Friday, April 10, 2009

The Host

Stephenie Meyer, The Host review coming soon

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville Series

I received Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville series a while back not knowing what to expect. I put them on my reading list for March and wished for the best. Upon reading them, I realized right away that this was no chick-lit; this was going to be a kick-ass, take no names, urban fantasy series. I absolutely devoured the series and was done with all six before I knew it.

Kitty and the Midnight Hour introduces us to Kitty Norville, a midnight-shift DJ living in Denver who happens to be a werewolf. Dealing with her werewolf pack and who she is, she accidently starts "The Midnight Hour" on her radio show, basically a late-night advice show for anything supernatural. Actions have consequences, and her new radio show does not sit well with the alpha of her pack or the local Denver vampires.

Kitty Goes to Washington is where Kitty must live with the price of celebrity. She gets called to testify in front of congress and in doing so, gets wrapped up in even more problems.

After Washington, Kitty Takes a Holiday in a mountain cabin to write her memoir. Not much writing gets done, instead she has to deal with locals not trusting her and then her assassin "friend" Cormac and their lawyer Ben - who has some problems of his own.

Finally, in Kitty and the Silver Bullet, Kitty's getting some normality in her life, when her mother falls ill. She must return to Denver (where she is not welcomed by her old pack) and try to remain neutral. Things like normality and neutrality don't seem to agree with Kitty and she is caught up not only in a war in her old pack, but also between the city's vampires....and trying to keep her boyfriend safe.

In Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand, Kitty and Ben are now leading the Denver werewolves, keeping peace with the vampires, and decide to get married - Vegas style. The problem with being a famous werewolf is that people know you - and some want you dead.

If only things really stayed in Vegas, maybe Kitty could have returned to a normal life. But a supernatural evil follows Kitty back to Denver in Kitty Raises Hell and truly makes her life miserable. She has to make some incredibly tough choices about whom to trust and live with the outcome of those choices.

Carrie Vaughn has created a fantastic supernatural urban fantasy series based on werewolves, vampires, old magic, and things that go bump in the night. She has created multiple plot-lines that make the individual books satisfying as read-alones, but also keep the series going. I can't wait to find out what happens to all the characters. As far as urban fantasy series, I am putting this at the top of my list along with Jim Butcher's Dresden Files - which while reading the Kitty series, I kept thinking that it would be funny if Kitty fielded a call from some wizard in Chicago named Harry who needed advice on something.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Modern Magic

Modern Magic by Anne Cordwainer is written as a story cycle. The story cycle format is new to me and is one of the first things that you notice when reading this book. For others also new to this, a story cycle is basically a series of linked short stories. What we have here are twelve "episodes" spanning eleven years exploring the lives of John and Liz Prospero in this urban fantasy. Thanks to the use of the story cycle, Cordwainer is able to give us a lot of good fantasy and action in a quick read. The other unique device the author uses is an alternating first person narrative between the two main characters. You get to see both of their point of views and how their personalities affect those around them.

John and Liz Prospero are siblings from a sorcerer family, the Boston Prosperos. Just like in the real world people go bad, and magical users are no different. The Prospero family spend much of their time hunting these magical renegades to keep justice and everyone safe. John, one of the strongest sorcerors in the Prospero line, has to deal with the lot life has given him - the responsibilty and expectation to keep hunting these villains. Liz, born into a sorceror family without having any magic of her own, has her own problems - mainly dealing with the fact that even though she is normal, she can not live a normal life.

In Modern Magic, you will get to see how two very different siblings feel about each other and their fates; it is full of magic (both good and very very evil), adventure, mystery, and some very big surprises. If you like urban fantasy, you won't be able to put this book down.

Note: The above review was based on a book provided to me by the publisher and/or author. As always, I thank them for the opportunity to enjoy some new literature.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn

Alison Goodman, author of Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, is an Australian author who has received praise for her first science fiction work, Singing The Dogstar Blues and followed that up with the crime thriller Killing The Rabbit. Goodman wrote Eon as part one of a fantasy duology with part two expected sometime in 2010.

