Thursday, April 2, 2020

D&D Meets the Real World

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Title: Requiem, Changing Times
Author: R J Parker
Publisher: Olympia Publishers
Published: September 2019

Goodreads Summary: Clint and Corbin are having a weird day. Best friends for life, things are getting a little strange around their town, and at school. When they're followed by a strange man looking for Clint and later attacked by an imp, it makes sense to retreat to the safety of home. But when strangers from another world, Banks and O'Neil, arrive with their medley of allies, things get even weirder. Why are they here? What do they want? And what is The Requiem that everyone keeps talking about? As Clint and his friends and family are drawn deeper into a thrilling adventure, only one thing is for sure. They may not be getting out alive. And class with Mrs Christenson will seem like a walk in the park after this.

My Thoughts: Okay, let's dive in. This book is non-stop action from start to finish. Any time things start to slow down, a dwarf crashes through a window, everyone gets shot by arrows, or a troll crashes the Halloween Dance. Each battle scene is well thought out, very akin to a D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) combat encounter. In fact, this book draws very heavily (like super super heavily) from D&D. Not only does Parker borrow races, and creatures, he even uses the same classes as D&D - druid and paladin stand out the most. Don't get me wrong, I love D&D. I've participated in multiple campaigns, and am currently playing a gnome grandma (code name: Gwam-Gwam) who happens to be a druid. The game can get crazy, ridiculous, and terrifying, and it's fun, but when being adapted to a written story it would need heavy editing and some re-writing to be successful. Requiem, Changing Times does not do this. 

The plethora of typos, grammar mistakes, general formatting errors, and rough writing made me wonder if this book had even been edited. In fact, I believe that a good editor would make this book much more palatable. The story is interesting, and most of the characters are fairly well developed, but the "first-draft"iness of the book ruins what could be awesome plot points. For example, I really liked the characters Tamara, Kayla, Banks and Nix, but their characteristics seemed to fluctuate greatly from chapter to chapter. I know Tamara goes through a total personality change, so I'll let that one slide. Characters may face horrible trials that change them as a person, but they still have a base personality that needs to stay consistent for their responses to stimuli to make sense. 

The characters in this book don't seem to have that base line consistency. I realize half of them are teenagers, but their personalities were a jumble of contradictions that didn't work together. I would say especially Corbin. That kid not only annoyed the heck out of me, but really wasn't that great of a friend. Clint keeps stating how great of a friend Corbin is, but I never saw it. The boy sabotages Clint at every turn, and is plain rude the rest of the time. Maybe that's just how teenage boys are, I don't know because I was never one. However, I do know something about teenage girls, and Parker's portrayal of them was ridiculous. Almost all the high school interactions felt like something from a TV show. Yes, there's bullying and weirdness and hormones, but no one is so absolutely ridiculous and vain as Amber. No one takes selfies right after almost being blown-up. I could go on about how stereotypical everyone was, but I'll spare you.  

In the end the story itself isn't bad, but the execution is. This book has enough material and crazy plot points to be something really unique and wonderful, if it just had some decent editing and rewriting. 

Rating:  1/5 trees

Thursday, February 27, 2020

A Step Back in Time: A. G. Rivett's "The Seaborne"


Title: The Seaborne
Author: A.G. Rivett
Published: November 2019
Publisher: Wordcatcher Publishing

Goodreads Blurb:
Seaborne. The word echoes in Dermot's mind. Washed up from who knows where, with no people to belong to, no clan to speak for him: a man alone in the world. If this man lives, what will he turn out to be? What might he bring among the Islanders? 
John had not dreamed that anywhere in the North Atlantic could be this remote. There must be someone, if not here, then not far away, who even if they didn't speak English would at least recognise it. John Finlay, engineer, is running away from his failed business, his failed relationship and his debts. He runs away to sea. 
Dermot, pulling a body, barely alive, from the water, has never seen anyone so strangely dressed. His Celtic island knows nothing of debt or of engineering. And John, waking among a people who cannot understand his language, struggles to accept that he has been carried across time and into another world. From this starting point, tensions build between cultures and outlooks, and focus on Shinane, the blacksmith's daughter, who is looking for something beyond. John and Dermot find themselves stretched to their limits. It is a matter of survival, or transformation. 
Choice is key - and not only for John, Dermot and Shinane: the whole community finds itself caught up in conflict over The Seaborne

