Review: Alice in tumblr-Land and Other Fairy Tales for a New Generation, by Tim Manley

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Peter Pan finally has to grow up and get a job, or at least start paying rent. Cinderella swaps her glass slippers for Crocs. The Tortoise an the Hare Facebook stalk each other. Goldilocks goes gluten free. And Rapunzel gets a buzz cut. 

Here are more than one hundred fairy tales, illustrated and reimagined for today. Instead of fairy godmothers, there’s Siri. And rather than big bad wolves, there are creepy dudes on OkCupid. In our brave new world of social networking, YouTube, and texting, fairy tales can once again lead us to “happily ever after” – and have us laughing all the way. 

When I picked up this book for review, I figured there were two ways it could go: it could either be a clever, thoughtful update of the old fairy tales, cleverly integrating modern technology and mores to present their morals in a more relevant context that could be entertaining; or it could be a cheap cash grab with little effort put into it and no real insight into what it was discussing. I’ll save you some time – it was the latter.

Let’s start off with the book’s biggest problem, one that shows up before it’s even had the chance to bore us with its prose: the promise of “over one hundred fairy tales” – 146, to be precise. In reality, there are thirty-one fairy tales in the book – barely a fifth of that promised to us on the dust jacket. How can the publisher justify such a bald-faced lie? Each and every story is broken up into “chapters” of under a hundred words. By this logic, the Harry Potter books are 199 short stories about Harry’s life at Hogwarts fighting Voldemort.

(I hope my readers appreciate the fact that this book was so boring it drove me to do math. Math.)

At first, reading through the book, it looks like it will live up to its promise of over a hundred fairy tales – the “chapters” are presented one to a page, with an illustration either on the facing page or above it. When the reader turns the page, instead of finding the next chapter of the fairy tale, we instead find a completely different fairy tale chapter, and then another one, and another one, all entirely different; the twelve chapters that make up Alice in tumblr-Land each have several pages between them. This essentially ruins any sense of continuity that would otherwise have linked the chapters, and indeed for the first few chapters for each fairy tale, I didn’t even realise they made up one continuous story, and by the time I did I had forgotten so many details from the earlier chapters the later ones had little impact as a result. Not that there are many details to begin with in these fairy tales – most of them could conceivably be told in a Facebook status or tumblr post without being overly long or tedious to read (except for the fact that they’re all quite boring). I’m not sure what drove Manly to break up the stories like this, but it’s safe to say that if he was hoping to frustrate his readers, he succeeded.

Alice in tumblr-Land is classified as a humour book, so you would at least expect it to be amusing. Unfortunately, it isn’t. The “humour” apparently comes from the fact that the stories are told using slang and dropping the names of websites at random throughout the text. Using the phrase “This blows” to sum up a situation can have comedic value – if its use is meant to surprise the reader. If a smart, upstanding and erudite butler to a noble family were to say, after an entire book of speaking The Queen’s English, something along the lines of, “Master, if I may be so bold, my assessment of the situation is that it blows,” that would be funny, or at least vaguely amusing, because it’s subverting our expectations. Rhett’s classic “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” is one of the most famous lines in literature and movie history precisely because of this notion of shocking the audience. Having Gretel sum up her and Hansel’s situation by saying “This blows” fifty words after we’re introduced to the characters has no impact on the reader because no history has been established with these characters. Sure, we wouldn’t expect to hear the phrase in your standard fairy tale, but as it’s often told, Hansel and Gretel has almost no dialogue anyway – most of the classic fairy tales don’t. With no history for any of these characters, the phrase has about as much impact as if a typical fourteen-year-old said it. Similarly, name-dropping Chatroulette in a book isn’t funny, nor is mentioning Instagram, or filters. The Pinocchio chapters don’t even have these attempts at humour to bog them down; each one just has Pinocchio telling another lie, with the “joke” apparently being that, in the accompanying picture, his nose grows longer. (Really, it wasn’t even that big of a plot point in the original book – it came up maybe twice.) And when it grows longer, it breaks things! And this is apparently the whole joke.

Well, at the very least, do the stories offer any insight into the tales on which they’re based? Well, no, not at all. The stories of Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood might as well have been about characters named Jenn and Amanda for all the relation they had to folklore. Robin Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and the story of King Arthur are so far removed from their mythologies that almost no connections can be drawn between them. The Three Billy Goats Gruff seems to think that featuring three goats is enough to say the story was based off of them. Some stories stay truer to their origins, but it doesn’t add much to their quality. The Peter Pan stories still deal with the trials of a kid who doesn’t want to grow up; and in the end, just like in the original book, Peter learns to accept that growing up is inevitable and enters the adult world – so, really, nothing was gained from this that couldn’t be gotten from the original, unless you really, really wanted to hear about Peter’s blog. One or two stories go in a different direction from the source material; instead of Mulan being a girl who pretends to be a boy to serve in the army and protect her father, Mulan is transgender and comes to embrace his new identity as Ping – though very quickly; the story doesn’t even come close to presenting the difficulties transgender people face coming to terms with themselves and living their lives as they really are. Yet other stories take a character trait from their title characters and waters that trait down to make it less interesting. Chicken Little becomes a story about a chick suffering from Generalised Anxiety Disorder, a serious psychological condition that requires years of medication and behaviour therapy to cure, and yet is never dealt with – on the contrary, it appears to be a source of humour, despite being a truly difficult disorder to live with that can have damaging and lasting effects on a person’s life. Sleeping Beauty is no longer in an enchanted sleep because she pricked herself with a spindle; instead, that’s something that was dealt with off-screen in her past. In the book, she appears to suffer Major Depressive Disorder, a serious mental disorder affecting a full third of the population and yet which faces so much stigma from a society that equates it with general sadness that many people don’t get treated for it. Instead of ignoring it and milking it for jokes like Chicken Little does, the book has Sleeping Beauty deal with and overcome her depression with almost insulting ease – a few YouTube videos of people expressing their deep feelings through song, a heart-felt talk with a friend that makes her realise the true source of her sadness, and suddenly she’s well on the path to recovery. If only real life were so convenient.

