Book Review: Nate Rocks The Boat by Karen Pokras Toz

NateRockstheBoat_promo_printTitle: Nate Rocks The Boat
Author: Karen Pokras Toz
Genre: Humor, Adventure, MG, Children’s Books
Publisher: Grand Daisy Press
Publication Date: April 20th 2012
Goodreads | Author Website | Amazon (Paperback) | Amazon (Kindle)
Review copy provided by Enchanted Book Tours.

The Adventure Continues…With fourth grade finally winding down, 10-year-old Nathan Rockledge is looking forward to a fun and relaxing summer at home with his friends. That is, until his mom decides he has to go to overnight camp with his annoying older sister. When his best friend, Tommy, decides to tag along, Nathan thinks maybe his summer won’t actually be so bad. After all, he does get to be away from his mom’s awful cooking for an entire six weeks. Amongst Color War competitions, a flaky counselor, and a bully named “No-Neck,” Nathan turns to his trusty sketchpad, transforming himself into Nate Rocks: 10-year-old extraordinaire. His speedboat ready for action, Nate saves the day time and again from the perils of floods, snakes, ghosts, and even the most wanted criminals. Join Nathan, Tommy, Abby, and a whole new cast of characters as Nate Rocks once again proves nothing can hold him back.

Nate Rocks The Boat is another book in the MG Series “Nate Rocks”. I reviewed the other book in the series, Nate Rocks The World yesterday and very much enjoyed reading and reviewing it. In this new adventure, Nate is back for some fun, hilarious situations in a new setting – namely, summer camp.

Nate is your regular, average ten-year-old except than whenever he starts daydreaming, or gets stuck in some peculiar situations, he begins draw comic books in which he doubles as Nate Rocks, a brave and intelligent superhero. Nate’s ideal summer holiday meant hanging out with his best friend Tommy and doing absolutely nothing, chilling out and relaxing all summer long. Unfortunately, his Mom has other plans. She’s convinced Nate should go with his sister Abby to overnight camp. Although that’s the last thing Nate wants, when his buddy Tommy shows up as well, he realizes overnight camp may not be as terrible as he first envisioned. Plus, at least summer camp means he won’t have to eat his Mom’s terrible food for six weeks.

Summer camp has never been this exciting before. Imaginative and creative Nate ends up from one hilarious, sometimes even dangerous situation into another. Canoeing, scavenger hunts and kickball turns from ordinary sports into true adventures as Nate Rocks saves the camp from a flood, he saves another kid from being bitten by a rattler, and a lot more! Even camp bullies aren’t safe from Nate Rocks. Like the title of the book suggests, the water often proves to be the source of the danger Nate has to overcome, and every time he does, he does so in typical Nate Rocks fashion.

This is a must-read book for all kids, especially boys, of around age ten. The Nate Rocks series shows how young reagers can use the imagination of their brain while still knowing it’s imagination – not real. The adventures happening to Nate are close to home for a lot of kids, and they’ll easily recognize themselves in the characters. I very much enjoyed reading this book, and am keeping my fingers crossed author Karen Pokras Toz decides to write more books in the Nate Rocks series.

Book Review: Nate Rocks The World by Karen Pokras Toz and Giveaway

Nate Cover Final_X.inddTitle: Nate Rocks The World
Author: Karen Pokras Toz
Genre: MG, Humor, Adventure, Children’s Books
Publisher: Self-Published, Createspace
Publication Date: 2011
Goodreads | Author Website | Amazon (Kindle) | Amazon (Paperback)
Review copy provided by Enchanted Book Tours.

Nate Rocks can do it all: part super-hero, part all-star athlete, part rock-star… part fourth-grader?
Ten-year-old Nathan Rockledge cannot catch a break. After all, life as a fourth-grader can be hazardous what with science projects to deal with and recess football games to avoid. Everyone, including his best friend Tommy, seems to have bad luck when hanging around Nathan. Throw in an older sister who is a royal pain, a dad who is stuck in the past, and a mom who keeps trying to poison him with her awful cooking, and poor Nathan’s life as a fourth grader appears to be completely doomed.
Armed only with his sketchpad, his imagination, and his wits, Nathan Rockledge navigates the perils of the fourth grade in style, to emerge heroic, as Nate Rocks, proving that even a ten-year-old can accomplish great things.

Nate Rocks The World is one of two stand-alone MG novels written by author Karen Pokras Toz. The other novel, Nate Rocks The Boat, features the same main character, but each can be read seperately, although connected.

When I first began reading Nate Rocks The World, I didn’t know what to expect. This is the first ever self-published MG novel I’ve ever read. It certainly didn’t dissapoint – instead it was a new and rewaring experience. What I loved the most about this book, is Nate’s creativity. He can’t stay focused. Give him a pencil, a marker, or whatever you want, and he starts drawing comics in which he acts as the hero and solves mysteries. Unfortunately for Nate, real life isn’t a comic book. While he would like nothing more than to go see the latest captain Asteroid movie with his best friends, he’s forced to stay at home to work on a project for school with a girl he can stand, who tells her Mom everything, and whose Mom tells all of that to Nate’s Mom, because they happen to best friends. Nate is often teased by his older sister Abby, he daydreams in school and gets caught doing so, and although his parents mean well, they always tend to embarass him. Basically, he’s suffering from the same things every fourth grader suffers from, with this exception – if it all gets too much, he starts drawing comics and escapes to his fantasy world.

