The Deck of Omens by Christine Lynn Herman

The Deck of Omens by Christine Lynn Herman

Though the Beast is seemingly subdued for now, a new threat lurks in Four Paths: a corruption seeping from the Gray into the forest. And with the other Founders preoccupied by their tangled alliances and fraying relationships, only May Hawthorne seems to realize the danger. But saving the town she loves means seeking aid from the person her family despises most — her father, Ezra Bishop.
May’s father isn’t the only newcomer in town–Isaac Sullivan’s older brother has also returned, seeking forgiveness for the role he played in Isaac’s troubled past. But Isaac isn’t ready to let go of his family’s history, especially when that history might hold the key that he and Violet Saunders need to destroy the Gray and the monster within it.
Harper Carlisle isn’t ready to forgive, either. Two devastating betrayals have left her isolated from her family and uncertain who to trust. As the corruption becomes impossible to ignore, Harper must learn to control her newfound powers in order to protect Four Paths. But the only people who can help her do that are the ones who have hurt her the most.

With the veil between the Gray and the town growing ever thinner, the Founder descendants must put their grievances with one another aside to stop the corruption and kill the Beast once and for all. But the monster they truly need to slay may never been the Beast…(taken from Amazon)
This is the sequel to The Devouring Gray, which means there might be some unintentional spoilers for that book in this review. If you haven’t read The Devouring Gray, you can find my review here.

After somehow managing to survive the events in The Devouring Gray, the four children of the founding families have splintered into separate factions. Too many betrayals have left them wondering who- if anyone- they can trust. But then May realizes that something is seriously, life- threateningly wrong with the Gray, and suddenly the teens are given a choice: die alone or work together to hopefully survive.
Take the Upside Down from Stranger Things, plunk it square in the middle of Riverdale, and you’ve got the setting for this book. I don’t know which part was more intriguing: the beast in the Gray, or the absolutely messed-up nepotism and privilege given to the descendants of the founding families. Just when you think all the skeletons in the closets have been found, something else jumps out.
I really enjoyed the tangles of storyline. There was a bit of a mystery surrounding the origin of the corruption escaping the Gray, which I really enjoyed. Watching as the teens picked apart the secrets surrounding their families to discover truths that had been thoroughly buried was fascinating.
The previous book focused a lot on Violet and Justin. While they were still a big part of this book, May and Isaac took center stage this time. I liked that the author took time to develop all of the characters, giving each one a specific and unique hurdle. Violet was the window into the town in the last book, so to speak. She was the impetus that brought the weird favoritism to light. May was the one tasked with ending things in this book. Once you read why, it makes perfect sense.
I loved the way the beast from the Gray was described, but it was the freaky trees that had human hair growing out of them that got my gag reflex working overtime. Odd fact about me: any hair not attached to my head grosses me out. Needless to say, those trees are definitely on my “nastiest creations found in literature” list. Blech! I can’t deny that the author’s descriptions were very effective.
This duology is a blast to read and I’ll be on the lookout for more by this author.

Women in Fantasy: the good, the bad, and the hardcore

When people think of fantasy, they sometimes think of the “damsel in distress.” Luckily, there are many other women in fantasy: smart, capable, and epic. Here are some fabulous females in fantasy (how’s that for alliteration?):

The Good:
Echo from Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer-

This book is loosely based on the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon. Echo is an interesting character. She’s very brave, not only sacrificing her freedom for a wolf, but undertaking a harrowing journey to fix a (rather horrendous) mistake. She’s definitely flawed, but that makes her character utterly believable.

Echo Alkaev’s safe and carefully structured world falls apart when her father leaves for the city and mysteriously disappears. Believing he is lost forever, Echo is shocked to find him half-frozen in the winter forest six months later, guarded by a strange talking wolf―the same creature who attacked her as a child. The wolf presents Echo with an ultimatum: if she lives with him for one year, he will ensure her father makes it home safely. But there is more to the wolf than Echo realizes.

In his enchanted house beneath a mountain, each room must be sewn together to keep the home from unraveling, and something new and dark and strange lies behind every door. When centuries-old secrets unfold, Echo discovers a magical library full of books- turned-mirrors, and a young man named Hal who is trapped inside of them. As the year ticks by, the rooms begin to disappear and Echo must solve the mystery of the wolf’s enchantment before her time is up otherwise Echo, the wolf, and Hal will be lost forever. (taken from Amazon)
Cimorene from Dealing with Dragons (The Enchanted Forest #1) by Patricia C. Wrede

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles is the perfect series for younger readers who are just dipping their toes into fantasy. Cimorene is a no-nonsense princess who actually volunteers to be a dragon’s princess. She’s intelligent and resourceful. She also appreciates the many uses for soapy water. Who needs a sword to defeat the big bad?

