Sunday, 30 January 2011

Becky Bookworm Double Book Review: Norse Code and Beserker - Overdose on vikings and norse mythology

Norse CodeNorse Code by Greg Van Eekhout

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This books is a brilliant portrayal of the world of the old Norse Gods clashing and interacting with our modern secular one and it cleverly brings you into this mix of realms with the  character who only became deceased and turned Valkyrie 3 months ago. It also focuses not on the greater known gods like Odin, Thor and Loki although they are involved in the overall adventure but on the more minor and genuinely more interesting characters of this pantheon of Hermod, a small wandering God and of course my all time favourite - Valkyries.
The story revolves around the impending doom of Ragnarok, Hermod's bitter luck after failing to bring Baldur back from the dead clutches of Hel and Mist (formermly human deceased) a relatively new and modern valkyrie who actually resists the role she has been given in exitsence to try and rescue her sister also from Hel's domain.
The characters are brilliant to relate to and the rising chaos in the world (set in America) really helps invision what Ragnarok would be like if it occured in our modern world.
The ending of the over all book is very unique and although it goes against the very mythology involved it actually suits it for the Gods like the viking people who worshipped them are anything if not survivors.
It is a great novel (albeit it small) to read for fans of vikings, norse mythology and urban/paranormal fantasy.

As a writer trying to write a story using the same range of characters (not exactly the same characters in this one) and also setting such an old faith in a modern world I was pleasently impressed to see how well it would actually work and how easy the reader would except if it makes a good story that grips you from chapter to chapter. Hopefully one day there will be room in the literary world for Valkyries and these great old gods, characters of legends and myths to overcome the firm base of Vampires and the growing presence of Angels in young adult novels.
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BerserkerBerserker by William Meikle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a suprisingly short novel (e-novel) but is action packed from the start. You don't even get chance to catch your breath once these raiding bands of vikings come across a strange new land in a storm before you meet what is best described by Miekle himself as a Yeti but these are Yeti's that are cruel and bloodthirsty and after the accidental murder of a female with young the Vikings incurr their beastial wrath and rage and fear fueld chaos ensues.
The adventure over all revolves around the characters of Tor and Skald, the first being a typical honourable and strong viking young man, the second being his wyrd seeing, beserk-fighting friend and their lives and fates become entwined in the gory mess created by the Yeti or Alma attacks as old legends come true and they must use all their strength and wisdom to survive a legend that does not have a happy ending.
I did feel the ending was a bit rushed and not dramatised enough but with the excitement of the rest of the novel with its short punchy chapters pushing you along with the characters struggle it doesn't make too much of a disappointment.
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Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Becky Bookworm Book Review: Dewey - The Small-town Library Cat that Touched the World

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the WorldDewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've read several books about memorable lives of dogs which suited me as I am a dog lover and have dogs in my family. Yet as I am now and have been for at least a year a Librarian in training I was caught by the story of Dewey the cat and his influence not just on a small town library but of the community around it.

It is more than just about a cat, like Dewey is far more than any normal cat, it revolves around Vicki's ever evolving life bringing Dewey up as the library cat and hers and the many thousands of experiences shared with Dewey both good and bad, funny and sad.It also portrays the changes that have occured in libraries over the past thirty years with the arrival of new technology and new demands from customers.

It is a very touching and awakening read as it opens your eyes to how much people influence, interact and depend on each other and the strength that is born in a community surviving against the ever changing economic environment. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who likes animals or cats, who likes reading about community spirit, the importance of friends and family and of course those of visit or work in a library.

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Thursday, 20 January 2011

Becky Bookworm Book Review: Blood of the Vikings by Julian Richards

Blood of the VikingsBlood of the Vikings by Julian C. Richards

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a great book for anyone in the United Kingdom who wants to understand the history surrounding the first viking raids to 1066. As it not only covered of course the impact on the small english kingdoms of Mercia, Wessex, North Umbria etc but it looks at how the vikings first began to turn towards the main continent by raiding into the Hebrides and Shetland, then how they affected the politics and many battles in Ireland which was as divded as England at the time with many small rulers squabbling for ultimate control, which then leads on to the invasion of England.

