Friday, September 22, 2017

Happy Hobbit Day!

Woot! Happy Hobbit Day, people!

We like Tolkien just a little bit around here.

This time of year, I always return to this webpage which has every recipe you could ever want to make for your Hobbit Day celebrations.

For some cultural diversity, you can also check out this page which catalogs 67 different editions of The Hobbit from around the world - in 21 different languages.

This year is a special Hobbit Day because yesterday (September 21, 2017) was the 80th anniversary of The Hobbit book itself. 

So party hard, my friends, and may the hair on your toes never fall out.

"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." - Thorin Oakenshield to Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Journey from Skioria by Kandi J. Wyatt

Title: Journey from Skioria
Author: Kandi J. Wyatt
Publication Date: September 5 2017
Number of Pages: 140
Buy: Amazon

Enter Goodreads giveaway until September 12

What Goodreads has to say:

Tania is lost, shipwrecked on an unfamiliar shore. With no friends or family, the nine-year-old girl must make her way through the realm of the woodland people to a town she's never heard of. With unexpected allies from the forest, Tania departs on a wild adventure where storms rage and the forces of nature do their very best to end her journey before it has truly begun.

In a land full of magic and evil forces, can one young girl make it home alive?

Lord of the Rings meets Narnia in this standalone middle grade fantasy by author Kandi J Wyatt.

What I have to say:

This was a cute middle grade story with fun, believable characters in an imaginative world. For my tastes, it could have used a bit more action, but as it is, Journey from Skioria is an enjoyable, refreshing little adventure.

The world of Skioria is rich and well-developed: peopled by different races reminiscent of Hobbits and pixies. Skioria itself is a bit like a mix of Lothlorien, Hobbiton, and Narnia - so basically an awesome place to live in. 

Sadly, Tania needs to get back to her family, and since she's only nine, we can't really blame her for that. Speaking of which, I thought Tania seemed very believable as a nine-year-old human girl. It definitely wasn't one of those stories where you have to suspend your disbelief as a pre-teen ends up doing stuff a seasoned ninja would have trouble accomplishing.

On that subject, however, I would have appreciated a little more action. Even in The Lord of the Rings series, days of hiking cross country is just not all that exciting to read about. 

To her credit, author Kandi J. Wyatt does throw in lots of fun stuff like family secrets, reveals, myths, and delectable scenery. But even with all that, I can only take so much of people hiking towards civilization. 

Luckily, the book is a fairly quick read, so it didn't really have time to bore me. I just think the story would have grabbed me more if the most exciting thing that happened in it wasn't a run in with some unwieldy sheep.

Then again, if anything did grab me in this book, it was the sweetness of Tania's friends and the richness of the world Wyatt has created. That's no small feat, and if the story sometimes succumbs to some Tolkien-esque countryside rambling, I think there are worse things in life.


(Also, anytime an author incorporates pizza into their story, I feel compelled to recognize it, since pizza is probably second only to books as the most important thing in the universe; and bringing pizza into a fantasy or sci-fi novel takes a certain degree of creativity. There was pizza in this story, so well done.)

Until tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Happy Birthday Anna!!!!

23 Books That Changed My Life

This week I'm turning 23, and decided that as part of my birthday celebration I would look back and see if I could list 23 books that had changed my life. NEVER TRY TO DO THIS. It was impossible. First, I had to decide to get rid of religious texts (The Bible, The Book of Mormon, etc.) - yes they've changed my life, but I wanted to do more secular books. Second I decided that only chapter books would make the list. Third, I realized not all the books that have shaped me would fit on the list. Fourth, I thought about ditching the whole thing. Fifth, I decided series would count as one book. Sixth, I realized these would not be my most favorite, or the ones that changed me the most, just some. Seventh, my computer rebooted. Eighth, some of them have reasons, some don't. Ninth, it is what it is. So, I hope you enjoy 23 books/series that really influenced me.

(In no order whatsoever. Really though, don't ask me to order them.)
bold = series     normal = single book

1. Harry Potter - J.K. Rowling

2. The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien

3. The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien

4. The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis

5. The Great Divorce - C.S. Lewis

6. The Screwtape Letters - C.S. Lewis

7. The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

8. Nightcrawler, Volume 2: Reborn - Chris Clairemont
     - This may seem like a strange choice, but this comic volume was surprisingly deep and thought provoking. Also I may have cried.

