Thursday, July 15, 2021

Did You Know That Goblins Invented Baseball?

 


Author: Paul Lonardo
Publisher: PL Publishing
Published: April 11, 2021

Goodreads Blub: 
The one thing eleven-year-old Jake Lupo loves more than anything else is baseball. However, despite his father being a professional pitcher, Jake's fear of failing has kept him from competing against children his own age. When his father, who has recovered from a serious arm injury, is invited to pitch for an independent team, Jake and his parents move to Pine Barrows, a far flung forested mountain outpost. Jake is excited about his father's chance at a comeback, but he soon learns that he is not the only one in Pine Barrows who loves baseball. Goblins love to play baseball, too, and Pine Barrows happens to be chock full of them. Then Jake discovers that the region is occupied by two factions of warring goblins.

Seeking to take control of the goblin kingdom, the leader of the evil goblins kidnaps Jake's mother and bans baseball, a game which itself is a natural source of power for the goblins.

It turns out that Jake has a secret kinship with the legendary beings, and he is the only one who can save them, their kingdom and his mother. However, Jake must believe in himself and play a winner-take-all game against the best goblin players in Pine Barrows. 

My Thoughts: This book was absolutely delightful. I'm an avid reader of folklore, so I really loved that all the different types of goblins and other faerie creatures were straight out of lore or fairystories. The hogboon, fachan, redcap, kallikanzaros, and Jenny Greenteeth, (just to name a few) are all creatures pulled from (mostly European) legends. These terrifying creatures have been stalking human imaginations for centuries. Jenny Greenteeth, goblins, and hobgoblins have even made their way into D&D (Dungeons & Dragons). I found Lonardo's depiction of the goblins quite accurate, I loved how many different species there were - every goblin was unique, and contributed something useful to their society. 

While this story abounds with magic, goblins, and intrigue, the true heart of the story is about baseball. I like baseball, I like going to baseball games, but I do not speak baseball. Jake speaks baseball. He knows every facet of the game, he knows statistics, and theories, and formulas that made absolutely no sense to me. So it's understandable that I got a bit lost during the "big game", I could follow everything until the baseball lingo really started. So, avid fans of baseball, you're gonna love this book, casual fans, maybe find a dictionary. 

At the end of the day, goblins really love baseball. And I mean REALLY LOVE BASEBALL. They invented it after all. The game is everything to them, Buach (evil goblin overlord) first started down the path to the darkside because he got cut from a junior league team. Seriously. I'm not making this up. The goblins are divided into two factions - The Order (which Buach leads) and the Resistance (lead by Skip). Basically the Resistance wants to play baseball and have a good time, and the Order wants to control everything and demolish all happiness. Seems pretty easy to pick out the good guys, as Jake's dad says: "You can't trust anyone who doesn't like baseball". Turns out all the goblins LOVE baseball, even Buach, though he may deny it. 

I thought this book was very fun, a good step into the world of fantasy for young readers, AND an awesome bridge between sports and fantasy. If Rip Van Winkle's dwarf friends could play nine-pins, then goblins can play baseball.

Rating:


Thursday, July 1, 2021

Song of Echoes is a rich, epic fantasy with a wonderful heroine


Title: Song of Echoes
Author: R. E. Palmer
Genre: Fantasy
Publication Date: July 12, 2021


Blurb:

All that has gone before is woven into the Song; joy, sorrow; kind acts and cruel acts; creation and destruction. Past, present, and what has yet to come, make themselves known — if you know how to listen.

For three hundred years, the people of the Five Realms have lived in relative peace, protected by their great leader, the Archon. Yet, far to the north, in the frozen lands beyond the Draegalen Trench, the Ruuk stir, driven by a rising evil, long believed banished from the world. But rumors questioning the Archon’s ability to defend the realms once more, persist.

Elodi, the Lady Harlyn, uneasy in her new role following the death of her father, and Toryn, a farmworker and outsider in his village, must discover a way to fight an enemy that all but defeated their ancestors.

