Monday, July 29, 2013

Books of Note: July Reads

Well, I managed to get through a good bit of my huge stack of summer reading books, and now I feel confident that I will be able to finish it long before August is over. It was really hard to pick my favorite reads of the month because I read so many awesome books, but here are some of my favs, and I tried to pick some of the lesser known books among them so that I can recommend them to everyone!

From one of Denmark's foremost writers, here is his most impressive book to date-a roguishly fantastic adventure story of piracy, slave owners, witch burning, shipwrecks, desert islands, and larger-than-life characters-the largest of which is fourteen-year-old Tom O'Connor, a poor, adventurous, charming liar who lives with his mother and half sister at a tavern on the island of Nevis in 1639. Good and evil, truth and lies, right and wrong tug at this unlikely hero when he rescues a slave from drowning, learns he is prince, loses him, travels the Southern Hemisphere in search of him


Thoughts on the Overall Book: I had high expectations for this book when I got it, and for the most part, I was not disappointed. It was maybe not quite as awesome as I hoped it would be, but I really did enjoy the story a lot.

Cover--Yea or Nay: Despite the fact that the characters are portrayed on the cover, I really like it. I think the artist did a good job portraying Tom and Boto, at least how I pictured them, and the fact that it's drawn instead of using models makes it better. It also portrays the kind of story you get to read in the pages as well.

Characters: Tom O'Connor, while at first might seem to be a bit of an anti-hero and not the world's best person, ends up being a really strong young man, and a good one too. This is most definitely a coming of age story, and Tom is the perfect kind of protagonist for a story like that. Despite the fact that he was rather world-weary even at only fourteen, he had a lot to learn, and he didn't only learn how to make his way in the world, but he learned other things like compassion, and honor. He was sharp, and a bit sarcastic and I really liked him a lot. I absolutely loved Nyo Boto too. I really wish he had been in the whole story along with Tom, their eventual friendship almost felt a little rushed when it happened, so I kind of wish there had been more of them together beforehand. Otherwise, their friendship was awesome, just the kind of brotherly bond I love to see. Maybe still not quite as awesome as Marcus and Esca from "Eagle of the Ninth" but still awesome. And Boto was also a sharp character and had a wonderful quiet wit that always made me laugh. I also really came to like Feodora, Tom's half sister, even though I really didn't care much for her at the beginning of the story. And her and Tom's brother/sister relationship was also really touching. C. W. Bull was an awesome pirate, and I ended up really liking his character too. He was another one who I wished had come into the story earlier as a main character. There were a few baddies in the story who were bad, though not particularly vile as they could have been. Probably the worst baddie in my opinion was the Inquisitor (because aren't they always the worst?) Salazar or Father Innocent as he was also called. There were too many supporting characters to name here, but they were all very colorful and enjoyable to read about.

The Romance: There's not really anything one could call romance in this book.

Writing Style: The style itself kind of reminded me of Stevenson, but the book as a whole really felt like one of Louis L'Amour's historical novels, particularly the ones set in the same time period. There was a lot about this book that made me think of "Fair Blows the Wind" even though as far as story and characters go, there really isn't many similarities. But this book felt like one Louis L'Amour could have written. The writing is very visual and lovely and it flowed with a classical style. I kind of liked the fact that the author portrayed the time period and especially slavery, in a way that it hinted at the horror of it, but at the same time, the reader never really gets to see any of that. That also bothered me a bit though, because sometimes I thought it felt like the author was missing something. But by the end of the book, I kind of figured I liked it better because of that because it didn't feel like the author was preaching to the reader on slavery and all that. The only thing that kept this book from being five stars was the fact that it was what I call a 'meandering plot' (again another thing that kind of made me think of Louis L'Amour's novels, though his usually have a beginning and an end). Yes, the story ends well, but it's kind of a series of different events, that, while they lead to each other, kind of still felt a little disjointed in parts. But this book was about Tom's journey from boy to man, and this is usually what one can expect from those kinds of books. That being said, I was never bored with this book, and even though it's long, it was a quick read.

Accuracy/ Believability: The historical accuracy is very good, and believability is too. The only thing that I could lecture on was the keelhauling scene. I find it very hard to believe Tom was not worse off after that. Keelhauling is usually a death sentence, drowning usually being the least of your problems. But apart from that (because you all know how I am always strict on the accuracy of gory details) there wasn't anything I could really mark, although I think the bombas on the plantations probably could have been a lot meaner than they were. We always heard about how bad they were to the slaves, but we never really saw any of that.

