This is a fantastic YA urban fantasy story that sets Norse gods in contemporary America. Throw in a teenaged berserker, a seethkona, and a few trolls, and other mythical creatures that are not-so-mythical and you’ve got yourself one heck of an adventure in the making. I finished reading this book about a month ago and I still think about it. That is always the sign of a good story to me. I won this book in a blog contest giveaway. It was actually my first ebook win, too. Woohoo! I hadn’t had the pleasure of reading a book by Ms. Gratton before, so this book was one of those total surprises. I just opened it up and gave it a shot.
It was amazing!
The mix of Norse gods functioning within the present day political structure was fascinating and Gratton makes the balance work. The characters at the center – what fantastic emotional connection! That to me is always the crux of what makes or breaks a story and Gratton is a master at this. The whole struggle Soren goes through with suppressing his berserker rage to avoid the fate of his father and Astrid tempting him to give in to it – ah!
Love, love, love this!
A berserker as a teen character? How apropos is that? What teenager can’t relate to warring with their own emotions? The difference with Soren is that if he even gives into his rage once, he feels that his life will be over. He’ll end up just like his father; losing complete control and killing innocent people. His father was finally taken out by a SWAT team. Soren is a pariah at school, with other students steering clear of him. The mark of the berserker on his face – the tattoo of a spear – is a warning to others of his potentially volatile nature.
And then Astrid arrives. She can’t seem to stay away. Astrid is just as well written and poignant. She dreams about Soren and needs him to help her on her quest.
Haunted by unpredictable berserker rage, he distances himself from other students at school.
A prophet by blood, she dreams the weave of fate and sees Soren changing the futures.
BALDUR THE BEAUTIFUL
The most popular god in the States disappears in front of TV cameras, and the country erupts in chaos.
THE DESTINY IS SET.
Astrid and Soren must save Baldur. But in saving a god, will Soren destroy himself…and everything he holds dear? (Plot summary from author’s website.)
This unlikely trio set off together on quite an adventure and the chemistry between them is just brilliant. I absolutely loved Baldur’s character as well. I’d say so much more about this beautiful storyline, but SPOILERS! Here’s an excerpt from the very beginning of the book to get you hooked and make you want to rush out and get your own copy:
My mom used to say that in the United States of Asgard, you can feel the moments when the threads of destiny knot together, to push you or pull you or crush you. But only if you’re paying attention.
It was a game we played during long afternoons in the van, distracting ourselves from Dad’s empty seat. Mom would point out a sign as we drove past – WELCOME TO COLORADA, THE CENTENNIAL KINGSGATE, bright green against a gray backdrop of mountains – and she’d ask, “Here, Soren? Do you feel the threads tightening around you?”
I would put my fingers to my chest where Dad used to say the berserker fever stirred. “No,” I’d say, “nothing yet.”
And Mom always replied, “Good.”
We both dreaded the day Dad’s curse would flicker to life in me.
LEAVING WESTPORT CITY – COME AGAIN!
“I hope it wasn’t back there, little man!”
“No, Mom, I doubt it.”
CANTUCKEE: HOME OF BLUEGRASS
“Soren, do you hear the clacking loom of fate?”
“I couldn’t hear anything over the banjos.”
But I have felt it, four times now.
When I was eight years old, standing in a neon-lit shopping mall, and my ears began to ring. My breath thinned out and I ran.
Again five years later, when Mom stopped the van for gas and we happened to be across the road from a militia station. The sun was just barely too bright, cutting across my cheek. I knew what I was supposed to do.
Six months ago, I was in the dining hall about to take a long drink of honey soda when the air around me turned cold. I had time to get to my bedroom before this jagged hot fever began to burn.
I could not stop reading this book.
Book 2, THE STRANGE MAID, comes out next month and if you read Book 1, you will be waiting in line for the new book’s release. I guarantee it. I can’t wait for the next book.
Doing a favor for loved ones rarely puts one’s life in danger, but then it also rarely involves psychotic chickens.
