Thursday, December 31, 2015

Would you travel with no baggage?

I have previously mentioned that every now and again I need a genre cleanse. I started reading way too many fantasy novels, and my head looses itself in the clouds. The whole world gets an aura of the unreal. So, I need a good grounding novel. I was searching through the ARC stack that had just come in to work. The title was intriguing; the cover was eye-catching; and the description seemed like a definite fit for my grounding experience. That is how I picked up No Baggage and definitely brought my head back to the Earth.

I hope everyone has a safe New Year's Eve and the best of wishes for 2016.

No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering by Clara Benson

This year has been a year; let me tell you. I have had some very strong highs and some incredibly low lows. I have had an existential crisis. What is the entire meaning of my life? Am I really doing what I want with it? The questions that we all ask ourselves at some point in our lives. Hopefully most of you have answered those questions with less destruction than I have. I think that is a large reason why this book resonated on a high level with me.

Clara Benson comes to many of the same conclusions in life that I have. Except she had the bravery to take her leap of faith in life from a much higher diving platform. I went small. She went huge by walking onto an airplane with a man she had known for less than a month--with nothing but a purse. Inspiring.

I can see where some reviews will argue against this book. It has the kind of material that are going to make people love it or hate it. This is NOT a travel story. This is a mental health story where traveling with no baggage and falling in love play major roles in the author's development. There is no preaching, but we are also experiencing a very personal story with open observations about why something was something to Clara. All items that could impact a reader negatively if they go into this book with the wrong mindset. Read this book from the beginning from the right starting point. You will connect with it.

I give it 4 stars because it is incredibly well written, moves along quickly, is witty, and makes my heart constrict by the end. It also resonated with me and my year personally. I have read a lot this year (my husband would even say too much. And I am possibly inclined to believe him). Many of those books have now fallen into a vague, hazy book graveyard of story plots I don't quite remember. When recommending books, I notice a certain set cropping up every time, no matter the reader. This is one of the ones I remember--vividly.

This is one of the books that will be on my mind for awhile and has me itching to go on my own no baggage trip. So here is to 2015. I say good riddance and don't follow up. Hello, 2016. You look so beautiful. I am going to be grateful for you and appreciate you daily.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Post Christmas catch up

I apologize for falling behind. The holiday season is a very non-internet focused time for me. I truly hope every enjoyed their time however they choose to spend it. There is just something magical about the end of the year. For me, it is time to reflect and release all the tensions that I have unwittingly let build up. I eat way too much unhealthy food and waste time playing with toys (and am grateful for every minute that I get to do those things). I do miss the snow, though. When I was a kid, this was the time when the first snows were coming, and they added to the magic of Christmas. Now winter doesn't seem to come around until January. Sigh.

Two things for today

1. Congratulations to the contest winner Joyce M for getting an excellent book to kick off the New Year.

2. A book review

Devices Brightly Shining by Shelley Adina

Devices Brightly ShiningI bought this when it first released but saved it to read on Christmas day. I am really getting on board with the little holiday novella concept. And as I really love this series, it was just a brilliant surprise. This little story is also a great set up for the next set of novels featuring Gloria Merriweather-Astor. 

We are presented here with just a few nights that revolve around a ball celebrating The Lady and Andrew's wedding. But absolutely no characters are left out for the festivities. Alice and Ian are basking in their admitted feelings. The Mopsies are finally young women finding love themselves. So much magic is in the air. Perfect of Christmas and getting the spirits right. A supremely great novella.

Get ready for Book 10 in January!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Final Dragonsworn now out!

I am pleased to announce that this review also comes with a FREE BOOK! That is right. I have a giveaway for an autographed, first edition of Soul of Smoke to get you started with the series if you have been holding off to see my final review on the value of the entire trilogy. Take this chance to get your copy and get started down a path you won't regret.

Truth of Embers by Caitlyn McFarland

We have come to the conclusion of the Dragonsworn trilogy. And let me just say, it has been a journey. I felt the potential in the first novel, but that doesn't always pan out the way a reader hopes. I am very pleased that I decided to stick with this series. Every novel was better than the one before. The emotions were heartfelt, the tensions were greater, and the stakes for humankind were higher. We still get some excellent thrills from the dragon battles and tension from Juli the spy. 

The war between Rhys and Owen hits a new level of strategy and intrigue (and can I just say grossness). I really was amazed at how much this novel grew in plot and storytelling. Everything moves along without letting anything become overdone or too drawn out.

The love stories for all the characters are possibly going to disappoint some readers. You won't be needing a fan to cool yourself down. These are not mushy, over the top romances. They are real, gritty relationships. All of the characters came together in a realistic way. There is the heartsworn couple, the love triangle, the dismissed lover, the forbidden lovers, and the unheartsworn couple. Ms. McFarland provides us with all the types of love. What makes any of them more valuable? Are they all the same kind of love? You really get to think on relationships with this book (and that is my type of romance).

The final novel also deals with the different kinds of leadership. The struggles between wanting power and wanting to do something for the people around us. I really just ended up being impressed with how much a dragon romance could make me think about my own life. While I wanted to punch Kai in the first novel, the story does not leave much room for her continued whining. Life keeps throwing some very harsh lessons her way. She is no longer a 20 year old pampered college student; she is queen of the dragons. 

4 stars for the growth factor, and I greatly look forward to more from Caitlyn McFarland. Now hurry up and enter that giveaway above!!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Murder mystery to make Sherlock Holmes jealous

So why did I pick this novel? The description actually gave me some hope for a good mystery, but mostly it was the name. It has been sitting on my Kindle shelf for a little while being neglected in favor of my more favorite authors. And that just really isn't fair of me. I have found some truly good new authors on Netgalley. Very few picks have led me astray. Most all of them have been in a mystery/thriller capacity. I seem to be very hard to please in that matter. But this one got an award. It has to be better, right? Found out below.

