Friday, November 29, 2013

Books of Note: November Reads

Well, I was going to get another post up this week with a snippet or something, but this month turned out to be way busier than I thought and this week I had little to no time to actually sit down. The awesome news is that I did end up finishing my first draft of Wolfsblood like I had hoped! Now I'm going to set it aside and start working on a weekly serial story which is an Arthurian retelling. I mentioned in a previous post that I was starting a new blog just for stories and writing by myself and hopefully guest writers as well. My goal is to post something each week. But you can read more about that here at the blog: Tales From a Modern Bard. I will be posting an introduction of sorts for my Arthurian story next week before I start posting it so if you want to know more about it, start following the blog, so you won't miss anything!

Anyway, on to by favorite reads for the month. I actually did get to read more this month than I thought and I read quite a few good books. Here are my favorites.

More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Chosen by the Master in a mysterious inception ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings — merciless creatures that leave mangled corpses in their wake. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students study the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing — kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery — one that will change Rithmatics — and their world — forever.

Bestselling author Brandon Sanderson brings his unique brand of epic storytelling to the teen audience with an engrossing tale of danger and suspense—the first of a series. With his trademark skills in world-building, Sanderson has created a magic system that is so inventive and detailed that that readers who appreciate games of strategy and tactics just may want to bring Rithmatics to life in our world.


Thoughts on the Overall Book: This is one of those books that sounds so very strange at first that you really have to read it to know whether you will enjoy it or not, and in this case, I really enjoyed it a lot! And I also found it to be one of the most unique books I read this year.

Cover--Yea or Nay: Yes! It's awesomely steampunk and I love the mechanical horse on the front, even though the mechanical horses didn't have all that much to do with the story.

Characters: I actually wasn't quite sure what to make of Joel at first. I liked him, but he just seemed a little bland and like he complained a lot and didn't try to do anything to fix his problems, but once I got to know him better I really came to like him. He's a sensible boy, and honest (sometimes that might be considered a fault) but he's not afraid to take chances and do what needs to be done, and take charge, even ahead of superiors. While not my favorite young male character ever, I really enjoyed reading about him. Melody I loved first off. Maybe because she loves sketching unicorns and that's delightfully quirky? She's the kind of female character I love to read about. She's got spunk, and she's sarcastically dramatic, and most of all, she's not perfect and admits it and that always goes a long way to endearing me to a female character. Unlike Joel, I didn't find her annoying at all.

As for the supporting characters, I really licked Fitch. He was kind of your typical absentminded professor and was kind and a good guardian for the both of them. Nalizar was both annoying and yet you are never really sure what to think about him, which I really liked. I'm not going to say much more about anyone because I'm afraid I'd give away spoilers. You'll just have to read the book =)

The Romance: There wasn't any! Amazingly, Joel and Melody's relationship stayed kind of brother-sister. It may turn into something more in later books, but I don't think it will be for a while. Truthfully there's all too much going on in this book for romance anyway.

Writing Style: The writing style itself isn't really anything amazing, but I'm giving most of the writing points to Brandon Sanderson for world building. That was what I loved most about this book. It's a story set during the turn of the century in a steampunk/gearpunk universe that is like the United States, but...not. Instead all the states are seperate islands, and kind of more like they were before the American Revolution, all being a bit like their own country. For some reason, the island of Nebrask has a whole ton of rampant chalklings that need to be held back from invading the other islands. No one knows how they got there, but all Rithmatists are required to serve there to fight against them. The whole idea of Rithmatics is terribly clever, and I could tell that the author put so much work and consideration into it. I am not mathematically minded, but I loved the idea and the theories of Rithmatics. It's just such a cool idea! The whole thing about how some people are Rithmatists and others aren't was a little bit confusing, but even the characters in the book seemed to think so, so I guess that's just the way it is. In any case, this book is just totally awesome, and I have never come across something like it before.

Accuracy/ Believability: Not applicable, but the Rithmatics are actually very understandable which I was really glad for.

Problems/What bothered me: I didn't really have all that many problems. I have to say that the first third of the book was a little slow, but it helps to build up the story for later on, and it will definitely help the reader understand Rithmatics and everything else.

Conclusion: 5 stars. The ending surprised me several times before the book was over, and I love that. I just really liked the combination of alternate history, fantasy, and mystery that this book held and I can't wait to see what the author has in store next.

