Tuesday, June 19, 2018

[Blog Tour] Cassie Scot Series Cover Art Re-Reveal!


Designed by Lou Harper, the beautiful cover art for Frozen is far more than it appears. It is actually the culmination of years of struggle, of adversity, and of serious backlash over misleading, inadequate, and unprofessional series covers.

Let me back up, because this story doesn’t begin with Frozen at all. It begins with the first book in the Cassie Scot series, which has recently had an incredible makeover.

Many of my reviews for the early books in the series say, “Don’t judge this book by its cover!” They go on to say that the cover is awful, but the book is great. Well, obviously, I’m glad they liked the book, but I’ve been discouraged for years by the flack I’ve received for the covers.

One of the worst consequences of my original covers was the mistaken belief (by some) that my books were mid-grade novels, or at least young adult. They are not! These were written with adult audiences in mind.

As a picture is worth a thousand words, let me show you the before and after images:
 
Old Book Covers
New Book Covers
The original cover artwork for the Cassie Scot Series were hand painted originals done just for me. And saying that is bittersweet, because when my publisher first suggested going this route, I felt incredible pride at the idea of having artwork created just for me. It made me feel special. At this point, I have something of a love/hate relationship with the original covers because I can’t deny they were mistakes. Yet, some part of me still sees something special in them, something unique that the modern practice of photo manipulation can’t capture.

Take Secrets and Lies, for instance, the second book in the series and the one with the greatest backlash. “It looks too romantic,” many or my readers said to me. And maybe it does. None of these books are romances, exactly, but there is a strong romantic subplot (like it or not), and that pose on the original Secrets and Lies perfectly captures the tension in that book – Evan wants Cassie; Cassie is unsure.

Photo manipulation is incapable of creating such a scene. To do the same thing with photography, I would have to hire my own models, and a photographer, and do a prohibitively expensive photo shoot to make it happen.

But I get it. I really do. The original cover artwork has manican-like faces, and they lack the sharpness, the zing, the edge of professionalism that people are used to seeing on urban fantasy novels.

I asked my publisher to hire a new cover designer for Madison’s Song and Kaitlin’s Tale, two spin-offs following secondary characters, and she did a nice job. Not so nice that I wanted her to redo my whole series, but definitely an improvement. And at that point, I thought I was done writing the series.

When Cassie told me, “Life doesn’t end when you get married,” and made me write Frozen, the first book in her new plot arc, I knew I needed something different for the cover. My publisher gave me some choices, knowing I was unhappy with the earlier artwork, but ultimately I refused them all and asked her if she would hire Lou Harper, who was recommended by some fellow authors.



We found a stock photo model for Cassie, and when I did, I tried to find someone with enough poses that she could be used on additional books and maybe … if I liked Frozen well enough, on a series overhaul. I told Lou about some magical creatures that appear in the book, including a hellhound, which she depicted beautifully standing atop a frozen lake. The mist obscuring the background is another important plot element, and really holds the scene together.

When I revealed the cover art for Frozen to my loyal readers, I got immediate, positive feedback. Some claimed that Cassie looked just like they’d pictured. Many said it was beautiful, and professional, and when I floated the idea of the series makeover, I was met with enthusiastic encouragement. So I went for it.

The result is … breathtaking, I think. I particularly love the covers to Mind Games and Stolen Dreams (books three and four), though I am enthusiastic about all of these. They are obviously more professional, cleaner, and state clearly, “These are adult urban fantasy novels.”

I hope you like the new covers half as much as I do, and that regardless, you’ll give the books a chance. You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we often do. I sometimes do, even though I know how the process goes, and how hard it is to find the right representation for a book!

I present these before-and-after covers proudly, but know the books are far more than their covers. Cassie Scot is a labor of love that only comes alive when you peak inside. 



The seventh Cassie Scot novel, Frozen is out now!




Apparently, life doesn’t end when you get married.

When a couple freezes to death on a fifty degree day, Cassie is called in to investigate. The couple ran a daycare out of their home, making preschoolers the key witnesses and even the prime suspects.

