Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Book Review: The Vampire Stalker, by Allison van Diepen

What if the characters in a vampire novel left their world--and came into yours?

Amy is in love with someone who doesn't exist: Alexander Banks, the dashing hero in a popular series of vampire novels. Then one night, Amy meets a boy who bears an eerie resemblance to Alexander. In fact, he IS Alexander, who has escaped from the pages of the book and is in hot pursuit of a wicked vampire named Vigo. Together, Amy and Alexander set out to track Vigo and learn how and why Alexander crossed over. But when she and Alexander begin to fall for each other, Amy wonders if she even wants him to ever return to the realm of fiction.

--image and summary from

The Vampire Stalker by Allison van Diepen was not what I expected it to be. From the blurb on the back, I thought it would be a hilarious take on how rabid book fans can be, to the extent that their wild fantasies actually come to life. Having read the Twilight books, I was half-hoping for some witticims on the whole craze over vampires recently. Even looking at the cover, I thought it was trying to mock the seriousness of vampire novels.

I got a bit of that, but not nearly enough to placate me. Instead, the story was far more serious--Amy, the main protagonist, is struggling after her parents' divorce, what with her sister constantly pushing her away and her failed attempts at writing anything but fanfiction. Some of her issues drove really close to home for me, which is good in a sense but not what I was looking for from this book.

The characters were all rather flat. The book was so short that only Amy and her love interest, Alexander Banks, vampire slayer come to life out of one of Amy's favourite book series, are the only characters that really get showcased. Though Amy's younger sister does seem to have a bit of a character arc--perhaps even more so than the main characters. Amy's friends were cool and I would have loved to hang out with them, but they didn't jump out at me from the page. Even now I'm trying really hard to remember the names of the characters in this book, because their personalities were simply non-existent to me.

I think the main issue is that this book was simply too short and took itself too seriously for me to handle. It's not a bad book by any means, but the interesting ideas in it took a back seat to Amy and Alexander's budding romance, which tied up a little too neatly for me. The choice Alexander makes in the end would not have been so simple for real people, whose loves for love interest or family are often tangled together and of the same strength. Actually, I would have thought love for family, your own blood, would trump the attraction you feel to a girl you hardly know and have just met.

But perhaps that's me being nit-picky. I'm hardly one against happy endings, but I was just expecting so much more from this story that the big happy bow wrapped around it makes me want to act like a cat and tear it to shreds. If it had been a wee bit more witty and even darkly comedic (I just wanted to laugh, for goodness' sake!), I may have been more forgiving. But the blurb promised more than what I got, and, though that's not the author's fault by any means, it makes me wary to trust any book blurbs because you really have to wonder if those people actually read the book.

However, this book is light, sweet, and short enough for a summer beach read. So if that's your thing definitely check it out and decide for yourself. This is simply my opinion. :)

3 out of 5 stars!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Story Excerpt: The Other Brother

The Other Brother is (one of) my current work-in-progress(es), a retelling/continuation of The Wild Swans, a story I remember well from my childhood. My family on my father's side has Ukrainian/Russian roots, and one of my fondest childhood memories is sitting on the floor at my Babi's (grandmother's) house and watching a Russian-produced cartoon version of the story. You can imagine how thrilled I was to find it, years later, on Youtube. It may sound cheesy, but one of the segments, the part where Elisa and her brothers are on the rock in the middle of the ocean during a storm and singing, gives me chills every time I listen to it.

You can find the video here (you should definitely check it out if you get the chance!):

This story remains a favourite; I adore the emphasis on sibling bonds. I always wanted a flock of brothers to adore and protect me (I only have one). :P

Anyhow, moving on.

The Other Brother actually started out as a short story idea. I started writing it, and then had an idea to expand it into a short novella. I shoved it aside for a couple months/years or so. And then, towards the end of my second semester of university, inspiration kept stinging me for the story--this time, not as a short story or novella, but a larger, perhaps huge, novel. It was like the story completely possessed me.

And it continues to invade my mind, urging me to finish outlining and get it all down. It has expanded into a large, epic vision--and quite a lot darker than I had first anticipated. There's a lot of heartbreak in this story, but I feel that is a part of who I am and an honest journey into the twistedness of human nature in general. Of course, that also means that there's a lot of hope. I'm not one to make my characters journey through the Shadow of Death without having a reason to want to reach the other side.

