Friends and Fans of Fantasy A Lunch community for fantasy fans... <![CDATA[ Full Moon]]>
With the shelves collapsing under the weight of such mediocrity, it would be very easy for a devoted role-player to lose faith in the genre. But for me, that's where Lunar came in. Lunar restored my faith in RPGs. (I'm well aware of the fact that Lunar had been floating around for several years preceding all the games I just mentioned, on both the Sega CD and the Playstation. However, circumstances had prevented me from playing it for years.)

Considering the hype and enormous cult following surrounding the game, my expectations upon unwrapping Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete for the Playstation on that snowy Christmas morning were quite high. Lunar took my expectations and blew them clean out of the water. I knew the game was supposed to be good, but never in my wildest dreams had I ever imagined it to be as good as it is. Lunar isn't just "good good". It's up-there-with-Chrono Trigger-and-Final Fantasy IX good. And while it does contain many of the silly clichés that have been associated every RPG ever released, both story and gameplay contain wonderful, unique twists that will prevent Lunar from ever becoming just another face in the crowd.

In Lunar, we enter a magical RPG world where most of the main characters actually have regular names. There's the occasional oddball name, but nothing on the level of weirdness or stupidity that would rival the stupidity of parents who would name their child Dart (he's the main character from The Legend of Dragoon). The main character in Lunar is named Alex, and like many kids his age, he's inspired by the antics and adventures of a chosen famous person whom he admires. Alex's hero is Dragonmaster Dyne, a former world savior who disappeared mysteriously years ago. Alex spends many a day at the grave built in honor of Dyne, dreaming of having incredible and dangerous adventures before being snapped back to reality by either his foster sister and childhood sweetheart Luna, his money-obsessed friend Ramus, or his pet flying and talking cat Nall (I haven't a clue, so don't ask). It's a day like any other when Ramus decides to visit the cave of the White Dragon because he wants a rare jewel. During their spelunking expedition, the gang meets the White Dragon himself, who thinks Alex is able to become the next Dragonmaster. And so begins Alex's fulfillment of all the dreams he had of being like Dyne.

Lunar isn't merely about Alex's quest to become the Dragonmaster, though. What good is an RPG if it doesn't include the all-universal video game objective? That's right folks, we're heading out to save the world again, this time from a tall dark guy who calls himself the Magic Emperor. And as with all great adventurers, Alex has a crew of hangers-on by the end to help him absorb the punishment. All great adventurers have fair maidens or damsels or whatever you want to call them too, and that role is filled in very nicely by Luna. But there's difference between the Alex/Luna love story and most others, and that difference is Alex's devotion to Luna being so strong, he almost cares less about the world he's fighting to save than about his sweetheart since childhood. It's a wonderful way to do love stories, just showing how much the hero cares and sparing us the awful male self-realization we were forced to endure in games like Final Fantasy VIII. There are two other love stories in Lunar, but neither of them are brought to any real prominence as to deter our attention from Alex, Luna, and the world.

The characters in Lunar are arguably the best group I've ever met. Alex may be a teenager, but there's no inner pain to make him keep second-guessing himself, and so he shows a levelheadedness beyond his years and no reluctance in facing the dangers confronting him. While Luna does play up the pain-riven role a bit more, she makes up for it with her sensibility. There's also the overconfident, arrogant wizard Nash; the shy and reserved but powerful witch Mia; the barbaric, chauvinistic warrior Kyle; and the tough-talking, hardheaded priestess Jessica. All are excellent in their own way, and the exchanges between them are fun to read, especially the verbal rivalry between Kyle and Nash.

Speaking of verbal, Lunar's classification as an RPG means there will be talking in the game - lots and lots of talking. However, even talking in Lunar isn't the boring, nearly useless experience of many other RPGs. Part of this is because the dialogue is very good. But a large part of the reason for this is because the everyday street walkers aren't amnesiacs who drop one cryptic sentence that remains the same no matter how often you talk to them. Repeated talking to a single face in the crowd will take you through three or four different sets of dialogue before it loops. Furthermore, the characters often banter back and forth with each other during the interrogation. Characters in Lunar don't just talk to you, they converse with you, and that element alone does a lot more to bring you into the game's world than any other RPG.

Of course, since Lunar is an RPG, you'll find yourself taking to the battefield in order to be able to converse with other characters. One thing I noticed about battles is that they're not exactly random - you can see the monsters wandering around on the map. They move quite fast out there, and they do everything they can to crash into you, but they're avoidable. If you do run into one, a battle ensues. I point this out because of a dumb misconception I saw when Square-Enix released Chrono Cross - RPG n00bs seemed to be spreading the idea that Chrono Cross was the first game to offer such a system. Square-Enix, looking for their dollar-gathering hype, did nothing to discourage the idea. Lunar is among the many games that prove the idea wrong.

The battle system, like so many other things about the game, is nothing new but offers a few twists to stay above the humdrum. First, before doing the battle rounds with your characters, the game offers a choice for you to choose either having the whole group perform one action or whether you want to fight the round without help from the AI. For example, if you want your whole group to attack, you can select "attack" at the beginning of the round, and all your characters will save you the trouble of individual selection by attacking all by themselves. There is also an AI option for those people who can never think of what to do with certain characters. It's a nice thought, but using it will quickly show you that no matter what you wanted to do with your characters, the computer's auto choices are worse. But what I really like about the battles was that Lunar is range is a factor in using ordinary attacks. After selecting your option to attack and the enemy you want to attack, your selected character will actually walk over to that enemy, hit him, and then actually stay right where he stopped to attack. This can be good or bad, depending on how well you're able to adapt to using such a system. Sometimes, if your selected character has to walk a far enough distance to attack, he or she won't actually get to attack at all, and will sit there like a helpless sitting duck for your foes to prey on. The enemies are able to move around in a similar manner, and they won't hesitate to surround and pound a character to death.

Lunar's battles are challenging because the AI is powerful and bloodthirsty. This is easily countered using the age-old RPG solution of leveling up. However, this doesn't work on bosses. Whenever Alex levels up, the game applies complicated rocket science mathematical formulas in order to make the bosses more powerful. (An idea that Square-Enix ripped off when they made Final Fantasy VIII.) What I'm saying is that as Alex's level goes, so go the boss' levels. I both love and hate this system because while it keeps the game good and tough, it also ensures that beating some of the cheaper bosses relies more on your luck than on your strategy or skill. After losing certain boss battles a few times - and trust me, you will - some of the more short-fused among us will be buying new controllers before long.

One of the things about Lunar that drives me crazy is that the only character who can carry enough items to last through a typical dungeon is Nall, who you don't get to use in battle. Everyone else has an inventory that's so limited, deciding what items to place in it becomes necessary strategy. Perhaps the game offers the save-anywhere system in order to effectively counter this gameplay shortcoming.

After so effectively praising Lunar, you may now be beginning to wonder if Lunar has any chinks. Sadly, the answer is yes, and those chinks appear in the technical details. The version of Lunar that I'm reviewing may well be on a 32-bit console, but it's still a remake of a 16-bit game, and the graphics and sounds both show their age. Lunar has over an hour of animation, and while it's not exactly Disney-quality, it's just fine for what it does. The game graphics reek of 16-bit. While there are some impressive graphic effects in spells and certain animations like the blob that is the first boss, the sprites are unimpressive and lack detail. The sounds in the game are quite bad - whenever a character scores a hit on an enemy, the game makes a sound that can only be described as a squishy, muffled bang. The music is pretty good, but nothing on the level of the extraordinary compositions in, say, Final Fantasy IV. There are only two tracks that are really worth remembering - the title screen theme, and a song performed by Luna (lyrics included) as the group sails to Meribia. The rest is nice, but not indispensable, and the battle music sounds like a rejected disco track.

The gameplay in Lunar is quite good. The characters can move at diagonal angles, which is useful is you're on your last legs and trying to avoid battles. Having five different characters with five different inventories complicates the menu a bit, but it's nothing you won't figure out by the time you hit the second dungeon. When the AI pursues you in trying to start a battle, it will only chase you as far as the edge of the area you're currently in. It's almost as if the various AI map creatures are territorial, which is just fine with me because so many of them are faster then you.