The Labyrinth of the Scriptorium by Hitoshi Goto

Can I just take a moment to say--cool title!! I have spent many hours pondering why mystery/thriller genre titles do not amuse me (I know, I know, what sane person wastes hours pondering such things?--a bookworm). Modern mystery writers are too glitzy. That is what I came up with in the end. The stories now are so focused on some action or racy, edgy detail to set their mystery apart from every other best seller. The world is getting faster, and our attention spans are getting shorter. No one seems to care if you know who-dun'it by the third chapter as long as it was a fun ride.

Now there is every possibility that some of this novel got lost in the translation, but I have a gut feeling that it is all very accurate. From the style of writing, it just seems to a have an easy ability to cross the language barrier. Goto is taking his narrative point from the great Sherlock Holmes detective writing. A mystery of layers and complexity. Open clues and hints amidst such detailed scene building. I got to the end of the story so perplexed I wasn't even sure which mystery I was trying to solve.

The whole story is a Russian nesting doll of mysteries. I have to admit I completely lost track of the details in such a good way. Some readers may find this to be too much. This is not light, entertaining filler. This is an honest-to-goodness brain tickler. You really have to think about what you are reading. You can even tell when something being presented in the narrative is clearly an important detail, yet you have no one idea who the murderer is at the end. 

Then he up and went with ending it solving a small fraction of one of the inner mysteries instead of the big reveal. That we will get in his second novel. Which frustratingly mixed news: it has been written but I have been unable to find any indication on a translation. Egad! It will be hard to recommend this to anyone like myself that gets hooked on having to know. If you can be satisfied with the resolution of a mini mystery and would enjoy a good stretch of the brain muscle, by all means, pick this up. It will be worth it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Diving down the wonky rabbit hole again

Today Murphy's Law just seriously took me to the cleaners. What I look forward to for the night is some time with a good book (The Young Dread releases today) and good cuddle with my poodles. So, I'll complete some catharsis and write up a review on a very special book.

The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl by Ishbelle Bee

The second in the Peculiar Adventures of John Loveheart, Esq. series. If you recall, I could not rave enough about the first novel (review here) this summer. The second in the series did not disappoint. These novels are seriously fantastic in their disturbing glory. I somehow end up at the last sentence wondering about my sanity. Should I really find these novels so good? Am I disturbed? The answers are yes and no. Sometimes you just need a good dark fairytale to shake the doldrums from your day.

This go around John Loveheart falls in love. What do you get when a completely mad man falls in love with a brutalized, desensitized woman? The most wonderful of Mad Hatter level love stories. They are trying to fall in love while a cannibalistic cult is running through the bodies on some crazy munchies bender. These books just keep the creep factor coming.

Boo Boo is a girl who gets adopted by the world's worst foster father with a predilection for butterflies. She has a very interesting imaginary (or not?) friend. There is absolutely no hope for her to come out normal. Perfect for the completely deranged John Loveheart.

We get to work with Detective White and Constable Walnut again. A very special pair of law enforcers to appreciate the Christmas presents of John Loveheart. I was actually surprised how much I appreciated these characters. They are a good balance to the smorgasbord of weird.

The beautiful typography continues in this novel. It actually jumps off from the first page, the only hiccup in the book from me. The crazy seems to start too soon as if there is no transition period to adjust to that level but that sensation didn't last for more than a couple of chapters.

I cannot wait for the next book!!!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Faery tales of yore

With November comes chilly mornings and nights with plenty of rainy sessions in between. Bad for my motivation to knock things off my to-do list. Great for my to-read pile dwindling.

The Land of the Green Men by Carolyne Larrington

I'll have to give this one 3 stars. The author has clearly done years of research on the vast array of folktales around the British Isles, scouring oral history, preserved documents, and theses about all that history. She even brings modern fantasy big shots who use the very same mythic legends to develop their own tales for the modern reader to the argument table. An attempt to bring the ever changing, developing youth in touch with their rustic roots of wonder and awe.

The part that is lacking for me is the heart, though. The whole essay lacks the essence of the fairy livelihood. It misses out on the actual wonder and awe part. All of it reads like a semi-dry lecture paper that gets buried at the back of the library to collect dust. And this is coming from a huge folktale enthusiast who has read some really dry academic papers on the subject up to the soul embracing exploration of myth with fiction.

I also was not a fan of "filler" pages that recap an entire epic fantasy novel from the 70s. (Granted I'm missing the reference completely as I am neither British nor from that era; however, I don't think I'm totally amiss in my point that an entire recap of the plot line is unnecessary for this dissertation.) The author mentions the trickster nature of the fairy nation, yet somehow misses the feeling in her actual writing.

Pick it up if you are looking for a comprehensive look into the myths of the British Isles. Fairy creatures from brownies to the kings of the fae nation are all present here with the variants particular to region. The whole compilation is very well laid out, if only it had the heart.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Fall is in full swing

Like the snazzy new decorations on the blog? I felt that is was time to start getting festive with the theme. I hope everyone had an excellent Halloween. It is such a wonderful holiday. I thought about what review to post that would coincide with the creepy and really just could not choose an exact book to match, there are just too many good ones. Instead, I handed out treats to the little ones at work dressed in full Harry Potter regalia. Sweet nerd moments.

And now we are into November. Crazy!

Arrows of Darkness by B.I. Woolet

Arrows of Darkness CoverThe series continues to be a wonderful fairy tale in the constellations. The story opens pretty painfully but with something that is unfortunately all too prominent these days for young readers. You can tell from the title and opening chapter that this novel is going to deal with the darker side of our hearts. 

While sadness rains down upon his family, Jackson eagerly pushes forward to his dear Arcas where there is no personal pain just hopeful longing for a princess. Boy does he get a handful when he touches down! This novel is action packed from the start.

This go around we get adventure in the vein of a pirate escapade or maybe Indiana Jones, in my opinion, instead of a Greek mythology quest like the first novel. All the players have been laid out and the world developed. Now we get to just appreciate a good run through the wilds--if only life were that simple. Jackson arrives in Arcas to a new overlord who plans on being worse than the first. From his first moment, he must pick up the hero's mantle again. All of the characters are back from the first novel with even more to offer. I really enjoyed the development of Princess Andromeda's parents. And then there are the actual pirates. Classic.

