Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Chronicles is one of the best things happening not just in the the universe of urban fantasy but in the publishing world tod...moreKevin Hearne's Iron Druid Chronicles is one of the best things happening not just in the the universe of urban fantasy but in the publishing world today. With the seventh installment, Hearne graduates to hardcover where hopefully he'll find an even larger audience to appreciate the exploits of Atticus, Granuaile and Oberon.
A quick word of warning, however. If you haven't read the first six installments in this series, starting here is probably going to be a confusing experience. While Hearne wisely includes a quick refresher on events up until now, it's no where near as rewarding or as much fun as reading the actual novels themselves. (You will miss out on all the wonderful interaction between Atticus and Oberson, which is among the highlights of the series).
If you're caught up, odds are you've been eagerly awaiting Shattered. The good news is that Hearne has made it worth the wait. Picking up right where Hunted left off, the seventh installment gives us not one but three first-person narrators. As expected, we get chapters told from the viewpoint of Atticus but we also see events unfolding in the eyes of Granuale and the newly brought back to life Owen Kennedy (at least that's the modern equivalent of his Druid name).
Among the highlights of the latest installment in the series is the introduction of the Yeti and their love of ice hockey, Owen's attempts to integrate himself into our modern world and, of course, lots of great interaction between Atticus and Oberon. There's also some moving forward of various plot elements and call backs to the first couple of novels in this series and some interesting ground world put in place for the final several novels in this wonderful series. Hearne's storytelling assurance continues to grow with each novel and Shattered is among the best this on-going series has offered to date.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was given an ARC of this book as part of the Amazon Vine Program. And, yes, I eagerly snapped it up. If you're not reading this series yet, you should be. (less)
Have you ever had that feeling that you might have lived a totally different life in a parallel universe or if you'd made a different choice in what y...moreHave you ever had that feeling that you might have lived a totally different life in a parallel universe or if you'd made a different choice in what you later look back and see as a life-changing moment?
Jo Walton's latest novel My Real Children examines that choice in the life of Patricia Cowan. Looking back on her life, Patricia can recall two potential lifetimes, both of which hinge on whether or not she accepts the ultimatum to marry her fiance Mark.
In one reality, the two plan a hasty wedding and settle into a less than ideal marriage that produced four children and multiple miscarriages. In the other, she meets Bee and the two fall in love and raise a family in the less traditional sense.
Part alternate history and part character examination, My Real Children is one of the more fascinating and compelling books I've read in a long time. Jo Walton weaves together two separate timelines for Patricia, allowing each to have its own successes and failures but never endorsing one timeline, life or lifetime as better than the other. There are moments of triumph in each one and moments of despair in each one.
Alternating chapters tell of Pat and Tricia's life over the course of several years in each timeline. One of the more fascinating elements of the story is the creation of alternate histories for each timeline, which show just how easily history could have gone in our timeline.
Walton has a great deal of affection for her characters and it shows as we get to know each of these characters. Some of them you'll love (at times) and some of them you'll hate (at times). But you'll never quite be able to put them aside easily or forget them long after the last page is turned.
My Real Children shows there is more to the fantasy genre than just sword-play and dragons. I've heard good things about Walton before and this novel only makes me curious to pick up her other novels and see if they're as absorbing as this one was.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher via GoodReads. (less)
To paraphrase a famous quote from Forrest Gump, short story collections are like a box of chocolates...you never know what you're going to get.
That's...moreTo paraphrase a famous quote from Forrest Gump, short story collections are like a box of chocolates...you never know what you're going to get.
That's the great thing about a collection of short stories -- if you come across a story you don't care for you, there's generally another chance (or five) that the next story or a story later in the collection will be more your speed or taste. Since the start of 2014, I've immersed myself into two short story collections -- one that had been languishing on my to-be-read shelf for far too long and the other as part of the Book of Apex, Volume 4 Blog Tour.
Thanks to the hard work of Andrea from The The Little Red Reviewer, I was given access to a digital copy of this short story collection. The collection covers the best of fifteen or so issues from the on-line Book of Apex and is edited by Lynne M. Thomas. The stories selected here represent the cream of the crop from her first several issues editing the magazine and they run the gamut from sci-fi to fantasy to horror. Given that I enjoy each of these three genres and that I recognized several of the names included in this collection, I was eager to sit back and enjoy the stories.
