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.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Al-Kabar, By Lee French

I have to say, Al-Kabar by indie author, Lee French has one of the best covers I've ever seen.

The Blurb:

Without a Sultan, corrupt Fire Dancers and their pompous Caliphs abuse power and wage fruitless wars across the parched sands of Serescine.

Fakhira wishes her family could afford to solve their problems with magic. Sometimes, wishes come true. In the worst possible way. A simple peasant, she'll have to find the strength to survive and shoulder her fate before the desert is bathed in the blood of innocents.

The Fires blaze in dozens of wild, capricious Dancers.

The Waters anoint only one champion, one Al-Kabar to serve--and save--the people of the desert.

My Review:

This is a complex tale about complex characters. Fakhiri has many layers, and is made of stronger stuff than she imagined. Al Kabar teeters on the brink of becoming that which he fights to over throw, and Tahjis the Rat tries to hold everything together. Korval becomes what he always believed he was, but not without a struggle.

The setting is vivid, and the action is pretty much non-stop. There are several places where twists I hadn't seen coming made their appearance, which made it a real reading adventure.

This is a good, immersive, stand-alone fantasy novel. I give it 5 stars and look forward to reading more novels by Lee French.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Husband's Secret, Liane Moriarty

Today we talk about The Husband's Secret, by Liane Moriarty. This is not fantasy by any means, but it is an excellent read, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. Released in 2013 by Berkley, and Penguin in the US, this book is currently a #1 bestseller at Amazon, and Moriarty is listed in the top 100 authors there. 

First the Blurb:
At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that’s not meant to be read

My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died. . .

Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . .

Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.

My review: This book is about loss and grief in Sydney, Australia--but it could easily have been set in Seattle or London and it would still feel true. These women are people you feel you know, and while they are not always likable, they are always true to who they are.

Several characters in the book have secrets they hold on to that they eventually reveal. The concepts of guilt and betrayal loom large in this tale, driving it to the shocking conclusion. Ethics and morality shift and bend under the stress, and three good women do things they consider heinous, and each finds ways to justify it.

The Berlin Wall is referred to throughout the novel as Cecelia’s daughter, Esther, works on her school project. And in fact, we learn that Cecilia met John-Paul on the day the Wall finally came down. The Wall is symbolic of many things in this tale, as Tess also has a connection to it.

Rachel is pinched and afraid to love anyone but her grandson. Her son is devastated by the loss of his sister and hurt by his mother’s distance. No matter how he tries, he can’t get close to her.

These are complicated women, faced with an unbearable situation. The actions and the final resolution is completely true to the characters. This is a slow-moving tale action-wise, but it literally tears through the emotional gamut. I give The Husband's Secret four and half stars.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Masks (The Lord Jester's Legacy Book 1) by E.M. Prazeman

I first ran across this book when I was working the NIWA table in the dealers' room at NorWesCon 2015, and fell in love with the gorgeous, intriguing cover. I had to run home and buy a Kindle download, and was I ever glad I did. Masks, book 1 in the Lord Jester's Legacy series by E.M. Prazeman is my kind of book--full of compelling characters and vivid settings.

But First, THE BLURB:

When Mark Seaton's father disappears and his mother is murdered, he becomes a pawn in a deadly world of nobles, masked courtiers, and mysterious beings that whisper in his mind.
The only way a pawn can survive is to gain position and power.
The only way Mark Seaton can be free, is to become a player.


Mark Seton is a terrific character.  Abused, and unsure of himself, Mark does something he knows is dangerous and fool-hardy, embarking a journey that is fraught with peril, some clear and some hidden.

As his alter-ego, Lark, Mark has courage and strength. But in order to bring Lark's true powers to fruition, Mark must decide who he is, and grasp that chance, despite the fact that it will both make and destroy him.

The other characters are well conceived--Lord Jester Gutter is intriguing and sinister. Obsidian is also a mystery--Colonel Rohn Evan is confusing, hard to know, yet compelling. You like and dislike him. The motives of the players are never what they appear.

The setting is rich, opulent and slightly degenerate. The underlying themes of this book bode well for the rest of the series, as do the characters that were introduced. 

If this book has a flaw it is in the proof-reading. It is clearly an indie production, editorially. But the characters and the story drew me back in every time I was knocked out of my reading reverie by a glaring cut & paste error, or some other thing that could have been caught before publication. 