Another fun read with plenty of astronomy and mythology in there as well. We tangle with the darker issues facing children, but in a way that builds constructive conversation. These continue to be great books for the classroom. They are engaging and have so much potential for science lessons right along with the story. I will continue to strongly recommend these books for young readers, parents, and teachers alike.

Here's to the holiday season!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Book launch day for Patrick Weekes

Now for the big news I promised Sunday. I have taken the plunge. I have left the shackles of an 8-5 desk job to be with my beloved books. I am now a low-paid bookseller with varying hours, but I am loving every minute of it. The day is full of the excitement of books. Recommendations, news on the latest authors, what is publishing next spring, etc. It really is special to be working with something you enjoy so much on an internal level. I am very glad I took the plunge to switch career fields (despite the jitters that came from jumping out of my comfort zone, which is not a forte of mine). And I owe it all to my amazing husband for allowing me this opportunity. He is the best.

Now for the reviews for today. In honor of The Paladin Caper launching today, I bring you two reviews! From an author who largely writes video game action scenes or companion novels to the latest titles in the Bioware suite, we have a series of books that really managed to surprise me. I was really feeling the need for a Discworld level book. I found an entire series available on Netgalley to gear up for the launch today. Sold!

The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes

The first in the wacky of adventures of Loch and her crew. I am unclear if this is supposed to stop with the release of The Paladin Caper today or continue forth into an unknown length series in true Terry Pratchett style. Either way, I am satisfied with where it is going so far. 

We have a wizard, an alchemist, an acrobat, a thief (and one time scout in the military), an unicorn, a virgin for said unicorn, and a death priestess. What can't that group accomplish?

The adventure has whimsy that comes from the story not taking itself too seriously. There is plenty of action and movement through the characters, but the prose never gets bogged down in the monotonous. Most people know what a con is and how it functions. Especially with Ocean's 11-50 in the last decade breaking down the "plan" for us. Most people also know that nothing goes to plan in a good con comedy. The botches are what make the characters react so we can laugh. The Palace Job did just that for me. It lifted my spirits. Four stars only because it was not ground breaking in any sense (not every good book needs to be).

The Prophecy Con by Patrick Weekes

I shall now admit something utterly ridiculous. I could not keep these two titles straight on my Kindle!! The first novel deals largely with a prophecy and this novel starts focusing immediately on the book the crew stole in the first novel-not a prophecy. I really kept thinking my copies had gotten switched somehow. Maybe that tainted my reading experience a little. Or maybe it was trying to read three con capers in three days (I failed and have only completed the first two).

Whatever it was, I really lost touch with this story a couple of times. The bright (and redeeming) side is it always managed to pull me back in to read more.

No surprises, no plot twists. All very formulaic and wonderful for its continuity. Not something I will often say about the books I read (actually it is a key reason for my disdain of the mystery genre). Discworld doesn't really have much difference in its storylines, but they are brilliant. It is the characters and the comedic relief they bring to our lives that make them worth reading. This series is shaping up to be exactly that same way. Their blunders and consistent inability to have a plan go off without a hitch just make the "real" world suck just a little bit less. 3 1/2 stars for this follow up Rogues of the Republic novel.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Cover Reveal Sunday!

While some of these may be old news to many, I apologize. Halloween is approaching and it is my favorite holiday. I easily get sidetracked at this time of year in all things pumpkin and costume-y. I also very brilliant news I look forward to sharing next week! So please check back with me then and accept my profuse apologies for being absent. It will be getting more frequent in the future.

The first of my cover releases that I am excited for in the new year belongs to Rod Duncan with the third in his Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire series releasing in February. The Custodian of Marvels is coming off of a rocky second book for me, but I am just excited more to see if we are able to recapture the brilliance of The Bulletcatcher's Daugther.


The second cover reveal comes from Kevin Hoffman with the release of his second book in the Sigilord Chronicles. The unfortunate part with this one however comes from a lack of a release date still. I'm sure it will be in the new year, but it may be considerably into the new year with no clues on publication on his page yet. Hopefully the lack of posts means he is buried deep in some corner working hard on The Blood Sigil.

The Blood Sigil

My third cover reveal is possibly my complete favorite of them. I was already super amped for Traveler (number 2 in the Seeker series) coming January 12, 2016 from Arwen Elys Dayton. But now I present you with the cover for the short story that we will receive in between!! The Young Dread will be available November 12th.

Okay, okay, enough cover reveals for now. Check back with me next week for some BIG reviews and ever Bigger news.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Book tour for ARROWS OF DARKNESS and a free copy!!

It is the last day for the book tour of Arrows of Darkness by BI Woolet. You have already read my interview with the duo authors, but I have some extra goodies to get you excited for the latest release-including a copy of both Arrows of Darkness and The Hunter, The Bear and the Seventh Sister*. The contest will end on October 15th. Get scoring those points below for your chance at this great series!

Follow along Jackson's journey with this great map of the land of Arcas.

How about an article from the authors on their fantastic beasts?
Sea Monsters and the Bear Next Door
By B. I. Woolet

“Man’s destruction and bloodshed now appeared trivial and small next to these uncontrollable beasts of nature.” – Arrows of Darkness

From nasty orcs and a greedy dragon in Middle Earth to fluting fauns and a brave mouse in Narnia, fantasy worlds are full of interesting creatures! We love that the World of Arcas is also bursting with fascinating, strange, and terrifying creatures.

In The Hunter, the Bear, and the Seventh Sister, its immediately evident that Jackson has entered another realm when the white-winged Cygnus grabs him mid-air in the bright triune sunlight and safely lands him next to the little cabin in Starling Forest. After escaping the talons of a freakishly large black raven, Jackson then meets Otava. He’s a furry, talking brown bear inspired by Usra Major (the Great Bear in the night sky) and named from the Finnish word for the constellation. Though Otava is powerfully strong and well-armed with an arsenal of weapons, he’s also nervously paranoid, doesn’t like change, and loves cooking even more than his medieval artillery. Since the Big Dipper is also part of his constellation, Otava’s favorite soup dipper likes to enter the story often as a quirky astronomy joke on the side.  He’s our lovable, loyal, but not-so-huggable big bear friend.

