Friday, July 11, 2014

The Night is Found, by Kat Kruger, Review, Giveaway and Blog Tour!

From Goodreads:
When they tried to kill a prince, they made a king

In the aftermath of his pack leader’s assassination Connor Lewis is ready to take control. Rodolfus de Aquila’s plan before he died was to unite the European werewolf packs against their common enemies: the Hounds of God who make the laws and enforce them ruthlessly with questionable motives, and the Luparii, an intergovernmental group of werewolf hunters now bent on the extermination of his kind. The uneasy alliance between these two factions has fallen apart, and now a battle wages leaving the pack werewolves scrambling to escape bio-chemical warfare on one side, and total domination on the other.

After hearing rumors of a union between the American packs Connor returns with Amara to his home city of New York to learn how to bring the Old World packs together. Werewolf society in the New World has taken a very different course from that of Europe, but when Connor meets the American leaders he begins to question if their ways are, in fact, the path forward.

A world away from Madison, Arden, and all those that he is trying to protect, Connor must discover the secret to uniting and leading the packs under one final charge, or else risk extinction for their entire species in the epic conclusion to The Magdeburg Trilogy.

This series has been one of the strongest paranormal sagas I have ever read. Kat has taken the mythology of werewolves and given it a hierarchy and royalty every bit as enticing as Anne Rice's vampire empire but with more nuanced intrigue and much less sexual drama.  The power struggles are complex and keep you on your toes, the characters are rich, complicated yet totally lovable, even when they're impossible (cough, cough,*Madison and Arden*), and best of all, there is never a dull moment.  Her momentum from book one, straight through the series, is rampant with excitement, shocking reveals and thought provoking dilemmas.

I think one of the problems I have with paranormal stories, versus fantasy stories, is the tendency for authors to get carried away with slightly Gothic horror aspect, whereas on the flip side, fantasy tends to ground it's stories in familiar politics and power struggles. Kruger uses both elements to her benefit in this series. Her play on the born wolf versus the bitten monsters is nothing short of horrifying but the politics on how these two groups co-exist is what keeps it from getting kitschy and predictable. In fact, the dynamics of all the groups involved, scientists, Luparii, Hounds of God and the packs, wild or otherwise, drives book three into the most complex of the three plot-lines. Which you wouldn't think would work with the relentless action, but the two play off each other in an exciting way where you're not just rushing through action scenes but taking breaks to let all the implications sink in.

But most satisfying of all, Kruger has written some of the most dynamic and deeply complicated characters I've ever found all in one place. I fell deeply in love with many of them, which left me decided mopey when it came time for the casualties to start to fall.  Once again though, her war had unexpected sacrifices, which left the reader with much to mull over.  I can't help but think that there is much more to be told in this world, if not by Connor, then by others. So I'm going to cross my fingers and hope that one day, more of it will trickle out.

An intensely satisfying conclusion to a series I've loved from the get-go, the Magdeburg Trilogy will be the top of my recommended reading list for some time to come. As soon as I've gifted myself with a full set of these beautiful books in all their paper and ink glory.

But don't take my word for it! Enter for your chance to win one digital set of the full trilogy! Just be warned, it's a gateway drug and you'll want to buy the full books once you're done. Open internationally, enter below to win! Extra entries if you tweet the contest, follow Fierce Ink or Kat Kruger on Twitter or blurb this blog tour or contest somewhere else online (your facebook page, or your blog for example). Contest closes July 30th at midnight.

The Night is Found, by Kat Kruger
Published by Fierce Ink Press, July 22nd, 2014
Pre-order your copy! 
E-arc kindly provided by the publisher

Saturday, July 5, 2014

My Child is a Sleep Terrorist and Other Tales

Oh blog, you lonely little creature.  How I fondly pet your ears as I walk by, promising to sit down and get down to it any minute now, month after month. How determinedly you wait for me, I don't deserve you.