I really enjoyed Nate’s adventures, and his enormous amount of humor and creativity. I can only imagine how much ten-year-olds will enjoy this as well. The book is written more for boys than for girls, but I think a girl would be able to relate to Nate as well. He’s a nice kid, and the events happening to him are easily relatable. For instance, when it’s Halloween, his Mom doesn’t see why she should purchase a halloween outfit for him. Instead she sets off to make one herself. The consequences are disastrous, because as it turns out, Mom can’t even make a proper cape! When Nate’s sister Abby manages to embarrass him even more on Halloween, Nate and his buddies decide it’s payback time. And Abby’s birthday sounds like the best place and location to get even.

The humor in this book is amazing, the characters are believable and relatable for parents and childrens alike, and the events are close to home, but Nate’s way to deal with them is original, fun and very enjoyable. A must-read for all MG book fans. I’m looking forward to getting started on the next book in this series. Nate Rocks The World deserves a spot in your book closet right now.

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Book Review: A Vampire’s Deadly Delight by Liv Rancourt

13438160Title: A Vampire’s Deadly Delight
Author: Liv Rancourt
Genre: Vampires, Paranormal, Clicklit, Novella
Publication Date: January 11th 2012
Publisher: Black Opal Books
Rating: 3,5 stars
Review copy thanks to Bookish Snob Promotions.
Smashwords | B&N | Amazon

She’s a quiet, unassuming bookstore owner by day, but by night…
Kristen has a deadly secret—when she smells a vampire, she turns into Jai, a beauti-licious babe who makes vamps permanently dead. To a vamp, Jai is like ambrosia. They can’t resist her. She uses this attraction, plus her super strength and her trusty blade, Mr. Sticky, to end their undead lives. The thrill of wearing miniskirts without worrying about cellulite stifles any qualms Kristen might have about killing the undead. Being Jai is the most fun she has ever had—until they come up against the one vampire Jai can’t kill. If he and Jai have a history, as he claims, Jai can’t remember it…or him.
But when her work catches the attention of some old enemies—who won’t hesitate to destroy Kristen if it also means the end of Jai—this vampire may be their only hope. Can Kristen and Jai learn to tell the difference between good and evil in time to defeat Jai’s ancient nemesis? Or will being Jai’s hostess cost Kristen more than just a little sleep?

I’m not a big fan of chicklit, and A Vampire’s Deadly Delight is definitely chicklit. But surprisingly enough, I found myself enjoying the story. It’s a bit short, hence why it’s a novella of course, but this time I wasn’t too bothered with the fact that it was a short book. It’s like you realize from the start that this is meant to be a novella. It’s light-hearted, funny and cute, and just a light read for a casual winter afternoon.

This book actually has two heroines. Tricky part? They both share the same body, which of course leads to hilarious circumstances and events. The body apparently belongs to Kristen, one of these two heroines, and is sometimes inhabited or possessed (whatever term you prefer) by Jai, our other heroine. To help keep things simple, Kristen and Jai’s POVs are in different fonts. They both talk in first person, and they’re actually surprisingly easy to relate to. I found myself likin both Kristen and Jai, and finding it hard to decide who I should like more. Kristen is a shy, quiet and calm book store owner who, duh, loves books. That’s why I could relate to her almost instantly. But then, as soon as she smells the undead, she morphs into Jai, vampire slayer extraordinaire, who reminded me a lot of Buffy, my favorite heroine ever. So deciding between a fellow bibliophile or a kick-ass vampire slayer was a bit too hard, so I settled to like them both.

Of course there are enough hot guys to make this story interesting, and the wit and humor of both the author and characters kept me turning page after page. However, this isn’t just some brainless chicklit. There’s actually a story behind all of it, as Jai’s powers seem to be taning and an old arch nemesis of hers resurfaces. Kristen and Jai have to team up to fight him, and they’ll have to learn how to put their differences aside – something which sounds easier than it is. If you’re looking for a light read that will bring a smile to your face, and sometimes even cause you to burst out laughing, then A Vampire’s Deadly Delight is a great choice.

Author Interview with Liv Rancourt and Giveaway

The Book

13438160

Author Interview Questions

1. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

When I was in about the fourth grade, I tried to re-write Little House on the Prairie. I’m not sure how successful I was, but my mother grabbed onto the idea that I was going to be a writer. She encouraged me, and so did a couple high school teachers, so I kind of figured I’d be a writer, too. Some day. Then when I was in college I took a creative writing class and the instructor didn’t like the main character in my big final project. And just like that, I decided I wouldn’t be a writer. Because when you’re twenty, you’re kind of crazy. Like that.

Then a couple years ago it dawned on me that, while I’d always thought I would grow up to be a writer, I was running out of time. I’m going to be fifty on my next birthday, so it was pretty much ‘now or never’. I bought a thumb drive to save my stories on and got to it. And here I am.

How long does it take you to write a book?

It depends. I try for about five thousand words a week, and many times I meet that goal. It took me about two months to write the first draft of A Vampire’s Deadly Delight, and it’s just over forty thousand words long. On the other hand, I have another piece that’s about twice as long and I’ve been working on it since January of 2010. Don’t know when that one will be done, because I have to learn more about writing to get it to where it needs to be. I’m better at writing short stories, because out of necessity you have to tighten the plot and narrow your focus. I can crank out a short story in a week to ten days, unless real life gets in the way.

