did, and newcomers to the series can definitely start here as all the essential plot points to set up later books are contained here. It’s definitely worth your while to check out this incredible new artist, and revisit an old favorite in a new way.

You can purchase this book on


5 Things You May Not Know About SECRET OF THE LOST KING

Secret of the Lost King, book one in the Thrones series, is one of my favorite stories I’ve ever told. It took over a year to plan, write, edit, and finally release. Stories may begin with one single idea, or grow out of a thousand ideas smashed together and producing something new. But no matter how much planning an author may do, surprises always lurk in the back pages of an author’s mind. And sometimes, stories begin to take on a life of their own.

And so, I present to you: five things you may not know about Secret of the Lost King.

1. Mrs. Keswick was named after the street where my mom grew up.

When Mrs. Keswick walked up the stairs of the orphanage and appeared on the page, Keswick seemed to be the right name for her. My mom grew up on a road called Keswick, and the name fell right into the story and has since stuck. Although, when I started writing, I didn’t know Mrs. Keswick was a “Mrs.” until I discovered the secret past of Mr. Keswick. Something for book two perhaps…?

2. Secret of the Lost King was originally written as a stage play.

Every year, I take a small team of actors to put on a five-act play at a summer camp in Washington state. In summer of 2015, we performed a stage version of the book for 100 grade school students in first to third grade. Monsters are always a staple in every play for the camp, and we had a blast creating the spider creature from the Library of Secrets. It actually shot webbing at the actors, had movable pincers, and could scuttle back and forth. It was also five feet tall. #ArachnophobiaAnyone?

3. The spider creature from the Library of Secrets is unofficially named Mr. Juicy.

A few years ago, I had a spider puppet in my hand and asked a friend’s four-year old daughter what she thought it should be called. She thought about it for a moment and then said: “Mr. Juicy.” I definitely smirked as I wrote the creature into the Library of Secrets. And I definitely, unofficially, named the monster Mr. Juicy.

4. Jack was inspired by the fatherless state of many kids in America.

According to the US Census Bureau, in 2014, “23.6% of US children (17.4 million) lived in father absent homes.” (Click here for more info). So many children throughout America are living in homes where a father is 100% absent. Jack grew up in a place where he never knew his parents, and throughout the book, Jack keeps asking the question: What kind of parents did he have? Where did he come from? And what factors have made him who he is today?

Many kids ask these same questions. Many kids are asking: where do I belong? Who cares about me? I wanted Jack’s own journey to reflect that as well. And, maybe, Jack will find out some of those answers in the future.

5. My favorite part of the book is Chapter 28.

Why is Chapter 28 my favorite? I won’t give anything away about that wonderfully spoilerific chapter, but I will say this: Chapter 28 was the culmination of the book in my mind. Readers may find a different point that matters the most to them, and that’s quite okay — that’s the nature of literature — but for me, Chapter 28 will always be the moment where the story falls into place.

Bible stories are fascinating things. And so often, we don’t know the whole story. In fact, there’s a lot to the story of the character at the center of Chapter 28 that we don’t always hear about growing up. And where that character ends up is a whole tale unto itself.

If you haven’t had the chance to read Secret of the Lost King, you can pick up a copy on!


BOOK REVIEW: Isle of Stars by Wayne Thomas Batson

When I first heard Wayne Thomas Batson would be returning to the world of pirates, I was beside myself with excitement. Isle of Swords and Isle of Fire were two of my favorites when they first came out back in 2007 and 2008, respectively. So to hear that another installment in what was truly an incredible series of books would be arriving soon was enough to get me itching to return to a world of pirates, swordplay, and adventure. And Batson definitely does not disappoint here.

To begin with, Isle of Stars is a shorter story than the first two books in what is now known as The Isle Chronicles. The story is smaller is scope than the previous two, and the characterization is much more subdued than before. Also, Batson weaves in characters from his Dreamtreaders series, and readers unfamiliar with those books may be lost at the beginning of the book. Also, the plot device to bring in those characters from Dreamtreaders is a little forced, which may turn some readers off.

The story this time circles around Cat and Anne, who are going to be getting married soon — hopefully by Christmas, but no guarantees what with pirates about — when word arrives that the nefarious pirate, Captain Tobias Dredd has surfaced and is looking for the legendary Isle of Stars, an island that has never been desecrated by human sin. When Dredd kidnaps young Hopper, it is up to the crew of Captain Declain Ross’ ship to rescue him and stop Dredd from reaching the starlit isle before it’s too late.

Isle of Stars moves very quickly, and returns the reader to the world of the Batson’s pirates in a way that left me wanting much, much more. I was aching by the last page for another full novel set in this world, and time will tell if Batson plans to return here later. There is some violence here as well that does come across a bit shocking when it arrives, but it fits the world created here.The climax of the book does come rather quickly as well, and I had to stop and take stock of where things were at a couple of times to make sure I was still following the storyline.

All said, Isle of Stars is a very welcome addition to The Isle Chronicles, and I deeply hope Batson continues to put out more of these kinds of adventure stories. Here’s to hoping.