Song of Echoes is the first book in this epic fantasy series.

Me:

This is an exciting post because I get to review a book I beta read that is now being published! 

R. E. Palmer's Song of Echoes is a rich fantasy adventure in the tradition of Prydain, Earthsea, and dare I say Middle-Earth. It strikes that balance that's hard to achieve but crucial in fantasy: beautiful world-building and a forward momentum plot. Plus it has a young, precocious hero of unknown origins (Toryn) and a fully developed heroine (Elodi) who is much more than just a "strong" female character. In other words, it has everything I want in a book.

There are three reasons I couldn't put this book down: the action, the suspense, and Elodi.

The action. There are a couple of really epic battle scenes that almost made me miss my subway stop (seriously, it was real close) because I was so engrossed. I could picture the action vividly in my head. 

The suspense. By which I mean mysteries that I just had to keep reading to find out about. For example: how did Elodi's father really die? Who was Toryn's father? Who is the strange magic-worker who saves Toryn's life? Is the Archon, protector of the realm, really a good guy? Etc.

Elodi. All the characters in this book are very distinct and well-developed, and both Toryn and Elodi (the two main characters) have great arcs. Some characters I absolutely loved, others I found mysterious and intriguing, and there are others whose morality I'm still not sure about. But when all is said and done, Elodi is just the best and clearly I can't review this book without mentioning her multiple times. Picture Eowyn but as the queen of Rohan and with more inner dialogue, slowly gaining confidence in her leadership abilities. 

While all of that kept me reading, the land, lore, and magic ushered me into a rich, wondrous new world I didn't want to leave. In the end, isn't that one of the best things about fantasy? There were moments that felt numinous and sublime in the way Narnia sometimes feels, and references to old tales and myths that reminded me of Tolkien's Middle-Earth. Sometimes fantasy worlds feel a little thin or lacking, but this world is rich with history, legends, creatures, peoples, and places. 

All in all, a truly epic read.

Rating:





Until tomorrow.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Grimmir is Freaking Fantastic - A. M. Robin's "Fallen Thief"


Title: Fallen Thief
Series: Merrows (Book 2)
Author: A.M. Robin
Genre: MG Fantasy
Pages: 272
Published: July 2021
Preorder: Fallen Thief
Buy: Hidden Scales (Merrows Book 1)

What Goodreads has to say:
Mira, Kay, and Peter have finally returned home, but not everyone is happy to see them. Despite the town bullies who never fail to remind the young merrows just how different they are from the rest of the townsfolk, the adventurers try to enjoy the remainder of their summer break from school...until a devastating fire reminds them of the evil that is still lurking in the shadows. After discovering the true identity of the malicious leader of the Shadowveils-the hooded merrows who hunt and imprison anyone who gets in the way of their mysterious missions-it seems their troubles have only just begun.

With their eyes opened to a secret world of sorcery, Mira, Kay, and Peter turn to the only place where they can learn more about what they're up against: fairy stories. They soon find out that the tales they had heard growing up might hold the key that will help them save their friends from a terrible curse. As they journey into abandoned cities, treacherous hideaways, and deep into the sea, they must stay vigilant to distinguish friend from foe and work together if they hope to stay one step ahead of the Shadowveils and keep their loved ones safe. 

My Thoughts:
Another wonderful installment in the adventures of Mira, Kay and Peter. I love this world that A M Robin has created. As an avid reader of folktales and fairy stories, I especially loved the emphasis on finding the truth in fairytales and connecting them with actual history. 

The story starts fairly soon after the last one left off. But this time instead of finding new adventures afar and visiting exotic places, Mira, Kay and Peter are stuck in their own village of Crispin. They have to go to school, deal with bullies, and do chores. It's not easy to spy on secret meetings when everyone knows who you are. And while there is some fame (especially with the younger children) for being Merrows, Mira and Kay are shunned and rejected by many of their elders and even some of their peers. Besides Appoline and a few others, the villagers don't view the Merrows as something to celebrate. They want nothing to do with the supposed war between the land and the sea, and absolutely no contact with the Shadowveils. The twins get bullied at school by their peers and even harrassed and unduly punished by their teacher! 

