Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Making Sir Conan Doyle proud

Perfect trilogy end with promising future. Emma Jane Holloway has given us an excellent (re)introduction to Sherlock Holmes through his niece Evelina. The Baskerville Affairs was an excellent trilogy with plenty of girth (each book tops 500 pages). Be prepared to tuck in for an excellent weekend of steampunk revelry with more magic, pirates, and royalty of all sorts.

A Study in Ashes by Emma Jane Holloway

9780345537201A brilliant revival of Sherlock Holmes in this three part segue. BBC's TV show has once again made the Great Detective active in our modern imagination. He is a literary giant of lasting heritage. I was so pleased with how this trilogy has treated his legacy. The final of the series has only hardened the brilliancy of him and his niece. 

Sherlock is clearly a part of the story without being the main protagonist. His character treatment felt spot on with the original Doyle imagine of the man from Baker Street. As we draw to the end of the steam barons' mysterious war attempts, Evelina begins to evolve into her own magic and strength as a detective. Miss Holloway has clearly given us a friendly face to associate with as her new works develop into a steampunk greatness all their own. We have comfort as we start the series and finish reading the last lines realizing we have entered a whole new territory that can exist within Baker Street without Sherlock Holmes.

The third part is by far the longest of the set, but I felt that the length was not hampering to the amount of information we received. The characters are each developing so uniquely apart from each other before finding a common conclusion the treatment of events in date sequence/diary format made more sense than the first novel using that format (but for cohesion sake I'm happy it was there and now understand the big picture). I was not shocked by the ending in a firecracker explosion, but I was in no way expecting the ending as it developed. It sort of sneaked up on me while I was reading on velvet tipped feet. I actually really appreciated that type of mystery diversion tactic.

I completely recommend on purchasing the whole trilogy if you have ignored my previous recommendations and were waiting for everything to be published before buying in.

Here is to reaching my 75 goal for the holidays!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Quick Promotional Break

For any mentors in the Pitch Wars this week, please stop by my friends website for her pitch. She is incredibly talented. You can not only read her pitch, but there is also a synopsis section to see what she is up to in her writing projects.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Holiday Steampunk Weekend

Amazing long weekend off from work filled with good food and reading! Now that only leaves me 10 days left at the grindstone for the year. Whoop! While I stuffed myself of excellent Indian cuisine for the holidays, I also took to the book-nook with a warm afghan and snacks for steampunk gluttony. A great refresher for the next two weeks.

Lady of Resources by Shelley Adina

I had a high level of anticipation for this novel. It was very hard for me to put it off for my holiday reading binge. I love the first four novels in the Magnificent Devices (as witnessed in reviews earlier on my blog). This installment has all of our lovely characters from the first novels, but takes the focus into the history of the Mopsies! I adored those two little ragamuffins and their tenacious spirit. I was so excited to hear they would be garnering their own spotlight. 

Lady Claire's story had concluded with her departure to college for her dream of becoming an engineer. Now we are five years down the line at her graduation and the Mopsies graduation before making their higher education decisions. It is the first time we get to really follow the lives of the girls of the twins. Every orphan has a history even if most forget it and them (besides the Lady of course!). We were able to find the real family of Willie and its happily ever after. Now we get the chance to see where the Mopsies come from, and how they spectacularly ended up in the flock. Leave it to the Mopsies to do something with flourish.

Not only do the girls struggle for the first time in their lives over their character differences, they are struggling with their history. Neither remembers a childhood outside of rag-picking and thieving rich ladies who drive down the wrong streets. They are facing their next step in their education: the (dreaded) Finishing School or continue on with their education in physics and maths. (Side tangent: I greatly appreciated Ms. Adina's treatment of the feminine side of education. Lady Dunsmuir is certainly not a fop of a character because she went to finishing school and behaves as a well-bred lady. I truly find it refreshing in an era that is trying to churn out fem-bots of feminism by the dozens. You can be a strong, independent woman from the home if that is your choice and shouldn't be looked down upon.) They have been influenced by strong women of both persuasions. Which will they follow?