Well, at the very least, do the stories make us realise anything about the modern condition and the way we interact with technology? I think the answer to that should be clear by now. At no point are we really forced to confront how we conceive of and use modern technology; it more just mentions it in passing like we would casually mention having a Facebook discussion with a friend. Nor are we forced to confront the morals of the original fairy tales, and nothing said about them inspires us to view them in a new light. This book is a literary non-entity, leaving as much of an impression on me as Under the Skin did; despite finishing it yesterday, I had to look up story elements today for the review. The stories slid out of my mind almost as soon as they entered, and from page one I found my eyes straying back to the first lines of stories I had already read, reading and rereading them three or four times each in a futile effort to stop them from running through my hands like water. To borrow an expression from my late grandmother, these stories go in and out like a fart in a colander, and nothing can make them stick. Perhaps the book’s one high point is that it’s easy to finish; you can read it in an afternoon and as such have it done well within your local bookstore’s return period. You can buy it, read it, then give it back for a full refund and spend your time and money on more worthwhile books, like a collection of Grimm and Anderson’s fairy tales, which, despite their age, are far more applicable to modern life than the thirty-one stories collected here.

Overall rating: 1/5


Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf by R.A. Salvatore : Review

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Bloody war rages across the Forgotten Realms world in the third book of the Companions Codex, the latest series in R.A. Salvatore’s New York Times best-selling saga of dark elf  Drizzt Do’Urden.

In the evolving world of the Forgotten Realms setting, the Sundering has given way to months of cloud-cloaked darkness, and war rages under that oppressive sky. The orcs have  broken a hard-fought treaty that’s held, however tentatively, for a hundred years, and the time to settle old scores has devolved into an all-out brawl for control of the ancient realms of the North.

Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf is the third book in R.A. Salvatore’s Companions Codex and the twenty seventh book featuring the Drow Ranger Drizzt Do’urden. Like with every other book in the Legend of Drizzt I found myself counting down the days till the next installment, and I have to say that Vengeance of the iron Dwarf did not disappoint in the least. Personally I found it to be the best book in the series by at least a decade. It has everything in it that I think makes the Forgotten Realms book so much fun to read.

Vengeance takes up right where Rise of the King leaves off, the Treaty of Garumn’s Gorge has been broken and the orcs are once more waging a proxy war against the people of the Silver Marches. With the orcs destroying or besieging all  of the dwarven kingdoms, it’s up to the Companions to try and free them to give the Silver Marches a fighting chance. But with Regis and Wulfgar trapped in the upper levels of the Underdark, and the rest of companions trapped in Mithril Hall will they be able to do it?

Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf has everything in it that I have come to love about the Legends of Drizzt. Salvatore has always put a great deal of thought and detail into the massive battles and one on one duels that fill the pages of the series, and with Vengeance has taken it to that next level. The Companions are amazing as always with each of them growing in ways I’d have never expected back in the early days of Drizzt Do’Urden. Cattiebrie and Regis stood out in this book the most to me, with Cattiebrie really coming into her own as a powerful mage, and with Regis coming to his friends rescue in miraculous ways instead of the other way around.

The only thing I was really disappointed in with this book was Drizzt himself, he just doesn’t seem to be the self doubting, moralistic drow I have grown to love. It is my hope that time among his friends outside of war will return him to the person he once was!

I think anyone who is a fan of the Forgotten Realms books will enjoy reading these books, as like all the other Drizzt books I think they are going to have repercussions that echo across the entire series. I would only suggest that anyone who has not read any other books in the series start from the very beginning, otherwise they are guaranteed to be confused in every possible way.

 Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf is scheduled to be published March 3, 2015 by Wizards of the Coast.

I received a free copy of this publication in return for an honest review.


Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs : Review

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For once, mated werewolves Charles and Anna are not traveling because of Charles’s role as his father’s enforcer. This time, their trip to Arizona is purely personal, as Charles plans to buy Anna a horse for her birthday. Or at least it starts out that way…

Charles and Anna soon discover that a dangerous Fae being is on the loose, replacing human children with simulacrums. The Fae’s cold war with humanity is about to heat up—and Charles and Anna are in the cross fire.

Dead Heat is a good example of why I love Patricia Briggs as much as I do, to me its the perfect example of what paranormal romance should be. It is by far my favorite book in the Alpha and Omega series so far, and one of the best book set in the Mercyverse to date. Patricia Briggs has proven herself to be a master of taking the classic trappings and tropes of urban fantasy and paranormal romance and turning them into something uniquely her own. I would put the world she has created with her Mercy Thompson and Alpha and Omega series right up there with that of Jim Butcher.

When Charles decides its time for his wife Anna to have a horse of her own, they take a trip to Arizona for her birthday to buy one from the herds of his oldest friend. It doesn’t take long for they’re pleasure trip to turn into one of business when the family of a local werewolf is attacked be someone who stinks of Fae magic. Charles and Anna will have to help protect the children of a small Arizona town while attempting to figure out if this is the act of a single rebel Fae, or the beginnings of a war.

