Kindle & Coffee, Kindle Vella Reviews

Kingdom of Links by Sarah Shipley

As a thriller author who’s works toe the dark and horror boundaries, one of the things I can tell is that despite my love for the dark, nitty gritty, terrifying and gory, I still love a lot of amazing midgrade/young adult books. I’m also just as inclined to pick them up as I am a slasher mystery.

I’m one of those who discovered Harry Potter as a university student and quickly learned that not only was I a Slytherin, but that I had to embrace my inner sneaky side.

In addition to Harry Potter, there was Secret of the Unicorn Queen, a Sci-Fi/Fantasy Young Adult Romance written by three authors. While the series itself is now dated, mentioning things like hand held cassette players and boom boxes, it was at the time the most amazing adventure. What teenage girl at the time wouldn’t dream of falling into another magical world with unicorns and magic and warriors, of becoming one.

Eregon and the Inheritance Cycle were good, but I have to admit that while I did make it through Brisingr, I just couldn’t get into Inheritance. There was just something missing from it that prevented me from suspending my current reality and getting sucked into the story. Hunger Games was great… but Catching Fire? Despite the little girl in me still wanting to grow up to be some sort of warrior hero, I just couldn’t get into it either.

Maybe I’ll go back and try to read them (Brisingr and the rest of the Hunger Games) again someday? Maybe not… especially since Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Vella have opened up such amazing new horizons when it comes to available reading for consumption.

Why am I telling you about my mid-grade/young adult fantasy roots even though some of these works were clearly completed while I was an adult?

Answer: They give you an idea of what inspired me to become a writer. My first book was a seventh installment of Secret of the Unicorn Queen because I believed there should have been more and I could have done it better. It existed in four composition notebooks and was one of the reasons I became a writer. How many of us got started with some sort of fan fiction?

With Harry Potter, the possibility of a world within our own was mind blowing!

Yet, my love for all of these books and more are reasons I still enjoy reading geared towards readers of a younger age bracket. It could also be that I’m still a child at heart.

While starting the adventure that came from reading Kingdom of Links, I wanted you to know what my background was in the genre and where my taste level sits. Best part, I can do so without freaking myself and others out about serial killers.

Let’s get started with the author’s blurb.

Born into the lowest Link in a kingdom of shifters, Ashley’s goal is simply to keep herself and her little brother alive. Unable to manage her shift until she’s of age, she lives a life of careful control. When the queen requests her presence at the palace, Ashley must rely on an old friend and new allies, or she’ll be squashed within the week. But can she trust anyone? This story of stinging betrayal, ruthless competition, and a slow-burn romance will hook you from the very first episode

Sarah Shipley

Now that we know a little bit about the vella itself, what am I saying about Kingdom of Links by Sarah Shipley? What drew me in with such high expectations and despite these expectations kept me unlocking more episodes?

Keep reading to find out.

The Nitty Gritty

When I wrote about the stories that I remember fondly, what I didn’t tell you is that because of them, I’m always excited when I find something that I can connect to emotionally. While I was blessed to grow up with both my parents, this story starts out simply with the story of children who live on the streets and surviving the best way that they can.

This reminded me of my younger years fishing with my father, sometimes out of necessity. Because of this I instantly connected to Ashley and Courtney, whom she rescued. What we immediately learn about Ashley is that she’s kind, loving and comes from a family that works hard to support itself.

As her adventure truly begins following receiving a summons by the queen, her parents are missing and she has to leave her little brother and Courtney behind.

From here, my brain is dialed in and connected to the characters. Luckily, with this Vella geared towards younger readers, it makes for a quick read. Despite it being a quick read, I’m still checking back daily for more as the in app update notifications still aren’t exactly synched up with author publication.

What can I tell you about Kingdom of Links without giving away the plot?

First it’s a shifter story. This information is given to us by the author.