It also dispells many of the myths surrounding the vikings such as the sticking idea of horned helmets and that they were only good at raiding whereas they were good adapters to changing environments and cultural clashes, brilliant blacksmiths, farmers, jewellers and poets. It looks at the viking influence in the not to recent past such as the Victorian interest that sparked up around their myths and most controversially how the German Nazi's distorted the image of the brave viking to spur on their warriors and even used a rune to become the Nazi symbol.

This book is not just easy to understand and follow it never bores you to death, it is always interesting by looking at different archeaological, historical and physical discoveries and finds that have helped support and develope our understanding of the vikings, why they came here, why they stayed here and all they did to help change our history. Julian Richards, the author, also looks at the homelands of the vikings so we understand their brutal and harsh origins but also at the key players that lived and influenced events in this fantasticly turbulent era, from Edmund the Unready, Alfred the Great, Eric Bloodaxe, Athelfaed - Alfred's daughter, Athelstan to Cnut, Harthacnut, Harald Hardrada to William Duke of Normandy.

Some of the pictures used in this book are of good quality and detail enabling you to see many of the finds and discoveries he discusses from outlines of the Danelaw, viking treasure hordes to burials and historical documents from the period.

It really helped improve my understanding of how much the Vikings changed and shaped our present culture today. I really recommend it to anyone whether just beginning to take an interest in these fascinating people or devout fans.

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Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Beckys Bookworm Book Review: A Saga of blood feuds, betrayal, survival and brotherhood in 10th century England

THE RAVEN & THE WOLF: Chronicle I - Blood OathTHE RAVEN & THE WOLF: Chronicle I - Blood Oath by Christopher Spellman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is such a labour of love, passion and interest nearly every page is crammed with details surrounding the characters, the time, the setting that it is impossible not to be drawn into this fuedal mystery and quest for vengence set near the end of the 10th century under the reign of King Athelstan.

Over all not a great deal occurs just following the character from one trial of persecution, betrayal and fight from survival to the next but there are some moments within it all where peace is felt for the reader not just the character and we get a glimpse of the possible happiness and love and friendship found within those living through this rather turbulent period. The reader also becomes witness to how a brotherhood of men can be forged in the spilt blood of survival, the strength of alliance and the quest for justice which is quite unqiue for in other historical novels involving vikings or anglo-saxons this brotherhood is often discovered in battles on distant continents and at sea on their travels - this all takes place in this book on land and within the small feuding kingdoms of Mercia and North Cumbria.

In summary this is one giant saga of complex and dazzling proportions depicting how family feuds in that era just don't effect those directly involved but those of their ancestors and how the cause of these blood feuds which tear families and communities apart can often end up repeating itself and all through the quest for vengence against an offence that took place many, many years before. The beauty of this saga being told is not that it focuses on majorly big important historical events (apart from the ending) but it shows how life goes on around those turning points in history and really shows in gritty and neat detail how the lives of the common people from thrall to earldoreman are effected and are drawn into these pivoting points of the past.

This book is one that will be enjoyed by fans of the Anglo-Saxon or Viking era but I must warn you it is a lengthy read but by the end it will prove worth it. Just hope the sequel in this chronicle series can stand up to the benchmark the first has claimed.

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Thursday, 13 January 2011

More new Viking and Norse Fantasy books to feed my Viking Madness!

It seems my Viking Madness has reached new heights already this year with a fresh new wave of viking/fantasy books I've been recommended and discovered.
First I've already been given a free e-book of Beserker by William Meikle 
And then a good viking fan and friend of mine suggested I try out Norse Code by Greg Van Eekhout as it's quite similar to what I am 'attempting' to write with valkyries and norse gods etc.
And then only today I remembered someone tweeting about the Age of Odin by James Lovegrove which has only just been published yet I could get it for a fiver on Amazon - a must have bargain I'm sure you'll agree.
A fine trio I'm sure you'll agree. And I've already had a sneak peak at Beserker and was gripped, the first few pages of Norse Code hooked me and having read the first chapter of Age of Odin online I'm ecstatic! And I'm still only half way through The Raven and The Wolf by Christopher Spellman which is amazing me with each new chapter.
So I'm going to be a very busy viking obsessed bookworm these next few weeks *super big grin* If only I had a few weeks off to read them all and do nothing else! Shame half term is still 6 weeks away but then again I'll be busy on holiday for the JORVIK VIKING FESTIVAL 2011!!!!!! VIKINGR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Oh my god 2011 is proving to be very exciting in my one favourite subject! I can't wait to share it all with you!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Spreading the viking love - book reviews, genre guides and more!