So, I've been on mat leave, and now vacation for 13 months as of Monday, when I head back to the shocking world of waking up to an alarm clock other than my child.  To say I drastically underestimated the impending extreme lack of sleep, is an understatement.  Lucky me, I got one of the 1 in a million children who has sleep issues long after the 6 month mark, and boy howdy, does she have sleep issues!  Sadly this has taken up enormous amounts of my energy, energy I had hoped to use in updating my blog once in awhile.  Of course I've had a few blips where she's been sleeping better and I've suddenly been able to take on the world, so it hasn't been dead silent, but I still have a staggering amount of review catch up to do.

All the same I thought it was long past due for me to drop in and say a personal hello, and more importantly, thank you for still coming by periodically! You're dedication to my blog has been a lovely rosy glow in my often chaotic days.

I won't lie, I'm pretty sure the cats miss being dressed up almost as much as you miss seeing them (oh please, you know you do).

With work starting on Monday I'm hoping that my increased structure will lead to more blog posts, though they may be a bit hair-brained due to increased (oh god, how will I survive!) lack of sleep.  Until then, I leave you with my now 1 year old cutie pie. Sybil says hi, and also I love you all, come over and I'll charm you into forgetting how disruptive and troublesome I am!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

In the Shadows, by Kiersten White and Jim Di Bartolo- Review

From Goodreads:
Cora and Minnie are sisters living in a small, stifling town where strange and mysterious things occur. Their mother runs the local boarding house. Their father is gone. The woman up the hill may or may not be a witch.

Thomas and Charles are brothers who’ve been exiled to the boarding house so Thomas can tame his ways and Charles can fight an illness that is killing him with increasing speed. Their family history is one of sorrow and guilt. They think they can escape from it . . . but they can’t.

From the moment I heard this was coming down the line I was excited about it. I love nothing more than a book with art in it, and the idea of mixing a silent graphic novel with a  regular novel deeply intrigued me. Of course having a wonderful artist attached to a project such as this makes it a given that it's going to be beautiful, but there was always the possibility it might be more gimmick then strong story telling.

Like Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, I was delighted to see the story make ideal use of its graphic portions so that the writing and images not only meshed together really well but they also augmented each other.  For most of the book, the reader is guessing at what's going on in the graphic portion. Although it is clear it's tied into the story, it's impossible to tell who anyone is, what exactly is going on and how it ties to the time frame of the written story. Because although the graphic portion jumps through time, the written portion doesn't, and unlike the graphic bits, the time period in the written part is never explicitly given.

The overall effect was one of deep mystery, and I loved having a constant string of speculation as to who I was following in the images and what his goal was (he clearly was chasing down something as well as a variety of someones but there were no clear whys). The final reveal at the end was shocking and so exciting I doubled back to re- "read" all the illustrated bits.

Beautifully executed, and a page turning read, I highly recommend you add this one to your growing summer reads pile. You won't be disappointed.

In the Shadows, By Kiersten White, and Jim Di Bartolo
Published by Scholastic, April 29th, 2014

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The One, By Kiera Cass- Review

From Goodreads:
The Selection changed America Singer's life in ways she never could have imagined. Since she entered the competition to become the next princess of Illéa, America has struggled with her feelings for her first love, Aspen--and her growing attraction to Prince Maxon. Now she's made her choice . . . and she's prepared to fight for the future she wants.

As always, consider this review to be a spoiler to either book one or book two if you haven't read them, and although I will not be intentionally spoiling anything from The One, it is possible I will unintentionally spoil plot points or events. So please read with caution if you haven't already read the series!

Throughout this series I let a lot of things I would normally natter at, slide. It was a fun, light read, and as such I wasn't expecting any over the top-fantastic writing. I think I might have let Cass off too easy though, because I found myself slightly disappointed by things I managed to shrug off in the previous books. Possibly because this was the big finale and I expected her to pull up her socks a little? I'm not really sure.

