Review: The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale by Danielle E. Shipley

The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale Book Cover The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale
Danielle E. Shipley

Welcome to Avalon, a Renaissance Faire where heroes of legend never die. Where the Robin Hood walking the streets is truly the noble outlaw himself. Where the knightly and wizardly players of King Arthur’s court are in fact who they profess to be. Where the sense of enchantment in the air is not mere feeling, but the Fey magic of a paradise hidden in plain sight.

Enter Allyn-a-Dale. The grief of his father’s death still fresh and the doom of his own world looming, swirling realities leave the young minstrel marooned in an immortal Sherwood Forest, where he is recruited as a member of Robin Hood’s infamous outlaw band. But Allyn’s new life may reach its end before it’s scarcely begun. Their existence under threat, the Merry Men are called upon to embark on a journey to the dangerous world Outside – ours – on a quest which must be achieved without delay, or eternity in Avalon will not amount to very long at all.


I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Because I’m on a life-long quest to find and devour books about Robin Hood and his Merry Men, I was delighted to stumble upon The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale. A Renaissance Faire populated by living legends like King Arthur, Merlin, and the dashing Robin Hood? Count me in!

At the start of the story, newly orphaned minstrel Allyn-a-Dale is brought, rather unexpectedly, to the mystical Avalon. Avalon is a “place of magical renewal,” a refuge where legendary beings are kept alive and well by the magic of the fey. In order to keep the modern-day people who don’t live in Avalon (known as “Outsiders”) from discovering their secret, the legends hide in plain sight, operating Avalon as a Renaissance Faire and pretending to be actors portraying their real selves.

“While you’re in Avalon, you are employed by the Faire. Do room, board, and conditionally eternal youth sound like fair wages to you?”

Allyn is graciously permitted to join the Faire’s residents as one of Robin Hood’s Merry Men. All goes smoothly until someone steals the magical artifact that concentrates the faeries’ power and keeps Avalon’s residents alive. Robin and his crew vow to recover the artifact, and they venture into the modern world in pursuit.

Legendary characters and modern ways of life clash in this book; in many ways, it’s quite jarring. For example, I found it disconcerting that the wizard Merlin owns a computer. Likewise, there’s something vaguely horrifying about hearing one of the Merry Men utter the words “chillax, you pedant,” or seeing Queen Guinevere “grooving along to the Rock Minstrel’s ‘Round Table Rhapsody’” while playing a Dance-Dance-Avalon video game.

That said, there are times when it’s amusing to see the Merry Men try to assimilate to contemporary culture. Will Scarlet, Robin’s cousin and fellow outlaw, is an Outside/pop culture enthusiast, and he serves as the Merry Men’s sometimes-bumbling-yet-always-energetic guide during the jaunt through the “real” world. There’s a great scene when the group is initiated into the mysteries of placing an order in a fast-food drive-through, and I enjoyed the irony of Robin shopping for clothes at Target. (Archery…targets…get it?) Best of all, though, is when Will tries to engage the Merry Men in a “traditional road-trip game,” at which time his companions totally fail to grasp the nuances of the Alphabet Name Game.

There’s a great deal of goofy humor in The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale, some of it hitting its mark and some of it not. A few of the cheesier lines had me wincing, like when Merlin learns Allyn’s name and asks, “How do you spell that?” Allyn promptly supplies, “T,H,A,T,” which made me groan out loud.

“His gaze incredulous, Allyn whispered, ‘Do you really rob people?’
‘Unless you count the outrageous price of an ice cream cone around here, not so much nowadays,’ Will said, with a matter-of-fact shrug.”

My main complaint about this novel is that it’s simple and one-dimensional. While I found it to be a very pleasant book, I would have liked greater complexity and depth. It was much lighter and fluffier than I expected, and the characters’ lack of substance left me unsatisfied.

Ultimately, while I enjoyed adding this new Robin Hood story to my quiver (see what I did there?), the overall tone wasn’t exactly what I’d bargained for. I find I prefer more complex Robin Hood tales, with conflict and an edgy tone, to the light-hearted versions like this one. That said, The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale boasts a fun premise and great writing, so if you’ve an interest in merry outlaws, it’s still worth giving this book a shot.