It is truly awesome how the internet can you get in contact with all kinds of like minded people. Not just by blogging but also on Twitter I have met so many nice, friendly and supportive writing friends (and poets) as well as of course fans of norse mythology and vikingy stuff.
This has lead me to spread out my valkyrie wings and get pieces of me all over the internet from blog feature interviews on writing and my love of vikings to reviews on all my favourite viking and norse fantasy books and sharing my rough guides to each of those genres.

I have recently this weekend went through most of my unreviewed favourite vikingy books, reviewed them of course, and set them off to my good friend Will's Fantasy Guide Site to increase and improve his new Viking Historical Fiction guide and introduce a new one on Norse Fantasy. Each guide has some recommended books of the genre to begin with to wet your viking appetite. He has also created two Series review sections for some more of my favourite historical viking books The Viking Trilogy by Tim Severin and The Oathsworn series by Robert Low. So why not delve into these great genres and add one of the books suggested to your must-read list? Here are the links:

Wowza when I look at my top links section down the left side now it's huge! I may have to start saving all these links some where for easy access and promotion and may have to even move it all to my Creative Connections Link section but then hardly anyone visits that page so it's easier to leave them on the front of my blog too.

Oh and in some more good viking news I just recieved an email from Scottish Author William Meikle who has written a viking fantasy e-book called Beserker and has offered me free pdf copy! Talk about connections ay? I don't even know how he came across me yet hehehe shows how my viking love is spreading! So that's one more book I will add to my must-read-soon list as I'm currently still ploughing delightfully through a woppa of a viking novel called The Raven and The Wolf by Christopher Spellman, so as soon as I've finished and reviews Chris's I'll get my teeth stuck into Beserker.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Rough Guides to Viking Historical Fiction and Norse Fantasy

Guide to Viking Historical Fiction

The main features of Viking Historical fiction novels are that they of course feature Vikings whether as the main character or as the enemy in some cases, they are set historically in the Dark or Early Medieval ages in a range of countries influenced by Vikings so it’s not just primarily England but also Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Greenland, even the far east around Istanbul (formerly known as Constantinople) can feature and of course the characters and adventures may be fictional but the true beauty of this genre is that quite often these things intertwine with genuine, real, fact historical events such as the battle of Stanford Bridge in 1066, the discovery of Iceland and Greenland or even the presence of Norse warriors in the old Holy Roman Empire as the Emperors guard. Most novels of this genre primarily feature a group of Viking warriors who are raiders so it allows the reader to follow them in their encounters in different countries and experience how they interacted with different cultures, not just in battles but also as traders. The characters are usually male but some strong female characters can appear but are never present through the whole book as the main characters are. Some characters from Old Norse sagas can appear such as Grettir the Strong in Iceland but also key historical figures can occur such as Harald Sigurdsson, Knut the Great or Guthrum before he was christened and renamed Athelstan. Time in these novels can vary; if it is a trilogy which most often is they can span from the beginning of the Viking era to its end in 1066 or be focused around the end. The time period that passes in the book can be a decade or so but usually in the height of the Viking era and usually around the time of the many great invasions of England.
These books do vary in audience as well some can be found for young adults/teenagers but the majority are also for adults due to the obvious brutal and bloody scenes which feature in such fiction.
Examples of Viking Historical Fiction are:
Raven Blood Eye by Giles Kristian
Odinn’s Child by Tim Severin
The Whale Road by Robert Low
Feasting the Wolves by Susan Price
The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell
Wolf Cry by Julia Golding