Synopsis from book: Twelve-year-old Eon has been training for years. His intensive study of Dragon Magic, which is based on Asian astrology, involves two kinds of skills: sword-work and magical aptitude. He and his master hope that he will be chosen as a Dragoneye-an apprentice to one of the twelve energy dragons of good fortune.
But Eon has a dangerous secret. He is actually Eona, a sixteen-year-old girl who has been masquerading for the chance to become a Dragoneye. Females are forbidden to use Dragon Magic; if anyone discovers she has been hiding in plain sight, her death is assured.
When Eon's secret threatens to come to light, she and her allies are plunged into grave danger and a deadly struggle for the Imperial throne. Eon must find the strength and inner power to battle those who want to take her magic...and her life.

Alison Goodman starts with some rich history and culture of the East, adds in some fantasy elements and creates a one of a kind world, the Empire of the Celestrial Dragons. Her descriptive tales of the 12 Dragons and their associated Dragoneyes, the Hua or life force of the people, and the swordplay makes for a dynamic fantasy novel. Where Goodman rises above the rest is the way she intermingles so many problematic concerns of today into the novel. We get to examine the inner turmoil of ambition, despair and sacrifice, political intrigue, gender roles, and personal prejudices of "lesser" people. The only surprising thing is that this book is found in the Young Adult section - do not let that stop any adults from picking it up - this is one of the best books I have read in quite a while. I have now put Goodman's earlier works on my to-read list and I can hardly wait for the second part of this story.

Note: The above review was based on a book provided to me by the publisher and/or author. As always, I thank them from the opportunity to enjoy some new literature.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Soulstealer War: The First Mother's Fire

I just finished reading W. L. Hoffman’s work The First Mother’s Fire, which is book one of what will be The Soulstealer War series. Hoffman, a law professional by day, has been a science-fiction and fantasy lover all his life and while toiling away at law school, the foundation for The Soulstealer War was born. Years later he penned his ideas to paper and created The First Mother’s Fire, which is his first literary attempt, and as such, is impressive.

Kenneth McNary is a law graduate deciding what to do with his future by taking a few months off to hike on the Appalachian Trail. He has certain traits he has inherited from his family: from his father he grew to be an analytical and logic-minded man, from his Uncle Dale, he learned to be an outdoorsman with survival skills, and from his Grandma Gwen he learned about faeries and other alternatives to mainstream religion. These three people are important in Kenneth’s life and helped make him who he is. One aspect of Kenneth that wasn’t taught is his sixth sense, something that kicks in when he is in danger (which has saved him many times from possible death). All this is important because Kenneth is about to be thrust into a scenario which is out of this world. Weir is a much older parallel world to Earth which can be accessed with the right magic through portals. The Elder Race, created by the First Mother, have lost most of their magic in Weir and blame the humans for their insipid ways. Magic is not gone from Weir, though, the Nosferu, a new race, have much magic and claim to want to save Weir and its inhabitants. Kenneth learns through the First Mother herself, who has not been in communication with the Elder Race for a long time, that the Nosferu are evil and use their magic to destroy. She gives him the task of seeking out and defeating the Nosferu. Kenneth goes through the portal and quickly befriends Aldren of the Elder Race and realizes that the First Mother not only has given him a task, but has given him special powers to achieve that task. However, Kenneth also learns that this task will be harder since the Elder Race holds humans in disregard and enslaves them. The First Mother’s Fire continues to tell the tale of how Kenneth deals with the cards dealt him and how he wins the respect of some, while becoming a bitter enemy to others.

I enjoyed Hoffman’s descriptive storytelling and the world he used to explore his various themes. The world he created is very satisfying. Weir as the older “inner” world filled with magic and history, and Earth as the newer “outer” world corrupting nature with no respect for magic. I think his character development is superb; he gives us both physical descriptions of the different races and also lets us into their mindset of why they believe and act the way they do. He uses his magic system to help explore the themes of environmentalism and religion. Weir’s world is based on magic from the First Mother and is tied to nature; the first tree that Kenneth camped under protecting him was a great example of the nature aspect and is something I enjoyed immensely being more aware of today’s lack of respect for natural resources. The souldrinking concept of the Nosferu was very entertaining, but The Soulstealer’s Doom black armor was perhaps the best use of a magical device to test the protagonist’s inner strength.

