Monday, December 28, 2015

Reader Picks: Your favorite posts of 2015

So, it's been a while. Sorry about that, but the last few months have been a bit hectic around here. As we get ready to close the book on 2015, I wanted to revisit some of my favorite reads of the year, and some of yours.

First, we'll look at what you guys liked on my site in 2015. If this list shows anything, it's that if you want to get views on my page, associate yourself with Mark Lawrence. There are three Lawrence-related books and the list, and the two top posts received far and away more views than the other eight. Both got a big bump from a Lawrence link.

As always, thanks for reading my blog in 2015, and hope you continue to visit in 2016.

10. "As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride," by Cary Elwes and Joe Layden. Published February 26. I greatly enjoyed this too-short book of stories from the set of one of my favorite films. You guys apparently did, too.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review: "Priest," by Matthew Colville

The second book in my journey through the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off finalists was enjoyable, but not quite as compelling as my first read.
In “Priest,” Matthew Colville introduces us to Heden, a sort of warrior priest.

Heden is sent by the bishop of his church to investigate a murder among a reclusive order of knights. The knights should be protecting a nearby city that is threatened by an army of urqs (read orcs), but they’re frozen and guilt-ridden by the death of their captain. Heden must try to unravel what happened and get the order back on track to have any chance to save the people.

“Priest” moves along at a very fast pace. In the early going, though, you can almost hear the dice tumbling in the background. I kind of cringed every time Colville used the word “campaigner” because it gave me more of the D&D feel. I’m a former gamer, but I really don’t like my books to feel like the storyline of a campaign.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Review: "The Sword of Shannara" by Terry Brooks

I’m sure most of us have “those books” – the ones that friends and people whose opinions we usually agree with love, but we just can’t get into. One of those for me has always been Terry Brooks’ “The Sword of Shannara” ($7.99, Del Rey).

I first heard other fantasy fans raving about it when I was a teenager, and I picked up the whole original trilogy at a local used bookstore. It’s been 25 years or so, and I’ve never finished the first book or even cracked the ones that came after.

I’ve tried. At least four or five times over the years, I’ve started the book, but I’ve never gotten very far. It just didn’t pull me in.

With the new Shannara series set to air on TV, I thought I’d give it one last try. I’d either finally finish the book or just give up on it completely. Well, I finished it, with very mixed feelings.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Review: "What Remains of Heroes" by David Benem

Though I wasn’t chosen as one of the blogs for Mark Lawrence’s Self Published Fantasy Blog Off, I committed on my own to at least give all 10 finalists a chance, hoping that one of them would blow me away.

My plan is to read the samples available on Amazon for each book. If by the end of that sample, the book has grabbed me, I’ll buy it and keep reading. If not, I’ll pass on it.

Since it was one of the highest rated so far, I opted to start with David Benem’s “What Remains of Heroes,” and it was an excellent choice to begin the journey. Not only did the sample grab me, but I bought the book and mowed through the first third in the same sitting.

Benem gives us three primary characters, all of whom are about to have their lives drastically changed in a world teetering on the brink of a potentially catastrophic war with evil sorcerers known as the Necrists.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Review: "Owl and the City of Angels" by Kristi Charish

It was the odd title of Kristi Charish’s “Owl and the Japanese Circus” that first caught my attention last year when I was browsing for new reads. I picked it up and found a quite enjoyable adventure tale with shades of Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider.

The second volume in the series, “Owl and the City of Angels” ($18, Simon & Schuster) due out Oct. 5, is, if anything, more fun.

We start with antiquities thief Owl in Egypt, working on an assignment for her dragon boss, Mr. Kurosawa. Well, sort of. The dragon gave her a choice of artifacts to retrieve for him, but Owl decided she could get both, and make a personal stop along the way, too. Not a good idea.

