Friday, October 24, 2014

The Fallen, by Lee French and Erik Kort

This week we are going deep into a character study, set in an amazing post-apocalyptic world, where magic and mayhem are as natural as breathing. The Fallen, by indie authors Lee French and Erik Kort is one of the better books I've read so far this year.

But first, THE BLURB:
For hundreds of years, the Blaukenev clan has wandered across Tilzam, from one end to the other and back. Each wagon carries history, love, laughter, pain, sorrow, and secrets. Their greatest secret of all may be Chavali, the clan Seer.

Spirits claim/use/save/damn her.

With her gift/curse, nothing surprises her anymore, no one keeps secrets from her. She, on the other hand, has more than enough secrets to keep. Secrets of her own, secrets of her clan, secrets of the world, secrets she even keeps from herself.

There are always people who want secrets.
Some will do anything to get what they want.

The Fallen is the foundation of the story of The Greatest Sin, of a world adrift from its God that desperately wants Her back. Chavali's comfortable, predictable life will be ripped apart and burnt to ashes as she's forced into the middle of that struggle. Change, she hates it passionately. It hates her right back.

MY REVIEW:
Chavali is flat out an awesome character. I can't tell you how many times I wanted to smack her as I read this story. She is feisty and full of passion, stubborn and wrong-headed at times. The Blaukenev clan is unique, joyous and full of life, an enclosed nomadic society that lives in the world and yet outside it at the same time. Their passion for life leaps off the pages.

The contrast between the two societies that Chavali finds herself living in is night and day. In both societies she is forever apart from the rest, both because of her gift and because she is something entirely separate--Blaukenev, and later, Fallen, and a seer cursed with a gift she has little control over.

This is not a romance, though there are tender moments, this is not a book of battles, although there are plenty of those. This is a book about the human journey of life and death that one woman experiences, and it is gripping.

The greatest accolade I can give any story is to say I didn't want it to end. The sequel to this book is due out on October 27, and I intend to be there to get my copy.



Friday, October 17, 2014

Fire Born, by D. M. Raver





This week I am exploring Fire Born, the first book in the forthcoming Flight Moon series. Author D. M. Raver sets this tale in Misca, the alternate world in which her epic fantasy, Brother, Betrayed is also set.


THE BLURB:


Flight Moon was once the prized dragon of Gorusk. Swift and fearless, she oversaw Shirr's army with deadly beauty. But a dragon is never subservient to a human, even if he is the banished king of the Black Waste. Her plans to assassinate Shirr are thwarted. Barely able to escape, Flight Moon flees to Arnith.

Bleeding and exhausted, Flight Moon knows Shirr will eventually catch up to her. She's saved just enough strength for one last fight.

Twins are born in the kingdom of Arnith. A boy with silver hair like his elven grandmother, and a girl with a secret. A secret that if discovered, risks her life and the lives of her entire family.

Barely two weeks old, Fornala is already condemned to death. Bavun, the high mage, believes her physical deformity is a curse laid upon those who abuse magic. For this she must be sacrificed.

A dragon and an infant girl, both outmatched with impossible odds, may find strength in each other. What should kill them both, only makes them stronger.

MY REVIEW:


The book begins with a family being attacked. One of twins, the infant girl, Fornala, was born with no legs, and as such she is looked upon as being a curse. The local man in charge, a mage, declares that she is "not yet aware of what she is," and decides to remove the curse by removing her, and she is taken from her parents to be killed.


At the same time a dragon is being pursued by her former allies, and has chosen to flee to the city where Fornala's life hangs in the balance. A battle involving great quantities of magic ensues over the place where the infant girl is to be executed and a terrible accident occurs. Somehow Fornala and Flight Moon are "blended."


The story moves right along, from scene to gripping scene, and as the characters are introduced, the sense of history that is driving the plot is also revealed.

All of D. M. Raver's works involve the history of Arnith, and the significance of certain truths that form the crux of each tale. I'm glad to see her exploring dragons again in this tale, as Flight Moon is an awesome, very real character--A dragon who is a traitor, merged with an infant girl who is an outcast.