Last week, the kids and I set off on a four hour road trip to house-sit for my folks deep in the Ozarks of rural Missouri and to experience what my dad kept calling an adventure (my first clue something would go terribly wrong).
I was greeted with a four page manifesto of chores – the bare minimum necessary to keep the place running smoothly. That’s okay, I thought, I wrote my folks something similar once when the hubs and I went on vacation many, many moons ago – a survival guide for babysitting the younglings, more than double the length of their instructions.
It’s all in the details.
I admit, I may have glazed over some of the details in that first reading due to road fatigue and children demands – What’s to eat? How do I work the TV? Why are there so many bugs here?
One of the details mentioned something about a rift in the chicken world with one particularly spiky chicken nicknamed “The Bitch” who had to be quarantined away from the younger chickens throughout the day so she didn’t terrorize them and peck them unmercifully. Good thing I didn’t have to start worrying about that just yet.
We started the next day with a brief introduction to the psychotic chickens. Entering the pen and throwing scratch on the ground. Don’t ask me what scratch is, I don’t know. I just measured it out of the bucket labeled “scratch” like the directions said and spread it around like I was told. I am not a country girl – as you may have guessed by now. The two oldest chickens met us near the gate to the pens, clucking in what sounded like a friendly manner. They went after that scratch the minute it hit the straw-covered ground. That gave us time to observe them and check out their surroundings – and most important of all, look for eggs. My folks had been gone a good twenty-four hours by then so we found a good haul. We made our slow departure, eggs in hand. I left the chicken compound thinking, hmm, maybe this chicken thing would be easy.
After that excitement, the daughter who has developed an extreme phobia to all flying insects, decided to stay inside while the boy and I enjoyed a beautiful walk along the countryside. I did remember the one detail in the instructions about bug spray; if you’re going to spend any amount of time outdoors, spray, spray, spray. Or you’ll get nasty chigger bites. Spray we did, then off we went to enjoy nature.
Trevor walking up ahead.
Wildflowers in the morning sun.
If only I hadn’t forgotten how steep and rocky the hills were on the return trip. Who needs an elliptical or treadmill? This hill was set to extreme cardio level 10!
By the time we’d walked a little over a mile, I was breathing so hard it hurt my chest and my calves were singing in pain. I thought I was going to die. And I hadn’t even begun the daily chores. Nice. When we climbed the final steep hill back up to the house, my son decided he’d had enough. Time to take a shower and call it a day. I tucked him in to his favorite spot with his favorite things and started a movie. He was back asleep before I went out the door. I envied him.
It wasn’t so much that the tasks were difficult – mostly there was a lot of watering garden areas and moving hoses around, carting water buckets to flowerbeds, that kind of thing. What killed me was climbing up and down to those rocky hills about thirty times to get it all done. I was a sweating, drooling, zombie-shuffling corpse (complete with incomprehensible moaning) by the end of the day.
And I haven’t even mentioned dealing with the chickens.
The instructions said around noon I’d have to corner The Bitch and pick her up – I was told not to worry because she was used to being picked up and this should be fairly easy to do (another warning sign that things would go terribly wrong). Once I had a firm hold of her I would then need to let the younger chickens out of the coop into the open area of the pen. After they were all out in the yard, I would gently secure The Bitch in the coop and lock her in for the remainder of the day after making sure there was plenty of food and water inside.
Let me just tell you that is not what happened on the first day. Or the second. Or the third. Not even on the fourth.
I brought my daughter along to help me corner said spiky/bitchy chicken. After a few minutes, it was clear she wouldn’t be fairly easy to pick up no matter how “used to it” she was. All of our chasing did manage to direct her into the small dog crate in the chicken yard – also used for chicken separation. Sweating and panting, we made sure she had food and water and locked her into solitary.
I was exhausted. And my chores were only half-done at this point.
