Friday, September 25, 2015

A Tale of Two Cities - with Dragons by Charles Dickens and Steven DeWinter

A Tale of Two Cities - with Dragons
by Charles Dickens and Steven DeWinter--I was directed to this book by a friend who knows my love of all things Charles Dickens. When I first picked up the kindle download, I admit I was worried that it would be a mockery of the classic, but that is not the case.

But First the Blurb:

The #1 Bestselling Novel of All Time is back with all new illustrations and a twist to the ending that brings the story together in a brand new way. If you've never read A Tale of Two Cities before, this is the version for you. If you have read the original, you will love this one even more.

With over 200 million copies sold, and opening and closing lines among the most familiar in all of literature, A Tale of Two Cities (1859) is one of the best known and most widely-read books in all of literary fiction.

Revised and updated, A Tale of Two Cities with Dragons (2015), re-imagines that revolutionary tale where the power of the throne is maintained through the use of magic. But that magic is waning as the wizards’ (spelled wixard in this edition) powers are diluted through inbreeding and frivolous living. Humans have had enough at the hands of the supposed elite and rise up to defeat their oppressors through the creation of a horrifying machine powerful enough to rend the heads of wixards from their bodies.

A TALE OF TWO CITIES WITH DRAGONS is a fantasy novel about those who abuse power and those who rise up to overthrow them; with a love story tossed in for good measure! 

My Review:
DeWinter treats the original storyline with great respect. The prose is quite heavy and Victorian, and for that reason, some will find this a difficult read. However, if you love Dickens, and if you love magic, stick with it.

The original novel depicts the plight of the French peasantry demoralized by the French aristocracy in the years leading up to the revolution, the corresponding brutality demonstrated by the revolutionaries toward the former aristocrats in the early years of the revolution. It portrays many unflattering social parallels with life in London during the same period.

This retelling follows the threads with all the proper characters in the right places: Mr. Lorry, Dr. Manette, and the Defarges, along with Mr. Cruncher, the Lucies, and Carton.

The replacing of the old aristocracy with the different kind of abusive aristocracy of “wixards” was an intriguing twist, and one that works well.

All in all, while it is sometimes hard to follow with regard to the Victorian prose, that is in keeping with the original as told by Dickens, and as a result this retelling parallels the original well, with just enough differences to keep it intriguing.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Al-Kabar, By Lee French

I have to say, Al-Kabar by indie author, Lee French has one of the best covers I've ever seen.

The Blurb:

Without a Sultan, corrupt Fire Dancers and their pompous Caliphs abuse power and wage fruitless wars across the parched sands of Serescine.

Fakhira wishes her family could afford to solve their problems with magic. Sometimes, wishes come true. In the worst possible way. A simple peasant, she'll have to find the strength to survive and shoulder her fate before the desert is bathed in the blood of innocents.

The Fires blaze in dozens of wild, capricious Dancers.

The Waters anoint only one champion, one Al-Kabar to serve--and save--the people of the desert.

My Review:

This is a complex tale about complex characters. Fakhiri has many layers, and is made of stronger stuff than she imagined. Al Kabar teeters on the brink of becoming that which he fights to over throw, and Tahjis the Rat tries to hold everything together. Korval becomes what he always believed he was, but not without a struggle.

The setting is vivid, and the action is pretty much non-stop. There are several places where twists I hadn't seen coming made their appearance, which made it a real reading adventure.

This is a good, immersive, stand-alone fantasy novel. I give it 5 stars and look forward to reading more novels by Lee French.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Husband's Secret, Liane Moriarty

Today we talk about The Husband's Secret, by Liane Moriarty. This is not fantasy by any means, but it is an excellent read, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. Released in 2013 by Berkley, and Penguin in the US, this book is currently a #1 bestseller at Amazon, and Moriarty is listed in the top 100 authors there. 

First the Blurb:
At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that’s not meant to be read

My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died. . .

Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . .

Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.

My review: This book is about loss and grief in Sydney, Australia--but it could easily have been set in Seattle or London and it would still feel true. These women are people you feel you know, and while they are not always likable, they are always true to who they are.

Several characters in the book have secrets they hold on to that they eventually reveal. The concepts of guilt and betrayal loom large in this tale, driving it to the shocking conclusion. Ethics and morality shift and bend under the stress, and three good women do things they consider heinous, and each finds ways to justify it.

The Berlin Wall is referred to throughout the novel as Cecelia’s daughter, Esther, works on her school project. And in fact, we learn that Cecilia met John-Paul on the day the Wall finally came down. The Wall is symbolic of many things in this tale, as Tess also has a connection to it.

Rachel is pinched and afraid to love anyone but her grandson. Her son is devastated by the loss of his sister and hurt by his mother’s distance. No matter how he tries, he can’t get close to her.