Back to the point at hand, Lady Clair may have created a home for them and love them, but it is nothing like family. That deep search for belonging and understanding a piece of ourselves is timeless.

I did miss Rosie, but the book easily garners a 5 star review. I highly recommend you go pick up a copy today at your local store or order an e-edition here.

Here is to heading back to Galbrieth!

Chasing the Star Garden by Melanie Karsak

I was amazed at this book. The beginning hooked me and never let go. The leading characters have such depth and realism. There is gritty, mature content without being lush or overkill in the shock department. The action paces through at quite the clip. You have the protagonists moving through a somewhat formulaic quest of modern adventurers hunting the clues of the ancients hidden in plain sight. While you expect the adventure to have its twists and blind turns, I was still surprised with the actual storyline.

Lily Stargazer has quickly become one of my favorite literary characters. She is fantastic. Her growth and development as she battles her current and past demons is heartfelt. She is a whirlwind of bad decisions that are very realistic. I appreciated the difference of her shocking decisions and struggle with being a better person. The ease of visualizing the characters was top notch in their pell mell rat race.

There is a fair smattering of historical figures and places but with plenty of other-worldly/timeline allusion to be obvious about its fictitious nature. Unlike others of the genre, it does not solely focus itself in London. We get to see other major metropolises of the Victorian era. This breath of fresh air really connected me to the experience. The idea of balloon races around the world was so much fun.

The way she has her airships work and the dynamics of the steampunk flair somehow continued to make me think about the Great Mouse Detective. I easily pictured Angus pedaling his little heart out like the bat sidekick. I think that also describes a level of whimsy that underlies this novel. Very Alice in Wonderland steampunk.

Melanie Karsak has written in the zombie genre before now, but I give this introduction to the steampunk genre a full 5 stars (easily, hands down). Sleep deprivation is worth it. I definitely look forward to following up with this series. Full recommendation to go pre-order your copy and some gift copies today for the holidays. Paperbacks hit store shelves this Wednesday.

Here is to a return to the Lady of Devices!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Alternate History is Butchery

I have ranted previously of my distaste for alternate history fiction. Even with the badge ALTERNATE in front of the history part, these novels pollute our understanding of history just for a garnered fifteen minutes of entertainment factor. It is always great to play the what-if game with hindsight being 20-20 and all, but we should have a responsibility to the future generations to get the story right (what happens in 30 years when the fiction part gets lost in translation?). Authors can create a fascinating world of how history could have been glorious with our romantic visions of the steampunk genre in an entirely created universe. That romanticism is what actually draws me to the movement most of the time. Emma Jane Holloway is one of my favorites by revitalizing a much beloved fictional character with modern twists of science. Chris Kohout fell drastically short for me by using very real, historical persons in his twist. I really thought it might have turned out differently and am very glad I only spent 99 cents.

Fate of Nations: Einstein Must Die! by Chris Kohout

The title is catchy and makes you want to read the synopsis to see if this story is going to have anything to offer. When I purchased the book, it had a different synopsis posted than the one up today and probably would have dissuaded me from reading. The brief promotional talked of war tanks melded with human psyche forever changing the landscape of war (very science fiction and "un"real at first glance) but set in the landscape of early Industrial Revolution America. Inventions by Einstein, Tesla and Edison were mentioned for that authentic feel. I was very mistaken after reading the first chapter and realizing that our main protagonist and antagonist would be Tesla and Edison themselves. Eek! Did I get suckered?

The action of the story was incredible. Fighting scenes followed by dramatic, heart-wrenching scientific advancement moved the story at a great clip. I must give it credit for making it hard to put down. You just absolutely get carried away on a tidal wave of activity. The climax of the story almost seems to occur at the beginning of the book leaving me wondering how the rest of the story will shape up (and if the author has ever taking a writing class on the structure of fiction), but you end up relishing the continuous ups and downs of war just as they really are.

There was a satisfying conclusion despite this being the first in a series. I'm not sure if I will progress along with the series, but this installment was certainly thought-provoking. There is a beautiful blend of philosophy brought about by war and technological advancement. The author brought forth a striking reality to the fiction.