For the rest of the day, there was just more water hauling, kid-wrangling, body-aching to contend with. The younger chickens actually put themselves to roost in the coop that night so locking them back in and releasing The Bitch, as we now affectionately referred to her, into the main pen was much easier than our noontime adventure. The only other notable event came when we were wrapping up our final evening chores. We had to bring in the leftover cat food for the outside cats so it wouldn’t attract raccoons. A little after dusk, I had my daughter shine the flashlight along the walkway while I retrieved the food. (Have I mentioned she’s also an arachnophobe?)
At the first sight of this…
…she screamed and the light went out.
I froze and asked her what happened.
“Spider!” she yelled and pointed at the harmless loping thing as it made its way across the deck.
“Turn the light back on,” I said. She did and then promptly screamed again.
There was another one, a little closer, but still just as harmless, moseying along. At this point, my light source companion bailed on me, not waiting to see what other horrors lurked in the darkness. She high-tailed it back into the house.
I sighed and wondered if she’d ever get over her irrational fear of all things creepy and crawly. There was just enough light that I could still make out fuzzy outlines of most things so I just soldiered on. I was almost at my destination; the end of the deck. I grabbed the food dish and then screamed even louder than my daughter. Inside the dish, coming towards my hand, was the largest daddy long legs I’d ever seen (trauma of the situation may have warped my recollection of events and size of said arachnid). I dropped the food dish with a mighty clatter and spilled out all of the remaining cat food. The raccoons fed well that night, I must tell you.
I bolted into the house even faster than my youngling and slammed the door. I couldn’t stop laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation and the entire day. My daughter, once learning what I’d done, joined in laughing at me. This, of course woke up my son who just looked at the two of us like we were insane. At that moment, I’m pretty sure I was.
Day two was pretty much a repeat of day one, with the added bonus of pain. Copious amounts of pain from all the work I’d done the day before. I knew I wasn’t in great shape, but it wasn’t very nice of the Ozark Hills to advertise this fact so maliciously. Also, the chickens were much less cooperative.
The Bitch didn’t fall for the old, let’s go into the dog crate routine so easily this time. Instead, she hid underneath the back roosting nest after leading us on quite the aerobic chase around the pen. I finally had to go get a long stick to prod her (gently) to come out. Her response was to run around the back side of the coop where only a slimmer, younger chick could fit. Let’s just say she got herself stuck in an embarrassing position – literally stuck between the coop and the fencing.
That wasn’t in the manual.
I pulled the fencing out as far as I could to make it wider for her and she still remained stuck, flapping her little wings and running her legs in mid-air, like a chicken with her head cut…er,I mean, to no avail. I gave her a loving, gentle prodding with the stick (I swear, it was loving and gentle) and she finally came out. Still, it took another ten minutes to get That Bitch in the damned dog crate. Another day in the hole.
That night, way past their bed time, the younger chicks decided to test the new babysitters. They weren’t ready to go quietly into the coop. I reread the instructions and it said we were supposed to chase them in to the coop – and that they were used to this. (HA! And again I say, HA!) As this was night time, and I thought this was a quick chore, like it had been the night before, I did the unthinkable – I forgot to spray, spray spray before going out to do this simple task. It took at least fifteen minutes to corral all of those damned psychotic chickens into their coop. And don’t think I wasn’t a little bit tempted at my weakest moment to bring out The Bitch to finish the job and chase them into the coop for me.
The other chores went a little smoother, although I did drop the cat food dish, again – less to spill this time. I think it was just a little PTSD from the night before. Or maybe from my entire experience thus far.
One nice thing about this day…
…It ended with a bang!
And we only set one little small fire that was put out in a second. No problem.
(Did I mention that I woke up with the worst chigger bites all over my arms and legs?) Apparently, toothpaste works wonders for the itch when nothing else does, also you smell minty fresh. I thank my daughter for that home remedy she learned while watching some science program. You rock, even though you abandoned me in the dark. All is forgiven.
So what if the nice, relaxing country vacation where I could hang out with the kids and get some writing done didn’t happen exactly the way I thought it would. We eventually got into a better rhythm with the homestead and all of its creatures, even the psychotic chickens. By the fourth day, I woke up and didn’t feel crippling pain, just good, honest muscle ache – that I could work with. We all three had our stations in the chicken coop when it came time to put The Bitch in solitary and she went in with much less stress for all involved and in record time.