As always, the Aspen/America relationship was too easy. There wasn't enough in depth anything for it to be wrapped up properly, and the big reveal (that's been threatening since the beginning) was anti-climatic because it ran face first into the only other major plot point- the revolution. This felt like a cheat to me, Cass had been building towards the unveiling of their relationship for some time, and scenes like Marlee and Carters public beating were glaring warning signs of how bad it could be. So for the actual event to be brief and less than epic, was a huge let down. But it also felt like a storytelling fail to me, it was built up to be a big blow out, so blow it out, and spend a good chunk of the story visiting the repercussions and making the resolution believable.

Likewise the fix for the King hating America, and all his general evil doing, was way, way too easy. I won't go into specifics, obviously, but it felt far too much like a parental "because I said so". Of all the possible ways I'd imagined Cass working her way through this issue, her actual dealing with the situation was so far from anything I'd considered it was almost George R.R. Martin worthy in it's shock value. Unfortunately not in the well written good way. Once again it felt like a cheat or a short cut, instead of actually storytelling. If for no other reason then it cheated the reader out of a lot of answers about the King and Queen, background and personality reveals that would have enriched what we already knew about Maxon and the court.

Although this was a far, far cry from a bad read (I zipped through it in a couple of days and enjoyed it, though not as much as the previous two), it was disappointing in enough major ways to colour my final feelings on it significantly. In the end I was left feeling much the way I did with the Twilight books, the first bits were fun and fully re-readable, but once they delve into an attempt to make it a full fledged story instead of a bunch of fluffy love-me, love-me-not anecdotes (this one with an array of fun wardrobe changes and catty arguments with other eligible girls) things get bland, unbelievable and plain silly. Nothing I would ever subject myself to trying to read a second time. So go ahead and read it, just so you can say-you did it! you read the whole series! But really if you've read part one and part two then you've read all the good stuff.

The One, by Kiera Cass
Published by HarperTeen, May 6th, 2014
Buy The One on Amazon

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Strange Maid: The United States of Asgard, by Tessa Gratton- Review

From Goodreads:
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.

It's hard to know where to begin without quickly devolving into a raving mess of fangirl rhapsodizing. I mean, trolls, kick-ass heroines, riddles, bloody battles filled with crazy Odin rage, these are things that turn me into a puddle of love-sick goo even without weaving it into a spectacularly complex story. I mean honestly, it was as close to reading Valhalla as I'm going to get, at least until I get my hands on the final part of this series.

First off I have to say, Signy is one of the most complicated, truly crazy heroines I've ever had the pleasure of reading about. It is not even remotely shocking to me that Gratton struggled with writing her story. The challenges of making a character who embodies so many unlikeable things, into a truly lovable person a reader can cheer on, not by taking away or softening her edges so much as having her discover herself along the way- well I hardly need to impress upon you how difficult that must be. Just picturing Gratton sitting down to put this into words is something I find daunting. But she pulled it off in a spectacular way, where I felt like I was on a journey of discovery with this young girl who was shocking and strange but also so alive and so very impassioned, it was impossible not to love her. Also, did I mention Kick-ass? Because so, so much of this! Seriously. One of my favourite bits was her response to the guy she loves when he takes the trite I don't deserve you stance. No wishy washy, mushy romance here:
"Make yourself deserve it; rise up to meet me if you want me."

Leading me into my next point, which is the complexity and layering of this entire story was a bit mind boggling. So much of the story is topically about untangling various riddles to get to their meaning, yet the actual narrative is every bit as much a brain teaser as the riddles themselves.  I took this book much slower then even my usual savouring pace, but I never felt like I lost the rhythm of it or that I needed to immerse myself in it more, because I was constantly thinking about it and playing with theories and ideas in the back of my head when I wasn't actually reading it. The timing of events wasn't what I thought it would be in relation to the first book, and even that had me rethinking things when I realized it. I constantly felt like I was unravelling little nuggets of information and then trying to place them against other little reveals to see the greater picture. But all while feeling very much satisfied by the actual moment-to-moment dialogue and events, meaning the complexity was never taken so far that I felt lost or confused by what was going on.