I found this to be the most interesting book about Anna and Charles so far, as it gives us a good look into the personal history of Charles, something that has only been hinted at in the previous books in the series. It’s a little saddening when you realize the sacrifices Charles and all of the werewolves have to make for bearing their curse. They get to watch almost everyone they know grow old and frail before they’re eyes. Dead Heat shows us just what that means for a werewolf and how it affects their lives.

It will be interesting to see how the events of this book play out across the rest of the series and the Mercy Thompson books, the Fae can be a terrifying people when they want to be.

Patricia Briggs writing is excellent as always, with Dead Heat she has created an amazing story and an interesting mystery for us to try and solve alongside Charles and Anna. She also gives us an interesting look into werewolf politics outside those of the Marrock or Adam’s pack, as well as the introduction of several new characters who I hope to see again in the future. The only thing I didn’t really enjoy was the the strong emphasis on horses, they aren’t something I particularly care much about, and a large portion of the book was dedicated to them.

Overall I would suggest this book to anyone who reads paranormal romance or urban fantasy, though I would strongly suggest that everyone reads the books in order.  It should also be kept in mind that you get a better understanding of whats going on in the world if you read both the Mercy Thompson and Alpha and Omega series.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs is set to be published March 3rd 2015 by Ace.


Empty Rooms By Jeffrey J. Mariotte

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Richie Krebbs is an ex-cop, a walking encyclopedia of crime and criminals who chafes at bureaucracy. Frank Robey quit the FBI and joined the Detroit PD, obsessed with the case of a missing child and unwilling to leave the city before she was found. When Richie unearths a possible clue in one of Detroit’s many abandoned homes, it puts him on a collision course with Frank-and with depths of depravity that neither man could have imagined.

I have to give this book Five Stars…..because any book that’s not in my usual genre, is fraught with trigger issues for me, and still makes me devour it in big, gulping chunks must be a helluva book.

I’m a mother and a teacher, so I have huge issues with child molesters and books that deal with child molesters. Forget vampires and werewolves and other things that go bump in the night — any more, it’s the depravity people show towards the most innocent of us that gets me screaming in the night.  However, when Jeffrey Mariotte offered up an ARC of this book to me, I decided to go ahead and read it for him for review.  Since this is a trigger issue for me, I checked how many chapters there were and decided to read about 8 chapters a day.  It would take me about a week to read it that way, but it would also give me time to find a “happy” book to balance out the intensity.

Night One, I made it through the 8 chapters with no problem.  Still getting the story set up and getting to know the characters.  Missed the next night because of Life, so the following night, I decided to double up, so I wouldn’t mess up the Schedule.  Stopped at an intense part and was tempted to go on, but…. no, Must.  Stick.  To.  The.  Schedule.  Missed the following night (again, Life!), so the next day, determined to only read 16 chapters, I ended up reading…. 32, thus finishing the book.  So much for the Almighty Schedule.

So, what made me devour the book?  It has all the elements of a thriller that I love–suspense, elements that come together in ways that you don’t expect, characters with issues themselves and how they work through them.  It’s an intense novel, tautly written.  Bad things happen, but there’s always a thread of redemption woven through.

The child molestation aspect of this story is handled with sensitivity–no gratuitous depictions, although there is no doubt in your mind what probably goes on.  I also like how Detroit becomes as much a character as Richie or Frank.  Detroit may be in its death throes, but I can’t help but hope that like the legendary phoenix, it, too, will rise from it’s ashes better than it was before (and I learned something new….who knew that there were actual salt mines under the city?  Really, there are!)

Frank Robey and Richie “Maynard” Krebbs work well together.  Frank is a more “old school” detective, who doesn’t get along with his partner (I’d love to see more of that dynamic), and Richie is a former Detroit PD officer who is more interested in the psychology of the criminal mind.  Also in the mix are Richie’s wife, Wendy and Frank’s girlfriend, Marcia.  Both women are frustrated by their men, but recognize that their obsession with this case (more intellectually for Richie, and more personally for Frank–at least at first), is part of who they are.

Upshot of this:  if Jeffrey Mariotte writes another “Robey and Krebbs Casefiles,” you can be sure I’ll be first in line to get my copy.  Yeah, it’s good enough to make me jump genres and dwell in the dark shadows of the human psyche.


Half the World by Joe Abercrombie : Review

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Sometimes a girl is touched by Mother War.
Thorn is such a girl. Desperate to avenge her dead father, she lives to fight. But she has been named a murderer by the very man who trained her to kill.
Sometimes a woman becomes a warrior.
She finds herself caught up in the schemes of Father Yarvi, Gettland’s deeply cunning minister. Crossing half the world to find allies against the ruthless High King, she learns harsh
lessons of blood and deceit.
Sometimes a warrior becomes a weapon.
Beside her on the journey is Brand, a young warrior who hates to kill, a failure in his eyes and hers, but with one chance at redemption.
And weapons are made for one purpose.
Will Thorn forever be a pawn in the hands of the powerful, or can she carve her own path?

Half the World is the second book in Joe Abercrombies new Shattered Sea fantasy series. Set three years after the events of the first book in the series, Half the World follows two new characters as they struggle to survive the harsh lifestyle and political turmoil of the kingdom of Gettland.

Thorn Bathu wants nothing more than to be the greatest warrior Gettland has ever seen while avenging the death of her father. But being a warrior is not an easy thing to do on along the Shattered Sea when you are a girl. Brand is as strong as two men and is almost as good as Thorn with a sword, but he does not believe steel is always the answer, and has what the warrior see as the unmanly habit of seeking peace.

