Sunday, June 12, 2016

Book Review: Goliath by Scott Westerfeld



Summary
After their success in assisting the people of Istanbul I overthrowing their sultan and forming a republic, Alek and Deryn ind their position aboard the Leviathan to be shaky. The world knows who Alek is now, and being a Clanker prince aboard a Darwinist ship has put him in a precarious position. What will the British do with him? Keep him prisoner? Make a puppet of an emperor out of him? And how much longer can Deryn keep up her charade of being a boy? Someone other than Count Volger is bound to find out eventually?

The Leviathan’s trip is detoured to pick up a stranded inventor by the name of Nikola Tesla, the man who has supposedly tamed lightning. Tesla’s new weapon, Goliath, could end the war, or so he claims. All it is going to take is a single firing…

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from amazon.com

Alek and Deryn are on the last leg of their round-the-world quest to end World War I, reclaim Alek’s throne as prince of Austria, and finally fall in love. The first two objectives are complicated by the fact that their ship, the Leviathan, continues to detour farther away from the heart of the war (and crown). And the love thing would be a lot easier if Alek knew Deryn was a girl. (She has to pose as a boy in order to serve in the British Air Service.) And if they weren’t technically enemies.

Context

World War I is warming up, but our characters seem to be constantly on the fringes of things, manipulating (or trying to manipulate) the outcome of the war from the outside. Alek and Deryn don’t see serious ground combat, but being in an airship doesn’t really allow itself to getting involved in ground combat. We do see air and even marine battles, exploring Clanker technology and Darwinist fabricated beasts in combat. Just seeing how the different perspective— how technology could have been— puts the war in a completely different light. Even seeing how different countries’ cultures effect how the same technologies are used is amazing. Different Darwinist countries create different beasts, for example.

What we’re seeing in Goliath is how sides are fighting to bring America into a war that is already raging in Europe. It is a wonderful take on war without involving serious, gory battles.

Style

As the final installment of the trilogy, there isn’t a whole lot I can say about Goliath that wasn’t already said in my review of Leviathan and Behemoth. Westerfeld’s writing style is consistent and strong, with very clear action and characterization techniques that are easy to read yet fully pull the reader into the world. Even with little knowledge of history (I am just NOT a fan of history) I recognized at least names and the basic events. You don’t need to be a WWI buff to get what’s going on here. Casual name dropping, like a single mention of Thomas Edison, was a little chocolate chunk in the cookie that is this novel. There are so many little tidbits that are enjoyable that it’s like getting peppered with inside jokes while reading. It makes for some very pleasant little moments.

My Thoughts

Goliath was a perfect close to an amazing trilogy. The plot specific to the novel itself is complete and individual, while the overarcing plot of the whole trilogy is moved forward at the same comfortable pace established in the first two books. It’s a satisfying mesh of trilogy plot and book plot keeps the reader from getting bored at any moment, and the introduction of how things are in America just added to the fun— at least for me, as an American reader. It was like coming home. I couldn’t wait to see how America developed under its mixing of Darwinist and Clanker influences. Mention of there still being lines drawn from the Civil War— a war that was mentioned as still going on, at least in some ways, for over 50 years now— was so intriguing to me that I could hardly contain myself. I would be ecstatic if Westerfeld wrote a book or two about the American Civil War in this alternate history world. Westerfeld has completely earned my respect and awe in his writing of this trilogy, and I am sad to be finished with it.


Would I Recommend This Book? As with the previous two novels of the trilogy, absolutely! You can’t leave the trilogy unfinished! This will give you amazing closure on the characters, a fitting end to an amazing journey. I would say I can’t pick a favorite book out of the trilogy, but I think that would be a lie. If I had to rate them, it would be Leviathan, Goliath, Behemoth. But know that the spread between them is slim. They are perfect compliments to one another and are worth a read for anyone. I give Goliath a secret-revealing 4 out of 5 stars.

For the trilogy as a whole, I give a hydrogen-breathing 4.5 out of 5 stars.


For more information on the author, visit http://scottwesterfeld.com/

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Book Review: Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld



Summary

Alek and Deryn are finally about to reach Istanbul aboard the Leviathan, one of Britain's largest and most recognizable living airships. The Ottoman Empire is quite possibly the most valuable tactical position in the war, and it's currently holding out from declaring which side it's on.
Alek's position is still precarious. Among enemies, he's afraid his identity will be revealed. When one of the mysterious Darwinist eggs hatches at the worst possible time, he has no choice but to take the newborn creature with him while he escapes from the Leviathan. In the meantime, Deryn is assigned a mission that could turn the tide of the war.
Circumstances turn against both as they are separated from their people and end up alone in Istanbul. Can the revolutionaries there help them turn the war in their favor? And what are they going to do if they learn Alek's secret?