Things go south when riots break out and the International Archeological Association (IAA) deploys an army of agents to try to capture Owl, ironically, for thefts that she didn’t commit.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Review: "The Liar's Key" by Mark Lawrence

The opening volume of Mark Lawrence’s Red Queen’s War trilogy, “Prince of Fools,” didn’t grab my attention immediately in the way that his debut, “Prince of Thorns” did. I enjoyed it, but wasn’t as engrossed as I had been in his first three books.

Lawrence quashes my doubts about this story, though, in the second volume, “The Liar’s Key” ($26.95, Ace).

Following his reluctant adventures in “Prince of Fools,” Prince Jalan Kendeth has found something of a home among the Norsemen in Trond. He’s running an inn … sort of … and in general being the same ne’er-do-well layabout that he’s always been. A tryst with the local Jarl’s daughter changes that, though, as Jalan is chased out of town and ends up in the last place he wants to be – on a boat again.

He flees with the same man he arrived with, Snorri ver Snagason, who now owns an artifact known as Loki’s Key, which gives him the ability to unlock any door. But it’s not just any door that Snorri wants to unlock. It’s the door to death itself, which he thinks will allow him to bring his family, murdered by the Hardassa, back into the world.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Review: "Monster Hunter International" by Larry Correia

I’ve got a friend who has been trying to get me to pick up Larry Correia’s “Monster Hunter International” ($7.99, Baen) for a while now. Looking at the description, it didn’t seem like the kind of thing I’d like. Boy, was I wrong.

Correia had me from the fantastic first line of the book: “On an otherwise ordinary Tuesday evening, I had the chance to live the American dream. I was able to throw my incompetent jackass of a boss from a fourteenth story window.”

As it turns out, the incompetent jackass in question was a werewolf, and his encounter with the beast earns Owen Pitt, Correia’s main character, an interesting offer.

Owen is a big guy with a penchant for violence. Unable to live up to his war hero father, Owen took up illegal pit fighting to make ends meet until an incident in the ring caused him to do some soul-searching. In response, he took the most boring and plain job that he could think of – accounting. He didn’t count on a werewolf boss, though.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Review: "Fool's Quest" by Robin Hobb

In her second installment of The Fitz and the Fool, “Fool’s Quest” ($28, Del Rey), Robin Hobb surprisingly keeps the same deliberate pace she set in the first volume.

Though at the end of “Fool’s Assassin,” the action seemed poised to ratchet up, Fitz spends much of the second volume dithering, second-guessing himself and hesitating. Despite that, though, the book still manages to be compelling.

We pick up where the first volume left off. Withywoods has been attacked while Fitz is away at Buckkeep tending the Fool, who he himself had seriously wounded at the end of the first volume. His daughter, Bee, has been taken, though Fitz is unaware of that as the book begins.

The Fool continues to try to push Fitz toward his mission of vengeance and destruction against those who tortured and broke him, while at the same time, family and friends are trying to push Fitz toward taking a more public role in court. Revelations are made, Fitz tortures himself as he’s wont to do, and Bee’s fate, and perhaps the fate of much more, stands in the balance.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Memory Lane: "The Light Fantastic" by Terry Pratchett

Continuing my return journey through the Discworld, I find Terry Pratchett getting more in his groove with “The Light Fantastic” ($9.99, Harper).

Rincewind and Twoflower continue the wild journey that began in “The Colour of Magic” as the world begins to go crazy. A huge giant start has appeared in the night sky, and it’s getting closer as Great A’Tuin swims through space toward it. Cults pop up, magic falls out of favor, and many people think it’s the end of the disc.

Meanwhile, an ambitious wizard at Unseen University has set his sights on moving up in the world. To do that, he needs the lost spell from the Octavo, the most powerful magical book on the disc. That spell just happens to be lodged in Rincewind’s head, and the easiest way to get it is to kill him.