My Thoughts:
The idea of this story - accidentally traveling back in time, didn't really appeal to me. I love Doctor Who, and well-done time travel scripts, but I find that too often bad writing ruins the adventure. That is not the case with this book. This book is beautiful. Rivett's way with imagery is fantastical. You, the reader, feel as if you were born on the island along side Shinane and Dermot, and yet, you are also alien to its customs and practices much like John. The writing style in this book reads almost like poetry, the mountains and pools call to you like water burbling over stones. I found myself sad when I had to leave the island at the end of the book, because I enjoyed the peace and strength that it lent me. 

It is that same peace and strength that John/Dhion finds on the island which is so enticing to him. Yes, our world is easier, more technologically advanced, and travel is much quicker, but do we take time to celebrate the sky on a winter's night? Or feel so connected to our land that we would never think of leaving it? There is not an overabundance of stillness in our modern world unless we make it. John is not someone who took the time to make stillness. His whole world was absorbed by his career, so much so, that when it began to crumble he ran away instead of facing his problems and adapting to his new life. John's landing on the island represents a new life for him. His own life had become so hectic and cold that he needed to start fresh in order to become his true self: Dhion.

Some of the themes that I really loved while reading this story were: 1) No era or age is better than another, 2) People make life worth living, and 3) You must make your own stillness.

So first, no era or age is better than another. The first things John really notices about this new world he has landed in, is how difficult everything is. The technological advances that this people have made are small compared to his modern world. When there is sickness, people die, children and adults alike. Surviving takes all your energy, this is no time for recreation. And yet, these people are happy. They enjoy the closeness they feel with their community, and the lack of distractions and conflict that higher technology might bring. While our world has modern medicine, and machines that make life so much easier, we tend to be less attached to people around us, failing to make meaningful connections.

Second, People make life worth living. I feel that I've already touched on this, but I would like to reemphasize this point. Dhion's soul was dying inside of him because of his inability to love well enough. Do you want your soul to die inside of you? Do you? Would you rather live as a shell encased in technology, than take the time to love? I think that in the world, and especially in the United States (I'm from Oregon) we tend to make our jobs our entire life. We work so often and for so long, that once we retire some people don't know who they are. They realize that their work was so encompassing in their life that they made no hobbies, or had no time for friends. That is no way to live.

Which brings us to number three, you must make your own stillness. The world isn't gonna give you a break to take a walk and look at the blossoms. Industry isn't going to pause so that you can appreciate the beauty of the world around you. You must actively stop and live outside your career. The Head and The Heart have a song about this called "Let's Be Still" go give it a listen.

This book is fantastic. Truly a beautiful historical fiction work of art. I don't know if you've read any of Stephen Lawhead's books, but this is on par with them, and better than any Philippa Gregory. I would definitely recommend this book to any fans of ancient Britain, or historical fiction.

Rating: 4/5 trees !!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

2020 Book Fairs Worldwide

Happy 2020, readers! We hope you've already devoured many delicious books.

But in case your appetite still needs satiating, here's a list of 2020 book fairs happening all over the world, put together by Kotobee just for you.

The list is nearly endless, but luckily you can filter by continent to find book fairs happening near you.

We're nose deep in books right now, but watch out for some more reviews headed your way soon!

Happy reading,
Erin & Anna

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A mystery in low gravity: Frozen Secrets by Myles Christensen

Title: Frozen Secrets
Author: Myles Christensen
Series: Europa Academy (Book 1)
Genre: MG Science Fiction / Mystery
Pages: 298

What Goodreads has to say:

He has trouble following the rules on Earth, but Jupiter’s moon could kill his curiosity for good…

Thirteen-year-old Max Parker is a grounded Earthling with the soul of a space explorer. So when he learns his family is relocating to Jupiter’s moon, Europa, he readily agrees to stay out of trouble. But his promise is soon forgotten, and his snooping lands him on a shuttle doomed for a fiery disintegration.