Although Hoffman’s approach is novel, his themes are similar to many science-fiction/fantasy books. Good verse evil, free will verse destiny, compassion verse greed, logic versus creativity, meaning of life and death and the compassion within. Hoffman plays no tricks with these; you absolutely know he is questioning and exploring, logic, compassion, religion, destiny.

One of the few criticisms I have with that is that it could be more subtle, especially when dealing with Kenneth’s italicized thoughts. At one lengthy soliloquy I found myself skimming the paragraph. Some more mature fantasy readers might feel like they’re getting cheated since they are not able to discover them on their own. What makes up for this weakness is the way he shows the inner struggle of Kenneth.

My only other criticism is a criticism of many fantasy books--serialization. While I’m not sure what Hoffman’s plans are for Kenneth, or how many books it will take to get there, I do know that upon finishing the last paragraph I turned the page looking for more. The end of book one didn’t seem climatic enough for me to warrant the end. That being said I’m a big fan of many series that have this same problem, the books themselves are not standalone novels, but the series are extremely gratifying – and I recommend this book to fantasy readers of all ages.

Note: The above review was based on a book provided to me by the publisher and/or author. As always, I thank them for the opportunity to enjoy some new literature.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ender In Exile

Ender In Exile is one of many in the Ender series; it is a direct sequel to Ender’s Game and although written after the other Ender books, chronologically takes place during the last two chapters of Ender’s Game. If you have not read Ender’s Game, stop what you are doing and read it immediately. To me, it is in the ranks with Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Clarke’s Childhood’s End, and Asimov’s Foundation; some of my favorites.

Synopsis from book cover: At the close of Ender’s Game, Andrew Wiggin - called Ender by everyone - is told that he can no longer live on Earth, and he realizes that this is the truth. He has become far more than just a boy who won a game: he is the Savior of Earth, a hero, a military genius whose allegiance is sought by every nation of the newly shattered Earth Hegemony. He is offered the choice of living in isolation on Eros, at one of the Hegemony’s training facilities, but instead the twelve-year-old chooses to leave his home world and begin the long relativistic journey out to the colonies. With him went his sister Valentine, and the core of the artificial intelligence that would become Jane.
The story of those years has never been told. Until now.

Ender In Exile was a very good book that primarily explored the details of Ender’s life after the war with the Buggers. Card managed to put some of the themes of Game under a microscope in Exile. While Exile has less action than Game, Card makes up for it by delving into the psychology of Ender. We see how Ender uses the same manipulation that Graff had used on him to achieve his goals. We see that Ender is just as good at political strategy as military via his battle with Admiral Morgan. We see that Ender has keen insight into others as he manipulates Alessandra so that she may be free of her mother. Most of all, we see Ender accept the guilt of Stilson, Bonzo, and the entire Bugger xenocide and take responsibility for his actions. Card develops existing characters like Graff and Valentine excellently, while adding interesting new characters like Alessandra and Sel Menach. Valentine is perhaps the most important person in Ender’s life, but I’m not sure he knows it. She is his conscience and I think is the one person keeping him connected to the real world while he is obsessing over the Formic world. I was at first surprised when Ender finally broke down and made contact with his parents and resolved his relationship with Peter, but then I realized he could only do those things after he found what he was looking for. Card did a beautiful job detailing the events of Ender after the battle and for fans of Ender’s Game it is greatly appreciated. My only criticism is actually a compliment to Card; he created the new characters so powerfully, I would have loved to learn more about Vitaly, Alessandra, Sel Menach, and Abra. I would recommend this book to anyone that enjoyed Ender’s Game.

Note: The above review was based on a book provided to me by the publisher and/or author. As always, I thank them for the opportunity to enjoy some new literature.