Thursday, July 31, 2014

Books of Note: July Reads

Well, I felt like I read more books this month, but I guess I didn't read all that many more than last month. However, I read a LOT of really good books this month, so I am very happy about that :) I also went to my used bookstore this month, but didn't get nearly as many books as I expected. They didn't have any of the ones on my list, so I decided to not go crazy and save my money to make a Powell's order in August as a birthday present to myself ;)

Complete July Reads List:

Jackaby by William Ritter (5 stars)
Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson (4 stars)
The Mirk and Midnight Hour by Jane Nickerson (5 stars)
Half Bad by Sally Green (3 stars)
The Strange Maid (United States of Asgard #2) by Tessa Gratton (4 stars)
Beowulf: Dragon Slayer by Rosemary Sutcliff (4 stars)
Crusher by Niall Leonard (2.5 stars)
Madhouse (Cal Leandros #3) by Rob Thurman (4 stars)
Shadow and Bone (The Grisha Trilogy #1) by Leigh Bardugo (5 stars)

Books I Bought:

The Book of Three (Chronicles of Prydain #1) by Lloyd Alexander
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch (wanted to read this one for a while so I decided to buy it)
Prison Ship by Paul Dowswell (This is the second book in a series and I don't have the first, nor have I read it, but I have on good authority that they are good and I do like Dowswell's books.
The Eagle and the Wolves (Macro and Cato #4) by Simon Scarrow
Brian Boru Emperor of the Irish by Morgan Llywelyn
The Lost Sun (United States of Asgard #1) by Tessa Gratton (won the new one in a giveaway so I decided to buy the first one too :)
Slaves of Socorro (Brotherband Chronicles #4) by John Flanagan

Won in Giveaways:

The Strange Maid (United States of Asgard #2) by Tessa Gratton

Favorite Reads of the Month

“Miss Rook, I am not an occultist,” Jackaby said. “I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion--and there are many illusions. All the world’s a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain.”

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary--including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police--with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane--deny.

Doctor Who meets Sherlock in William Ritter’s debut novel, which features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre.


*ARC review*

Thoughts on the Overall Book: This was a love at first sight book. Some books are like that, and sometimes, on a good day, they don't disappoint. And Jackaby did not disappoint. It's like all my favorite things put into one: Victorian mystery with faeries, and a wonderful, funny protagonist and awesome cast of characters. Seriously, I can't get over how perfect this book was.

Cover--Yea or Nay: Yes, I like the cover very much! I love the silhouette because it's not so much that you can see a blatant character impersonator on it and it's lovely and obviously looks Victorian.

Characters: Abigail Rook was just the kink of heroine I love in these sorts of stories. She's completely without an attitude, she's awesome and can get a job done, and still be ladylike, she's funny, and she just has an all around great character. Jackaby, on my gosh, I just LOVED him so much. He was kind of like Sherlock Holmes but was a lot nicer. Like he might say things that offended people but he never meant them, he was only stating the truth. As a huge Holmes fan, I love to see the nods to it, and I honestly can't say everything about Jackaby because I simply love him and that's it. I also totally loved Charlie Cane the junior detective. He was sweet, and wonderful, and the kind of guy character I like to read about, especially in historical fiction. I just wanted to see more of him. Inspector Marlowe was a good rival for Jackaby too, though he actually could almost qualify as a villain. He's rather more mean than he needed to be to poor Jackaby and that made him an interesting character. Unlike Lestrade from the Sherlock Holmes stories, he actually dislikes Jackaby very much and if not just annoyed by him like Lestrade is with Holmes. The supporting character were lovely too. I loved Jenny the ghost and Douglas the duck was a fun addition as well.

The Romance: Not much in the way of romance, but there is a little crushing between Abigail and Charlie. I'm not adverse to it though, I really like them together.

Writing Style: Not only did we get awesome character, but they are accompanied by a lovely writing style that made the book all the better. Abigail is the narrator and I loved her voice. This book reads like a Victorian novel, and has all that lovely distinctively British humor to it. I actually had to keep reminding myself this was set in New England and not London or somewhere in England because it really has the feel of a British story. Of course, Abigail is British so that might have some impact on that too. The whole feel was right, and again, I loved her her narration incorporates the subtle little humor that I always love so much. And adding the supernatural element to a Victorian mystery is only ever going to make it better. Like I said, this is kind of my dream book, you can't get better than this in my opinion. I loved the world William Ritter created and how he incorporated faeries and other supernatural creatures into it. To this point, I have only read Urban Fantasy books that have done so well, but it's even more awesome to see someone take that idea and set it in the past. And the way he used the classic stories and folklore and made it fit a Victorian time period was totally awesome. I can't say more because I don't want to spoil anything, but if you know your folklore you're going to appreciate it.