And now, I’ll leave you with a few amusing quotes from the book:

“There’s a lot of overlap, I’ve found, between the truth and the impossible.”


“…Merlin paused between the chairs of Gawain and Lancelot, turned to face those assembled, and announced, ‘Just so everybody knows, we are all thoroughly screwed.’”


“‘Thank you,’ said Allyn, lovingly embracing his guitar-lute as a mother would her ugly baby.”

Back to School: Books for Every Subject

Back To School: Books for Every Subject

Labor Day has come and gone, which means it’s back-to-school time for kids in the United States! To celebrate the new school year, I’ve put together a list of books inspired by the various subjects studied in American schools. Load up your backpacks, pack those lunch boxes, and let’s get ready to read!


Book cover for Flatland by Edwin A. AbbotBook cover for Little Brother by Cory DoctorowBook cover for Sideways Arithmetic From Wayside School by Louis Sachar

Flatland by Edwin A. Abbot: Who would have guessed that a fictional tale of geometric shapes, written as a satire of Victorian society, could be entertaining? Certainly not me, but this little book, narrated by “A. Square,” is actually quite clever.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow: Little Brother is a computer nerd’s dream and a civic student’s nightmare. It’s about teen hackers using technology to protest governmental oppression, and it explains a ton of cool facts about information technology and the mathematics behind it.

Sideways Arithmetic From Wayside School by Louis Sachar: I loved the wacky Wayside School stories as a kid, and this particular book is a lot of fun, even though I still can’t wrap my head around the majority of its quirky math puzzles. Here’s a typically goofy quote from the book: “Everyone take out your spelling books,” said Mrs. Jewls. “It’s time for arithmetic.”


Book cover for Catalyst by Laurie Halse AndersonBook cover for Kissing Frogs by Alisha SevignyBook cover for The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett

Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson: I don’t remember a ton of details about the plot and characters in Catalyst – it’s been many years since I read it – but many of the science-y facts from the book fortunately stuck with me. In fact, I recall getting really excited in ninth-grade Chemistry because I got the question “What is a catalyst?” on an exam. The only reason I knew the answer was because of this book.

Kissing Frogs by Alisha Sevigny: When Jess Scott starts failing her high school Biology class, her only shot at saving her grade is extra credit – namely, spending her Spring Break in Panama with the school’s Conservation Club, working to protect an endangered species of frog. This novel is light and fun and shares the importance of ecosystems and conservation. (Read my review here.)

The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett: Bennett’s book introduced me to a career I never knew existed: medical illustrator. (For some reason I thought medical journals just used photos nowadays.) The book’s protagonist, Bex, spends much of her time drawing careful diagrams of muscles, organs, bones, and more. It’s not a job that I could do – too squeamish – but it’s definitely a cool idea.


Book cover for The Fall by Bethany GriffinBook cover for For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana PeterfreundBook cover for This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

The Fall by Bethany Griffin: This novel-length retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” is deliciously Gothic and creepy. Griffin fleshes out the story and makes it, in my opinion, even better than the original. (Read my review here.)

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund: Persuasion has always been my least favorite of Jane Austen’s books, but this futuristic, quasi-dystopian reimagining brought the tale alive for me in a whole new way.

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel: I’ve never read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but this prequel makes me want to do so quite badly. It introduces a teenage Viktor Frankenstein and shows him taking the first steps on his path to knowledge and power. (Read my review here.)


Book cover for Curses and Smoke by Vicky Alvear ShecterBook cover for Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse AndersonGone With The Wind

Curses and Smoke by Vicky Alvear Shectar: A love story set in Pompeii, this book includes great historical details about what life would have been like in the days leading up to the infamous eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson: This fictional account of a true event – a mass breakout of yellow fever in Philadelphia that left more than 5,000 dead – was the first plague book I ever read. It made me supremely grateful for modern medicine!

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell: Mitchell’s tale is a classic not only for its iconic characters and volatile romance, but also for its portrayal of the American Civil War and the profound transformation that war had on the Southern way of life.