Man, did I EVER want to give this game a perfect score. But out of objectivity, I just couldn't. The graphics and sounds are just too weak, and the boss level-up system too frustrating. However, those things won't stop me from giving Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete one of the highest scores I've ever given out. Plus, I guess I'm now able to brag about being rich enough to afford video games that include manuals with hard leather covers (which includes interviews with people behind the scenes and a strategy guide for the first leg of the game) making-of discs, music discs (of course, those are both common these days) and maps of the game's world printed on canvas (completely useless, but still very nice). Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete is a classic for every reason good games become classics. It's a brilliant answer for those who insist that nothing will ever be as good as Final Fantasy. Unfortunately, it's also out of print and exceptionally rare, so you'll end up paying top dollar for it. But hey, the way I see it, Lunar's rarity is just another finger pointing at its greatness. If you're lucky enough to find it, buy it then and there and I guarantee you won't want to part with it either.]]> Thu, 19 Feb 2015 18:50:40 +0000
<![CDATA[ This is an excellent novel, and trilogy]]> Last of a trilogy, this fantasy tale takes place on a planet with nine different races. For the humans, an ever-present threat is of being enslaved by a race of shape-changing lizard people. There's also an ancient prophecy whose time has come.

While traveling, a young noblewoman named Alanna meets Myrriden, a wizard who is also bearer of Vyrkarion, one of eight living crystals. Myrriden makes Alanna Vyrkarion's new bearer. He had little choice; he was dying at the time. Myrriden tells Alanna that she must be trained in how to handle a living crystal by a famous wizard named Jerevan. (In part 2 of this trilogy, Jerevan was given a very advanced curse by another wizard. It's the sort of curse that can only be lifted by Jerevan becoming an "expert" wizard.) Alanna is very aware of Jerevan's past, so she would rather get her training from anyone else.

Aavik is the leader of the isklarin (the lizard people). He is very aware of Vyrkarion's change in "ownership," and makes plans to get the crystal for himself.

Rhys Cinnac is cousin of the king, and also bearer of Cyrkarion, another of the living crystals. He is most interested in the part of the prophecy which says that the king will die, and a child will be saved. Could the child be Aubrey Cinnac, legitimate heir to the throne? He acts incredibly mature for his age. Can Alanna get over her strong dislike for Jerevan, and let him train her, so Aubrey can stay alive, and help the crystal to show its full power?

This is an excellent novel, and trilogy. The author does a fine job from start to finish, with the storytelling, the society-building, and the wizardry (and other weird stuff). It is very much worth reading.]]> Thu, 3 Jul 2014 18:46:04 +0000
<![CDATA[ Easy to read with really good writing]]> This fantasy/romance tale takes place in a very stratified society.

Taya is an icarus, a courier (with metal wings) who can move freely between the social classes in the city of Ondinium. A person's class is tattooed on their forehead; only through reincarnation can a person rise in class.

One day, Taya saves an Exalted (members of the elite class) and her son from what could have been a mid-air disaster. There is a growing terrorism problem in Ondinium; was this their handiwork? Her heroism attracts the attention of Exalted Alister Forlore, a member of the ruling council (he is also very handsome). He also writes computer programs for the Great Engine, the analytical engine that helps to run the city. He has written a program that is supposed to predict a person's most compatible mate. Taya also meets Alister's brother, Christof. He is a sarcastic you-know-what who has renounced his Exalted status and lives in the Ondinium equivalent of the inner city.

Tempting as it is, Taya knows that having any sort of intimate relationship with an Exalted is a really bad idea. A few days later, an aircar in which Alister was supposed to be riding explodes in midair. There is no chance for a definite identification of the dead, but everyone assumes that Alister is dead. It becomes known that someone has been trying to run unauthorized programs in the Great Engine, which is a huge offense, even for an Exalted. Taya and Christof learn, to their shock, that Alister staged his own death, and that his personal-compatibility program is only the beginning of his plans for the people of Ondinium.

I totally enjoyed this book. It's got steampunk, and it's got really good writing that is easy to read. It also has a bit of romance. I am very interested in reading the other parts of this trilogy (whenever they are available).]]> Mon, 30 Jun 2014 17:49:34 +0000
<![CDATA[ The reader will not go wrong with this one]]> (Reviewed by Paul Lappen - Kindle Book Review)

First of a series, this novel is about three brothers who are thrust into a very strange world.

Charles, Matthew and Travis are experienced winter hikers and campers. On a recent trip, there is a cave-in in the cave where they were sleeping. Next thing they know, they are in a place called Archelon, which is in the middle of rebellion against the tyrannical king. With no memory of their previous lives, the three join the Resistance. Matthew is tasked with delivering a vital message to Fort Renee, several days away on foot. After many trials and tribulations, Matthew is successful in delivering his message. Meantime, Charles and Travis go to a place called Lake Victorbland, which is something like Resistance Headquarters.

While Matthew is at Fort Renee, several thousand of the king's men stage an attack, along with mentally altered people called Mirages. The attack is barely repulsed. It is decided to send a small group of people, including Matthew, to Lake Victorbland, where he is reunited with Charles and Travis. Several years ago, Kurtax, the overall commander of the Resistance, was forced to abandon a place called Gowand's Keep. He has vowed to get it back, regardless of the cost. The three brother spend several days watching the castle, looking for any weaknesses or "back doors". There are none. Any conventional attack on Gowand's Keep would be a suicide mission. What about an "unconventional" attack?

This is a strong, well-done piece of sword and sorcery fantasy that is heavy on the "sword" part. It easily rates 4 stars, maybe even 4.25 stars. The reader will not go wrong with this one.

(The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair and honest review. We are not associated with the author or Amazon.)]]> Wed, 25 Dec 2013 19:33:07 +0000
<![CDATA[ The reader will not go wrong with this one]]> (Reviewed by Paul Lappen - Kindle Book Review)

First of a series, this novel is about three brothers who are thrust into a very strange world.

Charles, Matthew and Travis are experienced winter hikers and campers. On a recent trip, there is a cave-in in the cave where they were sleeping. Next thing they know, they are in a place called Archelon, which is in the middle of rebellion against the tyrannical king. With no memory of their previous lives, the three join the Resistance. Matthew is tasked with delivering a vital message to Fort Renee, several days away on foot. After many trials and tribulations, Matthew is successful in delivering his message. Meantime, Charles and Travis go to a place called Lake Victorbland, which is something like Resistance Headquarters.

While Matthew is at Fort Renee, several thousand of the king's men stage an attack, along with mentally altered people called Mirages. The attack is barely repulsed. It is decided to send a small group of people, including Matthew, to Lake Victorbland, where he is reunited with Charles and Travis. Several years ago, Kurtax, the overall commander of the Resistance, was forced to abandon a place called Gowand's Keep. He has vowed to get it back, regardless of the cost. The three brother spend several days watching the castle, looking for any weaknesses or "back doors". There are none. Any conventional attack on Gowand's Keep would be a suicide mission. What about an "unconventional" attack?

This is a strong, well-done piece of sword and sorcery fantasy that is heavy on the "sword" part. It easily rates 4 stars, maybe even 4.25 stars. The reader will not go wrong with this one.

(The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair and honest review. We are not associated with the author or Amazon.)]]> Wed, 25 Dec 2013 19:32:06 +0000
<![CDATA[ Floats, but Just Barely]]>
The Little Mermaid is still highly regarded as a classic of animation. It's well worthy of tha status too, so much so that, watching it now as adults, the early millennials who first fell in love with it are still quite blind to just how convoluted The Little Mermaid really is. Yes, it's a children's story based on a short by the great Hans Christian Anderson, but man, what a crazy mess of a plot. It's a good thing it got in at the tail end of the Reagan years, because there's no way in hell something like this ever would have flown anytime afterward. 

See how crazy The Little Mermaid is: THERE IS A MERMAID AS THE MAIN CHARACTER! A MERMAID! CRAZY! AND SHE HAS ANIMALS FRIENDS! WHO TALK! I mean, whoa, where are these guys getting the weed from, right? Who's their dealer and where can I find him, right?