Problems/What bothered me: Apart from the minor problems already addressed, the only thing that really bothered me was the random scenes with the lizard. I could never tell whether Tom was ACTUALLY talking to a lizard and it was actually talking back, or whether that was all in his head. I always hate it when books do that, when I can't figure out whether they mean something literally, or if it's just a hallucination or something like that.

Conclusion: 4 stars. I probably would have given it five if it had had a more direct plot line, but as it was, I still really enjoyed it.

Recommended Audience: A good guy read, 16 and up, Stevenson fans would probably like it, and I almost certain Louis L'Amour fans would like it too. If you enjoyed his "Fair Blows the Wind" and "Sackett's Land" and such, you would definitely like this one.

After Michael's parents die, he is invited to stay with his guardian in a desolate country house. He begins to suspect something is not quite right on the day he arrives when he spots a mysterious woman out in the frozen mists. But little can prepare him for the solitude of the house itself. His guardian is rarely seen, and there's a malevolent force lurking in an old hallway mirror. As the chilling suspense builds, Michael realizes that the house and its grounds harbor many more secrets-both dead and alive.


Thoughts on the Overall Book: It's been a long time since I've read a story that actually creeped me out, so I was really excited that this one actually did so. Apart from that, the setting, characters, and story came together and made this the perfect kind of ghost story, especially to read on a rainy day.

Cover--Yea or Nay: Yes, it's creepy and cold looking, and while the skull never actually factors into the story itself, it gives a feel that this is a ghost story or some sort of scary story, so it does it's job.

Characters: Michael was a great protagonist to have in a story like this. He was a smart young boy, and I felt bad when no one initially believed him when he was experiencing the hauntings. I also liked how, though he was afraid, he never stopped trying to figure out what has happened (view spoiler) What I liked best about the rest of the cast was that you could never really tell whether they were good or if they would end up being bad. There were moments when I even thought that some characters might even be in on the hauntings. By about halfway through, though, I began to see who I thought the real villain was. My definite favorite supporting characters, however, were Hodges and Mrs Guston. I love those family servants who are so kind like that, and I'm glad Michael had people like that to help him.

The Romance: None.

Writing Style: I loved the writing style. In scary stories it's the writing style that really sells it, because if it's not written properly, the author just won't be able to pull it off. Chris Priestley, however, has what it takes. He writes in a very old fashioned kind of way; so much so, that this book really feels like it was written in the Victorian era it's set in, instead of this century. I also like how it's Michael's narration and that he's telling the story years after it happened. That too, always works really well for these kinds of stories. The setting too, was totally perfect. Let's face it: creepy manor houses on moors are just begging to have ghosts in them. There's just no other way to do it.

Accuracy/ Believability: Not applicable. But as far as historical accuracy was involved, it was spot on.

Problems/What bothered me: Nothing bothered me, I enjoyed this book in all it's creepiness.

Conclusion: 5 stars. I loved this book. The conclusion itself, kind of stopped with with bated breath which soon turned into a grin--I decided I really liked it. As purely a reader, there might be a part of me that is unsatisfied with that ending, (only just) but as a writer, I must say 'well done!'

Recommended Audience: People who love ghost stories, particularly historical ones. And this is classic ghost story too, not those modern ones where the ghost is the love interest. If you like classic scary, this is definitely for you, and I would recommend it highly. 13 and up-- there's nothing content wise, but as I said, there are definitely some creepy parts, that might really freak you out if you're reading it at home alone.

(Go to to read the review with the spoiler and check out Mara A's review here

There's hidden places all over this land-old, old places. Places with a chain for them to chain up the wolf when it's time.

A bone-chilling tale of werewolves and love, set in medieval Scotland

A mysterious young man has come to a small Highland town. His talent for wood carving soon wins the admiration of the weaver's daughter, Maddie. Fascinated by the silent carver, she sets out to gain his trust, only to find herself drawn into a terrifying secret that threatens everything she loves.

There is an evil presence in the carver's life that cannot be controlled, and Maddie watches her town fall under a shadow. One by one, people begin to die. Caught in the middle, Maddie must decide what matters most to her-and what price she is willing to pay to keep it.


Thoughts on the Overall Book: Okay, I think it's time to admit that I have a thing for werewolf books BUT only those that are either historical, or like REAL werewolf legends (none of those modern day werewolf romances, please!) This one fit the bill and because it was set in Scotland, that made it all the better!

