I’m so excited to share with you an excerpt from Installment Ten of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel! I’ve loved sharing this story and my heart for wonder to be reignited in people’s hearts.
I hope you enjoy it, and be sure to read the news below about a manuscript edition of the story!
As Penelope Grace stepped beneath the arch and pushed the gate open, a creak from rusting hinges filled the air, nearly disguising the soft growl coming from behind her. She turned, dreading whatever new danger awaited, and found two wolves with hackles raised.
Penelope gasped when she saw them, not for fear of what they might do, but for the shock of seeing that their bodies were formed entirely from rough stone.
She knew they must be Denagon’s servants, though she wondered if that were by choice or force. Every inch of their carved frames made their ability to harm her clear, but Penelope’s attention was drawn to their eyes. Even as these creatures bared their fangs and began to advance, their eyes held something more than the hatred she had encountered in Denagon’s other slaves: a plea and real despair. The longer she looked, the less convinced she was that the wolves truly desired to harm her.
Knowing this was possibly her most foolhardy choice since arriving in Ellura, Penelope Grace reached out a hand to the nearest wolf, hoping against hope that she might cool his anger with a friendly touch.
Her fingers were nearly brushing against his muzzle when he lunged at her, jaws snapping. She jumped back with a yelp, while both wolves came closer, knowing she was trapped.
“This way, lass!” she heard a familiar voice shout.
There was no time to question the little fox’s appearance or how she had snuck past the wolves. She was here and had found a way for Penelope to escape the jaws of Denagon’s sentinels.
Just as both wolves lunged forward, Penelope Grace darted out of reach, and together, she and Tilly ran for the twisting pathways of a wilted, frozen garden, praying they might lose the wolves there.
Bare, rigid hedges lined the nearest pathway that Tilly led them down. Penelope did her best to keep up with the nimble fox, but she was already worn from her ordeal in the maze, and she could hear the scrabble of the wolves’ claws against the paving stones as they closed in. She risked a glance back; one wolf was directly behind, while the other sought to head them off to the right.
With a frustrated growl, Tilly took a sharp turn onto a curving path that, she hoped, would help them lose their pursuers.
But the wolves never missed a step and Penelope was left with the uncomfortable feeling that their pursuers were herding them. The feeling only hardened into belief when they reached an enclosed grotto that offered no escape. Penelope and Tilly whirled round to face the wolves…
Only a few more weeks remain before this wintry tale comes to a close…
But it’s not too late to join the adventure. If you’re longing for your sense of wonder to be renewed, please follow Penelope Grace on her journey through the land of Ellura, where wonder may yet prove victorious…
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Or, if you would prefer a print copy, I’m releasing a manuscript edition of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel and would love to share this unique copy with you! This edition of the story is done in beautiful manuscript form, printed on paper from The French Paper Co. and bound with waxed thread imported from Northern Ireland, giving readers a unique, collector’s first edition.
Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to receive the manuscript edition!
Will you brave the bracken and thorns for yourself?
She had only decided on two more paths when another rustle sounded behind her. Penelope stopped short, but would not look back, would not let her fear get the best of her.
One deep breath and she moved forward again, fighting to remain sure of herself.
This time something moved just to her right, not touching her, though she could feel the breath of it passing by.
Another rush of movement to her left. Penelope jumped back as she glanced frantically around for its source. Her cloak ripped as it caught on a thorn. Quickly now, Penelope Grace bent to untangle it from the bracken, her fingers clumsy.
The rustling sound grew louder, and as her cloak only grew more entangled, Penelope let out a cry of frustration and panic.
Looking around for any kind of help, though she didn’t know what she expected to find, Penelope froze.
A mass of thorns and brittle vines were unassumingly gathering in front of her, barring her way forward while she remained none the wiser.
Frightened and enraged, she ran forward, at last succeeding in wrenching her cloak free. But the way was shut before Penelope could reach it, and she stopped just short of beating against the solid wall of bracken, knowing that would only leave her hands a bloody, aching mess.
Penelope’s mind raced, but there were countless paths through this maze. Surely, she could retrace her steps and find another.
Racing down the path, Penelope nearly stumbled over the enormous husk of a root that she knew had not been there before. Undeterred, she ran on. Though the mist was growing thicker, she could see the light from the lantern that had illuminated the crossroads and knew she was close.
She was almost on top of the barred path before she realized her mistake.
She could not go back.
Neither could she go forward.
How many more paths would the bracken prevent her from reaching? How long before every way was shut?
There was no way out.
This Friday, Part Two: Winter comes to a close, but Penelope Grace’s adventures are far from over.
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Dangers abound for Penelope Grace and her friends.
Only one question remains.
Will you brave the dangers with them, reader?
Below them stretched a dark, endless valley that no sunlight seemed to reach.
Nothing grew there. The valley was stunted and barren, its flat expanse only broken by the twisted stronghold that rose up in its center like a scar on the land. Its towers, made of black, implacable rock, rose up. Ice smothered every surface, and in this view, Penelope Grace could see what people feared in her favorite season.