Okay, now that we got that out of the way, the story of The Little Mermaid is universally known: A little mermaid by the name of Ariel is the daughter of Triton, the King of the Ocean. She's a little bit of a rebel; much to Triton's worry and annoyance, she makes regular trips to the surface to pick up little knickknacks humans accidentally dropped from passing ships. Given the fact that she's forbidden to keep going up and down from the surface, Ariel has to keep her fascination with the human world a secret from Dad. Sadly, Triton has a very nosy lobster confidante named Sebastian who lets Triton in on her side hobby, which pisses him off and sends him on a rampage in her secret closet. Ariel, not believing humans are the vile, disgusting creatures Triton makes them out to be (oh, if she only KNEW), is devastated. 

There's this evil witch named Ursula who knows Ariel's true desire, though, and she cheerfully offers to give Ariel a fresh new pair of real human legs for three days so she can explore the surface and meet the man of her dreams, Prince Eric, who she once rescued from drowning. Eric never got a look at Ariel, but he did manage to overhear her voice, and upon hearing that voice, he decided he was in love with Ariel and wanted to marry her. So in exchange for her legs and looks, all Ursula needs is Ariel's voice, and if Eric and Ariel haven't gotten it on in three days, Ariel goes back to mermaid form and Ursula owns her lock, stock, and barrel. Ursula is planning to use Ariel as her prime bargaining chip in challenging Triton's lordship. 

Go through that summary again and see what sticks out. Is it the fact that Eric must be pretty fucking shallow? Yeah, he hears a voice and falls in love, automatically, with whoever it happens to belong to. So when Ursula pretties herself up and takes to the surface in an effort to use Ariel's own voice - which she gets to use - against her, Eric basically whores himself out. Talk about thinking with the wrong head. Of course, since Ursula is controlling Ariel's voice, Ariel has every reason to be worried since it's the voice the Prince likes and not the girl. Ariel gets her legs completely mute, and when she voices her concern over not being able to, you know, speak to Eric and try to find out what he's really like and try to form some basis of an actual relationship, Ursula is ready with a pretty point blank response: Dress up like a Bratz doll and shake her groove thang. 

Yeah, it's pretty freaking absurd trying to get grownups to swallow that much, because it's extremely trite even by Disney standards. Yet somehow it always seems to escape the glare of cultural critics who prefer to go gunning for Belle and her Stockholm Syndrome. If anything, The Little Mermaid is actually worse on that front. The shame of it is that Ariel otherwise shows such promise as a character: She has a rebellious streak, an independently thinking spirit, and is a lot more than many Princesses of Disney past who frequently moved between trophies and decorations. Of course, you could probably factor in the fact that Ariel IS just 16 years old, and being of that age, she wants everyone to think of her as a more complex and rebellious person than she is. 

Somewhere in my more recent years and more recent viewings of The Little Mermaid, it occurred to me that I wasn't getting to know several of these characters very well. First of all, Sebastian. I know he's supposed to be some kind of advisor to Triton, but apparently advising the King comes with the duty of composing for the Royal Orchestra as well if the movie is to be believed. When Ariel fails to play her part in some kind of opera, Sebastian helps Triton scold Ariel, complaining that she ruined what was supposed to be his grandest achievement. That's quite the dual role. We also know Triton hates humans, but that's never explained. There's also Ariel's seagull friend Scuttle, who provides Ariel with all the information she could ever want on humans. I wanted to know just where Scuttle was coming up with this information, because to him, a fork is called a "dinglehopper" and is used as a comb while a smoking pipe is called a "snarfblatt" and used as a musical instrument. Ariel has six sisters and we don't get any information about them. 

Yeah, for being such a beloved classic of Disney's mighty animation division, The Little Mermaid is making us work with a pretty weak story. Even though The Little Mermaid was one of the first Disney movies to try to offer up a female lead as something more than some kind of prom night prize, that's pretty much what she aspires to be. It's Ariel who wants to give up HER own spot in the world and everything she knows, after all. To draw the comparison to my favorite Disney Animation movie once again, I don't know why Belle keeps taking all the beatings for Stockholm Syndrome with Ariel running around. In Beauty and the Beast, the is a gradual but very marked and notable change in the behavior of Beast, and it isn't like Belle spends so much time sitting around and taking it - she never seems to forget that she's captive because she, herself, made a bargain for her father's freedom. She also tries to escape, and she is helped by Beast's servants, who are legitimately warm to her from the very beginning and provide her with comfort and companionship as well as a communication buffer between her and Beast in the early goings. None of this happens in The Little Mermaid. It's a common romantic comedy trope that the woman is willing to give up all her accomplishments for a man, but The Little Mermaid goes a step further because Ariel is surrendering her entire world, basically selling her soul.

I don't want to denounce The Little Mermaid entirely, because it does succeed in showing us an imaginative fantasy world with wonderful writing and fun songs. "Under the Sea" is just plain infectious. It says a lot about The Little Mermaid that the movie escapes academia's attacks because the warmth and sweet writing are able to mask its deficiencies so well, and for those reasons, I'm rating in the positive because, hell, I like this movie too. I can't pretend the flaws weren't apparent to me even when I was a young kid, though, so I can't place this on the level of a lot of Disney's other work. It's standard, which means it's worth a few watches whenever it pops up on The Disney Channel, but if I write up a list of great animated movies - and believe me, I LOVE animated movies - I'm leaving The Little Mermaid off for sure.]]> Mon, 9 Dec 2013 16:24:49 +0000
<![CDATA[ Shrek Learns About Christmas]]>
The animation is good and the vocal talents from the Shrek movies do the voices of their respective characters. However, I didn't find the special to be as funny or entertaining as some of the other Shrek specials. I was also discouraged that the special didn't focus much on the "giving" aspect of the season (family is the big catch word in the special). Also, the special is rather short with a total running time of about 23 minutes. Despite this, I did enjoy watching it and found it somewhat entertaining. I like SCARED SHREKLESS better, but SHREK THE HALLS is ok.]]> Sat, 7 Dec 2013 17:29:06 +0000
<![CDATA[ A Fun Fantasy-Action Flick]]>
In terms of fantasy-action movies, PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME really isn't all that bad. The exposition of the dagger is a bit difficult to follow at times, but beyond that the story is a pretty straight-forward fantasy-action movie. There's lots of action, some lovable characters, and the typical romance. Alfred Molina has a small bit part in the film, but is one of the more memorable characters. Ben Kingsley is always fun to watch and I think he's even better playing villains and anti-heroes than he is at everymen and heroes. Gemma Arterton is beautiful and does a decent job of bringing a little bit of spark to a role that is basically written as nothing more than eye candy. As Dastan, Gyllenhall does a good job and is fairly entertaining to watch. I've never been a Gyllenhall fan, but I actually didn't mind that he was the hero in this movie.