9. The Tolkien Reader - J.R.R. Tolkien
     - Leaf. By. Niggle. 

10. Tiffany Aching (The Wee Free Men) - Terry Pratchett

11. Ivanhoe - Sir Walter Scott

12. Pure Dead Magic - Debi Gliori
     - This is one of my most favorite books to re-read. It never gets old. It's funny, it's weird, and it's fantastic. It helped me to understand that a weird sense of humor isn't a bad thing, you just have to find the right people, and that keeping your living great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother in your freezer is perfectly acceptable. 

13.The Dark is Rising - Susan Cooper

14. Earthsea Cycle - Ursula K. LeGuin

15. Captain America: White - Jeph Loeb
     - I actually wrote a previous blog article about this one - Cap and Bucky: A Love Story

16. Defiance - C.J. Redwine
     - I read this book at a time when I was dealing with extreme chronic anxiety, and one of the main characters reacted to things and thought about things the exact same way I did, and he still managed to save everyone and function, for me this was a wonderful revelation, even if it was fiction.

17. Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

18. A Long, Long Sleep - Anna Sheehan
     - In this retelling of Sleeping Beauty, the "princess" is not the girl sleeping waiting to be rescued, but the resilient briars that grow around the castle keeping everyone out, and the princess safe. You can be your own hero.

19.The Once and Future King - T. H. White

20. Macbeth - William Shakespeare
     - While reading this play in school I actually laughed out-loud at several points (this is not a comedy). My classmates found it odd. I love this play, and find it hilarious which further notified me of my sometimes dark sense of humor.

21. Dracula - Bram Stoker

22. A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
     - Sydney Carton's act of selflessness. Need I say more?

23. Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll

So, there you have it. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments! 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Rotten Magic by Jeffrey Bardwell

Title: Rotten Magic
Series: The Artifice Mage Saga (prequel)
Author: Jeffrey Bardwell
Genre: Fantasy / Steampunk / YA
Number of pages: 122
Publisher: Twigboat Press

What Goodreads has to say:

Devin will do anything to win. Even resort to magic!

Devin competes to become the best artificer in the mage phobic Iron Empire. Who needs magic when you can master the art of machinery? The other apprentices envy his genius and skills . . . especially Benson. Every apprentice hones their craft building and fighting in crude prototypes of powered armor. Some add frills, others barbs or horns. When Devin transforms himself into a mechanical dragon to slaughter the competition, Benson steps into the role of dragon slayer.

But Devin harbors a secret as he claws his way to the top of the Artificer's Guild: he's a mage. These new abilities are thrilling and frightening, and the voices more so. How long can Devin be content wearing a steel dragon mask when the seductive promise of true arcane power whispers in his ear?

Experience the novella prequel to the Artifice Mage Saga: a fantasy steampunk brawl of metal vs. magic where sorcery is bloody, science is greasy, and nobody's hands are clean.

What I have to say:

If you're looking for a book that reads like a steampunk version of Ender's Game with magic and an element of dragons - look no further. You're currently reading a review of that book. A slim novella packed with punches, Jeffrey Bardwell's Rotten Magic starts off the Artifice Mage Saga with a bang (several, in fact). Setting and characters are intriguing, relationships are complex, ambition is powerful, and magic is dangerous. 

Devin is an intriguing character because he doesn't fit nicely into the young underdog genius mold. At first, he seems to: a young, intelligent apprentice working on a secret project, regularly taking the brunt from the school bullies. 

But as things go on, we realize that's not Devin at all. He is intelligent, but his secret project isn't all that original, and he can't even seem to get it to work when he tries to present it at his examination.

He does often take the brunt from the school bullies, but that's only because he seems to enjoy fighting and has accepted the rule that the dragon always loses. And he prefers to play as the dragon. Far from just an innocent young victim, Devin longs for retribution and it looks like he's going to get it. He can be savage when crossed, and even his family and friends aren't always safe. 

Rather than some young genius who's probably going to save the world with his invention, Devin is a frustrated apprentice who has big ideas that never seem to get off the ground, and he may very well end up destroying the world, rather than saving it. That makes him less of an idealized fantasy hero and more of a, well, human. But one with a dark side that makes him all the more compelling.

Devin's nemesis, Benson, doesn't fit the common character mold either. He's a bully - but as Devin points out, he's not just your average bully with no brain but plenty of brawn. Benson is intelligent as well, and that's mainly why Devin is having such a hard time taking him down.

But back to Devin himself. He becomes even more intriguing as a character when we hear the voices inside his head (yes, everyone has those voices, but Devin's seem to be more vocal than most of ours are). In Devin's thoughts, the voice of the artificer and the voice of the mage are always in conflict. Like the gas lamp he accidentally blows up in his room, Devin is poised to explode at any moment, and when he does, the consequences will be dire. (But you might just have to read the next book to find out how dire.)