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from amazon.com

The behemoth is the fiercest creature in the British navy. It can swallow enemy battleships with one bite. The Darwinists will need it, now that they are at war with the Clanker Powers.
Deryn is a girl posing as a boy in the British Air Service, and Alek is the heir to an empire posing as a commoner. Finally together aboard the airship Leviathan, they hope to bring the war to a halt. But when disaster strikes the Leviathan's peacekeeping mission, they find themselves alone and hunted in enemy territory.
Alek and Deryn will need great skill, new allies, and brave hearts to face what’s ahead.

Context

Like Leviathan, Behemoth is set right smack in WW(I?), with an alternate history that has spawned two schools of technology: Darwinists and Clankers. This is a wonderful alternative history, a big WHAT IF in Europe at wartime. The effects of these changes on the real events of the war (which aren't particularly gone into) make a lot of sense, how the world powers interact and gripe at one another. The fullness of culture and how it's built around the technological systems is amazing, creating a real, functioning world not too different from ours... until you look up and see a fabricated beast or Clanker machine.

Style

I'm still very new to YA, but I've heard a lot of stigma around adults reading YA. I see nothing wrong with my being 30 and reading fiction intended for a younger crowd. It's always a point of pride for children to be reading above their "grade level" so why should't I read "below" mine, especially if there's a story I'm interested in?
Westerfeld writes some amazing YA. Sure, if we boil it down, the language may be a little simplified to my 30-year-old mind. I don't care. It makes for a quick read, and I'll tell you it's an enjoyable one. Westerfeld has a clear grasp of what it means to be a teenager of Darwinist or Clanker upbringing, and just the dialogue alone points out his true understanding of the world around him. he makes action scenes pop and move quickly, and his sense of place is exemplary. It's almost impossible to get truly lost in this world with such a brilliant author taking you through.

My Thoughts

I'm still enthralled with this alternate world Westerfeld has built. It is quite possibly one of my favorite adaptations of the world that is clearly different from the norm, and I have a feeling it will remain in my top favorite alternate worlds... period. If you pull in the scope of all fictional worlds I've read... it's in the top ten, at least. It's so easy to just fall into the setting that I could probably be hapy reading stories of everyday people just going about their business in a place like this. It's so intriguing and wonderful that I can't imagine anyone not liking it.
As for the characters and plot, both are great. The events in this book are logical and fulfilling, their progression makes sense, and I can't help but want to rave about it more. The characters, as I mentioned in my review of Leviathan, are all people. That should say enough about them. They are real people, as far as I'm concerned. Westerfeld clearly has a strong understanding and relationship with each character in his crew, and it shows in their actions and his writing. This is simply some exemplary wordcraft.


Would I Recommend This Book? To speak directly to Alek and the Clankers, Ja! I would! This is a continuation of the previous book that very much lives up to its predecessor. I don't know that I would say I like it better than Leviathan, but it is definitely a worthy follow-up. I give Behemoth a rebellious 4 out of 5 stars.


For more information on the author, visit http://scottwesterfeld.com/

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Book Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld



Summary

Alek is prince, but not heir to his family's empire. Deryn is a soldier, but not a boy. Alek is trying to find his place, while Deryn is trying to make hers. The world doesn't seem pleased to give either of them what they want.

The murder of Alek's parents spawns a war that threatens to pull in all of Europe-- maybe even all of the world. The mechanically-minded Clankers and the genetic manipulating Darwinists are going to be pit against one another in an all-out world war. Alek and Deryn find themselves caught in the middle of it. Since Alek's people are Clankers and Deryn's are Darwinists, the two should be enemies. But when the ship Deryn is assigned to, a hydrogen-breathing whale crossbreed called Leviathan, is shot down not far from Alek's hiding place, the two find themselves working together, forging an uneasy alliance between their people. After all, Austria-Hungary and England aren't at war with one another.

Yet.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from amazon.com

It is the cusp of World War I. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ genetically fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.

Aleksandar Ferdinand, a Clanker, and Deryn Sharp, a Darwinist, are on opposite sides of the war. But their paths cross in the most unexpected way, taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure… One that will change both their lives forever.

Context

This is World War I in the making, and I swear, if history were really this awesome, I would be a history buff.

I'm not a history buff.

Historical fiction along these veins is some amazing fiction, and Leviathan will pull you right into the story form the first page. Adult readers, don't be turned off by the fact that this is a Young Adult novel (first of a trilogy). There's some great intelligence in this novel for adults and young readers alike. There's just enough of the real world to rouse knowledge of the familiar, with enough alternative history to tweak the imagination and bring the world alive.

Style

Being YA, Leviathan is very easy and quick to read. There's an ease to the prose that makes it a quick page-turner, and the illustrations (about one for a chapter) are a wonderful compliment to the story. Seeing just what the Leviathan and the Clanker machines, like the Stormwalker and the Herkules look like in the minds of the author and the illustrator, were priceless.

