Monday, May 15, 2017

SNOW: Stories of Forbidden Love, Wattpad Anthology



I have lately begun to rediscover my love of the short story, whiling my Sunday afternoons away on my back porch, reading the many wonderful anthologies that are beginning to grace the digital shelves at Amazon. Reading short stories allows me to sample an author’s work without investing in a longer book by an author whose work is unknown to me. Also, it allows me to read work written by authors whose work I know and love. This week, I am talking about SNOW, Stories of Forbidden Lovean anthology of tales written by Wattpad Stars. These authors have some of the highest rated works on Wattpad, with millions of fans all over the world.

But first THE BLURB:
One cabin. Sixteen stories of forbidden love.
With an online audience of over ONE MILLION combined followers, and hundreds of millions of reads on their stories, the SNOW ANTHOLOGY showcases talented Wattpad authors from around the globe.

Journey into the woods where you will discover a cabin surrounded by snow, filled with secrets…
The SNOW ANTHOLOGY features sixteen original novellas and novelettes in multiple genres, including Young Adult, New Adult, Contemporary Romance, Historical Romance, Urban Fantasy, Supernatural and Paranormal.

Brought to you by USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR KELLY ANNE BLOUNT and available for a LIMITED TIME ONLY! Don't wait for the snow to melt before you uncover these stories of love, loss, and self-discovery.

MY REVIEW:
All the stories in this volume are excellent, well-written, and in some cases, deeply thought provoking. At no time did I feel compelled to skip forward. Several stories, however, stood out above the others, in my opinion.

The first that struck a chord in me was Red Snow, by Debra Goelz. This is a true fairy tale, harsh, violent, magical, and mysterious. Children are disappearing in the forest, for reasons both frightening and sinister. I wanted to know more about Daphne, and why she was tied to the forest as she was. Eugene, the man who’d been changed to a snake, was really intriguing also. Goelz presents the situation, doling out information in just the right bits so that when the final denouement comes, it is both in keeping with the tone of the tale and satisfying.

The second story that resonated and left me thinking was Faun, by Gavin Hetherington. Faun is another fairy tale, this one featuring a boy of sixteen, who is on a Christmas vacation in a cabin the woods with his family. Freddie is at odds with them over something that fundamental to him but which deeply offends his father and has been ostracized. After a quarrel at dinner, he runs away into a blizzard, finding his way to a nearby village. What he finds in the village is both moving and heartwarming.  

The third story that I want to talk about is by one of my favorite authors, Shaun Allan. The fact that his work was featured in this anthology was why I purchased it in the first place. Wings is a journey into despair and the need to be loved. Megan has been given a second chance, and opportunity to bring love into people’s lives and change the world. But her own emotional pain is too much, and she begins to find satisfaction in bringing misery to the world. Shaun Allan has a knack for getting deep into the dark corners of the human psyche, which is why this tale resonates with me and why I seek out his work. What begins as a quest for personal revenge soon takes a form Megan is completely unprepared for, threatening the world she knows, and deep inside still loves. Allan illustrates the growing darkness of Megan’s soul and a rising sense of doom with a deft hand, illuminating the darker places in our own souls, the places we would prefer not to look.


I enjoyed this anthology from start to finish and highly recommend it. SNOW, Stories of Forbidden Love, is available from Amazon for your Kindle.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Into the North, by Lindsay Schopfer



I haven't been able to read as much lately as I would like due to my own writing schedule, but every now and then I find the time. Today's book is one written by Indie author, Lindsay Schopfer. Because I enjoyed the first book in the series, The Beast Hunter, I was asked to be a Beta Reader, which I normally don't do, as many times I point out things a reader will find distracting, and then the author doesn't like me anymore. 


However, Into the North is a fitting sequel to Keltin’s first adventure. Both are stand-alone novels, so you don’t have to have read The Beast Hunter to know what is going on.

But First, THE BLURB:

Professional beast hunter Keltin Moore is returning home a changed man. With a new apprentice and a lifetime of experience gained in faraway Krendaria, he prepares to settle into his old life of being a small town hero. But when gold is discovered in the far north, Keltin must again leave his home in order to protect the prospectors from the beasts ravaging the gold fields. Arriving in the boom town of Lost Trap, Keltin soon discovers that there are dangers beyond beasts in the frozen north. A local gang has established themselves as the resident Hunters Guild and will not tolerate any competition. Meanwhile, a specter haunts the gold fields. A legendary creature known as the Ghost of Lost Trap stalks the snowy countryside, testing Keltin and his friends to their very limits as they try to hunt their most dangerous beast yet.