If you haven’t noticed, my vella Exile is a shifter story. Like dragons, I am a sucker for them. In this case, it’s different. We’ve seen stories of werebears, werecats of every kind, werewolves and the occasional bunny. But our main character is neither of these popular types of shifter. In fact, Shipley goes completely against the grain and provides us with a main character who is a spider shifter.

A spider! Normally I’m not a fan of works that include serpents (unless they’re the dragon kind) or spiders. Other insect shifters include Courtney who is a flea.

In the words of Ron Weasley, ‘Why did it have to be spiders?’ I’ve even asked the author this question. You’ll find her answer in the talky bits below.

I think one of the most poignant moments in this tale comes very early in this tale. It’s one that we learn as young adults.

Not only is this a coming of age story, it’s one with life lessons told in a way that do not placate the reader.

We live in a world where people are deliberately pushed down and kept down, and kicked while they are down in order for others to survive and succeed. In same cases things are far less complicated that survival and success, instead it is simply bullying.

The fact that Ashley not only has learned this as she is coming of age, but is able to grasp what it means is not only powerful, but offers a bit of magic. It’s a gift from the author to their readers.

Why a gift?

Because despite knowing they would willingly step on her, potentially kill her, Ashley goes against her own rules. She conquers her fears and she races out there all for the chance to save a doll. While this doll is returned to her and she is able to give it back to Courtney, this is a turning point for our main character.

She’s now prepared and willing to fight for what she believes in. More importantly, despite the outcome she. has already experienced, she knows that she can.

What young person or even those young at heart need a reminder that we can conquer those that try to keep us down? I know that in reading this Vella the first time that I was in a moment of my life where I actually needed this reminder. And it is a reminder that makes Ashley’s story that much more important to be told.

So, here we are. The important bits.

Is Kingdom of Links worth the tokens I’ve purchased to read it? YES!

Will I keep reading newly posted episodes? YES!

Should you give Kingdom of Links a try? If you enjoy action and adventure or shifter stories, yes! If you do, and you didn’t, I’d be disappointed.

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My two cents not enough? Need opinions of other readers? No problem! Here are a few examples of what other readers have had to say about Kingdom of Links:

Kristin J Dawson, Author of Elven House of Ivy and Bone
The Talky Bits with the Author
The talky bits with the author

As we do every week, the author and I have taken some time to ask and answer a few questions. I hope you enjoy getting to know the author as much as I have have!

Kitty: First: What was your favorite book growing up? Has that changed as an adult?

Sarah: My favorite book growing up was probably the Betsy, Tacy, and Tib series, by Maud Hart Lovelace. I also loved Bill Pete books. Although my taste in books has grown and changed as an adult, I’m somewhat of a loyalist and so I commonly say the Betsy, Tacy books when asked as an adult what my favorite book is.

Kitty: Who is your favorite author?

Sarah: This is a tricky question as I have several friends who are authors. I couldn’t pick a favorite author any easier than I can pick a favorite friend. Recently I finished the “Unchosen” series by Kristin J Dawson and thoroughly enjoyed the story. On Vella I have enjoyed reading “One for the Levy: A Nivarden saga” by M.K. Martin, “The Dragon Hunters of Mirth: A rouge Destiny Story” by Paul Tallman, and “Courting Fae Thieves and Crowns” by Joanna Reeder.

Kitty: What drew you to writing shifter stories geared towards young adults?

Sarah: 12 years ago I adopted an 11-year-old girl with a traumatic past. I was cautious of what she read because certain topics could trigger her and throw her off. I started proofreading the books she wanted to read and found it was tough to find stories that would hold her interest without being full of triggers. Eventually I thought I’m going to write a story that will be exciting but not triggering for my daughter. I just needed an idea and the idea of shifters came in a dream. I wrote that trilogy for her, and have sat on it for over a decade. When the idea of Vella was just hitting the horizon, one of my writing buddies suggested I write a shifting story for Vella and follow it up by publishing my Shifting Bishop trilogy. 