In Arrows of Darkness, we get to enjoy the talking bear-next-door again, but massive sea monsters dive into the story to shake things up. Cetus is the most famous and mystical watery monster in the Kingdom of Altair. Bridled and ridden by a duo of strange river nymphs, this translucent, whale-like creature randomly bursts through the surface and capsizes anyone in its way. His haphazard, destructive tendencies frighten most in Arcas from ever braving the water.

While Cetus destroys like a raging bull, our other sea monster calculates its attack with lust for flesh and pleasure. Minaruja is a titan terror of the Ligeian Sea. This giant water snake (from the Hydra constellation) strikes without warning and injects venom into its prey. One seamen describes the day that the dreadful villain Sephdar got attacked by Minaruja and barely escaped alive: “Minaruja’s serpent head shook him back and forth and back and forth like a rabid dog shaking a helpless rabbit […] To thee ruins he stumbled with a black hole in his middle and a black poison ever pumping through his veins.” 

So, if you like mystical, larger-than-life monsters and talking bears, stick around because the World of Arcas has only begun to unleash the stellar creatures within! 
Visit any of these great links for book trailers and exciting information about the World of Arcas series.

Visit any of the sites below for more information and news about the World of Arcas, great book trailers, and where to get your copy of the books.

Thanks for stopping by my leg of the Arrows of Darkness tour by Xpresso Books.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Release Day Interview with B.I. Woolet

I cannot believe it is already October. Wow. I don't know where my summer went! (Oh yeah--it went to reading some amazing books. Here is to the continuation of good reading.) The leaves are in full force changing to beautiful reds and oranges. My yard is surrounded by a gentle fire. But my least favorite of their activities is actually falling all over my yard. The graveyard of dead leaves just means time to get to raking all over again. Cool mornings and evenings means it is also time to pull out the scarves and pumpkin-spiced drinks, so every dark cloud has its silver lining.

Today is the release of the second book from World of Arcas authors B.I. Woolet. To celebrate this awesome occasion I did an interview with them again. You may remember the duo from their previous interview on my blog as well as a review of The Hunter, The Bear, and The Seventh Sister. We join Jackson again on his adventures in Arrows of Darkness.

A) In our last interview you talked about the joys of having a hobby together. As a partnership of authors, how do you divide up the writing tasks? What parts are inspired by whom?

BI) We usually brainstorm through the overarching plotline together and haggle over the details as we go. Some times, one of us gets inspired about a scene and just starts writing. When a new section is first scripted, the other reads it and either approves or gives a “yuck” face, and thus editing begins! I (Ila) spend the most time physically writing and editing, whereas Benji splits up his time between writing a little, dreaming up crazy creatures and scenarios, researching astronomy stuff, and managing the business side of things.

In Arrows of Darkness, Benji became inspired with the idea to create a Lagoon. He saw a picture of the Lagoon Nebula while researching and thought our characters most definitely needed to get lost in it! I had no clue what he was imagining, so he just took over the keyboard and started writing. He put down one page to cast the vision, and I finished it by making each character’s  nightmares come to life over 3 chapters of wet, foggy craziness.  So, to put it simply, Benji’s more into big ideas and driving action, while I’m more into the literary details of manipulating words and character interactions.

A) With your second book releasing October 2nd, do you feel like seasoned pros in the publishing business? Or are there still things to be learned?

BI) Oh, goodness, no! We still feel like amateurs in the publishing world, though we are getting a little more comfortable being called “authors” than we used to be. We’ve definitely learned a lot about finding our audience, print formatting, and marketing. Hopefully, we will continue to tweak, change, and grow with each book.

A) Are you stopping at a trilogy or are you going for a series?

BI) We aren’t completely sure how long the World of Arcas series will go. We have exciting ideas of stories that would awaken the heroes and wars from ages past, but we also could end up extending Jackson’s story beyond the trilogy arc. We have some other book ideas that we have been thinking about outside of fantasy, but we are definitely going to finish Jackson’s escapades before we tackle any new realms! Nevertheless, the star-studded world of Arcas will probably always be beckoning us back for just one more adventure…

Check back next week as I will have an awesome giveaway for copies of both books from the World of Arcas and a review for the book!!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Who says you can't play with what you read?

Fantasy books are so mesmerizing. They take you into another world and erase all your problems for a few days. They are also incredibly lofty and take some serious reading prowess to get through. If the whole series hasn't been published, you could be waiting years for the next one to come out.

I needed a break from all the heavy reading. When that happens, I head to the tried and true section for young readers. The books are fun and take a day of magnificent binging to finish up. Perfect reading break!

Chasing Vermeer and The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett

I went to the local library for a set of easy books that didn't end up being on the shelf but sitting on the shelf above was a spine I recognized. I read Chasing Vermeer for my freshmen English young adult class. I remember the book being a lot of fun to read. Next to that book was several more by the same author. I had found my quick reading diversion. My book pallet cleanse.

I reread Chasing Vermeer to reorient myself with the series. The story line is not overly complicated, but the writing is breezy and exciting. I stayed invested in the story the entire time. The young gumshoes even manage to have a mystery that takes longer than the first three chapters to figure out. Brett Helquist also does some amazing illustrations that have there own little interactive game. These were truly a great, fun reading break.

I highly recommend these books for young readers. They will get boys and girls interested in picking up the book after they have put it down and keep reading.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

An end to the conquest of Ethar

This has been an incredibly interesting month. The last three days I have been laid up sick. I know it is bad when I am not even motivated to read. I apologize for this review being behind schedule. Hope this little bug decides to move on quickly.

Darken the Stars by Amy Bartol

This week, we now have the conclusion to the Kricket trilogy. After this series, I have come to a new appreciation for the Sci-Fi genre I had previously neglected. While I wouldn't really classify the characters as aliens (which is largely why I didn't turn away from the story) with their earthly appearance and similar technologies, they do exist on another planet and have genetically modified extras. The brilliance of these aliens is the connectivity that can be felt by the reader. By the end of the trilogy, I feel invested in the lives of the major characters.