MY REVIEW:

Like Schopfer’s other work, this novel is well-structured, with creative environments, good tension, and deep characters. It is a complex tale, layered with political and ethical themes. As in The Beast Hunter, the technology is all that which we would find available in any late 19th century steampunk tale, but there the similarity ends. Keltin is a beast hunter, and the Ghost of Lost Trap is not your average Edwardian creature. The creatures in this series are some of the most horrific things I have seen outside of an RPG, all of them fun and dangerous.

Keltin Moore is still slightly flawed, and still intriguing. He still has family troubles and will likely always have trouble getting along with certain members of his own species. He lives in a world of diverse sentient races of people, and the prejudice and political intrigue stemming from that diversity is central to their culture. One of my favorite characters is Bor’ve’tai, a member of a species called the Loopi, and he makes a return.

A bounty hunter, Keltin is used to working alone, but now he has an apprentice—Jaylocke, the Weycliff Wayfarer. Jaylocke is, at times, hilarious, and is a good foil for Keltin’s intensity. The people they meet along the way and the relationships they forge with other species are the core of this story. Lindsay Schopfer’s knack for showing a good story really shines, as the action driven plot, rather male-dominated but multicultural society, and solid, well-drawn characters of many different species make this novel a good read.

As I mentioned above, I received an advance copy of this book as a Beta reader, and enjoyed it very much in that incarnation. I must say, I liked the finished product even more. I highly recommend it as an action adventure.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons, by Stephen Swartz








Indie author, Stephen Swartz’s recent novel is an ambitious project, titled EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons. I had the opportunity to be a beta reader and liked the book in its proto version very much. I’m just going to say at the outset—this is not your grandma’s epic fantasy.


But first, THE BLURB:

CORLAN, MASTER DRAGONSLAYER, the best in the Guild, the best in the Burg!

And yet, returning from his latest expedition, Corlan discovers jealous rivals have conspired with the Prince to banish him from the city.

Sent into the Valley of Death, Corlan conjures a plan. He and his new sidekick, a runaway boy from the palace kitchen, will trek the thousand miles to the far end of the valley, where a vast marsh provides nesting grounds for the dragon horde. Once there, Corlan vows to smash dragon eggs and lance younglings, ending dragon terror once and for all time.

As dangers, distractions, and detours harry him along the way, Corlan learns ancient secrets that threaten to destroy everything in his world. Even with the aid of wizards and warriors, he must use all his guile, his bravado, and the force of his stubborn will just to survive - and perhaps return home - no matter how the gods challenge him with their harshest tests.


MY REVIEW:

I liked the early draft but enjoyed the book in its final form immensely. The world it is set in is barbaric and exotic. Corlan is a solid character, a great protagonist who is unlike most squeaky clean, modern heroes. In a purely human way, Corlan has faults and blind spots. But he attracts an odd assortment of people, wonderful characters who force him to see the world more realistically. In his travels, Corlan becomes a worthy hero, but never loses his human nature.

Swartz’s dragons are most definitely not the friendly sort of dragon Anne McCaffrey wrote about. It is Earth as we know it, but it is a future Earth radically altered by genetic tinkering. What the world was like before the genetic apocalypse is no longer even a part of their history. It is a place where dragons constantly fly overhead, snatching children and livestock, setting roofs on fire, depositing their waste everywhere. To combat such a menace, an elite corps of “gamekeepers” has evolved, and Corlan considers himself the best.

The society Corlan lives in is mysterious and dangerous. The perils are not always obvious at first glance. Violence is a fundamental part of life. At the outset, Corlan is arrogant and full of himself. He is possessed of that raw self-centeredness that many of Roger Zelazny’s greatest protagonists embodied.

All of the traditional tropes of epic fantasy are present: the princess, the wizard, the kitchen boy, the warrior, the traitor, the thief—all the usual suspects are in place, but with Swartz’s unique twist. The various cultures, the wonderful creatures he rides, all have roots in what is familiar, yet they are taken to an extreme, bringing a uniqueness to this tale.

Swartz’s prose is heavy with words, immediately establishing an atmosphere of barbaric splendor. Corlan’s purely human hubris, the unusual and mysterious settings, the people he meets who help him along the way—all these elements combine to make a story unlike any other.