A tragic accident during Thorn’s final training session before she stands before her king and takes the warriors oath finds Thorn labeled a murderer and jailed to await execution by those who trained her. When Brand goes to Father Yarvi to tell him the true version of the events that lead to Thorns imprisonment he to finds himself unjustly accused by his trainers an denied his place as a warrior. Thorn and Brand soon find themselves thrown together as they follow Father Yarvi across half the world in search of redemption for themselves, and possible salvation for the Gettland and its people.

I enjoyed this story much more than I did the first book in the series, and I think the reason for that is the characters. In Half a King I found Yarvi and his group of misfits to be a rather unlikable lot, and struggled to really finish the story. That is not the case for Half the World, I loved the characters of Thorn and Brand and found their slowly budding friendship to be the backbone of the entire story.

The only thing I wish we had seen more of was the magic that exists in the world. In Half a King we get a glimpse of the elven ruins, but learn very little of where they came from or what their purpose was. While Half the World does a good job of keeping up this tradition, it does at least introduce us to the artifacts and the brutal blood magic that can be learned from there. I honestly found myself a bit queasy after the first scene in which the magic was introduced.

This is definitely a book you want to read if your a fan of Joe Abercrombie, or of coming of age stories, or if your just a fan of a really good fantasy story. I made the mistake again of starting my read when I had to work early the next morning, and found myself going to work with no sleep at all. It was well worth it.

This book was provided to me free for an honest review.

Half the World by Joe Abercrombie is set to be released on Feb 17 2015 by Del Rey.

 


Review: Mrs. Bradshaw’s Handbook to Travelling Upon the Ankh-Morpork & Sto Plains Hygienic Railway, by Terry Pratchett

Fully Illustrated and replete with useful tidbits 

Mrs. Bradshaw’s Handbook offers a view of the Sto Plains like no other 

Authorized by Mr. Lipwig of the Ankh-Morpork & Sto Plains Hygienic Railway himself, Mrs. Georgina Bradshaw’s invaluable guide to the destinations and diversions of the railway deserves a place in the luggage of any traveller, or indeed armchair traveller, upon the Disc. 

From the twine walk of Great Slack to the souks of Zemphis: edifying sights along the route 

Tickering, nostrums and transporting your swamp dragon: essential hints on the practicalities of travel 

Elegant resorts and quaint inns: respectable and sanitary lodgings for all species and heights 

Terry Pratchett has published three small handbooks like this – The World of Poo came first, followed by Dodger’s Guide to London – that built on previous books and were educational as well as entertaining. The World of Poo explored the history of indoor toilets while telling a story; Dodger’s Guide to London gave fascinating tidbits on the odd and sordid history of England’s most famous city. Mrs. Bradshaw’s Handbook takes more after Dodger’s Guide to London, with each two-page spread being on a different topic. It’s a travelogue for the area around Ankh-Morpork, less than 150 pages, and makes for very nice light reading.

Pratchett was a boy growing up when steam power was being replaced and England’s iconic steam trains began disappearing, and a certain nostalgia for steam is apparent in his writing. The most recent Discworld novel, Raising Steam, is all about steam power coming to the Disc and the transformation the world underwent as a result. Mrs. Bradshaw’s Handbook is almost an extension of Raising Steam, showing us things that the full novel wasn’t able to. In addition, the handbook fleshes out the Disc in new ways, giving us maps, showing where the various city-states of the Sto Plains sit in relation to each other, and exploring the history of the region. The book is filled with as much wit and humour as any other Discworld book, and has a few in-jokes to delight long-time readers. In a nice spin on how things normally are, Mrs. Bradshaw is an old widow who truly loves the new steam technology, instead of turning her nose up at it and wishing for things the way they were.

I can guess what most of you are thinking. “But ARamone,” you say, “it’s just a travelogue for a fictional place – who would enjoy reading it?” In truth, I think every Discworld fan would enjoy reading it. It helps us orient ourselves in the vast geography of the Discworld. It made me want to travel on the Ankh-Morpork railway and see the sights described. The amount of thought and detail put into the book is truly impressive and speaks to Pratchett’s talent as a writer and world-builder. The simple power of Mrs. Bradshaw’s Handbook is how real it makes the Disc, like we could reach out and touch it, and how it does it just as effectively as the novels with so much less space to do it in. Mrs. Bradshaw’s Handbook has a spot on the shelf of every Discworld lover.

Overall rating: 5/5


Unbound (Magic Ex Libris #3 ) by Jim C. Hines : Review

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For five hundred years, the Porters have concealed the existence of magic from the world. Now, old enemies have revealed the Porters’ secrets, and an even greater threat lurks in the  shadows. The would-be queen Meridiana, banished for a thousand years, has returned in the body of a girl named Jeneta Aboderin. She seeks an artifact created by Pope Sylvester II, a bronze prison that would grant her the power to command an army of the dead.

Unbound by Jim C. Hines, is without a doubt one of the most entertaining books I have read so far this year.

There is nothing more I enjoy more than books, whether its reading them, collecting them , or gifting them to friends. So to find a book where the main character’s love and obsession with the same books as myself is always cool. Then to see that same character reach into one of my favorite books and pull out an item from that world to defend himself or his friends and you have something that I found to be truly amazing.