Somehow amidst all this "mundane" chaos, Mira, Kay and Peter manage to slip away and discover an abandoned Merrow city. I loved the description of Nesston. It sounded like a truly lovely town where merrows and humans lived mixed together. I loved how it was centered around a lake, allowing fully merrow families to live underwater, and mixed to live on the shore. The imagery Robin uses to paint Nesston is astounding. 

Now let's talk about the Grimmir. As before mentioned, I adore folklore and fairy stories. The Grimmir is AMAZING. Robin is comfortable enough in this world she's created to add in fairy tales and folklore, AND IT WORKS. Not only is she telling a current tale, but she weaves in a "long forgotten" tale and the two merge together beautifully. One of my favorite things about the Grimmir is that it's a story of change. A normal merrow gains power through sorcery and becomes obsessed with gaining more and more power even at the cost of those around him. Eventually it becomes too much and the people of Nesston retaliate, stealing his hair and even blood to bring life back to the land. Finally his mentor finds out, and instead of being proud of his prodigy's power, curses him to assume the form of a giant serpent that prowls the ocean depths. Not only is he forever changed, and his memory altered, but he is given healing horns that all being seek after. Always to be hunted. 

And that seems to be where the story ends, until Kay and Mira discover a shell that tells them a way to end the curse. They must reunite a vial of the sorcerer's blood with the Grimmir. This will allow him to regain his merrow shape, and finally be at peace. Because the children have no hope of waking their friends from the dreaded everlock sleep without the healing horns, they travel into the depths in search of the fabled Grimmir. 

A shark encounter and many miles later, the twins find him. Impossibly huge and frightening. In fact, the Grimmir has no visual sight, but instead "sees" by feeling fear in others. Once Mira realizes this, she is able to expand her protective field to Kay, and then have something of a conversation with the serpent. She tries to barter the blood for the last horn, but when the Grimmir lashes out, she loses her courage and drops the vial, allowing the serpent to crush it and disappear into the deep. 

Heartbroken and desperate the twins have only seconds to breathe before the Empress of the Sea herself and entourage surround them. In this tense dialogue, Mira and Kay learn that the empress will never stop until she has control of the whole earth. Escape seems impossible, until Mira sends her thoughts to the Grimmir yet again, pleading for his help. When death seems moments away, the Grimmir suddenly appears tossing merrows like bowling pins. He is an arrow in the dark, too fast and enormous for the empress to subdue. In the chaos Kay creates a portal and manages to steer both the Grimmir and Mira through. And this is where the change really happens.

The Grimmir expresses to the twins how tired he is of being a monster, and how lost his true self was, sunken in the deep. He tells them that their call for help was a redemption point for him, which will allow him to finally rest in peace. As a parting gift for giving him his soul back, the Grimmir gifts the last healing horn, the cure for everlock sleep.

As soon as they leave the Grimmir, Mira and Kay portal to the Ripple where they rush to the infirmary where their friend Alexandra and her mentor Aristide lie in everlock sleep. The Grimmir is as good as his word, and the horn works, awakening the sleepers. 

With the whole team back in action (Tonttu is also at the castle, and Peter is on his way with Eola) the Empress of the Sea had better watch out!

This book is fantastic, I honestly can't praise it enough. A great middle grade read, that promises to be a wonderful series. I look forward to book 3!

Rating:


Thursday, June 10, 2021

In 'Apocalypse Cancelled,' the world is ending...or is it?


Title: Apocalypse Cancelled
Author: Luke Melia and others
Pages: 201
Published: April 1, 2021


What Goodreads has to say:

They said it was the end. We acted accordingly. They were wrong. Now what?

