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First Frost


Today I’d like to take a break from my regular series of interviews and share instead a review of the novel First Frost by Liz DeJesus.

Let’s start with the back cover copy:

Fairytales aren’t real…yeah…that’s exactly what Bianca thought. She was wrong.

For generations, the Frost family has run the Museum of Magical and Rare Artifacts, handing down guardianship from mother to daughter, always keeping their secrets to “family only.”

Gathered within museum’s walls is a collection dedicated to the Grimm fairy tales and to the rare items the family has acquired: Cinderella’s glass slipper, Snow White’s poisoned apple, the evil queen’s magic mirror, Sleeping Beauty’s enchanted spinning wheel…

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Frost wants none of it, dreaming instead of a career in art or photography or…well, anything except working in the family’s museum. She knows the items in the glass display cases are fakes because, of course, magic doesn’t really exist.

She’s about to find out how wrong she is.

First off, I love the idea of fairy tales being real. I like to believe that every story we tell is true somewhere, so I always enjoy a good story about two worlds. But the other, more unexpected thing that I love about this book is that it shows how frightening it would be to actually live in the world of fairy tales. Imagine, witches able to spy on you through the mirror kept on your dresser. Vengeful fairies who cursed people based on the slightest insult. Princes transformed into all manner of things, possibly right before your eyes. What would you do if you met the Big Bad Wolf?

Even ending up in a Disney version of a fairy tale would be pretty terrifying, and when you consider the parts Disney left out of its stories… The hot iron shoes they made Snow White’s stepmother wear to her wedding. The sheer pain the Little Mermaid felt whenever she moved an inch. The twisted stepsister who cut her foot in half to try and fit in Cinderella’s slipper. The world of fairy tales wasn’t a very nice place.

Bianca, accompanied by her best friend Ming, soon finds herself dealing with many of the worst aspects of fairy tales. Along the way they meet many strange people and creatures, both good and bad, and get enough adventure for a lifetime.

One of my favourite things about First Frost is the friendship between Bianca and Ming. They balance each other well and their friendship remains important throughout the entire story. I love stories that place great importance on non-romantic relationships, and Bianca’s friendship with Ming is one of the best I’ve read in a long time, both in believability and in strength.

All in all, First Frost is a great novel that uses the fairy tales we all know and love and expands upon them in a great way. I had only one complaint: I could have kept reading for another fifty pages. I quite enjoyed how First Frost gave new life to old fairy tale figures, but I still found a few of them to be particularly shallow, including the main villain. If First Frost had delved just a little bit deeper into some of these characters, it would have been better by a hundred times.

That said, I wholeheartedly recommend this book. If you’re somebody who prefers to go by ratings, I’d rate it a 3.5/5

You can purchase your copy of First Frost here.

Live and Let Fly by Karina Fabian

Those of you who’ve been following me for a while may remember Karina Fabian’s guest post on the submission process and my earlier interview with her. Most recently I had the opportunity to review Live and Let Fly, a paranormal fantasy released by Muse It Up Publishing earlier this year.

Let’s start with the back cover:

For a dragon detective with a magic-slinging nun as a partner, saving the worlds gets routine. So, when the U.S. government hires Vern and Sister Grace to recover stolen secrets for creating a new Interdimensional Gap—secrets the U.S. would like to keep, thank you—Vern sees a chance to play Dragon-Oh-Seven.

No human spy, however, ever went up against a Norse goddess determined to rescue her husband. Sigyn will move heaven and earth to get Loki—and use the best and worst of our world against anyone who tries to stop her.

It’s super-spy spoofing at its best with exotic locations (Idaho–exotic? Well, Idaho’s exotic to them), maniacal middle-managers, secret agent men, teen rock stars in trouble, man-eating animatronics, evil overlords, and more!

And on to the review…

As a reader, I quite enjoyed this book. Its main characters, Vern and Grace, are a great pair, with Grace’s calm and faith in God and Vern’s sarcastic narration. Their different personalities balance each other out, both directly in the plot and in the overall tone of the piece. Each also possesses a specific talent: Grace is a strong magical warrior, and Vern… well, he’s a dragon, which comes with all kinds of perks, most of them strength related.

One of my favourite things about this book is that the main relationship which ends up being the driving force of the story is that between best friends rather than lovers. It’s always nice to see characters who aren’t focused on finding romantic partners–though there is a romance sub-plot between two side characters.