The editing on this book was phenomenal. There were minimal grammatical and structural errors to trip up the story. If only the author had used such great creative powers with fictional heroes, I would have easily given this book 5 stars. My principles on muddying the waters of historical fact leave me at 3 stars; however, many others may not agree with my point of view and should thoroughly enjoy this novel.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Next Step in The Sundering

An excellent weekend for watching the poodles clean the yard and reading on the deck. I was invited to continue on with The Sundering series and after Paul Kemp's Godborn was excited to continue forth. I am still very honored to continue being invited to read these ARCs and happy to lend my review power to (hopefully) my many viewers. 

The Adversary by Erin M Evans

I am getting a little more settled with this series. Ms. Evans did a better job pulling the plot lines that came before her into her installment. This book really felt like it was supposed to be one of the series while being a standalone story. However, (don't you just hate those) I stumbled to get into this story from a writing perspective. Paul Kemp so far has had the best writing.

For this installment, I was back to the internet for research on the vast races that appear in the D&D landscape. Our main protagonist is a tiefling. Completely foreign to me, but I wanted to know what the background of the race was to understand how they fit into the relationship. I also took a brief look at what other stories these main characters had come from. They are the closest in the relational timeline to the plot point of the entire series, so far. Ms. Evans didn't need to "jump" her characters so far forward into time. I do feel the manner in which the time warp occurred was quite clever.

The initial chapters are a solid attempt at bringing some of the past story to the current reader. Unfortunately, I found the experience stumbling and choppy. I had a hard time distinguishing between moments of foreshadowing with moments of flashbacks despite the different fonts from the font (couldn't resist some wordplay and I promise it will make more sense when you read it). I forced myself to march on through the first third of the book. Then it started to simmer. The heat of the Hells warmed the story line and I found myself vested in the characters. Then the concluding third of the novel absolutely boiled over. The action was smooth and quick and got my heart pumping for the characters. There was a clear wrap up while leaving the ending open to the next author. 

I give this book a mid-level review. The price tag is once again hefty and the first third is slogging but the conclusion makes it very much worth the read. Buy it to own the whole set but rent it from the library by itself.

Check out more from Erin M Evans and The Adversary at her blog or the excellent Wizard of the Coasts product page.

Here is to heading back to the steampunk genre!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Russian Folklore

I seem to be coming across many more novels these days surrounding the Russian/Slavic theme. Code Breakers was an excellent insight into British-Russian relations during the first World War and Lost Girl on TV has covered some of the Russian demon baddies in their episodes. Now I find myself researching the old stories in full and finding how they may have influenced many of the folktales I grew up reading (or maybe the other way around? Which came first the chicken or the egg?).

Mistress of the Solstice by Anna Kashina

What drew me to the book was a new avenue of folklore for which I am not currently familiar. I am a sucker for folklore. I have read the Brothers Grimm, Goethe, Rhymes of Mother Goose, Aesop's Fables, and other lesser known Western folklore. I have also recently become familiar with the tales from the Celtic histories of Ireland (who isn't intrigued by a giant named McCool?). The Slavic stories were completely new to me, yet so very familiar. Baba Yaga is remarkably close to the witch in Hansel and Gretel. With the lack of travel, but for a very few rich people back in the "day," it would be easy for a well researched author to spread folktales from other cultures under the guise of the home culture.

Not knowing quite what to expect from the story, it started somewhat slowly for me. As I pushed along, the pacing hit the right stride, though. This was a very moving story. I was carried along by the anguish of the main characters and the intrigue from all the new Immortals of the Russian folktale pantheon. I couldn't help myself but further research these interesting characters. The main adventurer is appropriately named Ivan, and he has appropriately set out on a quest that has yet to be fully explained.

I was fascinated by the rich depth to the folklore and the interaction with each mythological god in Ivan's quest. MotS really captured the quest driven novel exceptionally. I was rooting for the hero all along the way and holding my breath during his tougher challenges. I even managed to answer two of Leshy's riddles in the blink of an eye. MotS was a very engaging, interactive novel. I was truly pleased with the divergence from the epic fantasy binge I have recently been undergoing.