So, without further ado, here's the synopsis, prologue and part of chapter one. Any feedback is appreciated, and I hope y'all will stick along for the journey! :)


Arya wants nothing to do with the mysterious man with a swan's wing for a right arm when he appears at her family's inn one night. But after the inn is attacked by the sorcerers on his trail, she finds herself running for her life alongside him. Swept into a journey to rid the world of dark magic, Arya must come to terms with a destiny greater than she ever imagined and a curse running through her veins--a curse that may destroy her. A retelling/continuation of the fairy tale, "The Wild Swans".


When Arya was eleven summers old, the swans flew overhead. Her younger sister, Mari, dropped her water bucket and ran after them, chasing their long, sleek shadows.

Arya stood still, gripping the handle of her bucket, her chin tilted to the sky. She watched the swans' giant white wings buffet the air. The rosy-bright light of morning cast golden crowns across their glowing brows. She had never seen such beautiful birds—and seven of them, too. Seven was a sacred number in the ancient days. While Mari squealed, pointing and clapping her hands, Arya drank in the moment, memorizing the image of large white birds against the dawn.

Then, having committed it to heart, she grabbed her sister's hand and dragged her back to the inn. Their father stood in the doorway, drawn by Mari's cries. His gaze focused on the birds in the distance, a deep furrow in his brow. He reached out, startling Arya into dropping her bucket, and wrapped his daughters in his arms. Mari wriggled out of his grasp and skipped off into the house, singing some ditty about swans.

Arya sensed her father's distress and took the rare chance to lay her head on his shoulder. “Treachery,” she thought she heard him murmur, and his hold on her tightened. She could hear the loud, insistent thrum of his heart, and wondered if her father was afraid. What was so alarming about seven swans in the sky? Their ancestors would have believed it a sign of good luck.

He kissed her forehead and straightened, taking her hand in his. Together they watched as the last of the swans vanished from sight behind one of the many mountains that rose from the neighbouring kingdom of Song.

“Papa,” Arya said after long moments had passed.


“Breakfast needs to be done.”

A smile flashed across his handsome face. “You're right, little miss.” He scooped her up, ignoring the water bucket that fell over and spilt, ignoring the fact that she was far too old for such things, though she was certainly small enough still. He hugged her to him and carried her inside, slamming the door shut behind them as though to keep something out. Wrapping her arms around her father's neck, Arya contented herself with her sisters' jealous stares as their father paraded her into the kitchen.

As the daily tasks of life—baking, boiling water, cleaning clothes—demanded her attention, the swans slipped from her mind. Every now and then for the next few years the memory would resurface and she would smile in whatever quiet moment she could snatch to appreciate their beauty. And then the memory would dip away from her like a coy gypsy dancer and she would let it go.

If she noticed the dark strangers her father entertained at all hours at their inn, she kept it to herself. If she noticed that the swans never flew across her small portion of sky again, she shrugged it off. Life was too busy to dream up dangers that did not exist.

And if such dream dangers truly did exist....she did not want to know.


The storm was coming in. Dark clouds burgeoned across the horizon, sweeping black skirts high above the floor of the world. Arya chased chickens towards their coop, cursing at the stubborn rooster who refused to yield to her guidance. He strutted across the yard, picking at the grains Mari had scattered earlier in the day. Arya gritted her teeth. Mari was the one who should have been doing this, not her. That skirt of lazy-bones was probably hiding in the cellar with a candle, her nose in a book.

A brave chicken launched a peck at Arya's fingers, which did nothing to improve her mood. She went for the broom and half-booted, half-swept the idiot beasts into their coop. The rooster fled before her wild, swinging wrath. A dark, guttural note built up in her chest and crept up her throat, familiar in its terrible, secretive feel.

She froze in the middle of the yard, strangled. The sensation choked her with its desire to escape, and she tried to choke it with her desire to never let it free.

Finally, she swallowed.

The wind picked up, snatching at the chimes that  hung from the corner of the inn. They had been her mother's, a gift from her parents after she had decided to leave their gypsy caravan to marry Arya's father, Marcus. Whenever Arya heard them, their voice seemed sad, as though they could not recover from the death of their mistress when Arya was but a babe. Tonight, their song spoke of other woes: a song of swans and sin and the whispered wickedness of treachery. The high, shivering notes settled on her arms in the form of gooseflesh, while the wind trailed its sensuous fingers through her snarls of black hair, teasing her for dreaming up fears.

Arya ran her hands over her arms and shut the chickens inside their coop, pushing her ridiculous ideas from her mind.

