Tuesday, June 30, 2020

MG review of Rise of ZomBert by Kara LaReau, illustrations by Ryan Andrews

Rise of ZomBert by Kara LaReau, illustrations by Ryan Andrews 
Format:  ARC paperback

Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Number of Pages:  144
Publishing:  July 14th, 2020
Source:  Publisher in exchange for an honest review

Opening Line: "It was a cold fall night in the town of Lambert and the moon was full." 

Strange, peculiar things are happening in Lambert.  On one very cold fall night, a cat escapes from his cage, slinks through a fence, and falls into a dumpster.  Cold, tired, and very hungry the cat waits.  Much later he is found by a young girl named Mellie.  Mellie was out helping her best friend Danny, a horror film aficionado with his latest horror film project when she heard noises coming from the dumpster.  Mellie is instantly taken with this scraggly stray cat, but Danny is a bit more skeptical.  Unswayed, Mellie picks the cat up and names him Bert.  Then she sneaks him into her house, despite knowing there is no way her parents would ever approve of letting her keep him.  Because Mellie's parents have been so distracted with her younger brothers and their blog, she figures they probably won't notice anyway.  

Mellie tries desperately to care for Bert, but he's sort of standoffish to her affection, preferring to roam at night and bring her small gifts of decapitated animals in the morning.  Bert seems to have plans of his own but first, he is focused on regaining his strength.  Danny is still very wary of Bert, especially after the cat appears to eat the heads of his victims so Danny starts to refer to him as ZomBert.  However, Mellie isn't convinced that her new friend is as evil as Danny makes him out to be.  Meanwhile, there are also mysterious happenings at the nearby YummCo food factory, several researchers and a hazmat team have been spotted in town.  What or whom are they searching for?

Rise of ZomBert is the first book in a new middle-grade series by Kara LaReau.  It kinda reminds me of a mixture of Bunnicula and maybe Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.  Probably because Bunnicula gets accused of being like Dracula and I guess I'm recalling animal testing from Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.  Rise of ZomBert is on the shorter side but would be wonderful as an introductory book into more scary stories.  That is if the idea of decapitated animals and the crunching and munching of Bert chomping on his prey doesn't bother you. This is a solid first book and is also a highly entertaining read.  A little macabre but not too scary, and who couldn't love a cat with a questionable past? 

**Thank you to Candlewick Press for the ARC.**

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Guest Post from Keira Gillett, author and illustrator of the Zaria Fierce series

Today I'm pleased to have Keira Gillett, author, and illustrator of the Zaria Fierce Trilogy.  Her latest book, Christoffer Johansen and the Return to Jötunheim released on May 1st and she's here today with a guest post on how her trilogy expanded into a multibook series.  Thank you so much for dropping by Keira!  

Hi everyone! My name is Keira Gillett and I am the author-illustrator behind the Zaria Fierce Series. I’ve been here to Brenda’s Log Cabin Library before so you may recognize me from another post. If so, nice to see you again! It’s always a lot of fun to hang out with you all to discuss books and writing. Thank you as always Brenda for having me over to visit and talk with your readers.

For those who don’t recognize me, my elevator pitch for the Zaria Fierce Series is this: Join a motley group of loveable characters as they traipse all over Norway to stop dragons from taking over the world. You’ll fall in love with the gang and they will become some of your favorite literary friends. Don’t just take my word for it - check out the reviews :)

25091986When I began writing the Zaria Fierce Series, I expected it to end at three books. I planned for a trilogy, but I had a feeling by book two, — and this feeling was solidified when writing book three — that it wouldn’t stay that way. As the story was written out the plot expanded like rising dough and the world grew beyond the bounds of three books. The trilogy simply couldn’t contain it all.

When a story expands beyond its original premise — as Zaria Fierce most certainly did — an author has a choice to try to force the story into its original box or let it grow.  The trilogy (or box) was known and yet I knew there was so much more to discover in Zaria’s world and in the lives of her friends. I wanted to know more!

I decided to let the story grow, but then faced an immediate conundrum — Zaria’s story was complete. What to do next? It wasn’t a difficult choice at all. If there’s more story to tell and yet it’s complete for the main character the obvious conclusion was to hop into another character’s head. With the setup in place from Zaria’s trilogy I now knew that the series is would be nine books long and broken down into three sets of trilogies. 

But whose would be next?  