There's a definite difference in the styles ofthe two POV characters' chapters, too. Considering his royla upbringing, Alek's surroundings are much more formally experienced, while Deryn's are laid back. Even their speech is distinct. Deryn's slang and the lingo she and those around her use immerse you in the culture without leaving you behind, not knowing what the words and phrases mean. And when the two worlds finally collide, Alek's reactions to Deryn's expressions are wonderful and add a touch of comedy to a very deep and heartfelt section. There's a lot of deep emotion that surfaces in the last third or so of the novel, and it's masterfully handled, both by Westerfeld in the writing and in the honesty of his characters.

My Thoughts

Considering the fact that we're living in an alternate future from Alek and Deryn, in which WWI has already been fought, and we know how it ended, you'd think it would be a matter of course to "choose sides" when it comes to the onset of the war. Just knowing how things go, how our history looks at the "good" and "bad" guys in WWI, it should be easy to pick a favorite side or character in Leviathan.

It isn't. I was so completely enthralled with both Alek and Deryn, with their cultures and technologies, that I would love to be part of either culture. I love the thought of running around in a Stormwalker, or flying in a Huxley, of touring a Darwinist zoo in some sort of Clanker scouting machine. In reading Alek's chapters, I was absorbed in his world, and the same happened with Deryn. I honestly could not decide who or what I liked better.

That's a good thing, in my opinion. The war is not the point here. The characters are, in how they relate to one another and survive in a world that seems to be against them. It's a wonderfully neutral portrayal of WWI, and I can't imagine such a thing being done better than how Westerfeld has approached it.

Would I Recommend This Book? Absolutely. This is a rich world with characters I would kill to meet. Even those with only a rudimentary understanding of history will enjoy it. Actually, you don’t even need a grasp of history to find great entertainment in this book. It stands on its own without the need for it to be based on a real war. The fact that it is is just icing on the cake. I give Leviathan a fabricated 5 out of 5 stars.

For more information on the author, visit http://scottwesterfeld.com/

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Book Review: The Diamond Conspiracy by Pip Ballentine and Tee Morris

Summary
Eliza D. Braun and Wellington Books are finally back in England. The Queen's Diamond Jubilee is only a year away, but all is not right in the kingdom. Someone is behind the scenes, working from the shadows. It's Eliza's crew of street spies, the Ministry Seven, who stumble upon this behind the scenes mastermind, and suddenly, the entire Ministry is in peril and out of favor. Another department of the Queen's government has been tasked with taking out the Ministry agents, and it looks like the secretive Maestro may finally be making his move.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from http://www.ministryofpeculiaroccurrences.com/novels/
Having narrowly escaped the electrifying machinations of Thomas Edison, Books and Braun are looking forward to a relaxing and possibly romantic voyage home. But when Braun’s emergency signal goes off, all thoughts of recreation vanish. Braun’s street-wise team of child informants, the Ministry Seven, is in grave peril, and Books and Braun must return to England immediately.
But when the intrepid agents finally arrive in London, the situation is even more dire than they imagined. The Ministry has been disavowed, and the Department of Imperial Inconveniences has been called in to decommission its agents in a most deadly fashion. The plan reeks of the Maestro’s dastardly scheming. Only, this time, he has a dangerous new ally—a duplicitous doctor whose pernicious poisons have infected the highest levels of society, reaching even the Queen herself…
My Thoughts
Of the four Ministry of Peculiar Occurences books I've read, this one is my favorite. This book is the one that had some real plot twist shockers that left my jaw dropped. It got a few belly laughs out of me, and overall, it was more of a draw to my personal tastes. This is the book that will give me reason to go back and reread books 1-3, because those things that made my jaw drop were hinted at in the preceding novels. It was all done so subtly I didn't even notice, but now I know the clues were there, so I want to go find them.
This book did, though, sort of go a little "out there" in my opinion. It broke expectations for me... as far as limitations of the world go. I'm still wrapping my head around some of the things that happened, trying to decide whether or not I like the way some things went. Oh, I understand them plot-wise and all, but I'm torn on whether or not a particular section of the book sits right with me or not. Either way, I still enjoyed the book very much.
I am sad to say, though, that this book kept up the trend of being easy to get distracted from. Something about these books just keeps me from being riveted, and I still can't put my finger on exactly what that quality is. Most likely, it's just some disconnect between the writing style and my reading style. But it's yet another reason I want to reread them. I know I've missed a lot.
Would I Recommend This Book? Sure! This book had some great surprises that left me gaping and giddy. While I still have some attention issues with reading this series, it's still a lot of fun and worth the read. I give The Diamond Conspiracy a transformed 4 of 5 stars.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Book Review: Dawn's Early Light by Tee Morris and Philippa Ballentine

