Monday, December 31, 2018

My favorite reads of 2018

There’s not a lot to recap as the calendar runs out on 2018. It was a slow and strange reading year for me. It was a year of less reading time and more DNFs than I can ever remember. I probably abandoned more books than I finished.

Wrapping up

Even some of those that I stayed with disappointed. A couple of series that I had enjoyed in the past came to very unsatisfying conclusions for me, but I felt I had to see them through. One bright spot in the series conclusions is also the first of my favorite reads of the year (not No. 1, mind you, just the first to be mentioned).

“Assassin’s Fate” by Robin Hobb. This was a very bittersweet book for me, so much so that I put off reading it for a long time after its release. I’ve known and loved FitzChivalry Farseer for more than two decades, and I felt certain this would be my last journey with him. It was not a perfect book nor the best in his tale, but it was, at least, a satisfying conclusion.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Freebies: "Christmas Eve" by Jim Butcher

Just in case you guys missed it like I did on Christmas Eve, Jim Butcher released a new Harry Dresden story in the spirit of the holiday season.

Still hopeful that we'll see "Peace Talks" in the coming year, but it's a really good story and some Dresden is better than no Dresden.

Read it here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Review: "Wrath of Empire" by Brian McClellan

In a year where I have almost as many DNFs as finished reads, it’s nice to have a few authors you know you can count on. Brian McClellan is one of those, and “Wrath of Empire” ($27, Orbit), the second book in his Gods of Blood and Powder trilogy, did not disappoint.

The Dynize have occupied Landfall and have their sights set on the rest of Fatrasta and the remaining godstones so that they can resurrect their fallen god. Taniel Two-Shot, known as the Red Hand, and his companion Ka-Poel, a Dynize bone-eye sorcerer, are determined to see that doesn’t happen, and he’s using every resource he has available.

In Landfall, Michel Brevis is working with the remaining Blackhats, despite having betrayed them, to try to get families smuggled out of the city and to safety as the Dynize round them up. When he gets a visit from Taniel, his mission changes. He’s to find a Dynize informant named Mara and get her out of the city. When his cover is blown, he finds himself in bed with the enemy to try to complete his mission.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Review: "The Core" by Peter V. Brett

Coming off major disappointment with my last series wrap-up book, I jumped right into another with Peter V. Brett’s “The Core” ($8.99, Del Rey).

Sharak Ka has arrived on a world in utter chaos. Thanks to their captured Alagai Ka, the demon mind prince, Arlen Bales and Ahmann Jardir have discovered that the human race’s prospects in the final battle against the corelings are even more grim than they thought. It will take bold action to avoid the utter destruction of humanity, and they have to roll the dice, with the fate of the world in the balance.

As they prepare for their journey to the Core to face whatever horrors await, much work still has to be done to unite the people on the surface of the world against a much larger threat. That work largely falls to Inevera, who rules the Krasians in all but title with Jardir missing, and Leesha Paper, now the countess of the Hollow. Somehow, they have to repair fractured relationships and focus people on a new threat – a massive demon army no longer working as individuals, but as a well-oiled machine guided by the strategy of the minds.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Review: "The Fantasy Fiction Formula" by Deborah Chester

I picked up Deborah Chester’s “The Fantasy Fiction Formula” ($19.95, Manchester University Press) about a year ago for the simple reason that it received such high praise from Jim Butcher, an author I admire greatly. He basically gave Chester credit for giving him the secret to success, which intrigued me.

I used to read “how to write” books with some regularity, but it’s been a long time since I cracked one. After a while much of the advice becomes repetitive and a bit boring. It seems there aren’t that many different ways to do it.

I started “The Fantasy Fiction Formula” about a year ago, and I wandered away from it. Mainly because in the early going there weren’t that many new ideas. It was all about planning your characters and knowing their motivations, desires and goals – things that have been covered over and over.

I recently picked it up again, this time determined to push through looking for some magical formula to help me get past my own personal block: I seem to be a natural novella writer. Every time I sit down to write a book, the finished product falls in the 35-45,000 word range. I’ve done it about five times now with the same result. In revisions, I end up trying to bulk it up to novel length, and I always feel that I’m just bloating it and the shorter version was much stronger. I was hoping for some sage advice to get me to that 60,000-plus word level.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Review: "Scourged" by Kevin Hearne

If my glowing reviews of the early books in any way influenced you to pick up Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, I’d like to take this moment to apologize.

At one time, this series was energetic and fun. I looked forward to each new installment. The fact that I waited months after its release to read the appropriately-titled “Scourged” ($27, Random House) speaks volumes about my opinion on the last couple of books. Still, I had faith that Hearne would pull it together for a grand finale. Instead, he basically did the equivalent of throwing a flaming bag of Irish wolfhound feces on his readers’ front porches.