On revisiting the “Colour of Magic” after 20 years or so, I still thoroughly enjoyed it, but I found it to be maybe a bit weaker than I remembered. It was kind of a wandering piece, with a few subplots that didn’t really seem to go anywhere. “The Light Fantastic,” though, seemed to me to be where Pratchett really starts hitting his stride. It’s a bit tighter and maybe a little funnier.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Review: "The Gospel of Loki" by Joanne Harris

I enjoyed Joanne Harris’ first Norse mythology-themed young adult novel “Runemarks” a number of years ago, so, for the title alone, I couldn’t resist her latest “The Gospel of Loki” ($25.99, Saga Press).

The approach has become pretty common in recent years – take a classic tale and turn it around from the villain’s viewpoint. For this book, Harris turns some familiar tales from Norse mythology on their head, as we get the view through the eyes of the trickster god Loki.

From the very beginning of his relationship with Odin, Loki is an outcast in Asgard. He’s not a true god, and the others make sure he knows it. They are, however, eager to use his talents when he can help them. His perception of his treatment causes resentment that will eventually put the worlds on the path to Ragnarok.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Review: "The Slow Regard of Silent Things" by Patrick Rothfuss

Patrick Rothfuss warns us in the prologue to “The Slow Regard of Silent Things” ($18.95, DAW) that fans of the Kingkiller Chronicles may want to skip this novella. If they do, though, they’re missing out.

True, this slim volume doesn’t really move Rothfuss’ story along, and it certainly gave people waiting impatiently on the third book something to gripe about. But it does have a certain charm and shows a slightly different side of the writer.

The story, more a novel-length vignette if such a thing can exist, follows Auri as she goes about her day-to-day life in the Underthing below the university, preparing for a visitor. The book follows her for several days as she gets things in order, and while she does have adventures, they’re certainly not of the kind that Kvothe is involved in above the ground. Though, as we see early on when she dives for treasures, they can be just as dangerous.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Review: "The Witch Hunter" by Virginia Boecker

In her debut novel, “The Witch Hunter” ($18, Little, Brown), Virginia Boecker takes us to an alternate version of 16th Century England where magic is very real and practicing it can be hazardous to your health.

Elizabeth Grey is coming of age in a violent occupation. She’s been trained since she was a child for one purpose – to bring witches to justice – and she’s been very good at it. Until recently, that is, when other issues have been occupying her mind.

The tables turn on Elizabeth when she is caught with some forbidden herbs and accused of witchcraft herself. She’s imprisoned and scheduled for execution, but Nicholas Perevil, the country’s most notorious and most wanted wizard, rescues her. He offers her life in return for her help in breaking a curse that’s been placed on him.

She begins her journey as a reluctant savior for a man she’s been taught to hate, but the path she travels will turn the world that she’s known for most of her life upside down.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Memory Lane: "The Colour of Magic" by Terry Pratchett

With the passing of Sir Terry Pratchett a few weeks ago, I decided that it might be time to revisit some of those early Discworld novels that I haven't read in years. I was tempted to begin my journey with "Sourcery," which was my first Pratchett novel, but after much debate, I decided to start at the beginning with "The Colour of Magic" ($9.99, Harper Collins).

This first volume does a delightful job of introducing the reader to the zany and colorful world of the Disc through the eyes of the inept failed wizard Rincewind and the world's first tourist, Twoflower.

Rincewind, who is much more comfortable running away from trouble than toward it, at first tries to avoid the flamboyant tourist from a strange land and his, umm, interesting luggage. That becomes impossible when Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of the, ahem, "grand" city of Ankh-Morpork charges the wizard with protecting the tourist. As fans of Pratchett know already, no one refuses Vetinari -- at least no one who survives more than a few more sentences.

That sets Rincewind on a path that will take him to the very edge of the disc and beyond, and also serves to introduce readers to a wide swath of the world that we all came to know and love.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Review: "The Desert Spear" by Peter V. Brett

Peter V. Brett takes the reader by surprise a little in “The Desert Spear” ($7.99, Del Rey), the second book of his Demon Cycle.