Kitty: In the words of Ron Weasley, Why did it have to be spiders? Or, why did you select spiders for Ashley’s family?

Sarah: The same writing buddy that suggested I write a shifting story for Vella mentioned that I should have wolves in my story because that was popular. I didn’t like the idea of writing something because it is popular. I dug my heels in and was determined to find another animal my character could shift into. That same night I had a dream about a childhood friend of mine with the initials D.L. who we used to call daddy longlegs. I loved the idea of using a creature that people typically don’t like as the main character and the rest is history.

Kitty: We’re still learning about Ashley, the magic and the world she lives in. What is one thing that you would tell Ashley about her world if she were a real life person?

Sarah: Without giving any spoilers away, I would tell Ashley to trust her gut. When something in her world feels wrong it probably is. 

What would you tell your readers about the world you have created?

Sarah: Ashley’s world is one of contrast. In a day’s drive, you could go from a very poor, run down and neglected town to a rich, gorgeous kingdom. You have powerful shifters who can change into enormous battle ready forms and you have shifters who have been overlooked because they shift into vulnerable, squishable forms. These differences keep every link at odds but maybe they are actually more similar than they seem.

Kitty: Will Ashley’s story be the only one told in this universe or do you have plans for additional seasons featuring other characters?

Sarah: This is a great question. In the writing world you have plotters and pansters. Plotters plot their stories out, know exactly or close to exactly where their story is going and typically know what needs to happen in each chapter. Pansters write by the seat of their pants. They have an idea of where the story is going and how it will end but sorta just let the story spill out as it goes. I am a panster 100%. I know how this story will end and all the major plot points but I won’t know if there will be more than one Ashley story or another story in this world until Kingdom of Links is finished.

Kitty: If you could go back in time and tell your younger self one thing about writing, what would it be?

Sarah: Just do it! I have loved telling stories since I was young. At slumber parties I would make up choose your own ending stories for all my friends. It became a requested activity and we would stay up late making up long ongoing stories. Like I said earlier I have sat on finished books for fear of just getting out there and trying. Vella was the shove I needed to get me going but I wish I would have started putting myself out there earlier.

Kitty: As an author geared towards young adults and teen aged readers, is there something you would tell them about being a writer or becoming one?

Sarah: Get started! November is NaNoWriMo. This is a fun way to challenge yourself. Also don’t overthink it. Writing is an art. Not everyone likes the same kind of art. If you write something and another person doesn’t appreciate it, don’t let that discourage you. They aren’t your audience and that’s ok. The world is big. You are going to be someone’s favorite author. Don’t deny your audience the privilege of reading your work.

Kitty: If you could tell your readers one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Sarah: First, I’m so very thankful for your support with Kingdom of Links. A few fun little facts are that I get all my writing ideas from dreams, I type all my stories with only two fingers on each hand (I never learned when I was young to properly type), I have 8 daughters and when I need a good name or idea I turn to them to help me out.

You can find Sarah on Instagram and also her website. I encourage you to give her a follow!

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Up coming announcements banner

There is always a lot of excitement when it comes down to what is coming up in the world of Kindle Vella. For me, there are more updates coming this month for both The Explorers and Exile, both of which are gaining a bonus episode for the month of October.

If you you are a serial writer, I’ve also published the first blog in the Kindle & Coffee Conversations titled Lessons Learned by a Serial Author.

We also recognize that the holidays can be tough for some of us, all for different reasons. Because of this you’ll find bonus episodes of both Vellas offered throughout November and December. Who knows, we could reach the end of Exile and have to prepare to move on to Gathering when it comes to Under a White Moon Paranormal Mysteries. Additional announcements regarding both Vellas will be found here and also on social media. Those links are either to your left or up above if you are on your mobile device.

As always, we’re look forward to sharing another amazing serial next week.