What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

Writing quirk? Hmm… The dialogue I write is often a pretty accurate reflection of the internal monologue that’s going through my head, although I’d NEVER say the stuff out loud. It’s pretty kooky in here, guys, and writing’s the best way I know to let some of the crazy bits out in a socially acceptable way.

How do you come up with the idea for A Vampire’s Deadly Delight?

I read a lot of paranormal fiction, and found myself frustrated with vampire characters who are such sexual superheros that any mortal woman they meet basically drops and spreads her legs without putting up a fight. I got to thinking about what would happen if there was a character that vampires found irresistible, but who could destroy them the same way they destroy mortal women. And thus, Jai was born. She’s the alter-ego of my main character Kristen, and she takes over whenever Kristen smells vampire. It’s sort of a Buffy meets Spiderman kind of thing.

Who would you consider your favorite author and why?

Okay, that’s the toughest question I’ve ever been asked. Just one? Can I tell you about three? I like Octavia Butler because she never let the language get in the way of telling a good story. I like Charlaine Harris because she can sketch a living breathing character in twenty five words or less. Okay, maybe fifty words, but you get the idea. And right now I’m lovin’ Richard Kadrey, because his Sandman Slim character is such a baaddd boy.

Are you working on something right now? If so, what?

Absolutely! I just finished editing a short story, “Tangled Dreams” that will appear in an anthology, Bites: Ten Tales of Vampires edited by Rayne Hall, and I’m editing another short story, “Temptation’s Touch”, that will appear this March in an anothology for Still Moments Publishing. I’ve written the synopsis for another short story that has an end of February deadline, and I have the first three chapters drafted of a novel (novella?). I’m researching this last piece, doing character sketches and working on the outline of the plot. I’m not real rigid about the groundwork, but I like to have some idea where I’m going before I really get into the work of writing.

Author Bio

Liv Rancourt is a writer of speculative fiction and romance. She lives in Seattle with her husband, two teenagers, two cats and one wayward puppy. Writing stories that have happy endings is a good way to balance her work in the neonatal intensive care unit, and she is thrilled to be publishing her first novella with Black Opal Books. Liv can be found on-line at her website, her blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Giveaway

Author Liv Rancourt agreed to give away one eBook copy of A Vampire’s Deadly Delight on I Heart Reading.

She’s also giving away a copy of the cover art to one lucky winner at the end of the tour. Please visit her website to find out more.


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Book Tour

This blog post is part of a book tour organized by Bookish Snob Promotions.
The next tour stop is on February 8th, on The Wormyhole.

Book Review: Random Magic by Sasha Soren

6773540Title: Random Magic
Author: Sasha Soren
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Humor
Publisher: Beach Books, LLC
Publication Date: January 1st 2010
RMT Tour – Pirates! | Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 4 stars
Review copy provided by author.

When absent-minded Professor Random misplaces the main character from Alice in Wonderland, young Henry Witherspoon must book-jump to fetch Alice before chaos theory kicks in and the world vanishes. Along the way he meets Winnie Flapjack, a wit-cracking doodle witch with nothing to her name but a magic feather and a plan. Such as it is. Henry and Winnie brave the Dark Queen, whatwolves, pirates, Struths, and fluttersmoths, Priscilla and Charybdis, obnoxiously cheerful vampires, Baron Samedi, a nine-dimensional cat, and one perpetually inebriated Muse to rescue Alice and save the world by tea time.

I was contacted about Random Magic a couple of weeks ago, and I was quite excited to be part of the tour. It was only when I visited the RMT Tour – Pirates! website that I realized the author has been touring with Random Magic on and off for the last year. It must have really taken a lot of time and effort, and I find it pretty amazing and wonderful that someone goes through all that trouble to promote their book. It shows that the author really loves his work, and is still as passionate about it as in the beginning. After I signed up for the tour, I got an entire package in my mailbox approximately a week later. In the package there was the book (of course!), but much more as well. Naturally, I didn’t get the references at first, but it became clear enough when I read the book. There was a rubber ducky, a garland with hearts, a pirate card, a beautiful red feather, a wonderful bookmark and much more. It was quite the surprise, and I felt very happy with it. Not every author puts together an entire box full of goodies referencing to their book. It was highly original, and it raised my expectation for the book.

Just a warning ahead, I promised that I would do a dual language review for this book, as a special bonus feature for the Pirates Tour. This is a one-time occassion though, and I’m not going to write dual language reviews for every book I read from now on. One time occassion, people, so enjoy it while it lasts 😉 My English review will be first, and then I will add my review in Flemish/Dutch below. There’s also an additional bonus feature, which is an extremely cool Pirate’s Game! I made an extra post for the bonus feature.  Aye, matey! Which reminds me of how very suitable this is, a pirate-theme post, right in the release week of Pirates of the Carribean 4: On Stranger Tides. On another note, go see that movie. It’s amazing. And now, on to the review.

English Review

I had trouble deciding whether Random Magic was actually, as the title suggests, completely random, or, as I have been inclined to believe after reading the book, utterly brilliant. I vote for random brilliance. And I must admit that this is one of the most difficult reviews I’ve had to write in like, ever. It’s hard trying to put my thoughts into words, because in all honesty, my thoughts about the book are probably just as random as the book itself.