In “The Warded Man,” we get a villainous picture of Ahmann Jardir that’s largely from the point of view of lead character Arlen Bales. In the follow-up, Jardir takes the spotlight for the majority of the first half of the book, and we’re left with a very different picture of the man who would be The Deliverer.

The early portion of the book takes us through Jardir’s young life, the beginnings of his friendship with the khaffit Abban, and the things that shaped the man who wields the Spear of Kaji. While there are still disturbing things about the man, we leave his tale with a much more sympathetic view of him and his motivations.

In the present-day storyline, Jardir has taken the role of Shar’Dama Ka, the Krasian version of The Deliverer. He has uncovered the secrets of Anoch Sun, first discovered by Arlen Bales, and has crossed the desert to bring the Daylight War to the greenlanders of Thesa, who he views as weak. He plans to subjugate and occupy their lands, while conscripting the able-bodied to join his fight against the night demons.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Review: "Shadow, Shadow" by V.B. Marlowe

There’s probably never been a better time, or perhaps, a worse time for indie and self-published authors. On the one hand, it’s now easier than ever to see your story in print and promote it. On the other, that same ease has created a glut of books, most of them pretty bad, that may make people less likely to pick up an indie or self-published title.

I’m guilty myself of often dismissing books that don’t come from a big publisher because of past experience. Every now and then, though, something catches my eye and draws me in.

I’m not sure exactly what it was about V.B. Marlowe’s “Shadow, Shadow” ($11.99, All Night Reads) that drew my attention – probably a combination of the title, the cover and the description – but I’m glad it did.

Marlowe introduces us to the small town of Shadow Pines and four teenagers who, at first, seem very different – Harley, the misfit punk girl; Teaghan, the quiet mousy type; Brock, the most popular boy in school; and Gianna, the activist. All, though, share a birthday and receive a mysterious gift from the new novelty shop in town.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Review: "The Autumn Republic" by Brian McClellan

Field Marshal Tamas has fought his way through the Kez army and across inhospitable terrain to return to Adro after being caught behind enemy lines, but what he returns to is a country in chaos in “The Autumn Republic” ($26, Orbit), the final volume of Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage trilogy.

When Tamas returns to the capital city of Adopest, he finds it controlled by Brudanian troops, it’s once-magnificent temples smashed to rubble and the scheming Lord Claremonte facing off against Ricard Tumblar, a member of Tamas’ council, in the city’s first election. It's an election that his own coup set up, but it could now turn disastrous for his country.

Tamas has no time to set things right in Adopest, though. The Kez on Adro’s borders remain a larger threat than Claremonte, and in his absence he soon discovers that his troops have fallen into chaos and treachery.

If that’s not enough, his son, Taniel Two-Shot, was captured and tortured by the Kez god Kressimer, but escaped. He and his companion Ka-Poel, a savage magician, are now trapped in Kez territory. Tamas will need Taniel, and every friend and supporter that he has left, to save Adro.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review: "Heir to the Jedi" by Kevin Hearne

I can’t remember the last time I read a Star Wars tie-in novel, but it must have been 10 or 12 years ago at least.

For a time in the mid-to-late 1990s, I was buying them regularly. I read Timothy Zahn’s incredible Thrawn Trilogy (don’t get me started Disney), and several of the series that came after that. But in the early ’00s, I drifted away from tie-ins altogether – Star Wars or otherwise.

So what draws me back in? Kevin Hearne.

I’ve loved Hearne’s Iron Druid series, and I thought “Heir to the Jedi” ($28, Del Rey) would be great fun. I also harbored hope that, with the obvious title nod to Zahn’s “Heir to the Empire,” it might be the beginning of something as strong.

The truth is, though, it’s kind of boring.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Review: "The Burning Land" by Victoria Strauss

When Victoria Strauss’ debut novel “The Arm of the Stone” came out, I was impressed.