I would recommend this novel to many. Especially those looking to broaden their horizons with yet another example of how we are connected as a whole.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Wizards of the Coast

My first invitation to read new works by a publishing group I have read several series from already. I read the Dragonlance Chronicles and Dragonlance Legends several years ago from a Christmas gift from my husband. He had read the series when he broke his leg as a child and was left indoors (a difficult task to keep him at). I was impressed that he had read an entire series that was not physics or engineering related and had to check it out. The invitation to read and review from these well established authors was kind of nerve wrecking to receive actually. 

The Companions by R.A. Salvatore

I was leery to start reading this book when I first received the invitation. While I have read the Dragonlance novels, I have not been introduced to Drizzt properly in the Forgotten Realms by R.A. Salvatore. They are certainly on my to-read list, but as it spans over 30 books, I have yet to dig into the world. The life of Drizzt and his companions is well established and known to the D&D world for its in-depth creation and cohesion. That knowledge had me very apprehensive to start The Sundering series when I received the invitation.

I just received another invitation for book three in the set and finally caved on reading the first two. There is just something special about being a beta reader for this massive part of fantasy literature, which goes so beyond the library into the homes of D&D players globally. I wasn't sure if I would be missing key elements on character backstory and plot lines when I began, but I jumped in head first anyway.

R.A. Salvatore wrote The Companions to be an introduction point for new readers. His works have been spanning the last two decades and covered the lives of Drizzt Do'Urden and the Companions of the Hall. To bring in a fresh new batch of readers, The Sundering series happens well into the future time line of the Forgotten Realms. The main characters have been given an interesting reincarnation to the new generation of readers. While I didn't feel like you needed the older series to understand this one, I did feel that there were too many allusions to past missions and anecdotes that were sorely missed.

The plot felt a bit chunky as you travel around in time and place following each of the main characters adventures before they converge in storylines. A little better editing might have been able to smooth out the placement of the chapters. We rush through 21 years of adventures in 350 pages. The writing and development were fantastic, however. There was such vivid and entrancing writing. You definitely get the sense of world creation from a professional writer. I could imagine the places and people quite clearly, which is good since many of the characters come from new (to me) races.

I would rate this book 3 stars for myself but much higher for those who have already appreciated the Forgotten Realms series. While I didn't feel lost in the story, I did feel that I kept missing something while I read. I'm not sure how this will fit into the other five novels proposed for The Sundering series. Since each is written by a different author, will they write about each others characters? Is there an ending for Drizzt?

Here is to the second installment!

Visit the product page for all the details and sample chapters.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

To a Very Special Author

It is momentous when a favorite author passes. I am still young, so many of the authors I grew up with are still here and writing strong. I can't quite remember the exact transition from young chapter books to full, mature reading. Typically my reading included more than the books just on the regular school list but most the time that fell to The Boxcar Children or Babysitter's Club series. (I would save up all my pocket money to come home with as many books as possible from the Scholastic Book Fair. Reader nerds dream!) At some point along the road, I was introduced to epic fantasy and Sara Douglass. That was well over a decade ago and I have been enjoying her works until 2011. I was very pleased when my in-laws kindly bought me her final publication, a collection of the never fully "published" short stories, for Christmas.

The Hall of Lost Footsteps by Sara Douglass

A beautiful collection of works that until now had been scattered all over the regions of Australian libraries and internet hidey-holes. The introduction by a true friend is beautiful and wonderfully matched to an author who shaped my reading niche as a teen. 

There are also a large quantity of stories that circulate around death and what it means to die. She struggled for years with cancer and had watched her mother face the same struggle. She also was a registered nurse and watched unconnected people through their struggles with death. The way people act with their loved ones as they die. How religion fits into the "bigger picture" and beliefs. The points of view she presents are eye opening. It is a look that many avoid in the modern society. 