These are complicated women, faced with an unbearable situation. The actions and the final resolution is completely true to the characters. This is a slow-moving tale action-wise, but it literally tears through the emotional gamut. I give The Husband's Secret four and half stars.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Masks (The Lord Jester's Legacy Book 1) by E.M. Prazeman

I first ran across this book when I was working the NIWA table in the dealers' room at NorWesCon 2015, and fell in love with the gorgeous, intriguing cover. I had to run home and buy a Kindle download, and was I ever glad I did. Masks, book 1 in the Lord Jester's Legacy series by E.M. Prazeman is my kind of book--full of compelling characters and vivid settings.

But First, THE BLURB:

When Mark Seaton's father disappears and his mother is murdered, he becomes a pawn in a deadly world of nobles, masked courtiers, and mysterious beings that whisper in his mind.
The only way a pawn can survive is to gain position and power.
The only way Mark Seaton can be free, is to become a player.


Mark Seton is a terrific character.  Abused, and unsure of himself, Mark does something he knows is dangerous and fool-hardy, embarking a journey that is fraught with peril, some clear and some hidden.

As his alter-ego, Lark, Mark has courage and strength. But in order to bring Lark's true powers to fruition, Mark must decide who he is, and grasp that chance, despite the fact that it will both make and destroy him.

The other characters are well conceived--Lord Jester Gutter is intriguing and sinister. Obsidian is also a mystery--Colonel Rohn Evan is confusing, hard to know, yet compelling. You like and dislike him. The motives of the players are never what they appear.

The setting is rich, opulent and slightly degenerate. The underlying themes of this book bode well for the rest of the series, as do the characters that were introduced. 

If this book has a flaw it is in the proof-reading. It is clearly an indie production, editorially. But the characters and the story drew me back in every time I was knocked out of my reading reverie by a glaring cut & paste error, or some other thing that could have been caught before publication. 

I am definitely buying the next installment on this series, Confidante. I must say, Prazeman's covers are good representations of what lies within.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Dawn of Steam: First Light, by Jeffrey Cook with Sarah Symonds

Today we are going steam-punk, in a unique way. Dawn of Steam: First Light by Indie author Jeffrey Cook and Sarah Symonds is a compelling story of early 19th century politics, science, and meteorological mayhem.

But first The Blurb:
In 1815, in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, two of England's wealthiest lords place a high-stakes wager on whether a popular set of books, which claim that the author has traveled to many unknown corners of the globe, are truth or, more likely, wild fiction. First Light is an epistolary novel, told primarily through the eyes of former aide-de-camp Gregory Conan Watts, describing the journeys of the airship Dame Fortuna and its crew through journals and letters to his beloved fiancee.

The first recruit is, necessarily, the airship's owner: war hero, famed genius, and literal knight in steam-powered armor Sir James Coltrane. Persuading him to lend his talents and refitted airship to the venture requires bringing along his sister, his cousin, and the crew that flew with him during the Napoleonic Wars. Only with their aid can they track down a Scottish rifleman, a pair of shady carnies, and a guide with a strong personal investment in the stories.

When they set out, the wild places of the world, including the far American West, the Australian interior, darkest Africa, and other destinations are thought to be hostile enough. No one expects the trip to involve a legendary storm – or the Year Without a Summer of 1815-1816. The voyage is further complicated by the human element. Some parties are not at all happy with the post-war political map. Most problematic of all, the crew hired by the other side of the wager seem willing to win by any means necessary.

My Review:
First of all, this tale is well told in an epistolary form--that is, it is told through letters and journal entries. It is also historical fiction, in that it deals with the summer of 1815-16 and infamous Year Without A Summer.  But it is fantasy, and completely steampunk, so strap on your goggles--it's gonna be a bumpy ride. There will be steam, there will be gears, and there will be Sir James Coltrane's wondrous mechanical battle-suit!

We really do get to know and like the protagonist, Gregory Conan Watts through his letters to Cordelia, and vice-versa. We also get to know the other members of his crew, some better than others. Gregory is hired to photograph an expedition to various parts of the world that have only been considered mythical to this point. 

And we get to know the Dame Fortuna as the miraculous air-ship that she is.

The tale is filtered though Gregory's eyes, as he attempts to chronicle events as they happened.

I loved the twists and turns the plots takes. The 18th century prose is well-done in a literary way, slightly separating the reader from the events. But that is completely in keeping with the epistolary style of this book and in no way detracts from it.

I give this book 5 stars for an excellent adventure, well told. This is book one in a series and I am definitely buying book two, Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Tenth of December, by George Saunders

Hello!  I'm back after a three-month sabbatical, finishing my own new book and doing some major editing projects for clients. As (I hope) you can understand, I don't read when I am editing, because that is a whole different mindset from reading, and when I am in that frame of mind I dare not try to read for pleasure.