There were some really good moments, too. We made time to visit our favorite eating establishment there in Gainesville, Missouri. Antler Package & Pizza, otherwise referred to as The Antler, where they do indeed decorate with antlers and the heads that came with them.
Regardless of the décor, the food is to die for. Trevor devours the famous cheese pizza and my husband swears they have some of the best burgers around.
On the final day, once the sore muscles faded and the itching stopped, the chores were done, and there was time to just be, I had time to absorb my surroundings and this is where I was…
and I did find some inspiration. So in the end, even the psychotic chickens were worth it.
I have inherited many things from my dad that I am grateful for, but my appalling eyesight is not one of them. A friend was once commenting on the actual prescriptions for my glasses versus my husband’s. He said without our glasses on, “If you want to sneak up on Tim, just walk up on his left side.” Then when asked about me, he said, “Oh you can just come straight at her, she won’t even see you until it’s too late.”
So you’d think my husband would remember that he can’t do things like rearrange the contents of the shower because he’s basically married to a blind woman. (Unless he thinks it’s funny to watch me hold the bottles mere centimeters away while water and bubbles careen down my face, further obscuring my field of vision – ha ha ha. Are you laughing right outside the shower where I can’t see you? That is supremely stupid. You know I am a vengeful woman!) On most days, I give him the benefit of the doubt, because I can understand his confusion as I do I wear contacts part of the time and he does have ADHD, so minor things like my safety slip through the cogs of his memory wheel.
Unfortunately, this morning’s incident I should not blame on my distractable husband. My alarm went off way before I was ready to wake up – as it often does – so I was trying to track it down to hit the world’s greatest invention, the snooze button. The problem was, I couldn’t find it. I could definitely hear the incessant beep-beep-beep, beep-beep-beep, and my roaming hand was desperately knocking over all of the stacks of books next my bed in search of the offending sound. At last I found it and gained that glorious ten extra minutes. All it cost me was the loss of my sight.
Ten minutes later, when the final alarm went off, I couldn’t find my glasses. At first, I blamed the poor ADHD riddled husband. “You can’t hide a blind woman’s glasses! What’s wrong with you?” He mumbled something incoherent from the shower – completely useless, not coming to my rescue. *sigh* I had to get down on all fours and put my face two inches from the carpet to hunt for my prosthetic eyes. Finally my hands closed over the familiar shape. I yelled out to the shower, “You are so lucky I found them!” Even though I’d figured out by this point what had happened, and that I shouldn’t blame him, I decided in that state that I was going to anyway. I slumped over in relief. Those few seconds of desperate groping are always so panicky for me. I hate not being able to see. I would definitely rather be deaf than blind any day, although I would miss music something awful, so I’m greedy and I’d rather keep them both, thanks all the same.
1. Revise the query for my completed YA manuscript until it’s tight enough to bounce a quarter off the sucker. Progress was made! Check.
2. Research prospective agents to whom I want to submit my completed YA manuscript. Progress made here as well! Check. I added a few more agents to my submit list.
3. Once items one and two have been successfully achieved, submit to at least three agents at a time. YES! Giant double check. I submitted to three more agents last week and received one very positive response with a partial request and one form rejection.I’m still waiting to hear on the other four.
4. Get cracking on the next YA manuscript I have planned so I don’t check my inbox every thirty minutes awaiting responses to my submissions. This is the only goal I didn’t make any progress on last week. I want to put more energy into it this week as I have some definite plans for it coming up. I just signed up for the SCBWI LA Conferenceand I want something new for my critique submission. The deadline is in three weeks so I better get cracking! Anyone else going to the LA conference? I’d love to meet you there.
