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.

Continuing with my History Theme

I am becoming an ever increasing fan of the history pool on Netgalley. There are so many points of view in history. Now with so many ways to reach out to the world around us, we are hearing from more than just the "victor's" side. I'm saddened and enlightened by what I have been learning about the subjects I was taught. I don't think my school meant to be so in the dark about these cultures, but my-oh-my were they.

The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

"What do we do with the Indian problem?" I thought we didn't have an Indian problem anymore. This book didn't feel like a text book written by a PhD holder. There are plenty of facts to make you sit up and think about the history you learned, but not so many your head is reeling from too much information. King also inserts amusing anecdotes that really help the reader connect with the material. These are real stories with real tragedy for the Native people. Scientific fact can be so impersonal and separated from our spirituality. That is the beauty of King's book, fact with humanity.

I was greatly enlightened by this book and disturbed at how little I learned previously. There is this culture that shaped the land I grew up in for centuries before misguided Europeans stumbled upon them. Also, I was amazed out how many of the historical events King brought up had managed to completely remain obsolete from my textbooks. I learned grueling facts about those eras, which now I certainly cannot remember because they were so far removed from my teenage dystopia of angst and immaturity. But, I am quite clear that there was never any mention of the Native history.

I highly recommend this book to all educators. It should certainly be part of some curriculum change. To be in the 21st century and still have people who don't have rights to the very land they worship, live, and work on saddens me. Yet, I am not shocked because what we don't know doesn't hurt us, correct? As we find the need to expand, we can just take from the original landowners because they don't own it, correct? Read this book. Grow yourself intellectually and spiritually. Know that you are making decisions about your life with all the information.

Here is to some more brain food!