Stories run from a couple of pages (or in my case, clicks on the Kindle screen) to close to novella length. The varying length of each story makes the collection an intriguing one. Among my favorite stories from the collection were:
“The 24 Hour Brother” by Christopher Barzak -- In a way, this reminded me of the story of Benjamin Button, only with a slight twist. What if you had a sibling who was born, grew up and passed away in a day. That's the premise of this one and there were a couple of details that stuck out for me -- one is that at one point the brother eats dinner with the family and then casually watches a police drama on television. This made me ponder that if I were to live for a day, what is the one show or single episode of a show I'd most want to watch or have shown to me. Of all the stories in this collection, this one has kept me coming back to it and turning it over in my mind long after I've read all the others.
"Blood from Stone" by Alethea Kontis -- I may be biased toward this one a bit since I met Ms. Kontis once at a book club meeting (she probably doesn't remember it). So I feel a bit like I'm supporting a friend by picking up her books or reading one of her short stories. Luckily, I've yet to be disappointed by her writing, though this is one is a nice change of pace from what I've previously read. But like her fantasy novels that put a contemporary spin on a classic story, so does this one put an interesting spin on the horror story. I can't say too much without giving away some of the fun twists and turns of the story. Trust me -- seek it out and read it. You'll probably like it.
"Erzulie Dantor" by Tim Susman -- The good thing about a short story collection is you can read them in any order you want. I'll admit I read this one first, not because I'm familiar with Mr. Susman's work but because of a guest post that will appear on this site later this week. Susman's story is one of the more intriguing of the lot, a bit of an examination of mythology of another culture and its practices. An intriguing little story that I'm glad I read first in the collection. Another favorite.
"Winter Scheming" by Brit Mandalo -- This was particularily interesting to read around Valentine's Day. Brit is haunted by a past relationship and, well, if I say more I might give away some of the fun of this one. The thing with short stories is that it's far too easy to give away too many details and possibly ruin some of the fun of reading them for yourself. I am trying not to do that.
These four stories were my favorites from the collection and have made me curious to see what other treats Apex Magazine will offer in the future. The good news is that if you're intrigued by any of my reviews, you can easily follow the link above and read the original stories for free on their site. And after you do, I recommend that purchase this entire collection and put it on your e-reader. I'm glad I did and I think you'll be glad you did as well.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was given a digital review copy of this collection in exchange for an honest reviews.(less)
Scott Lynch's Red Seas Under Red Skies ended on a heck of cliffhanger.
After years of anticipation and speculation, Lynch returns to the universe of hi...moreScott Lynch's Red Seas Under Red Skies ended on a heck of cliffhanger.
After years of anticipation and speculation, Lynch returns to the universe of his Gentlemen Bastards with the long-awaited third installment, The Republic of Thieves.
Wait it worth the wait?
Lynch spends the first third of the novel writing Locke and Jean out of the corner he left them in at the end of the last novel. For those of you who may not recall, Locke was poisoned by a slow acting poison. And choices he made at the end of Red Seas Under Red Skies denied him the antidote. Now as Locke is dying in an inn of a room, Jean is desperately working to find someone who can cure him.
After exhausting all their possibilities and burning more than their usual share of bridges, Jean and Locke are approached by the Bondsmage. In return for curing Locke, the two must work to influence the Magi elections. Locke and Jean agree, but only after he's cured do they find out that they'll be going up against an old friend, Sabetha.
If you're a fan of the series, you probably know that Sabetha is that one women in Locke's life and has been the subject of hints in the first two novels. The good news is that Sabetha enters stage left and takes over the last two thirds of the novel. Lynch details the reunion of the trio as well as flashbacks to Locke and Sabetha's growing up and romance.
Fans are likely to eat this up with a spoon. (I know I did). After two books of build-up, the story of Locke and Sabetha is about as close to perfect as it could be.
The one drawback to the novel is that the flashbacks to the our heros and the scheme Chains comes up with to send them out as a traveling drama group wears a bit thin as the novel progresses. This may have less to do with this plotline and more to do with the compelling plotlines taking place in the present and some of the cliffhangers Lynch puts at the end of each chapter.
The Republic of Thieves proves to be worth the wait. And hopefully this time, Lynch won't make us wait as long for the next installment in his fantasy series.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this novel from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review. (less)
Helen and Troy are just your ordinary, average young Americans who work together at minimum wage jobs in a fast food restaurant.
Well, except for the...moreHelen and Troy are just your ordinary, average young Americans who work together at minimum wage jobs in a fast food restaurant.
Well, except for the small detail that Helen is a minotaur and the two have been given an epic quest by a hamburger god. And while details of the quest aren't exactly forthcoming, the duo still sets out on a epic road trip/quest in A. Lee Martinez's comedic fantasy novel Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest.