I am definitely buying the next installment on this series, Confidante. I must say, Prazeman's covers are good representations of what lies within.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Dawn of Steam: First Light, by Jeffrey Cook with Sarah Symonds

Today we are going steam-punk, in a unique way. Dawn of Steam: First Light by Indie author Jeffrey Cook and Sarah Symonds is a compelling story of early 19th century politics, science, and meteorological mayhem.

But first The Blurb:
In 1815, in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, two of England's wealthiest lords place a high-stakes wager on whether a popular set of books, which claim that the author has traveled to many unknown corners of the globe, are truth or, more likely, wild fiction. First Light is an epistolary novel, told primarily through the eyes of former aide-de-camp Gregory Conan Watts, describing the journeys of the airship Dame Fortuna and its crew through journals and letters to his beloved fiancee.

The first recruit is, necessarily, the airship's owner: war hero, famed genius, and literal knight in steam-powered armor Sir James Coltrane. Persuading him to lend his talents and refitted airship to the venture requires bringing along his sister, his cousin, and the crew that flew with him during the Napoleonic Wars. Only with their aid can they track down a Scottish rifleman, a pair of shady carnies, and a guide with a strong personal investment in the stories.

When they set out, the wild places of the world, including the far American West, the Australian interior, darkest Africa, and other destinations are thought to be hostile enough. No one expects the trip to involve a legendary storm – or the Year Without a Summer of 1815-1816. The voyage is further complicated by the human element. Some parties are not at all happy with the post-war political map. Most problematic of all, the crew hired by the other side of the wager seem willing to win by any means necessary.

My Review:
First of all, this tale is well told in an epistolary form--that is, it is told through letters and journal entries. It is also historical fiction, in that it deals with the summer of 1815-16 and infamous Year Without A Summer.  But it is fantasy, and completely steampunk, so strap on your goggles--it's gonna be a bumpy ride. There will be steam, there will be gears, and there will be Sir James Coltrane's wondrous mechanical battle-suit!

We really do get to know and like the protagonist, Gregory Conan Watts through his letters to Cordelia, and vice-versa. We also get to know the other members of his crew, some better than others. Gregory is hired to photograph an expedition to various parts of the world that have only been considered mythical to this point. 

And we get to know the Dame Fortuna as the miraculous air-ship that she is.

The tale is filtered though Gregory's eyes, as he attempts to chronicle events as they happened.

I loved the twists and turns the plots takes. The 18th century prose is well-done in a literary way, slightly separating the reader from the events. But that is completely in keeping with the epistolary style of this book and in no way detracts from it.

I give this book 5 stars for an excellent adventure, well told. This is book one in a series and I am definitely buying book two, Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Tenth of December, by George Saunders

Hello!  I'm back after a three-month sabbatical, finishing my own new book and doing some major editing projects for clients. As (I hope) you can understand, I don't read when I am editing, because that is a whole different mindset from reading, and when I am in that frame of mind I dare not try to read for pleasure.

BUT, all was not lost. I listened to several fine audio books, and I have to say that is definitely great entertainment, far more intriguing to me than TV.

So, today I am featuring the audio book version of Tenth of December, a series of short stories by George Saunders. Saunders himself narrates it, and he is an incredible narrator, at least for his own work.

But first, THE BLURB:
One of the most important and blazingly original writers of his generation, George Saunders is an undisputed master of the short story, and Tenth of December is his most honest, accessible, and moving collection yet.

In the taut opener, "Victory Lap", a boy witnesses the attempted abduction of the girl next door and is faced with a harrowing choice: Does he ignore what he sees, or override years of smothering advice from his parents and act? In "Home", a combat-damaged soldier moves back in with his mother and struggles to reconcile the world he left with the one to which he has returned. And in the title story, a stunning meditation on imagination, memory, and loss, a middle-aged cancer patient walks into the woods to commit suicide, only to encounter a troubled young boy who, over the course of a fateful morning, gives the dying man a final chance to recall who he really is. A hapless, deluded owner of an antiques store; two mothers struggling to do the right thing; a teenage girl whose idealism is challenged by a brutal brush with reality; a man tormented by a series of pharmaceutical experiments that force him to lust, to love, to kill - the unforgettable characters that populate the pages of Tenth of December are vividly and lovingly infused with Saunders’s signature blend of exuberant prose, deep humanity, and stylistic innovation.

Writing brilliantly and profoundly about class, sex, love, loss, work, despair, and war, Saunders cuts to the core of the contemporary experience. These stories take on the big questions and explore the fault lines of our own morality, delving into the questions of what makes us good and what makes us human.