I continued to enjoy her work through the sequel “Garden of the Stone” and the first book of her second series, “The Burning Land.” A recent re-release of “The Burning Land” ($7.99, Open Road Media) gave me the chance to revisit Strauss’ work.

“The Burning Land” opens on a world coming out of more than three quarters of a century of conflict between the religious Aratists and the atheist Caryaxists. The Aratists have regained control of the land and are going about the process of setting things back to their version of right.

Gyalo, a powerful and promising young Shaper, is chosen to lead an expedition across the Burning Land, a vast and inhospitable desert believed to be the resting place of the god Arata. Leaders of the church have heard rumors of Aratists who were banished into the desert by the Caryaxist regime, and their Dreamers have recently caught glimpses of what might be a community built by the surviving Aratists.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Tribute: Sir Terry Pratchett (1948-2015)

When I was in high school and college, there were several really good used book stores in the area. They were a haven for me – a place where I could get a lot of books for not much cash and even trade in what I had for credit.

It was on a search through the shelves of one of my favorite haunts that I happened upon a slim volume by the title of “Sourcery.” It was likely the strange spelling of the word that first caught my attention. When I pulled it from the shelf, things got even stranger. The cover featured an inexplicable picture of a sort of addled looking wizard and an orangutan. For a buck, I couldn’t resist adding it to my stack. I just had to see what it was about.

That’s how my 25-year-long love affair with Sir Terry Pratchett began.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Review: "The Warded Man" by Peter V. Brett

I’ve been meaning to read Peter V. Brett’s “The Warded Man” ($7.99, Del Rey) for years, but a recent deal on the electronic version of the book finally gave me a reason to get around to it. As usual, I’m sorry I waited.

“The Warded Man” introduces us to an interesting post-apocalyptic world where people hide in fear of corelings – demon-like elemental creatures who emerge from the earth at nightfall to terrorize and kill. The only protection from the creatures are the magical wards that, if created properly, can keep the demons out. It’s rumored that once there were offensive wards that allowed people to fight the creatures, but those have been lost – if the stories were even true to begin with.

Brett’s story focuses on three survivors, all from small villages. Arlen dreams of seeing the world as a Messenger, the brave travelers who dare the corelings and the open road to bring news and supplies to the outer villages. Those dreams turn darker in the wake of a demon attack on his village that reveals some awful truths about his life and the people around him.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Review: "As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride" by Cary Elwes and Joe Laydon

If you asked me to name my favorite movies of all time, “The Princess Bride” would certainly be in the Top 3, if not No. 1. So it should come as no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed “As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride” ($26, Touchstone), a memoir of the making of the movie by Westley himself, Cary Elwes, and Joe Laydon.

In the book, Elwes offers his thoughts on the movie and the popularity that it’s come to enjoy over the years despite its soft initial run in theaters, as well as some fantastic stories from his casting through a reunion of the surviving cast members 25 years later.

Scattered throughout Elwes’ remembrances are short notes from many of the film’s stars, as well as director Rob Reiner and producer Andrew Scheinman.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Review: "Flex" by Ferrett Steinmetz

What if magic could be distilled in drug form so that everyone could experience its benefits? That’s the concept that drives Ferrett Steinmetz’s “Flex” ($14.99, Angry Robot).

Unfortunately, the magical crystal Flex also comes with Flux, the downside in Steinmetz's world – the counter to the magic that causes bad, often disastrous things to happen.

That is, until Paul Tsabo comes along. Paul is an ex-cop, who now works for an insurance agency, tracking down magic users, called ’Mancers. He’s legendary as the only mundane ever known to have killed a ’Mancer, but he lost a foot in the process, and is still haunted by what he did.

Now, going through a divorce, he’s discovered a secret about ’Mancers – that while the consequences of their magic can often be devastating, they’re also capable of great beauty. They’re broken people whose ‘mancy is fueled by their own obsessions: video games, music, art, even bureaucracy – Paul’s specialty.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Review: "Kill City Blues" by Richard Kadrey

I thoroughly enjoyed the early books in Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series, but I wandered away after “Devil Said Bang.” I thought the idea of Stark being Lucifer would be more appealing than it actually was, and I thought that was the weakest book of the series.