Convinced someone sabotaged the craft to cover up the theft he witnessed, Max digs into the incident. What else could they be hiding? Dodging a series of deadly accidents, he follows the clues to an abandoned outpost and discovers a secret that could blow the lid off a moon-wide conspiracy. Can he solve the mystery before his interplanetary escapade gets him killed?

What I have to say:

A mystery in space? Sign me up!

The climax is an Iditarod race across the frozen surface of Jupiter's moon?

Even better!

From page one, I knew this was going to be a fun, action packed book. 

It starts off with two kids trying to launch an antique jetpack that they rebuilt.

In Jonathan's (one of said kids) words: "The fuel lines might leak, the combustion chamber might explode, the nozzles might shear--" 

Any number of things could go wrong, and Max (the kid strapped to the jetpack) could very likely die.

But that doesn't put Max off one bit. He has a talent (problem?) for getting into life-threatening situations. And while the jetpack adventure comes just shy of proving fatal, don't worry, because it's very probably the least life-threatening situation he'll find himself in for the rest of the book.

Getting stuck in a sabotaged shuttle, getting sealed in an underground tunnel, getting stranded in the wilderness with low oxygen levels, getting caught in a crazy car chase, getting caught by enemy spies, nearly blowing himself up in a drilling rig, jumping off a precipice--these are all in a day's work for Max Parker: super secret spy.

OK, he's not a super secret spy, he's 13, and he's probably grounded for life at this point. But he wants to be a super secret spy.

And honestly, for a frequently grounded 13-year-old, he does pretty dang well.

Max is a fun character. And his supporting cast is fun, too--from his seriously awesome older sister to his diverse group of friends and the villainous members of the Xenium League. 

I especially like Max's friend Cameron, who gets pulled into the spy adventure reluctantly and isn't fond of taking risks. (He's a rock-solid friend, though.)

And what's any young teen mystery in space without a little awkward romance? YES. Bring it on.

Oh yeah, it's a mystery. That part is fun, too. It kept me guessing as to who was on the good guys list and who was on the bad guys list. 

Did I mention it's in space? While the book starts on Earth and has a brief sojourn there in the middle, most of the action takes place in the new Europa colony on Jupiter's moon. Europa City is an awe-inspiring place that speaks to the space-happy child in me. Also....

Zero gravity is awesome. 

So basically, picture trying to solve a mystery as a 13-year-old with the fate of humanity at stake and your friends and family in danger. Then picture doing it in low gravity, on a frozen moon. That's this book. You like?

I do. I had a lot of fun solving this mystery in space. 

Well, credit where credit's due. I didn't really solve it. 

That was Max Parker: super secret space spy.


Until tomorrow.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Review: The Spirit of London by Rob Keeley

Title: The Spirit of London
Author: Rob Keeley
Series: The Spirits series
Genre: MG Fantasy / Ghosts
Pages: 152
Buy Childish Spirits (#1)

What Goodreads has to say:

On returning to London, Ellie investigates the mystery surrounding 47 Foster Square. Who is the sender of ghostly messages asking her for help? What is the secret of the Meadowes family? And what does Edward know about all this?

With her parents about to divorce, and her Mum acting very strangely, Ellie quickly discovers that a sinister force lies between her and the truth...

The Spirit of London is the second instalment in the thrilling and suspenseful ‘Spirits’ series and follows the success of The People’s Book Prize-nominated Childish Spirits. It focuses on slavery and a mixed-race family in Georgian times. Ellie finds herself facing a very dangerous foe and will need all her courage and humanity to get her through. The Spirit of London also sets up a story arc that will continue into future books in the series. The book will appeal to girls and boys of upper primary and lower secondary age – and to parents and teachers reading the book aloud!