Summary





Eliza D. Braun and Wellington Books aren't exactly exiled from England, but they have been sent to America in a hurry. Paired with their counterparts from America's Office of the Supernatural and Metaphysical, Books and Braun find themselves caught in the middle of a case that leads them to the worst machine imaginable: a death ray. Now rubbing elbows with figures like Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, the agents have to tramp around the continent to try and save whoever the targets are of this dastardly machine.
And worse, Eliza and Welly aren't exactly getting along. They shared a kiss back in the Archives, and Wellington refuses to say anything about what happened there.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from http://www.ministryofpeculiaroccurrences.com/novels/
After being ignominiously shipped out of England following their participation in the Janus affair, Braun and Books are ready to prove their worth as agents. But what starts as a simple mission in the States—intended to keep them out of trouble—suddenly turns into a scandalous and convoluted case that has connections reaching as far as Her Majesty the Queen. Even with the help of two American agents from the Office of the Supernatural and the Metaphysical, Braun and Books have their work cut out for them as their chief suspect in a rash of nautical and aerial disasters is none other than Thomas Edison. Between the fantastic electric machines of Edison, the eccentricities of MoPO consultant Nikola Tesla, and the mysterious machinations of a new threat known only as the Maestro, they may find themselves in far worse danger than they ever have been in before…
My Thoughts
It's refreshing to have a scenery change in these novels. The culture clash between the proprietous Wellington Books and the rugged, somewhat crude Bill Wheatley makes for some great humor and even better tension. In fact, tension is the theme of this whole book. Foremost, we have the peculiar mysteryof the case, issues that send the agents all over the U.S. Then there's the romantic tension not only between Eliza and Welly, but involving Bill and his partner Felicity and their attractions to our Ministry agents. When our dashing archivist and colonial pepperpot meet their counterparts, well, that comparison goes to a couple levels. In so many ways, Felicity and Welly would just make sense together, as would Bill and Eliza. Morris and Ballentine really stepped things up by giving us not the tired trope of a love triangle, but the ever more frustrating love rhombus.
On the whole, this novel ramped risk up even more than the previous novels did, and I was drawn into the action, at least during the more crucial scenes. This series still somehow lacks the true ability to seize my attention and not let go, but it's still a good read. A thumping good read, in fact. I will be moving right into book four!
Would I Recommend This Book? Why, yes! The setting change makes for an extra layer of unease for our intrepid heroes, and their problems didn't stay behind in England. The stakes are raised, and things are just going to get more complicated from here! I give Dawn's Early Light an American (yeah, I had to) 4 of 5 stars.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Book Review: The Janus Affair by Pip Ballentine and Tee Morris

Summary
Someone is kidnapping prominent women of the suffragist movement. That alone is bad enough, but they're doing it in broad daylight. At rallies. Amid crowds. There's a flash of light, and then the person is gone. When this happens right in front of Wellington Books and Eliza Braun, they know they have to investigate. That means stepping out of the archives yet again and acting as field agents in secret. But they're the only ones who seem interested in solving this case. Shouldn't there be an active agent assigned to do this work?
What's worse... it seems there is. And that agent isn't doing anything to stop the kidnappers.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from http://www.ministryofpeculiaroccurrences.com/novels/
Certainly no strangers to peculiar occurrences, agents Wellington Books and Eliza Braun are nonetheless stunned to observe a fellow passenger aboard Britain’s latest hyper steam train suddenly vanish in a dazzling bolt of lightning. They soon discover this is not the only such disappearance…with each case going inexplicably unexamined by the Crown.
The fate of England is once again in the hands of an ingenious archivist paired with a beautiful, fearless lady of adventure. And though their foe be fiendishly clever, so then is Mr. Books…and Miss Braun still has a number of useful and unusual devices hidden beneath her petticoats.

My Thoughts
I love the chemistry between Welly and Eliza. That goes for the times they get along and the arguments they have. There are some delightful clashes in practice, but they have some wonderful connections, too, and it all comes through in this book.
Personally, I felt more connection with the urgency of this plot than I did with the previous book, Phoenix Rising. I'm not sure exactly why. Perhaps it is all because I am now more familiar with the setting and the characters. The things that drive them are clearer, and this seems more of a tangible problem than the first book had. Morris and Ballentine peppered the narrative with more little details and hints at the resolution than I noticed in the first book, too, but it may have been a failing on my part if I missed such things previously.
There was a great deal more depth to character backgrounds, and especially with the supporting cast. Darn if the authors don't tug at your likes and dislikes with some of those supporting characters. And man, did I get some serious satisfaction out of a couple situations. I won't go into details, but they have definitely elicited some severe smugness from me with regards to a certain someone.
Altogether, this book had me chomping to dive into book three, Dawn's Early Light. I'm going to enjoy the blazes out of it.

Would I Recommend This Book? Yes, I would! The chemistry between our dashing archivist and colonial pepperpot continues to develop, and the conflicts they're tossed into only adds flavor to the amacing recipe of these books. I'm eager to see what comes of them in the next installment. I give The Janus Affair a coppery 4 of 5 stars.

