Friday, December 27, 2013

Brawn Stroker's Dragula, by Nicole Antonia Carro

I bought Brawn Stroker’s Dragula, by indie author Nicole Antonia Carro on a whim. When I read the title, I was expecting something incredibly camp and lightweight, but that is certainly not what I got. Instead, I found a tale full of people I could call friends, and situations I hope my friends never find themselves in!

The Blurb:

Ybor City, Florida. November 1999

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, lowly female impersonator Chris Reynolds brings a mysterious stranger home. In the four-day weekend which follows, Chris and his friends become embroiled in the secret world of Dr. Stephen Bartow, a reluctant & incompetent vampire who only wants his humanity restored so he can return to his one true love. Yet they are all in danger when a demon from Dr. Stephen’s past returns to destroy them.

One romantic evening gone wrong for Chris and his alter ego Dee Flaytable is forever transformed into a formidable creature of the night– fabulous and seductive, her siren’s song captivates every audience. But can she triumph in the face of true evil?

When the Vampire Queens battle, who will win?

My Review:

As I said at the outset, I picked this up looking for a light, quick read, but ended up staying up to 2:30 a.m. to finish it. The tale is told through the journal entries of Chris Reynolds, and Dr. Stephen Bartow, which I found interesting.

In 1999 Florida, Chris lives in a slightly skewed reality, performing as a drag-queen. He has talent, but he's no RuPaul, and he knows it. His off-and-on boyfriend, Billy, plans to be a preacher and is afraid to come out of the closet.

Chris himself can’t tell his parents what he does for a living, as they would crap their southern middle-class baptist pants. His female roommate is his shield, giving him the appearance of heterosexuality for his folks, who were so afraid he was gay that her being black is no problem. When Chris is accidentally turned into a vampire, things go horribly awry.

This is far more than a tale of a Drag Queen of the Damned. Carro takes on obsession, rape, grinding poverty, racism, homophobia, and all stops between.

This particular book actually follows Dr. Stephen's tale more than Chris's, but i think it works well, as without knowing what happened to Stephen, we can't know why Chris has to fight the Evil Vampiress. Through Dr. Stephen’s journal we are taken back to the post WWII south. We are introduced to his spurned ex-fiancée and see the lengths she will go to have revenge on him. Dr. Stephen is a competent enough physician, but though he is not really a heroic man, he is turned into a vampire with a mission.

The horror is well balanced with humor. It is both graphic and violent, and is not a book for those who want their vampires sparkly and their entertainment sanitized. This a book for smart, thinking people who also like vampires.

I believe a second book is in the works and I hope it will focus more on Chris, as he is an awesome character, but wherever the author goes with this tale I will definitely buy it.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Hour In Hell (Bobby Dollar 2), by Tad Williams

Okay, now we are talking deep. Happy Hour In Hell (Bobby Dollar 2), by Tad Williams takes us from the bowels of Heaven to the heart of Hell, and its a rough ride, and a heck of a good story.

But first, may I just say how refreshing it is to find a book by a big publisher (DAW) with such a great Blurb? This is a great innovation—they should keep up the good work!

The Blurb:

I’ve been told to go to Hell more times than I can count. But this time I’m actually going.

My name’s Bobby Dollar, sometimes known as Doloriel, and of course, Hell isn’t a great place for someone like me—I’m an angel. They don’t like my kind down there, not even the slightly fallen variety. But they have my girlfriend, who happens to be a beautiful demon named Casimira, Countess of Cold Hands. Why does an angel have a demon girlfriend? Well, certainly not because it helps my career.

She’s being held hostage by one of the nastiest, most powerful demons in all of the netherworld—Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell. He already hates me, and he’d like nothing better than to get his hands on me and rip my immortal soul right out of my borrowed but oh-so-mortal body.

But wait, it gets better! Not only do I have to sneak into Hell, make my way across thousands of miles of terror and suffering to reach Pan- demonium, capital of the fiery depths, but then I have to steal Caz right out from under Eligor’s burning eyes and smuggle her out again, past demon soldiers, hellhounds, and all the murderous creatures imprisoned there for eternity. And even if I somehow manage to escape Hell, I’m also being stalked by an undead psychopath named Smyler who’s been following me for weeks. Oh, and did I mention that he can’t be killed?

So if I somehow survive Hell, elude the Grand Duke and all his hideous minions and make it back to the real world, I’ll still be the most hunted soul in Creation. But at least I’ll have Caz. Gotta have something to look forward to, right?

So just pour me that damn drink, will you? I’ve got somewhere to go.

My Review:

First off, I'm not going to give you the play-by-play of the book. Instead, I am going to give you my impressions. 

If you like your angels as painted by Michelangelo, you are in the wrong place. Bobby isn't that sort of an angel. Bobby gets in and does Heaven’s dirty work with his bare hands. He’s a hard-boiled detective, a bad-boy, and he’s the sort of angel my mother warned me about. But he’s also just the sort of angel you want on your side when you suddenly find yourself dead, and your soul is being judged.

The action starts on page one and it just keep on going all the way through the book. Even the places where a less-skilled author would be giving you an info dump are well-plotted and the momentum of Bobby's adventures keeps you moving while you absorb the atmosphere.

And let’s talk atmosphere: if I die today, I don’t wanna go to this version of Hell. It is everything Hell should be—lurid, sadistic, brutal, horrifying, disgusting and evil. It’s no place for an angel, and the things that happen to Bobby are violent and beyond horrible. In every situation, and all the way through the never-ending string of torments Bobby is put through, he is still focused on his one obsession, that of getting Caz back.