Recommended Audience: Girl or guy read 13 and up. It's kind of hard to recommend this book, but any fantasy lovers would enjoy it. I'd say Kenneth Oppel fans and Maggie Stiefvater fans would probably enjoy it. 

(Read my friend Mara's review here)

17-year-old Verity Boone expects a warm homecoming when she returns to Catawissa, Pennsylvania, in 1867, pledged to marry a man she has never met. Instead, she finds a father she barely knows and a future husband with whom she apparently has nothing in common. One truly horrifying surprise awaits her: the graves of her mother and aunt are enclosed in iron cages outside the local cemetery. Nobody in town will explain why, but Verity hears rumors of buried treasure and witchcraft. Perhaps the cages were built to keep grave robbers out . . . or to keep the women in. Determined to understand, Verity finds herself in a life-and-death struggle with people she trusted.

Inspired by a pair of real caged graves in present-day Catawissa, this historical YA novel weaves mystery, romance, and action into a suspenseful drama with human greed and passion at its core.


Thoughts on the Overall Book: This book was a surprisingly nice romance, an intriguing mystery and a cast of likable characters with a well researched historical background. It's a quick, easy read, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Cover--Yea or Nay: I'm divided. I don't like the character impersonator on the front. She doesn't look like how I imagined Verity. I do like the picture of the caged grave and the gold embossing and the colors are nice too.

Characters: Verity Boone is a very likable girl character. I never got annoyed with her once through the whole book and I felt indignant on her behalf for the things she had to go through coming back to the village, and I understood her misgivings when she meets Nick for the first time and finds him not so much like he was in the letters. Nick I wasn't sure how I felt about at first, but as the story progresses, I like Verity became increasingly fond of him. I also liked Hadley Jones, though I felt sometimes that his flirting with Verity got a little how of hand. The supporting cast was also really enjoyable, I especially liked Nate's sisters, and wished we got to see more of them. Verity's father is a very likable character as well, and I also really loved Beulah.

The Romance: Yes, there is a bit of a love triangle in this story, but what makes it bearable is the fact that Verity at least feels guilt for her feelings for Hadley and doesn't really know why she is attracted to him. I was very pleased with how the romance aspect of this story ended, and I think that, in the end, Verity ended up with the right guy.

Writing Style: The style isn't the best I have ever read, but the author did her best making it fit the time period, with the dialogue and everything. I almost wished it was in first person, but I didn't mind it in third either. I really liked the prologue because it pulled me right into the story, making me very interested to find out what happened, and I'll admit, even the prologue really surprised me.

Accuracy/ Believability: The author obviously spent a lot of time researching for this novel and it shows. I didn't see anything to complain about on a historical note, and I really love how she used the names from real caged graves to create her characters. I really love it when authors do that. I only wish the author's note had gone into a little bit more detail as there were several other things in the book that I wanted to know whether they were based off of anything or not.

Problems/What bothered me: Nothing really bothered me in this book.

Conclusion: 4 stars. An enjoyable read, and a rather fast-paced mystery. The end was totally surprising; I had some ideas about who I thought the culprit might be, but I didn't really expect the actual outcome so that's always nice.

Recommended Audience: Girl read, 15 and up. Readers who enjoy historical mysteries and don't mind a little romance would like it. Those who enjoyed "The Dark Unwinding" by Sharon Cameron would probably enjoy this one too.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

My Justinius Plushie!

Okay, I promised to post pictures of the plushie I made of my character Justinius from my WIP Wolfsblood. I thought it would be fun to make one of my characters from this novel so I could post it as a fun thing for NaNo. I crocheted him and I had a lot of fun making him, especially his hair. Justin is my favorite character from the story, and I think everyone here probably knows how much I love redheads, since I have one in every book, so he was the obvious candidate to get turned into a plushie.

I even made him an (abridged) wolf skin out of the fuzzy yarn I made a capelet out of. I wouldn't suggest crocheting with it, but for this is turned out really good mainly because it ended up looking matted and feeling so too :P

And then because I love doing little details, I had to give him a wode tattoo.

Anyway, there's something fun for the weekend! I hope everyone is good and not going to stress out next week. If I don't post again before Thursday, Happy Thanksgiving to US readers!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Nano Snippets #3 Wolfsblood

Here's another snippet from my Nano project Wolfsblood. Now that's I've completed the 50,000, I am hoping to finish the entire first draft by the end of the month. I'm sorry I didn't get pictures up this weekend of the Justinius plushie I made, but I will do soon when I have a little more time.