Two of those preschoolers are Cassie’s youngest siblings, suggesting conditions at home are worse than she feared. As Cassie struggles to care for her family, she must face the truth about her mother’s slide into depression, which seems to be taking the entire town with it.

Then Cassie, too, is attacked by the supernatural cold. She has to think fast to survive, and her actions cause a rift between her and her husband.

No, life doesn’t end after marriage. All hell can break loose at any time.





ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christine Amsden has been writing fantasy and science fiction for as long as she can remember. She loves to write and it is her dream that others will be inspired by this love and by her stories. Speculative fiction is fun, magical, and imaginative but great speculative fiction is about real people defining themselves through extraordinary situations. Christine writes primarily about people and relationships, and it is in this way that she strives to make science fiction and fantasy meaningful for everyone.

At the age of 16, Christine was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, which scars the retina and causes a loss of central vision. She is now legally blind, but has not let this slow her down or get in the way of her dreams. 

Christine currently lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Austin, who has been her biggest fan and the key to her success. In addition to being a writer, she's a mom and freelance editor.


Social Media Links:











Monday, June 18, 2018

[Blog Tour] Review: Frozen by Christine Amsden



Title: Frozen
Author: Christine Amsden
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Cassie Scot # 7

Trade Paperback, 209 Pages
Publication: April 11, 2018 by Twilight Times Books

Source: I received a review copy from the author in exchange for a honest review.


Buy|Amazon|


Apparently, life doesn’t end when you get married.

When a couple freezes to death on a fifty degree day, Cassie is called in to investigate. The couple ran a daycare out of their home, making preschoolers the key witnesses and even the prime suspects.

Two of those preschoolers are Cassie’s youngest siblings, suggesting conditions at home are worse than she feared. As Cassie struggles to care for her family, she must face the truth about her mother’s slide into depression, which seems to be taking the entire town with it.

Then Cassie, too, is attacked by the supernatural cold. She has to think fast to survive, and her actions cause a rift between her and her husband.

No, life doesn’t end after marriage. All hell can break loose at any time.
I was sad when the Cassie Scot series wrapped up but Amsden ended up writing a spin-off of Cassie’s best friends Kaitlyn and Madison and I loved those just as much as Cassie’s book…I’d take anything to be able to able spend more time in the magical world of Eagle Rock and with its inhabitants. So when I found out that Amsden decided to write another Cassie Scot novel, I was ecstatic. I fell in love with Cassie and the gang since book one and didn’t need much convincing to read Frozen, the seventh installment in the Cassie Scot series.

Like previous Cassie books, Frozen has a main mystery at its core. A couple was found frozen to death in a cabin and its up to Cassie, Evan and the sheriff to figure out what happen…except there’s no one in town, that Cassie knows of with cold elemental powers, or powers enough to create a localized deep freeze. I really liked the plot and found it engaging but the reason why I’ve always loved this series and found it standing out amongst the Urban Fantasy genre is the theme of family and friends. And Frozen is no exception. I loved that Frozen showcased motherhood, and how its not always about magic. We’ve all heard the good stuff about motherhood, and I’m sure it’s incredible but Amsden also showed us that it’s not always easy and that beyond coming from a strong magical family; she has normal concerns, worries like any other mothers…about children growing up, going to school, leaving the nest, marriage and children etc.

I’ve read all of the Cassie/spin-off books but I gotta say Frozen is the best one yet. I loved everything about it. I can’t wait to see what Amsden has in store for this series and really hope she plans to continue it. I didn’t realized how much I missed the characters until I started Frozen. I am especially excited to see the children develop their powers, specifically Ana, the twin and Christina. They may be minor characters…three of them can’t even talk but are some of the most interesting secondary/tertiary characters I’ve ever read. If you haven’t read this series yet, I highly recommend it!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Seriously Hexed by Tina Connolly

Title: Seriously Hexed
Author: Tina Connolly
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Seriously Wicked # 3

Hardcover, 304 Pages

Publication: November 14, 2017 by Tor Teen

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.