Svarthol was the long, dreaded march of endless winter, without the promise of new life to come.
Tilly interrupted her thoughts. “Are ye ready, Penelope Grace?”
“Yes,” she whispered, taking a deep breath as she continued to gaze down into the valley. “I don’t suppose daylight will be too helpful to us in there.”
“Aye. But ye have Light of an altogether differen’ sort to guide ye. Let’s be off,” Tilly concluded, not explaining her words as she trotted down the only rutted path to Svarthol.
Once they entered the valley, Penelope Grace was horribly on edge, though there were none of the dangers she had anticipated. None of Denagon’s creatures lurked behind the dry husks of once tall trees. Nothing stalked them or sought to prevent their progress on the long stretch to Svarthol’s entrance.
The valley was desolate and still, and Penelope was all the more terrified because of it.
Something was not right.
A vast expanse of land still separated them from Svarthol’s gates when Penelope Grace stopped short and whirled around, knowing that she had heard the whisper of something behind her.
The fox saw it and barked a warning that was drowned out by the roar of bursting earth and the dull murmur of creeping vines.
They were separated before a thing could be done.
Nearly choking on the dusty earth clouding the air, Penelope cried out, “Tilly!”
She spun about, peering through the dust-choked air for some sign of her friend. Reaching forward to keep herself steady, Penelope’s finger scraped against something sharp, and she jerked back in pain.
She stood still, breathing hard, listening, and waiting.
But when the dust at last cleared, Penelope Grace was alone, just as she had feared, shut in by a twisting maze of bracken and thorns.
What awaits Penelope Grace in the maze will be uncovered this Friday in Installment Eight of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel. You can subscribe below to receive installments of the story!
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Four weekly installments of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel
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Welcome to an excerpt from Installment the Seventh of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel, in which a reminder is given of the meaning of wonder.
It would take them near a week to reach Svarthol, and Penelope felt her nerves grating against each other when she thought of all that time. She wondered how many of their neighbors and friends had also fallen prey to the wasting freeze, and she burned with anger at the way Denagon had perverted the beauty of winter into something that could only be understood as unforgiving and brutal.
There is a harshness to winter, it is true, but there is also a stillness that prepares the way for new life. To acknowledge one and reject the other is to rob winter of all its fullness and remarkable grace.
Yet, hearts often grow dismayed during the long stretches of winter nights; Penelope Grace watched it happen to those she loved and had fought against the sharpness of despair herself. She felt a growing desire to defend, not only the beauty of winter itself but also the hearts of all who struggled to find joy during this time of year. She wanted to fight against Denagon’s attacks and keep him from succeeding in his destructive work.
Uncle Alex had said she was created to weave joy and delight – wonder – into people’s lives, and now, when so many lives were at risk of freezing straight through, could she do any less than what he said? No matter how impossible, she must try, and with this thought fueling her, Penelope Grace walked purposefully through Ellura, hardly seeing the beauty of the world around her through the first day of travel.
Aira watched her closely. She feared what determination might do to the girl, for she had seen for herself the way that a desire to save could undo a human. But she held her tongue for the moment, watching still, but patiently.
On the second day of their journey, she separated from the company, believing that a particular grove was nearby and that such a place might spark something different in Penelope’s heart. By evening the wolf returned, her supposition proven right. As the sky darkened and countless stars winked into sight, Aira and Penelope left the campsite and wound their way through the forest.
“Aira, where are we going?” Penelope asked, wanting only to rest after two days of unfamiliar exertion.
“Hush, child,” the wolf replied, her tone kind but firm. “You’ll scare them off.”
Penelope Grace tried her best to remain silent from that point on, but the snowy ground had turned to hoar frost beneath her feet, and each footfall betrayed her with a loud crunch. Despite her own difficulties, Aira somehow had no trouble walking silently through the snow, and Penelope thought to herself how grateful she was that the wolf was not her enemy.
After some time, they came to the edge of a small grove, one that Penelope would have certainly missed for the trees were quite close together in this part of the forest. Carefully now, she tiptoed to the edge of the grove and peered beyond the branches, hurrying to stifle an awestruck gasp as she did so.
The plants, grass, and trees themselves – every inch of this wintry grove – were all covered in beautifully crisp frost. This sanctuary in the heart of the forest was cloaked in blue light, though Penelope Grace could not find its source; it seemed to emanate softly from everything and everyone present as if they were reflecting the light of a silver-blue sun.
At first, she could not discern details, but soon Penelope noticed beautiful small figures gliding through the air.
She thought that frost fairies populated the grove, but when she leaned down to quietly ask Aira, the wolf corrected her. “Snow sprites. Similar in nature, but with a beauty quite their own. Now, look.”
Penelope edged as close as she dared to the smallest of gaps in the trees where she might see the snow sprites more closely. To her delight, several were beginning to swirl through the snow as they circled the grove, and they flew quite close.
Each snow sprite wore beautiful, deep blue gowns, etched with frost and shimmering with the clearing’s light. Their hair was silvery-white, and their skin a pale blue. There seemed to be hundreds of them, and as they all flew about the grove, they began to hum the most enchanting tune.