I highly recommend this work of fantasy. The characters are compelling, the plot moves in unexpected directions, and even though it is clearly the first installment in a series, the ending is satisfying.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Dry Patch of Skin, by Stephen Swartz

I love it when an author approaches an old tale with completely new eyes. A Patch of Dry Skin is most definitely a new take on the old tale, and I must say it's about time! Indie Author Stephen Swartz has put together a well-crafted tale that is both a horror story and a morality tale.

But first, the Blurb:
The truth about being a vampire: It is not cool, not sexy. It’s a painful, miserable existence.

Good reason to avoid that situation, thinks Stefan Székely. He's too busy falling in love with TV reporter Penny Park, anyway. Until one day when she notices he has a dry patch of skin on his face.

At first it's annoying, nothing to worry about, some weird skin disease he can treat with lotions. However, as his affliction worsens, Stefan fears that his unsightly problem will ruin his relationship with Penny.


If only that was all Stefan has to worry about! He soon realizes there is a lot more at stake than his handsome face. To save himself, Stefan must go in search of a cure for the disease which is literally destroying him inch by inch. If only his parents had told him of his family's legacy.


My Review:

This is a deep book--I found myself thinking about it long after I finished reading it. Stefan Székely is an interesting character. He's a successful phlebotomist, his parents have died, he's approaching middle-age, and has finally fallen in love with a woman he could spend the rest of his life with.

Unfortunately, he has this little eczema problem, which begins slowly, and soon escalates to tragic proportions. Confused and just wanting it to go away, Stefan consults doctors, seeking treatment through progressive western medicine, to no avail.

Penny is a strong woman, but the disfiguring disease is sometimes too much for her. If Stefan is to keep Penny, their romance has many bumps to overcome, and some of those are insurmountable. Salvaging his romance with Penny becomes Stefan's obsession. 

Stefan has a high sense of morality, and when he accidentally discovers that blood relieves the symptoms, he is faced with making terrible choices, none of which are good for either his career or his relationship with beautiful Penny.  

Things really take a change for the strange when he seeks an unusual treatment in New Orleans. This tale takes the reader all over the world, and into some dark places. The characters he meets along the way are wonderfully portrayed. The sense of history in each location is there, underpinning the story, and his journey becomes a quest for salvation--one he may not achieve. The ending of this tale is both surprising, and is really the only way it could have ended when you think about it.

All in all, I give A Patch of Dry Skin 5 full stars. This is a classic horror story with a non-traditional twist.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Land of Nod, The Child by Gary Hoover


I've been a fan of Gary Hoover's  LAND OF NOD, a YA Scifi action adventure since the first book in the series, The Artifact. The series deals with Jeff Browning's search for his physicist father, and is as enjoyable from an adult perspective as any series of books I've read. The first two books in the series cover the disappearance of Jeffery Browning Sr. and his son Jeff's discovery of an artifact in his father's locked office that is really a portal to another dimension. Realizing his father has gone through the portal, Jeff follows him, armed only with his baseball bat. 


He finds himself in a world that is full of dangerous, prehistoric creatures, and is glad he has his trusty bat as he must make good use of it. Eventually he meets a family who give him hope that he will find his father. The world is strange and has many amazing technologies, and yet they are awaiting the advent of one special person, the Prophet--and they believe Jeff is that person. It's a lot for a teenager to take in, but he embarks on helping them with the war they are fighting against the Pheerions. The Child is the third and final book in the series.



But first, THE BLURB:

In this action-filled conclusion to the Land of Nod Trilogy, Jeff Browning needs every one of his newfound powers to face increasingly difficult challenges as he travels across an ocean for an inevitable showdown with a ruthless warlord.

Jeff believes the fate of the world that has adopted him depends on his success, and he is determined to find his father and go home – or die trying.