Every science organisation, every government and every news agency were in agreement... It was the end. In three weeks an asteroid would hit the Earth. An asteroid bigger than anything our technology could divert or destroy. An asteroid that would fracture the Earth and wipe out all life as we knew it.

They were wrong: it missed us completely. Now we must go back to our lives, back to our families, back to our jobs – changed by the knowledge of what we all did during that time. These are our stories...

Apocalypse Cancelled is an eclectic anthology of short stories, comics, poems, illustrations and more – telling humanity’s collective story after the apocalypse that never was.

What I have to say:

What would you do if you knew for sure the world was ending in three weeks?

Would you quit your job? Finish your favorite TV series? Prank your boss? Have sex? Go on a killing spree?

Believe it or not, these are all apparently valid responses. At least, the characters in Apocalypse Cancelled seem to think so.

Here's the premise: the government announces that an asteroid is going to hit earth in a few weeks, ending all life as we know it. This is definitely going to happen. It's the end for sure.

So everyone acts accordingly. At first, some people try to go on as normal. Then, just about everyone stops working. Soon, it's mass chaos. Looting, stealing, murdering, and a whole lot of orgies. Some people just take a vacation, spend time with their family, or pour all their energy into beating a video game before the world ends. Others go absolutely nuts.

Then, the asteroid misses the earth.

Turns out the experts were wrong; civilization is saved, and everything's great. Except some people did things they would never have done if they hadn't been sure the world was ending--and now they can't go back.

Created by Luke Melia (author of Give Up the White Room and the delightful short story "Stripes Recruitment"), Apocalypse Cancelled is an anthology featuring stories, comics, and flash fiction from a number of authors and artists. It's an intriguing idea and includes some real storytelling gems.

One of my favorites was the story about a gamer named Ben who keeps playing while the world burns, determined to beat Hex World Online before the asteroid hits. He hasn't left his apartment in five years and he leads a lonely, pathetic existence, but when he connects with a girl who's also still playing, he finally finds a true friend, and when the asteroid misses, he sets out to find her.

The story about a lawyer who only adopts 40 cats because she wants them to have a safe place to live for the last few weeks before the world ends, then gets stuck with them forever, was also pretty fun. And I liked "Business as Usual" about a guy who just wants to keep working up until the apocalypse because believe it or not, he really enjoys his data entry job.

My actual favorite might have been the one page comic about Samson the cat, which for some reason I found absolutely hilarious.

This book is full of interesting stories and shorts, and obviously I can't go into all of them here. But so many contributors came up with unique spins on the premise. It's fun to see different voices come together to create something like this.

Now, a heads up. Things get wild during the apocalypse. This book is heavy on violence, sex, and profanity. If I hadn't been reviewing it, I probably would have stopped reading pretty early on--not because the writing is bad, but because I don't generally read stuff with this much graphic violence and sex in it. If you don't have a problem with that, this is a thought-provoking apocalyptic tale. And the takeaway is something I can get behind:
"If you ever feel like it's the end of the world, please just wait one more day. You never know what's around the corner."

At the end of the day, I'm giving this book two trees, and here's why. In our rating system, two trees means "fun, but just ok." Apocalypse Cancelled was definitely fun and some of the pieces went way beyond a two-tree rating, but overall it didn't blow me away, and I would have enjoyed it a lot more without all the graphic violence and sex.


Rating:




Until tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

The Goodbye Family: The Animated Series

ANNOUCEMENT:

A book I previously reviewed - The Goodbye Family and the Great Mountain is now an animated series! You can find the trailer HERE. You can find out more about The Goodbye Family at the author's website: www.lorinrichards.com

The Goodbye Family: The Animated Series stars undertakers Pyridine Goodbye, matriarch and mortician, Otis, father and hearse driver, their daughter Orphie, both a gravedigger and Sheriff, along with their pets: Ouiji the cat, Dorian the tarantula, and horse Midnight. 