Naka Wu is a wonderful character, as is Tam. Without them, Corlan would be just another dead failed hero. Corlan suffers from an over active libido, which he soon realizes is not in his best interests. In Corlan, the Heroes’ Journey is both a physical and a mental one, culminating in a complete spiritual death and rebirth.

I highly recommend this book to fans of epic tales and the hero’s journey.




Friday, March 17, 2017

Broken Numbers, by Dean Lappi



Broken Numbers is the long awaited third book in Dean Frank Lappi’s Aleph Null series. I can't tell you how much I was looking forward to this book, and I was NOT disappointed!
But first, The Blurb:

Trith, Circle, Zranh, Raith, Death
With those enigmatic words from the Black Manuscript, Sid begins his journey to the Trith Nation where he hopes to find clues to help him regain his power of Numbers. He is joined by Crowdal, who agrees to take Sid and his friends back to his home, a place he does not want to go. But to get there they must travel through the dangerous and unexplored lands of the north where there are things that are better left undisturbed.
A half a continent away, Melinda must learn to control the time-shifting powers of the Zranh that flow through her and come to terms with her destiny before she can reunite with Sid, Crowdal and her other friends.
A young Fahrin Druin named Drax is chosen by an ancient master of Numbers and is given unimaginable powers to do one thing – search for and destroy the Aleph Null.
And Tris, the supremely powerful Black Robe of the Oblate, has had the Black Numbers inside him since he ripped them from Sid in the Srithian Wood, but he cannot control them. So he uses the unlimited resources of the Oblate to recruit armies from three of the most powerful kingdoms in the land to hunt and capture Sid so he can finish tearing his old friend’s mind apart for the secret to the Black Numbers.
Can Sid figure out the meaning behind the strange words inside the Black Manuscript and regain his power of Numbers before it is too late?
Join Sid and his friends on another non-stop adventure into the unknown.


My Review:
Violent and graphic, this series combines elements of horror, with a magic system based on mathematics and sexual energy. After a brief prologue bringing us up to speed on the Korpor (one of the most frightening creatures in fantasy) Lappi opens the story with our protagonist, Sid, considering the death of his mother and loss of his magic.
Sid, the Aleph Null, is a deep character, a man whose life has been seriously altered by events beyond his control. He has been traumatized by incidents that occurred in his early childhood, yet he remains kind and caring of others. He is desperate to get his numbers back, but knows it won’t be easy.
On the run from Tris and the Oblate, Sid and Crowdal, Agnes, Writhgarth, Tulman, and Nik have survived an epic battle and are on their way to Crowdal’s homeland, the Trith Nation. Crowdal has unfinished business in his country that he would prefer to avoid, but it’s a measure of his love for Sid that he agrees to lead him there. Sid’s former childhood friend and now leader of the Oblate, Tris, has managed to rip away the Black Numbers from Sid, a partial victory, but he won’t rest until Sid is dead.
The plot is hard-hitting, filled with twists and turns. Nothing is simple, and every step forward brings another step back. Despite the setbacks, Crowdal and the others remain strong in their support of the Sid, both as Aleph Null and as their companion.
I like Lappi’s magic system. It is based on mathematics which are referenced obliquely, the mystery of which makes the system highly believable for me. This makes it seem both mystical and realistic.
Lappi’s villains are truly evil. Tris is consumed with his own glory, a power-mad despot verging on insane. Volatile and deliberately cruel, his loyal followers know their lifespan is measured by their ability to satisfy his requirements, and he requires a great deal. He is obsessively focused on destroying Sid.
The Korpor is equally horrifying, but easier to understand because it is simply acting on its nature—it’s doing what it was created to do.
What I love about this series overall is the way Lappi portrays the camaraderie and friendships of Sid and his core group and sets them in places and situations that are almost familiar yet foreign, and unimaginably dangerous. The two previous books in this series are Black Numbers, and Blood Numbers, and both are gripping.  If you are a fan of dark fantasy and haven’t yet read this series, I highly recommend it. Broken Numbers is a fitting installment in the saga.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Heart of What Was Lost, by Tad Williams



I just finished reading Tad William's latest book. Wow! Told from three points of view, Duke Isgrimnur of Rimmersgard, a Norn leader, Viyeki, and Porto, a Perdruinese mercenary, The Heart of What Was Lost, by Tad Williams is a gripping, worthy return to the world of Osten Ard.