Unsettling, insightful, and hilarious, the stories in Tenth of December - through their manic energy, their focus on what is redeemable in human beings, and their generosity of spirit - not only entertain and delight; they fulfill Chekhov’s dictum that art should "prepare us for tenderness".

Wow! For once, a book that has a blurb that really tells the truth. Saunders has the ability to get inside each of his characters' heads, showing them sharply as unique individuals. They aren't always nice, and certainly not always moral as I see morality, but Saunders portrays them with such vivid strokes that you feel as if you understand their reasoning. 

For me, the most powerful tale in this collection of stunning tales was "Escape from Spiderhead." This sci-fi tale has an almost Vonnegut-like flavor. It is a stark journey into the depths to which we humans are capable of sinking in the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Where does punishment end and inhumanity begin? This story lays bare concepts regarding our view of crime and punishment that are difficult, but which are important to consider. The scenario is exaggerated, as it is set in a future world, but it exposes the callous view society has in regard to criminals and what punishment they might deserve. 

I can only say that this was an excellent, entertaining book to listen to, and I liked the audio book so much I bought the hard copy to take with me later this summer when I go on vacation.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Dragons In Pieces, Lee French

Dragons in Pieces, book one of the Maze Beset Trilogy by indie author Lee French is a creative, modern take on the old superhero story.

But first, THE BLURB:

All Bobby wanted was a girl to come home to after a hard day of work. Like the last one said before she left, he was going exactly two places - no and where – and he was happy with that. But somebody had other plans for him. A murder. The Terrorist Watch List. For what? Underage drinking? Things couldn't possibly get worse. Right?

Oh yes, they could.

A lot.

He wouldn't believe superheroes were real if he wasn't one himself.

Tiny robot dragons send him chasing his humanity and his future, on the trail to discovering his past and a place to call 'home'. If he's lucky, maybe he can get a beer there.


I have to say, I like Bobby a lot.  He is a bit of a dumb-ass, who  has been on a certain watch list all his life. He gets picked up for some stupid thing, and instead of Juvenile Detention, they take to a secret facility where they torture him and he goes to pieces--literally.  His physical body fragments in a cloud of tiny dragons the size of an American coin, the quarter.

There is a logic to his superpower. In this state he can think, he can free the others who've been kidnapped and tortured, and he can escape the facility. He can't lift anymore in that state than he can as a human being.  There are limits to his ability, which makes this improbable superhero so enjoyable.

Bobby's fellow inmates, Jayce, Alice, and Ai, all seem to demonstrate superpowers too.  The one other thing they have in common is their eyes are an odd shade of blue, leading them to some conclusions about their personal histories and why they are where they were targeted to be kidnapped by the government. 

Lee French writes well and clearly. Bobby's adventures, while completely improbable, seem perfectly reasonable when you're reading them. The logic behind the superpowers all four demonstrate is what keeps this entertaining book on track.

I highly recommend Dragons in Pieces as a great urban fantasy adventure, with wonderful, well-written characters. It's a complete departure from the usual urban fantasy fare.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Faces in the Water, Tonya Macalino

Today we are visiting one of the more creative post-apocalyptic novels I've ever read,  Faces in the Water (Shades of Venice Book 1), by indie author, Tonya Macalino.

But First, THE BLURB:
Who created that slide of silk across your skin as you reached for your cinematic lover? Who recorded the crushing weight of the grizzly as you fought for your life in the fictional wilderness? It is Lone Pine Pictures’ Alyse Kate Bryant who wraps your body in the story only your mind was privy to before.

A brilliant sensory immersion artist and a wild daredevil, Alyse will do almost anything for the perfect sensory file, but the violent death of her father has her teetering on the very edge of reckless sanity.

For just one night, Alyse seeks refuge in the arms of a beautiful stranger.

And her recklessness finally has consequences.

Now Alyse finds herself trapped in the flooded ruins of Venice, a quarantine camp for the carriers of Sleepers’ Syndrome. But it can never be that simple. Because the Sleepers’ Syndrome carriers who populate the camp are no longer as human as they seem.

The city of legend is bringing its legends back to life.

They come now, Alyse.


This book is gripping. Alyse is a complicated character, and her supporting cast is equally complicated. The culture of immersion-art as the TV of the future seems quite plausible, given the current penchant for reality shows. And Alyse is one of the most popular artists. She really is an adrenaline junkie.

The world Macalino builds in Venice is dark, mist-enshrouded and eerie--and what Alyse discovers there is disturbing. The plot keeps moving and the action never stops--always it is heading toward the final denouement.