Although it didn't do very well at the domestic box office, the movie did fairly well worldwide and is currently (as of 11/28/13) the highest grossing movie ever based upon a video game. Overall, although there isn't a lot that is really memorable about the movie, PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME is a fun flick to watch. You might not watch it again and again, but you probably won't regret having watched it the first time.]]> Fri, 29 Nov 2013 02:40:05 +0000
<![CDATA[ Satisfying end to a zombie vs superpowers young adult series]]> Author Jason D. Morrow brings his Starborn saga to a satisfying conclusion with this third volume, Even in Death. The story starts with its protagonist already dying, already making plans to avoid being resurrected as a flesh-eating greyskin. The battle for her home town is over, and now begins the battle for humanity.
Mora’s impending death lends a sense of desperate urgency to this tale. Afraid to tell anyone she’s been scratched, she risks alienating friends and allies in her quest to quickly destroy the evil Jeremiah. But she’s not the only one living a secret life, fighting secret battles in this fast-action tale. While rebellion jumps from town to town, and super-powered Starborn come together to make plans, Mora finally acknowledges her own heart, just as her beloved hides his from everyone else.
Friends and strangers, powerful and weak, betrayers and betrayed will all come together as this young adult tale races to its inevitable conclusion. Questions raised in the earlier two books are pleasingly answered and events come together convincingly. Readers might guess what’s going to come, but the emotions and motivations are well-drawn, as is the action, keeping the pages turning til the end.
I particularly like the positive ending to the story , enjoyably different from so many modern dystopian tales. I like the natural way that events from the previous novels are brought into focus too, without long pages of telling, making this an enjoyable end to an enjoyable series of YA, dypstopian, coming-of-age novels.
Disclosure: After reviewing books 1 and 2 I was delighted to be offered a free ecopy of this book for one more review.
 ]]> Tue, 8 Oct 2013 21:54:44 +0000
<![CDATA[ Beautiful world-building]]> Beautiful and immensely detailed world-building characterizes the three short stories in Justyna Plichta-Jendzio’s collection, Dark Children of Naor. Geographically the world encompasses icy wastes and desert beauty, plus everything in between. Biologically there are animals familiar and strange—including dragons. And then there are the mysteries of vampires and more, ghost stories come to life in distant lands.
The author peoples her world with intriguing characters too, both male and female, and the biggest strength of these stories may well be the depth of its feminine leads, in battle or equally in court intrigue. Readers who like their histories and backstories to be fully developed and carefully detailed will thoroughly enjoy these tales. Others might wish the stories were longer, giving more space for the history to weave underneath an adventure's events. But overall, the collection is deeply fascinating and promises more to come in an intriguing strange world, not far, but just far enough away from our own.
Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy of this book by the author with a request for my honest review.]]> Tue, 8 Oct 2013 21:37:26 +0000
<![CDATA[ Space opera with a female bounty hunter]]> Action, politics, sex, drama, romance, temptation and more... this opening volume to a space opera series has it all, as bounty hunter Zyra Zanr pursues the lone male on a planet full of females, intending to hand him over to the galactic authorities for his crimes. But the locals would rather kill him themselves for the fault of being male. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, political and military forces gather for war.
Cool gangster dialog combines with well-timed revelations to give depth and background to the tale. The writing carries a self-conscious, space-operatic sense of scope, heavy-handed perhaps, but well-suited to the genre. And the complex relationships move as fast as spaceships with just as many threats.
Sensual love, in its various forms, is juxtaposed with carefully detailed violence. But the action-packed battle scenes are probably the strongest part of this novel. Bodies heal fast in a futuristic world, but hurt just as truly, while hearts are just as surely wounded. And the right deed can be hard to find behind flashes of emotion, politics and war.
A fast-moving tale with the feel of a graphic novel and the scope of intergalactic space opera, Kevis Hendrickson’s Inquest tells a complete story while leaving questions to fuel a whole new series with its intrepid female protagonist challenging evil in outer space.
Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy with a request for my honest review.]]> Tue, 8 Oct 2013 21:28:42 +0000
<![CDATA[ Short action-packed comic-book sci-fi fiction]]>
The story ends abruptly at the end of an exciting battle sequence, reminiscent of Buck Rogers perhaps, or a first-person shoot-em-up computer game, leaving readers eager for more.]]> Thu, 26 Sep 2013 00:51:28 +0000
<![CDATA[ Dystopian fiction with zombies and a nice storyline]]>
Normal Connor continues to claim Mora’s heart, but his foolhardy bravery might make the decision between him and his more powerful sibling easy after all. Meanwhile Mora’s learning more of evil Jeremiah’s past, and the history of this dark dystopian world.

I particularly enjoyed the author’s technique for interlocking storylines—past and present, Connor’s journey and Mora’s, all well-told and well-separated without losing the reader in complications. Mora may feel “like my head has been run over by a truck,” as the stories blend, but the reader never does.

Multiple storylines help this book avoid the second-of-three slump and keep the action fresh and new. The final crisis is powerfully told, with lots of action, shocks and surprises. And Mora’s occasionally repetitive thoughts are easily excused—she’s a teenager. Ending with a pleasing mix of cliff-hanger and healthy resolution, If it Kills Me paves the way nicely for book three and leaves me eager to read more.

Disclosure: I was lucky enough to be offered a free ecopy in exchange for my honest review.]]> Thu, 26 Sep 2013 00:42:03 +0000
<![CDATA[ fun middle-grade high-school fantasy fiction]]> Into the Spiral, by Erin Danzer, is a fairly quick read and gets this new series off to an exciting start. With some fascinating characters, a plot that’s firmly grounded in teen girl dreams, the threat of a traitor, and worlds to defend, this should be a fun series to follow.
Disclosure: I won an ecopy in a blog contest.]]> Wed, 4 Sep 2013 21:48:46 +0000
<![CDATA[ Intriguing eco-thriller / romantic-suspense / future fantasy novel]]> When Lara is attacked, a patient’s life is in danger, and shared dreams bind people together, it’s time to understand all those Jungian symbols and work out what “the collective” is trying to say. Lara’s lover may not understand her skills, but he understands danger and the changing world; he knows how to keep the people he loves safe; and he loves Lara. But is he ready to help her find a psychic?
Backstory of a world without oil, spiraling dangerously out of control is well-timed, all too plausible, and naturally told in this scary paranormal suspense. The romance between Lara and Trevor is sweet, and their backstories come together too as more of the past is revealed. Add a mysterious house, the Mexican mafia, a wise cop, and ancient evil eager to see the extinction of life as we know it, and you’ll see this novel’s full of excitement and surprises.
The author’s familiarity with psychology is reflected nicely in Lara’s dealings with her patients. Occasionally heavy, but always fascinating, the analysis adds depth and history to Lara and Trevor’s relationship. Meanwhile an energetic puppy and sensuous lovemaking add fun and a future. Local foods and beers add authenticity, and the whole is a nicely intriguing tale of Gaia, human folly, mythology, and hope.
Disclosure: I was lucky enough to win an ecopy of this novel after reading a lot about the series.]]> Wed, 4 Sep 2013 21:43:43 +0000
<![CDATA[ Harry Potter meets Malory Towers]]> Being English, of course, I wanted to know more about where Avalon might be, why people would take planes rather than trains to travel around England, and precisely which Arthurian legends would qualify as real. But bigger questions give this story its depth: the relationships between good and evil, power and responsibility, and unity and control for a start. It’s a pleasing novella where a studious American high-school girl enters a magical boarding school, meets prophesy and destiny, majors in pizza and alchemy, and learns where she belongs. The story’s light with just a hint of darkness in the wings, nicely tuned to middle school readers, and a fun way to start a new series.
Disclosure: I volunteered to read a free eARC and give my honest opinion.]]> Wed, 4 Sep 2013 21:17:03 +0000
<![CDATA[ An intriguing, haunting short story]]> The Fractured Boy vividly juxtaposes two worlds—a past or future land of peace and serenity, and a present-day concrete jungle—placing them both in the same place and time, while a young boy hovers between them. As worlds fade nearer and further from his senses, the fractured boy struggles to decide where he is and where he wants to be. The author portrays the confusion, of boy and people around him, with a lovely sense of both alien and ordinary, making this a delightfully intriguing short story, captivating from start to finish.
Disclosure: It was free so I bought it.]]> Wed, 4 Sep 2013 20:58:59 +0000
<![CDATA[ This is very much worth the reader's time]]> This is the story of a love that really does span the ages.

The first two parts of this book are actually abridged versions of a pair of Edgar Rice Burroughs novels (that is why he is listed as a co-author). They tell the story of Victoria Custer, your average resident of the early 20th century. She likes candy, her favorite color is pink, and she is very interested in hats and barrettes. She is also deathly afraid of earthquakes, and she is very troubled by dreams and visions of a handsome young man whose name, she learns, is Nu.

A millenia ago, Nu was part of a tribe living in an earthquake-prone part of Africa. It was a time when death could come anywhere and anytime, whether from a snake bite, or being devoured by a large, carnivorous beast. Nu is very interested in taking Nat-ul as his mate. Her "price" is the head of Oo, a very large lion who has caused their group many problems in the past. While off on his solo hunt, an earthquake knocks out Nu, and seals him in a cave, for 100,000 years. Another earthquake opens his cave, and he awakens in the 1920's. For Nu, it's a very boring place, except for meeting Victoria, who is there on a vacation. She could be Nat-ul's identical twin sister. The attraction is immediate, and mutual.