First, there’s a reference to haunted houses, which doesn’t really make all that much sense, but is hilarious all the same. Next, we see that the family sollicitor has been called because Henry Witherspoon has been missing for three weeks. While his friends worry about his whereabouts, a young girl comes strolling in, a girl who looks exactly like Alice from Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland. She tells Henry’s friends not to worry, because he is exactly where he should be, in a place where he has been before, and where he always wanted to return. It’s pretty clear by now that Alice loves to talk in riddles, or that she has a very awkward way of explaining herself. She then confides them with the story of how Henry first travelled to Edgeland, a land between the pages of a book, because Professor Random – who is everything his name suggests him to be – was stupid enough to put Alice back in the wrong book. Unfortunately, the professor puts Henry in the wrong book as well, Myths and Legends rather than Alice in Wonderland. And Henry, who probably thinks his luck must have run up a long time ago, ends up in the middle of the mob scene, the mob’s target Winnie Flapjack, a self-proclaimed doodle witch. What Henry doesn’t know is that he probably ran into the person most capable of helping him find his way in this strange, mystical world. Because if someone can take Henry to find Alice back, then it’s probably Winnie Flapjack.

After escaping the raging mob, solving riddles to cross a chasm, riding on the back of a whatwolf, visiting the castle of the notorious De Morgue’s family and having a rendez-vous with none other than the Muses, they are only half-way in their adventures. They still have to cross the Peculiar Sea, get rid of a bunch of annoying Pirates, find the house of the Baba Yaga, escape a floating city where people turn into hideous monsters, defeat the Red Queen in a chess match…and that all before tea time.

The creativity of Sascha Soren knows no boundaries. She finds inspiration in Greek mythology (the muses for instance, but more about them later), today’s urban legends (vampire, the De Morgue family), Alice in Wonderland itself (the riddles, the Red Queen), folklore (Baba Yaga) and her own imagination. How much more funnier and interesting can it get? This by far the most original novel I have ever read. It would not surprise me if teachers were talking about it in their literature classes ten years for now, and call it something like the “random genre”. I know that there’s currently this movement in poetry, of poets slapping random words together to make a poem, and I can well imagine Random Magic being the first prose work in the “random genre”. It fits with the 21st century style of wanting everything and getting nothing, our lives itself being a mismatch of all different things. No one is “something” anymore, we are all several “somethings”, randomly put together in constructions that miraculously work. Random Magic works a bit like this as well. It’s mostly dialogue-driven, and at first it seems utterly random and hard to make something out of it, but then it all clicks together and you realize you’re looking at a piece of utmost brilliance.

Sascha Soren takes Lewis Carroll’s sparkling, bright and imaginative story of Alice in Wonderland, and practically puts the lightbulb on. We see a world that’s even more crazy, even more random, even more unreal, and all the more fun than the world we have grown accostumed to. Just take a second to imagine it: rubber duckies changing into actual submarines, a real-life chess game with actual people as the pawns that can only be compared to the chess game Harry Potter was submitted to in one of the first books in the series, the muses actually come to life, a strange and peculiar family that reminds you instantly of the Adams Family. As soon as you open Random Magic, you’re in for a rollercoaster of events, all equally bizarre and yet strangely familiar. Searching for the references to classic works of literature or more modern things like TV shows and popular book series of nowadays, is basically a sport on its own. The humor is amazing, and I had a smile on my face from page one till the very end. Of course, it’s completely and utterly random – but that’s the fun of it.

Winnie Flapjack is a cheerful, determined and intelligent character. I instantly liked her, with her quirky attitude and light-hearted humor. And she’s a doodle witch. Is there anything remotely more interesting than a doodle witch? I don’t think even Baba Yaga can beat that in terms of coolness. Henry on the other hand, is of course unfamiliar with the strange world he has been trapped in, and is constantly wondering “why this” “why that”, while he should probably just shut up already and let Winnie do the talking. They’re an odd pair by definition, equally random as their surroundings, and their friendship turning into love seems a random event as well. I was glad to see Henry finally becoming more independent towards the end of the book – it was about time! Their adventures are hilarious, their interactions ranging between “kill Henry now” and “aawww, so cute”, and they fit the rest of the theme of the book. Random.

I must admit that there were two scenes I enjoyed the most in this book. The first being the scene at the house of the muses. May I introduce you to H.P. (Lovecraft, for the non-litterate amongst us), Shakes (Shakespeare), Bauds (Baudelaire), Poe (Edgar Allen Poe), a bunch of gloomy Russian poets, quite a few Georges, and other notables, who hang around the House of the Nine Muses. Also, all of the muses have nicknames, some of which are so random, they will make you crack up with laughter. Note also that H.P.’s comment on just about everything is “ghastly”, and Bauds actually says “zut alors” occasionally. The second of my favorite scenes was the scene at the home of the DeMorgue family. I’ve always loved the Addams family, and the DeMorgue’s made me think back about how much fun it used to be to watch an episode of the Addams family. That said, the DeMorgues are probably even more ghastly and gaunt.

There’s an additional chapter added at the end of the book describing how Lady DeMorgue got into the state she is now. I really enjoyed reading that chapter, and although it’s several tones darker than the light-heartedness of the rest of the book, I found it highly amusing and extremely original as well. How many times can one cheat death, or challenge someone as terrifiyng as Death itself or the God of the Underworld? Anyway, I must agree with the author’s and editor’s decision that adding that chapter in the book would have made the pace slow down significantly, but it was a nice bonus at the end.