Guide to Norse Fantasy

Norse Fantasy is primarily a fantasy novel but which heavily features elements, setting and characters as well as objects from Norse Mythology. The actual context of such novels is a wide variety from settings within the Dark Ages, set within the present day or even in an entirely new world of its own. Some novels of late have also featured Norse mythology in a Young Adult modern fantasy context and even in a futuristic context. Norse Fantasy novels can be either a retelling of an old Norse legend such as Freya and the necklace of Brisingamen or could be a whole new legend in itself or even portray who the gods of old survive in today’s modern secular world where such old beliefs are fading. The story can centre on the most common Norse Gods such as Odin, Thor, Loki or Freya, or even feature some of the lesser known mythological beings such as Valkyries, Giants and Dwarves. The story could also show how these gods interact with humans whether it’s set in the medieval past or the present day. Showing how they influence lives, history and fate.
These books can vary in audience range, some can be found for young adults/teenagers but some are also quite adult and deal with very mature, serious issues and have some very adult scenes in them.
Examples of Norse Fantasy are:
Runemarks by Joanne Harris
Iceland by Betsy Tobin
Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Wolfsangel by M D Lachlan

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Words + Imagination = Perfect puzzles for writers who love the creative power of Gods!

Ok this is a rather odd post as it isn't entirely about writing and it isn't entirely about Soul Chaser either. But it is something I think I should shout about as not only is it cool, it's fun and I did something very amazing with it.

First off I should make this clear that if you don't have a Nintendo DS then you won't be able to experiment with the magical game I have discovered - it is called Super Scribblenauts, (there is a prequel simply titled Scribblenauts but I got my bro's old DS long after that was out.)
Super Scribblenauts is where your character/avatar is placed in a scene, with certain people/animals, with certain objects and you are given a puzzle or task to complete and you complete these using the power of words.
For example, you come across a ravine that is too wide to jump, so you simply get out your notepad, write the word bridge and WELLA! You have called a bridge into existence, place it over the ravine and everyone can safely get across.
You are given a human, tiger and cow and must provide them with homes so you give a cave to the tiger, a house to the human and a barn to the cow. All are happy as can be!

Now these may seem really simple and on the first try are but the real beauty is that to get the ultimate stars you must complete these puzzles three times in a row and you are not allowed to use what you previously did so you have to think up something new each time. And believe me it can be challenging! 

At one point I had to arm 4 villagers to protect from invaders I used guns, bows, magic staffs, grenades, swords, mace, spears, even a raygun in the end! It was quite a challenge to think up of 16 different weapons new, old and futuristic hehehe.

Having got so far in the game I clicked back to the start screen and was about to turn off when I realised I had amassed enough points to change my avatar and Boy did they have a long list of strange and wonderful characters from hairdressers, firemen, goths, vampires, sorceress, martian, zombie and even GOD himself! But there was one amongst the list that I couldn't resist being - THOR! Sadly I didn't have blonde but a brunette hair and beard and I carried now mighty hammer but the fact that this mighty figure of norse mythology existed in this quite american game was delightful.

Of course my imagination spurred on by this nordic presence couldn't help trying to see if Scribble recognised Odin and it did! I typed in viking and it did! But sadly Odin didn't like the viking and he ended up killing him which I found rather odd. That's the hidden danger in this game when you create something or someone you have to think about how they might react - I created a dragon and Odin killed that too lol so I made it a friendly dragon. I went on to call a longship, runes, ravens, an actuall Valhalla hall and my all time favourite a VALKYRIE! I had ended up creating my own virtual Asgard on Scribblenauts!
I gave my viking an axe, my valkyrie a spear, Odin to hold his rune and I placed myself (as Thor) proudly upon his longship which for some reason wouldn't float on the river lol.

Anyway digressing from my sudden burst of viking madness ultimately this game really made me think about words and how I use them because in a sense Scribblenaut is a virtual way or writing a story (apart from the fact that you don't have total control otherwise who would set the puzzles?). When we write a story we create people, animals, places, objects but before we do even that we usually create a purpose, a reason, a need for those to be created and when we write that the little school boy took some sweets from the jar we then have to think of what consequences lead from that one moment, does the boy get fat? does the boy take the sweets to the counter and pay? does the boy get caught? The effect of consequences dawned me when Odin not only killed the viking but also the dragon. I can only presume americans image Odin as a very aggressive and angry character. But it really does highlight the real essentials of a story first you need a location or a person, then you need a 'want', then you either provide them with or not with what they want and display the consequences of that action. 

As I said it is a lot like playing god writing a story with words or using words and images together with my new favourite word brain teasing game Super Scribblenaut!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Does growing as a writer mean moving away from writing what you love? - My Writing Dilemma

To be a Norse Fantasy Writer or not to be a Norse Fantasy Writer, that is the question?