But not so ridiculous, a voice whispered.

The front gate ripped open in a gust that nearly bowled her over. She staggered forward, while the gate creaked and groaned as it shuddered back and forth on weary hinges. Arya clenched her fingers. Mari had forgotten to drop the latch into place. She ran and was just closing the gate when the stamp of feet rippled over the ground. One of the many army patrols appeared around the bend in the road, their uniforms dusty. Arya recognized their leader and bit back a grin. It struggled past her teeth.

Vic met her grin with a solemn nod, his spine straight and knees high as he marched by. The rest of his troop shuffled after him, hands stuck in their pockets, shoulders hunched. Some stared openly at her; others avoided her gaze; still some glanced at her and quickly away, embarrassment making them awkward.

Her chest tightened, and she smiled so sweetly at them that one of the awkward ones actually reddened. His shame at their treatment of her only caused her more misery. She didn't want their pity or their remorse—she wanted their respect. To be looked at as a fellow human, flaws and all, yet still that—human.

If any of you have Pinterest, you can check out my boards here: The Writer of Dream Things.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Book Review: Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz

The master puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s act and invites him to entertain at her birthday party. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with caravan, puppets, and his two orphaned assistants. 
Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are dazzled by the Wintermute home. Clara seems to have everything they lack — adoring parents, warmth, and plenty to eat. In fact, Clara’s life is shadowed by grief, guilt, and secrets. When Clara vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer and, by association, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall. 

As they seek to puzzle out Clara’s whereabouts, Lizzie and Parse uncover Grisini’s criminal past and wake up to his evil intentions. Fleeing London, they find themselves caught in a trap set by Grisini’s ancient rival, a witch with a deadly inheritance to shed before it’s too late. 

--image and description from

Splendors and Glooms is the type of book I wish I'd written. Set in Victorian England, rife with orphans and evil puppeters, mystery and magic, the story tells the tale of Clara, a rich girl whose supposedly easy life is not so easy at all, and Parsefall and Lizzie Rose, orphan apprentices to a puppeter who is more than he seems. The past of the puppeter and his connection to a witch named Cassandra and an intriguing stone called a fire opal draw the children into a web of treachery and evil magic--a web they may not escape.

While the book is not fast-paced by any means, I finished it within three days, grabbing it any chance I could get when I wasn't doing my chores or spending time with my family. The book is peppered with funny, touching moments that even out the sorrowful, eerie tone. Whether a kind constable or melodramatic landlady, the characters make this book feel as homey as a Charles Dickens novel--it makes the time period shine and come alive in the readers' minds.

The children are all superbly developed, often in surprising ways. While Parsefall and Lizzie Rose have a brother-sister relationship, it is by no means easy-going or overly affectionate. I found myself wanting to reach out and adopt these two sad children through the pages of the novel. Clara was by no means just a spoiled rich brat; she had a sadness and a story all her own, with struggles to overcome. And the names! Wintermute and Parsefall and Lizzie Rose--completely enchanting and otherworldly and absolutely WONDERFUL!

While I found this book in the Juvenile section of my local library, I think teenagers and adults alike would be charmed by this beautiful, haunting, and heartwarming tale. While it was not quite as eerie as I was expecting, it was a wonderful surprise to discover what truly lay within its covers. There were a few sprinklings of language here and there--taking the Lord's name in vain--that stop this book from being a complete five stars in my opinion, but I definitely recommend this book for those searching for something to remind them of the classics from childhood.

Four stars!


Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Book Review: Moonlight Masquerade, by Ruth Axtell

Lady Celine Wexham seems the model British subject. French by birth but enjoying life in 1813 as a widowed English countess, she is in the unique position of being able to help those in need--or to spy for the notorious Napoleon Bonaparte. When Rees Phillips of the British Foreign Office is sent to pose as the countess's butler and discover where her true loyalties lie, he is confident he will uncover the truth. But the longer he is in her fashionable townhouse in London's West End, the more his staunch loyalty to the Crown begins to waver as he falls under Lady Wexham's spell. Will he find the proof he needs? And if she is a spy after all, will he do the right thing?
--image and description from

Moonlight Masquerade was an interesting look into the Regency period, one that I especially love because of Jane Austen's books. Add that to politics, spies, and a sprinkle of romance, and I'm hooked.