The third part (the part written by Gill) takes Victoria from the family farm in Nebraska to the Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexico. By now, she has embraced her inner cave woman (Nat-ul is now a part of her), and she is planning to visit the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. Her brother, Barney, goes with her, knowing that Vic is quite prepared to go by herself. While there, Vic has many adventures, including helping to release several young children from being sold into slavery, killing a jaguar single-handedly, and falling into an underground river, which leads to her almost being devoured by a hideous flying beast. Of course, Vic has a bigger reason for her trip than simply becoming an adventure addict.

I really enjoyed this book. Gill does a very credible continuation of the story of Victoria/Nat-ul. Nearly anything written by ERB will have good writing, and lots of action; so does the third part. This is very much worth the reader's time.  ]]> Wed, 4 Sep 2013 19:40:19 +0000
<![CDATA[ This is easy to read and has just enough weird in it]]>
Wye-Wye is the youngest member of the group, and insatiably curious, so it is very easy for him to follow his own path to satisfy that curiosity. After much diligent searching, and several broadcast summons (respond immediately or else), the group concludes that Wye-Wye is not just hiding or has lost track of time, he is Seriously Missing.

Melusine takes a big chance, and calls in Paige Ballantyne, human investigative reporter, to help in the search. She tells him all about their origin, and why they're on Earth. As a professional cynic, it takes him a while to accept it. Their search takes them to several different cities. In Toronto, Melusine meets Cyprian, an old friend and fellow demon. He has spent too many years in human form, so he is now "stuck"; he can't change back to demon form. Meantime, the relationship between Melusine and Ballantyne turns serious.

The search moves to Austin, texas, and has to do with an academic conference on the "Left behind" series of novels. It's a place where the residents take their religion (specifically, the End Times) very seriously. Stand-up comedy jokes about it are not acceptable. The group of demons gets involved with the leader of a small local militia group. He has a very well-stocked underground bunker, and is not going to just wait for the End Times to come.

This is a gem of a book. It is an easy to read love story, and a search-for-missing-person story, with just enough weird in it. This is recommended for everyone, even those who think that they won't like fantasy or paranormal books. ]]> Sat, 31 Aug 2013 18:33:22 +0000
<![CDATA[ Feels like a strong restart to the series]]>
References to events in the past book reminded me it was a while since I last read it. But the story flows quickly and convincingly, so readers new to the series could probably start here, with just a few missing pieces. If you know Seattle you'll love seeing remembered locations. If not, you'll discover the mist and rain of the Olympic Peninsula, described just as convincingly as downtown streets, all subjected to the powers of invading magic.

Filled with evocative descriptions, well-researched history, intriguing mystery, convincing missteps and a host of great characters, Downpour is a fast dark urban fantasy, blended with scenes from the National Parks, twisted myths, and an enjoyable touch of romance.

Disclosure: We bought Seawitch when we visited Seattle, then I realized I still hadn’t read Downpour, so now I’m catching up.]]> Mon, 26 Aug 2013 22:50:41 +0000
<![CDATA[ This one is surprisingly good]]>
June learns that she is a Writer, with the ability to Write an entire world into existence. One Earth, June meets a young artist named Jackson. He has a hard time believing her story; he has an even harder time believing that he has related "abilities" of his own. As a Writer, the intention is that June create a Writer for Earth, someone who, out of frustration and boredom, will Write a whole new world into being.

Meantime, Vivien is the Master Writer. Her son, Victor, is a manipulative little you-know-what who thinks that he "deserves" to be the next Master Writer. He also desperately wants to be reWritten (reborn). It is used only in cases of extreme emergency. In her Will, Vivien makes June the next Master Writer, and practically begs her to never, ever reWrite Victor. She is afraid that it will magnify his negative qualities (of which he has many). When told that the answer is No, Victor does not take it well. He spends weeks and weeks plotting the "perfect" way to force June to reWrite him. Does it work? Does Earth get unWritten out of existence (always a possibility)?

This one is surprisingly good. The author does a fine job from start to finish. She is only 16 years old (!), but writes like someone older. Young people will love this book; it's well worth reading for adults, too.]]> Mon, 26 Aug 2013 19:03:48 +0000
<![CDATA[ Intriguing premise, YA dystopian fiction]]>
The author describes Mora’s world convincingly, keeping backstory revelations in their place, and maintaining a good mix of swift action and introspective storytelling pace. First-person writing with a youthful, journaling style lends a sense of immediacy. And the different locales combine to create a feeling of a much bigger world sharing this dark dystopian fate.

There’s a bigger world offering hope as well in this tale. Mora learns she has unexpected powers and wonders what to do with them. Then she finds others, the Starborn, with similar skills. But they won’t share their secrets, and Mora has yet to learn that all power comes with responsibility. Meanwhile she’s falling in love with two guys at once—definitely teen.

Determined to save her home at whatever cost, curious to learn the extent of her powers, worried and wearied by the attentions and distractions of others, Mora weaves a tortuous course between being too trusting and too suspicious, too powerful and too afraid to test herself. Success carries the seeds of failure. And the novel ends with nice enough twist to offer completeness while guaranteeing more. It’s an enjoyable teen read--think Hunger Games crossed with a touch of Superman and zombie fiction perhaps--not too sensual, appropriately violent, offering plenty to think about.

Disclosure: The author gave me a free ecopy and I promised an honest review.]]> Wed, 21 Aug 2013 22:47:18 +0000
<![CDATA[ Maybe better than Volume 1]]>
In this book, the group of six has been given three different tasks, forcing them to split up. Jane and Ryan head into the Nevada desert, looking for a drug factory that is creating a very powerful and very addictive drug. It happens to look and taste exactly like regular tap water.

After several days of hiking, they find the drug factory (by being taken prisoner). Among the other prisoners are several women who are used in all sorts of unspeakable ways, and members of a US Army unit who were ambushed while on a training exercise. They are guarded by a number of dark elves, and members of the Army unit who were induced to go over to the "dark side." It is run by Andre Wittenburg, the local crime boss, who knows exactly what Jane and Ryan really are.

To call conditions "brutal" is a huge understatement. Jane and Ryan free the other prisoners, and destroy the camp. They have to fight a mythical creature or two along the way. After a few days to recover, the six are back together and off to their next challenge. The tears of Freya (Norse goddess and Jane's mother) were encased in amber a millennia ago. It is very important that they not fall into the wrong hands. The group heads to a very restricted part of the Atlantic Ocean, just off the Florida Keys. It's the sort of place that no sane ship's captain would ever visit. There they meet another couple of mythical creatures (who really are not so mythical).

Most times, literary sequels are not as good as the previous book. That is not true in this case. If anything, this book is better than Volume 1, because the reader gets more of the back story. This is very much worth reading.]]> Wed, 21 Aug 2013 17:19:38 +0000
<![CDATA[ Very interesting and plausible]]> Last of a trilogy, this book is about a new age on Earth with the coming of the Mayan Sixth World. This time, something is really going to happen.

Several years previously, Amy Magee, archaeologist and expert on Mayan hieroglyphics, discovered some real Mayan pyramids that were buried. . . in central California. It seems that the Spanish wiped out only some of the Mayan race several hundred years ago; they did not wipe out the entire race.

Today, Mayan workmen are busy unearthing the new Mayan city of Ixabal, getting ready for the coronation of the new King. Amy has a major part in the ceremony, as the Bringer of the Sixth World. Everything has been kept very quiet, so that the public does not know what is happening. The exception is a nosy newspaper reporter, who has been asking questions.

A major complication happens when Will, a major figure in what is to come, gets conked on the head during a cavern cave-in, and loses a large chunk of his recent memory. That includes the memory of just what he is supposed to say and do in a couple of weeks. Candis, Will's sister, knows and accepts her part in the coming ceremony (think "human sacrifice"). Leo, her boyfriend, most assuredly does not agree. He comes up with a bold plan for the both of them to flee to someplace where they will never be found. Rumors of a huge treasure attract the attention of several international bad guys. Meantime, Amy races to interpret an ancient Mayan book which may have a very different interpretation of the start of the Sixth World.

As with most trilogies, reading the first two books first is a good idea. It's also a good idea because this book, and the whole trilogy, is that good. It's interesting and plausible and it will certainly keep the reader interested.]]> Sat, 17 Aug 2013 20:21:54 +0000
<![CDATA[ The author does it right from start to finish]]> In a world where the gods of antiquity take human form and have been mating with present-day humans, one man begins to learn his destiny.