Take one bored princess. Make her the seventh daughter in a very proper royal family. Have her run away.

Add one powerful, fascinating, dangerous dragon.

Princess Cimerone has never met anyone (or anything) like the dragon Kazul. But then, she’s never met a witch, a jinn, a death-dealing talking bird or a stone prince either.

Princess Cimerone ran away to find some excitement.

She’s found plenty. (taken from Amazon)
Marea from Feathertide by Beth Cartwright (book available in July)

This book doesn’t have magical battles or daring swordfights. It’s entirely character-driven and each person in the book is amazing! Marea is the most three-dimensional character I’ve read in a very long time. I felt everything she did, and watching her change and come into her own was a joy.

Born covered in the feathers of a bird, and kept hidden in a crumbling house full of secrets, Marea has always known she was different, but never known why. And so to find answers, she goes in search of the father she has never met.

The hunt leads her to the City of Murmurs, a place of mermaids and mystery, where jars of swirling mist are carried through the streets by the broken-hearted.

And Mara will never forget what she learns there. (taken from penguin.co)

The Bad (because everyone loves a good villain):
Kitiara from The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’re probably not even remotely surprised that I’ve included Dragonlance in my post. When I think of good (bad?) villains, Kitiara is one of the first to come to mind. She is strong, cunning, and ambitious. Commander of armies, rider of dragons, ally of death knights, Kitiara is the perfect adversary.

Lifelong friends, they went their separate ways. Now they are together again, though each holds secrets from the others in his heart. They speak of a world shadowed with rumors of war. They speak of tales of strange monsters, creatures of myth, creatures of legend. They do not speak of their secrets. Not then. Not until a chance encounter with a beautiful, sorrowful woman, who bears a magical crystal staff, draws the companions deeper into the shadows, forever changing their lives and shaping the fate of the world.

No one expected them to be heroes.

Least of all, them. (taken from Amazon)
Dolores Umbridge and Bellatrix Lestrange from the Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling

Bellatrix Lestrange is a demented zealot, who is perfectly happy using violence to serve Lord Voldemort. There’s not a ton to her character (don’t hate me, Potter fans!), but she’s fun to read.
Dolores Umbridge is absolutely horrible. She’s worse than Voldemort, in my opinion. What makes her character so chilling to read is that most of us know (or know of) someone like her. Someone who is so convinced they’re right that they feel justified doing whatever they deem “necessary” to accomplish a goal.

Dark times have come to Hogwarts. After the Dementors’ attack on his cousin Dudley, Harry Potter knows that Voldemort will stop at nothing to find him. There are many who deny the Dark Lord’s return, but Harry is not alone: a secret order gathers at Grimmauld Place to fight against the dark forces. Harry must allow Professor Snape to teach him how to protect himself from Voldemort’s savage assaults on his mind. But they are growing stronger by the day and Harry is running out of time….(taken from Amazon)
The White Witch from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S Lewis

By now it’s pretty much universally accepted that the White Witch is a representation of Satan. She’s utterly ruthless, even willing to kill children (spoiler alert: she fails at that). She’s C.S. Lewis’ version of the epitome of evil.

The Hardcore:
Cura from Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames

Cura is an inkwitch, meaning the monsters tattooed on her body come to life. She wields them as weapons, which is majorly hardcore. Many of her battles, however, are fought with her own past.

Live fast, die young.

Tam Hashford is tired of working at her local pub, slinging drinks for world-famous mercenaries and listening to the bards sing of adventure and glory in the world beyond her sleepy hometown.

When the biggest mercenary band of all rolls into town, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, Tam jumps at the chance to sign on as their bard. It’s adventure she wants – and adventure she gets as the crew embark on a quest that will end in one of two ways: glory or death.

It’s time to take a walk on the wyld side. (taken from Amazon)
Katharine from the Three Dark Crowns series by Kendare Blake:

Technically, any female from that series would easily fit in this category. They’re all strong in their own unique ways. Katharine, however, is majorly hardcore. She has no immunity to the poisons she’s supposed to be able to control, yet she uses them against herself over and over in an attempt to master them. She is betrayed by one she trusts, but she doesn’t let that break her. She’s been brought up knowing that she’ll probably be killed by one of her own sisters, but she’s not going down without a fight. Love her or hate her, no one can deny her inner strength.
In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn 16, the battle begins.

The last queen standing gets the crown. (taken from Amazon)
Inej from Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention at least one of the kick butt females in Six of Crows. Inej happens to be my favorite. She’s indomitable; she gets knocked around (Leigh Bardugo isn’t nice to her characters), but she never gives up. Plus, her acrobatic and spy skills allow her character to do some incredibly cool things.