It's hard to say which place is more malevolent, Heaven or Hell. Hell is more obviously evil, but Heaven is not a fun place either. Bobby's superiors are not a nice bunch. Of course, you have to realize that Demons are just Fallen Angels, so the capacity for cold, hard justice was always there. The Smyler is one of the creepiest villains I've ever seen. Not the sort of villain to read about before bed! And he’s just the tip of the iceberg.

But even in Hell there is the occasional flash of kindness, things that get Bobby asking questions. While in Hell, Bobby’s eyes are opened to the possibility that the gray area between good and evil may be wider than he thought, and he begins to wonder about his former partner, a renegade angel, and the mysterious third way. If that sub-plot will take Bobby anywhere, I don't know, but I am intrigued.

It is a stand-alone book, in that you don’t have to have read book 1 to understand exactly what is going on, and there is a satisfying conclusion, even if it’s not the one you expect. That makes it even better! I am now eagerly waiting for the next installment in this madcap mountain of mayhem! 

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

Over Thanksgiving, my son, Dan, pressured me to drop everything and read The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde.  Published in 2000, the Eyre Affair was Fforde's first novel. The book was generally acclaimed, with critics calling it "playfully irreverent," "delightfully daft," "whoppingly imaginative," and "a work of ... startling originality." My son adores this book and the entire series. I found it—interesting—and I heartily enjoyed this book despite the tortuous plot, the side trips that go nowhere, and the occasional moments of HUH?!? WTF….

The Blurb:

The first installment in Jasper Fforde’s New York Times bestselling series of Thursday Next novels introduces literary detective Thursday Next and her alternate reality of literature-obsessed England

Fans of Douglas Adams and P. G. Wodehouse will love visiting Jasper Fforde's Great Britain, circa 1985, when time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously: it’s a bibliophile’s dream. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection. But when someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature and plucks Jane Eyre from the pages of Brontë's novel, Thursday is faced with the challenge of her career. Fforde's ingenious fantasy—enhanced by a Web site that re-creates the world of the novel—unites intrigue with English literature in a delightfully witty mix. Thursday’s zany investigations continue with six more bestselling Thursday Next novels, including One of Our Thursdays is Missing and the upcoming The Woman Who Died A Lot. Visit

My Review:

First off, let me say that I have read both Douglas Adams and P.G. Wodehouse. Either one is a lot easier to follow than Jasper Fforde. Heck, James Joyce is easier to follow and he’s darned near incomprehensible.

But Fforde’s writing has a real charm and despite the confusion, and with a certain amount of discipline I was able to get into the swing of things. It is a “fantasy, science fiction, mystery, satire, romance, thriller” of a book. There is a plot; it is most definitely unique and extremely convoluted. However, it is worth the effort.

In 1985, in a parallel universe, England and Imperial Russia have fought the Crimean War for more than a century. England is still a parliamentary government, pretty much owned by a powerful weapons manufacturing company with a questionable agenda, the Goliath Corporation. Wales is a separate, socialist nation, and for some reason that notion cracked me up.

Thursday Next is an awesome character, but following the plot takes work on the part of the reader. So I resorted to taking notes, which helped me keep things straight in my head. In the course of duty, Thursday gets shot and has to take a new job, where she is forced to team up with the awesomely named Jack Schitt, who really is a…. Never mind. 

So anyway.

I recommend this book for people who love a real challenge in their reading material. Enough of the plot holes finally get filled in that there is a resolution to the tale. You are probably wondering why I am saying I enjoyed the pain—and I will tell you:

It’s hilarious.

It is laugh-out-loud, freaking hysterical. The names of his characters and the situations he puts them in are genius. Acheron Hades is evil, Landon Parke-Laine is a jerk,  Rochester is awesome, Jack Schitt is a turd and Thursday's eccentric family is a riot. Oh, sure, it is uneven and incredibly random, the story travels all over the place and some things are like the Cheshire Cat’s smile in Alice in Wonderland, but stick with it and after a page or two you won't care because you'll be laughing again.

The whole concept of a world where a criminal master-mind can hold a world hostage through literature really rang my bells.  Time-travel, entering into a novel and befriending the characters and changing history by changing the classics of literature--it's a grand idea.

Someone else may not have as much difficulty keeping Thursday's adventures straight as I did. Many people, including my son Dan, love this book with a passion, so I recommend you give it a shot.  

I am not sure I will read the next book in the series too soon, however—I nearly quit reading this book several times out of frustration, so I won’t start the next installment until I feel up to putting a lot of effort into reading a book. I will read it--just not soon. I am giving The Eyre Affair four stars, because it did entertain me, and Fforde introduces some notions that had my mind working long after I put the book down. That, to me, is the mark of great book.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley

First published in 1983, Mists of Avalon by the late Marion Zimmer Bradley is a wonderful retelling of the Arthurian legend. I chose to reread The Mists of Avalon this week for two reason: first - as my reward because it is one of the greatest epic fantasies of all time, and second - it had been over a year since I last read it. This book was a watershed moment in fantasy literature for me, and for millions of readers over the years.

The Blurb:
In Marion Zimmer Bradley's masterpiece, we see the tumult and adventures of Camelot's court through the eyes of the women who bolstered the king's rise and schemed for his fall. From their childhoods through the ultimate fulfillment of their destinies, we follow these women and the diverse cast of characters that surrounds them as the great Arthurian epic unfolds stunningly before us. As Morgaine and Gwenhwyfar struggle for control over the fate of Arthur's kingdom, as the Knights of the Round Table take on their infamous quest, as Merlin and Viviane wield their magics for the future of Old Britain, the Isle of Avalon slips further into the impenetrable mists of memory, until the fissure between old and new worlds' and old and new religions' claims its most famous victim.