On another note, I am working on starting up another blog just for short or serial fiction that I write. Mainly anything from really short, one shot stories, to longer novellas that I will post as a serial, or poems. I might even have guest authors on sometimes. I just decided I wanted to have a specific place to put other stories that I'd like to share, and though I'll be posting them onto Wattpad as well, I wanted to have a blog specifically for the stories. That way I can post accompanying artwork and people can comment even without having a Wattpad account. Anyway, the reason I'm doing this now is because next month I really hope to start posting up an Arthurian retelling I've been working on, which you will hear more about later. But I'm planning on starting to post it online either the first or second week of December, so I'm kind of excited to start my first serial story.

But for now, on to the snippet! In this part, Alex goes hunting a wolf for his wolf skin cloak, but finds more than he bargained for. (Terrible synopsis, I know, sorry.)

Running after the wolf, I realized that we were heading back out of the woods into the hills, and suddenly came out into the full light of the moon and the wolf was a streak of silver among the bracken of the hills. He ran up one, jumping from rock to rock and I followed, hardly feeling tired with the chase at all. I nearly skidded to a halt as the wolf suddenly whirled around to face me, crouching low and snarling deep in his throat. I raised the spear, crouching myself and returning the growl. We eyed each other, watching the other’s movements each waiting for the other to move first.
            The wolf leapt. I fell backwards in a sudden reaction to protect myself, the spear coming up and striking it in the chest as he descended upon me. A yelp escaped his throat, and I pulled myself to my knees, looking to the side where the wolf lay with my spear through him, not yet dead. His yellow eyes met mine, and I remembered Justinius’ words of advice. I pulled my knife out and placed one hand on the wolf’s forehead.
            “Be at peace, brother,” I said and slit his throat, feeling a surprisingly painful ache in my chest as I watched the life flow from the noble beast.
            I sat back on my heels, surprised as I put a hand to my face and found a tear streaking down my cheek. I was shocked at the emotion I felt at killing this wolf. I had never known they could be so human. Perhaps more so than the warriors who were cursed to change into wolves from the story.
            I stood, planning on carrying the entire body back with me to skin at the fort, but as I did so, a chilling sight caught my eye. Over the rise of the hill I could see several more wolves coming toward me. I turned quickly and realized even more were coming at me from behind. I frantically looked around and only saw more and more wolves coming. I couldn’t believe my eyes, wondering for a moment if I were hallucinating. Then a howl sounded out, and another followed closely behind it, until all the wolves were sending up an eerie cry that echoed strangely around the hills. I was hemmed in on all sides, and I realized with a sudden fear coursing through my veins, that I had no way of getting out of this. I was going to have to fight my way out, and even then, I didn’t think the odds were very much in my favor. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Nano Snippits #2 Wolfsblood

Here's another snippet as promised! I'm also excited to say that last night I broke 50,000 words, so I'm pretty happy about that. Yeah, really happy actually :) I can only say that these characters have cooperated admirably and this story is writing itself. Now I'm going to see if I can finish the first draft by the end of the month. Hope you enjoy this snippet as well. As always, let me know what you think, good, bad, all of it. As last time, this is entirely unedited so there's likely typos abounding.