One of the most interesting parts from the third novel comes from the development of Kyon and Kricket. That would be the most interesting book club conversation. The author did an excellent job of showing some real emotional and relationship growth for Kricket over these three novels. Plus, I will admit that Kyon is an incredibly fascinating character that you don't get in many novels.

I found the ending of the novel a little plain after all the adventure and personal roller coasters. It wasn't an abrupt ending with no conclusion. All the storylines were nicely tied up, but they somehow didn't have the punch as the rest of the novel. I was also disappointed that I didn't get more Phlix before the end. So this is a bittersweet review. I am sad to say goodbye to Kricket, but I enjoyed the adventure and romance.

Stop by your local indie store or Amazon and take a look at the series.

Monday, September 14, 2015

What an overhaul!

I cannot believe how much growth happened in just one book. I also cannot believe that it has only been two months since I had the opportunity to introduce the first book in the Dragonsworn trilogy. Where I was barely able to give Soul of Smoke 3 stars, I am happy to be able to rate Shadow of Flame with 4 stars. Caitlyn you have come a long way since 12th grade English, happy release day (again)!

Shadow of Flame by Caitlyn McFarland

The angsty transition into adulthood tones down to a much more toreable level this time around without losing pacing and interest. We have the development of Rhys and Kai along with the pressures of life in a monarchy. There is intrigue as the gang tries to hunt down a spy. There is heart pumping action with skirmishes, treasure hunts, curses, and suppressed love. I can even say that a couple points of the plot managed to swing out of nowhere. McFarland makes statements towards the obvious suspects in order to throw the reader off the track which surprisingly worked. Truly impressed with the story development after the somewhat lackluster approach of the first novel.

As I hoped with the first novel, dragons were a more obvious part of the story. With the war ramping up, the characters are spending more time in their dragon forms. And who doesn't love dragons? I am still certainly spoiled by Naomi Novik's in depth breed depiction, but I feel like we got to be a little more involved with each of McFarland's creations this time around. The mythology is developing into a fully fledged authorverse.

Which brings me to my only came complaint with this novel. The intermixed Welsh is a neat touch (and part of that whole world building thing) but not really worth it to me as the language could sometimes interrupt the flow as I tried to sound it out in my head (spending more time with phoentics than enjoying the story--but I could just be weird like that). The rest of the plot and dialogue moved with a more resolved structure, though. I am very amazed at the amount of growth in the writing ability. The price is incredibly right on this release day too. I recommend you check it out. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Diseray is in disarray

September is now here. Everyone is joyously gabbing about pumpkin lattes and pulling out the scarves. Which suits me just fine because I absolutely adore scarves and hats and probably own way to many for a single individual to ever wear in a season. The exciting part of fall to me is curling up next to the fire place wrapped in blankets (which I also happen to have way too many of), drinking something warm, and reading a good book. I could say that I load up on galleys at this time of the year, but let's be honest--I load up on good books all year and use the season as an excuse.

Hunter by Mercedes Lackey

One of the great things about Netgalley has been developing new authors for my bookshelf. I have really come across some authors that have the potential to turn into the next legendary fantasy authors. Other times, I get the great opportunity to read a story from one of those legends. Disney Book Group allowed me that opportunity with an advance copy from fantasy legend herself, Mercedes Lackey.

Mercedes Lackey is dipping her toes into the YA dystopia genre today. Her book, Hunter, releases in the United States. While she is not unfamiliar with writing for teens, she has entered the more modern, urban field of dystopia this time around. I am awed to have been given the chance to read this novel in advance.

I am particularly torn on this review for that reason. I requested this book on the cover  (which alludes to dragons) and the sense of a great fairy tale (this is one of the most published women of fantasy) to be told. The creatures from Otherside are taken straight from the pages of mythology. That part was an exciting approach for me. I just absolutely love the myths of old and their creatures, good and bad. It was also nice to see the more realistic approach to those mythological beasts. While shiny, remorseful vampires are all well and good, that is not their mythology or origin. Seeing them here all hideous and true to their history (and the slight author commentary/jab that went with it) was excellent.

Where I got lost with this book was the obvious set up for why the Diseray happened to cause this future dystopia. The United States clearly ends up split between those who decide to be mindless sheep herded into safety by the military and preppers after some cataclysmic world event. I am just honestly a little tired of these attempts to satire our modern culture as an attempt at a wake up call (but then again, that is what literature is all about). Fans of the dystopia genre however need to pick up this book. Lackey introduces a very cool dystopia for which to be a part.

The story moves along a little sluggishly for my tastes and could have used a more guided hand on the editing process for where to cut and where to add a dash of excitement. We spend most of the story being set up for the final two chapters without much to entertain us in between. This left the ending feeling a little anti-climatic. Clearly this was meant to be a trilogy from the start. If you are familiar with the author at all, then you should have been expecting it. We didn't need the half-hearted cliffhanger to get us there.

At most, I give this novel 3 stars. I recommend it to die hard fans of Mercedes Lackey or those of the dystopian genre just so you can say you have read them all. Otherwise, readers looking for that sense of entertainment and wonder--pass.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Illumination Paradox Book 2

August is almost over and kids are heading back to school. It is officially time to back up the summer reads for next year's trip to the beach. We are now moving into fall which means Halloween is coming! That means some great creepy, crawly books are on their way. (It also means the unfortunate amount of zombie stories will be out there too. sigh.) Jacqueline Garlick has some great ghouls in her Illumination Paradox series.

Noir by Jacqueline Garlick

The second book in this trilogy proves it has some writing chops. The action just keeps on rolling and all the characters keep it light with great humor. The novel manages to feel serious without being depressing. It is absolutely brimming with love and laughter even in the depths of madness. While I don't usually go for the lovey-dovey goo, I really had fun with Urlick and Eyelet's love development. They certainly have some passion. Garlick shows how a story can have passion without vulgarity which always wins huge points for me.