35531687The first character to grow from his status as a side character into a main character in his own right was Aleks Mickelsen.  From the beginning, he just wanted to be normal and from the very beginning, he was not.  His friends’ knew he was fey and had heard his grandmother’s stories about the magical realm of Norway, but it’s one thing to notice your human-looking friend having pointier ears and insanely good navigational skills, and it’s another to truly understand it. Until you see it for yourself it’s still more story than reality — which is frankly how certain aspects of Zaria’s story were able to play out in book one and why Christoffer couldn’t imagine a river-troll was, in fact, real, despite having some intimate knowledge of some pretty cool secrets.

Of course, once Christoffer truly understood how the magical and normal aspects of Norway collided he wanted nothing more than to be a hero himself. However, he is 100% human and lacks the magical talents required to be the hero. But are heroes born or are they made? With that thought in mind, it was an easy decision to jump to Christoffer when Aleks’ trilogy was finished. I love uncovering what makes a character tick and how they perceive the events around them. Head-hopping really allows me as an author to explore that.

I also love playing with expectations. It’s not just the main character facing down challenges in my books. Everyone has a role in the fight against evil and combined their abilities to help save the day. They can’t do it alone. So even though there are more friends than trilogies planned, each one has an integral part to play.  It’s important to my series and world-building that everyone plays a part in fighting evil.

Speaking of world-building, having a sandbox already built by the Zaria Fierce trilogy meant that I could lean on the existing structure for the following trilogies. I could even leave plot holes — or as I like to think of them — things left unfinished —  to come back to later and answer in new and unexpected ways. I could create new components or expand even more on previously known things.  Also, getting into Aleks’ and Christoffer’s headspace was relatively easy, as I’ve known both characters for several books. I already had a solid feeling for their mental spaces and didn’t have to start from scratch. A blank page can go anywhere (and it can also sit and go nowhere.) I like editing things and mixing them up and basically playing with how things go together.

The challenges with writing a series like this are to keep it consistent with the previous trilogies, to bring readers back into the fold of a wonderful group of friends to learn how the dynamics work from another perspective, and yet give the trilogy its own unique flavor so that it feels like the character whose name is on the cover. It can sometimes take a lot of time to navigate properly and also quite a bit of rewriting, especially in the first book of each trilogy.

Did you know that Aleks’ story was meant to go to Jotunheim? He never quite got there though, did he? Some might see that as bad planning. That’s okay. For me, I see it as an opportunity.   I let the characters speak and by listening better stories emerge. Those aspects form the original plot for book four were placed aside for the next (and current) trilogy. When mountain-trolls hijacked the forest scenes in book four and pulled me into a whole new and unexpected direction I certainly wasn’t going to say no. I might have become their lunch if I did that! Which meant I spent a lot of time remapping the dynamics of the magical realms and shifting timelines. But it was also a lot of fun opening up my computer to explore how everything changed from what I thought was going on to what really was going on. It felt new. I was discovering with Aleks like I had with Zaria.

Christoffer Johansen and the Return to Jötunheim by Keira Gillett 
Series:  Zaria Fierce #7
Format:  E-ARC
Publisher:  Keira Gillett

Number of Pages:  296
Published:  May 1st, 2020

For the first book in Christoffer’s trilogy, he spoke to me in first person and I found myself writing that way a lot and having to go back and change it over to third person to match the other two trilogies. I also had to age the group of friends up again and peek into the group dynamics. Some things stayed and some things went by the wayside as I wrote. By the end of the book, Christoffer was playing nice and keeping to the third person, which certainly made it easier and faster to write. His cooperation came when I agreed to add more jokes to the story. 😅 

So there you have it — Readers/Writers - Do you like head-hopping? When do you think it’s acceptable to do? Or is it never acceptable?

About Keira 

Every chance she can, Keira Gillett loves to take ballet lessons, where she calls fondus nasty one-legged squats, and grande battements the reason you happily suffer barre routines featuring said fondus. At home, she loves to play with her doggie and train him to learn new tricks. Spin is the closest he gets to a pirouette. Wherever he goes, even without a tutu Oskar steals all the attention, not unlike Christoffer. You can follow Keira and Oskar’s antics on Instagram with the #oskarpie hashtag.
Find Keira at https://keiragillett.com/

Twitter *    GoodReads *    Facebook  * Pinterest    *      Available on Amazon

Monday, June 15, 2020

Excerpt of a new MG Fantasy by Dorothy A. Winsor: The Wysman

The Wysman by Dorothy A. Winsor
Publisher:  Inspired Quill
Format:  Paperback & ebook
Publishing:  June 2020

"The Grabber is just a fright tale."