My Review:

The main protagonist is Morgaine, who watches the rise of Uther Pendragon to the throne of Camelot as high-king. When she was still a young child, she was taken to Avalon by High Priestess Viviane, her maternal aunt, to become a priestess of the Mother Goddess. While in training, she sees the rising tension between the old Pagan religion and the new Christian religion. At the age of fourteen, she is given in a fertility ritual to a young man whom she later discovers is Arthur, her half-brother. Morgaine conceives a child, Gwydion (who will later be called Mordred), as a result of the ritual. She conceals his existence from Arthur.

After Uther dies, his son Arthur proves himself in battle and ascends to the throne.  Morgaine and Viviane give him the magic sword Excalibur and a bespelled scabbard as gifts from the country of Avalon.  Using the sword, which is a pagan weapon, Arthur succeeds in driving the Saxons away. 

But when his wife Gwenhwyfar is unable to carry and deliver a living child, she is convinced that it is a punishment of God: firstly for the presence of pagan elements (a position which Morgaine deeply resents), and secondly, for her forbidden love for Arthur's finest knight Lancelot.  Hating herself for loving him, Gwenhwyfar becomes a religious fanatic, and the relationship between Avalon and Camelot becomes hostile.

The story is compelling at the outset, and it captivated me from page one.  Upon finishing this book I immediately re-read it!  Zimmer-Bradley immerses you in the culture and mores of the mythical Britain of the seventh and eighth centuries.  The thoughts and feelings of each character are clearly drawn, and so are the places and the societies in which they live.  The over-riding themes of love and treachery make for a tragedy with tremendous political ramifications.

There are good and wise men and women and there are greedy, shortsighted people, and all are depicted with an impartial eye in this tale. The flaws and the strengths of each character are drawn with compassion. The personal choices those in power make change their society for all time. The clear and visible change in the cultural values of pre-christian Britain is vividly portrayed, setting the place of women in the society of Britain for the next 1,200 years. 

Within the two generations that this book spans, we see women going from having a respected voice and power in their society, to being relegated to the position of chattel; property of their husband and having less of a voice than his cattle.  

This book crosses many genres, Fantasy, Romance, Historical Fiction--Marion Zimmer Bradley created a world that never existed before and breathed life into it, giving us real, solid people to envision when we think about the Arthurian Saga. It is masterfully woven to make a novel that sets the standard for Arthurian literature, and raises the bar for writers of fantasy in general. It is a book that I think of as a cornerstone-book, one of the real foundation books in the library of truly great, modern storytelling. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Flight of the Griffin, C. M. Gray

The Flight of the Griffin by author C. M. Gray is a wonderful adventure for young teens but I enjoyed it a great deal, and think it is a great tale for readers of all ages.

The Blurb:

The Kingdom is dying…

The Darkness is coming… the balance between Order and Chaos is rapidly shifting and the world is falling towards evil and horror, and all the misery that Chaos will bring.

But there is hope…

Pardigan’s had enough, he’s only 12, but he’s breaking into the home of one of Freya's richest merchants... and he’s doing it tonight…

A burglary that will change their lives forever sets four friends upon a quest, a race against time, to locate three magical objects and complete an ancient and desperate spell.

Sailing their boat The Griffin, the crew are quickly pursued by The Hawk, an evil bounty hunter and master of dark sorcery, and Belial, King of Demons and champion of Chaos who seeks to rule the world of man… yet first he must capture the crew of The Griffin and end their quest…

My Review:

It is the end times for the world, and the tale opens when Pardigan, the boy- thief, steals a knife and a book from a merchant’s locked cabinet and sets the events into motion. Quint, the leader of his group of friends is the strongest and is a fighter. Loras is the boy-magician whose master died before Loras could learn what he needed to know and who’s magic never works right. Tarent is a dreamer, a storyteller and he keeps the other boys’ spirits up when times are hard.  Orphans all, they live on the abandoned boat, The Griffin.

Along with the knife and other loot from the merchant’s house, Pardigan has also gained a strange, magical talking cat named Mahra.  This cat who changes back and forth from a girl, to an owl, to a cat, depending on her mood, knows how to unlock the secrets of the magical knife and book. They do as they are told to and become the Magician, Thief, Priest and Fighter, four heroes with a task to right the balance of the world which must have equal amounts of Order and Chaos.  They have been chosen to be the Soldiers for Order and to oppose Chaos in a quest that pits them against magic, demons and ‘The Hawk,’ an evil hunter of men.

The four boys are real – they are written as boys are, unfinished and not quite men yet, but the promise of their adulthood is there in each of them.  Mahra is an old soul (literally hundreds of years old) and is written as such, but she is also young in many ways.

The travels and adventures the boys and Mahra have are well written and completely engrossing.  The scenery and the backgrounds against which the tale takes place are rich and yet not overdone.  It is the first book of a fantasy series, but it is a stand-alone book, and I would recommend this book to anyone who simply loves a good adventure.


Update Mar 17, 2017: Our friends at  tell us that Flight of the Griffin can now be found at

It has a new cover and we wish author C.M. Gray  and Flight of the Griffin well at their new home!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Elvis and Regrets, John A. Aragon

I made time in my NaNoWriMo madness to read a novella by indie author, John A. Aragon, and I was swept away. Elvis and Regrets, Adventures of a Hotshot Firefighter is a small book, but it is a timeless vision quest for the reader.