Now, there’s a reason why I gave this book four stars rather than five. I felt like I couldn’t get an actual grasp of the characters because they were a bit too random. As their surroundings, they’re a mismatch of feelings and emotions, and it was hard to actually understand some of their actions. I also felt like sometimes the plotline was lacking (it’s all about the journey here, not the destination) and there were too many secondary characters to keep track off. Also, the cover really doesn’t fit the book. It’s too normal, too ordinary for that. Not that I’d make any book lose points because their cover isn’t great, but it’s just a note I would like to add.

If you’re tired of literature the way it’s always been, and you’re up for something so completely random, so completely hilarious and so completely mind-blowing that it’s going to change your perspective on books forever, then Random Magic definetely is the rigth book for you. It offers everything from an imaginative plot to hilarious characters to brilliant dialogues and references to popular authors, musicians, myths and legends. I would recommend it to everyone who’s not afraid of something new and shiny, and isn’t wary of the peculiar and the strange.

Flemish/Dutch Review

Het was moeilijk voor mij om te beslissen of Random Magic nu eigenlijk, zoals de titel suggeerde, compleet willekeurig was of, zoals ik neigde om te geloven na het boek gelezen te hebben, subliem en brilliant. Mijn stem gaat uit naar willekeurige ‘random’ genialiteit. En ik moet toegeven dat dit ook een van de moeilijkste recensies was ooit om te schrijven; het is lastig om mijn gedachten in woorden om te zetten omdat ze, als ik eerlijk ben, bijna net zo ‘random’ zijn als het boek zelf.

We beginnen met een referentie naar spookhuizen, wat niet veel belang heeft voor de rest van het verhaal, maar toch een zeker niveau van hilariteit bevat. In het volgende hoofdstuk zien we dat de advocaat van de familie is opgeroepen omdat Henry Witherspoon, één van de hoofdpersonages uit het boek, al drie weken spoorloos is. Terwijl zijn vrienden zich zorgen maken over waar hij nu weer uithangt, komt een jong meisje argeloos binnenwandelen. Dat meisje lijkt sprekend op Alice uit Wonderland, uit het gelijknamige boek van Lewis Carroll. Ze vertelt Henry’s vrienden dat ze zich geen zorgen moeten maken, omdat hun vriend precies is waar hij behoort te zijn en met wie hij behoort te zijn. Het wordt al snel duidelijk dat Alice graag in raadsels praat, en dat ze een nogal vreemde manier heeft om zichzelf uit te drukken. Ze vertelt de bezorgde vrienden een verhaal over hoe Henry de eerste keer een reis maakte naar Edgeland, een land dat zich bevinden tussen de pagina’s van elk boek. De reden waarom Henry zo’n bizarre reis maakte was omdat professor Random – die alles is wat zijn naam betekent – niet oplettend genoeg was, en zo Alice in het verkeerde boek terugplaatste. Blijkt dat Random nog steeds niet leerde uit zijn fouten, want hij slaagde erin ook Henry in het verkeerde boek terecht te doen komen. Henry, die tegen dan van mening was dat hij het minste geluk had van wie dan ook in de hele wereld, komt terecht in het midden van een achtervolginsscène door een uitjouwende massa. Winnie Flapjack, een doodle heks, is degene naar wie de massa op zoek is. Wat Henry echter nog niet beseft, is dat hij net die persoon is tegengekomen, die het meeste kans heeft om hem in één stuk terug naar huis te krijgen. Want als er iemand is die Henry kan helpen Alice terug te vinden, dan is dat wel Winnie Flapjack.

Nadat ze ontsnapt zijn van de woedende massa, raadsels opgelost hebben om een brug over te steken, gereden hebben om de rug van een whatwolf, een bezoekje gebracht hebben aan het kasteel van de beruchte familie DeMorgue, en terechtgekomen zijn in het Huis van de Negen Muzen, zijn ze nog maar halfweg hun avonturen. Ze moeten nog steeds de Vreemde Zee oversteken, een bende bloeddorstige piraten verslaan, het huis vinden van de Baba Yaga, ontsnappen uit een drijvende staf waar mensen veranderen in afschuwelijk monsters, en de Rode Koningin verslaan in een spelletje schaak…en dat allemaal voor theetijd.

De creativiteit van Sascha Soren is eindeloos. Ze vindt inspiratie in de Griekse mythologie (bijvoorbeeld de negen muzen), hedendaagse urban legends (de vampires, de familie De Morgue), de originele versie van Alice in Wonderland door Lewis Carroll (de raadsels, de Rode Koningin), folklore (Baba Yaga), en haar eigen inbeeldingsvermogen. Hoe grappiger en interessanter kan het nog worden? Dit is het meest originele boek dat ik ooit gelezen heb, en het zou me niet verbazen moeten leerkrachten hier binnen tien jaar in hun literatuurlessen over praten, en het dopen als het eerste boek in het ‘random genre’. Op het moment is er een beweging aan de gang in hedendaagse dichtkunde waarin de dichters willekeurige woorden samenplakken om zo tot een gedicht te komen, en ik kan me goed genoeg inbeelden dat Random Magic het eerste proza-werk zou worden om tot dit genre te behoren. Het past ook goed in de 21e eeuwse stijl van alles willen en niets krijgen, onze levens zelf een subliem voorbeeld van hoe men dingen kan samen gooien om met iets origineel en ‘random’ op te proppen te komen. Niemand is één iets, we zijn allemaal verschillende dingen, op een willekeurige manier samengesteld in constructies die op wonderbaarlijke wijze toch werken. Random Magic werkt een beetje op hetzelfde principe. Het zijn vooral de dialogen die het boek maken, en in eerste instantie lijkt het enorm willekeurig en moeilijk om er iets van te maken, maar op een bepaald moment klinkt het allemaal samen en kom je tot het besef dat je werkelijk een briljant werk aan het lezen bent.