Her experiences, shock, horror, anger--all are true and real. Alyse is one good, solid character. The reactions of her friends are all true too--loyalty, horror, abandonment--all reactions friends would have in varying and different degrees.

Vittoreo and Matteo are wonderfully drawn, sexy, and full of emotion and life Jurgen is exactly what he should be: powerful, charismatic and consumed with the conviction that he has the one final answer...he is a fabulous antagonist.

This is a dark, meaty, grownup novel for thinking people. I give it 5 full stars, because it stuck with me--I was thinking about Macalino's Venice all evening.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Mort, by Terry Pratchett

The great fantasy author, 
Sir Terry Pratchett, O.B.E died on March 12,2015--after suffering from a long battle with Alzheimers. One of the earliest influences on my sometimes smartassed style of writing was his watershed fantasy series, Discworld

Sir Terry took J. R. R. TolkienRobert E. HowardH. P. Lovecraft and William Shakespeare, and many other mythologies, folklores, and fairy tales, and mashed them up in this hilarious series of tales. There were 39 books in this trilogy! Talk about prolific.

One of my favorite books in the series is "Mort." It is the 4th book and is the first to give Death the main storyline.

But First, The Blurb:
Terry Pratchett's profoundly irreverent novels are consistent number one bestseller in England, where they have catapulted him into the highest echelons of parody next to Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, and Carl Hiaasen.

In this Discworld installment, Death comes to Mort with an offer he can't refuse -- especially since being, well, dead isn't compulsory.As Death's apprentice, he'll have free board and lodging, use of the company horse, and he won't need time off for family funerals. The position is everything Mort thought he'd ever wanted, until he discovers that this perfect job can be a killer on his love life.

As a teenager, Mort had a personality and temperament that made him rather unsuited to the family farming business. Mort's father, named Lezek, felt that Mort thought too much, which prevented him from achieving anything practical. Thus, Lezek took him to a local hiring fair, hoping that Mort would land an apprenticeship with some tradesman; not only would this provide a job for his son, but it would also make his son's propensity towards thinking someone else's problem.

The conversation between Lezek and his brother Hamish as they discuss Mort's future in the opening pages is hilarious and quite revealing in its simplicity. 

In this snippett, Lezek and Hamish are observing Mort as he attempts to frighten some birds away from the crop. "He's not stupid, mind" said Hamish. "Not what you'd call stupid."

"There's a brain there all right,"Lezek conceded. "Sometimes he starts thinking so hard you has to hit him round the head to get his attention. His granny taught him to read, see? I reckon it overheated his mind."

At the job fair, Mort at first has no luck attracting the interest of an employer. Then, just before the stroke of midnight, a man concealed in a black cloak arrives on a white horse. He says he is looking for a young man to assist him in his work and selects Mort for the job. The man turns out to be Death, and Mort is given an apprenticeship in ushering souls into the next world (though his father thinks he's been apprenticed to an undertaker).

Death is a great character, so completely human in his disenchantment with his career. He retires and Mort's apprenticeship takes off with some amazing ups and downs. 

Death's journey to happiness is one of the more hilarious of the Discworld tales.

I love the snarky way Pratchett took clichés and ran with them. He grabbed the boring, bland, overdone themes of western literature by the tail and swung them. When he set them down they were SO much more fun to watch!

If you love fantasy with humor, and aren't afraid to poke fun at the wry facts of life, Sir Terry Pratchett's work might be for you!

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Belgariad and the Mallorean, by David Eddings

Two series of books by the late David Eddings  form the basis of a watershed empire in the fantasy pantheon. I have discussed this series several times on this blog--I tend to measure all fantasy books by this epic saga.

Pawn of Prophecy is the opening book in a 5-book series ultimately called The Belgariad. First published in 1982, I have read five paperback copies of these books to death. If you have never read the Belgariad, try the the first book, Pawn of Prophecy,  and if you love fantasy, you will be swept away. Be prepared to sit down and read, because this book is a truly great, immersive read.