Book Review: Phoenix Rising by Pip Ballentine and Tee Morris


Summary
The Archives of England's Ministry of Peculiar Occurances has just become a place of punishment. Eliza Braun has been sent to work there in an effort to calm her explosion-happy field practices. Wellington Books, the man in charge of the Archives, needs a bit of an ego deflation. Eliza's introduction to Books's over-organized world ends up uncovering a forgotten case with hints about what happened to Eliza's last partner. He was uncovering some devious plot against the country and the world, but everything came to a dead end. Now Eliza has the opportunity to find out just what happened to her old partner. Now if she can just get Wellington Books to help her, she might have a chance.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from http://www.ministryofpeculiaroccurrences.com/novels/
These are dark days indeed in Victoria’s England. Londoners are vanishing, then reappearing, washing up as corpses on the banks of the river Thames, drained of blood and bone. Yet the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences- the Crown’s clandestine organisation whose baliwick is the strange and unsettling- will not allow its agents to investigate. Fearless and exceedingly lovely Eliza D Braun, however, with her bulletproof corset and a disturbing fondness for dynamite, refuses to let the matter rest..and she’s prepared to drag her timorous new partner, Wellington Books along with her into the perilous fray.
For a malevolent brotherhood is operating in the deepening London shadows, intent upon the enslavement of all Britons. And Books and Braun- he with his encyclopedic brain and she with her remarkable devices- must get to the twisted roots of a most nefarious plot… or see England fall to the Phoenix.

Context
If you're not familiar with steampunk, this series would be a great introduction. Think England, a decade or three before Mary Poppins' time, where everything is run on steam and technology strives for the same things we reach for today. Steam-powered robots, airships, early computers, you name it. Culture is genteel (sort of), everything is proper, and adventures can lead anywhere. It's a great setting, honestly.

Style
It's kind of hard for me to talk about the style here, as there are two authors to the book. I haven't read much of either Morris or Ballentine's individual works (which I'm working on rectifying), so I can't attribute the style of this book to either of them.
I can say that the book was straightforward and immersive in its setting. The characters were distinct in themselves, very well-developed. This book was full of great surprises and wonderful plot twists. It was a joy to read.

My Thoughts
I've been intrigued with steampunk for a time, particularly the look of the style. This book was exactly what I was looking for in immersion into a steampunk story. Readers seeking an introduction into steampunk stories will find this a great place to start, and steampunk geeks can really sink their teeth into the Ministry Ballentine and Morris have created. There's a lot of depth in their setting and characters, so there will be tons of stories to tell. Knowing this is just book one of a series makes for a lot of promise with the series.
I can't harp enough on how wonderful the character development was on these books. It's clear from the onset that the authors have strong senses of not only who Books and Braun are, but who all their characters are deep into their cores. It would be so easy to let the setting of this book overshadow everything, but that didn't happen at all. The characters were the real stars, as they should be, and the plot and setting served their actions wonderfully. They fit into their world in an absolutely fantastic way, even while they have issues with it, just like any normal person.
The only problem I had was that it could get very easy to distract myself from the book. I don't know if the writing or behavior of things seemed too stuffy and formal sometimes, or what exactly the reason was, but there were times when I sort of glazed over and realized I had to stop reading. It wasn't a book I could personally sit and read in long sessions. But it did keep drawing me back for the next sprint of consumption, so I was driven to finish. I cannot wait to get into the next book of the series.

Would I Recommend This Book? Indubitably. If you're not here for the steampunk element itself, at least come for the characters. Wellington Books and Eliza Braun are a delightful pair... in some ways. In other ways, they're a complete mess that's hilarious to see interact. The two of them are an outstanding draw, just in themselves. I give Phoenix Rising a proper 4 of 5 stars.