BUT, all was not lost. I listened to several fine audio books, and I have to say that is definitely great entertainment, far more intriguing to me than TV.

So, today I am featuring the audio book version of Tenth of December, a series of short stories by George Saunders. Saunders himself narrates it, and he is an incredible narrator, at least for his own work.

But first, THE BLURB:
One of the most important and blazingly original writers of his generation, George Saunders is an undisputed master of the short story, and Tenth of December is his most honest, accessible, and moving collection yet.

In the taut opener, "Victory Lap", a boy witnesses the attempted abduction of the girl next door and is faced with a harrowing choice: Does he ignore what he sees, or override years of smothering advice from his parents and act? In "Home", a combat-damaged soldier moves back in with his mother and struggles to reconcile the world he left with the one to which he has returned. And in the title story, a stunning meditation on imagination, memory, and loss, a middle-aged cancer patient walks into the woods to commit suicide, only to encounter a troubled young boy who, over the course of a fateful morning, gives the dying man a final chance to recall who he really is. A hapless, deluded owner of an antiques store; two mothers struggling to do the right thing; a teenage girl whose idealism is challenged by a brutal brush with reality; a man tormented by a series of pharmaceutical experiments that force him to lust, to love, to kill - the unforgettable characters that populate the pages of Tenth of December are vividly and lovingly infused with Saunders’s signature blend of exuberant prose, deep humanity, and stylistic innovation.

Writing brilliantly and profoundly about class, sex, love, loss, work, despair, and war, Saunders cuts to the core of the contemporary experience. These stories take on the big questions and explore the fault lines of our own morality, delving into the questions of what makes us good and what makes us human.

Unsettling, insightful, and hilarious, the stories in Tenth of December - through their manic energy, their focus on what is redeemable in human beings, and their generosity of spirit - not only entertain and delight; they fulfill Chekhov’s dictum that art should "prepare us for tenderness".

Wow! For once, a book that has a blurb that really tells the truth. Saunders has the ability to get inside each of his characters' heads, showing them sharply as unique individuals. They aren't always nice, and certainly not always moral as I see morality, but Saunders portrays them with such vivid strokes that you feel as if you understand their reasoning. 

For me, the most powerful tale in this collection of stunning tales was "Escape from Spiderhead." This sci-fi tale has an almost Vonnegut-like flavor. It is a stark journey into the depths to which we humans are capable of sinking in the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Where does punishment end and inhumanity begin? This story lays bare concepts regarding our view of crime and punishment that are difficult, but which are important to consider. The scenario is exaggerated, as it is set in a future world, but it exposes the callous view society has in regard to criminals and what punishment they might deserve. 

I can only say that this was an excellent, entertaining book to listen to, and I liked the audio book so much I bought the hard copy to take with me later this summer when I go on vacation.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Dragons In Pieces, Lee French

Dragons in Pieces, book one of the Maze Beset Trilogy by indie author Lee French is a creative, modern take on the old superhero story.

But first, THE BLURB:

All Bobby wanted was a girl to come home to after a hard day of work. Like the last one said before she left, he was going exactly two places - no and where – and he was happy with that. But somebody had other plans for him. A murder. The Terrorist Watch List. For what? Underage drinking? Things couldn't possibly get worse. Right?

Oh yes, they could.

A lot.

He wouldn't believe superheroes were real if he wasn't one himself.

Tiny robot dragons send him chasing his humanity and his future, on the trail to discovering his past and a place to call 'home'. If he's lucky, maybe he can get a beer there.


I have to say, I like Bobby a lot.  He is a bit of a dumb-ass, who  has been on a certain watch list all his life. He gets picked up for some stupid thing, and instead of Juvenile Detention, they take to a secret facility where they torture him and he goes to pieces--literally.  His physical body fragments in a cloud of tiny dragons the size of an American coin, the quarter.

There is a logic to his superpower. In this state he can think, he can free the others who've been kidnapped and tortured, and he can escape the facility. He can't lift anymore in that state than he can as a human being.  There are limits to his ability, which makes this improbable superhero so enjoyable.

Bobby's fellow inmates, Jayce, Alice, and Ai, all seem to demonstrate superpowers too.  The one other thing they have in common is their eyes are an odd shade of blue, leading them to some conclusions about their personal histories and why they are where they were targeted to be kidnapped by the government. 

Lee French writes well and clearly. Bobby's adventures, while completely improbable, seem perfectly reasonable when you're reading them. The logic behind the superpowers all four demonstrate is what keeps this entertaining book on track.

I highly recommend Dragons in Pieces as a great urban fantasy adventure, with wonderful, well-written characters. It's a complete departure from the usual urban fantasy fare.