The first aspect that really elevated this novel for me was the additional character points of view. We now see the world beyond just Eyelet and Urlick. The first novel had many great characters and now we get the voices to get an full-sided insight into the world Garlick has created. There is an authenticity to reading through a whole chapter in the character's point of view, not just the dialogue being in the character's voice. This is seriously a huge plus to this novel. The C.L. chapters really add to the comedic relief of the story.

The second aspect I really enjoyed was the steampunk twist of our modern technologies. Sure you can have automatons and steam powered gadgets, but this one takes the cloud to a whole new level (haha--I seriously recommend you pick up a copy to find out why that is funny). Since reading the Baskerville series by Emma Jane Holloway, I have been very intrigued by the new steampunk genre. It has been fascinating seeing how each author treats this category. Most have been a little boring to me with just the bland shift of steam power in place of electricity. Garlick takes a more metaphysical and humorous approach to how the inventions in a steampunk world would be different. This is not Victorian England alternate history. It is some futuristic, post-apocalyptic place with all our current knowledge warped by those experiences. I am much more appreciative of this look at steampunk because it is all possible without tainting history.

**EDIT** Four stars only because of a continuity error that kind of peeved me because it rocked the balance of my reading. I was really into the imagination of the story when it just knocked me right out of the zone. The e-book has been corrected as well as subsequent print editions. Five stars now. Definitely very excited for the third novel, though, and avidly recommend the first two books so far.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Military space opera that just keeps kicking the heartstrings

The mornings are starting to get crisp and cool. Being able to spend the mornings out on the porch reading good books is just amazing. I could use the cool mornings with all the adrenaline pumping from the third novel in the ATLAS series.

ATLAS 3 by Isaac Hooke

This was another emotional installment in the ATLAS series. Nothing that happens is overly surprising as the plot of the story is rather logical. They are fighting a war.  What I did not see coming was the ending--again! Seriously diabolical cliffhanger genius.

The story isn't any different from the two that came before. War, bloodshed, adrenaline, cliché topics repeated from the first two novels. Yet, I could not put the book down and was blindsided by the ending again. The characters continue to have an excellent development. We get the chance for another perspective when the teams are split and Tahoe becomes the point of view.

We are facing another battle of the same crazy war for humanity. The previous enemies have banded together in the face of a new foe. A stronger, more disturbingly alien foe. We meet several new species of weirdness that just make me wonder how authors come up with aliens. (Kind of my sticking point with sci-fi novels is the absolute creation of races that have no logical existence. Here included.) This novel gets more in depth with the Phants and their motives for being on earth. The color coded mystery is also solved. My favorite part of the story was hearing the war from their stance and getting a history of their race. I actually wish there was more of the Phants interaction.

The reuniting of Shaw and Rade is very well handled leading to an emotional pounding at the end. I knew it was coming and yet there is still hope that around the next corner there is going to be some miracle. It is so obvious but still heartrending. The whole war wraps up and it seems like there is healing and conclusion. Then the epilogue. Geez--what a cliffhanger.

There better be another novel. For now, I'll have to go pick up the short stories to get my MOTH fix. I really cannot recommend this series enough. It isn't going to be breaking any literary barriers, but the stories are just so immersive and amazing.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Light inside the dark

Late summer means fall is on its way. The beach reading is drying up and the leaves are going to start changing soon. I'm going to smell fall in the air. This is not my favorite time of year. I always have to battle off an extreme wave of emotions this time of year. It is these times I am really glad Netgalley is around. There is a never ending supply of great reads to fill my days.

Lumiere by Jacqueline Garlick

Amazon Publishing imprint Skyscape gave me the opportunity to try out another steampunk author. It does seem so many authors are trying to get into the lucrative steampunk genre. There were some I have not enjoyed and others I enjoy immensely. Like all literature, the genre has become flooded. That is why the cover and back of the book are so important to the sell. Amazon Publishing did a good job with the revamping of Lumiere in anticipation of Noir releasing this month. The cover is gorgeous and I was pulled in by the synopsis.

The characters have personality, the antics keep going, and the oogie boogies are fascinating. The whole novel is just fun--to read and to experience imaginatively.

There is a wonderful blend of magic and science that gives the essence of wonder and awe. For all the scientific reasoning and answers out there, it is nice to still have the wonder that comes from magic. An innocence of awe from the imagination that seems to stymie out as we age. The author has a great way of keeping the story fun and moving. The gadgets are really cool and the landscape is a nice change from Victorian England or Europe or the other many obvious choices of steampunk. I keep thinking about Hawai'i and all of its volcano-y landscape goodness. A steampunk approach to geological science of volcanoes. Nice!

I highly recommend this novel and give it 5 stars. Perfect digital price over at Amazon.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Happy release day (finally!) to a dear friend

I have been waiting for this book for 10 years. I am so excited and happy to be a part of the first novel experience. Happy release day Caitlyn, you finally became an author.

Soul of Smoke by Caitlyn McFarland

This is a great first attempt at writing. While I may not have swooned over the novel, I give it a solid three stars and do wish to continue with the series. I want to see where this adventure grows and develops. There was enough interesting context on the foundation that some of the newbie writer fatigue can be forgiven.

First and foremost it is a love story with dragons (and I am not automatically fond of love stories taking it down a notch for my interest). The best part of this love story is honesty. The author honestly shows the emotions behind falling in love. While many readers may end the book by wanting to wring Kai's neck (I would be one of those), you need to hold to the fact she is 20. A supposed adult who doesn't really have to be an adult by today's standards. Clearly this is also the first time she has really thought about the long term. So just be happy with the honesty of the emotions the author presented.

Which leads to my second minor disappointment to the story. Where is my dragon history? There are some really awesome dragon battles going on with some really awesome dragons. Clearly the author has researched some areas to expand outside the norm, but I want more! Most readers will be familiar with European dragons and their legends from all the European fairy tales Americans grow up reading. What I enjoyed about this novel was getting tastes of dragons from other cultural mythologies. Different shapes and abilities that just had my imagination seeking more information. This is the main factor keeping me set to come back to the series--further development of these other dragons. 