You can almost hear it, can’t you? Like the melody from a favorite music box that you can’t quite remember, but nevertheless, remains with you.
Penelope listened, not daring to make a sound.
The snow sprites slowly gathered around a frozen pool in the center of the grove. The sound of their melody stayed soft as each took their turn in gliding across the pool’s frozen surface, leaving behind a precise etching in the ice. As every snow sprite made their simple contribution, they left the grove behind them, and they continued in this way until the frost-covered sanctuary stood empty.
Penelope looked questioningly at Aira, and the wolf gave her a slight nod, indicating it was safe now to enter the grove. She stepped carefully through the small gap and approached the pool, gasping to see the impossibly intricate snowflake traced into its icy surface.
“Their winter dance is a yearly tradition of the snow sprites. They travel from all across Ellura to make their contribution to the snowflake.”
“It’s beautiful, Aira. But why do they do it?” Penelope asked.
The wolf looked up at her intently before answering. “It is a celebration to honor the One who made them, to rejoice in the delight and wonder of being created.”
Aira fell silent, but then met Penelope’s gaze earnestly. “You see, Penelope Grace, it is not so much that you are living in wonder. It is Who you are living in wonder of.”
At this, the wolf turned, and Penelope Grace followed, feeling once again the conviction that she had just heard words that were worthy of remembering.
What are you in living in wonder of, reader?
Join us this Friday for the next installment of Penelope’s adventures.
We are proud to present Installment Six of a story most wondrous, where swans of blown glass guard a secret, a necklace of silver and blue holds a memory, and Apricity is discovered in a land of ice and snow.
All manner of adventure is coming, reader, and the fight for wonder promises to grow fierce.
Will you take part?
Join the Fight for Wonder
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This week, it is my delight to share with you an excerpt from the next installment of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel, where a mystery awaits at stairway’s end…
Before another question could escape her, Aira padded through the crisp snow to walk beside her. “We are nearly there. Follow me closely, Penelope Grace.”
Anticipation raced from one to the next, filling them all, making their steps quicken as they drew near to a frozen lake, quite different from the persistently running river that Penelope saw was its source. Perhaps a dozen feet separated the two bodies of water, and Penelope gasped in delight as she saw the rushing water transform into frozen rivulets that created a crystalline path to the lake.
At the center of the lake, some four feet apart, were two beautiful swans, crafted from what looked to be blown glass.
Penelope Grace stood at the water’s edge, a small smile on her face. “How beautiful,” she whispered.
“Aye,” Aira agreed. “But what lies beneath is altogether more wonderful.”
Tilly trotted up. “I’m so glad we can agree on somethin’, Aira,” she said, her small teeth flashing as she let out a high-pitched yowl as if announcing their arrival.
Penelope waited with bated breath, but nothing happened at first. Then, the graceful birds began to turn in an ever-widening circle across the lake’s icy surface. They reminded Penelope of clockwork animals as they drew closer and closer to the shore, leaving behind them a wide opening in the lake.
At last, one swan ceased its glide across the lake directly in front of their company. Just behind it, the surface of the lake had disappeared to reveal a set of stairs carved out of ice and stone. They reminded Penelope Grace of the creaky wooden stairs on the second floor of her home, not for their appearance, but for the way each drew you in, whispering to you of what might be found at stairway’s end.
What do you think awaits Penelope Grace at the bottom of the stairs?
Join the fight for wonder and find out this Friday.
It’s a new week, and I hope it’s full of wonderful books!
I have the pleasure of sharing my review for Champion of Valdeor by Sandralena Hanley, a wonderful story that makes you feel as if you’ve just stepped inside an old Arthurian legend.
You can read my full review below!
The people of Valdeor are waiting, breathless with anticipation, as they hope for the promised new beginning to arrive.
They are unaware that their hopes rest on a young shepherd boy, Alloryn, and Lauressa, a princess from another age, hidden from her people for countless years.
One must decide if he is willing to embrace an unexpected identity and purpose, while the other must embark on a quest to learn if she possesses the virtues necessary to be a queen.
Neither is prepared for what comes next.
The people of Valdeor are waiting for a new beginning.
But will it ever come?
In Champion of Valdeor, Sandralena Hanley has crafted a tale reminiscent of Arthurian legends. Readers who are longing for a story full of epic quests, daring champions, and virtuous rulers of legend, will find none of that missing here.
While the tale might have benefitted from being longer, so that some characters could be developed further, Champion of Valdeor remains a deeply enjoyable read, full of what we all long for most: adventures abundant, heroes just and true, and a purpose truly worth pursuing.
Champion of Valdeor is available on Bookshop and Amazon. And don’t forget to leave a review on Goodreads once you’ve finished reading!
Later this week, there’s a new excerpt for Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel and the next installment! Don’t forget that all subscribers are entered to win an art print of their favorite illustration from the story 🙂
You can find more information on the giveaway here and subscribe below!