The Blurb:

A modern western and New Mexican Iliad in which a mystic firefighter plunges toward a dark showdown with God, the Devil, the potential of Rock 'n' Roll and the meaning of our lives.

My Review:

The beauty of some author’s prose is beguiling, like music for the eyes. It lures me, making me want to fall into writing in their style. Just to read their words is a treat for the eyes. One author whose work beguiles me is John A. Aragon.

Elvis and Regrets, Adventures of a Hotshot Firefighter. It is the tale of Jacobo, a young man who, in the 1970’s, is involved in fighting forest fires. What a beautiful, spiritual book! Opening with the day he first hears of the death of the king, Elvis Presley, this tale is an amazing journey into one man’s quest for spiritual knowledge and we are privileged to be along for the ride.

Jacobo and his companions are beautifully drawn with words, and rise clearly in my mind as I read his story. I can smell the scents of the fires, hear the sounds and feel the heat. There is an economy of words, each one important in its place, nothing to distract me from seeing the world Jacobo, Joe and Valkyrie are living in, see them on their vision-quest, seeking truth and God through fire and darkness.

It is a novella, only 63 pages, but it is a huge book, a fantasy and an epic quest for enlightenment. One cannot help but be changed by reading Jacobo's tale and that, to me, is the mark of a truly great book. Once again, quality trumps quantity.

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Memory of Light, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Yes, it is still November, and I am still busy with NaNoWriMo, so we are still revisiting the books I love the most this last year (or indeed ANY year).

A Memory of Light which was published by TOR Books on January 8, 2013, is the final installment in the epic fantasy saga, The Wheel of Time. Robert Jordan wrote the first eleven volumes in the series, nearly completing the final volume which was so huge it had to be divided into 3 books.  Unfortunately Robert Jordan passed away before the last book made it out of draft form, and after Jordan's death, Brandon Sanderson, who is famous in his own right for the epic Mistborn series, stepped in and finished the colossal undertaking, writing the final three volumes.

The Blurb:
Since 1990, when Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time® burst on the world with  its first book, The Eye of the World, readers have been anticipating the final scenes of this extraordinary saga, which has sold over forty million copies in over thirty languages.

When Robert Jordan died in 2007, all feared that these concluding scenes would never be written. But working from notes and partials left by Jordan, established fantasy writer Brandon Sanderson stepped in to complete the masterwork. With The Gathering Storm (Book 12) and Towers of Midnight (Book 13) behind him, both of which were # 1 New York Times hardcover bestsellers, Sanderson now re-creates the vision that Robert Jordan left behind.

Edited by Jordan’s widow, who edited all of Jordan’s books, A Memory of Light will delight, enthrall, and deeply satisfy all of Jordan’s legions of readers.

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass.
What was, what will be, and what is,
may yet fall under the Shadow.
Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

My Review:

I confess, I had my copy on pre order for a l-o-o-ong time, just waiting and drooling for this final installment, so on January 8th I hit the ground running with this book.

First off, if you haven't read the first thirteen books in the series this book will make little sense to you as it is the culmination of many, many storylines. This book is no less complicated than the thirteen books that have preceded it, so I will not be giving you a plot summary.  Instead I am going to give you my impressions and say only that some of my dearly loved characters who should have lived, die, and some who should die, do not.

Each and every one of the main characters have matured and become the sort of leaders we knew they would have to be if they were to succeed at Tarmon Gai'don, the final battle with Shai'tan, who is the personification of evil. I liked that particular twist, and feel vindicated for having stayed with the series even when it went so far afield in The Path of Daggers. Most of the many threads are brought together in this volume although  some  threads are never resolved.

Rand, Mat, and Perrin each fight the battle from a different front, and their stories and unique skills are each central to the final resolution. Logain and Olver both play crucial parts in the last battle. Many minor characters have major parts to play in determining the outcome of Tarmon Gai'don.  The strong roles played by Elayne, Egwene, Nynaeve, Moraine and the other Aes Sedai in this final battle are clear and integral to the success of Rand's bid to win this battle.  Love, loss, sorrow and the immense will to survive are part and parcel of the tapestry Sanderson has woven from Jordan's notes in this very fitting end to a monumental series.

The final battle is nothing less than epic. This encounter between Rand and Shai'tan begins with a contest of morality tales, which in the end determines Rand's course of action.

I shed tears many times, but most especially at the deaths of two important characters in particular, believing they could have accomplished so much had they lived. Yet that is what makes this book and indeed this series so fantastic - the reader CARES about the characters, and this loss makes the outcome more poignant and meaningful.

I liked the way Demandred is finally exposed and introduced into Tarmon Gai'don, and I really enjoyed the plot twist in regard to Taim, now known as M'Hael, and the way he is ultimately dealt with. All of the Forsaken are dealt with in ways both creative and fitting.

In the end, the final resolution is satisfying, and was well worth the journey. There is a large contingent of people who are upset that the epub edition won't be released until April 9, 2013, but this was a choice made by Robert Jordan's widow. I don't buy too many hard copies of books, being a fan of the Kindle, but I did make an exception for this book.   For me, some books need to be in hard copy form and the Wheel of Time Series is one of them, as are the Harry Potter books.

Amazon's reviews are rife with trolls and nay-sayers who couldn't wait to emerge from the woodwork and have their say. Apparently very few of these people purchased the book, much less read it. That is the price of success and these days it's almost an honor to have so many haters just spoiling to knock you down. But their strident caws and self-important rants should have no effect on the true fans of this series. In my humble opinion this work is a masterpiece and is a triumphant finish to the series.

