Friday, March 29, 2013

Land of Nod, The Artifact by Gary Hoover





‘Land of Nod, The Artifact’  by +Gary Hoover is one of those genre-bending tales that sucks you in and soon you are hooked. It is a little bit sci-fi and a lot fantasy. I first read this book in 2011 and recently re-read it while visiting grandchildren. I think it's well worth a second look!



The Blurb:
Jeff Browning has been haunted by terrifying dreams since the mysterious disappearance of his father (a renowned physicist). But when he finds a portal in his father’s office, he must overcome his fears in an attempt to find him.
The portal takes him to another dimension – one populated by fantastic and dangerous creatures and also an advanced society of humans.

As Jeff looks for clues regarding what may have happened to his father, he is accused by some of being a spy while thought by others to be a prophesized figure . . . who may be the key to victory in a developing war.


My Review:
The plot details the adventures of Jeff Browning, a fourteen year old boy who is struggling with the loss of his father. Jeff has dreams that frighten him and he tries to avoid sleep as much as he can. One day he decides to search his late father's locked office, and while he is in there he finds a strange machine with a hole in the center that leads to somewhere else. He climbs into it and embarks on a strange series of adventures, finding that his father may not be dead but may actually be there too, somewhere.

Jeff has mysterious powers that aren't fully explained in this book but they are hinted at, rather strongly, as being more fully explained at a later date. Fortunately, Jeff is taken in by a family, and they help him.  As he begins searching for his father, he is accused by some of being a spy, and is thought by others to be a prophesied figure, 'The Raja' a savior who may be the key to victory in a war that is looming on the horizon.  This is because of the locket which he wears that his father gave him years before.

This world is populated by fantastic and dangerous creatures and also an advanced society of humans. That society, while very different from those on earth, parallels Jeff's earth in many ways. 

Hoover blends science and technology with mysticism and prophecy to create a world that is both familiar and strange.  There are many different issues keeping Jeff from finding his father, from useless politicians whose self-interest outweighs the greater good to a war that he eventually finds himself in the middle of.

The characters are well drawn, and the strange world is also well crafted and visually real. The beasts that Jeff must fight are quite frightening and the battles are very realistic. While this is a great stand-alone tale, Hoover sets you up for the sequel, Land of Nod, The Prophet, quite neatly. This is another good adventure book for readers of all ages. I enjoyed this book immensely and highly recommend it!

My grandson and I will be reading Land of Nod, The Prophet over the summer, and I confess, I've been cheating--I've already begun reading it! What a great series!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Diaries of a Dwarven Rifleman, Michael Tinker Pearce and Linda Pearce



This week we are reviewing "Diaries of a Dwarven Rifleman", co-authored by Michael Tinker Pearce and Linda Pearce. This book is a real departure from the usual run-of-the-mill epic-fantasy dwarves-and-elves style books. Think about Tolkien's dwarves, give them modern weaponry and sit back and watch the fun.

The Blurb:

Engvyr’s father gave up on the miner’s life to move the family back to their ancestral home in the far north. But the journey is fraught with perils the young dwarf has never imagined, and when tragedy casts him in the role of hero, well, what’s a dwarf to do? The events of that fateful journey have shaped and ruled his life, but now Engvyr wants nothing more than to make a place for himself, perhaps settle down and raise a family. But when a new enemy rises in the North he finds himself at the center of the conflict, with not merely the freedom of his people but the fate of all of humanity hanging in the balance… and the habit of heroism is a hard one to break. In Diaries of a Dwarven Rifleman magic, science and technology work hand-in-hand to create a new kind of fantasy world, where the character, life and relationships of an ordinary dwarf can steer the course of history and save a world.


My Review:

Truthfully, I have no idea why I picked this little jewel of a tale up, but it was a good choice. The tale is comprised of many vignettes of Engvyr Gunnarson's life.  Forced by circumstances to leave their home and return to the dwarven homeland, Engvyr's family embarks on an long and perilous trek. The events and losses on that journey shape the adult that the young dwarf becomes, molding him into a reluctant hero.

Engvyr never gives in to the casual brutality that characterizes his society, nor does he allow racism to interfere with his understanding of human nature and the basic underlying fact of the races - that ALL the races evolved from a common root - that of humans, and all share a common humanity. Early on he is taught that despite the radical differences in appearance and widely divergent societal differences, all the races of people want the same basic things: enough food for their children, and a safe place to raise them. 

Engvyr understands that when a society removes the humanity from an enemy ethnic group, it becomes easy to commit the most extreme atrocities against them, all in the name of  whatever cause one is fighting for. Because he understands the underlying truth of this, Engvyr brings compassion to his battles, and a desire to do good.

There is a great deal of Norse mythology woven into this tale, as well as Nordic mores and values. These characters are strong people with great capacities for both love and cruelty. 

For those of you who are weapons purists, you will be happy to note that the weapons Engvyr carries are original and scrupulously designed to be both real and fantastic at the same time. It is apparent that the authors have a true knowledge of guns and knives, and weaponry in general. Indeed, +Michael Tinker Pearce is known as the 'Swordgeek' and regularly blogs and gives podcasts on the subject of swords. 

You can get 'Diaries of a Dwarven Rifleman' for the kindle at amazon.com by clicking on this link: 


All in all, this is an excellent, well written and well thought out book. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Dark Places, by Shaun Allan

Shaun Allan is one of my favorite, go-to authors when I am in the mood for an off-beat, darkly-humorous book that makes me wish I was an author! (insert lol here.) His most recent book, Dark Places is one of those secret pleasures that I hide away with, and savor every paragraph.