You can purchase this book on

Church and Chess

The chess board sat between us. Brown and beige plastic Queens and pawns sat scattered across the playing field. My granddad’s wrinkled fingers gripped the knight. He hopped diagonal and up a space, putting my King in checkmate. I leaned back and sighed as Granddad laughed.

“Gotta pay attention to those knights. They’re sneaky,” he chuckled.

I laughed too. And then Granddad grew more serious. “You still speaking to those kids at church?”

“Yep. It’s a lot of fun too.” I told him about the latest talk I had given to the group of grade schoolers at church. He sat back, French doors behind him, both hands clasped over his bald head. After I was finished, he leaned forward.

“You know, there’s something important you should remember. Always be careful when people talk about Jesus’ death on the cross, but don’t talk about the resurrection. That’s the most important part of the story.”

We would sit and talk like that for hours. About God, about life, about church and chess. We talked about so many different things over the years, I can barely remember them all. But that one day he told me to always remember the resurrection is one that has stuck in my mind for years.

Whenever you talk about the cross, talk about the resurrection too. Because it’s the most important part of the story.

When I sat down to work on Sparrowhawk, I knew I wanted to write about Easter. I also knew I wanted to write something that took place in the Middle Ages, and so I dug in to the research. I discovered that a certain Pope in the fifteenth century loved falconry. Because this Pope loved his falcon and took him nearly everywhere, the nuns throughout the Catholic Church took to falconry as well, bringing their birds into churches across Europe. The falcons, owls, and hawks became such a problem that the leaders of these churches had to tell the nuns to leave the birds in the convent.

A fun tale emerged with the adventure, danger, and settings I love. But something else began to emerge as well: the theme of resurrection. Jesus died on the cross so long ago in Ancient Rome, but that isn’t the end of the story. Jesus came back to life three days later, and now Jesus is alive. That’s what the Easter story is all about: the fact that Jesus defeated death and pain and suffering in that moment of triumph.

So when it came time to dedicate the book, only one person seemed to be the right option: William H. Stevenson, my granddad. He and I spent so much time together talking about Jesus and the Bible, and those memories are the ones I love holding on to.

Granddad passed away in 2014, but he didn’t pass into nothing. He passed into glory as the old spirituals used to say. He’s living in the presence of Jesus and soaking in the rays of His everlasting light.

This Easter, remember: the most important part of the story isn’t death. It’s life.

Updates & Novels

Editing a novel is a big undertaking. Have I mentioned that before? Well, trust me, it is. Trying to comb through a 71,000 word middle grade fantasy novel is tough stuff. I want to make sure the plot threads are tied together correctly before I start sending this thing out to the wonderful world of agents. I’ve spent quite a few hours working through each chapter, taking time to make notes and try to answer the new questions I keep bumping up against. I’m hoping to have this thing edited by the end of the month.

In other writing news, I feel like I’ve been generating so many ideas for stories and novels lately that I’m having a tough time keeping track of all of them. As soon as an idea comes to me, I’ve rushed to my computer to type it out or if I’ve only got my iPhone handy, I’m busy tapping up a new Note. Some of the projects I’m currently working through:

  1. An Arabian Fantasy Novel. Back in 2008, I wrote a novel set against the backdrop of ancient Arabia. I loved that book a lot, but as I spent time working on it after that initial draft or two, I realized some fundamental pieces of the book were broken. It had been written as a middle grade fantasy novel, but the protagonist was a 20-year old Arabian Prince. The general rule for lead characters is to make sure they are at the most 2-3 years older than your target audience. Since the rest of the book was geared for middle grade readers, I realized my main character would have to change ages, but that would affect so many other threads throughout the book that I decided to start from scratch. So I’ve gone back to the drawing board, and I’m about 20,000 words into the story, and loving it.
  2. An Adventure Novel. Way back in the day, I created a character named Chip Fields. He was a favorite of mine and appeared in a few short stories I had written, but I had never done much else with him and the menagerie of supporting characters that filled his world. Well, the other night, an idea came to me as I was working on some scripts, and I knew that the world of Chip Fields had finally found a home. Right now, I’m in the plotting phase (I’ve realized I love outlining books and writing from the outline), and hope to start on Chip after I finish the Arabian novel.
  3. A Pile of Novelettes. I’ve got a bunch of old scripts that I’ve written that I’m currently in the process of converting into novelettes and novellas that will be released exclusively through First up, my personal take on the Sherlock Holmes mythos, and then I need to write the third Dack & Zara novella.

In the business side of things, I now have three ebooks available on for download. Stars: A Viking Christmas Tale, has been my most popular ebook yet, with over 400 downloads since it was released on Christmas Eve. It’s been so much fun to watch the progress of that little novelette and see the response it’s been getting. If you have read Stars, please take the time to leave me a review on Amazon! I would greatly appreciate it.

That’s all for now. If you write, keep writing. If you read, keep reading.

Until the next story,

Shaun Stevenson