So, a couple of years later, I’m looking for a quick read, and “Kill City Blues” ($14.99, Harper Voyager) is still sitting there in my TBR pile. I decide that it’s time to dive back in to the story.

Stark is out of Hell and back in L.A., though he’s still enjoying the devil’s posh digs on Earth for the moment. His Jade girlfriend Candy is with him, and for the moment, life is pretty good for the Sandman.

He still has a mission, though. The rebel angel Aelita has escaped with the Qomrama Om Ya, a powerful weapon that she intends to use to kill the split personalities of God. It just so happens that the Qomrama might be the only thing that can save the world from a race of gods more ancient than its own who are determined to break through and take their revenge.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Review: "Maplecroft" by Cherie Priest

Do you ever keep slogging through a book that’s not really doing much for you just because you think you should like it?

That’s kind of what Cherie Priest’s “Maplecroft” ($15, Roc) was like for me.

I picked it up on the recommendation of another author I really enjoy and one who has steered me toward several really good books over the past few years. On the surface, it seemed like something I should love. Lizzie Borden fighting Lovecraftian monstrosities. How great a setup is that? Maybe it made my hopes too high.

“Maplecroft” opens a number of years after Borden’s famous murders. She’s been acquitted and is living in Fall River, Massachusetts, serving as caretaker for her ailing older sister Emma. Lizzie lives quietly and stays mostly under the radar, or so it seems.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Review: "Walking the Labyrinth" by Lisa Goldstein

I was introduced to Lisa Goldstein a few months ago with the re-release of her National Book Award winner “The Red Magician.” I enjoyed the book immensely, but I’m not certain that I don’t like “Walking the Labyrinth” ($7.99, Open Road Media) even more.

Originally released in 1996, “Walking the Labyrinth” tells the tale of Molly Travers, a temp worker with an on-again, off-again writer boyfriend who mostly ignores her. She lives a fairly normal and dreary life. That is until private detective John Stow shows up on her doorstep and begins asking questions about her Aunt Fentrice, who raised her after her parents died.

The detective’s inquiries lead Molly to question what she knows about her life and sets her on an unlikely path of adventure and mystery and she uncovers the secrets of her family’s sordid history.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Random Rants: There and back again ... sort of

It’s been about a week since I finally saw “The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies,” and I’ve taken some time to reflect on Peter Jackson’s adaptation before putting my final thoughts down.

(Note: If you haven't read "The Hobbit" or seen the films and don't want spoilers, it's probably best not to proceed. Then again, if you haven't read "The Hobbit," what are you doing here? Go read it. Now.)

I’ll start by stating what most regular readers of this site already know. If I had to pick a single book as my favorite of all time, it would be “The Hobbit.” So, going in, I knew there were going to be things about this adaptation that I didn’t like.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Review: "Golden Son" by Pierce Brown

Darrow has survived being carved from a Red into a Gold. He’s survived the brutal Institute and emerged as the top graduate, coming under the wing of none other than the ArchGovernor of Mars Nero au Augustus. But, as Pierce Brown’s “Golden Son” ($25, Del Rey) begins, he finds himself in a position as precarious as any he’s been in.

Due in part to overconfidence, Darrow has lost a battle – a battle that would have made him the commander of an armada, and more importantly for his short term prospects, a battle against the sworn enemies of Augustus, the Bellona family. 

The ArchGovernor has disowned Darrow and put his contract up for auction. He knows that it will likely be bought by the Bellona, who want to serve his heart to the family matron in vengeance for killing her youngest son during one of the trials of the Institute. What’s more, Darrow hasn’t had any contact with the mysterious Ares, leader of the rebel group Sons of Ares – the man who sent him to infiltrate Gold society in order to bring it down from the inside.