Sascha Soren neemt Lewis Carroll’s prachtige, creatieve en originele verhaal van Alice in Wonderland, en het lijkt alsof ze plots de grote lamp aansteekt. We zien een wereld die nog gekker, nog willekeurig, en nog surrealistischer, en des te hilarischer, is dat de wereld die we al kennen uit het originele boeken. Beeldt het je gewoon eens in: rubberen badeendjes die veranderen in onderzeeërs, een spelletje schaak met echte mensen in plaats van pionnen een beetje zoals Harry Potter moest ondergaan in het eerste boek in de gelijknamige serie, de musen die als het ware tot leven komen op de bladzijden van het boek en een vreemde familie die je doet deken aan de Addams Family. Van zodra je Random Magic openslaat, kom je van het ene avontuur in het andere terecht, allemaal even bizar and toch op een rare manier bekend. Zoeken naar de referenties naar klassieke literaire werken of meer moderne dingen zoals TV Shows en populaire boekseries, wordt een sport op zichzelf. De humor is fantastisch, en ik had een lach op mijn gezicht vanaf de eerste pagina tot aan het einde. Natuurlijk is het volledig willekeurig – maar daar zit dan ook de humor.

Winnie Flapjack is een positief ingesteld, vastbesloten en intelligent personage. Ik mocht haar graag vanaf het begin, met haar positieve instelling en luchtige humor. En, ze is een doodle heks. Henry aan de andere kant, is natuurlijk niet bekend met de vreemde wereld waarin hij terecht komt, en stelt continue vragen zoals “waarom dit” en “waarom dat”, terwijl ik het gevoel had dat hij beter kon zwijgen en Winnie aan het woord kon laten. Per definitie zijn ze een vreemd paar, beiden net zo ‘random’ als de wereld waarin ze zich bevinden, en hun vriendschap die verandert in liefde lijkt eveneens willekeurig. Ik was blij om te zien dat Henry zich meer en meer onafhankelijk gaat opstellen naar het einde van het boek toe – dat werd tijd! Hun gezamenlijke avonturen zijn hilarisch, hun interacties variëren tussen “doe Henry nu dood” en “awww, zo schattig”, and ze passen precies bij het thema van het boek. Willekeurig. Random.

Ik moet toegeven dat er twee scenes waren die ik het leukst vond in het boek. De eerste was de scene in het Huis van de Muzen. Mag ik je voorstellen aan H.P. (Lovecraft, voor de niet-literaire fanatice onder ons), Shakes (Shakespeare), Bauds (Baudelaire), Poe (Edgar Allen Poe), een groep melancholische Russiche dichters, een handjevol Georges, en andere noemenswaardigen, die rondhangen in het Huis van de Muzen. Ook hebben alle Muzen bijnamen, waarvan sommige zo willekeurig zijn, dat ze je meteen in lachen doen uitbarsten. Let er ook op dat H.P.’s commentaar op bijna alles is “ghastly”, en dat Bauds geregeld terugvalt in “zut alors”. Mijn tweede favoriete scene was de scene in het huis van de DeMorgue familie. Ik ben altijd al een fan geweest van The Addams Family, en de DeMorgue’s lieten me terugdenken aan hoe leuk het altijd was om naar een episode van deze serie te kijken.

Er is een extra hoofdstuk toegevoegd op het einde van het boek, dat weergeeft hoe Lady DeMorgue geworden is zoals ze nu is. Ik vond het echt heel leuk om dat hoofdstuk te lezen, en ook al is het dan verschillende tonen duisterder dan de luchtigheid van de rest van het boek, ik vond het vrij interessant en origineel. Hoeveel keren kan men de Dood te slim af zijn, of iemand uitdagen die zo afschrikwekkend is als de Dood zelf of de God van de Onderwereld? In elk geval, ik moet het wel eens zijn met de beslissing van de auteur en de editor dat het toevoegen van dit hoofdstuk in het boek zelf, het boek significant zou vertragen. Het was toch een leuke bonus op het einde.

Er is wel degelijk een reden waarom ik dit boek vier sterren geef in plaats van vijf. Ik had het gevoel dat ik geen echte grip om de personages kon krijgen omdat ze een beetje te random waren. Net zoals de wereld rondom hen, zijn ze een samenloop van gevoelens en emoties, en het was moeilijk om sommige van hun acties te begrijpen. Ook had ik soms het gevoel dat het plot te wensen overliet (het belangrijkste is de reis, en niet de bestemming), en er waren teveel personages om ze allemaal te onthouden. De kaft was ook niet perfect voor het boek: ik vond hem veel te normaal.