Heathen Apostles provides a monster western soundtrack with Chopper Franklin (The Cramps) and singer Mather Louth (Radio Noir) also collaborating with Richards on the theme song Sew it Up.


Thursday, May 20, 2021

Jeannie Zokan's 'Courage Without Grace' is a beautiful tapestry of a novel

Title: Courage Without Grace
Author: Jeannie Zokan
Genre: New Adult/Women's Fiction
Pages: 228
Published: March 30, 2021
Buy Courage Without Grace
Buy The Existence of Pity


What Goodreads has to say:

Josie Wales doesn't need her palm reading skills to know her lover is seeing someone else. It's time to end it, but she's been with Tom for seven years. And there’s something—someone—she needs to tell him about. That secret keeps pulling her back, but this time she's determined to break it off.

To find the courage to end the relationship, Josie seeks advice from new acquaintances. But she somehow manages to make an even bigger mess of her life. When Jack, Tom’s twin and her childhood friend, comes to DC to reconnect, he helps Josie get her feet back on the ground.

Just as Josie is beginning to resolve the chaos in her life, a tragic secret from her past comes back to haunt her. Before she can move forward and have a second chance at love, she must face her grief and loss.

With characters that leap off the page, Courage Without Grace is a poignant novel that will stay with you long after you finish reading.

What I have to say:

I'm not usually a fan of modern day romance/self-fulfillment narratives, so when I say I couldn't put Jennie Zokan's beautiful novel Courage Without Grace down, that's a very high compliment.

Of course, having already read Zokan's The Existence of Pity (the prequel to Courage Without Grace), I knew I could trust her to tell a compelling, moving, entertaining story. And I was not disappointed. 

This vibrant novel is like a colorful tapestry--there are so many threads weaving in and out of each other, going in completely unexpected directions, leading you on to see where they end and what new patterns they'll create, in the end forming a cohesive picture of a young woman's broken but beautiful life. 

Josie Wales is that young woman, and she's the best kind of flawed character: conflicted, consistently making bad decisions, but good at heart and full of love. While I repeatedly found myself thinking, "Really, Josie? This is a terrible idea," I never found her annoying or hard to understand. Rather, it was one of those rare cases where the main character is so easy to identify with that I felt like I was seeing the story through her eyes and I understood where she was coming.

Then again, there are a few things about Josie that I didn't find out until nearly the end of the book. These mystery threads, along with the easy grace of the writing and the fun, lively characters, kept me reading hungrily. 

As I've already mentioned, Josie is a very complex, well-developed character. But the other characters in the book are also compelling. Tom, Josie's longtime lover, is perhaps just as complex as she is, and the enigma of his changed personality is another thread I had to follow to the end. Then there's Tom's twin Jack, who, aside from maybe Josie, is 100% my favorite character. Chemistry can be hard to write, but the dynamite of Jack and Josie's relationship had me rooting for them as a couple almost from the moment Jack showed up in the story. 

So yes, romance is a big part of Courage Without Grace, but it's not the whole picture. This story is less about romance than it is about Josie's personal quest for healing, fulfillment, and belonging. After a difficult childhood, her faith in a higher power, in other people, and in herself is foundering. (While it's a sequel to The Existence of Pity, Courage Without Grace could really stand alone.) 

On the subject of a higher power, I loved how the author presented Josie's interactions with her inner voice. In dangerous situations, or when she has to make a crucial decision, Josie turns to the voice she sometimes hears in her head. As a person of faith, I really appreciated that this was such a big part of the book, and I liked that it was open to interpretation. The author doesn't tell us who or what this inner voice is, which allows the reader to interpret it in the way that's most meaningful for them. I think (and hope) that most people, whether they believe in God or not, have at some point felt something telling them to do or not do something. 

Josie pictures this voice as a sort of guardian angel:

"I closed my eyes and envisioned my inner voice as a winged angel in white robes. Tears ran down my cheeks as I leaned into her arms. I looked into her beautiful face, and she smiled down on me."