I love Brandon Sanderson's handling of this series finale, and feel I more than got my money's worth from this book, as I will definitely read it again and again; it's that good. If you love this series, you will love the way it ends!

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Dragonbone Chair, Tad Williams

Traditionally, November is my month of revisiting some of my all-time favorite books. I am heavily involved in NaNoWriMo, which means I don't have time to read, only to write. But while I am writing I think about the books that moved me, and consider why they moved me. Today I am going back to one of my favorite series, which I first reviewed in 2011.  Tad Williams's epic masterpiece, the Dragonbone Chair rocked my reading world, landing in my library with the power of an earthquake.

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 Sithi, 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!

Tad Williams's epic masterpiece, the Dragonbone 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. This book and indeed the whole series had a profound impact on me and on my children when they became older teens.

Just like the best and most enduring of love affairs, The Dragonbone 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.

A series of very bad things happen and Simon accidentally stumbles into the adventure of a lifetime although, in his misery, he doesn’t realize it.  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.

Simon 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 a 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.

There is a large cast of characters, but I found it 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 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.
This is sweeping tale, one that takes you all over the world of Osten Ard and immerses you in the cultures of the people. The intertwined stories of Simon and Miriamele are told in a way that is detailed and very real, yet left my mind free to envision the world for myself. Williams has painted his world with such detail that reader feels as if Osten Ard is a real place, and you feel as if you know it well.

This story is so well drawn and plotted that to this day I find myself thinking about it when I am not reading it.   

It is clearly book one in a larger series, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, and Simon's adventures are absorbing and exciting.  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 logical. The story line is the most compelling and addictive and stands out as one of the great moments in fantasy. I had to get the rest of the books in the series downloaded to my Kindle, as I couldn't wait to re-read the whole series.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, Jim Bernheimer

Today I am pulling out one of the books I’ve reviewed in the past.  One of my favorite, almost anime-style books is by indie author, Jim Bernheimer. Published in 2011,  Confessions of a D-List Supervillain hits all the marks as a sometime hilarious read that makes you go hmmm….

The Blurb:
“Being a supervillain means never having to say you’re sorry … Unless it’s to the judge or the parole board. Even then, you don’t really have to. It’s not like it’s going to change the outcome or anything.”

Those are the words of Calvin Matthew Stringel, better known as Mechani-Cal. He’s a sarcastic, down on his luck armored villain. Follow his exploits as he gets swept up in a world domination scheme gone wrong and ends up working for this weak willed, mercy loving heroes. Immerse yourself in his epic battles and see what it’s like to be an outsider looking in at a world that few have ever experienced.

Climb into Cal’s battlesuit and join him on his journey. Will he avoid selling out his principles for a paycheck and a pardon? Can he resist the camaraderie of being on a super team? Does he fall prey to the ample charms of the beautiful Olympian Aphrodite? How will he survive the jealous schemes of Ultraweapon, who wears armor so powerful it makes Cal’s look like a museum piece?

See the world of “righteous do-gooders" through the eyes of someone who doesn’t particularly care for them.

And remember - Losing an argument with a group of rioters isn’t a good excuse to start lobbing tear gas indiscriminately at them. You’ve only got so many rounds and it’s going to be a long day, so make sure you get as many as possible with each one.

My Review
I enjoyed this take on the age-old hero vs villain story. Bernheimer has created a dystopian world where mankind relies on superheroes to save them, and the most popular superheroes are The Olympians - 12 common people who were chosen to wield the powers of certain of the Gods of Olympus.

Conversely there are the supervillains, and Cal `Mechani-Cal' Stringel is, by his own assertion, not one of the more successful of them, but he gets by.

The world has been taken over by bugs the size of grasshoppers that have attached themselves to everyone's necks, reorganizing the world into a hive society of junkies addicted to the bugs in the desperate way that a junkie is addicted to heroin. Because he works inside of his mechanical suit, Cal has managed to avoid this fate. Out of necessity, he finds himself trying to get the `good-guys' back on their feet and back to saving the world like they are supposed to be doing.

As superheroes go, The Olympians are as unlikeable and evil a bunch of shallow, self-serving stars as you could ask for. The supervillains, on the other hand, are actually the better human beings, because they are honest about their motives.

I don't normally like first person, present tense point of view in a story, because I find it difficult to get into into the story. But once I got past that initial issue I have to admit, this story captured and held my interest.

The adventures that Cal has as he tries to re-hab the Olympians and save the world are quite entertaining. There are some adult themes, but though there is nothing graphic I recommend this as a fun adult read.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Imago Chronicles: Revelations, Lorna T. Suzuki

In a long series set in one world and centered around one or two main characters it is incredibly hard to sustain the energy and passion that characterizes the first few volumes.  In her landmark Imago series, Canadian author Lorna T. Suzuki has done just that. Revelations lives up to the high standards set by the previous books in this series.

The Blurb:
Time does not heal all wounds and sometimes, revenge is the only answer…

It is the end of an era. With the natural balance of the realm in turmoil since the tragic disappearance of Lindras Weatherstone, the Wizard of the West, chaos reigns supreme when a mysterious killer emerges from the most unlikely of places.

Drawn into this deadly game of cat and mouse, Nayla Treeborn and the surviving members of the Order are on the hunt to capture this fiend. To make matters worse, at the height of this misadventure, while following a trail of mass murders committed by this villain with a secret agenda, those closest to Nayla have mysteriously vanished.