Buy|Amazon|B&N|


Cam has resigned herself to being a witch. Sort of. She s willing to do small things, like magically help her boyfriend Devon get over his ongoing stage fright. But tangling with other witches is not on her wishlist. Joining her mother s wicked witch coven is right out.

New acquaintance Poppy Jones is a Type A, A+ Student of True Witchery. She s got all the answers, and she s delighted to tangle with a bunch of wicked witches. She doesn t need any reluctant witch getting in her way, especially one who knows less than a dozen spells, and has zero plans for witch college.

Then a coven meeting goes drastically awry. A hex is taking down all thirteen members of the coven, one by one putting both girls mothers in jeopardy. Now the two teens are going to have to learn to work together, while simultaneously juggling werewolf puppies, celebrity demons, thirteen nasty hexes, and even nastier witches. They may have to go through hell and high water to save their mothers but they also might find a new friendship along the way.
This series gives me major Sabrina the Teen Witch vibes, a show I loved growing up. In the third and final installment of the Seriously Wicked series we continue to watch as Cam balances life as a witch and teenager in high school. At the start of the story, Cam is getting ready to be initiated into her mother’s coven except things go wrong the night of initiation when her mom disappears. Things go from bad to worst when a nasty hex starts targeting coven members. With the help of a fellow witch, Cam sets out to find out who the culprit is and to find her mom before the hex hit her next.

This series was so much fun! I loved Cam and her friends. Connolly did a great job showcasing cam’s witchy side and all the normal things teenagers had to deal with such as school, friendship and the dreaded process of applying for college…that despite being a witch, they were all pretty normal like the rest of us and had the same problems. In Seriously Hexed, we found out a lot more about the coven witches, Sarmine’s past and finally…what happened to Cam’s dad! One of the biggest mystery since the first book.

I really enjoyed Seriously Hexed, and the entire series overall. If you’re looking for a good witch series that’s light, fun and all around feel-good then I highly recommend picking up this series, starting with the first book, Seriously Wicked.



Saturday, June 09, 2018

Brief Cases by Jim Butcher

Title: Brief Cases
Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: The Dresden Files # 15.1

Hardcover, 448 Pages

Publication: June 5, 2018 by Ace Books

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.


Buy|Amazon|B&N|


An all-new Dresden Files story headlines this urban fantasy short story collection starring the Windy City's favorite wizard.

The world of Harry Dresden, Chicago's only professional wizard, is rife with intrigue--and creatures of all supernatural stripes. And you'll make their intimate acquaintance as Harry delves into the dark side of truth, justice, and the American way in this must-have short story collection.

From the Wild West to the bleachers at Wrigley Field, humans, zombies, incubi, and even fey royalty appear, ready to blur the line between friend and foe. In the never-before-published "Zoo Day," Harry treads new ground as a dad, while fan-favorite characters Molly Carpenter, his onetime apprentice, White Council Warden Anastasia Luccio, and even Bigfoot stalk through the pages of more classic tales.

With twelve stories in all, Brief Cases offers both longtime fans and first-time readers tantalizing glimpses into Harry's funny, gritty, and unforgettable realm, whetting their appetites for more to come from the wizard with a heart of gold.
I’ve heard a lot of great things over the years about The Dresden Files. I think it’s safe to say it’s synonymous with the Urban Fantasy genre. Unlike most folks, I actually haven’t read the series yet but always wanted to. So when I heard about Brief Cases, a short stories collection by Jim Butcher was coming out; I thought what better way is there to get acquainted with the series then to read short stories taking place in the Dresden World. It was the perfect introduction.

Brief Cases consisted of 12 short stories from The Dresden Files World, some narrated by Harry and other characters in the same world. Most of the stories were previously published in different anthologies and take places at various timeline during the series. I personally don’t read many novellas unless it’s by my favorite authors, but as I said since I am interested in the series It was a great way for me to discover the characters and Butcher’s writing style. Which I gotta say, I really enjoyed it. I also liked that fact that there was an author introduction before each story. The author pretty much set the reader up for what to expect and/or why he wrote the story, a more in-depth explanation into the author’s mind/scene. It was interesting and very helpful.