As I hope one day to interview fellow authors and other amazing people who have touched my life, shaping my character in various ways – for good or bad to be determined later – I wanted to test out some sample questions that were more probing, more revealing and less banal than the common, “Have you always wanted to be a writer?” and “Where do you get your ideas from?” that everyone else always asks. What I needed was a brave soul to subject to my arduous questions, someone to practice my interviewing skills on. I sent out a call for volunteers. I had one person come forward with the condition that “he” remains anonymous. Reluctantly, I agreed. Herein follows my first attempt at an in-depth interview. Enjoy.
Me: Thank you for joining me today, Mr. Quixote, or may I call you Don?
DQ: Sure, Don is fine.
Me: Great. Don, could you start out by telling us a little bit about your experiences from childhood? Did you have any hero or roles models when you were a kid?
DQ: Sgt. Rock of Easy Company was my favorite comic book. I saw my brother as the coolest person around and I wanted to be like him. I learned early on to be careful what you wish for. For many years I idolized him. Later I realized my Step-father was the better role model.
Me: Interesting. At one point when I was young, I wanted to be Wonder Woman. I think I liked the idea of her being powerful, deflecting bullets and all that and she was the only girl super hero.
Did you ever have clubhouse or secret place of your own? What did you do there?
DQ: Yep, one summer’s vacation away from my grade school at Kaiser Elementary. I talked some neighborhood buddies into building a fort in our back yard. We didn’t have any wood but there was a new house being built down the street and there were piles of scrap and new wood laying about. We started with the scrap and quickly realized that wouldn’t be enough so we started walking away with long planks of new wood off their stacks they were using for framing the house. I know the workers saw us doing this but they never said a thing. I remember thinking this was not a right or wrong thing as it was just logical that we get what we needed for the fort. Kinda puzzled to this day as to what those workers were thinking about us kids hauling off all that wood. The fort turned out to be shaped like a pig pen (long and narrow with missing slats to use for shooting Indians from.)
Me: So, tell me Don, what was your most memorable adventure that you had with your friends outside of school.
DQ: It would have to be the night a few of us decided to use my Dad’s car to go hunting rabbits at night. This was, and still is I think, called “spotlighting”. A deer or rabbit when hit with a spotlight will freeze in place long enough to get it’s ass shot off. We were out behind Lake Overholser dam outside of Oklahoma City when we spotted a rabbit. I pointed the car’s high beams at the luckless creature and one of my friends jumped out of the car on the right side with a semi-auto .22 cal rifle and started shooting at the rabbit. Unfortunately for me the rabbit started running to the left of the front of the car and my friend began shooting rapidly trying to catch up to the rabbit. Well, as he swung his rifle towards the escaping rabbit his line of fire swept over the front of my Dad’s 1959 Desoto neatly plugging the left hood ornament three times. I’m pretty sure my first words were something like “Oh Shit! You shot my car!” It took my Dad about a month to discover the bullet holes and when he asked me about it I had a really good story ready. He bought it … I think.
Me: Wow! That kind of makes any trouble I got into not seem quite so dangerous. At least there was no gunfire involved with mine. I’d love to hear the story your dad swallowed about the bullet holes that didn’t land you in trouble. I’m picturing something about witnessing a bank robbery followed by a police shootout, but then my imagination tends to leap a little on the wild side.
DQ: It’s probably better if that remains a mystery.
Me: I understand. Can’t blame me for asking. Tell me about the most interesting place you have ever lived. What did you like/hate most about it?
DQ: Other than where I live today, which is more wonderful than interesting, it would be when [I] lived in Tacoma Washington. We were poor as church mice; living on food stamps…We were surrounded by beautiful and exciting natural and free things to do. Clam digging on Puget Sound, watching big trawlers unload; crossing the Narrows Bridge after being told of how the last one built was destroyed by wind, sending cars and people to the depths of the Sound. Hiking up parts of Mt. Rainer, inner tube sliding in the snow on Mt. Rainer. Any car trip in that area was a treat. Eventually, [I] began to hate the constant rain, cloudy days, and wood pulp mill smog that permeated the area…
Me: What was the worst job you ever had while going to school? Did your friends ever come by while you were working and embarrass you?