But first, THE BLURB:
At the end of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Ineluki the Storm King, an undead spirit of horrifying, demonic power, came within moments of stopping Time itself and obliterating humankind. He was defeated by a coalition of mortal men and women joined by his own deathless descendants, the Sithi.

In the wake of the Storm King’s fall, Ineluki’s loyal minions, the Norns, dark cousins to the Sithi, choose to flee the lands of men and retreat north to Nakkiga, their ancient citadel within the hollow heart of the mountain called Stormspike. But as the defeated Norns make their way to this last haven, the mortal Rimmersman Duke Isgrimnur leads an army in pursuit, determined to end the Norns’ attacks and defeat their ageless Queen Utuk’ku for all time.

Two southern soldiers, Porto and Endri, joined the mortal army to help achieve this ambitious goal—though as they venture farther and farther into the frozen north, braving the fierce resistance and deadly magics of the retreating Norns, they cannot help but wonder what they are doing so very far from home. Meanwhile, the Norns must now confront the prospect of extinction at the hands of Isgrimnur and his mortal army.
Viyeki, a leader of the Norns’ military engineers, the Order of Builders, desperately seeks a way to help his people reach their mountain—and then stave off the destruction of their race. For the two armies will finally clash in a battle to be remembered as the Siege of Nakkiga; a battle so strange and deadly, so wracked with dark enchantment, that it threatens to destroy not just one side but quite possibly all.

Trapped inside the mountain as the mortals batter at Nakkiga’s gates, Viyeki the Builder will discover disturbing secrets about his own people, mysteries both present and past, represented by the priceless gem known as The Heart of What Was Lost

MY REVIEW:
I became a confirmed fan of epic fantasy in 1988 when I first entered this world of Osten Ard and the books of Tad Williams. Each character was deserving of a novel, and the diverse races whose cultures were so clearly shown fascinated me. The arrogance some members of each race have with regard to their innate superiority struck me as illustrating a truth about the real world. When The Heart of What Was Lost was launched, I bought the hard-copy, but also downloaded the Audible book, because I have a monthly subscription. Andrew Wincott is the narrator, and he’s an incredible reader. His narration makes this one of the best audio books I’ve ever listened to.

This is not a long novel, only 224 pages. It is well-written, with the harsh, beautiful prose I have come to expect from Tad Williams. Most importantly, an entire world is encapsulated in those pages. I found the pacing excellent, and at times, heart stopping. There is no place where it slows or becomes pedestrian.

Osten Ard is created from both good and evil, with all the many grey places between those two absolutes clearly defined. For each misery, some small glimmer of hope is introduced, offering a reason for the characters to keep struggling. The unlikely friendship between Porto and Endri is deep despite their rivalry. Through their eyes we see the truth of the conflict and what it means in terms of human suffering.

Duke Isgrimnur is strong and resolute, driven on every level. He is faced with hard decisions, an impossible task, and does what he has to. A many-layered character, Isgrimnur is one of my favorite people in the series, as is Sludig. I had wondered about them at the end of To Green Angel Tower. This ties up their threads well.

Opposite Isgrimnur is Viyeki,  a Norn who has risen high in the Order of Builders. He has also been given an impossible task. It is through him we feel some compassion for the Cloud Children, the immortal Norns, and what they have lost. His thoughts and the way he deals with the constraints he is under illustrate the alien society he lives in and loves, making their reasoning more clear to us. He sees many things that worry him, but as a Host Foreman, his position is somewhat perilous. His world is at stake, but faced with conquering the terrors of the deeps or being crushed by the enemy, he is beset on all sides, caught in the middle. He has questions, doubts, and the answers offer him no comfort.

I give this book five full stars. In the watershed series, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Tad Williams originally created the world of Osten Ard masterfully, exploring it through the diverse people’s thoughts and conversations. This novel is a brilliant continuation of that tale. He uses his characters’ impressions to show the setting, the history, and the core of the conflict. Through their eyes, we know this amazing world.

You can find  The Heart of What Was Lost, by Tad Williams in paper, as an audiobook, or a Kindle download at Amazon. It is also available at other eBook retailers, and in paper at all brick and mortar stores.

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(originally posted 20 Jan 2017 on Life in the Realm of Fantasy, by Connie J. Jasperson)