I think long-time fan will definitely enjoy the book, it’s a great in-between book as they await the next book in the series and those new-to the series, such as myself, will appreciate this glimpse into The Dresden Files World full of all sort of preternatural beings. 





Thursday, June 07, 2018

City of Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

Title: City of Bastards
Author: Andrew Shvarts
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Royal Bastards # 2

Hardcover, 320 Pages

Publication: June 5, 2018 by Disney-Hyperion

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.


Buy|Amazon|B&N|


Tilla, bastard of House Kent, has it made. Safe from her murderous father in the dazzling capital of Lightspire, she lives a life of luxury under the protection of the Volaris King, alongside her boyfriend Zell and best friend, Princess Lyriana.

So why isn’t she happy? Maybe it’s the whispers and stares that follow her wherever she goes, as the daughter of the traitor waging war against Lightspire. Or maybe it’s the memories of her beloved brother, Jax, who lies cold in his grave even as she tries to settle into a life in the city's prestigious University.

Then, Tilla stumbles upon the body of a classmate, a friend. The authorities are quick to rule it a suicide and sweep it under the rug, but when Tilla herself is attacked by a mysterious man with terrifying powers, she’s convinced of a conspiracy. Her friends beg her to stay silent; what she's suggesting is impossible... and treaso

But Tilla can't, won't, let it go. And the deeper she digs, the more questions she uncovers. How is the West beating the supposedly invincible Lightspire Mages in battle? Is it connected to the shadowy cult wreaking havoc in Lightspire? Nothing is as it seems in the glorious capital, and Tilla’s presence might just be the spark that sets the Kingdom aflame.
There are plenty of books featuring princesses, princes, villains and lost heirs. And that’s all great stuff, but sometimes don’t you just find the side-background characters of a story more interesting? Like Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter or Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, Witch and The Wardrobe…what if they were the main character of the story? I think some of the most fascinating characters are the one that are normally overlooked, which is why Shvarts’s series stands out in a sea of Young Adult Fantasy. The book is centered on the nobility’s bastard children. When I first heard about Royal Bastards, the first book in the series..I thought “that is brilliant!”. It was fresh, new…something that hasn’t been done before (or at least something I’ve never read before). I read and enjoyed Royal Bastards last year and Shvarts’s second installment, City of Bastards is no exception. It was another fun and action-packed novel that is just as good, if not better than its predecessor.

City of Bastards takes place a few weeks after the events of Royal Bastards, Tilla and Co have brought Princess Lyriana safely home to LightSpire and has the protection/sanctuary of King Leopold as thanks. It has always been Tilla’s dream to see the city of LightSpire, to dine in the banquet hall and to dress up in the resplendent dresses. But LightSpire wasn’t anything like Tilla pictured with danger around every corner; not to mention the rumors beyond the wall of her father’s troop making their way towards Lightspire with an arsenal of their own apostate mages in tow.

If you read Royal Bastards last year, you knew how explosive and game-changing the ending was. I didn’t think Shvarts could top that but I was so wrong because Shvarts upped the stakes in City of Bastards and the ending…the ending was a…Total. Crazy. Game. Changer. I loved the surprises and unexpectedness of it all. But don’t worry the trademark humor found in the first book is in abundance and action, so much action. Readers will never be bored because there was so much to see and learn and the action and mystery will have you at the edge of your seat as Tilla, Lyriana, and Zell search for a killer and prevent an assassination attempt.

Overall, City of Bastards was an solid and great follow-up to Royal Bastards. I loved that we got to be in a different city and to learn more about the world and politics. As I mentioned earlier, the ending changes everything for the characters and I can’t wait to see what Shvarts has planned for the series. And if these two books are anything to go buy, I know it’s going to be shocking and phenomenal. Just how I like it! I highly recommend the Royal Bastards series, if you’re looking for a fun, high-octane book to get lost in, this series is the answer. 