Former street kid Jarka was born with a crooked 
foot and uses a crutch, but that no longer matters now that he’s an apprentice Wysman, training to advise the king. When poor kids start to go missing from the city’s streets, though, Jarka suspects that whatever’s causing the disappearances comes from the castle.

Now he needs to watch his step or risk losing the
position he fought so hard to win… but when
someone close to him becomes the latest victim, Jarka knows he’s running out of time.  His search takes him from diving into ancient history, to standing up to those who want to beat or bleed the magic out of him. 

Will Jarka succeed in uncovering an evil long-hidden, or will he see friends and family vanish into the darkness."

Excerpt from Chapter 1 The Wysman

As soon as I stepped out into the empty castle courtyard, I felt it. The wind puffed through my clothes and walked a chill finger down my back. It wanted me, and it wanted me now. It had things to tell me then. My heart sped up. I hitched across the courtyard, amid signs of the castle household just beginning to stir. Smoke rose from the kitchen chimney. A boy was just vanishing into the stables carrying a bucket of whatever horses need in the morning. Other than the boy, the wind and I were the only ones around.
I hobbled through the gate from the main courtyard into the keep around the old tower. Damp shadows pooled inside the keep's mossy walls. In the dawn quiet, my crutch thudded even more loudly than usual as I crossed the flagstones toward the stairs leading to the top of the castle wall.
"Stop right there, boy."
I jumped, then caged my teeth around a curse. Absorbed in the feel of the wind, I hadn't even noticed the baby-faced guard looking down at me from the walkway. If I'd been that dozy when I lived on the streets, I'd be shivering in just my skin while some thief sold my clothes--fleas and all--on the other side of town.
"Stop? Why?"
"You're not allowed up here." The guard rested his hand on the hilt of his sword. I'd not seen him before, so he was new and nervous as a fresh gang recruit guarding his territory. His accent said he was from somewhere deep in the farm country of Longrass.
I hesitated. The castle was still new territory for me too. How hard could I push? "Horse spit. Prince Beran himself picked me to be his Wysman someday because I can read the wind. I do it up there every morning."
"When I'm on duty, you don't." A smudge of struggling moustache quivered on the guard's upper lip. "As a matter of fact, I'm banning you from the keep while I'm guarding it. That stuff you fool with is dangerous." He shuddered. "Sorcery."

                                                               About the Author:  

Dorothy A. Winsor writes young adult and middle-grade fantasy. Her novels include Finders Keepers (Zharmae, 2015), Deep as a Tomb (Loose Leave Publishing, 2016), The Wind Reader (Inspired Quill, 2018), and The Wysman (June, 2020). At one time, Winsor taught technical writing at Iowa State University and GMI Engineering & Management Institute (now Kettering). She then discovered that writing fiction is much more fun and has never looked back. She lives in Chicagoland. 

Facebook  *   Twitter  *  Author's blog 

Order your copy of The Wysman at:  
 *   Amazon *   Inspired Quill *    

Thursday, June 4, 2020

MG review and Excerpt from Christoffer Johansen and the Return to Jötunheim (Zaria Fierce #7) by Keira Gillett

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Christoffer Johansen and the Return to Jötunheim by Keira Gillett 
Series:  Zaria Fierce #7
Format:  E-ARC
Publisher:  Keira Gillett

Number of Pages:  296
Published:  May 1st, 2020
Source:  Author in exchange for an honest review

Opening Line: "Christoffer Johansen loved magic and adventure, and not just the dungeon and dragons variety."

Christoffer Johansen and the Return to Jötunheim is the first book of Christoffer's series and the seventh book in the Zaria Fierce novels.  At the end of book six,  The Drakeland sword was broken into a dozen shards after it was used in a battle to keep the second of the three dragon brothers from wreaking havoc on the Under Realm.  A fact that Zaria has yet to confess to her mother, Queen Helena. 

 In the latest book, Christoffer traveled with Olaf to the Underrealm where they witnessed goblins gathering along the riverbank, bringing a concern that the goblins might have aligned with the final dragon brother. Olaf also shared that the water level of his river has been declining, seemingly drying up.  Upon bringing the terrible news to Queen Helena, Christoffer is given a note from the Queen to pass to Zaria.  The Queen gives Zaria a quest to replace the Drakeland Sword, the only weapon that can destroy a dragon.  Hoping for answers on how to go about this difficult task, they headed to the witch of Gloomwood Forest but her answers come with a price, they must bring her the first two items that they find in the sea.  She also tells them that "what you seek can only be gained by fulfilling a promise already made."  Which reminded them of the promise they made to bring Master Brown a white raven.  Hoping to secure a raven, Christoffer and his friends then traveled to the realm of giants but were met by resistance and the white raven, Skorri refused to help unless they pass three of his tests. 