Out of every magic system I’ve ever read about, only Unbound and the Magic Ex Libris series has one that I wish really existed– Libriomancy. Lets be honest, what book lover wouldn’t want to be a Libriomancer? The basic idea behind Libriomancy is that mass reading and/or belief in a book allows specially gifted people to reach into a book and bring a part of its world into ours. If you needed to sneak into some place unseen you may reach into Harry Potter and pull out an Invisiblity cloak, or if you needed a translator in a hurry you’d reach into a Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and pull out your very own Babel Fish. Hines even manages to lay down some basic rules for who or what can be pulled from a book, to keep such powerful artifacts like the One Ring from existing.

Aside from the magic system that I honestly couldn’t find any more fascinating, Unbound is just really interesting story wise. Former Porter and recently depowered Libriomancer Isaac Vainio has not been having a very good month. Not only has he been stripped of his position and power by Johanness Guttenberg, the leader of the Porters, but his young ward Jeneta Aboderin has been possessed by the an ancient sorceress hell bent on destroying the world.

Isaac is determined to save his Jeneta and the world both, and he doesn’t care who he has to cross among the Porters or the worlds supernatural community to do so. Without his powers Isaac is going to have to immerse himself in the world of black-magic and hope he doesn’t kill himself or his loved ones in the process. With his loyal fire-spider Smudge on his shoulder, his girlfriend the dryad warrior Lena Greenwood , and her girlfriend the former porter psychiatrist Nidhi Shah at his side, Isaac will attempt to do the impossible.

Out of everyone I know who reads, there really isn’t anyone I wouldn’t be willing to recommend this book to. There is just something really fun about seeing the main character from one book you enjoy, reaching into another and pulling a piece of it out. It’s also not just fantasy that Unbound or the Magic Ex Libris series references, it touches on every genre, so there is something for every body in the book.

While I think anyone will enjoy this book as much as I do, I would suggest anyone who hasn’t done so read the first two books in the series first– Libriomancer and Codex Born.

If you’d like to give it a listen, check out the audiobook preview of Unbound below, courtesy of Audible.

 


Firefight (Reckoners #2) by Brandon Sanderson : Review

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They told David it was impossible–that even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic. Yet, Steelheart–invincible, immortal, unconquerable–is dead. And he died by David’s hand.

Eliminating Steelheart was supposed to make life more simple. Instead, it only made David realize he has questions. Big ones. And there’s no one in Newcago who can give him the answers he needs.

Babylon Restored, the old borough of Manhattan, has possibilities, though. Ruled by the mysterious High Epic, Regalia, David is sure Babylon Restored will lead him to what he needs to find. And while entering another city oppressed by a High Epic despot is a gamble, David’s willing to risk it. Because killing Steelheart left a hole in David’s heart. A hole where his thirst for vengeance once lived. Somehow, he filled that hole with another Epic–

. And he’s willing to go on a quest darker, and more dangerous even, than the fight against Steelheart to find her, and to get his answers.

I wasn’t really surprised at how good Brandon Sanderson’s Firefight was — the man is a writing machine. I don’t think it is possible for him to write a bad book, in fact I would be shocked to find a book of his I did not enjoy. What I did find surprising however, was how much better I found Firefight to be when compared to Steelheart. It has always been my opinion that Sanderson’s YA books read more like middle grade but with Firefight I didn’t find that to be the case. I feel like the characters deal with issues darker than ones Sanderson has broached before in one of his YA books. It really made the book that much more enjoyable.

In the first book of the series we meet David Charleston a teenage boy who has dedicated his life to the study of Epics in an attempt to learn their weaknesses in an attempt to bring down the Epic who killed his father–Steelheart. After joining a group of freedom fighters known as the Reckoners David is finally successful in his lifelong goal. He has killed Steelheart and the city of Newcago is finally free. But without his quest for vengeance to sustain him, David soon finds himself without goal or sense of purpose.

After another High Epic begins sending lesser Epics to Newcago to kill the Reckoners for daring to kill the cities ruler, David soon finds himself on his way half way across the country. David soon learns though, that everything is not as it seems in Babyilon Restored, the city formerly known as Manhattan, and he begins to question everything he thought he knew about Epics. Can an Epic be saved from his or her own power?

I really enjoyed how fast paced this book was, I burned through it in a single day and it wasn’t even because it was short. There was just so much action and every chapter ended on a one liner or cliffhanger that forced me to keep reading to know what happens next. I even found I enjoyed David a lot more this book than I did in Steelheart, he’s still as driven and motivated as before but he has a new goal and after the events of Steelheart he isn’t so narrow minded when it comes to Epics. He shows a lot more maturity, thought, and common sense than most of the adults in the book who are supposed to know better.

In addition to the awesome new setting and David’s new and improved attitude, the newly introduced Epics are really quite something. We get a really good look at the broad spectrum of super powers available, and get a good look at the fact that not all Epics are high powered, semi-invincible monsters. Firefight really throws some light onto just what the Epic’s are, where they get their powers, and why they corrupt them the way they seem to.

I was really disappointed in myself for finishing this book so fast, I kept telling myself I would take my time and spread it out over a few days. Now I have to wait an entire year for Calamity to released and to get the conclusion to the story that I desperately crave.

While I think anyone who is a fan of Brandon Sanderson, urban fantasy, or superhero fiction would enjoy this story, I really do suggest everyone reads Steelheart and the short story Mitosis first. I didn’t read Mitosis and I found myself a bit confused at time because of all the references, so I can only assume it will be 10 times worse to someone who hasn’t read the first book.

If you’re interested, check out this 5 minute clip from the Firefight audiobook courtesy of Audible.