Monday, June 04, 2018

Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe by Preston Norton

Title: Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe
Author: Preston Norton
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult
Series: N/A

Hardcover, 400 Pages

Publication: June 5, 2018 by Disney-Hyperion

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.


Buy|Amazon|B&N|


Cliff Hubbard is a huge loser. Literally. His nickname at Happy Valley High School is Neanderthal because he's so enormous-6'6" and 250 pounds to be exact. He has no one at school and life in his trailer park home has gone from bad to worse ever since his older brother's suicide.

There's no one Cliff hates more than the nauseatingly cool quarterback, Aaron Zimmerman. Then Aaron returns to school after a near-death experience with a bizarre claim: while he was unconscious he saw God, who gave him a list of things to do to make Happy Valley High suck less. And God said there's only one person who can help: Neanderthal.

To his own surprise, Cliff says he's in. As he and Aaron make their way through the List, which involves a vindictive English teacher, a mysterious computer hacker, a decidedly unchristian cult of Jesus Teens, the local drug dealers, and the meanest bully at HVHS--Cliff feels like he's part of something for the first time since losing his brother. But fixing a broken school isn't as simple as it seems, and just when Cliff thinks they've completed the List, he realizes their mission hits closer to home than he ever imagined
.

First off, a big THANK YOU to Disney-Hyperion for giving me an advance copy of this book for review!

Anyone who reads my blog know I’m not an avid reader of contemporary. The ones I’ve enjoyed can probably be counted on one hand. But then I was pitched Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe, and there was something that compelled me to accept and review a book and author I’ve never heard of before. And I am so, so glad I read it because this amazing, brilliant book would’ve flew under my radar otherwise.

Simply put, this book is life. Once in a blue moon you read a book that changes your life. Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe was that book. I wasn’t even passed chapter one when I knew I was going to love it and was already planning to force, I mean recommend, everyone I know and their momma to read this book. This has got to be the best Contemporary Young Adult I’ve read in years. This book was smart, beautifully written, heartbreaking, sweet, thoughtful, and ridiculously funny...like seriously funny, it should be a crime that Norton made me laugh out loud that much in public! It should also be noted that the movie/pop culture references and one-liners in this book were on point. I loved all of it!

Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe tackled issues of grief, suicide, sexuality, religion, bullying, and abuse…to name a few. And it was done exceptionally well. I read a good amount of books and from what I’ve seen and read, most authors normally take on one theme as the focus of their story when they write and not all authors are able to execute even that much. Sometimes it comes off too preachy, forceful and in your face with no subtly in sight. However, Norton was not only able to incorporate a vast amount of themes but he did it expertly and woven it into the beautifully realistic characters’ dialogue and actions. Readers were shown these important and thought-provoking ideas instead of being told about them. And that alone makes a world of a difference in how much one enjoys a book.

The characters, oh man do I love everyone. Cliff, the school outcast and Aaron, the most popular kid in school are brought together by god…literally and it was the best thing ever. The other characters that readers will meet along the way are a truly eclectic bunch and fully developed and fleshed out just as well as the main characters themselves. I can relate to so many of them and can definitely see the community I live in reflected in those characters one way or another.  Diversity is a hot topic these days and again, while many authors out there are trying to integrate that aspect into their novel…I haven’t seen it done as perfectly, flawlessly and naturally until now. Kudos to that.

Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe is a true masterpiece. Norton has crafted one of the most sincere, brilliant, pertinent, relatable YA novel in a very long time that will certainly appeal to readers of all ages. This book had me laughing until my body ache one minute and crying like a baby in the next. While the story took place in high school and dealt with the up and down of adolescence; I found the overall message to go beyond that to life in general. That life is hard but the most important thing is to always try…even when it scares you. You all know that awesome quote… “Be the change you want to see in the world”? That pretty much sums up this book perfectly.

If you can read only one book this year, let Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe be that book. I can say without any hesitation that this is the best book I read this year (yeah, I know we’re only halfway through) and nothing will top it. Nothing. “I love this book”, I don’t think those simple words can sufficiently encapsulate my feelings for this book. Because there aren’t enough words. My review cannot express or do justice to how wonderful this book is..you’re just going have to read it and see for yourself.