Cover--Yea or Nay: I actually love this cover. I like the sketchiness of it, and the font is awesome. Even though there's a character on it, I think it looks rather like Paul and I like the wolf shadow there too. To me, it also looks and feels Scottish, like when I saw it at first I thought it might be Scottish even before I read what it was about.

Characters: I wasn't sure I would really like Maddie at first, in the very first chapter she was almost snotty in parts, especially toward Paul, but that feeling didn't last long, and she turned into a very wonderful strong female character, and felt very much like a Scottish lass to me: capable, does what has to be done, and is self-sacrificing. My favorite character was Paul though, I loved him from the first moment, he's one of those wonderful, quiet, a tortured male characters that I just love so much, because they are never jerks and you just want to give them a big hug. The supporting cast was enjoyable to read about as well, though most of the reader's time is spent with Maddie and Paul, but the other characters were well characterized so that even though you only got to see a little of them, you got to know them very well.

The Romance: While there is definitely a mutual fondness between Maddie and Paul(view spoiler) there is no mushy romance story in this book. There's not even a kiss scene. It was more two people who knew that they held each other in equal regard and affection, but never let that get in the way of what needed to be done at the moment. If only more YA novels could follow this example.

Writing Style: It was pleasant, and felt almost like a folk tale re-telling. It was third person, past tense, mostly from Maddie's POV which worked for this story. I always like first person the best, but I think this worked out much better for this book than first person would have. The descriptions are good, and easy to picture, and as I already said, characterization was wonderful. When I read the book I really felt like I was living up in mid to North Scotland on a loch. One thing I liked about this story was that the author never presents the reader with an actual time period or place, because it wasn't important for this story. I assumed it could be anywhere from late Medieval to the 1600s. With the Highlanders it's hard to tell, but it must be before the '45 because they are still wearing plaids. I also rather liked the take on the werewolf legends in this story. I usually prefer my werewolves to be actual wolves, but how the 'curse' was presented in this book, not to give anything away, I thought to be different and almost more creepy.

Accuracy/ Believability: As far as the werewolf parts go, not applicable, but there are other parts that draw from Scottish folklore that were 'accurate' and all the living conditions and language and such felt authentic.

Problems/What bothered me: No problems.

Conclusion: 4 stars. I liked this story a lot, it had good, likable characters, and was a pretty quick read. I'm going to be checking out some of this author's other books.

Recommended Audience: Girl or guy read, 14 and up, fans of more traditional werewolf stories or folk tales would enjoy it. 

(Go to to read this review with the spoilers

Fans of Neil Gaiman's American Gods and Holly Black's The Curse Workers will embrace this richly drawn, Norse-mythology-infused alternate world: the United States of Asgard.

Seventeen-year-old Soren Bearskin is trying to escape the past. His father, a famed warrior, lost himself to the battle-frenzy and killed thirteen innocent people. Soren cannot deny that berserking is in his blood--the fevers, insomnia, and occasional feelings of uncontrollable rage haunt him. So he tries to remain calm and detached from everyone at Sanctus Sigurd's Academy. But that's hard to do when a popular, beautiful girl like Astrid Glyn tells Soren she dreams of him. That's not all Astrid dreams of--the daughter of a renowned prophetess, Astrid is coming into her own inherited abilities.

When Baldur, son of Odin and one of the most popular gods in the country, goes missing, Astrid sees where he is and convinces Soren to join her on a road trip that will take them to find not only a lost god, but also who they are beyond the legacy of their parents and everything they've been told they have to be.


Thoughts on the Overall Book: I've been waiting for this book to come out for a while; I just loved the thought of a "United States of Asgard" and modern day Berserkers and all that. I'll admit that this book wasn't exactly what I thought it would be, but I'm not disappointed either, in fact, I think I actually ended up liking it better because of it.

Cover--Yea or Nay: Despite the fact there is a character impersonator on the cover, I really like it. I think it's lovely, and the boy actually does look like Soren, or at least how I pictured him, and, okay, I love angsty pictures, I really do. And then the trees in the background and how it's shiny...