Ryan Hunter has been on his own for most of his life. One night, while accompanying a bounty hunter, Ryan sees some very strange things, and feels his godly "abilities" awakened within him. He soon finds himself, along with five other Disciples, in a hotel conference room in Orlando, Florida. Each are sitting next to their godly parents. It is not just Greek gods who are alive and well, but gods from many other cultures, including Norse, Aztec and Japanese.

The six are given a mission. They must travel into the Everglades, and kill a very special alligator. After several days trudging through the swamps, they find the alligator. Think of a giant, mutant alligator on steroids (that can climb trees). Later, the group finds a small town where they think can rest and recuperate for a few days. Strange things are going on in the town. All the women are dressed in very revealing outfits, and they all have blank looks on their faces. There are separate gatherings for men and women every night. Attendance, even by visitors, is expected. The group has to fight their way out of town.

Back at the same hotel conference room, the group learns of a fancy charity ball happening in the hotel. The organization's official address is an abandoned warehouse, and the people listed as the Board of Directors are all dead (no, they're not zombies). The group infiltrates the ball, and learns that, among other beings, vampires are involved. Do all members of the group survive their tasks? Do any of the group, three men and three women, hookup with each other? Do they stay together, and become the newest group of superheroes?

This book is better than excellent. The author does it the right way from start to finish. It has action, it has weirdness, and it has lots of good writing. I am very interested in reading future books in this series.]]> Fri, 9 Aug 2013 22:53:06 +0000
<![CDATA[ There might even be wisdom behind the madcap humor]]>
Plays on words and plays on culture combine, adding occasional profundity to madcap and hair-raising speculations, and even inviting contemplation of our own society’s preoccupations. But it’s all very light-hearted, long-winded in just the right professorial style, intriguing and fun. There might even be an occasional faint echo of C. S. Lewis.

I particularly enjoy how the author invents words and introduces ideas without any need for explanation. But if you really want to know the paratechnological details, you can always read (and enjoy) the comprehensive glossary at the end. Footnotes to each chapter add a certain personal touch, as long as you can follow them. In print they’d be great. On my e-reader the numbers weren’t linked to the notes, which meant I kept scrolling forwards and back to follow the author’s conversation. But perhaps they’re linked in other versions. In any case, they’re well worth the scrolling.

A fun, short read, with odd bits of wisdom tucked between the lines, Everygnome’s Guide is the perfect side-course to lunch with sci-fi fantasy-minded friends, and hey, it’s even got some math!

Disclosure: The author kindly gave me a free ecopy and asked for my honest review.]]> Mon, 29 Jul 2013 22:32:34 +0000
<![CDATA[ Teens will enjoy this book]]>
Aradia is the "new kid" at Salem (Massachusetts) High School. She can't help but notice that a larger-than-normal portion of the students are either incredibly handsome or incredibly beautiful. Those same people are openly staring at Aradia, and not just because of her flaming red hair.

As time goes on, Aradia learns that the school is home to a large number of beings that go under the general name of "hidden." They include werewolves, vampires, shapeshifters, faeries, etc.; the hidden part comes from their greatest law, which is to never, ever reveal anything of their existence to humans. The interest in Aradia is because she has "abilities" of her own. The non-humans at school have never seen, or smelled, anyone like her. Aradia doesn't know what she is, only that she was found in a cave, as a newborn, and officially adopted by Ross and Liza Preston.

The town of Salem is being menaced by the Vampire Murderer. A pair of bodies are found, with puncture marks on their necks, and totally drained of blood. Aradia is assured that the chances of a vampire being the culprit are tiny; someone is trying very hard to frame them. Aradia takes matters into her own hands, and attracts the attention of the real culprit. Does Aradia help bring the murderer to justice?

This one is surprisingly good. The plot may be a little average, but the author does a fine job with it. Teens will enjoy this book; adults will also enjoy it. ]]> Sat, 27 Jul 2013 19:42:20 +0000
<![CDATA[ Fun start to a kids' fantasy series]]>
Two schoolboys, computers and dragons star in this tale: What more could a young reader want?  The writing’s fluid and easy to read, with just the right level of complexity to keep the brain engaged. The storyline’s intriguing and fun. And the characters are very true to life—bored son, weary parents, eager friend, neglected sibling of an “older, smarter, more wonderful, super handsome big brother,” and a most surprising ally.

The curious world of Distania has a nice mix of appealing mystery, places to explore, dragons (of course), and sudden splashes of danger. It’s an almost perfect computer game in fact, except it seems much more than that, and it’s clear Alex and Chris will be eager to go back after their adventure’s done.

A short pleasing story introducing nice lessons in friendship, sensible use of computers, a touch of magic and the promise of a really good series of boy-friendly stories—this one’s highly recommended.

Disclosure: I was lucky enough to grab a copy while it was free.]]> Sat, 20 Jul 2013 00:27:10 +0000
<![CDATA[ Paranormal mythology crossed with modern spy story]]>
The author reveals secrets with excellent timing, nicely low-key thoughts and reactions making both character and storyline seem real. Lots of period detail feeds naturally into the adventure, with backstory given in just the right places, personal opinion made convincingly personal to the character, and some excellent thought-provoking quotes from the era—“One death is a tragedy, a million a statistic.”

The action’s fast and furious. The characters are powerful, the romance is convincing, vulnerabilities believable, and the whole a really good read. This novel may be part of a series, but I didn’t realize that until after I’d read it, so it definitely stands alone with no problem. I would love to read more though—if only I had more reading time.

Disclosure: I received a free ecopy from the author, and I’m just sorry it took me so long to get to reading it.]]> Fri, 19 Jul 2013 23:51:57 +0000
<![CDATA[ excietment, fun and chance of a role-playing game]]>
Nature’s Unbalance is a fun, action-packed novella with all the elements of skill and chance you’d expect in a role-playing game. The story’s slowed by occasional typos but nice world-building, pleasing characters, and enjoyable family relationships add up into a thoroughly enjoyable child-friendly novella with neat lessons about persistence, loyalty, communication, and respect for nature.

Disclosure: I was lucky enough to win a free ecopy of this novella.]]> Tue, 9 Jul 2013 23:38:54 +0000
<![CDATA[ Time travel, bringing a sci fi series full circle.]]>
Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy of this novel by the author, with no strings attached.]]> Tue, 9 Jul 2013 23:27:40 +0000
<![CDATA[ Exciting and clever sci fi romance]]>
The story’s told with nicely personable humor, clever dialog, enjoyable descriptions that fit well into the characters’ points of view, and a certain characteristic pre-occupation with sexuality . High-octane danger, science that’s sketchily clever enough to be convincing, and a plot that lets the reader guess solutions almost in time and in tune with the protagonists, all combine to make this a thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi romance, with just enough of both to keep fans of both genres happy.

I kind of wished the story had ended a page or two before it did. There’s a natural conclusion, but a final few scenes promise a truly intriguing sequel which I will definitely have to read.

Disclosure: I was lucky enough to get a free ecopy of this novel through a book club.]]> Tue, 9 Jul 2013 22:12:04 +0000
<![CDATA[ Nicely different take on vampires and salvation]]>
Vampires, auras, the Bible, good and evil, faith, duty, sexuality and more—it’s a heady, sometimes slightly awkward mix. The story’s long, with so many threads to be followed, and it’s slowed by occasional editing glitches (at least in the copy I read). But it’s certainly interesting. The dialog has a convincing southern shape (to this non-southerner). The military are convincingly addicted to force. And the ancient ones, trying to fulfill their likewise ancient destiny, certainly offer an interesting twist on a well-known theme.

If you like vampire stories, Christian fiction, and long complex tales, this might be the one for you.

Disclosure: I was lucky enough to get a free ecopy when I participated in a blog tour.]]> Tue, 9 Jul 2013 17:07:23 +0000
<![CDATA[ oddly different fantasy of heaven and hell]]>
Esca and Drowen have magical powers of their own, besides those bestowed by their gods. Heaven’s above. Hell’s below. And never the twain shall meet without battle. But the question remains: can a minion of hell be un-damned? And can Esca’s powers save the world.