Physical Education

Book cover for Whale Talk by Chris CrutcherBook cover for Winger by Andrew SmithBook cover for Summerland by Michael Chabon

Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher: An unlikely group of outcasts form a swim team and confront racism, bullying, and injustice in this short but super-special novel.

Winger by Andrew Smith: Although Winger is about so much more than just sports (like first love, friendship, and tolerance, for example), rugby does play a big role in the story, as you might guess from the title. The school rugby team’s camaraderie and pranks are part of what makes this book so much fun to read. (Read my review here.)

Summerland by Michael Chabon: I don’t know much about baseball, but Summerland makes me wish I did. The great “American pastime” lies at the center of this magical tale, which is also full of adventure and faeries and a battle of good vs. evil.


Book cover for David by Mary HoffmanBook cover for I'll GIve You the Sun by Jandy NelsonBook cover for From The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler

David by Mary Hoffman: Hoffman’s book tells the fictional story of the man who supposedly modeled for Michelangelo’s statue of “David.” I love the insight it gives into the relationship between model and artist and the way it showcases the political climate of Italy at the time of the statue’s creation.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson: Twins Jude and Noah are best friends turned bitter rivals, bound by their shared love of art yet constantly striving to outdo one another in a bid for their mother’s attention. Art is the lifeblood of this story, from paintings to sketches to sculptures, and as a decidedly non-artistic person I really enjoyed seeing the world from an artist’s point of view.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg: In this story, two kids run away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Eleven-year-old me thought this was the coolest idea ever, and I still entertain fantasies of sleeping in Marie Antoinette’s bed, wandering through the Egyptian galleries, and diving for spare change in the fountains after hours like Claudia and Jamie in the book.


Book cover for Just Listen by Sarah DessenderBook cover for I Heart Robot by Suzanne van RooyenBook cover for Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen: Music aficionados will find a kindred spirit in Owen, the music-obsessed love interest in Just Listen. Music is Owen’s life, and he’s constantly trying to induce Annabel, the book’s protagonist, to explore new musical genres: “Music is the great uniter. An incredible force. Something that people who differ on everything and anything else can have in common.”

I Heart Robot by Suzanne van Rooyen: Tyri is a teenage girl torn between her passion for music and her family’s expectations. Quinn is a run-away companion droid who yearns to be human and move people with his music. When the two musicians’ paths intersect at a prestigious orchestra, neither realizes just how big an impact they will have on each other’s lives and on the fight for robot autonomy. (Read my review here.)

Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater: When it comes to literary bad boys, musician Cole St. Clair is one of my favorites. He’s one half of the romance in Sinner and the front man of the wildly popular band NARKOTIKA. Brilliant, troubled, and self-destructive, Cole strives to find an outlet for his love of music and performing without giving in to his addictive personality.

What books you would add to the lists for each school subject above? Let me know in the comments section!

Around the World in 14 Days: Scotland

Banner for Around the World in Fourteen Days

Fàilte gu Alba! Or, in English, “Welcome to Scotland!”

Today’s post is part of the 2016 Book Blogger Creativity Project, run by Nori @ ReadWriteLove 28. The project is intended to promote creativity and new friendships among book bloggers, and participants are divided into teams and tasked with developing a unique post idea. I’m pleased to be a member of the Red Team, which has, for our project, decided to take a figurative, literary journey around the world.

Each stop on our team’s mini blog tour features books from a different country. I’ve always been fascinated with Scotland, and that’s the country I’ve chosen to represent for my stop. So let’s put on some bagpipe music, dig out the clan tartan and step into the Scottish highlands!
Book cover for Girl in a Cage by Jane Yolen and Robert J. HarrisGirl in a Cage by Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris: Girl in a Cage is the book that first got me interested in historical fiction. It’s based on the true story of Marjorie Bruce, a Scottish princess who was kidnapped by the English king during the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 1300s. Marjorie, only 12 years old, was imprisoned in an outdoor cage, where she was tormented and ridiculed by the English. It’s stunning and terrible to believe that a young girl could have been mistreated this way, but in the story Marjorie withstands the abuse with amazing courage and strength.