Now, she and her comrades are pitted against a formidable enemy unlike any they had ever encountered and this time, their nemesis comes bearing strange and powerful weapons not even the remaining Wizards know how to combat.

Nothing is as it seems and in the end, lives will be forever altered in this final tale that brings the Imago Chronicles to its stunning conclusion.

My Review:
The Imago series now ranks as one of my all-time favorite epic fantasy series. I love Nayla the warrior and her story as it continues in this eighth book in the Imago series. Time and motherhood have mellowed her, but Nayla is still a force to be reckoned with. She is as fierce a mother as she is a warrior.

The action is nonstop in this tale, and the narrative flows from one event to the next, leaving you breathless.  Hatred and revenge are the driving forces behind the action, and the actions taken by the mysterious villainess are harsh and coldly executed. Some will die, and that is hard to handle, when we have followed them for so long. But sorrow and strife make for compelling drama.  Suzuki understands her characters well, and never loses who they are or how they would react to a given situation. Nayla a warrior and woman, and Suzuki blends both aspects of this very complex woman into the narrative with the fine hand of a master.

Revelations is a fitting and satisfying conclusion to a classic fantasy series. Imago has been optioned for a movie, and production has begun. I can't wait to see Nayla Treeborn on the big screen. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Pale Hand of God, by S.M. White

This week we are looking at  The Pale Hand of God, a novel by indie author S.M. White. I have no memory of how I came to purchase this particular novel. Perhaps it was on a Kindle deals day, or perhaps I was simply looking for reasonably priced epic fantasy. Either way, it was an excellent choice on my part. I am now a great fan of author S.M. White.


The Blurb:

"All Ages have a living darkness. In some, it is long buried. In others, it lives and thrives. And then there is the darkness no one sees, the patient darkness that reveals itself only when all light fails."

In an Age of fallen heroes, stolen princesses, and a city prison, the world balances upon the blades of haunted men.

Behind the walls of the clergy-controlled prison city of Iban Su, Lainn Sevai endures. But after losing his father and brother, Lainn finds the determination to seek freedom, following in the footsteps of the man whose iron tutelage molded him into one of the fiercest warriors Iban Su has ever known. In the process he discovers his father's terrible secret, and uncovers the thousand year mystery as to why the prophesied End of Days never came to the world. And in that sets in motion a terrible future.

With all the edge and grit of a Gemmell novel, The Pale Hand of God is the first half of a series that will determine the fate of a world fallen to cowardice and indolence. Heroes will topple, and villains will ascend. Light will fade, and shadows prevail. This is a tale of violence and peace, of love and hatred, and of how one man's fight to save his soul could very well damn all humanity.

My Review:

There is a depth to this tale that goes well beyond the events it chronicles. Lainn Sevai is one of the most complex characters I’ve lately read. He is alternately likable and unlikable  His world is violent, and he makes decisions based on what he knows of his world, choices that seem harsh on the surface. Lainn’s brother Ereck is terribly important to him, as is his late father.  Lainn both loves and hates them both, envies and adores them. The brutalities of Lainn’s childhood follow him and color his perceptions—he is a charismatic warrior tortured by loss and self-doubt. In the end Lainn is one of the great heroes of epic fantasy, right up there with Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd.

The prose is quite reminiscent of the truly great fantasy tales, those great epic sagas written in an age when authors of speculative fiction knew they were on the fringe of respectability in the publishing world and wrote tales to please themselves, simply assuming their readers would understand compound words. This high quality of storytelling makes for a tale that fully involves the reader. The surroundings are clearly drawn with an economy of well-phrased words, with all the sounds and scents of a dirty, medieval environment. I found myself immersed in the tale to the exclusion of everything else, reading until I fell asleep with the Kindle in my hands and letting everything else go to hell until I had finished the book.

THAT powerful sort of writing is what I want from my epic fantasy, and it is a rare commodity in this day and age, where authors of all genres are told they must write in 60 second sound-bites so their readers won’t lose interest on the first page.

This is a great fantasy journey through all the many twists and turns, and though the road is rough for the characters who live in this strange world, it is a fantasy I can highly recommend. The Pale Hand of God by S.M. White is a book for the dedicated reader, and not for the faint of heart.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Children of the Elementi, by Ceri Clark

This review celebrates the re-release of one of my all-time favorite books, Children of the Elementi by UK author, Ceri Clark.

The Blurb:

From the ashes of an ancient empire, five must save the future.

Jake: Last in line to the Elementi High King throne, sent through time and space to be brought up in an alien world, he has no knowledge of his past.

Mirim: As the caretaker of the mysterious Citadel which hosts the dying crystal mind of the Matrix, her air power is the only link to the old world.

Kiera: A Romani foundling with growing powers over nature, she is searching for a better life away from her criminal past.

They must find the other two heirs and reunite all their elemental powers over earth, air, fire, and water together with the Matrix to defeat the Empire that conquered their parents.

With a fire demon on his trail, can Jake bring together the last of the Elementi in time?

My Review:

In Children of theElementi, UK author Ceri Clark has written a modern fantasy that manages to create a place in today's world for magic.
This story starts out with action-packed adventure and does not quit until the end.  The twists and turns are quite unexpected, but all are well written and make complete sense. The powers and abilities that the characters have are not unlimited.  There are rules and consequences for using that power and using it draws the notice of the Magi.  This creates the tension and keeps the plot moving at a fast gallop.

Jake’s parents passed away, and he is living with his aunt and uncle; a situation that is less than ideal as his uncle is not a nice man.  Jake knows that he can do some things that are akin to magic, but he keeps his knowledge close to himself.  His ability to read minds has been both a blessing and a curse; and he has some control over fire.  One day he reads in his Aunt’s mind that he was actually adopted.  When he searches their home for the papers that prove this, he also finds a crystal on a chain that is from his birth parents.