I love the opening lines of the first chapter of the opening book in the series, Pawn of Prophecy"The first thing the boy Garion remembered was the kitchen at Faldor's farm. For all the rest of his life he had a special warm feeling for kitchens and those peculiar sounds and smells that seemed somehow to combine into a bustling seriousness that had to do with love and food and comfort and security and, above all, home. No matter how high Garion rose in life, he never forgot that all his memories began in that kitchen."
Queen of Sorcery
A chance visit by an old story teller, Mr. Wolf changes everything, and Garion finds himself and his Aunt leaving the farm in search of something which has been stolen; traveling in the company of Durnik the Smith, and Mr. Wolf.As they travel, they meet up with Silk, a Drasnian spy, and Barak, Cherek Warrior.  Garion soon finds out that no one is what they seem to be.  Silk is actually Prince Kheldar of Drasnia; and Barak is actually the Earl of Trellheim of Cherek.  Only Durnik is who he always was; a good honest man of Sendaria, who just happens to be in love with Pol.

In this first book, Garion doesn't discover who he is, but knowing who he is not is very important, and now he know he is not technically his Aunt Pol's nephew, as he had always believed. This knowledge shakes his world to its foundations, making him fear that he was unwanted. The anger he feels over having been lied to is well portrayed, as is his eventual acceptance of his true path in life.

Enchanter's_End_Game_coverThis is a vivid series of books, written from the heart. What David Eddings does in the first chapters of this book is truly magical. He immediately drew me in and within two paragraphs I was immersed in this world--I could smell the smell scents of the kitchen and visualize the people who worked there so companionably in the generous employ of Farmer Faldor. I felt I knew them, and I felt I knew that farm.

These books were comforting right off the launching pad. 

Wikipedia described it as "picaresque" that is, of a genre of prose fiction depicting the adventures of a roguish hero of low social class who lives by his wits in a corrupt society. But just for the record--Wikipedia got it all wrong. It's a coming-of-age story. the tale of a boy  growing up through the events that shape him, becoming a man with strengths and weaknesses, and it is the story of the people he met on that journey.

Guardians of the WestThe Malloreon is a five-part fantasy book series written by David Eddings, which follows The Belgariad. The Malloreon is set in the same world as The Belgariad, but expands on several aspects of the setting, especially the eastern continent of Mallorea. At the end of The Belgariad, Garion has slain the evil god Torak and expects lasting peace.

Things being what they are in a fantasy universe, he does not get it.
The book opens on a peaceful world. The  foundling, Errand, has become Polgara's ward, and he has grown up on the farm with Polgara and Durnik, as their son. The first half of the first book deals with some really humorous situations, as everyone settles into a somewhat peaceful existence.

After eight years as King of Riva, Garion learns that he is still a figure of prophecy and bears the responsibility of defeating Torak's successor, the "Child of Dark." His son is kidnapped, and the next five books of the Mallorean detail the task of getting him back.

This is just as gripping a series of books as the Belgariad.

Belgarath_coverMany times I see authors try to force an exact, detailed picture of their world on the reader, and it ruins the story for me. An author doesn't have to beat me over the head with minute detail; that sort of thing bores me. David Eddings never fell into that trap. Eddings had the ability to convey a sense of place in a few well-chosen words.

David Eddings freely admitted that he wrote all his books with his wife, Leigh Eddings, and in later books of this series she is credited as his co-author.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Heart Search Book Three: Betrayal, by Carlie M.A. Cullen

Today we are looking at the third and final volume in the Heart Search Trilogy by Carlie M.A. CullenHeart Search  book three: Betrayal. I have to say, I love the cover--it really represents the story well, and the book beneath that cover does not disappoint in any way.

One bite started it all . . .

Joshua, Remy, and the twins are settled in their new life. However, life doesn’t always run smoothly. An argument between Becky and her twin causes unforeseen circumstances, an admission by Samir almost costs him his life, and the traitor provides critical information to Liam. But who is it?

As Jakki’s visions begin to focus on the turncoat’s activities, a member of the coven disappears, and others find themselves endangered.

And when Liam’s coven attacks, who will endure?

Fate continues to toy with mortals and immortals alike, and as more hearts descend into darkness, can they overcome the dangers they face and survive? 

Where to start? It is the third book in the trilogy, and so it picks at the end of the previous book, of course–but a new reader could start with this book and be intrigued.

For me, this book is a roller-coaster of events and emotion, as Samir’s and Joshua’s covens prepare to defend themselves from an upstart rival’s attempted takeover. The disappearance and kidnapping of one of their own casts suspicion on several people, and the discovery of a traitor in their midst is an unpleasant monkey-wrench tossed into the works, making it difficult for Samir and Joshua to know who to trust.

This book has many, many threads that are woven together to create a compelling story of intrigue, Stockholm Syndrome, and the arrogance that comes with immortality. It is filled with strong characters and inventive plot twists—some creepy, some chilling, and some downright horrifying.