Ragnarok is upon us … sort of. The story feels both rushed and like it takes forever to get to the point – what little point there is. Atticus is hurriedly making preparations for the final battle, while Owen and Granuaile are doing … things. That’s pretty much the plot of the first half of the book, which if I’m being honest, wasn’t awful. Granuaile seemed less annoying than usual, and Owen is always fun. We get to spend a little time with Oberon (basically all we’ll get in this story) and we meet a new dog named Starbuck who brings a little levity into the situation. I still had hope Hearne might pull it together somehow.

Then Ragnarok begins.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Review: "War Cry" by Brian McClellan

There’s one huge problem with Brian McClellan’s “War Cry” ($11.99, Tor). There’s simply not enough of it. It's an incredible setting and story that grips you the way that most of McClellan's work does, but it leaves you wanting to know far more about the world and the characters than you get in this introduction.

McClellan puts us in the middle of a platoon of guerilla warriors in a setting that gave me a bit of a World War II vibe. Unfortunately for this troop, they’re stranded behind enemy lines in a war that has gone on for as long as anyone can remember. Supplies are short, their numbers are dwindling, but still they do what they can.

They’ve survived mainly on the strength of their resourcefulness and an illusionist that can disguise their base and movements. Then their pilot, one of the last left on their side as far as they know, learns of a possible supply score. It’s a big risk, but they have to take it, and it may finally change the course of the war.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Review: "Sufficiently Advanced Magic" by Andrew Rowe

The early going of Andrew Rowe’s gaming-inspired “Sufficiently Advanced Magic” ($3.99 digital, self-published) left me not quite sure what to expect, but I ended up with a very pleasant surprise and a great read.

The story, which finished second in this year's Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off, follows Corin Cadence, who is set to enter the Serpent Spire for his judgment. If he’s successful, he’ll receive his attunement and know where his powers lie. If he’s not, well, he’s not likely to return. Corin comes from a powerful family with a demanding father, so expectations are high.

He has his own plans for the Spire, though. Corin’s older brother, Tristan, is one of the ones who didn’t return, and he intends to become powerful enough to climb the Spire, find his brother and bring him back.

Corin’s judgment doesn’t go quite as planned, though, landing him in a bad position both with his family and a visage of the Goddess. He'll need some help to unravel the tangled mess his life has become.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Memory Lane: "Sourcery" by Terry Pratchett

This has been a very strange year for me. I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten through August of a year only having read about a half-dozen books. Certainly it hasn’t happened in the last 30 years or so. I really can’t say what’s made it that way. I find myself at another one of those strange turns in life, but I’m used to those now, and I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve read outside of a few DNFs.

The general funk around my reading this year, though, made me decide it was time to dive back into my Discworld re-read, and just my luck, I was at the book that started it all, “Sourcery” ($9.99, Harper).

During my college years, I was a regular at several local used book stores. I didn’t have the money for new books, but I could drop a dollar or two on a used one. Most of the stores around here gave you credit for the type of book you traded – fantasy/SF could only be traded for fantasy/SF, for example – but then I found one that traded for anything. I collected boxes of romance novels that my older female relatives had laying around, westerns from a grandfather and anything else that I could find and built a huge pile of credit there.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Review: "Summerland" by Hannu Rajaniemi

Hannu Rajaniemi’s “Summerland” ($25.99, Tor) proved an unusual read for me in more ways than one.

In 1930s Europe, no one fears death anymore. At least not if they have a Ticket to Summerland. Not only do the living know about the afterlife in Rajaniemi’s alternate history, but they can communicate with people there, and the dead can visit the world of the living whenever they want through mediums and other means.

It’s no surprise, then, that the European powers of the time would wrangle over control of the world of the dead, just as they do the world of the living.

Rachel White is a good, but dissatisfied SIS agent with the British Empire. As a woman in the 1930s, she doesn’t get the respect of her fellow agents or superiors, no matter how good her work. Then she learns of a Soviet mole in Summerland. Instead of being put on the case, she’s removed from her position and placed in an accounting position.

But with the possible fate of the afterlife on the line, Rachel isn’t going to give up the chase.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Review: "Orconomics" by J. Zachary Pike

As you may have noticed if you visit this site occasionally, my reading has been pretty slow this year. I’m only averaging about one book per month, and May was the first month in my memory that I didn’t finish one at all. There are a few DNFs in the mix, but despite there being new books by some authors I really like that I haven’t gotten to yet, I’ve been in a bit of a slump.

Then I stumbled across J. Zachary Pike’s “Orconomics” ($13.99, Gnomish Press). After getting a few chuckles out of the sample, I still wasn’t sure about it, but the book turned out to be just what I needed.