Told in an engaging style with suspense, wry humor, and a strong undercurrent of magic, Rotten Magic is a thrilling roller coaster of a ride up to the top - where I expect we can catch the next book and set off on an even more thrilling journey. Bring it on!


Until tomorrow.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Henry and the Hidden Treasure by B.C.R. Fegan

Title: Henry and the Hidden Treasure
Author: B.C.R. Fegan
Illustrator: Lenny Wen

"Henry has a lot of treasure and he keeps it very well hidden."
So well hidden, in fact, that there's no way in heck anyone is getting to that treasure. 'Cause Henry's got a slew of incredibly strong, incredibly scary creatures guarding it, including but not limited to a fire-breathing dragon, gigantic robot, several superheros, and a giant and ferocious pink pig. (I don't know about you, but that pig looks more ferocious than the superheros, dragon, and robot combined). 

Not content to leave it to these guys, Henry has also hidden his treasure in the darkest part of a secret cave and surrounded it with booby traps. If some brave soul succeeds in making it past all of Henry's defenses, they'll still have to get past Henry himself: a swashbuckling kid with a powerful laser gun that's almost as big as his imagination (but not quite).

But, against all odds, it looks like Henry's little sister Lucy (secretly a ninja) may have found a way to break through all of Henry's defenses and reach his secret treasure!

On second thought, it looks like Lucy's not interested in Henry's treasure at all. In fact, she may have something much more drastic in mind....

Henry and the Hidden Treasure is a charming story told with creativity and heart. I loved Henry's wild imagination and all his painstaking precautions in guarding his treasure. The various layers of security (monstrous guards, a huge maze, booby traps, etc.) are sure to appeal to kids with big imaginations. 

Likewise, the sweetness (literally and figuratively) of the story's ending will hit home for brothers and sisters (or maybe mostly just for parents who wish their kids got along a little better). 

To top it all off, Lenny Wen's delightful, fun illustrations complement the story beautifully: seamlessly mingling the world of Henry's imagination with the "real" world and things as they actually are (a.k.a., the secret cave is his bedroom). 

All in all, this is a delightful little story sure to make you grin, awake your imagination, and finally make you go "awwww" because it's just so darn cute.

Until tomorrow.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Southern Dust by Caspar Vega

(this cover is lovely but slightly misleading, as the story takes place in the near future)

Title: Southern Dust

Author: Caspar Vega
Number of Pages: 228
Genre: Pulp / Thriller (I guess...)
Buy: Amazon

Favorite line from the book: "You need light to fight the dark. It's the oldest story in the book."

What Goodreads has to say (with my interspersed comments):

Gretchen Walker: A Southern belle living an idyllic life in the newly independent Alabama; worrying about the upcoming cotillion, and hoping more than anything to find a dapper young suitor from a good family. Might she end up getting more than she bargained for? [yes, she definitely will - run now, Gretchen]

The Governor: The enigmatic leader responsible for achieving the aforementioned independence. [did I mention he's slightly crazy?]

Roger Conaway: An enforcer trying to make a clean break. When his boss tells him a friend's daughter has gone missing, can Roger find the girl and get out of the game while he still has a shard of innocence left? [sadly, no]

Dominic White: An obsessive Hornbuster overcome with grief; recovering from a nervous breakdown, and actively seeking revenge for his murdered sister. [when he's not chilling on the couch for days at a time]

Discover their interconnected stories in this diesel-fueled, black magic powered, vampire-creating extravaganza! [extravaganza is a good word for it]

What I have to say:

OK, wow, where to start? This is a weird story. And I don't mean that in a bad way, because I generally think weird is awesome. There's just no denying this story is definitely weird.

We've got a Southern belle getting tangled up with the young, attractive governor of Alabama, who may be crazy? (I thought he was crazy, but the aforementioned Southern belle was apparently crazy about him, so go figure). We've also got a Captain America type of experiment gone wrong (as in hairy vampire wrong), and a freelance law enforcer/assassin with serious mental health problems. Oh yeah, and black magic - don't forget that one.

All taking place in a post-Trump America in which Alabama has declared independence (go them). And bloodshed abounds. Also some characters with seriously psycho relationship issues.

The narrative structure of Southern Dust is very well done (with one exception which I'll get to later). The story is told through the eyes of four characters, each getting their own vignette. So in essence it's more like four interconnected short stories, each with its own protagonist and plot arc. Vega does a great job getting inside the characters' heads and presenting vastly different personalities. 