Jake has excellent skills with the internet, but when he puts the crystal around his neck his ability to use the internet is transformed exponentially.  An incident occurs at school during which he inadvertently uses his powers.  This alerts Mirrim, who has been looking for him, to get him to safety.  With Mirrim, Jake embarks on a series of adventures that will eventually reunite him with all four of the other Children of the Elementi.

I love the basis of Clark’s universe, and the logic that went into creating it.  The Elementi originally gained their powers through a close association with an immense, crystalline power source called the Matrix. This is a creation of an even older society and is, among other things, an uber-internet created from living crystal. The Matrix has access to an immense knowledge base and gains knowledge at every opportunity.  It is linked to certain crystals that each of the hidden children can use. Members of the Elementi can tap into the Matrix with their minds and have other unique powers related to their family’s particular element that they can use IF they know how.  This melding of science fiction with magic is both intriguing and original.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Covenant of Faceless Knights, Gary Vanucci

This is an old-fashioned sword and sorcery novel, in some ways quite reminiscent of the great swashbuckling novels of Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series. That is refreshing in itself! Nothing has more escape value than a tale of flawed heroes and heroines dukeing it out, both with each other and the minions of evil!

The Blurb

When a dangerous artifact goes missing from the Temple of the sun-god, the high priest charged with its protection must come to grips with the fact that he cannot retrieve the stolen relic alone. Calling upon a man who was once his own apprentice, Tiyarnon the High Priest enlists the aid of Garius Forge, who is now an Inquisitor among the Order of the Faceless Knights.  Garius, a man of power and reputation, gathers a handful of allies to help complete his quest--but who among them is worthy of his trust? Aided by the mischievous Rose Thorne, a rogue among rogues, the stoic and bloodthirsty Saeunn, and a promising but naïve elf named Elec, the Inquisitor hopes his training as one among the Faceless Knights has prepared him to keep his companions focused and prepared to survive the trials to come.  Garius must lead his band of allies into dark regions to recover the tainted artifact before it falls into the hands of the evil being that once held or it could spell doom for the inhabitants of Wothlondia and the entire Realm of Ashenclaw.

My Review:

I really enjoyed this book. It’s Dungeons and Dragons on steroids, and indie author Gary Vanucci is the Dungeon Master.

Noble Garius is in way over his head with the group of allies he has gathered. But he’s got no choice, he has to use them. It was a toss up between him and  Elec the Elf  as to who my favorite male character was. Elec is awesome, so young and naïve. 

Rose Thorne is aptly named. She is one tough lady, sharp, sweet and dangerous to know. She is bold and unashamed to use every one of her many weapons to make her point.

Saeunn is the heavy on the good-guys side. Filled with anguish and darkness, she, too, is dangerous to know. I wanted to see more of her in this tale, and that means she is an awesomely written character. Every one of these people is exactly what a true fan of epic fantasy expects to find in a book.

Even the side characters have great stories. So much angst! At times this tale is quite entertaining as Rose’s colorful past poses difficulties for certain respectable men with whom she has a history. That is one of the better threads in this tale!

The plot is great, and the twists and turns are engrossing and at time hilarious. I LOVED the villain! Big, bad, horrifyingly evil villains are what make a tale, from my point of view. The fight scenes are really well thought out and kept me on the edge of my seat. Vanucci’s magic system is logical. Things don’t just happen randomly, which can be a problem in today’s tidal wave of wannabe epic fantasy on the indie front.

Gary Vanucci’s great strength as an author is the ability to create a real, tangible world filled with the right sounds and scents that make the reader forget they are reading. He fills that world with real people, fully drawn and fleshed out, behaving the way they should, and never losing that momentum. As events unfold, things don’t always go the way they want them to, and their reactions to those moments are spot on. 

If I had any complaint, it is that there are a few places where the author seems to repeat himself, but that is by no means a detraction. All in all, the book has a great flow. It is written with passion and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves truly epic fantasy.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Okay—I had to do it.  I love manga and anime, and while this book has no illustrations, any book that involves an ordinary Joe taking on superheroes gone bad, in an anime-style post-apocalyptic setting was bound to interest me.

The Blurb:

Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics.

But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his will.

Nobody fights the Epics . . . nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart—the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David's father. For years, like the Reckoners, David's been studying, and planning—and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He's seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

My review.
Wow!  Action from page one, right to the end.  Sanderson is back to writing in a way that is fresh and out-there.  You feel like he has fallen in love with writing all over again, and it is awesome.
The protagonist, David is young, hotheaded and naïve. He is smart and too bold for his own good.  He meets people who are justifiably wary of him, and that is when his adventures really begin. David gets put through the wringer and keeps coming back for more.

The Epics are nothing more than common thugs, street-criminals with no class and no conscience.  They abuse their super-powers as much as they can, and they flaunt their power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. The more powerful an Epic, the higher they rise within their own ranks. Like most street-gangs they are always jostling within their own ranks for power.

This is not a two dimensional tale of good versus evil. The Reckoners are not without flaws of their own, and that gray area is what make this tale interesting.  There are layers here, and yes, it is a setup for the rest of the series, but I don’t care. I enjoyed the heck out of it, and can’t wait for the next installment!