What I have to say:

If you've read a previous review in which I praised Rob Keeley's novel Childish Spirits to the skies, it should come as no surprise that I also loved the sequel, The Spirit of London. Much like the first novel in the Spirits series, the sequel is mysterious, engaging, slightly creepy, and all-around adorable.

There's a new house, new ghosts, a new mystery to solve. And Ellie is on the case...even if she'd rather not be.

I actually read this novel in one sitting because I was so engrossed. (Also I was on a 6+ hour flight so what else are you going to do, but honestly I might have read it in one sitting regardless.) Just as in the first novel, the characters are strong, the mystery intriguing, and the stakes high.

Edward is just as annoying as ever, but somehow I now want to adopt him more than ever. The scene where he and Ellie go out on the town was hilarious and quite possibly my favorite part of the novel. He's so exasperating but in such an adorable way. Don't ask me how.

I also loved the new mystery. It's cool that in these books geared toward children/preteens, the author manages to bring up historical and societal issues like the poor treatment of governesses and the stigma against interracial marriages. Was that a spoiler? I hope not.

But not all the issues are in the past. In the present day, Ellie's struggles with the breaking up of her family make for a nice echo (or maybe it's the other way around?) of the family issues faced by the historical characters. Maybe it suggests that the problems of the past don't go away, they just change shape a little. And maybe by looking to the past, Ellie can resolve her own problems in the present.

As for the future, it's anybody's guess, but that ending is one heck of a good way to make me want read the next book. What new adventures will Ellie face next? I can only imagine.


Until tomorrow.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Review: In 'Stripes Recruitment,' the job search is tough for a tiger

Title: Stripes Recruitment
Author: Luke Melia
Genre: Short Story
Pages: 36

What I have to say:

As anyone who's ever been unemployed will tell you, the job search is tough.

OK, but it's a lot tougher when you're a tiger.

That's just Stripes's problem. Determined, hard-working, and highly qualified, he'd be the perfect candidate for any job.

...if not for the fact that he's a tiger, and no prospective employer can seem to overlook that obvious fact.

Is Stripes stuck forever at the humdrum construction job he hates? Or can he change his stripes?

When I read the premise behind this story, I laughed out loud. And "Stripes Recruitment" is funny. I'm struggling to think of a word that describes it (surreal? absurd?) and of something similar to compare it to (Monty Python?). But even if I can't quite put neat boundaries around this story, I enjoyed it very much, and while it made me laugh, it also made me think.

In theatre and fiction, ridiculous objects or characters are sometimes set in commonplace surroundings to show us something. The ridiculousness of the situation brings to our attention things we otherwise wouldn't have noticed. On another, wider level, this is the ultimate purpose of fantasy stories. But let's not go there right now, because I'm guessing you don't want to read a 30-page manifesto about the importance of fantasy literature in modern society. (Unless you do, then go read Tolkien.)

So what is "Stripes Recruitment" trying to bring to your attention?

I can only speak for myself, but this story made me think about my own career path. As an English major, I was basically told I could either teach or go into law, and after surviving 16 or so years of school and doing a brief legal internship, neither of those options appealed to me. So then (sorry you're getting my life story now) I stumbled onto the idea of copywriting. This was something I could do! But I don't interview well, and I didn't have a lot of experience, so I struggled to "get my foot in the door" for a traditional in-house or agency copywriting job. Then I discovered freelancing: something I hadn't even known was a possibility.

Stripes finally comes to the realization that no traditional employer will hire him. If he wants to achieve his dreams, he'll have to blaze a new path to reach them. I know it sounds like a cat poster, but it's true and it's possible and, guys, you can do it. Thanks for coming to my TED talk.

In short, "Stripes Recruitment" is a neat little story with an intriguing premise, a fun style, and an empowering message. Instead of changing your stripes, change your worldview. Open your mind to conceive of new possibilities, and you'll find the world open at your feet.


Until tomorrow.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Review: In 'The Scion's Delight,' a tyrannical, sadistic empress is... lovable?