Phoenix, the hidden traitor in their midst is an arrogant, self-absorbed twit. We don't find out until nearly the end just who Phoenix is, man or woman. This traitor claims to care for the person handed over as a hostage, but does it anyway, knowing the hostage will not be treated well. Phoenix manages to cause nothing but trouble before their identity is finally revealed.
Their enemy, Liam, is a low-class thug who has no problem starting the equivalent of a gang-war within the vampires’ society. His heavy-handed bullying of his subordinates and cruelty to his victims is evidence of that. His second in command, Max, is a much smarter vampire, a man who could have been quite decent under other circumstances and isn't quite sure that his maker is all that sane.

This is a fitting climax to a wonderful series. It’s a paranormal romance, so some graphic sex and a great deal of violence make this book definitely an adult read.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Darkness Rising Book 5: Broken, by Ross M. Kitson

Darkness Rising Book 5: Broken is the long awaited fifth installment in the sweeping  Prism Series, by Ross M. Kitson.  I LOVE this series! Book 5: Broken does not disappoint! It has all the hallmarks of classic high fantasy, with unique, gut-wrenching twists that, in this book, take the reader down dark paths.

But first, THE BLURB:

Beneath the veneer, beneath the beauty, there is always the coldness of stone.’

Tragedy has torn apart Emelia and her companions, a terrible betrayal instigated by the Darkmaster, Vildor. A devastated Jem struggles to control the fearful power of the crystals, becoming distant from his closest friends. Hunor and Orla are tested by a secret from the past, a revelation that will change everything between them. In the Dead City, Emelia begins a search for her past, a journey that will plunge her deeper into the darkness of Vildor and his twisted schemes.
Desperate to seek aid in their battle against Vildor, the companions travel north to Belgo, capital of North Artoria. But everything is not what it seems in the palace, and danger lurks in every shadow, whether cast by friend or foe. Separated and alone, can Emelia, Jem and Hunor hope to prevail? Or will the evils of the present and the past overcome them at last?

What I love most about this series is the way Kitson gets into the heads of his protagonists. Each one is individual and unique in their own right. There are many intriguing characters in this tale, and the evil ones, such as Vildor, are truly horrendous. There is no depth to which he will not sink to achieve their goal, that of gaining all the prisms.

Several times during this book I had the urge to throttle certain characters. Emelia makes some astounding decisions, as does Lady Orla. I felt like slapping both of them.

For me, Hunor's story in this particular episode is deeply compelling. Jem also faces some tough realities, and grows stronger from them. Marthir does have a role in this book, but only toward the end.

Kitson weaves his tales with the hand of the master. Each of the many story-lines is dealt with, and done in such a way that it was hard to put the book down, and hard to say good by to the book at the end. 

The next book will be the final book of the series, and I can't wait to get it! I have to know how this ends!!! Mr. Kitson--please finish writing book six NOW.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Metanoia, by Rachel Tsoumbakos

Australian indie author Rachel Tsoumbakos is known for her dystopian fiction, love of all things a bit twisted, and stark settings. Metanoia does not disappoint in any way!

But first THE BLURB:

Definition: n. a spiritual conversion or awakening; a fundamental change of character

Etymology: Greek 'change one's mind, repent'

Marli Anderson has just one task: assassinate Oscar La Monde, the man she once loved.

As assassin for hire for the prestigious Merrick’s Inc., she is sent back to her home town to kill the man she now loathes beyond all others—her husband. Considering they are on opposing sides of the uprising, Marli anticipates an easy task; ‘closure’ they call it. The fact that she can exact her revenge for his past discretions is just the icing on the cake.

When she arrives, the town has changed. The man she hated is unexpectedly welcoming. And the town’s folk—well, they’re just… different. Someone or something has transformed them all into a bunch of zombies. They appear to be harmless - but are they?

As she begins to uncover details of who may be behind the townsfolk’s’ metamorphosis, Marli is left fighting for the truth. Will she and Oscar be able to unravel the web of deception before it’s too late?

Should she trust her heart or her head? Which is less likely to get her killed?

Either way, METANOIA is a heart-stopping zombie apocalypse adventure that will keep you guessing at every twist and turn until the very end.

Let me just say at the outset: this thing starts off with a bang and keeps on going. I don’t normally read books about Zombies, unless the plot is about more than a rehash of lurid B-movies. This is a book about the hard realities of life on the edge, politics, and murder. And contrasting with these dark themes is tenderness, love, and loyalty.