That said, the best thing about this book is probably the range of mythologies it includes. While the main characters are Christian–Catholic, to be precise–and in this universe it’s made clear the Christian God does exist, several Norse deities are also included and real in the world of Faerie. My own spiritual belief is that all gods exist and are different representations of the same energy, so the idea of Asgard coexisting with the Christian heaven resonates deeply with me. It’s awesome to see something like this in fiction.

What else was awesome about this book? The Monty Python reference on page 27 and Vern’s insistence on mocking cheesy spy movies everywhere.

As a writer, I enjoyed this book, though I sometimes found the writing overbearing. The sarcastic narrative balanced out the religious references and sometimes ridiculous plot, but even the humour occasionally became overbearing. Sometimes I found the writing style overdone and thought it detracted from the story, but overall I didn’t mind it.

One thing interesting thing was the very deliberate censorship. Because Vern and Grace are (somewhat) strict Catholics, mentioning vulgarities without saying them outright fit in the context. Many of the jokes in the book also worked better because of the character’s religions. As a non-religious person, I usually don’t get through books about stricter religious characters, but Live and Let Fly managed to keep my attention with superb, if occasionally overbearing, writing. The characters are also well-written, well developed and a great team–without the chemistry between characters, I would never have finished this book.

What one line stood out to me most as a writer? I loved this one–or two, from page 109: “Daring rescue, close escape from death, injured knight, and exotic and comfortable transportation? Add that to true love, and you need a chaperone.”

You can purchase your copy of Live and Let Fly here. If you’d like to learn more about Karina, you can visit her website here.

Dragon Night by Stephanie Campbell

Stephanie Campbell is one of many authors I’ve had the pleasure of meeting during my internship at Musa. After I interviewed her, I decided I’d really like to check out her book. Armed with a brand new Kindle and a gift certificate, I made my way to Musa’s site and bought Stephanie’s book.

I wasn’t disappointed.

According to the website:

The only thing more shocking than discovering that dragons really exist is finding out that you are one.

Ever since he could remember, Ford was treated cruelly by his parents, Liddy and Wicker Forks. He cannot figure out why they hate him so much. It is only when he discovers that his father isn’t really Wicker Forks but instead is a mysterious, red-eyed stranger that he goes on a quest to find his true identity—and much, much more.

As he heads forward down the path of danger and illusion, he uncovers a world that he had never imagined, a world of dragons. Ford must decide who he is—a dragon or a boy—and whichever path he chooses will be his future for forever. After all, once you are a dragon, there is no going back.

The Review Part

In Dragon Night, Stephanie Campbell manages to introduce us to a huge new concept–the idea that dragons and half dragons exist–while managing to ground the story in reality with a very mundane beginning and a familiar power struggle: the struggle between pure blood and half blood. We learn with Ford that the half dragons or draconics are pretty much slaves to the bigger, tougher dragons. As Ford is put under the pressure of leading a rebellion against the dragons, the leader of whom might just be his real father, he is faced with one shocking revelation after another.

The best part? He gets angry, he gets upset, he suffers a lot, and he doesn’t whine. Maybe I’m just bitter about Twilight, but it seems to me that too many YA protagonists like to whine. Ford isn’t one of those whiney YA protagonists. He’s a boy who’s just trying to do the right thing–and he’s figuring out exactly what that is as he goes along.

Of course it isn’t perfect. The one thing I wish is that the draconic culture was explored more fully. I would love to know, other than the power struggle between them and the dragons and their shape shifting abilities and all that, what makes them different from ordinary humans. What rituals do they have? Do they have religion? What sorts of gods do they believe in? Other than the struggles they face in the minds and the sadness forced upon them by the dragons, I feel not very much of draconic culture is shown. Maybe I’m just a culture geek, but I really would have loved it if Stephanie explored their culture more fully.

Even without the extra culture building Dragon Night is a great book that kept me turning proverbial pages well into the night. Over the last few years I’ve found myself getting pickier and pickier about books, critiquing them in my head as I read, nit-picking little errors or stylistic things I would have done differently, and I didn’t find myself stopping very often during Dragon Night. I’m happy I read this book and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes YA and dragons–and the chance to explore another culture, however limited that exploration may be.

You can buy Dragon Night for $4.99 here.