What I loved about Moonlight Masquerade was how much I enjoyed the characters. Celine and Rees complimented each other well--Celine especially drew me in with her kindness and wit. Despite her aloofness due to her social standing, her head was very interesting to be in. And watching Rees struggle between loyalty to his country and the woman he loved had me feeling really bad for him. Their attraction and the journey they follow as they grow closer had me breathless at moments with the beauty and sincerity of their attachment. I could completely understand their affection for one another, and if I were a lady of high standing with a butler like that, I'd probably throw away my chances at high society for him, too. ;)

This book was full of sneaking around, complete with costumes and a masquerade ball scene that had my heart thumping. However, I felt as though not a lot happened in this novel, and there was no sense of urgency. The bad guys were a little too obvious, and as nobody really got hurt I did not feel as though any one was actually ever in any danger. This disappointed me a little because I feel as though this could have gone above and beyond the average 'regency romance' book. I've read A Tales of Two Cities by Charles Dickens about the French Revolution; that book makes you DIE for the characters because you know people are going to die and happiness comes at a cost. That is one of the things authors have to balance with the romance when they tackle the French Revolution, because it was a bloody time and the aftermath of it was mentioned but not really shown in this book. I don't love sorrow any more than anyone else, but I think that might have heightened the tension and made the love story all that much more satisfying in the end.

Despite all this, I truly did enjoy this book and I'm looking forward to the companion novel that focuses on a very minor character from this novel and her journey to true love.

Four Stars!

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Revell and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Their generosity has in now way affected the contents of this review.

Book Review: Stealing the Preacher, by Karen Witemeyer

On his way to interview for a position at a church in the Piney Woods of Texas, Crockett Archer can scarcely believe it when he's forced off the train by a retired outlaw and presented to the man's daughter as the minister she requested for her birthday. Worried this unfortunate detour will ruin his chances of finally serving a congregation of his own, Crockett is determined to escape. But when he finally gets away, he's haunted by the memory of the young woman he left behind--a woman whose dreams now hinge on him.

For months, Joanna Robbins prayed for a preacher. A man to breathe life back into the abandoned church at the heart of her community. A man to assist her in fulfilling a promise to her dying mother. A man to help her discover answers to the questions that have been on her heart for so long. But just when it seems God has answered her prayers, it turns out the person is there against his will and has dreams of his own calling him elsewhere. Is there any way she can convince Crockett to stay in her little backwoods community? And does the attraction between them have any chance of blossoming when Joanna's outlaw father is dead set against his daughter courting a preacher?

-image and description from

Stealing the Preacher was a sweet, romantic western romp full of lovable characters, melt-worthy romance, and just the right dash of bandits. The writing was neither overly poetic or dull--it drew you right into the characters' heads. I was delighted that one of the principal characters was a preacher, yet he was completely human--he was not full of holier-than-thou attitudes and his journey was a lot of fun to follow. As a fellow artist and very shy girl, I especially loved the character of Joanna. She was an awesome embodiment of quiet strength and the sort of person I strive to become.

Like its predecessor, Short Straw Bride, Stealing the Preacher has shown that the passion and love often attributed to secular unions definitely exists within the Christian marriage. Watching as Crockett and Joanna slowly fell in love had me cheering them on as they grew closer, attracted not just to the other's outward appearance, but the inward beauty they both shared. This was a meeting of kindred spirits, much like Gilbert and Anne from the beloved Anne of Green Gables series, which also sports a vivacious redhead. I loved how Crockett and Joanna teased each other and I could believe their romance, which made this book a positive delight.

Two criticisms, however: Crockett may have been a tad too perfect: the Christian woman's wish-fulfillment, you might say. I wish he had had a few more faults, instead of always knowing what to say or do, or being really, really handsome in the eyes of all the females he meets. Perhaps I'm just too cynical, but being an average girl myself, I wish there were more 'average' heroes and heroines who actually weren't that good looking to the general public but managed to find and love each other anyways. As well, the 'bad girl' in this book was pretty much just that: the bad girl, with no more depth to her. I wish we could have bad girls that go beyond just the stereotype of being blonde, beautiful, and confident, so therefore we must make them evil.

But those are just my nitpicks. I personally loved this novel and will check out the other books this author has written. Just a little note: for those reading this review that are of a younger age, the romance in this book is chaste, yet there are passionate moments that may be more suitable for an older audience who can better remove themselves from the characters' experiences.

Five stars!

Disclaimer: I received this book free courtesy of Bethany House and NetGalley. Their generosity has in no way affected the content of this review.