My REVIEW:
The book kicks off with Jeff being thrust into a battle. He is desperate to get a locket that may have fallen into enemy hands. He is still armed with his trusty bat, and as with the lockets, it's so much more than a simply bat in this strange world.  He is unsure if the side who he is traveling with are the good guys or the bad guys, and the officer in charge of him, Major Abel, seems like a cold, unfriendly woman. He also fears his father may be working with the Pheerions, 

Jeff is a great character. He's a bit cocky like any fifteen-year-old, and and also humble. He is loyal to his friends and thinks about the wider view of things, and his actions reflect that. The worry that his father may be on the side of the Pheerions, combined with the fact that he has a friend who is a Pheerion makes him wonder what is really right and wrong. He has an ally who is an assassin, and who may have killed two people Jeff cared about. His growing realization that things are not as cut and dried as Major Abel would wish colors his viewpoint.

More than anything, Jeff fears what he will become in his efforts to find his father and get home to his mother.

All in all this is a great finish to an excellent series. If you have a young science-fiction fan in your family this is a perfect series. Written for a wide range of readers, this series is not 'dumbed-down' in any way.  Hoover writes with respect for his readers, and this final book in the series reflects that commitment to excellence. It is a tale full of the core truths of hard-scifi: plausible science, a moral dilemma, and a cast of fabulous characters. It is well plotted and has a terrific and satisfying conclusion. I am giving this book 5 full stars.



Friday, September 26, 2014

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, series by Tad Williams


I am on a roll--Two reviews in row for the same author! Tad Williams' masterpiece, the Dragon Bone Chair is the first book in the epic fantasy series, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.  I first read this book when it came out in 1988 and had to re-read it again immediately upon finishing it. I read it aloud to my children, as each new book in the series came out. This is a sweeping series, and Simon's adventures are absorbing and exciting, and is a cornerstone of my library. 

But first, The BLURB:
A war fueled by the dark powers of sorcery is about to engulf the peaceful land of Osten Ard--for Prester John, the High King, slayer of the dread dragon Shurakai, lies dying. And with his death, an ancient evil will at last be unleashed, as the Storm King, undead ruler of the elvishlike Siti, seeks to regain his lost realm through a pact with one of human royal blood. Then, driven by spell-inspired jealousy and hate, prince will fight prince, while around them the very land begins to die.

Only a small scattered group, the League of the Scroll, recognizes the true danger awaiting Osten Ard. And to Simon--a castle scullion unknowingly apprenticed to a member of this League--will go the task of spearheading the quest for the solution to a riddle of long-lost swords of power...and a quest that will see him fleeing and facing enemies straight out of a legend-maker's worst nightmares!

My REVIEW:
Just like the best and most enduring of love affairs, The Dragon Bone Chair begins a bit slowly, as the author establishes the background to the tale. However, once you are into it, this book is sheer magic.  The main protagonist is Simon, a fourteen-year-old kitchen boy and servant in the great castle Hayholt.  He is not really very enthusiastic in carrying out his duties as a kitchen-drudge in the royal household during last days of the long reign of King John Presbyter. However, he is overjoyed when he finds himself apprenticed to Doctor Morgenes, the castle's healer and wizard. Simon alternates his time between his chores as a drudge and learning to read and write, taught by the good doctor.  Upon the death of the great King John, his son Elias, whom many say is a tool of the evil cleric Pryrates, becomes king.

Soon after he takes the throne, King Elias' brother Josua, whom Elias hates, vanishes and no one is sure if he went voluntarily or was murdered. Elias is blinded by his desire for power.  He creates a pact with the undead Sithi ruler, the Storm King, who plots to regain his lost realm through a pact with one of human royal blood.

Simon accidentally stumbles into the castle dungeons and discovers that Prince Josua is being held captive.  He and Morgenes conspire to rescue the prince. Simon and Morgenes are successful, and Josua escapes, but Elias' soldiers, led by Pryrates, storm Morgenes' office, and Morgenes is murdered by a dark magic. Terrified and confused, Simon is able to flee the castle through a secret passage at the back of the doctor's office. With only with his mentor's biography of the good King John for companionship, Simon is lost and despondent.

In the process of escaping the Hayholt, Simon witnesses Pryrates and Elias performing an evil ritual with some strange white demons. He rescues a member of the Sithi from a trap, and receives a white arrow as a token.  At the same time he is befriended by a troll, Binnabik, who travels with Simon to Naglimund where they hope he will find safety.  While traveling they save a servant girl and her sister from wild dogs, and meet a witch who helps them escape the soldiers who are pursuing them.