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price – and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone.

A convict with a thirst for revenge. A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager. A runaway with a privileged past. A spy known as the Wraith. A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums. A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes. Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction – if they don’t kill each other first. (taken from Amazon)

What say you, fantasy readers? What are some of your favorite females?

Judging a Book by its Cover: an interview with artist Natasha Overttun

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Lately I’ve been thinking about judging books by their covers. We all do it a little bit. A good cover catches the eye and makes us curious about the book. I thought it might be time to feature some great book artists, starting with the excellent Natasha Overttun. You can find her work on the covers of the Terra Nova books by D. Ellis Overttun. If you’d like to contact either of them for interviews, you can find them on Twitter @neoverttun. In a fun twist, author D. Ellis Overttun interviews Natasha Overttun (a husband-wife duo: how cool is that!). The author’s questions are in bold.

@WS_BOOKCLUB, a while back, you floated the idea of doing a Q&A with Natasha. What a great concept! We thought an interesting twist might be if I did the Q. This Q&A will focus on the evolution of Natasha’s work and skills. It was a lot of fun. Thank you for giving us this opportunity.

First of all, could you please give us some opening comments?

(singing) I’m so exited! And I just can’t hide it! I’m about to lose control…

Something that’s not a shower song…

I’m so exited. And I just can’t hide it. I’m about to lose control…

Something that’s not a Pointer Sisters’ song…

Apart from being thrilled, I’m so proud that a blogger like Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub would want to hear what I have to say. At first, I was a little surprised and scared…`

As I recall, I had to talk you into it.

Yes, I’m not used to being out there. But, as time passed, I got more comfortable with it. You know its just like Bob Wiley says: “Baby steps, baby steps.”

I think it was Dr. Leo Marvin.

No, I’m sure it was Bob.

We’ll Wiki after the Q&A. Anyway, how did you first get involved with visual arts?

When I was a little girl, I loved coloring books…

Let’s skip a head a bit…

Oh…well, more than a little while ago, I took an introductory art course at the local community college. One of the projects we did involved collages. Each of us brought in a magazine and were told to cut out pictures or shapes we found interesting. We put them all together on some of the desks in the front row. The exercise was to assemble a cut and paste collage.

I had absolutely no idea what to do. So, I hung back and watched the feeding frenzy. Everyone else seemed to know exactly what they were going to do. My first attempt was a fireplace surrounded by flames, lights and candles suspended in the air. I was so proud of myself! The teacher came by. She gave it a look that was more than just a glance. So, I thought, “Yesss! She likes it!” But it was really one of those howcanIputit looks. “It’s hanging,” she said. “That’s right,” I replied. Then, I realized she meant that something was missing. A few people had gathered around for her critique. “Where is a rock to crawl under when you need one?” I thought.

 

That was the best idea I had, and I now looked through the cutouts on the front desks that had been picked clean. This is what I came up with…

Lips

I was a little more than embarrassed when it came to present at the front of the class. What I put together didn’t look like anything. Oh, where’s that rock?

To my surprise, it drew rave reviews. Who knew?

That course gave me an appreciation for things like balance, composition and perspective. More than that though, my fellow classmates encouraged my small successes. That gave me confidence.

How did you become involved with the Terra Nova series?

You finished the first version of Universe: Awakening in May 2017. I remember you were on the kdp site rushing to publish. Then, it asked you for a cover. I’ll never forget the look on your face. It was: I need a cover? AHHH! Neither of us had any idea what to do. An anxious read of the help notes said we could use a jpeg. Great! But a jpeg of what?

Then, you came up with the idea that we would take a picture of something. So, I got my iPhone, and we frantically scoured our suite for something suitable. You finally decided on one of the patterns from a pot. A few clicks and a couple of emails later, and it was uploaded. It was too small. At the time, we had no idea how to resize an image. My niece is a graphic artist. So, she did it. Uploaded! Publish? No, we had to deal with text: Which font? What size? What color? I gained a real appreciation for your wordsmithing that day. Your string of invectives was colorful and creative. But not “Like wiping your ass with silk” to quote the Merovingian. That said, you finally slapped something together.

Lorna from On the Shelf Reviews (@ljwrites85) gave you some very constructive feedback. It went something like (and I paraphrase) “…perhaps, you could do something with the cover”. You have many faults but not being able to take a hint is not one of them.

Yes, I remember. So, I casually hinted…

Implored…

Asked if you had any suggestions.

Yes, and the result was the second cover.