I struggled to like Drowen—a sort of super-cynical, male Cinderella character—though I liked the symbolism of Blaze and Bane—and apples—and the mix of mystic with oddly out-of-place technology. The story reads at some times like a Hitchhiker’s Guide to Hell, and at others like rolls of a die in a role-playing game. Drowen’s cynically overbearing self-absorption and lack of sympathy is a little hard to take, but his heart just might prove to be in the right place, at least when it’s juxtaposed with Esca’s again. I find myself hoping the second book in the series might be written from Esca’s point of view, and I must admit, I’m curious where the story will go.

Disclosure: The author sent me a free ecopy with a request for my honest review.]]> Tue, 9 Jul 2013 16:56:05 +0000
<![CDATA[ paranormal fantasy of the afterlife]]>
“The irony of the whole thing,” says a friendly guardian, “is that those they are hoping to see again so badly are already waiting for them in the afterlife, wondering why they aren’t there…” but sometimes it’s hard to let go.

Letting go has many different guises in this novella, and Daniel needs to learn to release his anger and despair while holding onto trust. “Nothing is impossible,” he learns as he steps onto the surface of water, “given the right amount of faith.”

The Journey is a Christian fantasy, with clearly Christian themes behind the curious world it creates. The threats and action are exciting, with a pleasing adventure-game style. And the story’s nicely tuned to young readers and their parents, with enough food for thought without provoking unwarranted reactions. By the end of the tale one journey’s finished and another about to begin—a satisfying conclusion that clearly promises more books to follow.

Disclosure: I bought this novella when it was offered free.]]> Tue, 9 Jul 2013 16:08:09 +0000
<![CDATA[Princess Mononoke (1997 Japanese Anime Film) Quick Tip by LexiGrayson]]> Mon, 3 Jun 2013 22:50:44 +0000 <![CDATA[ X-Men on the dark side]]> The story’s told through Sam and Drake’s eyes in alternating chapters, a technique that allows for interesting insights into both students’ points of view. Occasionally awkward word choices are appropriate for the teen protagonists, giving an immediacy to the writing. A wealth of detail anchors the story in modern culture. And the plot is nicely drawn out.
Books one and two (Forbidden Mind and Forbidden Fire) are both quick short reads, taking Sam from a false sense of security and Drake from a real sense of danger to a place where both need to fight for rights and family and the freedom of their friends. More characters’ points of view appear as the trilogy progresses, and the cast of characters on stage begins to grow. In Forbidden Fire, the pleasant school of book one suffers many changes while Luke and Lucy are drawn into the quest to learn what’s going on. Drake and Sam both question their motivations and the morality of mind control, until an exciting conclusion brings the danger into personal focus.
Book three (Forbidden Life) is much the longest of the three books and could easily have been split again. With Drake’s former parish priest offering gentle guidance, paramilitary organizations taking the lead, and family relationships balanced against friendship and trust, the story offers many ethical questions, plenty of excitement, and a pleasing touch of romance—with details appropriately muted for YA reading.
Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy of this trilogy to read and review during the author’s blog tour.]]> Fri, 24 May 2013 22:09:15 +0000
<![CDATA[ Great characters and plot in epic fantasy series]]> Enter a world of dwarves, ogres and more, of dark powers and light hope, of tortured (sometimes literally) protagonists, politics, rebellion, friendship, loyalty and more—the world of the Brotherhood of Dwarves.

The series stats with Book 1, The Brotherhood of Dwarves, then continues through battles and alliances in Red Sky at Dawn and the Fall of Dorkhun. But you really can start reading here with book 4, and you’ll be quickly enthralled. The author builds a convincing and consistent world, with genuinely nuanced world-views amongst his characters. The writing’s quick and sharp, with smooth dialog leading to quick action, just enough backstory to remind regular readers or save new readers from getting confused, and descriptions that build smoothly into whole scenes of town and countryside.

Several plotlines intertwine as armies gather for a final confrontation. Alliances are made and broken. Old enemies are chased and old cruelties avenged, while new threats rear their heads, and nicely nuanced characters change and grow. The story follows different groups and events without ever seeming confusing—and I’m saying this after failing to read books 2 and 3! If book one intrigued me (it did), this book four has me hooked and I’m eager for more.

A series of novels that stand complete in their own right and build to something larger as each tale is told—what more could I want?


Disclosure: I was lucky enough to win a copy!

]]> Tue, 14 May 2013 22:36:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ Short, sharp and intriguing]]>
Convincing dialog keeps many of the stories moving, while others grow from slightly off-beat ideas to end in curious twists—sometimes restarting in the next part to continue the trilogy. “Rube would have been proud!” as the reader is told in "Practical Goldberg (A Love Story In 3 Parts)." The social networking is up-to-date and tweeting, the mysteries are reminding you to read with care, and the lights might headline clues if your eyes are open.

A brisk bright writing style and short-short format remind me of those old “here’s the ending; how did it happen?” mysteries I used to solve with my brothers when we were kids, but these aren't kids' stories. A few missed edits caused me to pause briefly, but the tales are fast and intriguing enough to bring me straight back to the page, making this an enjoyable collection to dip into over coffee or read at the end of day when the attention span’s waning for anything long—but read with care; details do matter after all. And don’t let the kids get their hands on those magazines (or they'll learn "It’s a lot of work being a girl").

Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy by the author.]]> Tue, 14 May 2013 21:28:28 +0000
<![CDATA[ Macabre interconnected Victorian horror stories]]>
What follows is a series of four connected stories built on the fabric of the Bethlehem asylum and the masks of doctors, patients and sinners, each dark, horrific and gruesome, each told in the smoothly bleak narration of Victorian  mystery, and each gripping in its own way. Masks shift and turn. Crimes find us out until only the puppeteer remains, pulling strings at the grave.

The final two tales feel slightly rushed compared to the first, but the whole is a nicely intriguing collection, a novella in four parts, each haunting and dark.

Disclosure: I found this ebook when it was free.]]> Mon, 6 May 2013 23:14:15 +0000
<![CDATA[ High elves, high fantasy, and romance]]> For myself, I wish heroines weren’t always so quick to jump to conclusions, and heroes so bad at trying to express themselves. But that’s just me. The romance is fun, built on great dialog, frequent missteps, and occasionally detailed sensual scenes. The swordplay and magic are well-drawn. And different points of view are used to good effect to enhance the action and excitement. The story ends with a nice sense of completion and just enough mystery to make the reader want more, so I hope book two will arrive soon.
Disclosure: I won a free ecopy of this novel.]]> Mon, 6 May 2013 23:02:47 +0000
<![CDATA[ Alternate worlds and teen emotions in a complex mix]]>
Add the Lindbergh baby, bullying, the consequences of teen drink and sex, ecological problems, technological advancements, politics, war, teen romance, and even a touch of the spiritual, then you’ll have at least part of the flavor of A. B. Whelan’s young adult fantasy, Fields of Elysium.

The novel’s long and well-edited—just a few odd typos and strange turns of phrase. The voice is very distinctly that of an American teen girl. Emotions shift from “earlier ecstatic feelings” to deep lows through detailed rationalization. And the science and technology are definitely not for the techie. But the story’s fun, with intriguing characters sharing the inconsistencies of genuine teens. Set partly in an LA high school, partly in homes, and partly--well--somewhere else, it certainly gives the reader much to think about, though the much-vaunted “peace” of the alien planet never quite convinces me.

Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this novel when the author visited my blog on her blog tour.]]> Mon, 6 May 2013 22:43:39 +0000
<![CDATA[ Smalltown magic, mystery and intrigue]]>
And there’s romance. At 21, it's time for Cassie to step out into her future. Will she marry the normal guy she’s been dating, or the magical one-time friend who’s somehow haunted her since childhood? Will she fulfill a destiny as protector of the unmagical in her home town, or will she flee to a safer normal world? Will she accept her parents’ love, or stray too far beyond the bounds?

The story ends with its central mystery solved, but plenty of questions remain to fuel a continuing series. Imagine the Dresden Files set in a small cozy town, with a love interest that might actually work out—one day, maybe—and a twenty-something female protagonist, then perhaps you’ll have the feel of this fun paranormal tale.