Upon arriving at Naglimund Simon discovers that the serving girl whom they saved is actually Miriamele, the only child of King Elias.  She has run away to join her uncle Josua. Simon finds himself on a quest to recover the magical blade, Thorn which once belonged to the greatest knight in their history.  In the process, he runs into the Sitha Prince that he had rescued from the trap, and Jiriki joins Simon in his quest.

Simon’s quest begins simply (in his mind) as a just a desperate need to escape the horrors he’d witnessed at the Hayholt. It becomes so much more, and over the course of the books, he grows from an indecisive boy into a man capable of strong leadership. The divergent paths he and Miriamele must take are hard and nearly break them, but through those struggles they are both made stronger.

The beasts are fantastic as are the representatives of the various races who come to Simon's aid. Their magics and their cultures are clearly drawn; and the storyline is the most compelling and addictive book I've read in a long time. The world of Osten Ard is real and the story set within it is so well drawn and plotted that I find myself thinking about it when not reading it.  Williams paints his world with such detail yet he never falls into the trap of beating the reader to death with the minutia.

There is a large cast of characters, but I found it fairly easy to keep them straight because they are drawn with attention to their individual personalities.  The characters are all the more real because they each have strengths, flaws and weaknesses.  That is why this take on the age-old tale of the kitchen-boy who is really a hero is fresh and wonderful.   Of course, there is an Appendix in the back with the names and pronunciations of all the characters and places.

The intertwined stories of Simon and Miriamele is told in a way that is compelling and very real. Love jealousy, betrayal and redemption--all the worst and best of human emotions are vividly portrayed in these pages.  The day I got my first Kindle I had to get the rest of the books in the series downloaded, as I couldn't wait to re-read the whole series. This is my go-to series when I am looking for a tale that really resonates and absorbs me. I have re-read this series every year since the day the first book was published.

Word has it Williams is once again working on a book set in this world. I guarantee I will have it on pre-order the moment it is available.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Sleeping Late on Judgement Day, by Tad Williams

Okay--I've been waiting for months, but the wait was SO worth it! Tad Williams is back with my boy Bobby Dollar, in the third installment of this crazy, dark, sometimes painfully hilarious series: Sleeping Late on Judgement Day. Who doesn't love a really bad angel?

THE BLURB:
Where does an angel go when he's been to Hell and back?

Renegade angel Bobby Dollar does not have an easy afterlife. After surviving the myriad gruesome dangers Hell oh-so-kindly offered him, Bobby has returned empty-handed – his demon girlfriend Casmira, the Countess of Cold Hands, is still in the clutches of Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell. Some hell of a rescue.

Forced to admit his failure, Bobby ends up back at his job as an angel advocate. That is, until Walter, an old angel friend whom Bobby never thought he’d see again, shows up at the local bar. The last time he saw Walter was in Hell, when Walter had tried to warn him about one of Bobby’s angel superiors. But now Walter can’t remember anything, and Bobby doesn't know whom to trust.

Turns out that there's corruption hidden within the higher ranks of Heaven and Hell, but the only proof Bobby has is a single feather. Before he knows it, he’s in the High Hall of Heavenly Judgement – no longer a bastion for the moral high ground, if it ever was, but instead just another rigged system – on trial for his immortal soul...

MY REVIEW:
Holy crap!  Bobby's in trouble, but when is he not?  This angel is always looking for grief, and he always finds it. Nothing is what he thinks it is, and even Bobby's jaded eyes are opened as the reality of his unreality unfolds. 

Bobby's inquisitive nature has rattled the cage of  someone important in the Heavenly scheme of things, and that someone wants Bobby destroyed. They have already gone to great lengths to do so, and now he's going to find out just who it is, and what it has to do with this mysterious Third Way between Heaven and Hell. All his friends and most of his enemies are back in this tale, and some of his enemies prove to be more likable than his friends. 

He knows who is behind his troubles, and he is up against overwhelming odds. As Bobby says in one of my favorite lines from this book, "You know your life is pretty screwed up when even the winos turn their backs on you."  That comment pretty much sums up the magnitude of his trouble.