Accuracy/ Believability: Not totally applicable. Historically, I didn't have any complaints, and since I'm a walking encyclopedia of the strange I also must report that the lore is pretty sound too, or at least utilized in a way that totally nods to the actual legends.

Problems/What bothered me: Nothing, but the fact that I wished this book was about three times the length and that I really want the next one now!

Conclusion: 5 stars. Not only is this one of the best books I have read this year so far, but I think it might be the best, and I'll be looking for a book to top it for a while, I think.

Recommended Audience: If you like Sherlock Holmes and Faeries, read this. If you like faerie stories and Victorian mysteries, this is definitely for you. And if you've wanted SuperWhoLock, this is probably as close as you will ever get ;-) Could be both a girl or guy read, ages 12 and up.

(Also read my friend Mara's review on The Reading Hedgehog)

 A Southern girl. A wounded soldier. A chilling force deep in the forest.
All collide at night’s darkest hour.

Seventeen-year-old Violet Dancey has been left at home in Mississippi with a laudanum-addicted stepmother and love-crazed stepsister while her father fights in the war—a war that has already claimed her twin brother.

When she comes across a severely injured Union soldier lying in an abandoned lodge deep in the woods, things begin to change. Thomas is the enemy—one of the men who might have killed her own brother—and yet she's drawn to him. But Violet isn't Thomas's only visitor; someone has been tending to his wounds—keeping him alive—and it becomes chillingly clear that this care hasn't been out of compassion.

Against the dangers of war and ominous powers of voodoo, Violet must fight to protect her home and the people she loves.

From the author of Strands of Bronze and Gold comes a haunting love story and suspenseful thriller based on the ancient fairy tale of “Tam Lin.”


Thoughts on the Overall Book: After enjoying Strands of Bronze and Gold I was really excited to start another book by Jane Nickerson, and I was not disappointed with The Mirk and Midnight Hour In fact, I think, overall, I liked it better than Strands. It had an awesome atmosphere, creepy themes, and, in my opinion, more likable characters.

Cover--Yea or Nay: Yes! It's a lovely cover, when I got the book from the library I actually just sat and stared at it for several minutes. It's something about the lighting of the picture that I really like :)

Characters: Violet was just the kind of female protagonist I enjoy reading about in historical fiction. She's capable, she's a strong character, but she's not overbearing with an attitude. The reason I liked her more than Sophie from Strands was because she wasn't as trusting and naive as Sophie was. She seemed much more mature and capable of looking after herself and, overall, I liked her a lot more as a protagonist. Thomas was obviously a favorite character. He was quiet and sweet, and just a very gentlemanly guy, and I really loved him. I do kind of wish he had been introduced earlier on in the story, but while reading it, I really didn't notice that I was so far in and it served to get to know the other characters better. I never did like Dorian, I thought he was a jerk and I was glad that Violet, while I think she really wanted to believe he was doing good, never really seemed to. She was never so ready to trust him that she got in trouble for it. Seely on the other hand, I loved. He was such an adorable little boy, and I just wanted to give him a big hug. I LOVED his relationship with Violet. She was so sweet taking care of him like a little brother, and that won her over to me even more. I liked Laney too, who kind of acted as an older sister to Violet, her voice of reason when she needed it. I also really liked Swallow, I thought she was cute, and I thought it was nice how her and Seely became good friends. Violet's stepmother, Miss Elsa, was kind of useless, but she wasn't a terrible character either. I'm still not entirely sure what I think of Sunny. I came to terms with her by the end of the book (view spoiler) The VanZeldts are very interesting characters as well. Very mysterious and creepy. I got chills up my spine reading about them. I also liked seeing characters from Strands that made it kind of fun. Because, while it's not really necessary to read this book after Strands if you did read it, you will appreciate the inclusions of certain characters.

The Romance: I really liked the romance between Violet and Thomas. It was sweet, and nice to read. It made you want to see them get together. All issues that occurred were worked out swiftly and without too much trouble.