Als je het beu bent om literatuur te lezen die normal en alledaags is, en je ziet het wel zitten om iets te lezen dat zo volledig willekeurig, zo volledig hilarisch en zo volledig fantastisch is dat het je perspectief op boeken voor eeuwig zal veranderen, dan is Random Magic zeker een geode keus. Het biedt alles van een creatief plot tot hilarische personages, briljante dialogen en referenties naar populaire auteurs, muzikanten, mythen en legenden. Ik zou het aanraden aan iedereen die niet bang is van iets nieuws en anders.

Character Interview: Lord Arkus From "My Sparkling Misfortune"

The Book

10384734Title: My Sparkling Misfortune
Author: Laura Lond
Genre: Humor, Fantasy, Middle Grade, Epic Fantasy
Read my review!
Goodreads | Smashwords

Lord Arkus of Blackriver Castle readily admits that he is a villain and sees no reason why it should stop him from being the protagonist of this book. After all, Prince Kellemar, an aspiring hero, has defeated him in a rather questionable way. Bent on revenge, Arkus attempts to capture a powerful evil spirit who would make him nearly invincible, but a last-minute mistake leaves him with a sparkling instead a goody-goody spirit that helps heroes, watches over little children, and messes up villains plans. Bound to Lord Arkus for five years of service and sworn to act in his best interests, the sparkling is not easy to get rid of, and of course his understanding of best interests is quite different from what Lord Arkus has in mind.

The Interview

Hey everyone! Today I’m having an interview with Lord Arkus of Blackriver Castle, a professional villain and the author of the book “My Sparkling Misfortune”.

1) Why hello, Lord Arkus of Blackriver Castle. I hear that you’re the villain everyone fears around here. Could you tell me why you chose for a career as a professional villain?

A: Greetings, Ms. Majanka. Well, I am not usually open to sharing personal things like that, in fact I guard my early history, but I suppose there’s no harm if your readers know — after all, it’s unlikely that they make their way into my realm and start talking. So I will tell you some of it. I had chosen this fine profession when, as a very young man, I had lost a close friend, and on top of that found myself accused of things I had not done. I figured it was not worth it to try to prove them all wrong — and I enjoyed their fear of me. So I had embraced this path proceeded to earn my reputation of a villain.

2) What does a day in the life of a supervillain look like?

A: It depends on whether I am actively involved into some evil scheme or not. If I am, my day would be filled with various preparations, spying around, training my men, or actual fighting. If not, then I allow myself to relax a bit. Not too much though, I still have to take care of the castle and the rest of my domain, making sure things run smoothly. Goblins can be quite troublesome, you know, they tend to make mischief when they think I’m not watching too closely.

3) I also heard that there’s something going on with you, a monster-like creature and white towers. Can you tell us what’s up with that?

A: He is not “monster-like,” he is a real monster, with fangs, claws and all. You can see him on the cover of my book (I *still* can’t believe they had made me pose standing right next to him for the cover!).

Well, anyway. That beast had been charged to kill me by one of my enemies. That’s a downside of being a villain, I suppose: you have a long list of enemies, some of them powerful enough to arrange something like this. The only thing that will stop this monster is the white towers you’ve mentioned — towers of good as they are also called. He can’t come near them. So if I want to be safe, I need to make sure I am always close to one of them.

4) Now, this is what makes me very, very curious. Why would an evil mastermind like yourself, decide to write a book about his misfortunes?

A: I thought it was about time a villain had his say. Have you noticed how villains are usually portrayed in books? More like props to move the story along rather than real characters. They are rarely heard or given a chance, they are often misrepresented and underestimated. The latter is fine with me, because when I turn out to be smarter than someone thought, I win. But the overall situation is, well, rather offensive. I thought a book like mine might help to set the record straight.

5) The sparkling Jarvi isn’t exactly the ideal sidekick for a villain like yourself. Can you describe to us what your first thoughts were when you figured out that Jarvi was actually a sparkling?

A: Oh, I wanted to scream! I actually did… Would you just imagine: I travel a long way, risk my life to capture an evil spirit, succeed at last — only to find out I’ve grabbed the wrong one! A sparkling, of all things, a spirit that normally helps heroes! Argh. That was beyond frustrating.

6) What is your opinion about the whole everyone-seems-to-want-to-be-a-hero thing that’s going on in the Kingdom, with Prince Kellemar and others like him going to great lengths to reach hero status?

A: It’s got to be some kind of a virus, with princes being most vulnerable to it. Kellemar has suffered from this affliction as long as I’ve known him. It is rather widespread, too: I traveled hundreds of miles away, to Ulkaria, and found that Philip, the prince of the land, also had the same ridiculous wish. Hopefully, I had helped him to get over it.

As to my opinion, I find it both amusing and annoying. The annoying part comes from the fact that many of these hero wannabes would like to achieve their status at my expense. I don’t mind fighting off a knight or two, but when they start coming one after another, it gets old pretty fast.
7) Would you ever want to be a hero?

A: Goodness, no! Why would I?

8 ) What is the greatest thing about being a well-known and feared villain? Would you recommend it to anyone?

A: It’s fun in many ways, you get to set your own rules, but I have to warn that it’s a lonely profession, and you have to always watch your back.

9) And now, Lord Arkus, one of the questions I’m most curious about….Have you ever been in love? And don’t kill me for asking, please…

A: [Coughs] Me? In love?! What a strange notion… Certainly not, not until… Well, no.