Marli is a strong woman, a loner, and confused in many ways, but she has a backbone and she's not afraid to use it. Oscar is also a strong character, as are the others who make appearances in this tale.

I love the way that just when you think this book is going in one direction, it makes a sharp turn for the intriguing. The stress of life in that society, the environment, and the opposing agendas of the antagonists keep this this tale moving along at a real clip.

The society she places Marli and Oscar in is intricate and eerily possible, and is all the more frightening because it is so possible. All together this book took me away for two days of in-depth reading--mainly because I read it twice, back to back.

I strongly recommend this book to fans of dystopian fiction.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Blacksmith's Son, by Michael G. Manning

The Blacksmith's Son by Michael G. Manning is an interesting book. It is a voyage of discovery, with plenty of adventure midst a great amount of humor, and is the lead-off book for the Mageborn series. I had a great time with this book.

Mordecai’s simple life as the son of a blacksmith is transformed by the discovery of his magical birthright. As he journeys to understand the power within him he is drawn into a dangerous plot to destroy the Duke of Lancaster and undermine the Kingdom of Lothion. Love and treachery combine to embroil him in events he was never prepared to face. What he uncovers will change his understanding of the past, and alter the future of those around him.

Mort is a great character, both wise beyond his years and naive as heck. Manning goes deep into the world of Lothian, creating characters who are real and who respond to their circumstances in entirely realistic ways. 

At first he his unaware of his birthright, and as his gifts develop and his knack for trouble unfolds, Mort grows into a strong character. I liked the interactions between Mort, his friend of noble birth, Marcus, and his love for good, brave, honest Penny.

Devon Tremont is a complete villain, the perfect evil character, as is Father Tonnsdale. They are well-drawn and dramatic, and both fear Mort's emerging powers.

I liked this story because it is a story. The surroundings of the village and castle, the people within the castle, their values and morals make a great backdrop to this tale of political intrigue and high adventure. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Kandide and the Secrets of the Mist, by Diana S. Zimmerman

As a grandmother, I often check out books that are suitable to buy for my older grandchildren, books that may not be labeled as young adult. Beautifully illustrated by Maxine Gadd, Kandide and the Secrets of the Mist, by Diana S. Zimmerman is an excellent choice if you or you older child/young adult loves fantasy romance and fairy tales.


What if everything you love is suddenly gone?

And everything you fear is all you have?

Welcome to Calabiyau. Still a teen in human years, Kandide is the personification of perfection. She is also spoiled beyond belief and vain beyond control. You won’t like her when you first meet her. Nevertheless, she is heir to Calabiyau’s throne and the keeper of the “Gift”—the key to the survival for all Fée.

When a terrible accident leaves her less than perfect, her own mother mercilessly sends her to a treacherous land where strange beasts roam the dark lifeless forest, and even stranger Fée rule its secret kingdom. If she is to survive, Kandide must battle terrifying creatures, as well as her own internal repulsion for the ‘Imperfects’ she is now like. But that is just the beginning of her troubles. Within Calabiyau a presence far more deadly is emerging.

Kandide’s prankster brother, Teren, her tomboy sister, Tara, and a group of misfit Imperfects set off on a perilous journey to save their sister and their land. They must challenge the darkest of forces to face an evil far worse than ever imagined. Calaiyau is forever changed. Or is it? Nevertheless, she is heir to Calabiyau’s throne and the keeper of the “Gift”—the key to the survival for all Fée. When a terrible accident leaves her less than “perfect,” Kandide's own mother mercilessly sends her to a treacherous land where strange beasts roam the dark lifeless forest and even stranger Fée rule its secret kingdom. If she is to survive, Kandide must battle hideous creatures, as well as her own repulsion for the “Imperfects” that she has become. But that is just the beginning of her troubles. Within Calabiyau, a presence far more deadly is emerging. Kandide’s prankster brother, Teren, her tomboy sister, Tara, and a group of misfit Imperfects set off on a perilous journey to save their sister and their land. They must challenge the darkest of forces to face an evil far worse than any imagined. Kandide and her kingdom are forever changed. Or are they?


First, let me assure you that once you work your way past the daunting list of critical praises that make up a good portion of the front of this book, slog through the encyclopedic history of Kandide’s World, and arrive at the map, there is a really good story here midst the ornate descriptions, so stick with it, or skip those parts entirely. The actual story is great and the illustrations will definitely please young readers.