Characters: While Soren wasn't probably the most stand out hero I have ever read about, I liked him, and he was a good protagonist. He had a quiet strength, and I loved how he was a 'reluctant berserker'. It made him more compassionate, which was obviously the author's aim (view spoiler) Likewise Astrid was a wonderful female character. She was quiet, and sweet, but did what she had to, and can even fight if called to do so. I really liked her. Baldur the Beautiful I ended up liking a lot more than I thought I would. In fact, there were moments when he was just endearingly innocent, but then others when he was so sharp that he was really a cool character. And the fact that he and Soren were sworn-brothers was awesome, as always I totally love camaraderie in any sense ;) My favorite character, though, was Vider. She was just totally awesome, and I can't really place why. I think it's because she was younger that made her so awesome, because if she had been the same age as Soren and Astrid, there would have probably been tension of a possible love triangle *blurg* but instead she was just like a younger sister, and I also appriciated how Soren treated her with respect and never belittled her because she was younger. I really wish she had been in the book more! The gods and goddesses were cool too, even though we didn't get to see a whole lot of them. I liked how they translated into the modern era. The only character I didn't really care for was Glory (view spoiler) because I never like characters like her, so it's not really personal, but... I guess it kinda is.

The Romance: I'm still trying to figure out if I should class Soren's and Astrid's relationship as insta-love, but I think I finally came to the conclusion in the negative. If there hadn't been another bond between them besides just attraction, then yes, it would be way too fast, but because they are attracted to each other for other reasons, I was okay with it. Plus they never let it get in the way of their mission although their love obviously plays a role in the ultimate outcome of the story. But apart from that, I liked them together; Soren needed someone gentle, and sweet to keep him grounded and Astrid was just the kind of girl I would have picked for him.

Writing Style: While I'm not a fan of first person present tense, after a while, I kind of forgot about it. It's not jerky, and it flows well enough so it wasn't distracting once I got interested in the story enough for me not to notice it anymore. I might have been more bothered by it if I hadn't already been familiar with Tessa Gratton's writing, so that might have helped a bit. Apart from that, her writing is very good, the way she creates worlds was awesome. What I loved most about her description of "New Asguard" was that it was so integrated into the book, and fit into normal daily life, that there was such an ease of description. The world was revealed to the reader a little at a time, so there was no major dump of detail like some fantasy novels have, which is one reason I am not a huge fan of high fantasy. I think that's why I like Urban Fantasy so much is because it's based off a world we know and can relate to and the way Norse legend and culture fit into our daily lives in "The Lost Sun" made it seem like it could totally work.

What surprised me about the story itself was that it was definitely a character driven story, whereas I thought when I started it that it might be more plot driven. I was actually pleased with that, and thought it made the book work even better, so one was not focusing just on the world the author had created but on her characters and their journey and growth, for it's also a definite coming of age story. The plot itself is a little slow and is kind of just one long road trip, the action really doesn't pick up until the last quarter, so I can understand where this might not be a book for everyone, and if you're looking for something like a Norse Percy Jackson, this is not it, and you'd probably be disappointed. But if you enjoy character driven novels, which I do, because tons of awesome action can never replace one good character, then this is a book that will be thought-provoking, and might even have you looking inside yourself a little bit. I wouldn't really go so far as to quite call it inspirational, but in a way it was. It was about being true to yourself, but also about sacrifice. Again, it was not what I expected when I started it, but I liked it more for that reason.

Accuracy/ Believability: Not applicable, though I thought Norse lore worked well in modern day, and there are a lot of fun things for the people who know the legends in here as well.

Problems/What bothered me: No problems. If I hadn't been so caught up with the characters, I might have complained about a the slowish pacing, but in all honesty, it's a surprisingly quick read and is engaging enough not to need much more action than it has.

Conclusion: 4 stars. I enjoyed it a lot. I'm actually rather curious, however about how the series will progress. This story, to me, ended on a rather final note, so I'm interested to see whether the author will continue the series with the same characters, or whether she'll just use different characters in the same world. Either way, I look forward to reading more about New Asguard.

Recommended Audience: Boy or girl read older teens and up due to interest level and some themes. Readers who like urban fantasy more character driven than plot driven and hardcore fans of Norse myth should read this.

(Go to to read this review with spoilers

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Tour Stop and Interview with Author Alison Neuman

Today I'm welcoming author Alison Neuman stopping by on her blog tour with a interview talking about her book, a YA mystery/romance Ice Rose

Author | Amazon

About The Book:

Ice Rose
— A teenager’s world is turned upside down when an explosion steals her dad and her identity. Entering an exclusive academy that immerses her in the world of secret agents, she must overcome her fears and disabilities to discover the truth about her dad’s mission, his software, and the mystery man stalking her before she ends up like her father — lost.