And then for every minute I wasn't puzzling over something in the story I was thinking TROLLS! like some kind of battle cry in my head and smiling the smile of the satisfied blood thirsty reader. Because Gratton doesn't just have trolls, she has loads of varieties of trolls, and levels of dangerousness and small attacks and HUGE BIG ATTACKS, and all sorts of mysteries surrounding them. Honestly I'm salivating just thinking about it, and now I kind of want to double back for like the 5th time and re-read some of the troll fight scenes. 

I truly loved the first book in this series, but The Strange Maid had wholly swept me off my feet and made me at least three times more in love with the world then I was in the first book. If it wasn't for my staggering pile of reading commitments I would gladly double back and re-read Lost Sun immediately, just to glean some more of those hidden tidbits out of it. 

A fantastic book in a series that is quickly turning epic, it would be a terrible book lovers crime to miss out on this series.

The Strange Maid, by Tessa Gratton
Published by Random House, June 10th, 2014
Buy The Strange Maid on Amazon

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Tessa Gratton Guest Post! The United States of Asgard

One of the things that has struck me the most with this series is the level of research Tessa Gratton would have had to immerse herself in to build this seamless world. A basic level of knowledge just wasn't going to cut it, no, to form this impressively believable alternative universe she would have had to been incredibly well versed in everything from the stories of the gods themselves right down to the minutiae of the day to day life of a devotee and for that matter, the non-believers too.

So I asked Tessa to stop by and talk a little bit about how she researches the books she writes.

In order to write about my research for the United States of Asgard series, I got up from my desk and made a quick survey of all the books I’ve acquired since 2005 when I first began thinking about the potential in Norse mythology and Anglo-Saxon poetry for writing about modern American religion and politics.

In 5 minutes, I counted 42 separate books. Those are only the ones I could find easily. Not to mention the nearly 300 pages of internet print-outs I have of maps and lineages and charts of how early machines worked (like 2,000 year old standing looms and iron bloomeries).

The topics range from Viking history and the psychology of killing, to biographies of Snorri Sturluson who wrote many of the myths down, posttraumatic stress disorder, life in ancient Scandinavia, prophets, death cults, iron smelting, and the Catholic church’s rational for not allowing female priests.

It was a tremendous undertaking, and I’d been reading and learning about A-S culture and Vikings for nearly four years before I even put a single word to paper. Taking so long has allowed me to dig as deep as I wanted to, to explore seeming random corners if the fancy took me, but it’s also made it so sometimes I remember reading a fact, but can’t remember where. For example: one of my favorite analyses of the character of Loki from mythology suggested that the reason Loki was never mentioned in the earliest sources except as a giant was perhaps because when men were writing the stories down they wanted to distance Odin from his very dark deeds in order to make him more palatable to the Christian-influenced, and created Loki the trickster as we now know him as a sort of Devil-figure and antagonist for the gods. I can’t remember what book it was in, what article, or who suggested it other than that it was at least a fifty year old theory. Aggravating!

On the other hand, I also spent four months tracking down one of the only nice copies of a thirty year old book about the queen from Beowulf and the Valkyrie tradition, which goes for an easy $100 everywhere.

Here are some of my favorite things:

- Most Vikings were farmers!

- Viking women could often own property and divorce their husbands for any reason.

- Odin was a god of the elite: kings and warriors. Thor was the god regular people worshipped most often, or Freyr the god of fertility.

- There’s a debate about whether or not the “blood eagle” Vikings are famous for, where they crack open the ribs of a sacrifice and pull out the lungs like wings, was ever really performed. It was only recounted in poetry though they weren’t shy about killing or ritual sacrifice. Usually they hung people or set them on fire.

- Ragnar Lodbrok, legendary Norse warrior the TV show “Vikings” is based on, was supposedly killed by his enemy the king of Northumbria by being thrown into a pit of snakes and bitten to death! His death is immortalized in the poem “The Krakumal” where he says “I die with a laugh.” I based the Berserker’s Prayer that Soren recited in THE LOST SUN on Ragnar’s poem.