Title: The Scion's Delight
Series: The Mage Conspiracy (Prequel)
Author: Jeffrey Bardwell
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 145

What Goodreads has to say:

Princess Cordelia has steel plate ambition, a mind like twisting brass gears, and the political might of tin foil. The girl aims to ratchet the Iron Empire into a glorious new day of gears and steam. The entire palace is arrayed against her. The chambermaids disdain her. The emperor ignores her. The mages, championed by Lord Oriolanus, lead a brisk campaign of lies and coercion. Those evil magic users threaten to tighten their grip upon the land even though machines are clearly superior. By the gods' oil-stained hands, why can't anyone else see her vision of the ideal future?

Just when Cordelia's future threatens to slip back into medieval quagmire, a lone stranger with ice blue eyes and flowing blond hair arrives from the savage north. The handsome barbarian is destined to make both the hearts of the empire and the princess tremble. Does this spell doom or salvation for the girl's fragile dream?

Explore The Scion's Delight, the fantasy romance prequel novella of The Mage Conspiracy series. Discover a world of adventure and intrigue where lies cut deeper than any sword.

What I have to say:

The Mage Conspiracy series revolves around two sisters: Maven and Minverva, a mage and a soldier, best friends and dire rivals, both competing for the love of Sir Corbin Destrus.

In The Knight's Secret, The Dragon's Mercy, and The Soldiers' Heart (the first three books in the series), we learn to love these two--even if they're exasperating at times--through the eyes of Kelsa, granddaughter of Corbin and Maven (the only member of the legendary trio still living).

And we learn to hate the tyrannical woman who makes Kelsa's and Maven's world a living hell: Empress Cordelia, a twisted, psychotic dictator with a vendetta against all mages.

So, naturally, a prequel to the series can only be expected to focus on that most endearing of characters: Empress Cordelia, long may she reign.

OK, clearly, it's not the most obvious choice for a prequel. But the fact is that the story of Kelsa, Corbin, and the two Dragon Warriors doesn't need a prequel. Their stories all start in exactly the right place, at exactly the right time, and we get a lot of backstory in flashbacks throughout these three books. If there's one character who desperately needs a backstory, it's Cordelia.

And you know what? After reading said prequel, I kind her.

Resourceful, passionate, clever, and surprisingly sensitive--who knew the diabolical ruler of the Iron Empire had so many great qualities? And who knew I'd end up feeling so much sympathy for her?

The Scion's Delight gives us a glimpse of Cordelia's youth and a taste of the experiences that shaped her, both the bitter and the sweet. We see why she hates mages (and honestly, who can blame her?), where she got her stubborn streak, and why she's just a little on the sadistic side.

And despite the fact that her hobby is running a death maze for rats, that she'll stoop to anything to thwart the man she hates, and that she ends up unintentionally betraying her most loyal friend, I'm still oddly charmed by Cordelia.

Whatever else she may or may not be, she's strong. And now that I understand her better, I'll return to the world of The Mage Conspiracy more eager and invested in all the characters, including the "villain."

If I were going to make one criticism of this prequel, which would be a slight one because I really enjoyed it from start to finish, I'd just mention in passing that the chapters from Mustellus' perspective were a little difficult to interpret. I get why and I appreciate the dedication to authenticity involved. Mustellus is Cordelia's barbarian servant, and as such, he has a broken command of the English language. But like, after five years immersed in the Emperor's court, wouldn't he learn to speak English?

Possibly not. But whatever the case, the chapters from his perspective are written in broken English and it means the reader has to do some work sometimes to figure out what he's trying to say. It's also slightly jarring / confusing when the narrative jumps back and forth in time.

But like I said, I still enjoyed it very much. And I never saw that ending coming.

A+ for the women in this series. Not only are they boss as heck, they're satisfyingly two-sided. Even the heroines have their villainous moments, and even the villain has her moments of heroism.

The one exception may be Kelsa, who doesn't really have a dark side because she's just all-around awesome. (As you can tell, because in this review of a book in which she is never mentioned once and is in fact not even born yet, I clearly can't keep myself from talking about her. Sorry, Cordelia.)


Until tomorrow.