I may be a little spoiled by Naomi Novik's Temeraire series, but I want to give this series a shot. The price is right for starting a series with a completely unknown author so I suggest giving it a go. The rest of the series will be out by the end of the year, which is another huge plus. We'll see how it goes!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The final trip into the corn. Who will eat whom?

Happy Release Day to Chuck Wendig again! I cannot believe that it has been an entire year.

The Harvesting by Chuck Wendig

I said I was looking forward to the conclusion to The Heartland Trilogy in my last review. Fortunately, the book did not disappoint. I have definitely had an up and down relationship with the series (reflected on my previous review here). The story has contained many aspects that I could live without, but that's reading for you and what makes it so beautiful. There are so many different voices out there, and they can all exist in fiction. I have never found any of these novels to be unreadable.

The conclusion here is succinct and covers all plot threads. I was really pleased how it all came back around--from all the little lines in the first book to the larger points that make the story. However, the book is a little too short to explore the true depth of the characters that are clearly falling apart. We skim the surface of their insanity but never really brush the causes at heart. While all the characters had dispersed on the wind like pollen, they were entangled in each others lives again to ride out the armageddon (showing that there is almost a fatal attraction to what we know and where we've been) in relatively quick order. The build up for all the action seemed to happen rather abruptly.

The story is once again written elegantly and little high class for some of the plot material, but it keeps you reading. I really was entertained by the inclusion of the biological terror that came from Hiram's Golden Prolific. We got to go back to the roots of bioengineering and its consequences on foods. We returned to the debate of nature versus technology. I would say it even made the first two books make a little more sense with Under the Empyrean Sky concentrating on nature and Blightborn concentrating on technology. We fully experienced both sides of the argument.

I am just pleased that an author managed to come up with an ending that feels conclusive and right. I could certainly read more books in the Heartland, but I won't feel like I have missed out on something if I don't. I even gained a greater appreciation for the first two books I read meaning the foreshadowing was subtle enough to not ruin the outcome.

This series is solid. It may not top my list of all time favorite books, but they are easily recommended to readers of many ages. Plus the price for them is right on Amazon.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Reminiscing my valley girl roots

I have a very hard time believing that many of the things I grew up with, the things that molded and shaped my ideals, are releasing anniversary editions in their second decades. My review for today will be pretty simple. The novel is not the typical kind of book I read or review, but I could not pass up a chance to reminisce about my valley girl roots.

As If! by Jen Chaney

I had to wait a really long time if I would be approved for this novel. I had almost lost hope that I would get it in time for the release. It was so easy to get immersed in this collegiate thesis on such an iconic movie. 

Jen Chaney takes the time to explain how a chancy adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma could become a staple to Generation X and Generation Y. Many others from the previous generations also enjoy the movie, but it ultimately created a new identity for those born after 1975 without ever meaning to do so. 

The whole book is written wonderfully. All of the anecdotes really make you feel a part of the movie from a personal level, not as an audience member. I never felt exhausted by the format of formal thesis writing. Nothing was above my head or pompous. It had a beauty and comedy just like the movie it is immortalizing.

It was so great to connect to my favorite movie in yet another way (instead of watching it for the unknown time and driving my husband from the room). 

Happy release day to the cast and crew of Clueless and Jen Chaney for taking the time to solidify the immortality of such a staple movie. I know this is a different kind of book, but I highly recommend it.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Isaac Hooke, diabolical cliffhanger genius

I recently attended the funeral of a family member. This man was a very great man and left behind quite a great legacy. He was very proud of his service in the Navy. During this time of transition, it was kind of poignant to be reading a space Navy novel even if it was a little more fantastical in setting, the emotions are every day.

ATLAS 2 by Isaac Hooke

I will keep this review spoiler free so first time readers can go pick up ATLAS and start an amazing series. I will warn you now--Isaac Hooke is a diabolical genius with a cliffhanger. I wasn't even sure if I really planned on reading the first book (for reasons that can be found in my review over here). I enjoyed the story, but then I got to the ending. I just had to get ATLAS 2.

And here we arrive to the second review--with a second cliffhanger that slaps you in the face.

Usually a cliffhanger just makes me mad because there is no point. The author obviously has another book coming and just picked an arbitrary point in the story line to stop. Most of the time I'm not all that inclined to get the next novel (and have actually stopped two series this way). Not the case with either of the ATLAS books. They are both an introduction of new material that is such a spur to go pick up the next novel. I ended this book white-knuckled screaming "are you serious" with that last sentence. I really wanted to turn the page and find answers.

Once again, I will point out that sci-fi has never really been my genre. I definitely prefer elves to aliens. So I continually get surprised when I find a sci-fi book that fits my reading pallet. ATLAS 2 is full of aliens AND robots. Actually, I really have not been able to pinpoint the actual draw of these novels for me. I just seem to be hooked on these books.

The naval concept of loyalty and honor are probably the big draws. The characters are very authentic and good people. It is refreshing to read something not full of political intrigue or morally grey characters. The bad guys of the story are reprehensible in a very clear world domination way and manage to just end up creeping me out. I will not be able to look at slugs the same moving forward. Then we get to the Phants, and the true reasons why this story are successful come out. You'll have to pick up your own copy to understand.

Now I'm on my way to third novel with eager enthusiasm. Amazon has book one for $3.99 and book two for $4.99 digital.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Where would the ladies be without their gentlemen?

How are we already into summer? My, my. I guess it is time to start putting together the list of beach books. If you have not started the Magnificent Devices series, then I highly recommend you put the entire set on your list. You'll be set all beach season.

A Gentleman of Means by Shelley Adina

A Gentleman of Means by Shelley AdinaYet another amazing book in this series. I am continuously impressed with the direction these novels take each time. Books 1-4 focus on the fabulous Claire Trevelyan, Lady of Devices. Book 5-6 cover the mysterious background of the Mopsies. While we take adventures with these excellent female leads, we are able to meet some other very fascinating personalities. Alice Chalmers becomes the star of book 7. 