Read this book, and I guarantee you’ll be glad that you did. I sure am.




Sunday, June 03, 2018

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

Title: Sparrow Hill Road
Author: Seanan McGuire
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Ghost Stories # 1

Trade Paperback, 308 pages
Publication: June 5, 2018 by DAW 

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.

Buy|AMAZON|B&N|


Rose Marshall died in 1952 in Buckley Township, Michigan, run off the road by a man named Bobby Cross—a man who had sold his soul to live forever, and intended to use her death to pay the price of his immortality. Trouble was, he didn’t ask Rose what she thought of the idea.

It’s been more than sixty years since that night, and she’s still sixteen, and she’s still running.

They have names for her all over the country: the Girl in the Diner. The Phantom Prom Date. The Girl in the Green Silk Gown. Mostly she just goes by “Rose,” a hitchhiking ghost girl with her thumb out and her eyes fixed on the horizon, trying to outrace a man who never sleeps, never stops, and never gives up on the idea of claiming what’s his. She’s the angel of the overpass, she’s the darling of the truck stops, and she’s going to figure out a way to win her freedom. After all, it’s not like it can kill her.

You can’t kill what’s already dead.

I love McGuire’s work! I’ve read most her books, such as her October Daye series from the beginning, InCryptid series featuring a family of cryptologists and her Parasitology series under her pen name Mira Grant…anything she writes, I will read. Sparrow Hill Road is all about ghosts and I’m a sucker for ghost stories. I missed the serialized version of the story when it was released online years ago and when it was first published back in 2014. However, DAW republished Sparrow Hill Road with an all new awesome cover in anticipation of the sequel that comes out the following month in July, The Girl in the Silk Gown!

Sparrow Hill Road is a first person narrative, as readers follow Rose when she was alive and in death. But the majority of the book takes place after death, as Rose navigates the ghost roads, hitchhiking her way across America. It takes Rose about 3 years to really understand the rules of the ghost road, content with her job assisting the newly departed to their home/final destination. It isn’t till Rose learns that her murderer, Bobby Cross, a man neither dead nor alive is still preying on people just like herself, running them off the roads to their death that she wants to put an end to his terror.  

Whether McGuire is writing about fairies, monsters, zombies, bio-engineered alien-like worms, or ghosts; she definitely puts her own signature on the topic, creating a unique and wonderful world within the pages of a book. I didn’t know what to expect when I started Sparrow Hill Road, it was different from any ghost story I ever read. It was like mini Rose stories within a story (I get why now it was a serial/episode first), the story jumps back and forth over the span of 60 years since Rose died in the first 2/3 of the book and in the last 1/3 of the book it is set in the present day.  We encounter each and every single person Rose manages to save and the unlucky ones that she assists along the ghost road. I’m an action type of gal, I like seeing an overall conflict or an endgame in the long run and I didn’t really see one in Sparrow Hill Road. However, that didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the stories (book is divided into 4 parts: book1, book2…etc) within the story because I did. I thought it was really interesting to see what it means to be a road ghost and all the other types of ghosts Rose meets; many I never heard of before. Each ghost has their own trait and duties that differ from road ghost Rose (given that she died on the “road”); there is also a handy little ghost reference guide at the back of the book to help you familiarize yourself with the types of ghost before you start the book. 

Rose isn’t what I expected either. Rose died when she was 16-years-old but she isn’t like any typical 16-year-old, having been died for 60 years…she definitely has a lot of tricks up her sleeves, and isn’t ashamed to do some questionable things. And while she is 16, she has a voice of someone in their early-mid 20’s; she’s real, straightforward, a ‘takes no crap’ kind of girl. This happens to be exactly my type of heroine. 

Sparrow Hill Road  was great and I am really looking forward to see where McGuire plans to take this series. I highly recommend this book to all McGuire and Urban Fantasy fans, it surely will not disappoint.