Friday, April 29, 2016

Fellside, M.R. Carey

It’s been a while since I had the chance to just sit down and read—sometimes my working life interferes with my reading life. So I was finally able to begin looking at my pile of new books and on the very top was Fellside, by M.R.Carey.

But first, THE BLURB:
Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. It's not the kind of place you'd want to end up. But it's where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.
It's a place where even the walls whisper.
And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess.
Will she listen?

MY REVIEW:
Wow! Where to start…From the first line, this book reaches out and grabs you. Quote: It’s a strange thing to wake up not knowing who you are. The first line hooked me, and the book completely lives up to that first line.

Jess Moulson is an intriguing character. Her life has gone to hell, and she has no idea why.  She is charged with a horrific crime, and while she knows she is innocent, she is unable to prove it. Young, a drug-addict, and na├»ve, she is the perfect fall guy when a person in a position of power need one.

She lives in a bad part of town, and one of the neighbors has a son, neglected and abused. Alex touches Jess’s heart, and she does what she can to alleviate his life. She is accused of setting the fire that results in his death.

She also believes she can hear him speaking from beyond the grave.

It is when we get to Fellside Prison that things really kick into high-gear.

M.R. Carey has a gift for creating atmosphere. Fellside is dark, dangerous, and ultimately the domain of the male guard known within those walls as “Devil” Devlin.

Grace makes hell intolerable, and Devil Devlin enforces the pain. Still, Jess finds women like Liz, and Sophie—women as broken as she is, and finds compassion is as sweet and precious as water in the desert. She treasures it when she finds it.

The truths Jess discovers while behind those walls come to a shocking, violent conclusion. The ending is not what I expected, but is more powerful because of that.

This is not a light read. This is very much a psychological thriller. I found this book difficult to put down, and hard to forget.

I give Fellside by M.R. Carey five stars.

Friday, February 26, 2016

A Girl Called Wolf, Stephen Swartz


The book I am discussing today, A Girl Called Wolf, by indie author, Stephen Swartz, is a biographical fantasy, that is it is a fantasy based on the true story of Anna Good.

BUT FIRST, THE BLURB:

Ice and snow are all 12 year old Anuka knows outside the hut in Greenland where she was born. When her mama dies, Anuka struggles to survive. The harsh winter forces her to finally journey across the frozen island to the village her mama always feared. But the people of the village don’t know what to do with this girl. They try to educate and bring her into the modern world, but Anuka won't make it easy for them. She sees dangers at every turn and every day hears her fate echoing in her mama’s voice. Her mama gave her that name for a reason. She is A GIRL CALLED WOLF who searches for the place where she belongs, a destination always just out of reach, on a path she will always make her own.


MY REVIEW:

In the opening chapters, Swartz’s Greenland has a harsh, ethereal quality. The environment is shown as unearthly, beautiful, and deadly, as are the people. The story of his protagonist Anuka (later called Anna) and her early life stands out sharply against the nearly cinematic backdrop, yet Swartz shows it with an economy of words.


Anuka's life is very hard, and she knows it in some small way. But it is all she knows, and she loves her mother, her life, and the abusive man who comes in and out of her life with some regularity.

Later, when Anuka is forcibly taken to civilization, that village and its poverty, as compared to her prior life, is clear in the reader’s head. It is seen through her eyes, although the villagers themselves don’t see themselves as poor in comparison–just the opposite. Swartz manages to get that across without overstating it: it simply is. Anna's life, and her discovery of who she is and her place in the world is a gripping story.

Conveying the mood of a piece and evoking a real sense of place is where artistry and skill on the part of the author comes into play. A book can be a simple recounting of events, or it can be an immersive experience. Swartz makes this a beautiful, harsh, immersive experience.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Toy Wars, Thomas Gondolfi



Toy Wars, by Thomas Gondolfi was a bit of a departure for me. It is hard sci-fi, so despite the name, it is not a warm and fuzzy sort of book.

But first, THE BLURB:

Don wakes from a normal manufacturing process as a two-meter, sentient teddy bear sporting purple fur. He learns he is the result of a desperate gamble by an autonomous factory with hashed programming. To protect his home, his way of life, and his creator, Don must lead other killer toys across a harsh alien landscape to battle the native fauna of Rigel-3 and even his own kind.

His discoveries change not only his view of the wars, but his own Human gods. In spite of these trials, Don’s harshest test may be getting his own brethren to believe his adventures and the soul-churning changes needed to survive.

MY REVIEW:

This is an intriguing book, with an unusual storyline. The idea of sentient toys battling for supremacy seems at first glance, cartoonish. But it is not, and there is a deep story here.

First, I caution you that there is a large info dump at the beginning. Don't put the book down--stick with it, and you'll find that the story that follows is immersive and well written.

Teddy-1499's journey to self-awareness as 'Don Quixote' is the core of this tale. He is born pre-programmed for certain tasks in the ongoing galactic war, but somewhere along the line, Teddy develops a desire to live, affection, guilt, compassion, and a need to understand the meaning of his life.

Teddy-1499 reads widely, and in Cervantes' 'Don Quixote,' he finds a kindred spirit. He begins finding many parallels in his own situation to that of the mad knight, and when he finds himself in opposition to his creator factories, he takes that as his name.

This novel is techno-based, with a lot of military jargon, which I found daunting but which will appeal to adults who read hard sci-fi with a military-centric plot.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Black Numbers, Dean Frank Lappi





One of my all-time favorite books by indie author Dean Frank Lappi, is his first one, a little thing called Black Numbers. 