This is a tale that lays bare the falseness of eternally striving to achieve perfect beauty. In true fairytale fashion, this story lays bare the flaw in our own eye. Zimmerman frankly deals with the perception of physical beauty as determining ones worth. Yes, she wraps it up in flowery prose, but she hangs it out there, nonetheless. Vanity, lust for power, the irrational but pervasive fear of people with crippling disabilities, and the callous shunting aside of those less-than-beautiful who live among us forms the core of this tale.

Kandide herself is a little pain in the backside, but don’t quit on her. She is dealt a harsh lesson in compassion, learns to love, and sets out to right some wrongs. I enjoyed this tale enough to overlook the sometimes florid style of writing. It doesn’t ruin the book, and some readers will like that style.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Pawn of Prophecy, David Eddings

Pawn of Prophecy by the late David Eddings is a watershed book in the fantasy pantheon. It is the opening book in a 5-book series ultimately called The Belgariad. First published in 1982, I have read five paperback copies of this book to death.

But first, THE BLURB:

Long ago, the Storyteller claimed, in this first book of THE BELGARIAD, the evil god Torak drove men and Gods to war. But Belgarath the Sorcerer led men to reclaim the Orb that protected men of the West. So long as it lay at Riva, the prophecy went, men would be safe.

But Garion did not believe in such stories. Brought up on a quiet farm by his Aunt Pol, how could he know that the Apostate planned to wake dread Torak, or that he would be led on a quest of unparalleled magic and danger by those he loved--but did not know...?

Many times I see authors try to force an exact, detailed picture of their world on the reader, and it ruins the story for me. An author doesn't have to beat me over the head with minute detail; that sort of thing bores me. David Eddings never fell into that trap. Eddings had the ability to convey a sense of place in a few well-chosen words.

The book opens in the kitchen of a farmhouse with Garion's memories of playing under the table in a kitchen as small child. He, is being raised by his Aunt Pol who works as the cook on a prosperous farm in a place called Sendaria. Garion has friends, and as time progresses he even has a wistful almost-romance with one of the girls there. But all is not as it appears, and Garion knows nothing of the reality of his family or the world he lives in.

He has other friends; Durnik the smith who is in love with Garion's Aunt Pol, and a strange old traveling storyteller, Mr. Wolf whom his aunt seems to know well and whom she grudgingly tolerates despite his strange attire and love of ale.

News arrives at the farm that causes Aunt Pol to abruptly leave, embarking with Garion on a journey of far more than merely a week or two, and he suffers a long period of doubt and depression. Fifteen-year-old Garion is poised on the edge of manhood--half child, and half adult. Obviously they are on the run, and he is fearful and angry at being kept in the dark--and not knowing the truth, be begins to believe his life to that point was nothing but a lie. 

In this first book, he doesn't discover who he is, but knowing who he is not is important. This is a vivid book, written from the heart. What David Eddings does in the first chapters of this book is truly magical. He immediately drew me in and within two paragraphs I was immersed in this world--I could smell the smell scents of the kitchen and visualize the people who worked there so companionably in the generous employ of Farmer Faldor. I felt I knew them, and I felt I knew that farm.

If you have never read the Belgariad, try the the first book, and you will be swept away. Be prepared to sit down and read, because this book is a truly great, immersive read.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Mr. Composure, Shaun Allan

This is one time when the spin-off story is so far beyond the movie there is no comparison. Indie author Shaun Allan was commissioned to write this original novella as a serial for WattPad, and he really knocked it out of the park. It is short, only 46 pages, but it is a gripping read.

But First--THE BLURB:
"Once upon a time..."

All the best stories begin that way. Once upon a time, Jack climbed a beanstalk. Cinderella did go to the ball.

Once upon a time, his parents died.

When your parents are killed in front of you on the one day of the year when all crime is legal, what do you do?

You prepare for next year. You prepare for payback...


Specially commissioned by NBC Universal for the release of the film The Purge: Anarchy, Mr. Composure is "simply superb" and ranked #1!

From the first paragraph, this tale is gripping. The protagonist is never named, and in many ways we actually know more about the killer, whom our protagonist dubs Mr. Composure, and who has a first name: Tom, than we do our protagonist, despite the fact our protagonist is speaking to us all along.

His desire to get the man who killed his family becomes his reason for existence, and he spends the next year laying plans just for that opportunity. Society has completely collapsed, and starving, facing a life of thievery, he is taken in by a stranger and his wife.

The ending is--wow.

I give this tale 5 stars.