The Moorchild Book cover for THe Moorchild by Eloise McGrawby Eloise Jarvis McGraw: It’s been a long time since I last read The Moorchild, but every time I think of it I’m overwhelmed with feelings of wildness and magic and longing. The protagonist, Moql/Saaski, is a strange young girl who’s never fit in in her village. Suspected of being a fairy changeling, Saaski is torn between the lure of the fae and her desire to belong with her family. Although the book isn’t explicitly set in Scotland, it has a strong Scotch/Irish vibe, with bagpipes, heather-covered moors, and tales of the fair folk.

Mary, Queen of Scotland and the IslesBook cover for Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles by Margaret George by Margaret George: I’ve read quite a few books about Mary Queen of Scots, but George’s book is my favorite. It’s no mean feat to make it through the book in its entirety – it’s pretty hefty, with close to 900 pages and a hearty dose of historical details. Historical minutiae can be hit or miss for me, but George uses it to spin such a complex, believable picture of Mary and the people, culture, and times surrounding her that I was enrapt.

Outlander Book cover for Outlander by Diana Gabaldonby Diana Gabaldon: Outlander is one of those rare books that not only lives up to, but exceeds all of the hype surrounding it. I’m not usually big on time travel books, nor on adult fiction, but this tale of a World War II nurse who’s magically transported to the Scottish highlands in the 1740s is phenomenal. As great as the book is, the TV adaptation on Starz is even better. I’m utterly obsessed, and waiting for the release of Season 3 will likely be the death of me.

An Earthly Knight Book cover for An Earthly Knight by Janet McNaughtonby Janet McNaughton: This was the first – and, so far, best – retelling I’ve read of the Scottish legend The Ballad of Tam Lin. It tells of the story of young Jenny, the daughter of a 12th-century nobleman, who falls in love with a mysterious young man and must free him from the clutches of the Queen of the Fae. Like many of the other books on the list, it’s also chock-full of awesome historical information.

Book cover for The Dark Missions of Edgar Brim by Shane PeacockThe Dark Missions of Edgar Brim by Shane Peacock: I just started reading this novel a few days ago, so I can’t speak to much of the plot. It’s got a deliciously strange, gothic feel, though: a grim, imposing school on the mist-covered Scottish moors; eccentric professors who take a ghoulish interest in grisly murders and the occult; and a young boy for whom stories literally come alive, for better or worse. I can’t wait to see what else this book has in store!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to novels set in Scotland! Don’t forget to continue your bookish journey around the world by stopping by to visit the other members of the Red Team!

Giveaway and Book Blitz: This Is Me by C.E. Wilson

This Is Me by C.E. Wilson


Anthropomorphic Sentient Individualized Servile uniT

Rogan is a robot. More specifically, he is an Asist – a personalized humanoid servant that provides protection, assistance, and companionship for a lonely young woman living on her own in the city. Chloe is trying to get her big break, singing at bars and clubs all over the city at night while she pays the bills as a substitute teacher during the day. Ever since she activated him many months ago, Rogan has been her beautiful, dependable, obedient, dead-eyed security blanket.

One morning she is shocked when he disobeys a direct command in an attempt to please her and his dull artificial eyes flash a hint of something new. Is this the result of the adaptive Asist servility programming or is Rogan actually thinking? Can a robot think? Can a robot feel?

As Chloe struggles with these thoughts she is blindsided by the singular Niven Adams, a handsome, confident man with the voice of an angel who is everything she’s ever wanted in a boyfriend. He’s the perfect guy for her, except for one problem. Niven doesn’t approve of Asists and takes an immediate dislike to Rogan. As Niven charms his way deeper and deeper into Chloe’s heart, Rogan tries to convince her that he is more than a mass-produced disposable servant.

With Rogan doing everything in his power to prove that his thoughts and feelings are real and Niven trying to persuade her to abandon her robot and have a normal human relationship, Chloe is trapped between the two things that mean the most to her. Does she embrace her relationship with the blond newcomer, or face that her Asist’s feelings may be more than features of his programming?

What really makes a person a person?

Is it a ticking muscle inside their chest, or is it something more?