Before (You) After (Me)

20170829 Universe eBook Cover (120 x 192) 20190330 Universe (2nd ed) - Cover (120 x 192 72 DPI)

How have you gone from collages to covers?

It’s been an evolution. To promote the book, you started a blogsite called “Author’s Cut” where you would write posts about Universe. I read somewhere that it’s good to break up text with visuals, to prevent reader fatigue. When I made the suggestion, I got the job.

I had no idea how to go about actually creating visuals. I was lucky to bump into a site called “Pixabay”. It’s a very popular site that has millions of images available without running into copywrite issues. I started out with find, cut, paste. It was primitive, but it was something. Then, I found some freeware called “Photoscape”, and I was able to do things like add text, crop, superimpose, stuff like that. When it came time for the Universe cover makeover, I was ready.

What’s happened since then?

You found that maintaining a social media presence, writing and publishing were too timeconsuming. So, you vacated SM, and I took over. I started on Twitter last year.

How has that gone?

Very well. I think it has increased SM awareness for your writing in a way you never could. If I say, “Hey! My hubby’s great. Read his stuff”, people say, “What a supportive wife.” If you echo the same sentiment, you’re a braggart.

True, very true. How did you start doing visuals on Twitter?

It started with the header, and it took me to another level. I found that, while Photoscape is great, you can’t edit after you’ve saved and exited the program. I found that Word gave that to me. People trained in graphic arts would probably snub their noses at it, but it was a quick fix that was easy to learn. My first headers were the covers of your first two books plus some Pixabay jpegs.

20190309 TWTR Header (750 x 250)

That looks like the first version of the Genesis cover.

That’s right. When I did it, I thought that it was ok, but something was missing. It kept bugging me, so, finally, I did a makeover. Tada!

20200108 Genesis - Cover (120 x 192)

Yes, it has a certain pop to it.

After that, I noticed that a lot of people have a pinned tweet. I suggested to approach bloggers to do guest posts that I could then pin. I had found that there is a heavy emphasis on visuals on Twitter, so I suggested that I do something to accompany the post that I could attach to the tweet to catch people’s attention. As each post came online, I swapped the pic for the one from Pixabay in my header. Here’s what it eventually looked like.

20191114 TWTR Header (700 x 250)

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Yes, but it’s mostly due to the blogging community who has been very receptive and supportive of our creative efforts.

Have there been any recent developments in your bag of tricks?

Yes, I recently came across a program called GIMP. It’s a real graphic arts program. I’ve only been using it selectively for certain effects because it’s quite involved. For example, in the visual below…

Exodus Final

The breaking apart of the sphere and the beam of light were done in GIMP.

I also started using the gif feature in Photoscape. Most notably, in the recent Prophecy cover reveal. Thank you from the both of us, once again, to Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub for giving it a spot on your blog.

Well, I think we have gone on long enough, any final comments?

More of a question really. I know that one of the characters in the series is named after me. However, she is a blonde with a bob cut. I am not a blonde and have never worn my hair that way. Where did she come from?

Uh…this is your interview, not mine. We should discuss this later.

Yes, we will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May the 4th Be With You: Star Wars Literature is Strong with this One

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May fourth is lovingly known as Star Wars Day (“May the 4th be with you, always”) to fans of the movies. Even though Firefly is my jam, I still have some love for Star Wars, as does my husband and kids. In honor of the day, here’s a list of Star Wars favorites in our house:

The Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn:

From Book 1: It’s five years after the Rebel Alliance destroyed the Death Star, defeated Darth Vader and the Emperor, and drove the remnants of the old Imperial Starfleet to a distant corner of the galaxy. Princess Leia and Han Solo are married and expecting Jedi twins. And Luke Skywalker has become the first in a long-awaited line of Jedi Knights.
 
But thousands of light-years away, the last of the Emperor’s warlords, Grand Admiral Thrawn, has taken command of the shattered Imperial fleet, readied it for war, and pointed it at the fragile heart of the New Republic. For this dark warrior has made two vital discoveries that could destroy everything the courageous men and women of the Rebel Alliance fought so hard to build. (taken from Amazon)

Star Wars ~ The Thrawn Trilogy: (Vol. 1) Heir to the Empire ; (Vol ...

My husband and I both loved these, although I must admit it’s been a while since I’ve read them. I am not sure if they’re still considered canon, but I don’t care all that much: good is good.

Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire by Delilah S. Dawson

After devastating losses at the hands of the First Order, General Leia Organa has dispatched her agents across the galaxy in search of allies, sanctuary, and firepower—and her top spy, Vi Moradi, may have just found all three, on a secluded world at the galaxy’s edge.
 