            Before I knew it, I was hemmed in on all sides, and at the head of the group was Festus, who had appeared from the other direction to cut me off, a wicked sneer on his face. All of them were looking disdainfully, almost hungrily, at me with their strange tawny eyes that seemed so prevalent among the auxiliaries here in the north.
            I tried to effect my aloof, unamused officer’s expression, but feared it was not so impressive as it had been previously. “I think you would do well to back away before you do something you’ll regret, Festus,” I said coldly.
            “I think it’s you who’ll regret it. Sir.” Festus snarled like a dog. His eyes flashed and he bared his teeth at me, his hands clenching, not into fists, but claws. I tried not to let it unnerve me, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t. There was just something not entirely…human…about Festus, and I had never noticed it more than at that moment.
            “Careful, Festus,” one of his cronies said, sounding slightly worried. “We should wait until the moon is full…”
            “I’d rather do for the whelp now and be done with it,” Festus growled, stepped closer to me and causing me to have to step back so that my back was against he wall.
            “Get back, Festus,” I commanded firmly. “Get back or, by Mithras, I will have you flogged.”
            All he did was smirk a wolfish grin, and lean forward with his teeth bared as if he would bite me. I grabbed for the pommel of my dagger, ready to use it if I was forced to, though knowing how detrimental that would be to the connection I had begun forming with the men, I hesitated.
            Fortune seemed with me that day, however, and from the most unlikely of places. I had tensed in the resignation that I would have to run my dagger through Festus should he get any closer, but a familiar ginger head appeared at the big man’s shoulder, a knife finding it’s way to Festus’ throat. A sudden look of fear crossed Festus’ face, and he froze as he felt the dagger touch his skin.
            “Now, now, Festus,” Justinius said in a mockingly scolding tone. “You know what happens to a soldier when he attacks an officer. It’s death, it is. Likely something entirely unpleasant. As a fellow comrade, I wouldn’t want to see you fall foul of that now, would I? So back away, man. There’s a good soldier.”
            Festus stepped away carefully, and the rest of his fellows moved with him as one. Once they were out of reaching distance of me, Justinius let the knife fall from Festus’ neck and he immediately clapped a hand to a red mark there. I was a bit surprised to see it, for I had not thought Justinius had pressed that hard. I quickly gathered myself, remembering my position, and stood straight, repairing my lost dignity as I glared at the miscreants.
            “You two,” I told Festus’ followers. “Latrine duty for two weeks. I hear there’s a back up. Best start now.”
            They slunk off and I turned to scrutinize Festus. “You on the other hand, I’m not sure of what to do with. I will decide soon enough. Until then, secure him somewhere, Justinius.”
            “My pleasure,” the Celt nodded and grabbed Festus by the arm, marching him off to the storage building. I followed him to see that everything was done properly and watched Justinius lock the glowering legionnaire away in a small pantry. He followed me back outside once the deed was done and I was left with just my ne’er-do-well rescuer, not entirely certain what to say.
            “Don’t mind Festus overmuch, sir,” Justinius said as he started to tuck his dagger into the back of his belt. “He’s just a hard bargain case. I’m sure you’ve seen them before.”
            “Where I come from, Justinius, even hard cases don’t go around threatening officers so readily,” I said blandly.
            Justinius shrugged as if it made little difference. “This is the north, sir, and things are done differently. May I ask what you will do with him, sir?”
            “That’s none of your concern,” I said sternly.
            Justinius watched me for several seconds before he reached behind his back again, to pull out his dagger, handing it to me. “On second thought, sir, why don’t you have this? It’s a fine dagger, sir.”
            “I’ve already got a perfectly fine blade, Justinius,” I said, making no move to take it.
            “With respect sir,” he said insistently with no trace of his usual smirk. “It’s not like this one.”
            “Very well,” I replied, taking the dagger to humor him. “Now be off with you.”
            He saluted and started off. I studied the dagger, seeing that it was a good blade as he had said. Locally made as well, as I could see by the carved wooden handle that had traditional knot work in what looked to be the shape of a dog or wolf. The only difference was that the blade was made of silver. It was pretty enough as a ceremonial piece, but would never hone as well as steel, nor would it be as strong. I tucked it into my belt and started off, puzzled over the events of the last few minutes. I had never expected anything like that from Justinius. Tiberius, yes, Marcellus likely enough, but not the red-headed Celtic renegade with the easy grin and wode tattoos. His actions today were, well, surprising to say the least, but also those befitting a comrade. I began to realize that I would much rather have Justinius at my shoulder than anywhere else. 

Also, later this week, or next week, I'm going to post pictures of my Justinius plushie I made. He's very adorable, I might add ;) I'll also hopefully be posting some character sketches later this month along with other snippets so stay tuned if you are interested!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

NaNo Snippets #1 Wolfsblood

As promised, here's a snippet of my NaNoWriMo WIP, Wolfsblood. If you missed the post where I introduce it, look here.

As a note, this is an entirely unedited scene, as I am not doing any editing until I read my 50,000 goal, so I apologize for poor grammar or typos. As always, I appreciate any constructive criticism you may have. Let me know what you think!