About The Author:

Alison Neuman lives in Alberta, Canada, where she is a freelance writer and lyricist. Nearing the end of her studies for the Bachelor of Applied Communications Degree program at Grant MacEwan College, she was inspired to complete the first draft of  Ice Rose. The pace of secret agent books and movies gave her an unlimited playground for  imagination. Music and performing are passions she was able to bring into her writing and build into her characters.

Alison’s writing has appeared in “MacEwan Today”, “Westword”, and the “Edmonton Journal” along with three tracks on the CD release Outside The Window. Co-writing the screenplay adaptation of the book Whale Songwith author Cheryl Kaye Tardif exposed her to the world of screenwriting, which she hopes to continue to examine further in the future. Alison also has been writing shorter pieces of non-fiction, one entitled Establishing Roots, that earned a top ten ranking in the Edmonton Stories contest. This past spring she was a winner in The Expressions of Hunger Contest in the Emotional Poetry category. Her piece Undeniable Craving was on display in June and July in various artistic locations across the city of Edmonton.  She has completed a final edit of her memoir “Searching For Normal” and is currently writing her next young adult manuscript.

When not writing creatively, Alison  is editing or writing for her business,
Sandy Tree Communications.


First off, tell us a little about your book Ice Rose.

A teen (Elissa Morris),  has a famous singer for her Dad (Christopher) and a scientist for her Mom (Stephanie). After a dance recital,  visits her Dad at the recording studio. There is an explosion that damages Elissa’s legs and she is left unable to dance. Her Dad also goes missing in the explosion. Elissa discovers her parents are both secret agents. She goes to school to train to be a secret agent and find out the truth about her Dad before the people who took him come for a mysterious computer program that may answer all her questions, for her Mom, and for her life.

What do you love most about writing spy stories?

I am a fan of spy stories and love the genre. I found myself wondering if a character experiencing a disability and using a mobility device could excel as a spy. The question sparked my imagination and that was how Ice Rose began.

What I love most about spy stories is the creativity and imagination that makes them thrilling and fun. The outcome is always a mystery. Each reader goes along the journey of the characters as they try to complete the missions.

As a writer, being in the secret agent genre allows me to create a mission and then figure out all the steps and complications to achieve the mission successfully. The pace of the story is also faster and is very suspenseful. Action also plays a large part. There is something very gratifying about taking a character, dropping them in a situation and witnessing how they feel, act, see and how they grow and move the plot and story along.

What are some of your writing quirks? Where and how do you write best?

One of my writing quirks is to let the writing come and to not stop myself and edit or censor during the creative process. When I stop to edit I seem to lose the creative flow. I have only one or two hours a day where I have time to complete my writing. When I started, I was under the impression that it would be impossible to get much done in such a small space of time, but I found the opposite. I look forward to the hours I can write and find I’m able and focused to get several pages written.

My writing is done at a computer. Due to arthritis, I use only forefingers and my thumbs to hold the fingers out for strength on the keyboard. I do sometimes use a voice dictation software but find most comfort in the process of typing. My favorite time to write is during a rainy or snowy day. Late afternoons and evenings are never my best time to be creative. I prefer early mornings and afternoons.

My writing process has changed since I first began. Initially I would just jump in at the beginning and write the scenes. Now I approach the process in a more orderly fashion. I make a list of the characters so I know who they are, their likes, dislikes and fears. Then I write and outline using a screenplay format I have from a textbook. This helps me to break up the action and to know where I am going along the process.

Much of my work is done prior to me sitting down at my computer. I find the characters and their stories live with me when I am away from my computer. The simplest everyday activities can inspire my writing and provide a scene or dialogue for each character.

What are you working on next?

I have three projects currently on the go. I just completed my creative nonfiction book, Searching for Normal, which will be published in November 2013. A musical Searching for Normal is also going to debut at the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival in August 2013.

In regards to writing, I’m writing my next YA novel, entitled Hindsight. Olivia falls for David who has a secret that cannot be exposed to the world. A secret, that when revealed, will threaten not only her life but also her family. Will she be able to accept his secret and evade the danger that is trying to extinguish everything David cares about?

What is the best advice you would share with young or beginning writers?

My advice to young or beginning writers is to write and believe in your talent. Reading books in the specific genre you are going to write allows a writer to study the craft and style required within the genre. Publishing can be a long process so believe in your writing and keep pushing forward towards your dreams. Some of the most famous and successful authors have been rejected numerous times, but they believed in their work and kept going until they realized their dreams.