My favorite narrative voice was the last one (Dominic White), whose life philosophy cracked me up and reminded me - on a much less drastic scale - of myself. My favorite quote is this one: 

"I'm a procrastinator and a lazy person by nature. However, I require the laziness for greatness."

Basically, he can only handle one event a day. So if he works out one day, that's it. He gets to sit on the couch for the rest of the day and chill. Or if he goes grocery shopping for the day, or does a job for work, or goes out with his nephew - ditto. Rest of the day: canceled.

I had a harder time connecting with the Governor, who seemed like an all around irate guy who was born thinking he was better than everyone else and never changed his mind. But hey, it takes all kinds to make an independent Southern, vampire-super-soldier, black magic world, right? (And I mean literally all kinds).

Here's my one beef with the narrative structure: I would have liked to get more of Gretchen's story. She only gets one chapter at the beginning of the book, and I was just starting to connect with her when we jumped into the Governor's diary and never came out again. Gretchen's story ended too abruptly, I felt. Plus, I think, since we get three stories from men's perspectives (though, oddly enough, they all seem to center on women, which I find very interesting), it would have been nice to get a full vignette from Gretchen's perspective. Or, if not that, maybe come back to her for one chapter at the end, which would add some narrative consistency.

Just as a matter of taste, there was a little too much blood and profanity in this book for my appetite (I'm not a super-soldier-vampire, after all). But that's not a criticism of the work itself, just personal opinion.

On another note, the story is very fast-paced and a quick pulp read. So if you're in the mood for a politically-charged, crime-ridden, supernatural I don't even know what - step into Vega's strange but weirdly fascinating world and take a ride. You may get dizzy, but you'll have fun.


Until tomorrow.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Six Year Old, An Assassin and Dragons!!

A Precarious Beginning


Title: A Precarious Beginning
Series: Chronicles of Castlemount
Authors: Siena and Fritz Rollins
Date Published: April 14, 2017
Publisher: Harpalin Press

Summary: “There are only two powers in the universe that determine what a person will become in life — luck and willpower.” 

Orphaned at a young age and forced to become a pickpocket to survive, a chance meeting with the King’s Assassin is the lucky break Hyla needs. At the massive fortress city of Castlemount, Hyla discovers she is destined to become a Dragonrider! Training every day to understand her new role and the magical dragon bond, Hyla learns that mingling with the rich and powerful has its own dangers. Will her street smarts keep her alive? Join Hyla in the precarious beginning to her incredible adventure! 

My Thoughts: When asked to read this book I was informed that the authors were father and daughter and had written this book together, the daughter being around 8 years old. I found that fascinating, and quite endearing. The book is well written, and the world of Castlemount is quite intriguing. I enjoyed the story, and became quite attached to Hyla and her dragons. However, I have some questions - where is Hyla actually from? Is it possible she is royalty from her original country? Is anyone going to fix the problem of the City Watch? Where were the dragons being shipped to? Will Jop ever come back into the story? I expect these questions will be answered later in the series, but that doesn't stop me from wondering. 

Yes, the story is good, but some of the characters (Hyla's fellow Dragonriders) come across as flat and nonessential. This may be because the story is not about them, but with the amount of times they are mentioned you would expect more character development. Perhaps this will occur later in the series. That's another thing; I felt like this book was seriously setting up further stories down the line, and wasn't quite a complete story in and of itself. The could be due to the fact that Hyla is only six, so even a small adventure seems huge to her. Speaking of Hyla's age, I found it hard to sometimes follow the narrative, there were three stories going on, present day Hyla, present day Sergeant Troy, and Hyla's past. While Hyla wasn't a narrator in first person, she was in third - which sometimes made the things she saw or did slightly unreliable. How much of the story is true when a six year old is the narrator? 

Just as Hyla doesn't really understand what is happening around her, the king also doesn't seem to understand what is happening around him. He is slow to trust his advisors and quick to blame everything on a mythical truce that may no longer be in effect (if it ever was). To put it lightly, I hated the king. He was childish, and quick to believe superstitions and lies. He didn't seem like a man that could lead a kingdom, if anyone displeases or contradicts him they are killed by Troy, and if two young Dragonriders come up with a conspiracy theory he believes it wholeheartedly. Ugh.

Sergeant Troy was awesome. I liked that he wasn't one sided. He wasn't just the king's assassin, but that was what most people knew him as. Hyla however first knew him as the man that was kind and shared his food. This changed her whole perspective of him. I liked that he felt responsible for Hyla and wanted to make sure everything was going well for her.