10) Are you thinking about a sequel to your novel “My Sparkling Misfortune”? If so, can you tell us something about us?

A: Yes, I am actually working on the sequel right now. It will be titled “My Royal Pain Quest.” You might have noticed that the way the story had ended in the first book was not all that satisfactory; at least I found it hard to accept. So I started looking for ways to remedy the situation… which led me to yet another annoying adventure. Well, perhaps not all of it was annoying as I got to meet some rather interesting folk, including one special lady, but still. The title fits the book very well.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Lord Arkus….I better get out of here now!

A: You should be able to leave just fine, Shork has locked up the goblins. Just don’t drink from Black River as you go, you will talk funny for days if you do.

Book Review: My Sparkling Misfortune by Laura Lond

10384734Title: My Sparkling Misfortune
Author: Laura Lond
Genre: Humor, Fantasy, Middle Grade, Epic Fantasy
Rating: 4,5 stars
Goodreads | Smashwords
Review copy provided by the author.

Lord Arkus of Blackriver Castle readily admits that he is a villain and sees no reason why it should stop him from being the protagonist of this book. After all, Prince Kellemar, an aspiring hero, has defeated him in a rather questionable way. Bent on revenge, Arkus attempts to capture a powerful evil spirit who would make him nearly invincible, but a last-minute mistake leaves him with a sparkling instead a goody-goody spirit that helps heroes, watches over little children, and messes up villains plans. Bound to Lord Arkus for five years of service and sworn to act in his best interests, the sparkling is not easy to get rid of, and of course his understanding of best interests is quite different from what Lord Arkus has in mind.

My Sparkling Misfortune is the hilarious fantasy tale of the evil Lord Arkus of Blackriver Castle. Being a villain, and pretty good at that, Lord Arkus is well on his way to becoming the most notorious villain in the entire kingdom. However, when a deal with Prince Kellemar – the supposedly good guy of the story and hero-in-the-making – goes horribly wrong for poor Arkus, involving a raging animal and the destroying of several protective white towers, Arkus is forced to leave the kingdom, and hopefully find a way to protect himself from the monster that’s trying to eat him alive, and meanwhile re-establish his position as criminal mastermind. In an effort to solve his problems, he incidentelly catches a sparkling, a creature often seen accompaning heroes. While Arkus certainly is no hero, the sparkling called Jarvi feels like giving the ol’ lord a shot anyway. That’s when Lord Arkus goes through an adventure that might not only change his life, but his entire reputation as well.

The award for most hilarious villain ever definately goes to Lord Arkus. Whereas he is a nasty fellow who enjoys torturing messengers, doublecrossing princes and backstabbing other villains – but only after they have backstabbed him first, he does have manners – there is quite a noble side to him as well. He is hilarious in the way he describes both himself and his opponents, how he analyzes his own actions and those of others. He is a brilliant character who at times made me laugh out loud. A lot of books try to be funny, but it feels forced and unnatural; that’s definately not the case with My Sparkling Misfortune: this book simply is hilarious, even without trying.

Although aimed at middle graders, the adventure of Lord Arkus and his sparkling Jarvi, may appeal to fantasy fans of all ages. While telling a humorous tale, the story offers some valuable lessons as well. One of them being that a villain must not always remain a villain, and that not all heroes are as good and decent as they might appear. Prince Kellemar is the prime example of this. Although being a prince, and aiming to become a true hero one day, he doublecrosses Lord Arkus in their agreement at the beginning of the book, and continues to do things throughout the novel that made me very skeptic about his worthyness for the hero status. On the other hand, the fact that the sparkling Jarvi sees something in Lord Arkus that nobody else sees, and decides to give him the chance to actually do the right thing for once, also holds a very valuable lesson, namely that sometimes you just need to believe in people to make them do the right thing.

The story is action-packed, fast-paced and highly amusing. The dragons, castles, magical creatures, all make the story come to life, and actually read like a classic fairytale. Lord Arkus and his misfortunes could be standing right next to Cinderella and Robin Hood on the bookshelf. If I had to give a complaint about My Sparkling Misfortune (and the reason why I gave 4,5 rather than 5 stars) is that it’s too short. It seems like the sequel-virus has gotten hold of Laura Lond as well. She leaves an open ending, and hints at dark events in Lord Arkus’ past on several occasions, leaving the path open for a follow-up. I would have liked it more had she made this book slightly larger, and added all the additional facts, and a proper ending to this one. My Sparkling Misfortune is strong enough as a stand-alone novel, and although I would enjoy reading more about Lord Arkus’ misfortunes, I do also like it when a book is nicely tied up.

Although Lord Arkus is by far the most witty, sarcastic and intriguing character in this novel, Jarvi/Tullip is quite the enjoyable fellow as well. He is entertaining, good-natured and kind-hearted, and totally the opposite of the Arkus we meet at the beginning of the novel. That they even get along at al, is amazing. Another nice bonus is that the book is filled with wonderful illustrations of the characters and their adventures. The art looks really good, and it adds a nice touch.

I would advise everyone who loves a good laugh, from middle graders to adults, to read this book. It’s a quick read, and it will make you laugh aloud and forget all about the world around you. Lord Arkus is an admirable character, for a villain, with an amazing writing voice and a hilarious personality. The story itself is anything but predictable, the writing style is amusing, and the premise (a story from the villain’s point of view) is very original. What are you waiting for? Go read My Sparkling Misfortune!