I had a strange feeling before I even got to the gate. The fort seemed lifeless. Having grown up around military forts all my life and spent three years in one, I knew how much activity they produced, even when viewing them from afar. Here I could feel no active buzz, nor could I see any sentries posted on the walls. I was immediately irritated, beginning to see exactly why I had been sent here. If these men were so lazy they didn’t even post a normal sentry, then I had no idea what the inside of the fort would look like. If an attack came, they would never know until it was too late. Another thought crossed my mind that that was exactly what had happened and I would find nothing but bodies inside the fort.
            But as I got to the gate, I pounded on it with a fist and shouted out, “This is Centurion Alexandrus Arelius Crispus. Open up!”
            I waited a few seconds, my horse shifting uneasily underneath me, making me slightly nervous. But then I heard shuffling footsteps on the other side of the door and it was hauled open to reveal two legionnaires, looking haggard and like they hadn’t slept in days. I glared at them as I entered, and they gave me weary salutes.
            “Sir,” one said.
            I dismounted and handed him the reins of my horse, but the beast balked and I was forced to calm him. The man made no move to take the horse into his care and I practically had to shove the reins into his hand. “See to my horse,” I told him. “I need to see your commanding officer.” I took out my orders to check the details. “Decurion Scaevola, I believe.”
            “He’s indisposed, sir,” the other man said.
            “Is he,” I stated blandly. “Very well, if no one will help me, I suppose I will have to see to things myself. Where’s the officer’s ward?”
            He pointed in the general direction and I strode off, giving him no second glance. This was not a good start.
            What I found next nearly had me in fits of disbelief. When Gallus had told me this fort needed disciplinary help, I had pictured snarky soldiers with tendency to gamble and drink on duty and problems with following orders. I didn’t expect to find the entire cohort napping on the parade ground and surrounding areas. I halted at the sight, my mouth hanging open before I could stop it.
            At least twenty men at most—and I was sure there were others doing likewise elsewhere—were lounging lethargically around the parade ground—what is normally used for training. Some were asleep, some were polishing weapons or just staring off into the middle distance, looking as if they hadn’t slept in days. I finally snapped my mouth shut, and set my jaw at a determined angle, striding into their midst with my cane held ready.
            “What is the meaning of this?” I shouted. No one started and leapt to their feet as normal soldiers do when caught in some nefarious act by an officer, but just turned their eyes languidly to me, seeming to have a hard time focusing. “On your feet, blast your eyes! By Mithras, I will have the skin off your backs for this, all of you!”
            I strode forward and tripped over an outstretched foot. I whirled, seeing a large man with dark hair and unshaved chin grinning wolfishly at me, his head lolling. I gave him a nasty look before I strode on, singling out one man, a tall, lithe Celt with a shock of bright red hair on his head.
            “Get up, man,” I told him firmly.
            He did nothing, seeming to be attempting to focus his strange gold eyes on me. There was a smudge of something in the corner of his mouth and I thought for a moment it looked like blood. Delightful—drunk and fighting. Could it get any better?
            “On your feet, soldier!” I shouted in my best parade ground manor.
            This time, he attempted to pull himself to his feet, leaning a shoulder on the palus he had been siting against, propping himself upright. A smirk snaked over his face and he saluted tiredly. “Sir.”
            “You will sir me,” I told him menacingly, putting my face close to his. To my chagrin, he seemed to care not a bit for it. “And you will stand in the presence of an officer. I don’t know what the officers here let you get away with, but you will not do so with me, is that understood? What’s your name?”
            “Justinius, sir,” he said, saluting again, and straitening slightly.
            “Very well, Justinius,” I said. “You will lead all these men here on a tour of the latrines, and when you’re done, they will be clean enough to eat in, do you understand? I want that done by tomorrow morning. If you have to stay up all night, then so be it.”
            “Yes, sir,” he replied, his smirk finally subsiding with a look of sheer exhaustion. I flicked the corner of his mouth where the bloodstain was.
            “And clean yourself up. You’re a disgrace to the legions.” He touched the spot with a frown, then rubbed his sleeve against it. I turned and strode off across the rest of the parade ground. Some of the men, I noticed, made an attempt to stand and salute, though most just stayed slumped or snoring in their regular positions. I made sure all of them received a glare to tell them I was not in the least pleased, nor would I forget about their punishment. 

I hope everyone else is doing okay with their Nano writing. I actually just hit 24,000 last night which has kind of had me mindblown. I'm just really happy my characters are talking to me, and I have come to really love them a lot. I'll have another snippet for you next week, and hopefully some other fun posts as well throughout the rest of the month!