Your Writing Coach by Jurgen Wolff

I was lucky enough to win this book from a Nanowrimo first line competition hosted by Jurgen Wolff. As you might suspect, this competition asked for the first line of a Nanowrimo novel. I won an honorary mention in this contest with the sentence below:

‘”Then General Allen Cairn struck down the mighty King Logan Baran and his brothers.” Nanny whispered in the candle lit nursery.’

Of course I was pretty excited to dive into this book. Jurgen Wolff has worked in numerous fields of writing, particularly in writing for TV. Among other shows, he wrote for Relic Hunter, which was one of my personal favourites growing up. He now offers coaching services to writers at his website, Your Writing Coach.

Your Writing Coach is an extensive motivational guide to writing. It covers topics interesting to writers at every stage, from figuring out what you want to write to sustaining a long term writing career. Each chapter includes solid advice, quotes, exercises and passwords for bonus material on the website.

This book addresses pretty much every issue a writer has to face: finding ideas, facing rejection, marketing your work, dealing with family members and friends who aren’t supportive of your writing, time management, and a few things I haven’t mentioned. A lot of the advice is similar to other advice that’s out there, but there are new ideas in every chapter, too. Based on the wide range of topics covered in this book, odds are that you’ll find at least one piece of advice in Your Writing Coach Useful.

I read Your Writing Coach mostly on the train to and from school because I’ve been overwhelmingly busy lately, so I haven’t checked out any of the bonus content yet or done most of the exercises. I’m really glad I own this book, because it means next time I’m stuck on something or about to start a new project, I can run through and do some of the exercises. Most of the bonus content is interviews on the website, and I’m looking forward to checking them out when I have the time.

You can buy Your Writing Coach by Jurgen Wolff here.

Now Hear This! Blogging Position

This summer I decided that I really wanted to hunker down and focus on my writing. For the last three or four summers, I’ve always told myself I’d get a lot done with all my spare time, but I didn’t actually get all that stuff done. I spent most of my time out and about with friends, or buried deep in somebody else’s book. Even when I stayed home, I spent most of my time reading and researching on the internet.

This summer was different. I got a brand new computer at the start of the summer, and I managed to write an entire new draft of Moonshadow’s Guardian. I participated in an online summer writing group called the Writer’s Circuit. I’ve been going to acting for camera workshops, where they’re teaching me how to act and soon we’re going to start working on a short movie. I’ve written two short stories and edited one of them. I’ve edited a short story that I wrote a long, long time ago twice.

I got a lot of work done this summer. And it’s paid off. Literally. Paid.

How so, you ask? Well, when I was just finishing up with the Writer’s Circuit, I got an email saying that Now Hear This, the parent company–a Canadian company promoting literacy–was looking for new youth bloggers. They wanted youth to come and offer writing tips, book reviews, and to talk about local literacy events. And they were offering payment.

I jumped on the chance and sent an email back right away, with two ideas for blog posts: a book review and a post about online writing communities. I’ve been corresponding with the people in charge, and I wrote up and sent in my first blog post. The first piece of writing I will ever receive payment for. And sometime soon, a cheque is going to come for me in the mail. The first cheque I’ve ever received, since I’ve never had a real job. I’m ecstatic. Heck, I’m more than ecstatic. I’m bouncing off the walls. Really, really quickly.

So if you want to check it out, today I’m on the Now Hear This blog with a book review of Mad Kestrel by Misty Massey:

Thanks for reading, guys. Your support’s made all the difference in this journey.

Book Review: Education of a Felon

Education of a Felon by Edward Bunker is a book I picked up randomly at the library. I was looking for an autobiography and this one was the first to catch my eye. I started reading it right after I finished Woman on the Edge of Time. You can buy it here.

On to the important part of this post:

The Review

From the Back Cover:

“Edward Bunker’s experiences in California’s toughest prisons, on the mean streets of Los Angeles, and in Hollywood’s seamy underworld have enabled him to write some of the grittiest and affecting prision novels of our time.

Quentin Tarantino called Bunker’s Little Boy Blue “the best first person crime novel I’ve ever read” while The New York Times said of his novel Dog Eat Dog “Mr. Bunker has written a raw, unromantic, naturalistic crime drama more lurid than anything the noiresque Chandlers or Hammetts ever dreamed up.”

Now, for the first time, Bunker, who was sent to San Quentin (for the first time) at the age of seventeen, tells the real stories of his life-there’s no fiction here. Whether smoking a joint in a gas chamber chair, leaving fingerprints on a knife connected with a serial killer, or swimming in the Neptune Pool at San Simeon, Bunker delivers the goods. He spent half his life living the harsh life, and the other half writing about it. Finally his readers have been let into the raw and unexpurgated world of Edward Bunker. It doesn’t get any realer than this.”