DQ: [The worst job I ever had was] Bus Boy at Kip’s Big Boy restaurant. It was a special kind of humiliation to be cleaning up the messes that the cool popular guys and their dates from school left. These BMOC’s assholes would come in with the very girls I spent the majority of my waking hours fantasizing about.
Me: Sounds a bit like my least favorite job; McDonald’s. I especially loved working the drive thru when they made us wear these ridiculous foam Chinese hats to promote some new nugget sauce. The stupid things caught on everything and choked the crap out of you. On Friday night, during peak cruising time, every other carload of (intoxicated) popular kids asked me – with dripping sarcasm – if they could have my awesome hat. Thank God they didn’t have Facebook back then. I’m sure my picture would’ve been snapped and uploaded a thousand times.
Along this same line, what is the most embarrassing thing one of your friends ever did? Especially when trying to impress members of the opposite sex?
DQ: [My friend] Jonny was always experimenting with weird ways of communicating. He decided to spend the day juxtaposing the letter “F” in front of every word in any sentence he spoke. It blew up on him when he asked the Homeroom teacher, “Say, where’s Bucket Face?”
Me: Ouch! I’m guessing you were Bucket Face?
(Silence, followed by icy glare)
Next I’d like to move on to more serious subjects. Did you ever have to deal with a bully? How did you handle it?
DQ: There was a time I was riding a 50cc motorcycle to school and the only way I had of locking it was with a combination lock. Apparently one of the local n’er-do-wells watched me unlock it enough times to get the combination and I began finding my cycle parked differently each day with extra miles on it. I figured someone was taking my bike at lunch time for rides and then bringing it back. I told the vice-principal about it and he said he would come out with me the next day and help me catch the guys doing it. Well here’s where trusting authority didn’t pay off. The vp didn’t show but a friend and I staked out the parking area and waited for my bike to come back. The guy driving the bike was the local bully and I confronted him (most unlike me) and we got into a shoving match and were about to begin [throwing] punches when his friend who was riding on the back jumped in with some lame excuse about borrowing the bike. About that time the vp finally showed up and took the bully and his friend away. I felt good about standing up to the bully.
Me: That must have been a very satisfying feeling – solving your own problem and standing up to your bully. It was nice of the vice principal to show up in time to stop the violence from happening. At least he was good for something.
Me: As a kid, what was the worst trouble you ever got into? And what was your punishment?
DQ: There were so many…I guess when I shot a BB gun at a neighbor’s window and broke it. I was about 9 years old. I think I was grounded for that.
Me: Were you ever afraid of the dark, of anything under your bed or in your closet?
DQ: After watching The Blob at the movies I imagined it was under my bed so I walked on top of my furniture to get out of the bedroom the next morning.
Me: Aah! The slow-moving atomic jello is coming to get you! This leads us to the next question, what was the scariest thing that you ever experienced as a kid?
DQ: This would be the time when I was younger than 9 (as it happened before we moved to OKC). I was taking my nightly bath in the summertime. We didn’t have air-conditioning so the high bathroom window was open. I was minding my own business when suddenly a monster with huge claws was scraping at the screen trying to get in and devour me. I screamed and everyone came running as I cried, “There’s a monster trying to get in the window!!” While he never confessed to me I’m pretty sure it was my brother using the garden shears to scrape on the screen.
Me: That sounds terrifying. Why was it again that you looked up to your brother as a hero figure?
(Another silence, punctured by an icy glare.)
Ahem, next question. Have you ever had a near-death experience?
DQ: Yes, being married to your mother.
Me: We-ell, that answer may have just given away your secret identity, so I think we’ll end there.
DQ: Thanks alot, I’ve successfully repressed all of those things and you just had to dredge them up. I know my mind will work on this and open up those vaults of pain during my sleep and I will visit them again, and again, and again. Like I don’t have enough angst in my life you had to get all this going?
Me: That’s all we have time for. Thanks for being my guest, today, “Don”. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you. May some of the windmills you tilt at in the future actually be ferocious giants.