Writing Style: Again, as with Strands this was really the highlight of the book. Jane Nickerson writes so lovely. She is so suited to historical fiction, that her writing style seems like something authentic to the time period. I'm going to admit right now that the South is not my favorite place in the world, I can appreciate parts of it, but I would rather be other places. The way Jane Nickerson writes it makes it come alive and seem magical. Like old world magic, and I love that about her books. I love when an author can take a place or a setting I'm indifferent to, and make me fall in love with it. The only problem I can mark in her books at all, that really wasn't an issue for me personally, is that they do tend to start out slow. It takes a while to get into the actual plot of the story, but she does that to acquaint the reader with the characters, and that is a mark of an author who cares about the people in her books. Because of this, the reader becomes attached to the characters in turn, and really cares about them and what happens to them. And this is a Tam Lin retelling. Tam Lin is actually one of my favorite ballads, but I have problems with it. If that makes any sense at all. I have long been looking for a retelling I like (I'm actually in the course of writing my own) but this is the first one, in a very unlikely place, that I have loved honestly. Yeah, there's no faeries, which is the main reason I love the ballad in the first place, but incorporating Voodoo and Hoodoo and African folklore was totally awesome, and definitely original. I was very impressed. The illusion to Tam Lin are actually rather subtle, and to catch them, you'll have to know the story well, and I think that made me appreciate it even more at the end. It was creepy and wonderful and I really loved every page of it.

Accuracy/ Believability: The historical accuracy is very believable and sound. I don't know a whole lot about the African folklore talked about here, I don't know a lot about it at all, so I can't say whether that was accurate or not. What I do know about Voodoo and Hoodoo seemed to fit in with this book. Again, not my forte, but I do like keep myself appraised of all things strange and creepy ;)

Problems/What bothered me: Nothing really bothered me in this book, I enjoyed it a lot!

Conclusion: 5 stars. So far my favorite Tam Lin retelling, and another wonderful book by Jane Nickerson. I cannot wait to see what she has in store next!

Recommended Audience: If you love Tam Lin retellings, you have to try this one, because it is so different that it is just really awesome, and I don't think you'll be disappointed! Girl read, ages 15 and up.

(Read this review with spoilers on Goodreads)
(Also read my friend Mara's review on The Reading Hedgehog)
 Fans of Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, and Maggie Stiefvater will embrace the richly drawn, Norse-influenced alternate world of the United States of Asgard, where cell phones, rock bands, and evangelical preachers coexist with dragon slaying, rune casting, and sword training in schools. Where the president runs the country alongside a council of Valkyries, gods walk the red carpet with Hollywood starlets, and the U.S. military has a special battalion dedicated to eradicating Rocky Mountain trolls.

Signy Valborn was seven years old when she climbed the New World Tree and met Odin Alfather, who declared that if she could solve a single riddle, he would make her one of his Valkyrie. For ten years Signy has trained in the arts of war, politics, and leadership, never dreaming that a Greater Mountain Troll might hold the answer to the riddle, but that’s exactly what Ned the Spiritless promises her. A mysterious troll hunter who talks in riddles and ancient poetry, Ned is a hard man to trust. Unfortunately, Signy is running out of time. Accompanied by an outcast berserker named Soren Bearstar, she and Ned take off across the ice sheets of Canadia to hunt the mother of trolls and claim Signy’s destiny.


Thoughts on the Overall Book: I really enjoyed The Lost Sun so I was excited to start the new book in the United States of Asgard Trilogy and I was not disappointed. I actually might have even liked this one more than the first, but I'd have to re-read them both to say for certain.

Cover--Yea or Nay: I like the overall concept, but the girl is not how I pictured Signey. It's shiny though ;)

Characters: Signey Valborn is probably one of the few Valkyrie characters I have really liked. Mainly because no one seems to be able to get traditional valkyries but it was refreshing to read about a traditional valkyrie character as in, not one who hates men just for the sake of them being men, and all that rubbish. She was a strong female character with an actually enjoyable character to read about. She didn't have the Attitude, and she was willing to work with other people and accepted that she needed help and actually welcomed it. Overall, I really liked her and I felt for her journey. I really liked Ned Unferth as well. He's that kind of quite, mysterious character that I always enjoy, and I'm not going to give away spoilers, but I loved his story and who he turns out to be. Very clever! I also really liked getting to see Soren again and Baldur and a few of the other characters from Book One. I also really loved the berserker band that Signey gets in with. They were awesome, and I loved how she kind of became 'one of the guys' with them and how they treated her as a comrade in arms. Redstripe the troll was also adorable.