There is an innocence and kind of naivety about Bobby Dollar, despite his unsavory occupation. He makes mistakes, and draws attention to himself, and yet he continues to ferret out the truth behind the traitors in Heaven's midst.  The bad guys and the dangerous beasts are really bad, and the good guys are just swimming as fast as they can in shark-infested waters.  There's always something lurking around every corner, just waiting to trip Bobby up.

 As I read this series I find myself hoping that the afterlife is somehow a better, less corrupt place than the three options offered in Bobby Dollar's Heaven and Hell. Some of the angels who hold his afterlife in their hands have no compassion or mercy left in them, and some of the demons are kinder gentler souls than their angelic counterparts. 

I love the twists and turns of William's prose, as his hard-boiled angel gets down to the dirty business of cleaning up the mean streets of Heaven. He uses ordinary words in an extraordinary way, but never commits the sin of dropping the reader out of the story.  THIS is why I read his work.

I highly recommend Sleeping Late on Judgement Day. It is a smart, well-crafted journey into the human condition, set in an environment guaranteed to keep things interesting, and peopled with unforgettable characters. I give it 5 full stars.



Friday, August 29, 2014

Better You Go Home, Scott Driscoll



Today I am dipping into the world of literary fiction, with Better You Go Home by indie author Scott Driscoll. Technically this is a medical thriller, but the atmosphere of mystery and illusion, combined with the harsh other-world quality of the old Czech Republic make this novel a fantasy of a time gone by.

The BLURB:
Seattle attorney Chico Lenoch wonders why his Czech father refuses to contact family left behind the Iron Curtain. Searching through his father’s attic after the Velvet Revolution, Chico discovers letters dated four decades earlier revealing the existence of a half-sister. He travels to the Czech Republic to find his forgotten sister and unearth the secrets his father has buried all these years. There is self-interest behind Chico’s quest. Most urgently, he is nearing kidney failure and needs a donor organ. None of his relatives are a suitable match. Could his sister be a candidate? Chico also meets Milada, a beautiful doctor who helps him navigate the obstacles to finding his sister. While Chico idealizes his father’s homeland, Milada feels trapped. Is she really attracted to him, or is he a means of escape to the United States? Chico confronts a moral dilemma as well. If he approaches his sister about his need for a kidney, does he become complicit with his father and the Big Shots of that generation who've already robbed her of so much?

My REVIEW:
I loved this book. Driscoll takes a little step back in time with this tale. He gets into the workings of  human nature, of who we are, who we think we are, and how others see us.

Chico is an intriguing character. The tale is told in the first person, which I usually find difficult to get into as a reader, but didn't in this case. Also something I usually find off putting but didn't in this case is the way Chico occasionally 'breaks the fourth wall'--he sometimes addresses the reader directly. It works, because you are in his head the whole time and it feels perfectly natural.

An attorney, Chico is a fiercely independent man. An example of that independent streak is that he is nearly blind, and yet he insists on driving despite his friends' pleas, because, like a windshield, he can somewhat clear his vision when it gets foggy.

Despite his independent streak and his analytical nature, Chico's childhood memories are illusions and he only begins to realize it when he gets to Písečná. His father is not the man he believed him to be, and nothing is what he expected. Unable to stop thinking like a lawyer Chico asks questions and uncovers a family secret with far-reaching consequences.

The situation he finds his sister Anezka, in is serious and fraught with danger, the Czech Republic is a treacherous, alien world, and like an onion, truth there is concealed beneath many layers. Suffering, hardship, and betrayal lurk around every corner, but sharply juxtaposed against the grimness of that reality is intense beauty. At the heart of this tale are the lengths even the most ruthless of people will go to for a fantasy, an ideal.  

Driscoll's narrative draws you in and holds you spellbound to the last dramatic moment. He takes you to a world that is at times incomprehensible to western eyes, and immerses you in that culture. The way the authorities work, the absolute power certain people enjoy is shown with heartbreaking clarity. Love and loss, trust and betrayal, jealousy and all stops in-between--emotions drive this plot to it's stunning conclusion.

This is not genre fiction, instead it is written for mature, dedicated readers who want substance in a book. No fluff here, just good solid craftsmanship. I give it five full stars.