The Blurb:


I am Death. I know who you are...

There is darkness and madness in each of us. We must do battle with our own demons.

But...

What if those demons opened the door in the back of your mind and stepped out. What if they became real? If the night, the shadows, the reflections and Death himself walked among us? And what if they were watching you? Waiting? Thirsting...?

Dark Places. Thirteen stories. Thirteen poems.

Thirteen doorways.



My Review:

Shaun Allan's obsession with all things dark bears strange and frequently hilarious fruit in this compilation of stories interspersed with poems. 

The book opens with the poem "Mmmm," a commentary on life by a man who wishes that he could 'DO' instead of just 'going with the flow' but lethargy owns him--he's unable to make the effort.

The first short tale is  "I am Death".  It details a day in the life of the Grim Reaper. The Grim Reaper has been at his job for quite a while now, and is becoming rather bored with with it. Death writes bad poetry--"To live is to die, To smile is to cry"--and knows in his heart he should stick to his day job and leave poetry to those with, well, a soul.

This book is full of little snippets and jewels of dark prose and self-mocking humor. "This Night", a poem that sheds a little light into the authors own psyche, showing us the anxiety that lurks just below the surface of our precarious modern lives. "This night is safe. This night..."

"Dark Places", a longer tale, details the mental state of a man who finds himself. Literally.

"The Last Dance" is one of the shorter pieces, but is incredibly moving.

"Patient Solitude" details love, loss, two men and living with the memories of one woman's last moments.

All through this book, interspersed with the horror, is the shockingly honest humor that Shaun Allan is famous for, shedding light on our own fears and frailties.

But my FAVORITE tale is the creepy, "House on the Moor." Let's just say it brings a new level to the dangers of dipping into the real estate market.

I was privileged to be an editor on this book, so this review is a bit of nepotism on my part, but I've been a fan of Allan's since I first read his monster-piece, "Sin", a deep, dark novel of one man's madness. It was such a pleasure, to be allowed to work with an author of this caliber. Allan's prose is beautiful and harsh, opening doors into our own psyche we may wish we'd never entered. All in all, this is an excellent book for a cold winter's day, safe by your fire with a cup of cocoa.



Friday, March 1, 2013

The Wretched of Muirwood by Jeff Wheeler


Today I am reviewing  "The Wretched of Muirwood" by Jeff Wheeler. Published in 2011, this is the first book in a series, Legends of Muirwood.
 
The Blurb:
 
In the ancient and mystical land of Muirwood, Lia has known only a life of servitude. Labeled a “wretched,” an outcast unwanted and unworthy of respect, Lia is forbidden to realize her dream to read or write. All but doomed, her days are spent toiling away as a kitchen slave under the charge of the Aldermaston, the Abbey’s watchful overseer. But when an injured squire named Colvin is abandoned at the kitchen’s doorstep, an opportunity arises. The nefarious Sheriff Almaguer soon starts a manhunt for Colvin, and Lia conspires to hide Colvin and change her fate. In the midst of a land torn by a treacherous war between a ruthless king and a rebel army, Lia finds herself on an ominous journey that will push her to wonder if her own hidden magic is enough to set things right. At once captivating, mysterious, and magic-infused, The Wretched of Muirwood takes the classic fantasy adventure and paints it with a story instantly epic, and yet, all its own.
 
My Review:
 
Lia Cook is an abandoned child, left on the doorstep of an abbey as an infant. She is goodhearted, and hardworking. In many ways she loves her life, but more than anything she yearns to read and write. When Colvin is left in the kitchen, Lia hides him, though she doesn't know why. Lia and Colvin distrust each other, and Lia frequently regrets hiding him, but she does it anyway. Colvin has knowledge that Lia craves; even untrained, Lia has a raw power over magic that Colvin desires.  In the world of Idumea, magic is known as "the medium" and few can bend it to their will easily, even with training.
 
Wheeler has created a viable and logical system of magic in the medium, and it is one of the most unique systems I've ever read.  The medium is in and around everything. There is a spiritual quality to it. It is much more earthy than "the force" of Star Wars fame, and while there are certain superficial similarities, the medium is ponderous, heavy and pervasive.
 
The King (who is never named so far as I was able to see) is cruel, ruling with absolute power, and has turned the medium to his evil uses. Sheriff Almaguer is the king's man, heart and soul. He hunts "traitors"--those who would stand against the evil King.  Garen Demont, leader of the rebellion, has returned from exile, with an army, intending to rid the land of the cruel king.
 
Many events conspire, which end up with Lia stealing an object of great value from the Aldermaston. She helps Colvin escape, only to run into crazed man who says that she must guide Colvin to Winterrowd, where a great slaughter will happen. From this man, Colvin discovers that Demont has only a tenth of the forces that the King has, and has to get to Winterrowd to warn him.
 
The evil Sheriff Almaguer uses an amulet to bend the medium to his will, and he knows who Lia's parents were. Taunting her and withholding the full complete knowledge of who her parents were, the sheriff hunts Lia as much as he does Colvin.
 
This is a compelling, well written book. Lia, Colvin and indeed, all the characters in this book are clear, and vivid. The story immediately draws you in, keeping you turning the pages, impatient to find out what will happen next.  The mood of the tale is dark, but there is intense love for family here; Lia's love for adopted family who is the staff at the Abbey, and Colvin for his sister who knows not what he is doing. They wish to protect them, but "the medium" may not allow it.
 
 
I highly recommend The Wretched of Muirwood--you will want to buy the rest of the trilogy while you are at it!