That is the question I am now faced with following feedback and advice given to me by my good supportive friend and former writing tutor at uni after he told me my newest contemporary norse fantasy short story didn't make it into his inspiring competition that he created specifically to help new writers break out.
The story in question is posted below this one, it is titled The Trickster and The Tease and is based around the idea of the fallen Norse Gods of old getting into some very naughty trouble, in particular the characters of Freya and Loki.
Now I accepted the criticism he gave me on the story about it being overwrought (that could be due to me being brave or stupid enough to write it in present tense) and how it takes a long time to get the setting and characters explained to the reader etc but its the advice he gave me on my overall writing approach that worried me the most. Here is what he had to say:

"I really do see a step forward though and I’m encouraged by this submission. If you are entering competitions such as Grist though, which searches for fresh approaches you do need to move away from Norse Mythology which seems to be what motivates you as a writer, so my advice would be, find fantasy/Viking genre outlets for your work.
A writing apprenticeship is a long one. At some point you will need to make a decision – whether to develop your craft as an original voice in contemporary fiction or whether you continue to plough the Norse Myth inspired niche you are currently following.
I think it’s a very narrow niche and my advice, if you want to be a writer, rather than a Viking enthusiast who is using writing as a way of expressing that enthusiasm, is to ditch it altogether and focus on developing the craft of writing."

It is the idea that I have a choice to make, between writing in my own original way of casting characters from norse mythology in a new light or trying to write about something more real and less magical.
I admitt I am a HUGE enthusiast of anything viking hence how it so often does weave itself into my writing but quite often the stories I create using such characters, folk lore and magic are often original or new interpretations of old legends. Hence why I created Soul Chaser my very humble and rough WIP novel. Yes it features Norse Mythology but not any of the main and often used characters such as Odin, Thor or Loki, even Freya only appears a little bit. The main characters taken from this pantheon are the little known about Valkyries and the whole idea behind the novel is 'How do the old gods survive in the modern secular society of today?' Well my Valkyries provide the answer to that in that they still collect souls of the dead but sadly no longer souls of fallen warriors apart from in countries where there are conflicts occuring. Through this I can explore the many questions I pondered such as how do you become a Valkyrie? What do Valkyries do when they are not collecting souls or serving the Gods in the great mead hall? Do Valkyrie's age? And so on.
Now in answer to my tutor's comment about norse fantasy being a small niche well I agree but it does have some presence in the world of fiction. Betsy Tobin, Joanne Harris, Neil Gaiman and M D Lachlan are three very good and popular authors I can name and have read who have written books deeply steeped in norse fantasy and mythology. Even quite a few young children books feature elements of norse mythology such Cressida Cowell's How to Train Your Dragon Series. Yet I personally feel that Soul Chaser combines this small niche with the new genre of modern fantasy/magical realism which so far has contained stories set in present day involving characters from old folklore and myths. Vampires are a famous character of legend and mythology and Twilight has shown that people are willing to accept, believe and enjoy the addition of something supernatural happening in our modern world. I mean to be honest Harry Potter broke that mould many years ago after all his entire magical world exists and is active within our real world isn't it? And as time goes on Angels are beginning to become more powerful characters in modern fantasy over vampires although other such mythical creatures are appearing too such as Succubuses, Werewolves, Half Angel-Half Vampire, etc. So I honestly think that Soul Chaser may well fit in between these two worlds of fiction genre as Modern Norse Fantasy and why wouldn't it?
To be honest though I don't think I am capable of writing anything else. When I look back over all the stories I wrote during my degree with creative writing they are either set in a medieval norse world or a have dollops of norse fantasy in a contemporary setting. I've never been good at writing about real life, real people, real events although in my other style I do deal with real emotions etc.
I know in my heart of hearts it may be many more years before even Soul Chaser is worthy of sending off to agents or a publisher but if I can't write stories involving norse fantasy which is a topic I genuinley love and have an interest in then what can I write? I've always been told you must write about what you know not about what you don't know? All I can think of is sob stories about growing up with an alcoholic father as that is the only large topic I know about. I did use to write general epic fantasy when I was younger but it was all fairly predictable and typical in its plot and characters.
What do you think? Do you write about something you are interested in? A topic that you love? Or do you write whatever new idea comes to you and learn about stuff from scratch? Which style would you prefer?

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