Book Review: Death's Heretic by James L. Sutter

Summary
Salim would be the first to tell you he's not a priest, though he works for the goddess of death. Charged with learning solving the murder of a prominent merchant, Salim finds himself going again going down a road he despises. Worse, the murdered man's soul has been kidnapped, and now the deceased's daughter is determined to go with Salim as he solved the crime. It's a journey filled with danger, mystery, and otherworldly creatures determined to kill him and his companion.
But this mystery might also force Salim to face his own past.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from Amazon
Nobody cheats death. A warrior haunted by his past, Salim Ghadafar serves as a problem-solver for a church he hates, bound by the goddess of death to hunt down those who would rob her of her due. Such is the case in the desert nation of Thuvia, where a powerful merchant on the verge of achieving eternal youth via a magical elixir is mysteriously murdered, his soul kidnapped somewhere along its path to the afterlife. The only clue is a magical ransom note, offering to trade the merchant's successful resurrection for his dose of the fabled potion. But who would have the power to steal a soul from the boneyard of Death herself? Enter Salim, whose keen mind and contacts throughout the multiverse should make solving this mystery a cinch. There's only one problem: The investigation is being financed by Neila Anvanory, the dead merchant's stubborn and aristocratic daughter. And she wants to go with him. Along with his uninvited passenger, Salim must unravel a web of intrigue that will lead them far from the blistering sands of Thuvia on a grand tour of the Outer Planes, where devils and angels rub shoulders with fey lords and mechanical men, and nothing is as it seems...
Context
Death's Heretic takes place in the same world of the Pathfinder Tales as does Chris A. Jackson's books tat I've reviewed (find the first one here). It does, however, take place in a different part of the world and with completely different characters. This book explores not only the main plane, but some of the Outer Plains, otherworlds where devils and demons make their homes.
Style
Sutter creates a beauty of language that suits this story extremely well. His command of imagery is exceptional, and I very badly need to read more of his work because I want to study it. He has a way of immersing the reader in the world without bogging the prose down with description. Details are peppered in, creating a vibrant feel and tone of backdrop. His dialog tends toward the formal, but some of that was possibly due to the characters' personalities and tendencies.
My Thoughts
Until recently, I never read tie-in fiction. I'm glad I started doing so. I'm not familiar with the lore or setting of Pathfinder. At all. I've been missing out. Sutter's story brought a world to life in a magnificent way, with characters that were so intriguing I really want to read more of them.
In a lot of ways, this felt less like a tie-in novel than Chris Jackson's Pathfinder Tales, but in others, it felt more so like one. It's an interesting balance Sutter reached.
The plot was very well driven, with plenty of intrigue and twists that kept me guessing. And everything tied in so well at the end that I can't believe I didn't put the pieces together myself. Well, most of them. I did guess at a few things, which made me very happy.
The only real issue I had with this book wasn't with the book itself, but I do want to mention it. I consumed this book via Audible.com. My problem was with the narration. It was good, but the narrator's voice could be so monotonic that it was very easy to zone out and completely miss long stretches of the book. I feel like the performance actually detracted from my enjoyment, so that's the caveat with the audiobook. However, that is no fault of the author's, and this review is for the book, not the narration.
Would I Recommend This Book? Sure! Sutter's interpretation of this area of the Pathfinder worls is rich with details and intriguing characters. And the plot is superb and exciting. This is all in all a thrilling read. I give Death's Heretic a deceased 5 of 5 stars.
For more on the author, visit http://jameslsutter.com/

Book Review: Empire of Bones by Terry Mixon


Summary
Jared Mertz, bastard son of the Emperor, is finally about to escape the occasional forced companionship of his half brother, Ethan. He's in charge of Athena, a ship going to explore the fallen Empire. At the last moment, his half-sister, Kelsey, joins the expedition as deputy Ambassador.
On the other side of space, in a long lost star system, they find themselves caught in a war between descendants of the ancient Empire and savages called "Pale Ones." And worse, it looks like the technology that got them here isn't going to get them home again.

That's my summary. Here's the ones I pulled from the author's website
Commander Jared Mertz, the bastard son of the Emperor, and his half-sister, Princess Kelsey, barely speak to one another. To their dismay, their father seizes an opportunity to change that and sends them on a dangerous quest to explore the fallen Empire.
Separated from home by an impassable gulf and struggling to redefine their relationship, they find themselves thrust into a vicious war. Unless they work together to stop the Empire’s deadly legacy, billions face a horrific fate.
Context
Mixon has developed a rather interesting setting for a space opera novel. Our main characters' people used to have high technological space travel, but during a war, much was lost. Their ancestors survived to get to a new planet, but they had to start over developing it. Only in the last 100 years have they again achieved flight among the stars. Still, since their history proved its possibility, they were working on the theory long before they had the practical details hammered out. That led to their advancement moving quickly once they broke atmospheric limitations. It also gave them some great legends and history to search for in the galaxy.

Style
Mixon writes clearly without too much florid detail. As such, he leaves much to the imagination of the reader for what these ships and sci-fi locales look like. I didn't feel as though I was missing much, really, as the focus is more on the characters and their actions than on the world they live in. That even goes for what I'll call the "other side" of the star system. We don't really get a ton of description on anything, but I still never felt like things were too stark or barren. The people are the real gems here, with clear characterization and deep personalities. Mixon's lack of scene-painting kept the book from being too lengthy, which I do consider a plus. I was able to really sink into conversations and action, rather than having to orient myself with places and ship layouts.

My Thoughts
I thoroughly enjoyed Empire of Bones. I want to go on record to say that it has one of the best (if not the best) character plot twists I've ever come across. And, it was even fairly early in the book. It had me giddy. No spoilers, but I will say it makes me very eager to see what becomes of this character and this secret later in the series.
On the whole, I felt that this book was surprisingly laid back, at least to read (I listened to it through Audible, actually), but it still felt very chill. I was on edge, but it wasn't a heart-racing, nail-biting on edge. I was eager, curious, and excited, much like the characters at the prospect of exploration. Basically, I was invested with these characters, and that was established early on for me.
Personally, I do think the book ended too soon for the story itself. I haven't gotten to book 2 yet, so I feel odd saying this, but I have a feeling that I would be more satisfied if both books were combined into one. Considering Empire of Bones runs at around 7 hours of audio, doubling that wouldn't make the book too freakishly long. I guess we'll see what I think when I get to the next book.