Must Read Urban Fantasy

I was sitting at my laptop the other day browsing through books to read, deciding what I wanted to reread when I realized that more and more these days I find myself leaning more towards urban fantasy over any other genre. I don’t know what it is about the genre that makes me love it so much, it can be difficult to find a decent book or series to read, and most seem to be erotica posing as fantasy. That got me wondering just what urban fantasy series there are out there that are fun to read, without being overly full of gratuitous sex and violence.

These are the top three or four authors and series I could think of who do an amazing job with the genre, and as I’m always looking for something else to read I would appreciate any other suggestions people may have for me.

The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher:

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Harry Dresden — Wizard Lost items found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment.”

His name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden–conjure by it at your own risk. Harry is not just the only publicly practicing wizard in Chicago (look him up, he’s in the yellow pages), he’s also a licensed private eye, and an occasional consultant with the CPD. When the monsters decide it’s time to come out and play, it’s Harry Dresden who stands between them and the people of the city.

While I have heard people claim its rough getting through the first few books in the series, I can honestly say I never had any such problem. After I stumbled across these books while looking for something else at my local used book store, I burned through all 8 books that were available at the time in a matter of weeks, and was impatiently waiting for the next book in the series soon after. To me the Dresden Files has everything that’s needed for a great urban fantasy series.

First there are the characters. Harry Dresden is the wise-ass wizard who doesn’t know when to shut up or stand down. Time and time again he gets kicked in the teeth, but gets right back up again to face down the big bad monster threatening his beloved Chicago. Murphy is the mandatory tough as nails cop who has stumbled across the secret world that Harry lives in and is smart enough to know she can’t face it all on her own.

There are entire courts of vampires secretly trying to rule or destroy the world, a hidden world of demons and fae who live by morals and laws most mortals would struggle to understand, and a plot that links each book so subtly that you can only see the edges of it in the beginning of the series.

Unfortunately for me the Dresden Files has made it difficult for me to enjoy and other urban fantasy series as much as I probably would have if I had read it first.

The Mercy Thompson Series by Patricia Briggs:

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“I was going to fight vampires, and my name wasn’t Buffy–I was so screwed.”

I struggled for years after finding the Dresden Files to find another book or series in the sub genre that didn’t pale in comparison, or feel like a cheap knock off to me. For me Moon Called by Patricia Briggs was that book and series. While most of the preternatural world can trace its origins back to Europe, shifters are rooted firmly in Native American myths and legends. As such they don’t always follow the same ancient rules and laws that govern the rest of the preternatural world.

Mercy Thompson is a Shifter who can take the form of a coyote at will. This series follows Mercy as she struggles to survive in a world of territorial and powerful werewolves, vampires and fae. All while attempting to keep her maintain her garage and keep her job as a mechanic.

For me the best part of this series is the world and culture that Briggs has built up around the werewolves. It’s so well thought out that it would be easy for me to believe that such a world is hiding in the shadows of society, waiting for the perfect time to come out to the public. Anyone who is a fan of vampire or werewolf fiction would absolutely love these books. Briggs even manages to balance the romance with the rest of the story, which I’ve noticed that not many urban fantasy authors can do.

The Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews:

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“What kind of woman greets the Beast Lord with ‘here, kitty, kitty’?”

With the Kate Daniels series Ilona takes all the greatest trope of urban fantasy–the secret hidden world of magic, vampires, and shape shifters and completely throws it out of the window. Instead we get an alternate version of Atlanta where magic and technology come in waves, while one is active and working the other is not. During a magic wave you may see a banshee screaming from a telephone pole out in front of your house or a magical war being fought in downtown Atlanta, but you won’t have use of telephones, television or cars. When the technology is up you may not have access to your magic, but you can you’ll have electricity and and the telephones will work again.

In this bizarre alternate Atlanta most of the world is controlled or protected by various guilds and organizations. Kate Daniels works for the Mercenaries Guild, when the magic suddenly comes up and you have a giant fire-breathing lizard loose in your neighborhood, Kate Daniels is going to be the one who responds (For a reasonable fee!).

This is another series where for me the deciding factor was the amount of thought and detail put into the various preternatural groups that exist in the world. This time its not just werewolves who hide among us, but werebears, wererats, and any other type of lycanthrope you can think of. Vampires are mindless creatures being controlled by the People, a group of power hungry necromancers who mentally control the dead.

The only thing I didn’t really realize until I was through the majority of the first book is that this is mostly paranormal romance. By the time I realized that fact though it was too late to go back, I was already hooked, and I am more than glad for it. To me the Kate Daniels series is that anyone of the genre must read!

Honorable Mention: Mercedes Lackey

I was going to put Mercedes Lackey’s urban fantasy books on this list, but I quickly remembered she has four different series in the genre. The great thing about her four different series to me is that they all exist in a shared universe that spans hundreds if not thousands of years, and there are cameos from the same characters across all the various books set in her world.

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The Zombie Combat Field Guide: A Coloring and Activity Book For Fighting the Living Dead by Roger Ma : Review

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The Zombie Combat Manual provided potential zombie fighters with comprehensive instructions on how to do battle in the inevitable outbreak of an undead plague. However, even the most comprehensive advice is useless without study and practice.