Friday, September 20, 2013

The One-Eyed Man, by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

The Blurb:
In The One-Eyed Man: A Fugue With Winds and Accompaniment,  by L. E. Modesitt, Jr., the colony world of Stittara is no ordinary planet. For the interstellar Unity of the Ceylesian Arm, Stittara is the primary source of anagathics: drugs that have more than doubled the human life span. But the ecological balance that makes anagathics possible on Stittara is fragile, and the Unity government has a vital interest in making sure the flow of longevity drugs remains uninterrupted, even if it means uprooting the human settlements.

Offered the job of assessing the ecological impact of the human presence on Stittara, freelance consultant Dr. Paulo Verano jumps at the chance to escape the ruin of his personal life. He gets far more than he bargained for: Stittara’s atmosphere is populated with skytubes—gigantic, mysterious airborne organisms that drift like clouds above the surface of the planet. Their exact nature has eluded humanity for centuries, but Verano believes his conclusions about Stittara may hinge on understanding the skytubes’ role in the planet’s ecology—if he survives the hurricane winds, distrustful settlers, and secret agendas that impede his investigation at every turn.

My Review:
One thing you can always count on L.E. Modesitt Jr. to give you is a real morality tale.  He asks the tough questions about how far we are willing to go to and what we are willing to sacrifice, pointing out as always, that there WILL be sacrifices. Deciding what the sacrifices will be is never easy, but that tension makes for a great tale.

In a move that is a bit unusual, L.E. Modesitt Jr. begins this sci-fi fantasy in a divorce court. Dr. Paulo Verano is left wondering what to do with his share of the nothing, wondering if he will even be able to keep his business alive.  Also, most unusually, one of the supporting characters speak in cryptic rhymes.  The subtle use of short snippets of poetry at the beginning of some chapters serves to create an image of a wealth of culture in the mind of the reader, building the world without resorting a boring infodump.

Paulo, as a protagonist, is a real departure for Modesitt, in that he is not the naïve likeable young man usually found at the beginning of a Modesitt tale. Instead we meet a bitter, cynical and paranoid man. Paulo jumps at the opportunity his job offers him, glad to leave his selfish, ungrateful daughter and exwife behind, both in terms of distance and time. His reasoning is, during the short (to him) time he is gone,  145 years will have passed on his home world. They will have grown old and forgotten him, and his financial holdings will have recouped his losses.

Paulo’s cynicism and inability to trust affects each of his relationships. Of the passengers he travels with on the ship, none are what or who they appear to be. Several are lying as to their identities. Once on Stittara, he can’t be sure who is lying, and he is not sure who will harm him. He is not sure what his investigation will uncover, or how far those affected will go to protect their empires.

The world is vividly drawn in small strokes, emerging gradually as the tale progresses. The plot never stalls, and the action is both believable and engrossing. As always in Modesitt's work, music and the quest for love are a large part of the tale.The events that unfold, taking Paulo to the final crisis had me obsessively clicking to the next page, unable to put my Kindle down.  A wonderful read for true sci-fi lovers.

My only issue with this book is the incredibly high price the publisher set for the Kindle download. $10.99 in today’s market is highway robbery and may well keep the eBook sales down, which may be the publisher’s misguided intention.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Arthur: Grail Quest 1 by J.R. Rain

I stumbled across Arthur: Grail Quest 1, by J.R. Rain when I was cruising the top one-hundred Arthurian tales on Amazon (doesn't everyone?) and wondered what sort of a twist J.R. Rain would bring to the old grail-tale. The cover is quite misleading in that this book is an urban fantasy, and very little of it is truly Arthurian, although there are some references. But that is okay--the story itself it what is important, not the historical antecedents.

The Blurb:

Hidden deep within the ancient, mist-covered hills of Glastonbury, England is a secret that could forever change the world. A secret that could help usher in a new age of enlightenment for all mankind.

Or so the legend goes....Plagued by months of persistent dreams of King Arthur, Merlin and the Holy Grail, mystery novelist James Dupree finally sets out to England to understand the meaning behind his nightly visions. 

Upon arriving in Glastonbury, a locale deeply connected to stories of Camelot, Avalon and the Knights of the Round Table, James quickly discovers that not all is as it seems in this quaint little town. There's a raven-haired girl dying of a rare lung disease, knights with swords, and perhaps strangest of all is the man who emerges from the forest...a man who just might be the greatest king Britain has ever seen.

Something is happening in Glastonbury, something mysterious and powerful and not-of-this world, and somehow James Dupree is in the thick of it. Mankind is ready for the next great spiritual shift. But to do that, one man, one simple writer, must journey deep into the heart of a mystical land in search of a legendary relic.

But there are others who seek the treasure...dark forces who will stop at nothing to keep it for themselves, and end Dupree's quest for good.

At once inspiring and pulse-pounding, ARTHUR is for anyone who dares to dream—and dares to slay dragons.

My Review:

Well...this is certainly not a serious, knights-in-sweaty-armor kind of a book. It is a modern urban fantasy where the past intrudes upon the present and things quickly spiral out of control. It is, however, a window into the human condition, and done with humor and a light-hearted flair that makes for an enjoyable diversion.

I remained engaged though the book, although there were some moments of hmmm.... James is a bit of a wimp to start out with, Arthur is more like Thor on steroids, and Marion is an enigma. Rain does get a bit preachy when it comes to Arthur discussing new-age philosophy and God, but hey, it's his forum and I enjoyed the book over all.

There are dragons, there are knights and there is an evil-bad-dude--Merlin. He is definitely not your mama's Merlin. There is a lot of action and the book is fairly well paced. It is definitely a set up for a trilogy, and while it doesn't really have a satisfying end I felt that overall, it was an entertaining tale.