This time, we’ll be moving away from Kindle Vella. Next week will be a Tapas & Tea takeover featuring Project Infinity by the talented Kayla Knue which has been running on Tapas since July 12, 2020. With more than 60 episodes, this completely free to read serial is waiting for you.

Take a look, get sucked in and we can meet here again next week to compare notes.

Until then, have some incredible and exciting adventures. Just not as exciting as X’s, that could get you into trouble

Kindle & Coffee, Kindle Vella Reviews

Dinos of the Old West by Jonathon Mast and Nathaniel J Peters

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Dinos of the Old West by Jonathon Mast and Nathaniel J Peters

Have you ever seen a title or read a blurb and found yourself wanting to jump up and down in excitement? I had one of these moments when I stumbled on the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. If you could imagine one Kitty Gulick clutching a copy of His Majesty’s Dragon and jumping up and down, drawing all sorts of attention to herself. Yes, this was a thing.

Allow me a moment to guide you into my headspace. I was one of those kids growing up, you know, the one who had the inflatable toy dinosaurs en lieu of Barbie and the worth of those dinosaurs was far greater than My Little Pony or even Fashion Star Fillies.

As a new adult and throughout my adult life, I’ve still had a fascination and love of dinosaurs. I devoured the Jurassic Park and the Lost World. I was also one of those people who bawled during that one scene in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom when the volcano erupted.

Why is all that important? Should I even hint at my reaction when I first saw the title and graphic for Dinos of the Old West? Let’s just say that had I stumbled on Dinos of the Old West by Jonathon Mast and Nathaniel J Peters in a book store, I would have been jumping up and down in excitement.

The other thing I would have been thinking after my insane display of… excitement? exuberance? entertained joy? would have to be the following. OMG! Please be good. You have to be good. Dinosaurs! Cowboys… it has to be good! Please be good!

And that was something that ran through my head while out exploring Glacier National Park last week while reading the last few episodes and re-reading my way through Dinos. Often I get so excited over a concept or a blurb that I’m not able to be as objective as I want or should be when writing a review.

Because of the concept, there was the opportunity for this work to go horribly campy, horribly wrong and in a way that I can’t even begin to explain after seeing the third Jurassic Park Movie. I’m not sure if you can recall the bad effects and unexpected horrible story telling featuring some of our favorite actors, actresses and characters.

I understand that it wasn’t intended to be campy, it just happened and when it came to Dinos of Old West there was the potential for an amazing idea to go horribly… horribly wrong.

The kind of horribly wrong that almost made reading through the later episodes something I dreaded because in the back of my head I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. It couldn’t really be this good?

The best news I have for you after completing my second read through is that my excitement didn’t wane. I was just as enthralled about the idea of dinosaurs and cowboys coming head to head at the end of the second read through as I was with the first.

To say that Mast and Peters open this work perfectly with a lines worthy of a Sergio Corbucci classic that in some ways took me back to days watching movies like Minnesota Clay (1964), Django (1966) and the Great Silence (1968). The only difference in my imagination, the presence of dinosaurs. I don’t know if any of my readers remember or have seen these amazing movies, but I can’t help but hear Franco Nero in my head as Sheriff Darrow and Remo De Angelis as Barnes.

While the authors may imagine other amazing representations of their characters, these ones just seem to ring true in my head.

Even better, there is a sense of excitement, of almost being dropped off a plot cliff and falling forever as the episodes pick up.

With ‘tops, raptors, brontos and gallimimus to spare, I can’t help but wonder if I’ve actually fallen into an alternate universe where dinosaurs still half ruled the world.

Having found myself immersed in a world where the characters breath, walk and talk like you would imagine, I can tell you that I’ve laughed, cried and just can’t stop smiling while reading. Even if I’m still angry about that thing in the fourth episode that I don’t want to spoil.

You know what I’m talking about gents. The fourth episode. If Mast and Peters could see me right now, they’d recognize the glare. I’ve had threats over things happening to Boscoe. But alas, it’s all part of amazing story telling. While I hate what happened (and I’ll make you read to find out), it was well done and drew me further into the story.