Would I Recommend This Book? It's definitely worth a listen/read! I wasn't so bogged down in science that I lost sight of plot or character. In fact, characters were what this book was all about! I'm looking forward to the next one in the series. I give Empire of Bones a flipped 4 of 5 stars.
For more information on the author, visit http://www.terrymixon.com/

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Review: The Stillness of the Sky by Starla Huchton


Summary
Jack had the chance to leave home with her mother when she was nine, but she chose kindness instead, staying to care for her cruel father. Now, life has become unbearable, and for her own well-being, she has to leave. Finally on her own, she finds herself at the base of a gigantic beanstalk. Unable to stay her curiosity, she climbs, only to wind up caught in a war between her king and the giants. She's found the missing prince, and with him, her own talents. Jack has a destiny and the gift of being a Bard. But will her newfound talents and her dedication to kindness be enough to stop the war?

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from the author's website
Once upon a time, my life was certain: it was insignificant, and it was cruel. But I refused to let it define me, no matter how great the cost. Once upon a time, I made a wish. The world I knew grew wider than the sky and higher than the stars, and I listened to the voice within me, reaching out for freedom. Once upon a time, my wish became my fate, and my destiny the hardest lesson to learn: kindness may be the most difficult path, but it can save entire kingdoms.

Context
The Stillness of the Sky is a gender-flipped retelling of the story Jack and the Beanstalk.

Style
You can find my perceptions of Huchton's writing style in my other reviews of her work. I've done several over the last few years.

My Thoughts
This is the second of Huchton's flipped fairy tales I've read, and at least the eighth book of hers I've read. I've yet to be disappointed with anything of hers I've read, which is saying a lot for her. That said, this is not my favorite of her works. Was this book bad? Not at all. Did it not live up to her other works? Again, the answer is no. This one, oddly enough, just didn't quite resonate with me like some of her other works did. I enjoyed it very much, but it seemed to wander a little too much for me. That could very well be a reflection of the main character, Jack. It was just a little too meandering for me in some ways. There was still a great sense of drive and purpose. Frankly, I can't quite nail down exactly what felt off to me, but I had a harder time zooming through this book than I have with Huchton's writings in the past.
I loved the direction Huchton took, expanding what was at the top of the beanstalk, and making the story stem from it (no pun intended). Maybe the fact that Jack never returns up there is what bothered me. The journey to the clouds happened so early in the story, it was more the cause than the journey. I think maybe I was expecting more activity above the ground, so I was thrown off by never going back. Sorry if this review is spoilery.

Was the book good? Yes, very! Not my favorite of Huchton's work, but it was definitely a unique take on the original story.

Would I Recommend This Book? Yeah! While I thought it wandered a little further from the inspirational material than I would have liked, it's still a great story! Huchton's plot went some places I didn't expect, which kept me intrigued. I give The Stillness of the Sky a selfish 4 of 5 stars.

For more on the author, visit http://www.starlahuchton.com/

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Book Review: Sing Me Your Scars by Damien Angelica Walters


Summary
There are times when humanity can go numb, when the sensation of pain is all that reminds you that you're alive. Whether you seek the pain or have it forced on you, it gives drive to much of life. In this collection, pain is explored in a number of forms, voluntary and involuntary, and we see just what it can make people do to survive it.
That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from Amazon

Sometimes a thread pulled through the flesh is all that holds you together. Sometimes the blade of a knife or the point of a nail is the only way you know you're real. When pain becomes art and a quarter is buried deep within you, all you want is to be seen, to have value, to be loved. But love can be fragile, folded into an origami elephant while you disappear, carried on the musical notes that build a bridge, or woven into an illusion so real, so perfect that you can fool yourself for a little while. Paper crumples, bridges fall, and illusions come to an end. Then you must pick up the pieces, stitch yourself back together, and shed your fear, because that is when you find out what you are truly made of and lift your voice, that is when you Sing Me Your Scars.

Context
The short stories in this anthology run the gamut from present-day settings to fantastical and science-fiction settings. In each case, though, we're faced with a form of humanity, whether plain people you might meet on the street to humans who are just a little different. But those differences are all tied together by the pain they feel. It's motivation, no matter what sort of person they are.