The Romance: There really isn't a lot in the way of romance. Signey does obviously feel something for Ned. If there was any more of what there was, it probably would have annoyed me, but because of what happens in the story, it's bearable.

Writing Style: I love Tessa Gratton's writing style. The whole world she has created is amazing here. I love Urban fantasy that pulls from mythology. I actually think we got to see more of the world in this book than the first one which might be part of the reason I like this one a fraction better. I just loved to see how the old Norse traditions fit into modern day America. My favorite thing might be the troll watching at the Mjolnir Institute. That was awesome. But apart from just the world building, the story-line itself is amazing. The whole correlation to Beowulf was awesome. It's one of my favorite epic stories so I always love seeing a nod to it, and the way Tessa Gratton incorporated it into the story was wonderful. I'm not going to say any particulars, because I don't want to spoil anything, but it's cool. A lot of bits of this story actually feel like they're written in epic or saga style and I loved that about it too. The first one had a little bit of that, but not nearly as much as this one did. It fit the story better overall, I think.

Accuracy/ Believability: Not really applicable, but as far as the Norse myth goes, it's very accurate or formed in a way that it's a nod to the original stories, but fit to the modern era. Tessa Gratton definitely knows her stuff.

Problems/What bothered me: Not really any particular thing. I could have done without the mooning Signey does after Ned and her random fling with one of the berserkers, but it's nothing too bad I guess. As far as content warning, there is an almost? sex scene in chapter 27, but it doesn't last too long.

Conclusion: 4 stars. I have really enjoyed this series so far, and I hope Tessa Gratton continues it. I look forward to seeing what happens next.

Recommended Audience: If you liked the first one, definitely check this out. And if you haven't read them and love Norse Mythology, you must try these, you won't be disappointed. This one seemed more a girl read than a guy read, 17 and up.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Sunshine Award

I got nominated for the Sunshine Award by my friend and fellow writer (not to mention crocheter!), Abbie from Yarns and Tales. Thanks very much! She's currently working on a fantasy story that she has been posting on her blog, so do check that out if you have the chance. It's very good so far :-)

Here are the rules of the Sunshine Award:

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and post a link to their blog
  2. Answer the list of questions
  3. Nominate other bloggers and inform them of their nomination
  4. Create questions for your nominees
*You must post the Sunshine Award button (photo above) on your blog :D

Here are the rules of the Sunshine Award:

Abbie's Questions:

1: If you could invite any ONE of your characters over for a day, who would it be and why?

Ooh, tough one. I'd probably say Anthony though, from my Anthony Maxwell mysteries. I would enjoy his company and we could talk cases and books and drink coffee.

2: When you were little, what did you want to be when your grew up?

I think probably, I mostly wanted to be a zookeeper. But after high school biology, I kind of gave up that idea with a violence and turned to more scholarly matters that do not involve science. (Apart from toxicology and the science of poisons, of course. But that's all writing material ;)

3: If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, which one would you choose and why?

Seriously? This is such a hard question. How can one even begin to think of this? I really don't know, I love a lot of books. Maybe The Complete Sherlock Holmes? It is one book so it counts!

4: Sherlock's blogger or Doctor's companion?

I haven't yet seen Doctor Who (I know, I know, I'm going to remedy that soon!) But I'd probably still have to choose Sherlock's blogger. One, I'm already a blogger and a writer, two, I love solving mysteries and going on adventures, and three, I would be well equipped to put up with his ridiculousness and more likely than not join him in it. And I'd always make sure I had a weapon handy when he forgets ;)

5: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

Hmm, maybe flying, but I'd also kind of like to be invisible. It would be a hard choice between the two.


My Nominations:

Mara (The Reading Hedgehog)
Carolyn (Three Little Birds)

My Questions:

1: What was your first favorite book as a child?
2: A dinner party with five fictional characters. Who would you invite and why?
3: What's something you've always wanted to do but haven't gotten to yet? (i.e. hobby, event, trip, etc)
4: Movies or TV series?
5: What kind of music do you like to listen to?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Guest Post by C. P. Lesley

I'm happy to invite one of my fellow authors C. P. Lesley onto my blog today! We both published new books recently, so we decided to do a little blog trade, and I asked her to write a guest post in correlation to her new release The Winged Horse. Today she's going to be talking about the process of writing characters!