Thus, the Institute for Undead Combat Studies has created an essential field handbook to help combatants of the walking dead hone their fighting skills, ensuring maximum preparedness for the zombie apocalypse. This interactive guide includes:
Detailed technique illustrations, anatomical diagrams, and zombie combat drawings you can color
Puzzles and brain exercises to help remember key combat terminology
Work pages on making the right choices during an undead outbreak
and much more!
Anyone can become an effective warrior against the walking dead. Make sure you’re ready to fight when the time comes—or prepare to join the zombie horde…

When I first accepted the offer to review this title, I didn’t take the time to consider the fact that not only had I never reviewed a colouring book before, I also had no idea how to review one. What would I say? That the lines were especially easy to stay within, without being too confining to ones artistic creativity? That the outlines of the undead creatures were really inspiring, and that I didn’t put down my crayons until even the gaps in the letters were filled in?

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Fair warning, it will try to make you do exercise.

 

Fortunately, after going through The Zombie Combat Field Guide, I found that my worries were (mostly) unfounded. This activity book was a delight, and I enjoyed it.

Receiving this activity book in the mail was the most excited I’d ever been about receiving a colouring book in years. There’s more to this little booklet than meets the eyes.. There are questionnaires and trivia, and illustrated guides. All for the sole purpose of getting you prepared for the hoards of the undead.

This is something that primarily pre-teen/young teenage boys would enjoy the most. Scratch that. No. This is an essential item for every zombie lover, with a desire to spend an evening colouring, and learning their role in the apocalyptic world. You will finish this activity book with a working knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of your enemy. You’ll know how best to defeat them, and what weapons will be able your best option. In short, if you’ve ever wondered where the best place to stab a zombie in the head is for maximum effectiveness, then this is for you.

The Zombie Combat Field Guide: A Coloring and Activity Book For Fighting the Living Dead by Roger Ma was released today, January 6th 2015.

I received a free copy of this publication from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Most Anticipated Fantasy Books of 2015

Happy New Year!

Continuing with yesterday’s post (Best Books of 2014), here are the books we’re looking forward to the most in 2015. Descriptions, release dates, and covers have been added where possible.

Shane’s (SJardine):

The Aeronaut’s Windlass (Cinderspires #1) by Jim Butcher:

The Cinder Spires is set in a world “of black spires that tower for miles over a mist-shrouded surface” and follows a war between two of the Spires: Spire Albion and Spire Aurora.

It’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets Sherlock meets Hornblower. There are goggles and airships and steam power and bizarre crystal technology and talking cats, who are horrid little bullies. – From Goodreads

I’m not 100 percent positive that this book will be published in 2015, but I really hope it is. Jim Butcher is one of my favorite authors, and if anyone can pull off a great Steampunk novel, he can.

Fool’s Quest (Fits and the Fool #2) by Robin Hobb:

This will be the continuation of Hobb’s the Fitz and the Fool trilogy, and I find myself checking daily to see if any more information has been released about it. I can’t wait to find out what happens after the events of Fool’s Assassin. Fitzchivalry Farseer never seems to catch a break.

Tentative publication date: August 11th 2015 by Del Rey

Magic Shifts (Kate Daniels #8) by Ilona Andrews:

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Mercenary Kate Daniels and her Mate, former Beast Lord Curran Lennart, have broken with Pack, but Curran misses challenges of leading, so he grabs when Pack offers him its stake in the Mercenary Guild. As a veteran merc, Kate can take over Guild’s unfinished jobs, not knowing they are connected. An old enemy has arisen.Goodreads

The Kate Daniels series is another Urban Fantasy series I’ve discovered in the last few months that I burned through in just a couple days. The name Magic Shifts sounds like it will describe this next book perfect, everything is starting to change for Kate and Curran.

Expected publication: August 4th 2015 by Ace

The Iron Ghost (Copper Promise #2) by Jen Williams:

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Beware the dawning of a new mage…

Wydrin of Crosshaven, Sir Sebastian and Lord Aaron Frith are experienced in the perils of stirring up the old gods. They are also familiar with defeating them, and the heroes of Baneswatch are now enjoying the perks of suddenly being very much in demand for their services.

When a job comes up in the distant city of Skaldshollow, it looks like easy coin – retrieve a stolen item, admire the views, get paid. But in a place twisted and haunted by ancient magic, with the most infamous mage of them all, Joah Demonsworn, making a reappearance, our heroes soon find themselves threatened by enemies on all sides, old and new. And in the frozen mountains, the stones are walking… - Goodreads

I don’t think this series has a publisher in the US yet, so I’m probably going to have to convince one of my friends across the pond to send me a copy. I enjoyed the first one enough that I’m willing to pay international shipping just to get my copy of it.

Expected publication: February 26th 2015 by Headline

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The Arched Doorway: Year in Review 2014

It’s been an exciting year for us here at the Arched Doorway. We had two new members join our team — SJardine and MelissaKat. We owe at least half of this year’s posts to SJardine, who took the reigns while I was unable to tend to the site.

For me, this past year has been a fantastic one. I traveled through New Zealand; Neverland’s Library was released; I attended Ad Astra, Phoenix ComicCon, World Fantasy Con, and a couple of others; I got to interview Tom Doherty at the Tor office, (something that I’m still slightly mindblown over); I’ve seen and met many other great people over the course of the year; and I’ve made new friends, and met old ones (in person) for the first time.

It’s been a fairly decent year for the blog as well, a bit slower than previous years, but altogether decent. Below is a (mostly) complete archive of this year’s posts, separated into different categories.

Anyways, thanks for reading, and for a wonderful 2014. I look forward to sharing 2015 with all of you.