Without getting too off topic, this passage connected to things I've been reading and thinking about a lot lately, and I found this a very moving image. I love that the author didn't shy away from this moment and that she presented it with such beauty and clarity.

So at the end of the day, this isn't just a self-fulfillment or coming of age narrative either. It's a powerful story that, like a tapestry, weaves together romance, coming of age, women's issues, and more. And I for one absolutely loved it.

Rating:





Until tomorrow.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

The Coming of the Spirits: the ghostly conclusion to a delightful journey

 Title: The Coming of the Spirits
Series: The Spirits series
Author: Rob Keeley
Genre: MG Fantasy
Pages: 144
Published: 2018
Buy The Coming of the Spirits
Buy Childish Spirits (#1 in the Spirits series)

What Goodreads has to say:

The final book in the award-winning Spirits series.

Sequel to High Spirits – Georgina Hawtrey-Woore Award winner 2018.

Rob Keeley is back with the fifth and final instalment in his award-winning Spirits series. The series allows young people to learn more about other times, as well as the time in which they live.

“Nazis alone were dangerous enough, but Nazis with the powers of ghosts... of evil spirits...”

Britain. The present day. The world we know. Ruled by the Nazis.
Victorian England. Edward Fitzberranger is soon to become ill and die. But could there be another way?
The Middle Ages. Sir Francis Fitzberranger is about to marry... but finds himself shifted in time.

The barrier into the spirit world is finally breaking down and no one in the mortal world is safe. History must be set back on course and prophecies fulfilled. The Grand Defender is needed.

As Ellie works with an underground resistance movement and with the spirit world too, she is about to discover her true destiny...
 


What I have to say:

Here we are at last: the final book of Rob Keeley's thrilling and adorable Spirits series. True to form, I read this in one sitting. These books are like shot glasses. You down them fast because they're so good and so compelling. And just like its predecessors, The Coming of the Spirits is a page-turner, full of charm, adventure, and countless surprises.

When I say surprises, I mean all the surprises. There are so many twists and turns in this story, I never guessed what was coming next. Well, OK, I did guess one thing right, and that was regarding my favorite character in the series, Edward Fitzberranger. Happily, Edward has a significant role to play in this story, and I very much enjoyed that.

But on the whole, it was full of as many surprises and plot twists as you can hope for in a series conclusion. I was on board for almost all of them, though I found the ending a little jarring. That may have just been me. I also found it heartbreaking, which is a measure of just how attached I've become to Rob Keeley's wonderful characters.

But let's back up. The beginning of this book is pretty epic. A mysterious figure gathers all of Ellie's ghostly friends (and one corporeal one) from the previous books to assist in a crucial mission. We don't know what that mission is, and neither does Ellie. She just wants to live a normal life and maybe go on some dates with her friend Luke, but alas, book heroines never get to lead a normal life, and boy am I glad of that.

As usual, I found the characters, both old and new, fun and charming. Not to sound like a broken record, but I was absolutely gleeful when Edward made his dramatic appearance. Even if I was expecting it, it was nonetheless awesome. And now I'll try not to talk about Edward for the rest of this review.

This is definitely the most dystopian of the Spirits novels. We're in a new world ruled by Nazis where no one is safe, and to make matters worse, evil ghosts get loose about halfway through, and then everyone's pretty much just a dead man walking... unless Ellie can fix things. 

There are also some complicated moral dilemmas in this book, for example, is it OK to steal money from your friends if you're going to use it to save the world? So things get pretty intense. In fact, this is definitely the most intense of the Spirit novels as well. Things may have been a little spooky before, but now Ellie's really in trouble and there's probably no going back.

I never imagined where this series would lead when I first found myself riveted and charmed by the delightful Childish Spirits. Looking back, I think that first book is still my favorite, simply because it was perfect. But I've enjoyed the whole journey with Ellie and her friends, and I'm glad I got to ride this ghost train to the end.

Rating:




Until tomorrow.