But first the blurb:

In a land where true magic is based on the rare ability to use advanced mathematics to affect the physical world, those who can control such powers are part of a secret organization known as the Oblate. Over the millennia, they have directed the Korpor, a violent and sexual creature, to roam the land and search for the Aleph Null, the one prophesied to control the mysterious Black Numbers, a power beyond anything ever seen in the land.
Sid’s awakening sexuality and genius-level mastery of mathematics puts him on a collision course with the Korpor and the Oblate, and he soon finds himself on the run from powerful and mysterious forces intent on controlling him and his powers. His journey propels him to the center of an ancient struggle that he cannot understand and wants no part of.
But he is not alone, for the friendships that he forges along the way help him to navigate the dark and chaotic road he must travel.
Can Sid overcome the seductive darkness known as Black Numbers?

MY REVIEW:

This book is in many ways a traditional fantasy, but Lappi crosses the line into horror without losing the qualities that I love in an epic fantasy. We have a true Good vs Evil plot, a completely believable system of magic, incredibly frightening creatures and a plot that would make Clive Barker proud.

In Black Numbers, Lappi has created a character-driven plot with all the elements of the Hero's Journey that true fantasy incorporates, along with the atmosphere of fear that great horror evokes.

Magic is expressed both sexually and through mathematics. The central protagonist, Sid (Sidoro) is a young boy growing up with a hard, uncaring father. Sid's father teaches him how to use mathematics, believing with all his heart that Sid is the Aleph Null - a prophesied wielder of the Black Numbers who will rule The Oblate. However, the dreadful creature called the Korpor must test him, and sexually awaken his numbers.

This is not a story for the weak of heart. Sid's violent and frightening encounters with the Korpor are the stuff of nightmares. Many people want to see Sid dead, because of what he is. Fortunately for Sid, he attracts friends who are willing to protect him, one of whom is Crowdal, a giant of a man who is a member of a race called the Trith.

Lappi has created a tale that makes you both afraid to turn the page, and terrified not to. You want to see what will happen to Sid and Crowdal, and at the end, you are left wanting to read more: Lappi set it up beautifully for the sequel, Blood Numbers. I loved this book!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Magic, Mystery, and Mirth: Lindsay Schopfer


Today, I have the always-delightful work of indie author Lindsay Schopfer on deck in the form of a short volume, Magic Mystery and Mirth. This collection of short stories is a great read. The cover is one of the colorful and creative covers of the year.

But First, The Blurb:
Join fantasy author Lindsay Schopfer as he shares eight short tales of adventure and imagination, including…

A genie taken to court for giving bad wishes
A Strange Tales-inspired look at technology in modern society
A reimagining of the banshee myth
A steampunk tale of dirigibles and magic
A sword and sorcery spoof staring a burly wizard, a tall skinny dwarf, a toy dragon breeder, and a tailor
… and more.

Also included is a special sneak peak of Into the North, the upcoming sequel to the steampunk adventure novel The Beast Hunter.

My Review:
Let's face it--I love short story collections. Some of the best, most enduring works of fiction arrive in the form of the short story, and there are a couple of real jewels in this book.

The book opens with Sharp Sword Dull Sword. This particular tale was inspired by being told a contest he was thinking about entering did NOT want any tales involving talking swords.  What emerged from his rebellion is a witty little send-up of every D&D game ever played. If you are looking for snark, this tale is just what you ordered!

My personal favorite in this volume is Disconnected. In this tale, Schopfer voyages into literary, cerebral science fiction, and does it well. This is a thinking person's tale, and was rightfully selected as a finalist in PNWA's annual literary contest. In this tale he explores the place where modern technology and modern society merge.

As a bonus, he gives us a preview of Into the North, the sequel to The Beast Hunter. All the common sense and cold perserverance that Kelton Moore displayed in The Beast Hunter is back in full force in this snippet.

Mad Science Institute, Sechin Tower





I have been catching up on my long-put off reading, starting with a book by fellow Northwest indie author Sechin Tower, Mad Science Institute . I had a great time reading this particular YA novel.


But first, The Blurb:


Sophia “Soap” Lazarcheck is a girl genius with a knack for making robots—and for making robots explode. After her talents earn her admission into a secretive university institute, she is swiftly drawn into a conspiracy more than a century in the making. Meanwhile and without her knowledge, her cousin Dean wages a two-fisted war of vengeance against a villainous genius and his unwashed minions. Separately, the cousins must pit themselves against murderous thugs, experimental weaponry, lizard monsters, and a nefarious doomsday device. When their paths finally meet up, they will need to risk everything to prevent a mysterious technology from bringing civilization to a sudden and very messy end.


My Review: This book totally lives up to it’s promise. Soap is a great character, and so is Dean. She is a little too adventurous in the laboratory, and things sometimes go awry. The story opens with her, and immediately shifts to Dean’s story, but shifts back again.


Dean is older, is a firefighter who loves his work, and has relationship issues, which launch him into the thick of things.


Soap is a feisty girl, who is launched into a series of immersive adventures. She’s a bit testy and awkward when it comes to interpersonal relationships.


The author, Sechin Tower, is a teacher in his real life, and I think he must be pretty awesome in the classroom, because the story contains a lot of historical information imparted in regard to Nicola Tesla and his scientific legacy, presented in such an entertaining way the reader doesn’t realize they’re learning.


All in all, I have three grandkids who would really enjoy this book–and Santa will be obliging this year!

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.