Goodreads | Amazon

This is Me teaser 9

This is Me teaser 1

Author Bio

C.E. Wilson is 32 years old, grew up in Millersville, Pennsylvania, and has been living in Pittsburgh since 2009. For the first few years living in Pittsburgh, she was an English teacher. Her first book, Oath of Servitude, was published in 2012. In 2013, she quit teaching to be a full-time author and hasn’t looked back since. She loves spending time with her daughter and husband.

Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Street Team | Twitter | Instagram


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To Reread or Not to Reread: That is the Question


I’m a big rereader. More than 10% of all the books I finished in 2015 were rereads. My copy of Farmer Boy has been paged through so many times it is literally disintegrating. At this very moment, I am working my way through the entire Captive Prince trilogy, less than a month after I read it for the first time (I devoured all three in one weekend). Some might say I have a problem. Some days, I might be tempted to agree with them. In many ways, rereading is great. In other ways, it can be problematic. Let me elaborate.To Reread or Not to Reread: That is the Question

Why I Reread:

For the warm fuzzies.

My favorite books are like a security blanket, comfortable and familiar. It feels great to cuddle up with a book I’ve read several times before, returning to characters I’ve missed and am happy to reunite with. It’s like having a joyful reunion with a friend who moved away but has come back for a visit.


To get out of a book slump.

When I’ve been underwhelmed by several books in a row and am in a reading rut, I return to an old favorite that’s tried and true. It’s a relief not to have to invest time and energy on a new book that may turn out to be a dud.


For nostalgia’s sake.

I’ll occasionally think back to a book I read a long time ago and feel an urge to crack it open again. I’ll vaguely remember that I really liked the book but won’t be able to recall all the details. In this case, rereading is a little like looking back at an old photo album, reminiscing over scenes I’d forgotten about and smiling as things start to come back to me. Sometimes, if enough time has passed, the book will still be able to surprise.


To discover new layers of meaning.

I love when I reread a book and notice all kinds of hints, foreshadowing, and symbolism I didn’t pick up on the first or even second time through. Series are great for this – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back to the first book in a series and been bowled over because what I originally thought was a casual detail ended up being a clue to something important later on. It’s evidence of clever and extensive planning on the author’s part. Maggie Stiefvater is the queen of this. Her Raven Cycle books are wonderful individually, but they have so much more power and meaning when viewed all together, when you can appreciate the parallelism and symbolism that Maggie’s woven throughout.


On the Flip Side…Why Rereading Can Sometimes Lead To Trouble:

It makes it hard to recover from a book hangover.

I go through painful bouts of book depression each time I finish a great novel. I often try to ease this pain by immediately diving back into the book a second time, thinking it will help to re-immerse myself in the world and characters. Wrong! If anything, it’s like ripping a scab off a nearly healed wound. It can’t get better if you keep poking at it!


I know when the end is coming, and it gives me anxiety.

When I read an awesome book, I like to pretend it’s going to last forever. On my Kindle, I hide the progress indicator so I don’t have to see when I only have 25% left, or 10%, or 2%. With a reread, though, it’s impossible to fool myself. I know what’s coming, and all I can focus on is the fast-approaching conclusion. “Oh no, there are only 3 more major scenes left…now 2…1…oh, it’s almost over! Waaahhh!!!”


I’m tempted to skip ahead.

Because I already know where the juicy stuff is, I have a tendency to skim over certain sections to get to my favorite scenes. This makes it hard to accurately count how many books I’ve read in a year; if I’m skipping parts, I can’t technically count it as reading the entire book without feeling like I’m cheating. And skimming is just a terrible habit in general. It goes against my grain to read books this way, but sometimes I get excited and can’t help myself.


Books aren’t always as good as I remember.

There’s nothing worse than returning to a beloved book from your childhood or adolescence and realizing it’s not as amazing as you remember. I recall reading Gentlehands by M. E. Kerr in middle school and thinking it was the best thing ever. A couple years ago I found a copy at a book sale and bought it, excited to re-experience Kerr’s masterpiece as an adult. It ended up being a mistake. The book I’d been so fond of was a letdown the second time around. Sometimes it’s better to let a book remain perfect in your memory rather than risk tarnishing its legacy.


What about you? Do you reread? Why or why not? Drop me a comment below!