There are pieces to tag along with her most famous Axis series. They don't expand over much on the knowledge presented through the nine volume series, but they are an excellent highlight into how much Ms Douglass put into her world building. Every series that she wrote was so in depth. They always blended her love for medieval history, religion and how we approach it, and sheer fantasy. Her characters were always full of struggle and development. She really was a queen of epic fantasy. Her short stories even managed to capture this in just a few pages.

It is a great collection of short stories. Some were great, some I will barely remember in a month from now. This probably isn't a book for everyone, but for a fan of Sara Douglass, I think it is an excellent piece to the collection. I am certainly glad I read it. Fond memories to a very fine author.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Man vs. the Nature Within

My hopes are slowing rising that authors are paying more attention to their second novels than the "future" sequels. They are making sure they have a fanbase who wants to keep on reading the series instead of taking their "genius" for granted and forgetting that Point B comes in between A and C. I am also being more realistic with myself that the sophomore flop is just characteristic of a bad author or, even worse, a really bad editor. As much as I may try to like them, because I actually like them-the person, there are just people who can't quite reach that bar no matter how they stretch. A third or fourth book may come out that is a gem, but it is usually a fluke like the first with the next two books falling flat on their covers. They tried and perhaps will have a 1:4 ratio, but I have already given up. Shawn Underhill thankfully did not fall into this category.

The Call by Shawn Underhill

What an excellent improvement! The second installment of the Great North Hills Pack series is fantastic. I certainly enjoyed the first novel, but I really loved the second novel. It gained a sense of maturity. The main female was no longer the main focus, but the pack as a whole this time around. Makes sense being about wolves that no one individual would shine even if one has special markings.

The titling of this sequel novel is so beautiful in its simplicity. The way Shawn Underhill handles the dilemma of man versus nature is beautiful. There is the call of the pack and family through love and unity. Then, there is the call of nature and solidarity. The lone wolf that stalks alone from pessimism and hurt can still feel the pull of family deep down inside. Isolation and absence do make the heart grow fonder after all. Abel and Erica struggle against an internal demon/dream/wish that is so well depicted in Underhill's writing. As the reader, you just absolutely get sucked into the emotions. 

Lars is a truly inspiring addition and I look forward to seeing where that story arc leads. The novel ended with my favorite type of cliffhanger. The one that doesn't really solve anything and makes me really, really want to know when the third book is coming out, yet if for some unfortunate writer's block, I will not feel a complete let down because the story did finish.

I incredibly, highly recommend this book to everyone. It suits all ages and just really needs to be read. It is $2.99 on Kindle. How can you pass that up?

Here is to some Russian mythology!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Back to the gaslight district

Time to join Sherlock Holmes, Evie, and the steam barons again! This series is definitely turning out to be worth the waiting, which favorably is not long for each publishing. AND, the digital prices are great at $5.99 per book with the paperback running on sale for $4.79 right now!!!! AND, Ms Holloway has even given us a few novella introduction pieces for free on Scribd to get us even more wrapped up in Evelina's world of romance and magic and dead bodies (delightful)!

A Study in Darkness by Emma Jane Holloway

Stellar follow up novel. Sophomore novels often suffer in my opinion from the introduction to the working world of the publishing industry (even with the self published). The idea has been born and the plot decided, but now your publisher asks you for three novels to get to the culmination of your story. As any great Sherlock novel should be, Ms Holloway's novels are in serial format. Each story builds off the ones that came before them, but do not rely on reading the previous to understand the present. Maybe that has helped the flow. They are all certainly beautifully interconnected, but the second doesn't stumble all over itself in unladylike fashion trying to catch the reader up on the past.

Ms Holloway comes back to Baker Street with a bang this time (quite literally!). Just as Evie thinks she has finally found that solution to the pesky problem of fitting into just one half of her two worlds, she gets blown into a whirlwind of embarrassment and blackmail. Very Victorian of her to do. I was very happy to see an increased presence/dynamic of Imogen and Nick. Childhood romances hold much more sway over me seeing as I married mine after a very Nick-Evie tango. Tobias is a great rogue and makes a stellar argument for brothers' of best friends everywhere, but I am certainly voting for Nick.