On to Business: As a Reader

As a reader I greatly enjoyed this book. The idea of a convict becoming a writer fascinated me, and I was not disappointed. Bunker has a very frank style which I quite enjoyed, as well as brutal honesty with himself and his readers.

I was drawn very quickly into his world. I understood most of his actions-running away from military and reform schools at a young age, giving authority lip-and I found a lot of similarities between my personality and his. (Only I’m a fair bit more moderate; I haven’t gotten myself in jail.)

Most interesting was his connection to the high life of Hollywood. He is taken in by Louise Wallis, and through her he sees a completely different side of life. He gains dreams he never could have had in his other life. Not only that, but I learned a whole lot about famous people in his day that I’d never know otherwise-both famous criminals and famous actors and actresses.

Watching the transformation of Bunker is fascinating and watching the transformation of the prisons-he is in prison during the first race wars in San Quentin-is even more so.

I feel that I’ve learned a lot about this book-about prisons, about the underworld in America, about the more dignified underworld of the past, and about many other things. I’ve learned with Edward Bunker. Most of all I’ve learned a lot about human psychology. Bunker has a love of the subject and some of what he knows is passed on to his reader.

Excellent book, all in all.

As a Writer

My calling as a writer is what originally drew me to this book-I wanted to see how somebody else changed their life with writing. I quite enjoyed Bunker’s frank writing voice and his many stories. Though every once in a while I bumped into a typo or a sentence I would’ve changed, overall I loved Bunker’s style and agreed with his stylistic choices.

History is important for every writer. Knowing what has really happened in our society allows us to more easily write believable stories. By reading about some of the most insane people on earth, and/or the most cruel, we learn about the extent of human insanity and human cruelty. Reading about conditions in America’s underworld and especially its prisons has taught me a few things about human psychology that I think will be very useful to me as a writer. My favourite type of history is the autobiography-it’s a story told by the person at its center, what could be better?

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in human psychology, especially the psychology of criminals.

You can buy the book here.

Book Review: Newes From The Dead

I won this book from YA Book Central last year, and only just finished reading it. (It disappeared for some time. Finally found it again and read it in about a week-only reading on the subway.)

This is a really good book. It’s classified as YA but I can’t really tell the difference.

Newes from the Dead is loosely based off of a true story. The story of a woman named Anne Green, a maid in the 17th century. She was seduced by her master’s grandson (he’s 17) by his lies that he would have her raised and made lady of the house. She was impregnated, had a stillbirth, and was charged for infanticide and hung. Her body was given to doctors at the time to dissect in order to study humanity.

But Anne came back to life. This book is Anne’s story, told from her perspective, of how she came into this situation of being hung, and then when she wakes up near the end of how she is treated. It alternates between her point of view and that of a man named Robert, who is one of the medical students.

Newes From The Dead is the name of pamphlets that were written at the time, accounts of Anne’s story; and now it is the name of a great book.

The book is very historically accurate, geographically accurate, and just a good book overall. The characterization is strong, the plot is great and moves along at just the right pace, and the style of writing is very fitting for the time. The book is well worth the money-although I didn’t pay any-and comes in a very nice hardcover edition.

Anne’s voice is very strong and her story truly heartbreaking. Her survival is a miracle of the time. Mary Hooper, the woman who wrote Newes From The Dead, is, from what I’ve learned in brief spurts of research, a well-established YA author in England. I’m sure her other books are good too, although I’ve never read them.

This book spans across audiences and generations; it can be enjoyed by anyone. In fact, I intend to recommend it to my grandmother later on today.

You can buy it here: Newes From The Dead

And find information on its author here:

Mary Hooper Online

I’ve decided to read at least 5 books this summer. So far I’ve read two and am working on a third. I have one book that I read a chapter of each night before bed, and Newes From The Dead was my ‘travel’ book, as it takes me an hour of transit to get downtown. I’m going to be picking out a new travel book. I will be reviewing them all here, except for the Series of Unfortunate Events book that I read-though I will do a cumulative post on the series eventually.

The next book I review will probably be C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, which I am in the process of reading-and finding quite interesting.

Have a good day everyone. Thanks for reading. If you’ve read Newes From the Dead, or you buy it based on this review, let me know and let me know how you like it.