Style
Walters's style is a little choppy and clipped, with frequent little exchanges. This doesn't happen all the time, but it did stick out to me. When Walters got into deep settings and exchanges, the writing flowed well. But there were often times when a story was broken up into moments in time, just a few sentences or even a few words. It wasn't grating, but all those little stops and starts were a bit on the jarring side, making it harder for me to really sink into the stories. I didn't hate it by any means. I think her style may be a little bit of an acquired taste, though. I'd read more of her stuff, though.

My Thoughts
I wasn't sure what to think when I picked up this anthology. I quickly got sucked into the stories, though, and there were some really great narratives in this collection. There were a fair few I didn't care for, but the majority were engaging and compelling, and I hated it when they ended. Maybe a handful of them were so interesting to me that I wanted them to be novels in their own rights.
Overall, I was intrigued with the variations on the theme of pain Walters explored. From physical to emotional, self-inflicted to accidental to intended to violent, each story had a very different theme to itself. Some of the stories were shockingly beautiful, some infuriating, and more than one had me near tears, especially at the end. There's even an exploration or two on the pain of love itself. Walters's work on all these stories was sincere and masterful.
One or two of the stories could have used a little more explanation, but it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the collection as a whole. This was a very interesting read, and I can think of a couple stories that I'll want to reread again in the future.

Would I Recommend This Book? Why not! The stories are varied and numerous, all different with their own draws. I wish there had been more of some and less of others, but that's the nature of collections. You can't please everyone all the time. Some of the subject matter is dark, but I don't feel like anything crossed a line. At least, not for me personally. I give Sing Me Your Scars a stitched 4 of 5 stars.

For more on the author, visit http://damienangelicawalters.com/

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Book Review: Danube Waves by Katharina Bordet

Summary
It’s been ten years since Maximillian Schindler-Krug found out his parents were from another world. Now, he’s facing the biggest trial of his life: his coronation. Max is feeling the pressure of a position he never asked for, and he needs one last vacation before taking the crown. Using the portals between Neu Meidling and Wien, he gets his taste of freedom. But there are problems. First, he doesn’t arrive in Wien as a human the way he’s supposed to. He’s something else entirely. Second, the portals won’t let him and his bodyguard Lily travel back. Third, there’s someone here in Wien trying to kidnap him. And worst, he left behind a kingdom threatened by revolution against the monarchy. Max’s simple escape has made a mess of things.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from Amazon
The portals between worlds have been shut down, leaving king-to-be Max Schindler-Krug trapped in our world in the form of a goat. An impending revolution, a murderer on the loose, recurring nightmares and a mad scientist stand between him and the throne. It’s going to take more than a talking swan, a fainting goat and copious amounts of coffee and cake to save the day.

Ten years since the murder of his mother, Max Schindler-Krug is having increasingly vivid dreams about the night that changed his life forever, but that is the least of his problems. His coronation as King of Neu Meidling is approaching fast, but revolution across the kingdom threatens the monarchy and the portals between the worlds have been mysteriously sealed, closing off all trade and splitting up families.
Karin’s peaceful life at the Alt Wien is turned upside-down when her daughter brings home a wounded swan, leading her to discover a lost family secret that will change her life forever. Her own husband’s place in events could rip their relationship apart.
Lily, a trainee Besch├╝tzer finds herself trapped in another world, torn between her duty to protect the W├Ąchter line and coffee trade and her love for her future king. When she meets a man who could solve all her problems, she has to make a choice that could topple the monarchy, assuming she can get the young king back home alive.

“Danube Waves” takes us back to the linked worlds of the Wiener Blut universe first introduced in “The Coffee Legacy”, revisiting beloved characters and introducing new ones, not to mention tickling the tastebuds with a range of traditional Austrian cakes.

Context
Danube Waves takes place ten years after the previous novel, The Coffee Legacy.

My Thoughts
One thing I really love about Bordet’s books is the difference in culture from my own. In each chapter, she brings in a different treat from Wien. In the first book, we explored coffee. In Danube Waves, it’s cake. So. Many. Cakes! It’s enough to make one drool, to read the descriptions of them at the beginnings of every chapter.
Bordet brought a good deal of light humor into this novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. With the time gap between this book and the one before, it lent her the opportunity to introduce some new characters and situations while still bringing back issues from the first book. I loved the addition of Gary to the cast, and almost any time he was involved in a scene, I couldn’t help but smile. He was just a joy to read.
In some ways, this book seems like an alternate universe’s soap opera, with the interweavings of different families and their conflicts and secrets. She keeps pulling new cards out of her deck of tricks. And even by the end, she still isn’t completely tapped out on the mess these people have made of one another’s lives. She pulls a new twist at the last moment to pave the way for another book. I will be looking for book 3 with eager eyes and rumbling stomach. I can only imagine what treats we’ll get with that one.

Would I Recommend This Book? Sure! If you love cake, definitely. If you’re looking for an intriguing and twisty plot set in worlds both familiar and foreign, you’ll find one here. I give Danube Waves a baked 4 of 5 stars.

For more on the author, visit http://www.maimer.net/