The villains are as dastardly as ever with new layers of despicable. The steampunk development with the nature of souls is just beautiful writing and painfully felt by the reader. Serafina is a marvelous, thought-provoking creation. Then you have the not-so-villainous bastards. I really enjoyed the addition of the East End crew. The interactions and balance of class structure in these books really makes them, in my opinion. 

I highly recommend this book to any who enjoys steampunk wit. It comes out next week and you should really consider ordering now.

Here is waiting a month for the "conclusion"!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Epic Fantasy for the Wee Ones

After a good weekend of cleaning up, I can now dust off the brain and write this review. 

At the Walls of Galbrieth by Alon Shalev

Wycaan Master 1 Just Front CoverI suppose this is to be a young adult fiction novel since all the protagonists are underage, but I never got the feel for it. There is no whining for utterly no reason, no angst, and nothing setting my teeth on edge. I certainly did not make a very good teenager, and I am not the biggest fan of reading about them. The creation of the New Adult genre has given me hope of some light-er reading that still has actual substance. Epic fantasy can really stretch the imagination and exhaust it, too. After finishing the incredible Baskerville Affair series and my dose of brain food, I was on the hunt again for the lighter side of fantasy without giving up the depth. So, I checked into the YA fantasy section. I selected this book from Twitter of all places and a sample chapter off Amazon. (Oh and I really couldn't resist the $2.99 Kindle tag.)

All of the leading party behave in a very adult manner and have little (or should I say more) sense that an adolescence would have. The whole story could easily have them being in their twenties and feeling a little more comfortable to me. Although, to play devil's advocate with myself, parents wouldn't have as much hardship with an elder son being conscripted compared to a naive teenager. But truthfully, I kept forgetting they were so young and kind of got shocked on the remembrance. It ultimately did not throw of the balance of the book and maybe even helped make it a little more enjoyable for the adult readers of the world. There is great action, flowering love, and coming-of-age that does fit in with a YA book, though. I was certainly impressed by the little indie find. 

There is nothing new or groundbreaking in the Wycaan world dynamics, but it still feels fresh to read. You have elves, humans, dwarves, and some other new fantasy races (which was a nice fresh touch and I hope we get to learn some back story) coming together from centuries of division. They have racism they must deal with and overcome. Very epic fantasy of the author to do. The magic system is complete even if we don't know all the details just yet. All the pieces fit together in the puzzle. We have read the edge pieces and are now zeroing in on the center. I look forward to finding out what the overall image is because my mind keeps coming up with all kinds of endings! I highly recommend this introduction to the series and look forward to purchasing the final two novels.

Here is to getting all four feet wet in the Snow!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Another Trip Down the GMO Aisle

My weekend just was drizzly and gray. The perfect weekend to finish up those pesky inside projects on my house. Oh well! Instead I spent the weekend cramming my brain with some seriously good brain food.

Donny and Ursula Save the World by Sharon Weil

Ok. What do I say about this book. It exceeded my expectations yet was not close to what I expected. Is that a conundrum or impossibility? The very perplexing nature of my reaction is well suited to this story. The writing style is not my favorite but suitable for a modern fiction piece where we have thrown grammar out the #window. There are clear plot lines and definite character development. Some of the content I find wholly unsuitable to modest company. It is a book I will have a hard time recommending. I think there is beauty to the spiritual connected-ness of the mycelium from mushrooms. (If you pull up one mushroom, you can unearth an entire forest floor. While I am allergic to the fungi spore family, I still find them to be an entirely useful and beautiful plant). However, I did not appreciate the Eros allusions.

While it is a book of fiction, it revolves around very strong fact and some pretty solid assumptions. It can help to open our eyes to a very devastating problem in our future. My problem with the book comes with the limited audience it will be able to reach. Some of my relations who really need to understand the importance of seed saving would never touch this book. They would find the lack of modesty mortifying. And I find that to be an entirely different subject to tackle with them. The two together just sort of taint the other, though I see the authors point in connecting them through Mother Earth.