A planet of lush forests, precarious mountains, and towering, petrified trees, Batuu is on the furthest possible frontier of the galactic map, the last settled world before the mysterious expanse of Wild Space. The rogues, smugglers, and adventurers who eke out a living on the largest settlement on the planet, Black Spire Outpost, are here to avoid prying eyes and unnecessary complications. Vi, a Resistance spy on the run from the First Order, is hardly a welcome guest. And when a shuttle full of stormtroopers lands in her wake, determined to root her out, she has no idea where to find help.
 
To survive, Vi will have to seek out the good-hearted heroes hiding in a world that redefines scum and villainy. With the help of a traitorous trooper and her acerbic droid, she begins to gather a colorful band of outcasts and misfits, and embarks on a mission to spark the fire of resistance on Batuu—before the First Order snuffs it out entirely. (taken from Amazon)

Amazon.com: Galaxy's Edge: Black Spire (Star Wars) (9780593128381 ...

Delilah S. Dawson is a fantastic writer. I really enjoyed Kill the Farm Boy, so of course her take on Star Wars is worth reading. My oldest loved it.

Wookie the Chew by James Hance

‘Wookiee The Chew’, in the style of the original Pooh books tells the adorkable tale of the little biped that belonged to Chrisolo Robin (and Chrisolo Robin belonged to him). 24 pages of affectionately crafted adventure, brand new b&w illustrations and sneaky Star Wars references- a tribute to the combined genius of George Lucas, A.A.Milne and E.H.Sheppard. Suitable for jedi apprentices of all ages! (taken from jameshance.co)

Let’s all pause for a collective “Aww”. This book is as absolutely adorable as it looks. It’s great for any age, and is definitely worth the read.

The Origami Yoda Files by Tom Angleberger

Not so long ago, in a middle school not so far away, a sixth grader named Dwight folded an origami finger puppet of Yoda. For class oddball Dwight, this wasn’t weird. It was typical Dwight behavior. But whatis weird is that Origami Yoda is uncannily wise and prescient. He can predict the date of a pop quiz, guess who stole the classroom Shakespeare bust, and save a classmate from popularity-crushing embarrassment with some well-timed advice. Dwight’s classmate Tommy wonders how Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. With contributions from his puzzled classmates, Tommy assembles this first case file in the blockbuster bestselling Origami Yoda series, hailed bySchool Library Journal as “honest, funny, and immensely entertaining.” (taken from Amazon)

Amazon.com - The Origami Yoda Files: Collectible 8-book Boxed set -

Oh, the hundreds of origami Star Wars creations that have graced our house since my oldest discovered this series! These books are a lot of fun, and the step-by-step directions for making your own origami Star Wars characters inspire creativity. Plus, Tom Angleberger rocks: my oldest has written him two fan letters, and Tom responded both times! It meant the world to my oldest (it means a lot to me too).

Goodnight, Darth Vader by Jeffrey Brown

It’s time for a Star Wars bedtime story in a galaxy far, far away, and Darth Vader’s parenting skills are tested anew in this delightful follow-up to the breakout New York Times Star Wars books bestsellers Darth Vader™ and Son and Vader’s™ Little Princess. In this Episode, the Sith Lord must soothe his rambunctious twins, Luke and Leia—who are not ready to sleep and who insist on a story. As Vader reads, the book looks in on favorite creatures, droids, and characters, such as Yoda, R2-D2, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Darth Maul, Admiral Ackbar, Boba Fett, and many others as they tuck in, yawn, and settle down to dream. As ever, Jeffrey Brown’s charming illustrations and humor glow throughout, playing on children’s book conventions to enchant adults and kids alike. This Star Wars makes a fun, unique pregnancy gift, a new Dad gift, or funny new parent gift! (taken from Amazon)

Goodnight Darth Vader (Star Wars Comics for Parents, Darth Vader ...

There are several Star Wars books like this by Jeffrey Brown, but I read Goodnight Darth Vader first. It’s a lot of fun, and the illustrations are so cute!

Star Wars OBI-123 by Calliope Glass, Caitlin Kennedy, and illustrated by Katie Cook

ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR
Counting with Star Wars is hardly a chore!
From the chosen ONE to a transport of TWENTY
This book is full of numbers aplenty!
So, Padawans, prepare, get ready, get set
For a numerical lesson you’ll never forget! (taken from Amazon)

My toddler tornado loves this book for the colorful pictures, and the fun rhymes. I love it because it actually goes up to twenty, instead of stopping at ten, which is rare in counting books. It made teaching number recognition easier and more fun.

What are some Star Wars books you love? Have you read any of these? May the 4th be with you!