I highly recommend starting with the internet to find out what you’re interested in, and taking those interests to a library or book store for more in-depth reading. Or just dive right in with any of the following:

History and analysis:

A Beowulf Handbook ed by Robert E. Bjork and John D. Niles

Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H R Ellis Davidson

Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myth by Nancy Marie Brown

The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman by Nancy Marie Brown

Woman as Hero in Old English Literature by Jane Chance

Beowulf’s Wealhtheow and the Valkyrie Tradition by Helen Damico

The Vikings: A History by Robert Ferguson

Poetry and mythology:

Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney

The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology by Kevin Crossley-Holland

The Saga of the Volsungs by Jesse L. Byock

The Sagas of the Icelanders (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun by J.R.R. Tolkien

I just finished writing the last book of the series, and am working on some fun extras, but as for my research, I’ve moved on to my next big project which I hope to start writing in 18 months or 2 years. Until then I’ll be writing stand-alone projects and stories that require less of a research investment – I need a BREAK from beloved research!

My current research pile:

And because she's too polite to add it to her lists, an obvious must-buy are both of Tessa's books in this series, The Lost Sun, and next weeks release, The Strange Maid. For more about Tessa herself, as well as her other books, check out her website , her always fun tumblr Odin's B*tch, and of course her twitter handle @tessagratton.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Lost Sun, by Tessa Gratton- Review

From Goodreads:
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.

The United States of Asgard series has to be one of the most unappreciated gems in YA that is currently available to readers.  Tessa Gratton, a favourite author of mine who wrote the poe-esque Blood Magic and it's sweeping companion Blood Keeper does a number of things in her writing that I relish: she picks subject matter that's fresh or takes familiar subjects and breathes fresh life into them, she writes ballsy female characters who are a force to be reckoned with, completely unapologetic about anything they do but who are still wonderful and heartbreakingly lovable, she writes brutal scenes that are dark, powerful and which feed my bloodthirsty readers soul, and most of all, her stories remind me of classic works I fell in love with at various points during my years of university English classes.

The Lost Sun is no exception to these rules. A bizarre tale to try and whittle down into an elevator pitch, it would be more telling to sell it as Myth and Gods for readers who grew up on Rick Riordans' books, or as a YA old English retelling.  Both are true and both are more likely to give you a sense of the kind of epic adventure and style you'll be enjoying more than trying to parse the story into a condensed blurb. Suffice it to say, Gratton makes her alternate USA so believable and intriguing you will be caught up in the details of it very quickly. 

Normally I find alternative world stories a bit gimmicky, and have trouble with my suspension of disbelief, and although I love Gratton's work, I would be lying if I didn't tell you I was worried when she first started talking about this book online. Although I bought it as soon as it released last year, it languished on the bottom of my To-Be-Read pile for several months before I got up the nerve to give it a try. However, her modernization of Viking/Scandinavian legend and myth is brilliantly done. The way she has woven the gods into everyday life, how she's worked out the details of faith, dedication and fate, and more to the point, how she illustrates it with Soren and Astrid is what sets this book apart for me.

The pacing and the tone, which remind me so very much of old English stories I read in school, like Chaucer or the Greek tales like the Odyssey will hopefully start the love of classic reading young, for a new set of readers.  There is a lot to be said for a tale that is told with purpose as opposed to a quick or light read, it makes for reading you can really spend time rolling over your tongue, re-playing in your imagination and re-reading to eke more details from later.  The Lost Sun is a many layered thing, and it makes me look forward intensely to the rest of the series and where Gratton will go with it next.

I will stop here, because I want for you to be happily surprised by the details, and because I know you'll love it as I did. Therefor I predict you'll be heading out to add it to your collection very shortly, if for no other reason then because part two comes out a week from tomorrow and it is even better than part the first. So really, you'd be crazy if you took a pass on these books.

Join me tomorrow, when Tessa Gratton stops by the blog to talk about her research for the series, and then again on Wednesday for my review of The Strange Maid, book II in the United States of Asgard series.

The Lost Sun, by Tessa Gratton
Published by Random House, June 2013