Sometimes when you have two authors working together in their craft, you don’t find yourself pulled in as deep as you can be because their voices don’t blend well together. In this case, I’m pleased to tell you that they do, and they do it amazingly.

Without giving away any more hints or spoilers, what can I tell you about Dinos of the Old West that would make a reader want to dig in? Here they are, straight to the point and without giving any spoilers (other than my hint above about episode four where our authors made me cry!!):

Each episode of Dinos of the Old West is well paced and leaves you wanting more.

The story is succinctly told, without fluff or anything extraneous that I would have run a marker through as a developmental editor. Not once have I ever thought: Well, we didn’t need to know that…

Dinos of the Old West can be enjoyed in a few minutes with each episode being posted or in a few hours as this tale is definitely binge worthy.

After reading, you will want to ride a velociraptor, and I don’t mean in the way we herd emu!

Finally, this tale is worth every token spent on it and deserves every thumbs up, follow and favorite token you can give it. It was definitely earned in this moment that I have to share:

Sadly you won’t find out how such an incredibly feet is accomplished until Episode 18: How to Milk a T-Re, but at least we find out.

And now for some amazing news! There are currently twenty-six episodes of Dinos of the Old West waiting for you and they’re all episodes I wouldn’t ever miss.

The Talky Bits

Nate: First, thank you for the opportunity to share our thoughts. Very kind of you and very neat for me. 

On to the questions. 

Kitty: What is your favorite book?

Nate: Seriously? Not books? *sigh* The Little Prince. There. Narrowed it down to one book. It felt magical reading it as a kid. It still feels magical reading it as an adult. There’s something wholesome, child-like and ethereal about it all. A reminder to keep your imagination and wonder.

Jon: Nate’s right. Picking a favorite book’s like picking a favorite leg. Um… I’m currently reading Mishap’s Heroes, a series of fantasy adventures where every member of the party is… unique. Not in the typical epic fantasy way, either. I don’t want to spoil anything, but Kendra Merritt’s writing and creativity really sparkle. Check that series out if you like fantasy. 

Kitty: Who is your favorite author?

Nate: Again, seriously? Default is generally J.R.R. Tolkien but that almost feels like a cop-out. Everyone likes Tolkien. 

Jon: There are a number of authors I pick up anytime I see their work. Brenda Cooper does amazing hard science fiction. I’ve started picking up the Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker. C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower books are perfect high adventure. Now I’m just listing things I like… arg! Fine. I’ll go with Brent Weeks as my favorite. He hasn’t steered me wrong yet! 

Kitty: Have either influenced your writing style?

Nate: Most assuredly. I cannot specifically say how, only that they have.

Jon: I’ve found that I analyze writing far more than I ever did growing up. I’ve come to Mishap’s Heroes recently enough I can say confidently it’s not affected my writing. I do find I approach adventure and describing action scenes in a way that certainly approaches C. S. Forester’s, though when it comes to sword fights in my fantasy writing, I think Robert Jordan has directly influenced me far more! …now I feel like I’m name dropping!   

Kitty: What inspired you to write about dinosaurs?

Nate: So, there was this shared Facebook posts with pictures of cowboys on raptors and stagecoaches hooked up to stegosauruses. I made a short comment in that thread, like a little story. A little further in the thread I said “Oh man, I would totally write more stories like this.” Jonathan came along and was like, “Really? How serious are you about that. Because we can make this happen.” I had already been following his start as an author and we’ve enjoyed storytelling together. I figured, why not? Let’s give it  ago – and all because of some silly pictures on facebook.

Jon: You can find the original artist, Shaun Keenan, and his art here: http://www.shaunkeenan.com/ Do yourself a favor and look this guy up; he’s incredibly talented! And it’s pretty much what Nate said. We both saw those images and went, “There are so many stories here.” We tossed around a bunch of ideas. 