My Thoughts:

My summary is a very condensed version of the plot but the story involves replacing a broken sword, a witch, a surly white raven, a giant who has been offended by Zaria's past actions and completing various tests and trials.  The Zaria Fierce series includes Zaria and her friend's journeying across various magical kingdoms acquiring knowledge and allies to prevent the dragon brothers from destroying the Underrealm.  Throw in a few precarious situations, making for an exciting adventure.   There is a mix of modern-day Norway with various magical kingdoms.   There's lots of questing and at the heart of the novels are the relationships between all of the characters.  I really like how the stories are broken down into each character's story arc.  The first three centering on Zaria, then the next three about Aleks and now we get to learn more about Christoffer, the human among his magical friends.  Christoffer doesn't see himself as the hero of the story, not having any magical powers, but his words are probably his best weapon.  He's the peacekeeper between his friends, in tune with everyone's emotions, and first to make a joke or help to defuse tension.  I quite enjoy watching his story evolve.  There's a lot going on in these stories and quite a few books in the series overall, so they really should be read from the beginning.  As always, I love the illustrations by Keira and am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.              


Gazing about at the city around him, Christoffer zeroed in on the unwelcome sight of a tall, lanky figure standing at the far end of the bridge.
“Oh, come on now,” he whined. “I don’t want to be kidnapped again. I’ve got plans this weekend. Good plans. Great plans, even.”
The river-troll cocked his head inquisitively, raising his webbed hands in supplication. “Olaf be not kidnapping you. I be asking for your help.”
Suspicious, Christoffer asked, “If you need help, why are you asking me and not Zaria?”
Olaf scowled. “I be not bothering her with me troubles just yet. I be needing another pair of eyes. You be doing the job nicely.”
“Gee, thanks,” said Christoffer dryly. “You know, I really have to get to school, and I’ve got this thing after with my baby sisters. What about Queen Helena? Is she free?”
“She still be recovering from the last dragon. She not be needing more worries.”
“Queen Helena’s still recovering? Zaria didn’t mention this,” Christoffer said, concerned. “How is she watching over the dragons?”
“She not be watching. She be with me in my river, away from the wretched things,” Olaf said. “Only way to heal.”
“But the Under Realm,” protested Christoffer. “It needs to be protected.”
Olaf waved his hands. “It be protected. King Hector be guarding it.”
“No offense, but Hector’s a tree,” scoffed Christoffer. “I get how he and the Golden Kings keep the dragons from escaping the Under Realm through the barrier of their roots, but Fritjof was able to breach them just a year ago. Who’s to say another dragon can’t do the same?”
“Look, boy,” Olaf growled, causing the hairs to rise on the back of Christoffer’s neck. “It be not for you to decide. Queen Helena be very weak, and she needing to be free of their presence for a time. Somebody need be protecting her like she always be protecting us.”
“Okay, okay, fine,” said Christoffer, giving in. “But I think you should tell this to Zaria. She should know how her mum’s doing.”
“Olaf not be asking her for help unless it be absolutely necessary. Her mother tell me she not be wanting her involved in Under Realm business until there be no other options. Come with me. I must show you this.”
He canted his head. “I’m confused. Didn’t you just say that Queen Helena didn’t know?”
“She not be, but Queen Helena still be wanting Zaria away from the dragons. She wanting her to be a normal girl for as long as possible.”
“I think that ship has sailed,” said Christoffer, wryly.
“It be not for us to decide,” said Olaf, waving his long-fingered hands vaguely.
Despite himself, Christoffer asked, “So, you think you found something related to dragons?”
Instead of answering, the troll half-turned and beckoned, “Come.”
“Oh, all right, I’m coming,” said Christoffer, shrugging his backpack high on his shoulder again. “Let’s go.”
He shook his head at his own folly as he accepted Olaf’s outstretched hand. The cool slick feeling of scales met his warm palm in a disconcerting fashion. Christoffer tried not to grimace as he clambered on top of the wrought-iron railing.
The languid water flowed by in a constant, soft burble as it lapped against the rocky embankment. Looking down at their wavering reflections, he could not imagine he’d willingly be doing something like this, not even in a million years.
“We be jumping on three,” said Olaf, twitching his long, thin fingers.
The water churned, at first sluggishly, and then faster and faster until a whirlpool frothed and foamed. The scene reminded him of another whirlpool and another time four years ago.
*  A huge thank you to Keira for the review copy and permission to post the excerpt from her book.*