C.P. also featured my guest post on writing historical paranormal novels on her blog in correlation with the release of my new book, Wolfsblood. Check it out here!

Those Pesky Characters

What’s more appropriate for a guest spot on a blog called Character Purgatory than a post about fictional people? Like any novelist, I wreak havoc on my characters, constantly thinking up ways to complicate their world, get them in trouble, mess up their relationships, force them to grow whether they like it or not—until they reach that magic place where they have achieved what I set out for them to do and I can release my grip and let them enjoy life for a while. We novelists are sadists, ever on the alert for new types of suffering to inflict on our characters. It’s our job.

But not all the pain goes from authors to their creations. Although imaginary people, characters can attain an amazing level of reality. Some of my best ones prove to be stubborn as mules, laden with techniques for getting their own back. They hide in the shadows, refusing to reveal themselves (we call this writers’ block). They take time to develop, just like real people. They go off on their own, surprising me with their insistence on solving a problem in this way, not that. I find myself arguing with them, as if they were teenagers with attitude, patiently explaining that in that time and place they should be more independent or less, should take the privileges of their gender or class for granted, should be gentler or meaner, more religious, better educated, more eager to swing a sword or ply a needle. They laugh in my face and go their own way, and if I want to see where they will end up, I have to trust them to lead me there.

If you’re a writer of fiction, you probably have encountered this phenomenon yourself. If you’re not, you may be searching the local directory for the number of a nice psychotherapist to recommend. But bear with me, please. Of course, I don’t really believe that my characters maintain an existence separate from me. I create them and their world, and they represent facets of myself (yes, even the baddies). But the human subconscious is a strange and marvelous place, and a smart writer takes advantage of its capacity to weave seemingly disconnected elements of personality and life into a rich and coherent story—sometimes in ways that the conscious mind cannot immediately comprehend. A decision that a novelist makes on the fly for practical reasons—to kill off a character’s mother, say—may turn out to hold the key to that character’s whole personality. When one of my fictional people gets balky or an image nags at me or a plot element keeps butting in, I’ve learned to go with the flow, confident that the story will benefit as a result.

The same point applies even to titles and central images for each book, as illustrated by my ongoing series, Legends of the Five Directions. The first two novels are out, the third roughly plotted (with luck, I will finish it in about a year, unless the Magic Book Fairy blesses me with an independent income that allows me more hours to write), while the last two remain vague collections of ideas corralled by titles and cover pictures. The title of The Golden Lynx refers to a creature of the Russian woods but also to a piece of Scythian jewelry given to the heroine to remind her of the past she has reluctantly left behind; more deeply still, it evokes the heroine herself, a small but determined fighter against injustice. The Winged Horse represents the forces of air, the element linked to the east in Chinese and Turkic cosmology, as well as the hero’s main antagonist and the personality changes the hero must make to succeed; the horse flies between this life and the next, both literally and figuratively. The swans of the Russian north are pushing their way into The Swan Princess as I write, urging the heroine toward loyalty, toward commitment, toward the fierce defense of those she loves. I’m not sure yet how she will get there, but based on my past acquaintance with her, I suspect she will fight me all the way, insisting that she knows where she’s going, thank you very much. And I will shut up and listen, hoping with fingers crossed that she’s right, while beating back the phoenixes and shamans demanding my attention for books 4 and 5.

Maybe that’s why we writers torture our characters: because we are equally convinced that they are torturing us. But it’s an honor and a privilege to map out their journey, even if our subconscious, in the end, turns out to control the wheel.

C. P. Lesley, a historian, has published three novels: The Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel, The Golden Lynx (Legends 1: West), and The Winged Horse (Legends 2: East). She is currently working on The Swan Princess (Legends 3: North). For more information, follow her blog. You can find links to her books at her publisher’s website.


The Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel
A modern-day graduate student enters the virtual-reality world of an eighteenth-century novel. Her life—and the novel—will never be the same.

The Golden Lynx
16th-century Moscow hums with rumors about its newest hero, the Golden Lynx. Everyone knows the Lynx must be a man, but “everyone” may be wrong…

The Winged Horse
Dispatched to collect his almost-forgotten bride, an inexperienced Tatar prince must overcome a deadly rival to obtain his inheritance and secure his future.