Kitty: If you could tell your younger self anything about writing or becoming an author, what would it be?

Nate: All those stories you have in your head – write them down or record them for future reference. Save yourself some trouble. Doesn’t make them good. But it gets them out for refinement.

Jon: You need to work on it. You don’t have this writing thing mastered yet, but you’ve got the talent to
write. Keep going. Honestly, that’s what I’d tell just about anyone who wants to be an author: it’s work, but it’s worth it. I hated hearing that earlier in my journey. I thought my writing was good! And it was, but it still needed work. And I still need to grow! 

How has working with a co-author changed or impacted your writing process?

Nate: This is my first foray into the official writing world. I’ve appreciated the guidance. We are two very different authors though. That’s not a bad thing but it does mean putting ideas together in a collaborative manner. Helps that Jonathan and I were already good friends well before this venture and I’m fairly certain we are still very good friends in the middle of the process. 

Jon: I’ve never really worked with another writer. We broke down the first “Season” of the story and divided up by individual story arcs. Though at this point, I think it’s time for a confession: We had started out doing every-other story arc, but at this point it’s pretty much all Nate. He’s done a FANTASTIC job developing characters. I’m still around making suggestions here or there, but this is his show, and he deserves the credit! 

Kitty: Why a serial vs other forms of publication?

Nate: Nothing amazing here. My friend suggested it. I said, ‘Sure’.

Jon: We had originally set out to do a short story collection that simply explored this amazing world of Dinos of the Old West. That evolved into something more like a television season, and then Vella got announced. I talked to Nate, and we both thought we’d give it a try!   

Kitty: If you could tell your readers anything about Dinos of the Old west, what would it be?

Nate: I would love to tell you all of the random scenarios and scenes that randomly come to mind. Some have been written. Some are not yet written. Some might have to be saved for one-off stories that are not part of a larger plot. If a reader has a story they would like to see, share the ideas!

Jon: It’s been a blast to mash up some genres, and I hope that fun comes through!   

Kitty: If you could tell readers anything about yourself, what would it be?

Nate: I prefer oral story telling. It might be because I’m lazy or because I like coming up with nonsense off the cuff. I make up stories almost every night for my two older boys. My favorite ones are about a carrot-addicted rabbit named Roopaloop.  

Jon: I often say I have an insanity of children, and I do. We’ve got four kids, and they keep me on my toes. They also help me be so much more creative! If you enjoy Dinos of the Old West, check out my other writing. Yep, I’m ending on an ad, I guess. You can find a handy list of what I’ve done here: https://jonathonmastauthor.com/published-works/ 

Someday, I will have the courage to ask the amazing authors I’ve reviewed to do actual podcast like interviews. Maybe… someday. Or maybe something on TikTok.

Jonathon Mast can be found on FaceBook and his website.

Nate can be found on FaceBook.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this review and the interview that followed. I promise that there will be a news letter coming in the near future for those of you who don’t follow me on Instagram. There’s that stigma about social media that still gets to some of us, me included!

This week, in addition to our review of Dinos, there have been two new episodes of my vellas posted. A celebratory Episode 14 of The Explorers (We’ve made that top favs list and stayed there for the month. I’m celebrating by sharing the love!), and Episode 12: Him of Exile. Stay tuned to the blog and to my Instagram account for an exciting announcement later this month and also for a Vella Scavenger Hunt hosted by the Kindle Vella Horror Author’s group. I’m so excited!

And now for some insanity! For those of you waiting for the announcement of what is coming up next in Kindle & Coffee, the answer is Elven House of Ivy and Bone: A Vella Story by Kristin J Dawson.

This will be my second foray into the magical and I’m excited for this one because there are dragons! Almost as good as dinosaurs but not quite.

Until next time, my wonderful bean sprouts, have amazing and exciting adventures. Just… not as exciting as X’s.