Best wishes and happy New Year,
Rebecca Lovatt


 

Interviews

Steven Erikson
Patricia Briggs
Mark Lawrence
Tom Doherty
Robin Hobb
Kenny Soward
Mary Robinette Kowal

Reviews

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: The Empire Striketh Back, by Ian Doescher
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: The Jedi Doth Return, by Ian Doescher
The Treasury of the Fantastic edited by David Sandner and Jacob Weisman
A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish
Magic City: Recent Spells edited by Paula Guran
Relic of Death by David Bernstein
Surrogate by David Bernstein
The Wurms of Blearmoth by Steven Erikson
Half a King (Shattered Sea #1) by Joe Abercrombie
Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb
The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory
Closer to Home by Mercedes Lackey
No True Way by Mercedes Lackey

Elderwood Manor by Christopher Fulbright and Angeline Hawkes
The High Druid’s Blade by Terry Brooks
The Exiled by William Meikle
Shifting Shadows: Stories From the World of Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs
Black Out by Tim Curran
Mercury Revolts by Robert Kroese
What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, by Randall Munroe
Rise of the King: Companion Codex, II by R.A. Salvatore
Magisterium: The Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black
The Last Mile by Tim Waggoner
War Cry by Jim Butcher
Willful Child by Steven Erikson
The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
The Copper Promise by Jen Williams
Under the Skin, by Michael Faber
Crimson Son by Russ Linton
Tinkermage by Kenny Soward
Facial by Jeff Strand
Dragons at Crumbling Castle (Special Edition), by Terry Pratchett

Miscellaneous

Writing “Flawed” Characters
Miles Cameron Identity Reveal
A New Door Opens (Editing Services)
Compilation of ALS Ice Bucket Challenges Completed by authors
Congratulations to the 2014 Hugo Award Winners
BLACKGUARDS: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues
Best Books of 2014


Best Books of 2014

As 2014 draws to a close, it seemed fitting to look back over the past year and share our favourite reads. There are some duplicates, and there are quite a few we didn’t review… but read on, and share your thoughts!

Meagan’s (ARamone):

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, by Randall Munroe

What if

What If? is a good read for scientifically-minded and just plain curious people alike. With often high-end science being explained in a down-to-earth, accessible way, this book is going to make you laugh while also making you think.

Dragons at Crumbling Castle, by Terry Pratchett

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A collection of Pratchett’s earliest work, written and published in his teenaged years, Dragons at Crumbling Castle gives us a look into the mind of a young but already skilled author. A true delight for all Pratchett fans, and a must-have for fans of his work.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss

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This book focuses on Auri, one of the most relatable characters in The Kingkiller Chronicles, and takes us through a typical week of hers. Rothfuss’ writing makes her odd logic and justifications seem perfectly normal, making this book a delightful read for any fan of the books.

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Audio Interview with Mary Robinette Kowal

Early in November, at the World Fantasy Convention, I interviewed a few authors. Below is my interview with Mary Robinette Kowal, my final one from that weekend. Mary spoke of everything from modeling naked, to impersonating Patrick Rothfuss, to zombie-Napoleon on a steam-powered wheelchair. With cannons. She also spoke of her writing, and her upcoming novel.

Take a listen, and I hope you enjoy!


Review: Dragons at Crumbling Castle (Special Edition), by Terry Pratchett

A deluxe, slipcase edition of Dragons at Crumbling Castle, complete with critical commentary, bonus stories and a beautiful limited-edition print.

Focus on a planet revolving in space… Focus in on a small country in the northern hemisphere — Great Britain.
Closer, closer… and on the western edge of London you can see the county of Buckinghamshire. Small villages and winding country roads. And if you could go back in time to the mid nineteen-sixties, you might spot a young lad on a motorbike coming down one such lane, notebook and pen in his jacket pocket.
This is me. A junior reporter for the Bucks Free Press, where I began writing stories for young readers that were published every week in the newspaper. The stories in this collection are a selection of those. There are wizards and mayors, carpet people and a monster in a lake, along with plenty of pointy hats. And some of these stories even spawned my later novels.

14 hilarious short stories by Terry Pratchett, perfect for anyone aged 8-108. Terry’s youngest writing yet — this collection will introduce a whole new generation of fans to the witty and wonderful world of Pratchett.

Dragons at Crumbling Castle is a collection of short stories by Sir Terry Pratchett, intended for young children but great for any fans of his works. With sixteen stories, commentaries on each one by Suzanne Bridson, a rather lovely box, and an exclusive piece of art by the illustrator, the collector’s edition is a lovely addition to any bookcase.

The stories included were written when Pratchett was seventeen, and were written for the local paper in a section for children. They’ve been edited slightly since Pratchett was a kid, but are for the most part left intact, giving an interesting view of how he wrote in his early days. Certain elements – a general level of silliness, unusual characters, turtles – show up later in his Discworld series, and one of the stories became the basis for his first published novel, The Carpet People. Though different from what fans of Pratchett’s later works are expecting, the stories are quite well-written and very enjoyable. The stories are interspersed with illustrations by Mark Beech, adding colour and flavour to the already-rich text. The commentaries don’t add much to the stories, and are mostly just thoughts on what happens in the stories; to be perfectly honest, I would have much preferred if they were by Pratchett himself, to get his view on his early work (as much as he doesn’t like it). The occasional interesting tidbit can be found in them, however, and overall they’re not bad reading.

Though technically meant for kids, no one is too old for Dragons at Crumbling Castle. The whimsical stories bring you back to your childhood, and the amount of world-building and character Pratchett fits into such short stories is truly a testament to his skill as a writer. Whether a long-time fan of Terry Pratchett or just discovering his work, Dragons at Crumbling Castle will find a place on every bookshelf.

Overall writing: 5/5


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