Gorm Ingerson is a disgraced professional hero. Once known as the Pyrebeard, he was one of the most feared berserkers in the game. Then, a raid on a necromancer’s stronghold went south. He was stripped of his rank, and now wakes up drunk in a ditch most every day. That is until, quite accidentally, he befriends a goblin. He sets out to get the goblin his NPC papers (making him off limits for heroes to claim a bounty). That move sets Gorm on a world-changing path.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Review: "Where Loyalties Lie" by Rob J. Hayes

I start my dive into the most recent Self Published Fantasy Blog Off finalists with the book currently sitting in the lead by a slim margin, Rob J. Hayes’ “Where Loyalties Lie.”

Keelin Stillwater is not your typical pirate captain. Drawn into the lifestyle by swashbuckling tales, he’s found it quite different than he expected, but he’s risen through the ranks due to his own cunning and commitment. He prefers to avoid bloodshed when possible, which doesn’t always sit well with his crew, and he has his own agenda in the pirate trade.

His relationship with his sometimes lover Elaina Black is even more complicated than the one with his crew. For one thing, his ship, The Phoenix, was stolen from her, which her father, the bloodthirsty and cruel captain Tanner Black, views as an offense that can only be answered with Keelin’s death.

Then there’s Drake Morass, a legendary rogue and sworn enemy of the Blacks, who has designs on setting himself up as the king of the pirates, but he needs Keelin’s help to do it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Review: "Child of a Mad God" by R.A. Salvatore

If you’d asked me 15 years ago who my favorite authors were, R.A. Salvatore would have been near the top of the list. One of the highlights of my early entertainment writing career was chatting with Salvatore about his dark elf hero Drizzt Do’Urden, his task of killing Chewbacca in the now uncanonized Star Wars novels and various other projects.

Times change, though. Drizzt, who first brought me to Salvatore’s work, outlived my interest in him, his adventures getting a bit stale. I also never truly got into the Demon Wars saga the way that I connected with the dark elf books. Looking back through my reviews, it appears that it’s been about 14 years since I’ve read anything by Salvatore, that being a re-read of one of the earlier Dark Elf novels.

I was intrigued a month or so ago when presented with “Child of a Mad God” ($25.99, Tor), the first in a new series by Salvatore, and decided to give it a shot.

I was initially disappointed to discover that this was not a completely new project and was set in his Demon Wars world of Corona. Perhaps it was that, which led me to not be incredibly interested in the early going. Then, I met the young girl named Aoleyn, and the book turned around for me.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Review: "Assassin's Fate" by Robin Hobb

Since I suspect it will be my last trip with FitzChivalry Farseer, I put off reading Robin Hobb’s “Assassin’s Fate” ($32, Del Rey). Then, when I finally began, I took it slowly to savor this last journey.

Fitz and the Fool, masquerading in his Amber character, open the story in the Rain Wilds, on their journey to avenge the death of Fitz’s daughter Bee at the hands of the Servants of Clerres. Ravaged by grief, Fitz plans to bring the city down around its prophets and go out in a blaze of glory.

Unbeknownst to our favorite assassin, though, Bee is still alive. She’s held captive by a Servant named Dwalia and her minion Vindeliar, who can control minds. Dwalia is convinced that Fitz’s daughter is the Unexpected Son of prophecy, and she must bring her to Clerres to wring secrets from her and regain her standing among the Servants. Bee believes that her father has given up on her and put the Fool ahead of her. She’s beaten and abused, but not broken.

Meanwhile, as he usually does, the Fool is playing his own game in addition to helping Fitz seek revenge.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

My favorite reads of 2017

I had a lot going on in the latter quarter of the year that led me to slack off a bit in my reading, but it was still a pretty good year.

It was a year of discovering new voices for me. At least three quarters of the books that I read were by authors that I had not read before – some brand new, and at least one a classic author that I’d never given a shot. A few of my favorites also delivered solid additions to my library, and I took a few trips down memory lane, as well.

As I do every year, I want to make it clear that this list is in no way a “best of.” I simply don’t get to read enough books to qualify me to say what was the best of the year. These are just my favorite reads of 2017 (some of which are not from 2017). They also are in no particular order, though I’ll admit the first few are definitely my favorites.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Review: "The Overneath" by Peter S. Beagle

It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise in “The Overneath” ($15.95, Tachyon Publications), Peter S. Beagle writes about a few unicorns. But there are a few other nice surprises in this short story collection, as well.

We’ll get the familiar ground out of the way first. Of the 13 stories in the book, three deal with unicorns of various stripes, and two focus on his bumbling magician Schmendrick.

First up is “The Green-Eyed Boy,” which tells the tale of how Schmendrick came to be apprenticed to the wizard Nikos prior to Beagle’s most well-known tale, “The Last Unicorn.” It’s a fun and funny story that should please fans of that book. Though less funny, the same could be said of “Schmendrick Alone,” in which we learn about the first time that the wizard summoned a demon that he couldn’t control.