Along the way, they'll meet a cyclops who will only do battle with people who have purchased a license (enacted to help keep his small town's struggling government afloat), visit a dragon preserve and face pursuit by a group of supernatural bikers who may or may not have our heroes best interests at heart. And that doesn't even take into account the quasi-governmental agency assigned to help our heroes.
If it all sounds a bit absurd and like something out of a Terry Pratchett novel, you're not wrong. Unlike a lot of authors who try (and fail) to channel the humor of Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett, Martinez writes a humorous story, poking fun at the pratfalls of epic fantasy and delivering a handful of genuine laugh out loud moments along the way. (This is not a book to be read in company that will look at you oddly if you chuckle, snort or laugh out loud at a certain line, image or clever turn of phrase. Consider yourself warned).
And while Martinez gets fairly close to what Adams and Prachett do (and they make it look easy), he doesn't quite enter the same stratosphere as those two giants. But he comes a lot closer than many other authors I've seen try and spectacularly fail in the attempt.
That's not to say Helen and Troy isn't a fun, entertaining read. It's a mostly hit or miss comic fantasy that, for me, hit more than it missed. Certain threads started to weigh thin over the course of the story, but overall this is an epic road quest worth taking. This mis-matched duo of a minotaur and the popular cute guy delivers some solid laughs and witty observations over the course of the story. And Martinez wisely doesn't dwell long on each of the epic fantasy stops along the way. He allows the jokes to have their moment and not wear thin (in most cases).
In the interest of full discretion, I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. (less)
One of the more intriguing trends in the publishing world is authors from one targeted demographic attempting to crossover and target another demograp...moreOne of the more intriguing trends in the publishing world is authors from one targeted demographic attempting to crossover and target another demographic. For example, J.K. Rowling recently published her first "adult" novel with The Casual Vacancy while Elizabeth George went after a young adult audience with The Edge of Nowhere.
And while I'm not one who judges a book by the section of the bookstore or the library where it's shelved, it's intriguing to see what happens when an author gets out of his or her comfort zone.
You can add to the list of best-selling authors who are looking to expand their audience writer Brandon Sanderson (who given how much output he has and the sheer length of his novels, I am beginning to wonder if he somehow has figured out a way to write a novel using telepathy and while he's asleep). Every publisher is looking for the next big fantasy series along the lines of Harry Potter and given Sanderson's pedigree in the fantasy genre, a young adult series from him seems like a good idea.
Enter The Rithmatist.
All of the strengths of a Sanderson fantasy novel are on display -- a magic system that has clearly defined rules and limitations so it can't be used to write himself out of any situation or peril that comes up as well as having characters have different degrees of ability within the magical system. Like all talents or traits, there are some who have a better grasp of some elements of the system while others have a better grasp of others. In this case, the magical system is one that brings chalk drawing to life and they do battle. There are various ways in which battles can be won and there is a skill and a strategy to it. Sanderson spends a lot of the novel laying out the rules and strategies of his new magical system, but he also allows them to play out on the printed page and for the reader to see the system in action.
Set in an alternate reality where the United States is divided up into various territories, the story follows a young student named Joel who wants nothing more than to study and become a Rithmatist. The son of a chalk maker, Joel is denied entry to the program but that doesn't stop him from sneaking into lectures and learning all he can about the history and strategies of being a Rithmatist. During the summer, Joel becomes the assistant to an ousted professor, who tasks Joel with studying survey records and census data. At first, the reason for this eludes Joel, but over the course of the story things slowly begin to fall into place and we discover why Joel his asked to do this.
And while I liked the novel, I can't say I necessarily enjoyed it as much as I have other works by Sanderson. Reading it, I kept being reminded of the first Harry Potter novel, which had the burden of doing all the heavy lifting of establishing the universe, characters and magical system for future novels to pay off. I think that could be the case here with The Rithmatist and that future installments (and make no mistake, there will be future installments) will benefit from the heavy lifting and world-building done here.
However, that isn't the only weakness to the novel. The other (and the biggest) is Joel himself. Joel's one goal in life is to become a Rithmastist. It's not a bad motivation, but it feels like we're reminded of this every several pages. I kept wanting Joel to be given a more diverse story than his desire to part of the magical community. I also kept waiting for Joel to have something more to offer than just his overwhelming desire to become a Rithmatists or be admitted to the program.
Sanderson offers a few hints that there is more to Joel than meets the eyes and I have a feeling he's setting up things for future installments. I will give Sanderson some credit in that he doesn't just allow Joel to achieve all his desires in the book and everything to work out and be all good and neatly wrapped up by the novel's conclusion. Again, it will be interesting to see how the universe and the characters develop over the next entry in the series. (Though I can only hope that Sanderson will have an end-game in mind for the series and not keep it going and going and going as certain other authors do).