Disclosure: The author kindly gave me a free ecopy of her novel.]]> Wed, 1 May 2013 04:47:41 +0000
<![CDATA[ Good second book in kids' fantasy series]]>
General Drake didn’t plan to return to this mystical world where he once lost so much. He’s doing fine in the real world and his son must surely be safe at his grandmother’s house. But now the General finds himself called back, a long-lost leader for an army that’s learned to live without him. Will resentment or wisdom win the day? Will good sense or folly follow Alexander’s footsteps? And, when a new small army is raised, will a young boy lead them too?

The path is planned and the journey set, but it takes a lot of faith to believe things will work out, and a good dose of human kindness to reach the right result. Alexander learns a strength he didn’t know he possessed. His father relearns the bravery he once know, recognizing on the way that love once lost still rests in the loved one’s heart.

Nicely told and gently mystical with a pleasing sense of humor and a nice cast of brave and valiant children as well as talking animals, this is a fun second book in the series and an enjoyable read for middle-grade students.

Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this novel to accompany the author’s visit to my blog.]]> Wed, 1 May 2013 04:01:49 +0000
<![CDATA[ Fun fantasy action adventure for boys]]>
The scenery of Azra’s Pith is pleasingly evocative, and the characters are enjoyably imaginative, leading to amusing dialog and nicely boy-centric  contemplation. From talking frogs to threatening birds, friend and foe combine to make Alexander’s a classic quest, with all the classic temptations to rest and quit. But the brave team presses on, and the journey’s lessons are wise.

The story draws to an enjoyable conclusion, just as a new tale begins, making this a good standalone novel for middle-grade readers, especially those hard-to-reach boys, with the definite promise of more.

Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this novel to accompany the author’s visit to my blog.]]> Wed, 1 May 2013 03:53:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ nice fantasy action adventure for girls.]]>
A wonderful story for any girl who’s ever felt unimportant or lacked self-confidence, and a fun story for lovers of elves, mages, druids and other creatures of valiant myth, The Chosen is an enjoyable girl-themed adventure for middle-grade readers. A nicely traditional omniscient narrative reveals motivations and conflicts. Pleasantly formal dialog offers smooth reading and a pleasing contrast to the youthful enthusiasm of teenaged Halli as she learns her powers. “Oh, my God, did I really do that?” she exclaims when her magic proves its worth in a lovely scene of swirling braids and powers. Then friends cheer and hug each other in celebration.

Armed with mace and shield, riding a pure white pony, Halli embarks on her quest with the team, completing various side-quests on the way. The story has the pleasant excitement and tension a role-playing game, with careful decisions, clever potions and spells. A final battle is gruesome but lightly described with no lingering on gore. And the whole is an enjoyable tale, well-edited with only a very occasional typo, and warmly told with wise lessons interwoven among sweet characters and exciting fun.

Disclosure: I won a free ecopy of this novella]]> Thu, 25 Apr 2013 19:37:18 +0000
<![CDATA[ Curious after dinner conversation while zombies rage]]> The Rapture of Willard imagines a dysfunctional family, united in an isolated farmhouse while the zombie apocalypse rages outside. Will they survive? Will the zombies kill them? Or will Willard get his gun and kill everyone first? The risen dead boil hungrily in the fields while the domineering Willard discusses the merits and demerits of Catholicism, the Bible and more, and sons seethe with fury and memories.
“Sam always hoped that each time he visited his parents that his mother might look more healthy and alive,” writes the author, ironically prefiguring the un-life of the antagonists. But Mom’s not dead yet, and just maybe this final argument will be one where she learns to stand up for herself.
The telling’s quick, short on character development, long on description, and slightly pedantic on dialog. But the tale enthralls with a strangely compelling dinner-table conversation, then provides great food for thought with the sting its tail.
Disclosure: I was lucky enough to buy this when it was free.]]> Fri, 19 Apr 2013 05:23:37 +0000
<![CDATA[ Well-woven magic, science, action and parallel universes]]> With the same appeal as Stephen Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and a thoroughly intriguing premise, Thomas A. Knight has created a fascinating parallel world in his novel The Time Weaver, endowing it with pleasingly dangerous and exciting interactions with our own. A father reads to his son then disappears. A son grows up with vague memories and an unopenable book. Then 30-year-old Seth Alkirk finds his life suddenly threatened by car accidents, monsters, magic and more. But Seth just might be the long awaited time weaver and his survival, as well as the survival of worlds, might depend on his learning and using his hereditary skills.
There’s an enjoyable mix of otherworld magic and our-world solid science in this story, with some very appealing discoveries and plenty of threat. But Seth’s soon committed to friends in his other world, slowly learning who his father might have been, recognizing friend and foe, and discovering the secrets of his destiny.
Gods and goddesses control the elements of magic. Political kings control one world’s armies while military scientists take charge of the other's. Wizards advise. A most wonderful dragon helps. And it all ties together into a grown-up coming-of-age story, where Seth learns new values and wiser definitions of success, and the reader enjoys a wild exciting ride. I’d classify this as new adult rather than young adult for language and violence. There’s minimal romance, but just enough to add depth and character, and there’s a powerful ending that feeds straight into more mystery and the hope of more stories. I checked on Amazon and volume 2’s just come out, so enjoy.
Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy of this novel by the author with a request for my honest review.]]> Sun, 14 Apr 2013 05:26:04 +0000
<![CDATA[ Nice touch of Ray Bradbury or Twilight Zone]]> Smooth, confident, amiably detached prose characterizes Prudence MacGregor’s Trilogy, which perfectly complements the smoothly confident, amiably detached protagonists of these tales. The reader is placed contentedly at arm’s length, perhaps sitting the other end of the “celadon green sofa” in the bookstore, or leaning against the bar of a newly built hotel, while protagonists watch and analyze the strangers walking by.
An initial story, in which a woman of scholarly deliberation suddenly finds her predictable world falling apart, leaves the reader oddly unsettled, wanting more. But the next story moves far away to the tale of an unsettled teenager, finding the world holds more secrets than she’d supposed. The trilogy ends with a thoroughly delightful tale of incipient unresolved love—a story that feels like the most complete of the three and rounds the collection out perfectly. For myself, I wanted the book to be longer, with more leisurely exploration of the character’s fates and perhaps with a clearer link between the tales, but maybe that tells you more about me than the stories. Repeating characters would have appealed tremendously, to deepen the sense of time and place.
That said, the stories remind me of beloved Ray Bradbury tales or the Twilight Zone, making this a thoroughly enjoyable collection—I just wish it were longer.
Disclosure: I received a free pre-release copy of this novel for review purposes.]]> Sun, 14 Apr 2013 05:15:29 +0000
<![CDATA[ Cross Twilight with Inception and enjoy this pleasingly original tale]]> Twilight with Inception and you’ll approach the intriguing feel of S. P. Cloward’s pleasingly original Afterlife. The newly, but not totally dead, otherwise known as Mortui, need training in how to survive in their extended lives. Like a cross between zombies and vampires, they feed on energy from the living and, if they’re so minded, try to give back, something Wes turns out to be surprisingly good at with minimal training. But then, Wes is a pretty good guy all around once he’s freed from the mistakes of his mortal life. He makes a great protagonist in this pleasing sci-fi thriller and I really hope Afterlife will be the first in a series because there’s so much more I’m sure he’ll achieve in his search for The Body.
Trained by Emily, and fueled by genuine emotion and a generous spirit, Wes takes on the identity of a college town guy and masters the varied arts of feeding and grazing. The techniques and feelings are so naturally described they become immediately plausible. And if the dialog occasionally gushes with hyperbolic enthusiasm (“I just love teaching new members!”) it’s easily forgiven as perfectly in character. Of course, Emily’s not really a twenty-something air-head, and her mystery feeds beautifully into an enjoyably descriptive story with excitement, danger, horror and just the right amount of convincingly well-thought-out detail.
If you thought zombies and vampires had both been done to death, pick up Afterlife and find there’s new life in the genre after all. Genuinely enjoyable, different, and fun.
Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy with a request for my honest review.
 ]]> Sun, 14 Apr 2013 05:07:21 +0000