The stories are comprehensive, but I never feel like any character is getting stale. Each novel brings a very new direction for the series. Shelley Adina set her writing future up nicely when she had Lady Claire adopt a quirky band of misfit orphans. We are going to solve the mystery of Tigg aka Thomas Terwilliger. 

The previous novels have centered around the lives of some very formidable women. My favorite aspect of this novel is yet another new angle on the Magnificent Devices world. We will now experience the men that hold the women up. The dynamic balance in all the relationships present in this series hearten me. Both genders balance and raise their partners to the best heights. Their is love and bonding through friendship and loyalty.

Not only that, but Tigg's story has adventure, heartbreak, and intrigue. The whole thing paces along just right. I rode up and down with the emotions of the characters. These novels are so easy to get invested in on all levels. This one may have even taken place as my favorite of the series.

Some strings that were left unraveled in book 7 get picked up here and tied up quite nicely. All the favorite characters are back: Lady Claire, the Mopsies, Jake and Alice, Ian Hollys, Snouts, and Gloria. There are even a few new faces in the orphanage (even more promise of new books?--I certainly hope so!). All these wonderful people moving about with one another without getting chaotic or confused. A feat I still am impressed by.

Hope by the end of this you have already picked up your copy.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Mecha invasion of outer space!!

I wanted to get my husband involved with my reading somehow. All the activities I did pre-husband are very feminine and isolated to one person. All of his pre-wife activities are Eagle Scout, uber athlete related. It has been one heck of time finding some middle ground. As I am a super nerd, video games have become one outlet. He especially loves the mech games such as Armored Core. In an attempt to get him reading, I searched my wonderful friend Netgalley for books about mechs. 

ATLAS by Isaac Hooke

I found ATLAS as a wonderful compromise of my husband's interest with my desire for him to more actively read with me. What I didn't expect was my reading it and absolute enjoyment of it.

I should express at the beginning of this review that I have worked with former soldiers on a daily basis for the last four years. Military jargon is far from foreign to me at this point, and I have every occupation of the Navy and Marine Corps practically memorized. I must admit that this in depth knowledge is probably what increased my interest in this novel. Isaac doesn't leave the non-military reader in the dark, though. All the acronyms and slang are fully explained to keep the reader on track without feeling like a constant lesson is in place.

The giant mechanical military suits of kickassitude probably also helped make the story so awesome. Though, I was highly surprised how long it took them to make their entrance into the story considering they are on the cover and a large part of the book hook. I didn't have the highest hopes going into this story for character development and overall qualities that make books good to me. Was I surprised! The lead characters development through basic and onto advanced training; their interactions with one another; the emotional depth of connectivity to each one of them--wow! I closed this book with complete satisfaction of what I had just read.

The ending was absolutely wonderful despite it's cliche science fiction sign off. It really made me interested to find the follow up story. As the third book is getting ready to launch next week, Netgalley allowed reviewers to catch up on the series. I really am glad to have been a part of that. I finally found strong men to wash out the overdose of femininity flooding the shelves right now. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Want some more cover reveals?

Well I do! Three books of the summer I am highly anticipating.

This first one I look forward to because of the monumental impact of the first book. The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath made my reading decade. The book is so fantastically disturbing. It is Mad Hatter proportions off the wall. Read my full review here. So without further ado I give you yet another stunning cover from Ishbelle Bee with the exclusive reveal at Barnes & Noble.

The next two book covers are exciting to reveal because I actually know the author. We used to lay on the floor of our senior English class listening to Indian flutes and our unique teacher chanting to let our limbs fall through the floor and relax our minds. I am so proud to see that she has come far enough to have not one, but two!, cover reveals on my blog. Click at the fold to see the amazing covers from Caitlyn McFarland!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Is it steampunk; is it fantasy? Your call.

Travelling for work put my schedule a little behind again. I feel that this year I am constantly apologizing for being late on a post. Well, it is also unfortunately meaning that I am egregiously behind on my to-read list. The plus side--the books I have read lately have been worth falling behind. Released this week is the first in a series of books that I can't quite fit onto any one shelf, an excellent quality in a book.

The Shadow Revolution by Clay Griffith

I came to this ARC in a search for male leads. I realized the other week that I have been binged out on female protagonists. It seems a sad direction for my reading and the general publishing world. Where did all the non-sparkly males go? Do I have to read some form of military novel or other such violent story to find a male character that is not swooning over life and little lily-livered? Fortunately not with this novel.

The husband-wife duo managed to create an interesting fantasy with a man leading the show. There is also alchemy, magic, supernaturals, and a strong female. There was actual balance to this novel, from the characters to the genre bending.

The magics used are interesting and I look forward to seeing their development through the rest of the trilogy. The druidic mysticism just built Simon's character of male cockiness and intrigue. I really do look forward to more runes and their natural interaction with our own human abilities. Alchemy is always good and very welcome in a fantasy that sits on the steampunk line; a very welcome addition to the traditional druid magic. The authors were very authentic with the feel of scientific endeavor and inquisitiveness instinctual to the ever searching nerd type. The whole science added a natural strength to Kate's character of will.

There are no automatons or dirigibles from your usual steampunk and the magic-supernatural creatures combo is a little more than traditional fantasy. I will say again that this book just had an excellent balance to the old genre traditions and the newer tastes of modern readers. My favorite were the homunculi, though. Creepy. So very creepy. But a subject I have been drawn towards since I watched Fullmetal Alchemist. I was glad to see them present in a fantasy novel.

The action moves along at quite a clip and there really are no dull moments. Witty dialogue keeps the plot moving when steampunk motorcycles and rocket launchers aren't carrying away the show. All the characters have depth and interaction in ways to connect to most every reader type. There really are few things to notice wrong with the story.

I will highly recommend this story to all. It is now on sale. Head out to your local indie retailer or hit up a digital copy for your e-reader. The even better part? The second and third novels will be releasing within quick succession!