I came away from the novel wanting to like it more than I did. It felt like a lot of set-up for something more and I have faith that Sanderson can put all the pieces together when it comes to the bigger picture. I'm certainly intrigued enough the universe, the system and the characters to want to pick up the next installment and see where things go. I have a feeling this may be a book that grows in my estimation once I see how Sanderson pays off some of the threads he's woven here. (less)
A classic fairy tale re-told in a steam punk universe should have been a lot more fun to read than Cinder ended up being.
Part of this could be that I'...moreA classic fairy tale re-told in a steam punk universe should have been a lot more fun to read than Cinder ended up being.
Part of this could be that I'm not necessarily the target audience for this book. It's from the young adult section and I can easily see how young readers entranced by the Twilight novels might lap this one up with a spoon. (Add to the conveniences, Cinder is written by an author who shares the last name Meyer. And don't think I wasn't thinking that Marissa Meyer must somehow be related to Stephanie Meyer as I read this one). However, I've heard a lot of buzz for this book among readers who aren't necessarily the Bella/Edward/Jacob demographic.
I can't help but think they're going to be a bit disappointed as well.
The novel starts off well, introducing us to Cinder, a cyborg who lives with her step-mother and step-sisters. She's good at repairing items and keeps her adopted family afloat, despite the scorn and ridicule she regularly receives. Cinder even has her own version of a talking mouse as her one friend.
Thrown into are several other elements included a deadly disease that can strike without warning and is currently killing the ruler of Earth. There's also a conflict with the rulers of the Moon and there's also a dash of lingering questions about the true nature of Cinder's identity.
The questions surrounding Cinder and her role in the political game being played are a bit too obviously foreshadowed. I guessed the revelation that is supposed to be the hook for the next novel in the series a couple of hundred pages before the novel got around to telling us what it was. That lead to large portions of the middle of the book feeling like they were treading water, waiting for the inevitable revelation and for something to actually spark the plot and move it forward.
Of course, there's also a romantic angle of the apparent attraction between Cinder and the prince who is thrust into ruling the realm. And while we all know where it's headed, I do wish Meyer had put a bit more originality into the journey to the inevitable destination.
Ultimately, I came away from Cinder disappointed that the story has such potential but doesn't live up to it. It also suffers from the "series-itis" plaguing so many of today's new releases. The novel works too hard to set-up a long term story which will sell lots of future installments while failing to make the characters or universe interesting enough to make more than just mildly curious to return and see how all these things play out. This is another book that makes the argument that sometimes having a single, stand-alone novel is a better idea than a watered down series. (less)
With the news of Terry Pratchett's declining health, it feels as if each new Discworld novel could be his last. It also made you want to savor each en...moreWith the news of Terry Pratchett's declining health, it feels as if each new Discworld novel could be his last. It also made you want to savor each entry a bit more.
Unfortunately, the last couple of entries haven't been quite among Pratchett's best.
Thankfully, Snuff is a return to form for Pratchett and while I hope we get more, if this is the last Discworld entry we get, it will be a solid, entertaining high note for the series to go out on.
As I've said in other Pratchett reviews, Pratchett makes looking witty, funny and satirical look easy when he's on the top of his game. And he does that hear. The story of Sam Vines being forced to take a vacation to the countryside with his wife only to find a foul plot unfolding there is well done and keeps the story moving. Part of what makes it work is the constant running gag of how husbands have to defer to their wives on whether they enjoy consuming certain things like bacon, cigars and other products that may shorten the lifespan but are still eminently enjoyable. Add in a bit of social commentary and you've got the makings of one of the better Discworld novels in recent memory. (less)
George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" is everything epic fantasy should be--a richly crafted world, fascinating characters and no abandon when...moreGeorge R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" is everything epic fantasy should be--a richly crafted world, fascinating characters and no abandon when it comes to inflicting horrible fates upon the cast of what seems like thousands.
The third installment in the epic series is the longest, so far, and the best of the series. Building on everything set up in the first two books, "A Storm of Swords" delivers from the first page, grabbing you by the collar and never letting go. The story is an epic one and if you've heard that you shouldn't become attached to any character or set of characters, you've heard correctly. Bad things happen to a lot of the characters in this novel and Martin doesn't pause much to allow you to catch your breath as he moves from one revelation to the next.
There's not much more I can say about this book and series that hasn't already been said. It's epic, it's compelling and it's fantasy done exactly right. It'd be a shame to let one more second go by without reading it, if you haven't already done so. (Assuming you've read the first two installments, of course!) (less)